Veggie Girl: Villa-O

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The first thing that drew me to Villa O was the exterior, where a line of nautically themed blue and white couches and rocking chairs wait invitingly for the odd passerby to recline and stay awhile. (This, of course, was before today's storm-of-biblical-proportions rolled in.) Assuming I couldn't eat the food, I'd only ever been there for drinks until this week, when a pasta craving coincided with my usual drive for the 6pm cocktail.

"Original, organic, oceanic," my friend recited as she read menu, invoking the restaurant's three eponymous O's. "This sounds like you." (Except for the oceanic, of course.) After ordering summery drinks--I branched out with the mojito, and she tried the "Sfuzzi," a frozen, girly-pink blend of Prosecco and white peach nectar--we sat back on our sofas and contemplated the meaning of long summer dresses while we perused the menu, which, I noticed with delight, actually had some vegan potential.

First, Villa O's basil marinara sauce is vegan--a rarity, because many Italian restaurants use Parmesan. I started to get excited. Second, all of their pasta is made in-house and is vegan, too. And in addition to seven different shapes ranging from spinach fettucine to angel hair, they have a whole-wheat fusilli that, I soon discovered, is nutty and healthy.

We could have ordered salads or one of the sides--my dinner companion was swooning over the Italian green beans with lemon juice--but we opted instead for the Portobello Mushroom Fries. Whoever first created this, the concept is genius: Thinly sliced Portobello caps are dipped in batter, fried golden, and sprinkled in sea salt, then served with a creamy tomato-basil dip my companion seemed to love.

Here's the catch: Villa O's mushroom fries aren't actually vegan. The batter they're dipped in contains eggs and Panko breadcrumbs, our server informed us after checking with the kitchen. She emerged apologetically, bearing a small bowl of marinara sauce.

"I have some vegan regulars, and they always order these," she told us as she set down the bowl of vegan dipping sauce. "Maybe it's because they don't know about the eggs."

Ignorance is bliss. But even the well-informed can scrape off the breaded part and just eat the mushroom... Still, the menu at Villa-O is certainly crafted with an eye toward vegetarians, and possibly even vegans. There's an organic veggie version of the dinner lasagna, organic veggie pizza and a grilled organic vegetable antipasta ($15) that sounds promising. Big points, too, for a server who was sweet and attentive--and happy to answer all of our pesky inquiries. Oh, and the pasta? Fantastic.

Villa O
4514 Travis St., Suite 132

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