As a public service, this column is doing its best work when I can recommend a dish like the basil gnocchi ($13) at Webster's Wine Bar. Since the Vegetarian Option was first kicked off—with a visit to Longman & Eagle—one of its goals was to highlight restaurants' vegetarian fare that would satisfy the appetites of herbivores and meat eaters alike. In other words, dishes that shined brightly among their fellow menu items, and just happened to be meatless. Too often at restaurants the veggie option coincides with the lightest, healthiest, or—at worst—blandest choice on the menu. But not so with the basil gnocchi at Webster's; this hearty bowl of dumplings, whose flavors feel so right for fall, is rich (faux) meaty, and thoroughly hunger-banishing.
The gnocchi themselves, which arrive piled impressively high, are exceptional. They're dense and robust but not heavy. Texturally, they strike a pleasing balance between a starchy bite and an airy, pillowy fluff. Webster's combines its gnocchi with Italian style crumbled seitan, from Chicago-based Upton's Naturals, a hefty dose of onion, and a basil-laced white wine cream sauce. The seitan lends the dish a nutty, meaty depth that might just fool some carnivores. And the crisp pungency of the onions helps to cut through the creaminess of the sauce. Everything works really well together, to the point that it's hard to stop eating until that mini mountain of gnocchi more resembles the Great Plains.