Detail from a vegetable composition at FT33, Matt McCallister's modern American restaurant in the Design District. Nilton "Junior" Borges is executive chef. 

Detail from a vegetable composition at FT33, Matt McCallister's modern American restaurant in the Design District. Nilton "Junior" Borges is executive chef. 

Leslie Brenner/Staff

If you're a vegetarian who loves to check out all the buzziest new restaurants, you know the drill. You scan the menu, looking for something appropriate and tasty-sounding for dinner.  You probably don't find it. You ask the server if there are any vegetarian offerings. "Oh," she chirps, "the chef would be more than happy to make you a vegetarian plate from the side dishes."

Drag and a half!

Happily, that's changing deliciously for the better: At four Dallas restaurants of the moment – Wayward Sons, Top Knot, Mudhen Meat and Greens and FT33 – vegetarians are treated like royalty. 

Top Knot

Chef Angela Hernandez puts vegetable dishes on a pedestal  at Top Knot, the modern Asian fusion small plates spot upstairs from Uchi on Maple Avenue.  Nearly a third of the dishes (six in all) are vegetarian; two are vegan.  Start off your evening with a salad-like vegetable crudo -- shaved summer squash, greens, sunflower sprouts and wonderfully ripe  MitiCana de Cabra goat cheese. Ease into hot and crispy sunchokes, served with cool, luscious crème fraîche and zippy horseradish, maybe have some gai lan (Chinese kale) in white ponzu garnished with crisp little fried garlic chips. Bonus dish: Order a nori-wrapped hand-roll filled with banh mi-style pickled veg and swap soy sauce for the nam pla served on the side, and you've got yet another vegan treat.

Mudhen Meat and Greens

Vegetables are very much in the spotlight at Mudhen Meat and Greens – the new restaurant from Shannon Wynne and company (Lark on the Park, the Meddlesome Moth) at Dallas Farmers Market. In fact, giant chalkboards at both ends of the dining room list each day's fresh produce.  Half of executive chef Suki Otsuki's appetizers are vegan, including collard spring rolls filled with carrots, avocado, cabbage and crunchy clear kelp noodles, with a tahini-miso sauce to dip them in. Half of her salads are vegan as well, such as massaged kale and fennel with ruby red grapefruit and avocado in a citrus vinaigrette. There's always a vegan soup of the day. After that go for it: Build a bowl from the vegetables listed on the blackboard ($4 each), and a starch ($3 each) – maybe whole grain salad or fingerling potatoes – if you're so inclined. 

FT33

A five-star restaurant in the Design District would hardly seem like the place to order vegetarian. 

Only it is.

I dived into dinner recently at FT33 with a starter of mezzaluna pasta filled with ricotta and nettles in pool of onion jus with wood sorrel. That was wonderful. But the main course that followed, a vegetable composition, blew me away.

Gorgeously arrayed on a wooden board were six mini dishes, each elaborate, thoughtful and interesting enough to have been a dish in its own right. Intensely flavored roasted baby carrots strewn with carrot coins and sesame-dill crackers tiptoed up to a silken carrot purée.  Sumac-dusted grilled cauliflower florets with toasted peanuts and herbs danced with tangelo suprèmes.  Plancha-charred radishes and pretty triangles of watermelon radish kept company with a cushion of radish yogurt. On and on it went, with so many textures and flavors and aromas: earthy roasted celery root and pale-green celery leaves, grilled broccoli tossed in broccoli pesto with ribbons of broccoli stem, the concentrated pickly goodness of beets. 

Our server mentioned that each time someone orders the $29 plate, the cooks groan – so much is involved in putting it all together. I felt I had hit an edible jackpot: It was one of the most outstanding – and memorable – dishes I've had in some time. The dish has been on the menu about a year and a half, according to the restaurant's publicist. Some of the elements change according to the season.

Wayward Sons

Wayward Sons chef-owner Graham Dodds has become enthralled with vegetarian cooking lately, and the results are as delicious as they are playful. To wit: a garden "charcuterie" board with slices of carrot, parsnip and celery root standing in for salumi, and a pot of port-wine-gelée-topped sunchoke pâté standing in for pork rillettes. Dodds' intensely flavored beet chili gets the seasonings – and somehow the texture – just right; a pouf-of vegan-friendly cashew cream is the perfect flourish. Parsley root gnocchi in leek broth with beech mushrooms, artichokes and shaved ricotta salata makes a fine main course. There's a steak on Dodds' menu, too – but these dishes are compelling enough that he might just make a few converts.

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