I recently ate with a group of people at Waterloo & City, one of my favorite meat-loving gastropubs in Los Angeles. My mouth was watering as I read through a menu boldly full of game meat terrines, sweetbreads, and smoked tongue. The vegetarian sitting across from me likely had a different reaction as she quietly navigated the menu and negotiated with the waiter over substitutions the chef could make that would still give her an amazing meal.
These days it’s not unusual for any group of diners to include a vegetarian. What I hear over and over is that, even in the best restaurants and in the hands of the most amazing chefs, the veggie option feels like an afterthought. (Remember the Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray describing Thierry’s Fricassee of Vegetable Basquaise as the meatless side dish you’d get at a wedding?)
So I loved that the Quickfire Challenge this week asked our chefs to consider the vegetarian option as seriously as the meat option. Kudos to Art, who hails from the meat-loving South for making a truly delicious and satisfying Mushroom and Wilted Arugula Pot Pie with a Parmesan Savory Crust. But it was Takashi’s Agedashi Tofu and Eggplant with a Veggie Somen Noodle Roll that showed off the complexity and potential of inspired vegetarian food.
After last week’s spiritual journey to the Grand Canyon, you’d be forgiven for having a bit of whiplash as we jump right back into classic Vegas territory: the pool party, complete with bikinis, Bellinis, and Playmate Holly Madison. Holly wanted to throw a brunch party, which wasn’t much of a restriction for our chefs, as brunch can cover a range of savory and sweet dishes. Making them all canapés was more of a challenge, but restricting the use of garlic and onions was, for a chef, crippling. Art defied this last bit, but luckily his Turkey Burger with Garlic Chutney was so delicious, Holly couldn’t resist. The rule of thumb with pool party fare is, keep it simple and make it easy to eat. While Chris’ Watermelon and Tuna Bacon with Golden Tomatoes and Pistachios was masterful (I would have loved to have been at a dining room table dissecting the flavors), it was just too complex for a pool party. Kerry’s Chilled Red Pepper Coulis with Crab and Corn Fritter was more like it. Loads of flavor but simpler in scope and a snap to eat. Lorena’s Bunuelos with Fresh Berry Compote, White Chocolate and Condensed Vanilla Sauce were cooked to perfection, though. Slightly crispy on the outside, soft and custardy on the inside, they would make any brunch, anywhere, truly special.
I was heartbroken to see Thierry go. He’s such an incredibly talented chef with a deep passion for food. His Croque Madame with Bechamel Sauce and Tomato Vodka Shooter was a great concept that came up short in execution. You’ll be missed, Thierry, but next time I’m in Seattle, I’ll see you at Rover’s or Luc.