The "Stamping Your Vegetarian Passport" event hosted by Sommelier Sean Beck at Backstreet Café on Wednesday night was an all-vegetarian food event, a rare find in meat-hungry Houston that I, a recently converted vegetarian, greatly enjoyed.
Passed appetizers included green tomato gazpacho shots, couscous-stuffed piquillo peppers, nicely textured and balanced, and comforting potato galettes - basically, deliciously warm hash-brown balls.
The first course was an heirloom tomato cocktail, a vegetarian ceviche of sorts. A few chips to dip into the medley of flavorful vegetables proved an intense start to the meal, but in a good way: I'd liken the tingling kick of cilantro to that burned-tongue sensation you get after gulping down coffee too quickly and eagerly. I, for one, love that. You may not. But you'd probably still enjoy this little tomato cocktail starter.
We moved on to a squash blossom flatbread. A simple flatbread spread with tomatillo salsa and sun-dried Mexican squash, it was light and lively. My only very minor complaint would be the small amount of ricotta cheese on top, but my palate is one that demands yet more cheese on top of already excessively cheesy Trader Joe's frozen macaroni and cheese. (Which, by the way, is the best frozen meal on the planet, and one I sorely miss, since the nearest TJ's is 850 miles away from my front porch. Yeah, I Google-mapped it.)
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The cauliflower steak made me realize that I missed that grilled flavor, even if I don't miss the meat it typically comes on. It was tender, obviously much more tender than the usual steak, and had a good amount of saffron. Also, grill marks are always a plus.
A more familiar-looking dish came with the fourth course: black pepper tagliatelle, a ribbon pasta with smoked tomato sauce and broccolini, which is not just a fancy name for broccoli, but a similar-looking vegetable of its own. I scooped this last savory dish up eagerly. The tomato sauce rang true, as fresh and delectable as the homegrown tomatoes we have going on in the backyard at home.
My favorite part: dessert. The carrot cake was moist, dense and rich, with a wonderful condensed milk ice cream.
I left impressed that an entire vegetarian meal could be pulled off so well. Chefs generally worship at the altar of meat -- as Gordon Ramsay said, he'd electrocute any child of his who dared turned vegetarian. Backstreet obviously does not follow that philosophy, as the all-veggie meal proved just as enticing and hedonistic as any carnivorous meal.