Veggie Girl: Lazare

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Two days after the Morning News gave Lazare a scathing one-star review, I went to see for myself. I had actually meant to go somewhere else, but Lazare was closer.

Having read the review, I wasn't expecting much. And the menu didn't bode well for a vegan meal. Most things had cheese or meat--there was even a bacon-infused vinaigrette, which is probably exciting to some people , but I am not one of those.

Our server confirmed my suspicions. When I told him my dining companion and I were both vegan and asked what we could eat, he stopped and thought very hard...and finally told us to dispense with the menu altogether.

"It'll be better if the chef just makes you something from scratch," he said. We hesitated, then acquiesced and meekly sipped our waters while we waited for this great unknown.

When, other than being five years old or in prison, does a person truly have no idea what he or she will eat? Dinner parties, maybe--but it seems like most dinner parties these days are either potlucks or that there are enough vegetarians, gluten-free eaters and men who require meat to call a meal a meal (a not-so-silent majority, at least in Texas) to make the menu a topic of constant wrangling. Certainly not at restaurants, where even though I'm the kind of diner who's inclined to let a chef choose for me, I always have a general idea of what's coming. And, for that matter, how much it will cost.

We knew none of these things. After we'd exhausted the speculative possibilities--a salad, or maybe a flatbread without cheese--we stared at our surroundings. Lazare has an attractive interior: high ceilings, wood paneling, a few cozy booths and a nice bar. There are far too many huge TVs for my taste, but it was 2:30 p.m. on a weekday, so they were on mute and less obtrusive than they could've been. Our server returned to ask if we wanted some bread with olive oil. Who knew? If we were getting only a salad, then yes. If we were getting falafel and veggie burgers, no.

We said yes.

When the food came, though, it was nothing short of amazing. Even in light of the numerous mitigating factors--it was 2:30 p.m. on a weekday, so the restaurant was deserted; my expectations had been abnormally low; Lazare had just been slammed with a nasty review--our plate of vegan creations was one of the best I've had.

Chef Ryan Carbery, who came out after a few minutes to see how we liked it, had produced three beautifully complementary dishes: a sweet Sicilian caponata with pine nuts and golden raisins, shiitake mushrooms and spinach sautéed in soy sauce and mirin, and a spicy, Southwest-inspired mix of roasted corn, grilled pearl onions, arugula and fava beans. Every aspect of the food was skillfully prepared, the greens still springy and the pearl onions just soft enough to be exquisitely sweet. We thanked Carbery, who replied that the opportunity to use all the fresh vegetables in his kitchen at once was actually fun for him.

Which is why he's the chef, and we're the diners)

The staff was unfailingly attentive--even if they were just bored, their polite and constant attentions weren't lost on us--and the meal perfectly sized for two people eating a late lunch. Our server also promised that we could get the same meal on a busy Friday night. We left full, happy and impressed, and our wallets fared just as well: All told, the meal (bread, water, and the vegan surprise) was just over $15.

3699 McKinney Ave. #B105 (West Village)

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