There’s not a lot of vegetarian food on the menu at The Elm, a bar and restaurant in the basement of the McCarren Hotel in Williamsburg. There are a few good apps and sides: the vegetable tempura was lightly fried and delicious, and blistered shisito peppers are elevated with a splash of orange. But I have a friend who works as a bartender there, and he told me that when the right chef is in the kitchen he’ll put together a huge seasonal vegetarian plate my friend referred to as “the Garden.” Another chef was working that night, and he created an incredible vegetarian pasta at my request. Strozzapreti, a thick, curled pasta was dressed with a dandelion and lemon pesto, topped with crispy bits of fried onions and crunchy almonds. I also got a side order of the smoked maitake mushrooms. This is something for mushroom lovers only — the cooking process intensifies the deep, mushroom flavors. I love mushrooms, but even I thought they needed a little bit of acidity to offset the intense earthy flavor. Giving the maitakes a quick dunk into the pesto from the pasta did the trick nicely. It’s not a cheap meal, by any means, but The Elm does quite well by vegetarians if you ask the right questions.
The Elm — 160 North 12th St