Achari Bhindi at Benares
My server recommended the Achari Bhindi ($13) from the vegetarian entrées, and I'm very glad he did. The okra was cooked until almost toasted, slightly crunchy and chewy without being slimy, and was then tossed in a tomato-based sauce. The thick, "dry" sauce is full of treasures: whole coriander seed, chunks of preserved lemon, and slivers of pickled peppers.
Muk at Dok Suni
All meals begin with a plate of mung bean jelly topped with cucumbers and a chili-sesame sauce, served at room temperature. It's a great way to prepare your palate for the wide array of bold flavors, textures, and temperatures of Korean cooking.
Tomatoes, Melon, and Squash at Bellwether
The tomatoes, melon, and squash ($11) may be the most beautiful plate of food I've been served all year. Looks aren't everything, but the dish matches. My server described it as "a last taste of summer," which sums it up pretty nicely. It's also a pleasant reminder that tomatoes are in fact fruits; they bridge the gap between ribbons of squash to chunks of sweet cantaloupe. They all come together with a bright vinaigrette, the sharp bite of jalapenos, and the refreshing taste of pickled young ginger.
Lontong Sayur at Upi Jaya
You start with a spicy, sweet, and creamy curry, coating a mix of vegetables and sticky rice cakes. Then you add a hard boiled egg, deep-fried just long enough to give it a golden, chewy outer crust, and top it with hot chilies. Then you add the onion crackers (in a non-vegetarian version, these would undoubtedly be shrimp crackers), savory and crisp, which began to snap, crackle and pop as they hit the liquid curry.
Charred Market Beans at L'Artusi
The perfectly seasoned mix of string and wax beans came charred and tossed with lemon and chiles. If you've ever cooked string beans, you know how hard it can be to season them properly, but the chefs at L'Artusi have it figured out. Finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil, these beauties can be eaten like popcorn.
Heirloom Tomato Salad at Carlton Park
I stand on the record as someone who doesn't enjoy raw tomatoes, but Heirloom Tomato Salad ($10) seemed like a good benchmark dish to determine just how seasonal the restaurant could be. I was surprised to see the chef carefully select two large, ripe heirlooms from a tray on the counter for my order; indeed, they're served at room temperature. These are tomatoes that have never been in a refrigerator. They come paired with creamy, cool burrata cheese and a jolt of heat from black pepper.
Bombas de Queso de Cabra at Euzkadi
The favorite vegetarian dish of the night was unquestionably the bombas de queso de cabra ($7.95). Rounds of goat cheese were rolled in fine breadcrumbs and deep-fried until just crisp on the outside, then drizzled with honey. The crunchy crust gives way to a creamy interior, and the sweetness of the honey was the perfect match for the salty, tangy goat cheese.
Tomato and Egg Bruschetta at Terroir
The hearty, crusty bread is topped with warm tomato sauce and a soft cooked egg yolk. It's not often that a dish has both brightness and richness, but that's the effect here: the sweet acidity of the tomato paired with the luxurious texture of the yolk.
Yum Kai Dao at Zabb Elee
Yum Kai Dao ($7), described as "fried eggs (sunny side up) spicy salad," is topped with a runny yolk and doused with a mix of chilies, lime juice, and herbs. That yolk blends with the tart, spicy dressing for an unexpected take on traditional Thai flavors.
Ortalana at Max SoHa
The toughest challenge I threw at Max Soha was ordering the ortalana pasta ($10.95). A challenge because it featured whole wheat penne and advertised "seasonal vegetables" (too often code for "frozen vegetable medley"). But the well-salted pasta and creamy, tomato-based sauce were flavorful, and the vegetables—miniature strips of zucchini and summer squash, eggplant, and carrots—were definitely fresh. The whole dish was balanced by the scoop of fresh ricotta on top, keeping it just on the right side of too salty.