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Feb 25, 2011 10:34 AM

Why must all restaurant entrees have meat in them?

O.K. I realize that as a vegetarian I'm the odd ball at most dining establishments, but I find it amazing that most places just assume that every patron wants some sort of flesh in every entree. Yes, I know that you can find eggplant parm, or some other cheese encrusted dish on some menus, but why do so few restaurants have even one non-meant entree? Haven't chefs ever heard of beans.

I'm curious: if you eat meat, do you feel that you must have it as an entree whey you go out to eat? If not, what would you like to see more of on menus?

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  1. In my experience there are generally a number of vegetarian choices. At the place I go there's Cheese soufflé, Truffle pasta, Mushroom soup, Three hearty salads, Wild mushroom linguini
    Potato gratin and both a risotto and couscous that could be vegetarian without the protein, plus a number of interesting veggies that could make up a nice vegetable platter. That said, I think the hard part about creating veggie entrees is that the good ones take some time and creativity to create, but people often think because there's no meat it should be cheap. But I do think restaurants are trying, at least here in So Cal.

    9 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      As a vegetarian I wouldn't touch the risotto or soup. Both are often made with meat stocks.

      1. re: odkaty

        You are so right. But there might be the possibility of having the risotto made with a veggie stock...if they make one.

        1. re: escondido123

          I always ask.

          Had a pleasant experience at a restaurant last week. As the waiter was sharing the specials he specified that the soup was made with vegetable broth, and both the crab meat and bacon were add-ins. I've never had a waiter to into that much detail without prompting. Nice touch.

      2. re: escondido123

        I think the price thing escondido mentioned has a lot to do with it. Good vegetarian dishes are often more labor intensive than meat dishes, but people think they should be cheaper, so nobody wants to sell them. Restaurants can keep meat and seafood in the freezer, but top quality produce is extremely perishable, and making good vegetarian stocks is neither cheap nor easy. Restaurants can make money on vegetable sides, for which they can charge up to $9 for in a nice restaurant, but it's hard to come up with something without protein that would sell for $20 in the same restaurant, and even if you come up with a good dish it involves triple the work of something like sauteed spinach. The more I pay attention to vegetables in restaurants the more it seems to me that it's much harder to find elite-level vegetarian cooking than almost any other type of cuisine.

        1. re: la2tokyo

          I agree with these reasons, plus, I think it's hard to have a decent variety so restaurants go with 'safe' options. IME non-chowhound vegetarians tend to have other restrictions as well: pickiness, other health/lifestyle considerations, etc. I personally love vegetarian food and would
          be happy to cook interesting dishes for vegetarians but it gets frustrating when there are other restrictions, especially when cooking for a crowd. At work for example there is one guy who does not eat eggs or nightshade veg, per his yoga pratice and auryuvedic doctor, and two others who don't eat garlic or onions for religious reasons. I'm left with very few options that interest me. I can only imagine this problem is compounded at a restaurant, and chefs' creativity is not rewarded.

          1. re: julesrules

            Special diets can be sooo challenging to cook for! both in a restaurant and at home!

            My partner has been through the food sensitivity ringer over the past two years!
            I was a vegetarian for years and now I have been cooking, Wheat free, gluten free, cow dairy free, night shade free, and meat free (aside from chicken and eggs) luckily we keep laying hens and often have roosters in the freezer.

            Anyway We can't go out and eat anything except sushi, and as I don't eat seafood it's veggie rolls all round (that means i get the tempura rolls all to myself!)

            I started blogging about all these special dietary recipes and challenges a couple years back . My guy is pretty lucky I was a gluten free and vegan baker back in the day!

            1. re: CookieGal

              Just checked out your blog. Well done! I was just diagnosed with Celiac Disease, unfortunately, and eating out is certainly a huge challenge, especially with the huge potential of cross contamination. It is unreal how many products contain gluten! Thanks for posting.

                1. re: 02putt

                  No tomatoes, eggplant, or other members of the Nightshade family.

        2. I totally agree, but I do see it slowly changing. I eat meat but was vegetarian for many, many years. I really like meat but I don't want it all the time. I tend to order the token pasta dish (over meat centered dishes) when dining out. There is typically one or two main dishes without meat to choose from.

