Salad, pasta, a grilled veggie plate—not so long ago, these were pretty much the only vegetarian options offered at fine dining restaurants around the world. But things are changing, as more diners seek meatless options for health, environmental or ethical reasons, and also are expressing an interest in eating seasonally and organically. As a result, many high-end chefs have started to realize that foodies come in all forms, and that the true test of their skills is how well they can cater to all their customers, not just the carnivores.
“We were getting a lot of vegan and vegetarian requests, and while we could make changes to dishes and try to accommodate guests, it was always a bit of a scramble in the kitchen,” remembers Chef Gregory Gourdet of Departure, the buzzing rooftop restaurant and lounge at the LEED Silver-certified The Nines hotel in Portland, Oregon. “So we thought it would be easier to create something permanent.” Last December, Chef Gourdet and his team launched a full vegan menu featuring 23 items that work with the eatery’s modern Asian flavors and shared-plate format. “My cuisine is health-inspired anyway,” says the chef, a marathon runner who eats dairy-free in his own life. “So it was easy to incorporate vegan ingredients with the traditional preparations.”
Like the rest of the gourmet menu, Departure’s vegan offerings will change two or three times a year, but may include things like crunchy sweet potato tempura rolls (made with gluten-free rice flour), steamed onion-ginger buns with a hint of sweet maple-chili glaze, and Korean-style Bibimbap made with Koshihikari rice from Japan. The menu has enjoyed an overwhelming response since it launched. And there’s more to come, with Chef Gourdet and company planning sake pairings and other ways to showcase the meatless flavors. thenines.com/departure-restaurant
A few thousand miles away in Switzerland, German-born Chef Heiko Nieder, master of the two-Michelin star The Restaurant at the Dolder Grand resort, had noticed a similar uptick in vegetarian requests from his discerning diners. “Thanks to an awareness of environmental issues and the trend toward healthy eating—which is very strong in Switzerland—we have more guests looking for vegetarian options, even if they normally eat meat,” says the chef. Surrounded by pieces from the hotel’s celebrated art collection, diners at The Restaurant typically choose from four-, seven- or 12-course menus, all of which change seasonally, and Chef Nieder recently added a five-course veggie menu to these daily selections.
No matter the ingredients, meals here are a journey, starting with selection of freshly baked breads (in zesty flavors such as cheese-caraway and green olive) accompanied by olive-lemon butter and a tomato-zucchini-eggplant dip.
After a series of pre-appetizers—say, pear cream soup with black truffle or “Bloody Mary” shots—the main vegetarian meal will highlight local produce with dishes such as rhubarb cooked with coconut and capers, or morel mushrooms served with Brie and mountain potatoes. Desserts often mix sweet and savory (think cheesecake with juniper), while the grand finale sweet cart puts Willy Wonka to shame with treats like candy “floss” with olive oil and pepper, homemade marshmallows with orange-jelly, and chocolate truffles filled with raspberry vodka or fig coffee. Guests who want to sweat all that off in the Dolder’s award-winning spa and fitness facility will find healthy, gourmet vegetarian options at the Spa Café, too. thedoldergrand.com; the five-course vegetarian menu is about $172 per person.
“We have more guests looking for vegetarian options, even if they normally eat meat.”
Go Veggie with the (Michelin) Stars
This fall, Orient-Express’ six Italian hotels are each hosting a gourmet “Dine with the Stars” weekend, during which visiting chefs from some of the country’s top restaurants will be onsite to cook for guests and present special tasting menus. In Sicily—a region known for fresh ingredients like eggplant, pistachios, oranges and tomatoes—the Grand Hotel Timeo and Villa Sant’Andrea will host a completely meat-free night overseen by Chef Pietro Leeman of Joia in Milan, the first natural, vegetarian restaurant to earn a Michelin star. Weekend guests will also enjoy excursions to local artisan workshops and can book treatments at the hotels’ spas, which highlight Sicilian citrus and local herbs. September 29 and 30; diningwiththestar.com