Now, I’ve never been one to leap at a the chance to gnaw on tempeh or steamed broccoli, but the truth of the matter is that meatless dining has gone mainstream as more and more of us consider the implications of what goes on our plates and into our tummies. It’s not just conscientious, but chic to curb our carnivorous cravings in favor of well-crafted dishes made with exotic fruit, heirloom beans, ancient grains and organic crucifers. Food that’s actually as delicious as it is healthful. Imagine.
Veggie’s Ground Zero
The macrobiotic and brown rice set tend be to drawn to the nuclear-free zone of Sebastopol. Within blocks of each other are no less than five vegetarian/vegan-focused establishments, and the remainder learning very quickly to offer a vegetarian option somewhere on the menu. The newest is Peter Lowell’s, an upscale cafe/pizzeria focused on organic and sustainable local produce from local farms. Best bets include their crispy chevre pizza with caramelized onions and hearty seasonal soups (with a glass of biodynamic wine), 7385 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol., (707) 829-1077. East West Cafe, with locations in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa has been a longtime player, with locals favoring their brunches and hummus. Slice of Life, where vegetarian and vegan whole wheat pizzas reign supreme, is Birkenstock and shorts-casual. Don’t miss mock meatball sandwiches and veggie burritos, 6970 Mckinley Ave, Sebastopol, (707) 829-6627.
Haute for Herbivores
A new category of luxe vegetarian dining, rooted in classic French techniques and miles away from sprouts, is cropping up throughout Wine Country. Cyrus Restaurant, best known for its over-the-top caviar service and multi-course extravaganzas, recently created a dedicated vegetarian tasting menu that truly rivals its regular menu and will keep you foie-gras free. A favorite is the table-made tofu, where diners get a personalized ramekin of soy milk that turns into fresh tofu before your eyes. (29 North St., Healdsburg, (707) 433-3311. Napa’s Ubuntu, a combination yoga studio and eatery that many of us mocked before opening, has emerged as a national dining destination because of, rather than in spite of, Chef Jeremy Fox’s meatless menu. Using plenty of butter, cream and classic French training, it’s one of local produce’s finest moments. (1140 Main St., Napa, (707) 251-5656.
In Santa Rosa, the newly-opened GG’s Earth and Surf does easy-going bistro fare — soups, salads and simple entrees — that don’t scream “vegetarian” despite their often meatless ingredient list. Owner Suzan Fleissner and former spa chef, Trevor Anderson understand that a lack of animal protein doesn’t have to mean a lack of flavor. 630 Third St., Santa Rosa, (707) 528-1445.
And then there’s vegan and raw foods restaurants, which may sound like a bit of an oxymoron considering that vegan food doesn’t contain any animal products and raw food is, well, raw. Increasing demand for minimally-processed foods, gluten-free, animal-free, wheat-free..and the list goes on…has sparked enterprising folks like Jerri Hastey to get creative. Her Santa Rosa restaurant, Seed, serves a variety of creatively concocted fruit, grain and vegetable dishes that are both vegan and “live”, meaning uncooked. Dehydrators, blenders and creative seasoning play a big part in raw foods, especially when making things like cashew “cheese” , raviolis and “live caramel.” 463 Sebastopol Avenue, Santa Rosa, (707) 546-7333. East-Bay-born Cafe Gratitude is also keen on the raw tip, along with self-affirmation. Dishes made with all manner of sprouted things cary names like “I Am Graceful”, “I Am Fruitful” and so on. Personally, it feels a little silly to declare “I Am Awakening” when you really aren’t, but perhaps the cashew cream will help. 206 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. (707) 723-4462.
Ready to take make raw foods a full-time commitment? Mendocino’s Living Light Culinary Institute draws culinary explorers from around the world to their chef’s program.301-B North Main St., Fort Bragg, (800) 816-2319.
Local chef and veg-lebrity Jill Nussinow, aka The Veggie Queen, proselytizes the vegetarian lifestyle through her cookbooks and classes here in Sonoma County. Her seasonally-based recipes take advantage of what’s best at the farm markets, with tasty ideas inspired by her years of plant-centric culinary experiences. www.theveggiequeen.com.