Bringing Veggie Options to the Table
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Tucked away in the heart of downtown’s art district is Brasserie Du Vin, a charming cafe that caused my French dining partner to gaze nostalgically at her surroundings and exclaim, “Wow, this really feels like I’m in France.” The brick-layered ground and walls in the outdoor seating area give the place a quaint old-world feel, and the hanging plants and climbing vines make you take a deeper breath and settle into your chair as you wait for your Season Vegetarian Risotto. At $13 for lunch, $16 for dinner, it’s one of the more affordable entrees on the menu, notes the cafe’s friendly and welcoming chef, Marco Elder.
“The Vegetarian Risotto switches up daily,” he adds. “We may do baby zucchini, baby summer squash with a little arugula. I’ve done a pumpkin risotto this season. It’s really whatever vegetables are in season, and I try to emphasize as much as possible the local ingredients.”
Today, he brings me a steaming dish featuring chunks of cauliflower, Nalo cherry tomatoes and spinach. As I inhale, you can almost see a cartoon whiff of garlic sauce rising from the dish, held by the broadly smiling Elder, and finding its way to my all too eager nose. The risotto, made from traditional Arborio rice, steers free of the clumpy, overly cheesy smothering that claims so many risotto dishes. This one is made with vegetable stock, and completed with a delicate touch of butter and Parmesan that allows each ingredient to retain its texture and individual flavor.
Elder is as amenable to catering to vegans as he is to vegetarians. “I’ve cooked vegan risottos, they’re just not as creamy,” he says. “We get a lot of vegetarian and vegan requests. Some people don’t want the risotto, so I try to play with what I have in my coolers and give them something that is not just a simple salad. Too many chefs cop out and just give vegetarians salads, but there’s a lot of fun dishes you can do like ratatouille, which I am going to be featuring on my next menu change.”
Look for the new menu in mid-November, as Elder says he’ll be incorporating a selection of new veggie items. In addition, he features two daily blackboard specials, an appetizer and an entree, and he’ll be designating Monday a “vegetarian special” day.
“It’s to let vegetarians know that we do think about them and we do care for them,” he says. And his actions repeatedly show it. “We just had a beer dinner which was vegetarian-themed. We had a lot of people that were meat-eaters and they really enjoyed themselves. We do these events once a month and I get a lot of people saying they wish they had gone, but that it’s all meat heavy. If they make their reservation letting me know they’re vegetarian, I can prepare a special four-course menu just for them that’s paired with the beers. I want to make sure people know that I am more than ready to accommodate vegetarians.”
Brasserie Du Vin
1115 Bethel St., Honolulu
11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday -Saturday for lunch, and 4 p.m. to closing for dinner.