A couple of years ago, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors jumped on a slowly progressing nationwide movement to encourage its citizens, businesses and schools to be meat-free on Mondays to help increase awareness of the impact of food choices on climate change. Of course, this is a non-binding resolution, which means that businesses don’t have to comply. So I thought I’d pick up the phone and ask a few restaurants if they had adopted the resolution. Of course, I put on my sweetest, most non-threatening voice, pretending I was just calling from an inocuous vegetarian ladies’ group wanting to know about their vegetarian and vegan options, and that we were hoping to find a restaurant that had instituted Meat-free Mondays. No vegan police here — I was just looking for a nice place where we could have our monthly lunch.
Naturally, I hit up only the trendiest places. The sweet girl who answered at Boulevard, a most definitely trendy place owned by renowned chef Nancy Oakes, had never heard of the resolution. ”What we usually offer vegetarians,” she explained, “is a beautiful platter of various side dishes.” She then suggested that I call their sister restaurant, Prospect, which was newer and therefore may have heard of the resolution. But no such luck there. Albeit brand new, just opening in June, they had not heard of the resolution, and were further resolved not to accommodate it. “We wouldn’t be able to stay in business if we did,” they told me. I did not meet with any better news from Bix, a place I used to frequent for their late-night jazz. They were honest about the dearth of either vegetarian or vegan fare on their menu, and laughed when I asked if they planned to add some, even if only for Mondays. ”Have you considered Millenium?” they asked.
And so it went with Globe, Town Hall, Salt House and Lulu. Restaurants had mostly not heard of the resolution, but a couple suggested that perhaps one of the vegetarian restaurants might have adopted it. (Wait a minute…aren’t vegetarian restaurants already meat-free? Hmmm.)
Celebrity chef and author of “Kitchen Confidential,” Anthony Bourdain has said that he loves vegetarian diners – they help keep his food costs down. And really, this disdainful and mocking attitude towards vegans and vegetarians is all-too-frequently encountered among chefs and restaurants. We are often an afterthought, a minor inconvenience. Recently, we dined at a French restaurant that had opened up in our neighborhood to rave reviews. I was excited to see a vegetarian cassoulet of spring vegetables on the menu, and exclaimed with joy at the presentation when it arrived. However, after one bite of what turned out to be a bowl of undercooked beans and flavorless vegetables, I watched my non-vegetarian friends smacked their lips with delight at their dishes, and wondered if the chef even tested the beans to see if they were done.
I find it sad that they think of us as lacking palates, unable to distinguish an undercooked bean from a tender one, or that we would gasp in awe at a plate of grilled vegetables (I have no problem with grilled veggies; I just don’t want to pay $26 for them). I delight in serving omnivores delicious vegan cuisine, to help open their eyes to all of the wonderful plant-based possibilities. It’s wonderful to cook for appreciative vegans and vegetarians as well, but I really see it as my mission to entice non-vegans to my dinner table. At our recent annual holiday party full of omnivores, we had a guest who had been coming for 3 years who just realized this year for the first time that the food was all vegan. “So everything’s vegan but the cheeses, right?” he asked, then his jaw dropped when he found out that they, too, were plant-based. Our Italian guest kept asking for more of the “Buffalo Mozzarella” Bruschetta. Here, by the way, is what I served. Next year, I’ll invite some non-vegan restaurateurs and hope they realize how imaginative a plant-based menu can be.
Assorted Artisan Vegan Cheeses
Rollatini of Truffled Seitan, Roasted Pepper, Smoked Provolone
Buffalo Mozzarella Bruschetta
Roasted Asparagus, Porcini and Meltable Muenster Risotto Squares topped with Asparagus Puree
Fried Yuba Rolls with Avocado, Green Onion, Jicama, Mango, Sweet Red Chili Sauce
Brie en Croute with Pears, Cabernet Jam
Manicotti with Almond Ricotta, Sauce Duxelles
Kale, Cranberry, Apple Salad with Lemon Dressing
Roasted Baby Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts
Butternut Squash and Zucchini Ribbons with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic, Olive Oil
Meringue Shells with Eggnog Cream Cheese Pastry Cream and Berries
Chocolate Polenta Puffs
Spiced Pecan Shortbread
Chocolate Almond Raspberry Thumbprint