A Month of Vegetarian Cuisine
Vegivore Month: Three high-end restaurants take vegetarian cuisine from earthy to ethereal.
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Per Se is the seriously high-end New York restaurant from the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller. Per Se now charges as much ($295!) for its 11-course vegetarian menu as it does for its regular menu of caviar, Perigord foie gras, butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster and 100-day-dry-aged American Wagyu beef. (Veggies must be on their way to stardom.)
Alas, I couldn’t fly to Per Se this month, but I could get to two or three top Honolulu restaurants and ask the chef, whether it was on the menu or not, to whip me up a vegetarian dinner.
I was willing to eat my veggies, I just wanted to eat well.
Niu Valley Shopping Center, 5730 Kalanianaole Highway, (808) 373-7990, Dinner nightly except Tuesdays, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Ample free parking, major credit cards.
I took my family with me to Le Bistro, because they would never speak to me again if I didn’t.
While wife and daughter were exclaiming over the carnivorous splendors of chef Alan Takasaki’s menu, I didn’t even look at it. Takasaki will, if asked nicely, make what the waiter will call a “vegetable plate.”
Doesn’t sound like much. Until you see it.
It’s a work of art. On a white platter come three long, narrow, white trays. Each tray has five compartments. In each compartment, a different vegetable, prepared a different way.
Imagine a Mondrian painting, if Mondrian had been turned loose in a high-end produce market and could cook as well as Takasaki.
The treat isn’t just visual. You get 15 different things for dinner. You take a bite or two, marvel at Takasaki’s skill. Then the next thing on the platter sends you off in a new direction, keeping your palate buzzing.
I just started at the top-left corner and ate my way across the rows, like I was reading a page.
The first row began with something that didn’t look great, didn’t sound good and was extraordinary: cabbage fondue, savoy seared on the grill, tenderized in water, with daikon slow-cooked in butter.
The row proceeded through summer squashes, green and yellow, and grilled broccolini with tarragon and rosemary. Then it came to rest at something that looked like a little hamburger. Instead, the filling was Hamakua and morel mushrooms in a brandy-Madeira butter. This was fun to eat and better than a hamburger.
On to the second row, once again five items. Tatsoi seared over high heat so the bitterness disappeared, served with translucent slices of deep-fried potato.