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"I explain to them that they are in my restaurant. And they must have the flounder the way I make it."
April 30, 2003 10:56 AM   Subscribe

"I explain to them that they are in my restaurant. And they must have the flounder the way I make it."
One of Washington's top chefs draws the line with picky diners. Welcome rebellion or self-important rant? Discuss.
(This is a Washington Post "Live Online" chat. The chef's letter is the first entry; scroll down further for reactions on both sides.)
posted by PrinceValium (174 comments total)

 
[Inevitable comparison to Soup Nazi]
posted by Shane at 11:09 AM on April 30, 2003


I love it! I'm an occasional server in a friend's restaurant and we see this constantly. There is a difference between "hold the mayo" and completely rearranging an entree with special order after special order. As the server though I am quick to put a stop to excessive special orders that I know will either ruin the dish or infuriate the chef. I am not afraid to tell people "No, I am sorry but we cannot do that," mand then politely steer them toward something I think they are after. If you don't like how the chef prepares a dish, order something else or do us all a favor and go somewhere else. The more you mess with a dish the greater the chance that the chef will get the order wrong (kitchens can be outrageously busy atmospheres and standardization is a necessity for all the hands and knives that are flying around) and the people who want multiple changes to an item are the first to complain when only 14 of their 15 changes were accomodated.
posted by archimago at 11:11 AM on April 30, 2003


I wholeheartedly agree. Restaurants with individualistic chefs should be respected. You choose a restaurant like that, you place yourself in his hands. If you don't like the food, you don't return. Simple as that.

Disrespectful diners who want everything cooked "their own way" should be shown the door, so as not to ruin everyone else's pleasure.

There are a lot of restaurants that will cook things the way you like - they're generally awful.

Good post, PrinceValium - it raises all sorts of interesting questions about authority, freedom and capitalism. No, seriously.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:13 AM on April 30, 2003


I have to agree with the chef, but it's not a black and white issue. There's a line that must be drawn, and it is different for each chef, I'm sure. Replacing a starch with more veggies, that kind of thing seems alright. But when you go asking for sauces from different dishes, and essentially asking the chef to prepare a dish in a completely different manner altogether, I think the chef has every right to ask you to go somewhere else. After all, if there are plenty of people that like what the chef prepares, why should he/she be cooking in a completely different style for someone who doesn't? Go find someplace that serves the food your style, or suck it up.
posted by zekinskia at 11:14 AM on April 30, 2003


Yes, stupid diner. Spending a hundred dollars on a meal entitles you to NOTHING. Shut up and eat what we put in front of you, you ingrate, and don't forget to add a 25% gratuity.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:22 AM on April 30, 2003


I don't have time to read the post...can anyone tell me what restaraunt this was (I live in DC and am curious.)
posted by pjgulliver at 11:23 AM on April 30, 2003


I think the chef in question comes off as overly pretentious, which is unfortunate, because for the most part, I agree with her basic point. You go to a restaurant to eat professionally prepared food that has been appropriately designed. If you don't like it as described, don't order it. If you'd rather have things done your way, eat at home. There are far too many blatant food fusses in this world who just enjoy being a pain in the ass.

That said, my mother has a severe alcohol allergy. I don't even try to take her to better restaurants anymore because there are so few things on the menus that don't contain alcohol in a sauce or a glaze or something, and we've often been treated rudely when asking for accommodation. We're willing to recognize that the lamb chops would certainly taste better with the port and wild mushroom sauce, and we're not asking that the chef find a way to make wild mushroom sauce without port, merely that the chops be served sauceless. Because it doesn't matter how great it is to have the lamb chops with port and wild mushroom sauce, it's not worth dying over.

For what it's worth, I find that most restaurants are more accommodating if you ask for accommodation in general rather than specifically. 'My mother is allergic to alcohol and can't have anything which has even a little bit of it, what dishes would you recommend?' Better waiters will then go and consult with the kitchen on what dishes already meet the criteria and/or can be changed.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:24 AM on April 30, 2003


It's one thing when you are TGI Friday's ordering up the Jack Daniels steak and want something else. But when you are in a restaurant that has a chef, you should respect the choices a finely trained culinary expert makes.
posted by benjh at 11:25 AM on April 30, 2003


Good for him. People can be morons. You want something 'on the side', go to Denny's.

And don't ever order a side of pasta with your risotto.

