Years ago, going to a vegetarian restaurant in the East Village meant an unexciting meal of salads or "health food." But the openings of restaurants like Dirt Candy, we've seen more and more vegetarian restaurants that don't play by the old sanctimonious rules.
Table Verte opened a few months ago, and though its offerings are inconsistent, it's a fully vegetarian effort at a decidedly un-vegetarian concept: the French bistro. There are even vegan and gluten-free options, all helpfully marked on the menu with a V or a GF. And the restaurant was opened by the people who run Taureau and cooked at La Sirene—people who know what makes for good bistro food.
The menu is an interesting mix of French classics and more modern dishes that are French-inspired. For a taste of the classic, I highly recommend the Plat du Chaud Froid ($9.50), a mix of three cold salads. Clockwise from the top you see the rich and savory Lentils Vinaigrette (V, GF) with carrots, celery, leeks and a Dijon vinaigrette. Next there are Beets with Horseradish (V, GF), which are pleasantly sweet, though some more horseradish wouldn't hurt. Finally there's the Celeriac Remoulade (GF), shredded celery root with lemon juice and homemade mayonnaise. It hits the proper interplay between crunchy celery root and creamy dressing.
Another classic is the Gratin Dauphinois (GF, $8), also known as potato gratin. Thin slices of potato are layered in a creamy cheese sauce, and baked in the oven until crisp on top and soft on the inside. The gratin is a little soupy on the inside, but the subtle flavors of potato and cheese are spot on.
Among the vegan and gluten-free entrées you'll find Choux Fleur Roti ($16.75) a roasted cauliflower with quinoa, roasted sweet potato, and sautéed greens, all with a fig and caper sauce. It's a dish that shows that cauliflower is just as deserving of our attention as kale or Brussels sprouts. The florets themselves are crisp on the outside and meltingly soft within. The sweet potato and the fig sauce help accentuate the inherent sweetness of the cauliflower, while the mustard-dressed greens made a nice counterpoint to it.
As a vegetarian, it's refreshing to walk into a French restaurant and know that you can order literally anything on the menu. Table Verte's charming little space, friendly service, and wide variety of dishes makes me wish I lived close enough to become a regular there.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.