The Vegetarian Option: La Sirene
I had heard people gushing about La Sirene for quite a long time, as it has a stellar reputation for being a cute, French, BYOB date spot. And that it certainly is—but consider yourself warned upfront that it is decidedly a splurge, so perhaps you should take extra precautions to make sure you really like your date first.
Having secured said date, I ventured to see if a cute, romantic, BYOB French (read: meat-centric) place could manage to put out vegetarian meal worth its salt. On the upside, the restaurant's signature item is a completely un-meaty goat-cheese tart, so that was encouragement enough for me to go ahead and give it a whirl.
Now I had been hearing about the goat cheese tart ($16.95) for a long time. This is the one dish that every review inevitably raves about and recommends. I had even mentioned it to chef Pawlicki when I met him at his other restaurant, Taureau, and he went on to tell me the ingredient-by-ingredient chronicle of how he had created this dish. Well. I can't say it get much more hyped-up than this.
The tart with is made with shallots, truffles, grapes, and a veil of 180 day-aged Swiss cheese, although the goat cheese was easily the element. I have to say I'd wished it hadn't been quite so hyped up, because even though I retained my socks and my mind didn't blow, it was in fact quite good. But for me the best part was the sweet, fruity red sauce that circled the plate. It turned out to be a sweet beet sauce, which explains why it went so well with the goat cheese. Now that's a stroke of brilliance.
We also ordered the appetizer special that night—wine-poached pears stuffed with blue cheese and walnuts ($13.75, pictured above). Compared to the tart this was a rather straightforward dish, though the pairing of blue cheese and pear was surprisingly good, in spite of the aggressiveness of the blue cheese.
Ah, the ubiquitous vegetable platter ($25.75). It's a hard reality of French dining that if you're vegetarian, your entree is inevitably going to be all of the vegetable sides together on a big plate. But we knew that going in, so we were willing to be wowed by our colorful array of vegetables.
The complete round up was a cauliflower puree, carrot puree, sweet potato, eggplant, beets, mushrooms, and chayote, with a bit of white rice. The mushrooms were the favorite (my dining companion claimed they tasted as though they were cooked by being sat on by cherubs, which is a compliment if ever I heard one), and the chayote was quite good as well. The rest of the plate was fairly uneventful—certainly not bad among the other vegetable platters I've encountered, but worth $26? You're probably better off getting an extra appetizer instead and having it for your entree.
Looking around at the other diners moaning over their foie-gras-and-truffle-topped filet mignon, I fully admit that you can't judge a French restaurant by its vegetarian platter. If your date is carnivorous then this may still be a viable spot, since at least there's always that very solid goat cheese tart. But a double-veggie-date is going to have a tough time with the limited options. I can't really pick on La Sirene for this flaw, since this is really a plague of almost all (traditional) French restaurants, but it does make it a bit frustrating when you try to go out for a nice romantic French dinner.
Dear French People of the World: We love you. You make lots of delicious and wonderful things. But can vegetarians have a real entree please?