Lunga Vita Vegans!

As a pescatarian in a carnivorous world, I’ve had to pass on passed hors d’oeuvres and question what’s in that tasty-looking food on a buffet table. Restaurants that cater to vegetarians and vegans often seem more like places you “eat” than “dine.” And the mainstream culinary establishment feels compelled to baconize everything.

Because I eat fish, I can usually find something suitable on a menu; but I empathize with strict vegetarians and vegans with even more dietary restrictions.

That’s why I am especially impressed that Civico 1845 in Little Italy has gone so far as to create a full-on vegan menu as a supplement to its general menu.

Owned by brothers Dario and Pietro Gallo, the Italian restaurant opened in July 2015 with a few vegan options (Chef Pietro is vegan himself). As it turned out, vegan orders came to account for 30 percent of Civico’s dining revenue. And the restaurant made Open Table’s list of the nation’s top 52 vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurants. (San Diego’s Café Gratitude also made the list, but it’s a vegetarian/vegan specialty restaurant.)

To expand their vegan options, the Gallos called upon their Italian chef/friend Luca Zannoni — an expert in organic, vegetarian and vegan cooking — to help them create a wide range of offerings for those who do not consume beef, pork, poultry, eggs or dairy products.

Today, Civico is unveiling its vegan menu with 10 percent of the day’s vegan-dish proceeds to The Humane League’s efforts to reduce the suffering of farmed animals.

Last night, I had an opportunity to sample multiple dishes from the new menu. To my left was a vegan, to my right a carnivore who places more emphasis on taste than food group (take that, paleo dieters).

I’m not a beet-eater myself, but my dining companions raved about the baby yellow and red beet carpaccio with three-seed “mayo” and focaccia croutons. I especially liked the Proteine Italiane (quinoa and lentils with fresh strawberries and blueberries and a balsamic reduction) and the butternut squash purée with fried onion ring and yogurt cream.

Civico took classic Italian fare like lasagna, ravioli and even meatballs and turned them into neo-vegan fare using seitan, “Parmigiano” made with nuts, and millet (those are the millet balls with edible flowers in the above photo).

By the time the squat canning jars of chocolate mousse with salted caramel cookie crumbles and Marsala zabaione “tiramisu” came around, I forgot to ask how they made them without cream and eggs.

The vegan menu includes five items in the antipasti category, 10 primi piattis and four dolcis. And eight of those choices are gluten-free.

A suggestion for anyone dining at Civico 1845, vegan or not: Try the Terre Nobili Cariglio wine. The velvety, ruby red wine made from Magliocco grapes is a winner you’ll find exclusively at Civico (the Gallos are friends with Lidia Matera, the owner of Tenuta Terre Nobili winery in Montalgo Uffugo). It goes fabulously with the Italian cuisine.