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Dec 9, 2009 10:59 PM

Vegetarian dishes....maybe I'm just in a mood for a rant...

I spent a long six day weekend in what feels like my home away from home lately, Charlotte NC (business takes me there frequently). When I go there I am often asked to play hostess to a group going out for nice dinners. But this isn't really about Charlotte, although my complaint might be one that is better addressed in more vegetarian parts of the country....

However, once again, the inevitable vegetarian among us faced almost no choices for dinner. Several of the restaurants we went to pride themselves on their "farm to table" type philosophy....yet everything was very meat or fish centric. It seems that even a pasta was beyond the chef's purvue. I watched as my dining companion was served essentially a "sample" plate of side dishes on several occasions: basically three of the existing veggie dishes combined. Ironically, the best effort at making her a vegetarian dish was at the one steakhouse we went too....

I especially resent the fact that a couple of the places we went to offered to make her a vegetarian entre, and then returned with a plate filled with spoonfuls of the same side dishes (mashed potatoes, veggies, etc) that the rest of the table was sharing (and servings were generous enough that she could have made her own plate out of these without being charged for an extra entree.....).

Hounds, if you are entertaining how do you handle this? Do you ever try and call ahead of time to see what vegetarian dishes the chef is willing to present? My colleague was graceful about it, and said "I'm used to it, don't worry..." ..But should she really have to settle??

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  1. I either check the menu on the internet or call ahead to make sure they do have vegetarian entrées on the menu. That or you can take everyone out to a vegetarian restaurant. All of us carnivores can find something we really like at a vegetarian restaurant - at least a few times a year. I'm an omnivore but have learned that there are good, filling meals to be had at vegetarian restaurants (not sure about vegan places).

    Your colleague should not have to settle. She's going to a nice restaurant to have a good dinner with her friends so should get something that actually resembles a meal and not a bunch of sides thrown on a plate. Top Chef had the cheftestants make a vegetarian dish this season and some looked absolutely delicious. Others looked like a bunch of sides.

    1. Well where I live, which is pretty back-water compared to Charlotte, it seems that every restaurant has multiple vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. However that doesn’t happen to answer your question, I’m just surprised at the lack of vegetarian options.

      As an ex owner of restaurants I was aware that I had to offer selections to appease all dining crowds, so from that stand point I think it’s pretty short sighted for the restaurant not to offer them.

      However when dining or entertaining guests I have a little bit more of a hard callous attitude. It’s anyone’s personal choice what they eat, if they choose not to eat shrimp, meat, pork, etc. That’s their personal/religious/moral choice and to be honest I don’t ever try to bend over backwards for someone who has made a choice that might cause them problems.

      The question is should she have to settle for what restaurant A offers to serve her for her own personal choice. The answer is yes, but she can choose not to patronize that restaurant again.

      It comes down to accepting the consequences of your personal choices.

      1. I would always call ahead, preferably at least a day in advance. If the restaurant doesn't have vegetarian options and is unwilling to cook up something special, I would find another place to eat.

        1. Here on the West coast it seems like everyplace has at least one veg option, even if it ends up being risotto 75% of the time. Not to do so seems way behind the times.

          Yes, please, please do inform restaurants of dietary restrictions when making reservations, and be specific. You may still encounter indifferent establishments, but for the rest of us, it helps immensely to know ahead of time that there will be two vegetarians, one no shellfish, one no bacon, a nut allergy, etc. so we can be prepared. But if the res says veg and you come in and say 'oh but no dairy' or 'actually i'm raw' that's not as helpful. If you want us to feed you, we need to know what you can/will eat. And if we did just go way out of our way to make you a five course vegan menu, please do not order a latte after dinner and decide to make an exception for the chocolate souffle, it makes the kitchen hate you.

          6 Replies
          1. re: babette feasts

            >>>And if we did just go way out of our way to make you a five course vegan menu, please do not order a latte after dinner and decide to make an exception for the chocolate souffle, it makes the kitchen hate you.


            Many years ago 35+ we scrambled to come up with a choice fantastic dishes for a very special high-powered group that had made reservations and two in the group were ‘strict vegetarians’. This was before vegetarianism was in vogue, we probably spent more time figuring stuff out to really wow them then we did on a whole week of specials. In the end they ordered fish and chicken – rationalizing that a vegetarian doesn’t eat red meat.

            The latte story - I had a vegan that frequented one of my restaurants because we did have V dishes, but she was a moon-bat, she drank lattes and coffee with milk. Her reasoning, she's not eating it she's drinking it and there is a big difference.

              1. re: EWSflash

                I used to have a jewish lady that was upset that we didn't serve kosher ham.

                1. re: RetiredChef

                  Reminds me a bit of a lovably eccentric older gentleman who used to be a regular customer. Upon my recommendation of a chicken entree one afternoon, he exploded into a disgusted diatribe regarding the inhumane treatment of young chickens and how he could never in good conscience eat poultry because of the awful conditions the chickens are raised in.

                  Instead, he ordered the veal. I'm still laughing inwardly.

                  1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

                    I guess it depends on where you are. If that had been in the UK, the choice of British raised veal over standard factory chicken would have been the clear ethical choice in terms of animal welfare.

                    1. re: Harters

                      Oh, okay. I didn't know that -- interesting bit of info!

          2. I live in Charlotte. Two of my sisters and one of my best friends are vegetarians. I don't ever recall it being a problem at any restaurant.

            1 Reply
            1. re: southernitalian

              perhaps you could post about where you've had good luck (on the appropriate board).