Whether they are steamed, fried, sauteed or boiled, vegetables are frequently shunted to the side in favor of a big slab of meat or a pile of potatoes. Often, folks will only pick at boring bunches of broccoli or suspicious slurries of spinach when they’ve been smothered in cheese, drowned in butter or mixed with plenty of breadcrumbs and, yes, even more cheese. Even as little as 20 years ago, finding truly creative vegetable dishes in restaurants was few and far between and unless you’re the conscientious vegetarian or creative vegan, vegetables tend to play a minor role in our diets. Let’s face it, the way many of us were taught to cook vegetables falls pathetically short of their unbelievably amazing potential.
We should all be thankful that this blatant disregard in the preparation and cooking of vegetables has finally come to an end. With so many chefs and restaurants embracing the “farm-to-table” and “slow food” movements, extolling the use of organic produce, it is difficult these days to walk into a restaurant, especially in New Orleans, and not discover an amazing dish where fresh, local vegetables play a starring role.
One big player in the purveyance of local produce is none other than Maurepas Foods in Bywater. Chef Michael Doyle has perfected the art of showing off the delicious and various vegetable varieties in New Orleans with a seasonal menu that seems to change almost every time he visits another farm. Over the past few years since Maurepas has opened, diners have indulged in Turnips with braised fennel, and mint and blueberry gremolata; Carrots with wild blackberries, oak leaf lettuce and a sliver of aged manchego cheese; and Okra with ginger syrup, shiso, farro, and plum. More recently, Maurepas' menu featured Snap Beans with crabmeat calas and papaya & hoisin syrup. It's interesting because although the dish included crab, it was named for what is unmistakably the star, the gorgeously crisp, seared, bright green snap beans.
More recently on the scene is the Asian-inspired restaurant Noodle & Pie on the corner of State and Magazine. Chefs Eman Loubier and Brian Armour have turned their well-received pop-up concept into a brick-and-mortar restaurant with a focus on house made ramen and seriously sweet pies. The Noodle & Pie menu also features other savory dishes like a Claypot Pork Belly and Corn Fritters with sesame miso sauce, but one very simple item definitely worth talking about is their King Oyster Mushrooms with pink peppercorn and garlic butter. Thick slices of mushroom are lightly sautéed in garlic butter releasing a meaty flavor and aroma that only intensifies as you take your first, juicy bite. One order of these heavenly beauties may not be enough for two, but you could always order their Seared Squash or Marinated Eggplant as well.
Oak, a hip wine bar in the Riverbend, also serves a variety of small plates well-suited for the bar's sophisticated atmosphere created by acclaimed chef Aaron Burgau. While enjoying live music by local performers such as Billy Iuso, Jenn Howard and the Mumbles, patrons can appreciate Oak's extensive wine cellar and savor dishes like Pork Belly Poutine and Tuna Tartar, but one of the dishes that particularly stands out is vegetable delight. It is highly recommended that you sink your teeth into their Roasted Cauliflower sprinkled with toasted coriander, marcona almonds, sesame seeds and crushed, roasted walnuts resting in a bed of Ryals goat's milk yogurt laced with fresh mint.
Move over meat, because vegetables are what's for dinner...