I have an ongoing debate with a friend about how rude it is to salt food before tasting it. It's like you're automatically telling the chef/host "you didn't do this correctly."
posted by bondcliff at 11:26 AM on April 30, 2003


I don't have time to read MetaFitlter...can someone please just read it out loud to me (I live in a drubken stupor and am curious).
posted by eyeballkid at 11:28 AM on April 30, 2003


A Texan will always tell you within 60 seconds that he is from Texas. A Harvard graduate will all ways tell you within 60 seconds that he is a Harvard alum. Chef's have their own twist on the practice, telling you within 60 seconds how many hours per day they work. Tip to chefs: Never say less than 16, carrying that cross around is hard work.
posted by sharksandwich at 11:32 AM on April 30, 2003


From the chat comments:
If I can do research on the Internet and inform myself about how to make easy to prepare, non-special ingredient, complete vegan meals, then chefs can do the same. Many of them are of the opinion expressed in "Kitchen Confidential": vegetarians and vegans are diners who increase the profit margins of restaurants by allowing them to simply subtract ingredients from a dish on the menu. Chefs can do better than this, and it's too bad they don't.

I know all chefs aren't Bourdain level jackfuckers, but this is dead on. When we go out, I want th' wife to be able to have something besides the salad or the aforementioned "steamed/roasted/grilled vegetable plate". Luckily we've got Seva, but a little more creativity in other restaurants would be welcome. Too special needs I guess. Glad we like to cook...
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:35 AM on April 30, 2003


someone pull that dead italian guy out of his grave and tell him that you want the lady to smile more 'cause, crom-dammit, you paid for it!

on the other hand, maybe the city can pass a regulation requiring restaurants with such chefs to have a sign in the window saying: "we don't like to serve whiny idiots but there's a BK across the street that will do it your way."

s/salt/wasabi/ ...same deal.
posted by dorian at 11:36 AM on April 30, 2003


In a fancy restaurant, trust your chef. It's so worth it.
posted by agregoli at 11:42 AM on April 30, 2003


I don't have time to read the post...can anyone tell me what restaraunt this was (I live in DC and am curious.)

I'm a sucker for honesty, myself. Your attitude is hundred times more noble than those who pretend to read the link - or not even that - and comment all the same.

But what amused me most, pj, was that you assumed that someone else would actually take the time to provide you with a synopsis. And, knowing MeFi, someone, as a mitzvah, probably will!

But, as I'm a sucker for pure cheek too, I'll repress my wild desire to expound on eyeballkid's hilarious take. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:47 AM on April 30, 2003


In a fancy restaurant, trust your chef. It's so worth it.

Not only that, agregoli. In a good restaurant one should place oneself entirely in the hands of the chef and not even presume to select from the menu.

This is an old trick - transferring the onus and responsibility to the restaurateur - which pays amazing dividends and also saves on the final cost.

One should go into a good restaurant like a little lamb to the slaughter. In Japanese sushi places, that sort of luxury - not deciding anything and leaving it all to the itamae - costs the earth. And so it should. But in Western restaurants, obsessed with choice, surrendering your selection generally makes the restaurant wildly undercharge you.

The honour systems works, folks!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:51 AM on April 30, 2003


Sorry PinkStainless, chefs don't open restaurants to accomodate everyone. They open because they have a vision that they want to share (and make a profit) and hope there is an audience for what they put on the menu. It's absurd to expect a chef to go onto the Internet and learn new recipes just to fulfill the wants of someone who may possibly come into their restaurant. Vegans are well aware of the limitations of eating out in as a vegans, and they made that choice. It's really very simple. Don't bring your money to an establishment that won't accomodate your special needs. You have that right. Just as a chef has every right to say "I don't do vegan."

Restauants are not democracies. Not everyone gets a vote.
posted by archimago at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2003


It really bothers me that I can't get some veal parmesian in my local vegan restaurant.
posted by bondcliff at 11:53 AM on April 30, 2003


juicy thread! i am all for placing myself in the chef's hands...if i feel picky i'll cook for myself at home. at my favorite Boston restaurant, eat, i always find something delicious even though the menu is only 4 or 5 entrees. not so for others...a certain ex-boyfriend once infamously told the server his mushroom soup was "Tasteless!" of course, brutal honesty may be preferable to mix + match types -- my friend's dad has no problem asking the server to "Throw some of those sundried tomatoes from this pasta dish into my salad, and could I get a half-portion of the grilled chicken entree on the side?" mortifying for fellow diners, and probably gives the chef a stroke...interestingly, today in the NYTimes (rr) there's an article on unapologetically challenging desserts -- like licorice flavored panna cotta, blech.
posted by serafinapekkala at 11:57 AM on April 30, 2003


Yes, stupid diner. Spending a hundred dollars on a meal entitles you to NOTHING. Shut up and eat what we put in front of you, you ingrate, and don't forget to add a 25% gratuity.

