He's far from the only one to come to that conclusion: Meritage now has a regular prix-fixe ($35) Vegan Tasting Menu and even more vegan dishes on "Meatless Tuesdays." Square 1682 has an elegant Vegetable Tasting Menu ($45) that can be done all-vegan.
So are they any good? There was just one way to find out.
Meritage's tasting menu, overseen by executive chef Anne Coll, started with a colorful selection of tart, crunchy pickles, followed quickly by a pairing of kale chips and "taro tots." The chips were more sophisticated (read: less oily) than I make, while the fennel-flecked "tots" were a decadent, melt-in-your-mouth treat.
An excellent sweet-potato bisque, blending orange and curry into a seamless mix, was soon contrasted by the riot of sweet and savory flavors in a Korean taco. My guest objected that it never landed on "one note," but I found it kicky and intriguing.
The braised tofu, with subtle lemongrass and coconut flavors in its sauce along with wilted greens, was quite good, as were the sorbet and tapioca, but I found myself making a note to come back for more Korean tacos.
At Square 1682, chef Guillermo Tellez offered just a bit more visual panache in his courses, beginning with a salad incorporating sliced golden beets and yellow pepper slivers in an exquisitely drizzled (and delicious) dressing.
Next was a chilled asparagus soup - something I wouldn't have thought I would flip for, but there you go. Like me, my guest was "not a fan of cold soups," but we both made an exception for this. Maybe we were charmed by the spear of tempura asparagus perched atop the stemmed glass it was served in. Or maybe it was just really, really good.
The cheeseless (and tofu-less) lasagna had an excellent marinara sauce over layered zucchini and eggplant, and the bean ragout was hearty, but it was the strawberry soup with dark-chocolate-covered strawberries that truly sealed the deal at 1682, with its perfect balance of tart and sweet, refreshing and warming, capping off a sumptuous evening.
Not every joint can go to such lengths as Meritage (20th and Lombard, 215-985-1922) or Square 1682 (17th and Sansom, 215-563-5008) to prove their veggie mettle, but it's great to see more Philly chefs turning over new leaves and finding fresh pathways to creative expression.
V FOR VIRTUOSO: Christy Morgan will sign copies of her "temple cuisine"-inspired vegan cookbook, Blissful Bites (BenBella Books), and walk you through some of the recipes! She'll be at two area Whole Foods markets: 1575 The Fairway, Jenkintown, at 6 p.m. Monday; and 2001 Pennsylvania Ave. at 5:30 p.m. March 27.
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 10-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles the growing trend of plant-based eating around Philadelphia. Contact VforVeg@phillynews.com and follow @V4Veg on Twitter.