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According to Chinese astrology, 2012 was the Year of the Dragon. But for restaurant diners nationwide, it was the Year of Cauliflower.

Cauliflower, which was

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The Best Dishes (Plant) of 2012

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According to Chinese astrology, 2012 was the Year of the Dragon. But for restaurant diners nationwide, it was the Year of Cauliflower.

Cauliflower, which was going strong in Seattle by January, was this year remade as a T-Bone steak at Superba in Los Angeles, and fried for a vegetarian version of chicken and waffles at New York's Dirt Candy.

But local chefs didn't just dote on cauliflower. They produced a range of stupendous vegetable dishes, many of which I was fortunate to taste. Here, the very best of them.

Beet salad, Blind Pig Bistro

I could have chosen any dish at Blind Pig for my favorites list, since nearly everything the kitchen touches turns to deliciousness, and since the changing chalkboard menu means you'll wear yourself out trying to track down a specific dish I endorse. But I really loved the colors and textures at play in a beet salad, a phrase which doesn't typically make a food critic perk up. Here, the posy-pink beets shared the plate with sour blood orange segments, bitter horseradish yogurt and crunchy toasted farro.

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Kinoko salad, Miyabi Sushi

There's a Japanese comic book character who goes by the name "Kinoko Salad," as I've recently learned: She's a bossy toddler with firm fashion opinions. There is perhaps an aggressive edge to Miyabi's umami-packed mushroom salad, but the supremely fresh greens and toasted sesame seeds introduce an unmissable delicate note.

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Kale salad, Grub

Cauliflower, of course. But also ruffled leaves of kale and firm chickpeas, bathed in the exact right amount of lemon-tahini vinaigrette, a punchy dressing that hits taste receptors not always activated early in a meal.

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Carrots, Belle Clementine

Hey, those don't look like carrots! Belle Clementine, a sort of farmers market supper club, changes its menu nightly, so our photographer caught the restaurant on beets-and-creamed nettles night. But I was crazy for a buttery saute of carrots (incidentally grown by a guy at our table), prepared so the vegetable's natural sugars shimmered on the tongue.

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Spring pea flan, Restaurant Marche

Greg Atkinson was tapped to helm a vegetarian restaurant before he opened Marche on Bainbridge, and his everlasting affection for plants is clear from his plates. I was especially struck by a pea flan that might appear again in spring: It tasted fresh, clean and green, and was as compulsively spoonable as chocolate pudding.

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Pumpkin and lotus seed soup, Blossom Vegetarian

One of the few dishes at Blossom made with plain tofu instead of elaborate fake meat, the satiny consistency of the restaurant's gorgeous pumpkin soup was striking. Although the dish doesn't employ any trickery, it's tremendously complex. If Atkinson's flan summed up springtime, Hue Phan's soup is the Cliffs Notes version of fall.

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