COURTESY OF VEGETATE
Vegetate Restaurant & Lounge
1414 Ninth St. N.W. (at O Street)
Metro: Mt. Vernon Square/Convention Center or Shaw/Howard University (green and yellow lines)
Plates: appetizers, $5-$10; entrees, $12-$16
It’s not easy being green in D.C. That is to say, eating green. Fortunately, for vegetarians in the city, there is an option. Discreetly located in the Shaw neighborhood, roughly between Mt. Vernon Square, Logan Circle, the U Street corridor and the Washington Convention Center, Vegetate is an herbivore’s fantasy come true. It’s easy to miss passing by on seemingly barren Ninth Street, but once found, diners know they have run into something very special.
The dining room is split into two levels, with the bar on the second floor. Vegetate is small, but they don’t overcrowd the place. It has a chic, metropolitan vibe, though lacks the pretension that so many other places of this caliber seem to get caught up in.
The upstairs bar is on par with some of D.C.‘s nicer joints, but has the added bonus of being laidback and inviting.
The first thing diners will notice is the simple, yet elegant, list of house cocktails. The bar menu incorporates inventive juice combos and house-made sodas. Looking for something sans alcohol? Try the delicious house specialty, rosemary lime soda, which comes smartly disguised as one of the restaurant’s super-cool concoctions.
With drinks decided, it’s time to move on to the menu, which is separated into three different categories: bites, small plates and large plates. This is the kind of place where literally everything is fair game and anything could be delicious. Everything is, obviously, vegetarian. But for vegan diners, Vegetate denotes every vegan-friendly menu item - and there’s plenty of dishes here for those on a strictly non-dairy diet. Plus, to maintain sustainability efforts, the rotating menu incorporates as much local produce as possible, basing its seasonal menus around the freshest of ingredients.
The friendly wait-staff is happy to recommend dishes, but the short menu makes deciding relatively easy. This is a place for sharing, where trying anything and everything is the most practical and worthwhile.
For a party of two, sharing different samplings from the bites menu is a good way to start off. Try the divine Vegetate Burgers, made of tender seitan and topped off with greens and citrus aioli. The poblano pepper and bean fritters, fried to crispy perfection, are another highlight, a perfect introduction to what the rest of the menu has in store.
Depending on one’s hunger level, sharing a few small plates and one or two large plates is also a must. The small plates offer up a creamy and delicious butternut squash soup, perfect for the recent onslaught of cold weather. The twice-baked sweet potato rounds are equally delicious, but nothing matches the surprising (and insanely delicious) house-made black olive flatbread. Topped with an array of grilled vegetables, this surprise treat is so good, it’s worth coming back just for this.
Stuffed? Too bad, because the large plates are, bar none, some of the most interesting and magnificently inventive all-vegetable entrées served in D.C. restaurants today. Nothing beats the root vegetable noodles, topped with creamy cashew sauce and roasted sweet potatoes - and it’s vegan. Another highlight: The sesame-crusted wild rice cakes, which are served with gingered cabbage and marinated shitake mushrooms.
Finish it off, if there’s room, with sinful dark chocolate ganache, infused with Sencha green tea, lime and aged balsamic vinegar - it’s absolutely to die for.
If it all sounds too vegetarian, remember there is something to be said for mastering the art of truly complex, delicious and inventive vegetarian cooking and Vegetate has it down pat. With décor and service to match, this is definitely worth a look, and can count at least one person among its ranks of repeat customers.