First, my favorite go-to spot for casual Cuban food, David's Cuban Cafe, has closed. While I was a bit devastated by this discovery, I quickly recovered upon learning that Lario's on the Beach, Gloria Estefan's longstanding restaurant on Ocean Drive, recently reopened after being closed for more than a year for renovations. The place looks gorgeous -- very tropical and romantic -- and still features live Cuban music. While the menu offers a few vegetarian entrees, I decided to piece together an authentic Cuban meal with all traditional side dishes -- black beans, white rice, sweet plantains, and fried yucca (click here to read more about how I ate my way through Havana, Cuba). But I started with a more contemporary-style avocado salad, which was beautifully presented and also delicious.
|Fresh avocado served with tomato, red onion, and diced cucumber, and tossed in a cilantro-lime vinaigrette|
|A hearty vegetarian meal made with traditional Cuban side dishes -- white rice, black beans, sweet plantains, and fried yucca|
|Larios on the Beach's newly renovated dining room (photo from the restaurant's website)|
Second, my fellow Washingtonian and favorite celebrity chef, Jose Andres, has opened The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel. This place offers a true first-class dining experience, with outstanding service in an upscale but very comfortable dining room (I felt like I was being served in the living room of a very fancy but somewhat quirky mansion). The host took note that I was there to celebrate a special occasion, and immediately welcomed me with a glass of sparkling wine. This theme continued throughout the night, from the beginning when I was seated at a special table, to the end when I learned that my server had comped the dessert. The food also was outstanding, and most importantly, the vegetarian options were plentiful! The restaurant blends traditional Spanish cuisine with flavors from around the world. Each dish is tapa-sized and uniquely presented, and each bite bursts with intense flavor and texture -- everything was delicious!
|Mini gazpachos, served with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, breadsticks, and sherry vinegar|
|Watermelon and tomato skewers with pistachios|
|Twenty-vegetable quinoa "couscous," served in a tamarind broth|
|Pisto - vegetable stew, with zucchini, eggplant, and a golden egg (and bread on the side)|
TIP: If you want to check out The Bazaar, but don't want to break the bank, go instead to Bar Centro, which is the restaurant's outdoor lounge, where you can order a drink and sample a couple of tapas.
Finally, for a more laid back (and much less expensive) meal, head to The Cafe at Books & Books on Lincoln Road, where you can dine outdoors and choose from an expansive selection of healthy and hearty vegetarian dishes, including an entire listing of vegan entrees.
|Grilled organic tofu and avocado salad, with carrots, sprouts and snow peas on a bed of greens, served with orange-miso dressing|
|Warm organic quinoa and red bean salad, topped kale and crispy chickpeas (special)|