170 Thompson Street
That vegetarians can eat so well at Lupa, the Roman osteria in the empire Mario Batali built on beef cheeks, is a happy surprise, and for that he credits Lupa chef Mark Ladner. It's easy to make an entire meatless meal of Ladner's ambrosial verdure (one for $5, two for $9, three for $12), a deconstructed antipasti of the raw (delicate mint-laced English peas, vinegary green beans) and the blackened, almost caramelized cooked (whole baked beets slicked with tangerine oil, entwined in their stems; smoky, spicy charred fennel; wood-roasted peppers with Pantelleria capers).
3 West 18th Street
And over at the newly expanded City Bakery, chef Ilene Rosen continues to surpass our salad-bar expectations ($11 a pound) with knockout multicultural compositions of chipotle-baked okra, kirbies with bok choy and sweet-and-hot dipping sauce, and lavender eggplant with sweet white miso.