          I would love to see more pasta, grain and bean dishes prepared creatively and beautifully...not just the cheese encrusted "one dish" thing. I would love to see more creative "fusion" styles of soups, breads and salads in fine dining. You tend to see them more at casual places or on lunch menu's. I cook this way at home so I know it can be done well- last night I made Yakisoba Thai noodles (with green veg) and a side of sweet and spicy hot yams. It was so colorful and beautiful enough to serve at any restaurant, healthy and full of flavors. I think it must be a "style" issue? It certainly can't be about taste.

          13 Replies
          1. re: sedimental

            I was also a vegetarian years back but am very happy ordering meat free food. Actually I commented today when we ordered food for lunch that it's so hard to get vegetarian entrees in the USA and sandwiches. Yes there's tuna salad but it's chicken with this and bacon with that. I often order the pastas without the chicken or shrimp or get a salad minus the chicken.

            1. re: sedimental

              It does appear to be changing somewhat, although minimally. Some restaurants are still stuck back. I went to a place with friends a while back and the menu was basically a panini, soup / salad, some pasta dishes type place. Literally everything on the sandwich menu had chicken with I think one or two beef dishes (I sort of expected a roasted vegetable panini in a place like this), same goes for most of the salads, pastas etc everything seemed to have chicken. My one choice was a roasted red pepper soup.

              1. re: im_nomad

                I know. That is crazy too. There are soooo many wonderful creative ways to do menu items (that don't include meat ) in a place like that. It is even more of a disappointment when the one non-meat entree is not done well. I can tell you that I have had many roasted vegetable sandwiches with limp zucchini and a few olives.

                At my house, I consider it a "cooking cop out" to choose meat for meals all the time. It's not because I don't like meat, it is because it causes you to stretch your skills even more when using other things for the entree. The days of the "Enchanted Broccoli Forest" are over, non meat entrees do not need to be brown and boring. It sure would be nice to have more of a choice. I certainly would choose non meat entrees more if they were delicious and not just *basically* a meat based entree-just missing the meat.

                1. re: im_nomad

                  random thought about places like that...not sure if you're vegan, but if you're a vegetarian and you eat cheese, the next time you run into an issue like that, ask if they'd be willing to make you a grilled cheese! and i know you already know this, but unless everything is pre-made you can just ask them to omit the meat from the salad or pasta that otherwise looks good to you. vegetable-based soups aren't always the safest choice unless you can verify that they're not made with chicken stock.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I personally do eat cheese and eat eggs, and sometimes employ a little "I don't ask and you don't tell me" when it comes to some restaurant cooking and non-obvious sources of animal based products (like soups), particularly so in "once in a lifetime" type restaurants. Yeah, I'm weird.

                    1. re: im_nomad

                      not weird at all! i know other vegetarians who are the same way. in fact, back in my veg days more than one friend and relative opined that it would be easier if *i* was willing to turn a blind eye on occasion, but i just couldn't bring myself to do it.

                  2. re: im_nomad

                    im_nomad - employing chicken (or some other ingredient) in multiple dishes is called "dovetailing" and used extensively in restaurants. Easy to cook/prep a single ingredient and toss it into soups, sandwiches, pasta, salads, etc. Usually, the restaurant is willing to leave it out.

                    Although I am not a vegetarian, I often ask for a vegetarian option and have never been refused. It is usually so innovative and delicious that my dining companions ask for a taste. The most recent example was a deep rich winter vegetable ragout served over cheesy polenta - delicious!

                    A poster mentioned the ease of freezing meat VS the high cost of fresh produce as a possible reason for the paucity of vegetarian options. I think it is laziness or lack of knowlege on the part of the kitchen. Both grains and legumes are relatively inexpensive and can be combined with fresh produce to create delicious dishes that sell. This is key. The restaurants are a business and need to make money. If they put veg options on the menu and no one orders them, they're removed in favor of the tried and true big sellers. Granted these may be tired, but if they sell, it's hard to argue with success from the restaurant's POV.

                    Keep asking. If the kitchen is interested in broadening their client base - and it would be stupid to ignore a ready-made group of diners - they will heed your requests.
                    NOTE: this does not apply to those "captive audience" situations you described in another post. That was a needlessly grim situation for you. It sounded like everyone - from the conference planners to the hotel kitchen - dropped the ball.

