Being a vegetarian sometimes means feeling like you're always a bridesmaid and never the bride. Sure, that gnocchi entree is delicious, but meat eaters who go to to Italian restaurants get to order both primi pasta dishes and secondi meat dishes for a full three- or four-course meal.
I've always wanted to try molecular chef Ian Kleinman's creative cooking at O's Steak and Seafood, but as the restaurant's name implies, the menu there is geared almost exclusively toward carnivores. Still, I kept checking the weekend tasting menus, looking for my big chance. It came with Denver Restaurant Week.
The vegetarian offerings at O's during Denver Restaurant Week (actually two weeks, since O's is one of the restaurants that has extended the deals through March 6) include a mixed green salad with compressed apples, beets and goat-cheese vinaigrette; a main course, root vegetable pot pie with curry and green-pea paper; and a choice between three delicious-sounding desserts.
When we arrived for our reservation, our server said the kitchen could also create a vegetarian version of the apple tarragon puree with smoked bacon-wrapped mushroom or the 148-degree egg with grilled tomato, prosciutto and cherry balsamic.
I chose the egg, since it was cooked using the sous-vide method, which I've only seen used for meat; I was curious to see how an egg cooked in the shell for exactly 70 minutes at 148 degrees would taste. Turns out, it tastes like the most amazingly creamy, rich egg you'll ever have. The yolk was perfectly round with the white still slightly runny, and the grilled tomato and balsamic were a nice touch, though I could tell that the dish was missing the salty, brighter flavors that the prosciutto would have provided.
The pot pie, which came out on a huge, cast-iron plate, was full of carrots, parsnips, potatoes and leeks, and topped with a buttery crust. There was very little sauce inside the pie, and the curry flavor was so light it was hard to detect, but that didn't keep me from enjoying the kitchen's take on traditional comfort food. The green-pea paper was an interesting element, and it was surprisingly sweet -- almost like a vaguely pea-flavored piece of fruit leather.
Luckily, I'd come to dinner with two companions, and so we were able to sample all three desserts on the menu. The liquid-nitrogen whipped blueberry ice cream with grilled yuzu pound cake and caramel sauce was an unusual dish, and it was thrilling to see how well the familiar flavors of blueberry and caramel combined. Although I didn't find much yuzu flavor in the cake, the texture was a nice balance to the creamy richness of the ice cream.
The Hawaiian doughnuts came in a big bowl and were fun to share, but while you could dip the bite-sized treats in a good white-chocolate macadamia sauce, this dessert wasn't as good as the pound cake offering.
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The vanilla custard with peach air and tapioca pearls was a lighter dish, consisting of a split, caramelized banana surrounded by fresh berries and covered with slightly sweet custard. It was creamy and satisfying without too much sweetness, and though I'd been excited to sample the peach air, it tasted much like regular air -- I could hardly detect the flavor.
My vegetarian dinner at O's was a special meal, indeed, and I'd be eager to return if Kleinman decided to add a vegetarian entrée to his regular menu. And if not, I might still come back for another round of desserts.
The couple sitting next to us had ordered the tableside strawberry yuzu and frozen olive oil sorbet, and the mad-scientist floor show of the chef whipping pureed strawberries, egg and yuzu juice with liquid nitrogen as the bowl overflowed with enough dramatic steam to fill a Halloween house of horrors made this dessert alone well worth the drive to Westminster and the $10 price tag.
Dessert and a show for ten bucks? I'm in!