Vegetate Riffs on Sunday Dinner

The vegetarian haven in Shaw closes out each weekend with a freestyle menu using seasonal veggies, cheeses, and breads from nearby farmers markets

By: Erin Zimmer

A recent off-the-cuff Sunday menu from Vegetate.
It used to be her only free night to relax—or veg out, you could say—but last month, Vegetate head chef Caesare Assad decided she’d wake up early on Sundays to pick up seasonal produce at her neighborhood’s farmers market in DC’s Bloomingdale, then run back to her vegetarian restaurant to improvise a simple dinner menu celebrating these harvest foods.

For many, fall is the ultimate season for cooking, and chef Caesare feels no differently. “It’s such a comforting time and gives people that warm feeling,” she says. “Plus I love apple season—I eat like six apples a day.”

For Assad, the farmers-market community spirit is integral to her food, and she makes weekly visits to markets in Bloomingdale and Penn Quarter and at 14th and U streets. She’s usually accompanied by Eddie Easter—an 18-year-old culinary student who worked his way up from dishwasher to quasi-sous chef over the last three months—who helps her brainstorm. “It’s like our little think tank,” Assad says.

After their Sunday shopping trip, Assad and Easter have only a few hours to whip up an on-the-fly menu, which usually consists of about seven tapas-style dishes. A couple of weeks back, the two spun out a bread pudding using Breadline’s walnut wheat bread and Reid’s Orchard peaches. Another dish of golden-apple-and-rosemary gnocchi used sweet corn, coriander, and arugula from Truck Patch farms. Sometimes Assad likes to throw together a really good—which to her means really simple—cheese platter with the market’s ripest fruits, softest breads, and best cheeses. (Blue Ridge dairy is one of her faves.)

Although Sunday dinner starts at 4:30, Assad is usually still scribbling down the menu when early birds stroll in. The artist in her—she studied painting in college—leads her to doodle artsy, hand-drawn pages with all of the farmers’ names and towns under each dish. And in keeping with Assad’s belief that “Sundays are about family and chilling out,” she’s made by-the-glass wines half price.
 
Sunday dinner at Vegetate (1414 Ninth St., NW; 202-232-4585; www.vegetatedc.com) runs from 4:30 to 8:45. Dishes are $7 to $18.