                  3. re: sedimental

                    That sounds delicious! However, I think that another part of the problem is that people are carb sensitive. For myself, I am at a good weight. However, if I eat too many carbs (yes even low glycemic index ones) I put on weight easily. That's why at Italian restaurants I almost always forgo the pasta so I can have the bread and dessert. Most veg entrees, if not drowning in cheese (which I abhor) are extremely carb dense. Occasionally I will find exceptions but they're usually in ethnic restaurants. For ex, korean restaurants make amazing miso stews with tofu (soon du bu), with a small dish of rice and pan chan it's not enough carbs to make me want to never eat again.

                    1. re: NicoleFriedman

                      ethiopian food is also good in this regard, as is southern indian food if you forgo the bread and the rice.
                      my local persian restaurant also serves vegetarian versions of many of the persian stews.

                      when eating mexican, i normally tell the server NOT to even put the chips on my table.

                      1. re: westsidegal

                        I envy your ability to get those words out of your mouth at Mexican restaurants. They stick in my throat and the next thing I know we're ordering another bowl of chips and more salsa.

                        1. re: westsidegal

                          Ethiopian? But injera's so central to the meal as an experience.

                          1. re: tatamagouche

                            Injera is what ruins Ethiopian for me. I'm fine with the spices and other ingredients, but that "bread" just does nothing for me. It's like eating a sour sponge that will triple in size within the hour. Meh.

                      2. re: sedimental

                        Unfortunately, all those creative pasta dishes are not usually gluten free.

                      3. What sorts of restaurants are you eating in? I'm not a vegetarian, but frequently prefer meatless meals and have no trouble finding them when we eat out. I can imagine steakhouses would be an exception, but we usually go out to Indian, Chinese, Turkish, etc. Still, even some of our boring chain restaurants have a few vegetarian options.

                        To answer your question about why so many entrees include meat, I'm guessing it's because it sells. When you ask the average person what he or she is cooking for dinner, the first thing you will hear is the name of the meat. People just seem to center entire meals around chicken or beef or pork.

                        1. I agree with you Maxinella. While I eat just about everything, I think there SHOULD be something for everyone! There's nothing wrong with that. And yes, I've noticed that most menus have meat-centric entrees. Being a meat eater, doesn't mean I always want meat. It's not a must for me.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Gmarie

                            I totally disagree with "there SHOULD be something for everyone." Does that mean restaurants should cater to every food preference or allergy going. If so we would all be eating lettuce for dinner. That's what makes the dining experience unique. Call ahead at better dining establishments and make your dietary needs known. Usually, they are very accommodating.

                            1. re: 02putt

                              Except for those of us who can't eat lettuce! :D

                              1. re: 02putt

                                Well, I understand what both of you are saying. I think most restaurants need to think in terms of broad appeal. Meat-centric entrees are going to appeal to most people, but vegetarianism is quite common, perhaps even increasingly common, as are (just as an example) concerns about the source of the meat. So it seems smart to me to provide a creative, interesting vegetarian option or six, as well as (given the above example) to work toward being more careful about where the meat comes from. Then you're hitting a larger percentage of potential clientele without a massive amount of extra work.

                                Even a casual family restaurant should, IMO, be thinking about how to make sure that their ordinary customer's vegan cousin, Kosher-keeping brother-in-law, and meat-hating neighbor can eat *something* on the menu.

                                1. re: LauraGrace

                                  I agree, and with a restaurant that offers "food" as opposed to a specific cuisine, I honestly don't see what the big deal is. It simply demonstrates an ability to make a wide variety of dishes.

                            2. Maxinella: Do I feel I must have it "as" an entree? No, not at all. But honestly, if an entree does not have some meat (or meat flavoring) *in* it, I am not likely to be satisfied.

                              I live in a city where there is a large enough vegetarian population to support some v-oriented restaurants. Not many, but some very good ones. There, the problem is exactly the reverse: Where's the beef?

                              When I've dined out with a vegetarian in my party, most restaurants have happily come up with something pretty good when asked. It sort of depends how strict a veg the patron is (e.g., good luck coming up with a dish made with wine that has not been subjected to gelatin, isinglas or eggwhite fining, if that bothers you).