Standing at a burly six feet three, David McMillan looks more like the man who started Joe Beef—the Montreal institution that serves pig-skin pastas and supersize foie gras, bacon, and cheese sandwiches—than a man who regularly eats cauliflower for dinner. But he's no ordinary vegetarian—in fact, he's not a vegetarian at all. At Le Vin Papillon, the elegant sliver of a wine bar he recently opened and co-owns with his business partner, McMillan is making hearty, steaklike hunks of veggies the marquee attraction while relegating meat to a supporting, but crucial, role. Think carrots seasoned with chicken-skin salt or an arugula salad that uses lamb-neck stock in its dressing. "It satisfies that carnal urge," he says.
Call it the monogamish approach to meatlessness—the next step in a pro-veggie evolution that goes beyond your typical flexitarian preferences. "I would rather focus on higher-quality, antibiotic-free protein, and less of it," says Tom Colicchio, whose menu at the sunny Hamptons restaurant Topping Rose House names main courses by their vegetables—kohlrabi, sunchokes, cardoons, and baby fennel—then lists the side note of, say, fluke in a small-print footnote below.
These dishes are hitting all parts of the menu. Vegetable guru John Fraser's new spot in the East Village's Standard Hotel, Narcissa, uses a dusting of bacon to give his twice-baked celery-root appetizer a Sunday-morning-style smokiness. At Matt McCallister's Nordic-inspired Dallas restaurant FT33, the house-made gnocchi soup's butternut squash, greens, and mushrooms shine in a ham broth that adds an unexpected savory kick. Camille Becerra, at her new SoHo restaurant, Navy, offsets a celery-and-sorrel entrée with thin strips of jamón serrano, using "fatty and umami characteristics to balance flavors," she says.
It's a more lenient pro-plant philosophy that works in your own kitchen, too. "Try eating a cup of green beans with one slice of bacon," McMillan says. "You'll enjoy it so much more than if you had four." Because a craving for pork doesn't have to mean going whole hog.