Vegetarians have been largely shut out of one aspect of high-end dining out: the wine dinner, a special event common at our nicer restaurants that pairs great wines with a meal that really lets the chef show off.
These dinners are always meat-focused, and not occasions where you feel comfortable asking for substitutions.
But this summer, it feels like there’s a shift in the air. Last month, Café Modern’s first-ever all-vegetarian dinner sold out, and it had a waiting list of dozens. And in August, Grace restaurant in downtown Fort Worth will offer its first vegetarian wine dinner.
Chef Blaine Staniford says he is doing it to celebrate vegetables when they are at their best and most plentiful here. “I have a great passion for just vegetables in general. I’m not vegetarian, but I worked in California and New York around all these great farmers markets.”
You may not think of Grace, a fine-dining restaurant that specializes in modern American classics, as especially welcoming to vegetarians and vegans. I know I didn’t.
“I think that’s really a misconception,” says Grace sommelier Jenny Kornblum, who is a pescatarian (she eats fish but not other meat). “We use every farm we can find. Every vegetable we serve is fresh, and everything is prepared to order, so it’s really easy to do any of our dishes without the meat.”
“We have a lot of vegetarian and vegan guests,” Staniford says, “and we’ve built a good relationship with them. … I actually do multicourse all-vegetarian or all-vegan tasting menus all the time.”
At his wine dinner, expect a progression of eight dishes, starting with a frozen white gazpacho of almond milk, cucumber and local melon, and finishing with a take on peaches and cream — saffron and Texas peach custard with crème fraiche gelato and pistachios. (Though the dessert includes dairy, that and any other dish can be prepared vegan, Staniford says — just ask for the vegan option when you make your reservation.)
The most creative course may be the Texas baby summer squash carpaccio, which includes dairy-free “cashew cheese.” Staniford mixes water used to water wheatgrass — “It has a nice kind of fermented flavor,” he says — with cashews that have been soaked in water for several days. “After you hang that mixture in cheesecloth, it has the texture of a nice ricotta. And it doesn’t taste like cashews at all.”
Another highlight is carrot-braised carrots, where one variety of carrots get juiced along with fresh ginger and becomes the braising liquid for more carrots. “The juice reduces to almost like a sauce. I’ve done this as a side dish to our proteins, and it goes over well,” Staniford says.
There’s also a barley risotto dish, a cauliflower steak and a corn bisque — it’s a substantial menu. “I want someone who eats meat to come to this dinner and say, ‘Dang, that was really flavorful. I left full and I’m satiated.’ ”
For an additional charge, you can enjoy each course paired with wines, or in one case a spirit, chosen by Kornblum. “It’s kind of funny,” she says, “since I don’t eat meat, but it’s easier for me to pair the meat things that we do than the vegetable things. There’s a lot of interesting spices and herbs that he’s using — ginger, kumquats, he’s all over the place. It was really challenging.”
The dinner is Aug. 7 at Grace, 777 Main St., Fort Worth. It’s $65 per person, plus tax and tip; $115 with the wine pairings. Make reservations at 817-877-3388. To see the menu, click on “events” at gracefortworth.com.
DFW Restaurant Week: We mentioned the meatless menu at Dallas’ Bijoux last time (Aug. 11-31, $45 for three courses). In Fort Worth, Grace restaurant will make a vegetarian or vegan version of its Restaurant Week menu, if you request it in advance when you reserve (Aug. 11-31, $45). And both locations of Tillman’s Roadhouse will have a vegetarian option, with a pea risotto as the meatless entrée (Aug. 11-17, $35); see the menu at www.tillmansroadhouse . com/restaurant-week- 2014.html. Reserve any of these at opentable.com.
Fort Worth Vegetarian Society at Spiral Diner: The first Saturday of each month, the Fort Worth Vegetarian Society has a meet-up at Spiral Diner, the vegan restaurant at 1314 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth; 817-332-8834; spiraldiner.com. Everyone’s welcome; the next one is 6:30 p.m. Aug. 2; look for the table with a FWVS sign. Vegetarian Society: www.fwvs.com
Vegan buffet at Thai Papaya Garden: Several readers have written about the all-you-can-eat vegan buffet, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. the first Sunday of each month at Thai Papaya Garden, Airport Freeway at Industrial in Euless. The next one is Aug. 3 and it’s $10.95 adults, $6.95 children. 817-684-9378; www.thai papayagarden.com