Spending 100 dollars on a meal entities you to eat, and enjoy the damn meal. It doesn't entitle you to change things around, and add or substitute things to your hearts content. The restaurant has a menu for a reason.

I used to waiter and bartender at a pretty nice restaurant. Nothing will piss a chef off more than screwing around with something that they've put a lot of time and effort into. Like the guy who likes the pasta, but doesn't really like linguini with the aliolio, and wonders if he can just substitute penne with pesto instead (but he still wants the scallops, but no shrimp please). That guy is going to be getting the bottom of the refrigerator meat/fish/whatever, and if you do the same, so will you. Just like you don't want to fuck around with your bartender, or you'll get watered-down drinks, don't fuck with your chef, or you'll get sub-par food.

Many of them are of the opinion expressed in "Kitchen Confidential": vegetarians and vegans are diners who increase the profit margins of restaurants by allowing them to simply subtract ingredients from a dish on the menu. Chefs can do better than this, and it's too bad they don't.

I am of the opinion of Tony Bourdain, that vegetarians and vegans are the most annoying fucking people in the food world. Not all vegans and vegetarians, but those who come into a restaurant and expect the chef to re-arrange their menu to suit their no-meat, no-dairy needs.

If you want vegetarian food, go to a vegetarian restaurant. Despite what this guy thinks, it doesn't increase the profit margins at all. Where I used to work, we received daily food deliveries to insure freshness, and to cut down on the amount of freezer and fridge space that was needed. People who substitute extra vegetables for a potato cause can cause two things to happen - Either we're going to run out of said vegetable before the end of the night, or (and) we'll be stuck with a bunch of extra potatoes which now need to be incorporated into some dish the next day, which screws up a whole bunch of things. You vegetarians don't do anything to help the bottom line, believe me.
posted by SweetJesus at 11:58 AM on April 30, 2003


Basically this is omakase, yes? Chef's choice. The American version of it. Taken to an extreme at the best Japanese restaurants (for example, Tojo in vancouver - imho the best sushi outside of Japan), you tell the chef what you are allergic to, what you don't like, and what you love, and you sit back and wait for one of the best meals of your life (and make sure your credit card is paid off).
posted by luriete at 11:59 AM on April 30, 2003


Arch- Yeah, I get that. it's the "here's some steamed vegetables. Asshole." vibe that chaps me. If you don't care about vegetarian/vegan diners and don't recognize the cullinary possibilities, then why have that token dish? And if you do, then why not have something more intereting?

Anyway, we vote with the wallet and the cookbook. Just, you know, expressing a viewpoint.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:01 PM on April 30, 2003


The name of the restaurant is Colorado Kitchen, pjgulliver.
posted by unreason at 12:05 PM on April 30, 2003


There are far too many blatant food fusses in this world who just enjoy being a pain in the ass.

I'm a food fuss. I don't do it because I "enjoy being a pain in the ass", I do it because I can't tolerate certain foods (not an allergy, an intolerance - I don't puff up and die, I feel really horrible, then I puke). I do my best to find things on the menu that I can handle with as few substitutions as possible, but sometimes I need to ask if they can make a minor alteration for me (please leave something out), and I don't see why that should be a big deal. I'm always very nice and apologetic about it, I always ask IF they would mind doing it for me, and I'm not doing it to be a pain in the ass. It's very easy for people who can eat anything to assume that those who can't are just being difficult, because they don't have to deal with things like being scared of dinner parties in case they serve something you can't eat, which you then have to explain, and which some people take offense about anyway. "Try it, you'll like it".

I agree that there's a limit, but asking for a sundae without nuts shouldn't cause a chef to have a nervous breakdown - I'm sure that, even if the sundaes are prepped beforehand, they can find some ice cream and slap it in a dish for someone who's a guest in their restaurant and who inconsiderately has nut allergies. The problem with the chef who wrote this article is that she's gone way overboard and sounds completely unreasonable - if someone wants their pork chop cooked well-done, who is she to tell them that's not how they like it? Most restaurants state that "this is how the chef recommends it", but if you can't stomach undercooked meat, why should you be expected to out of fear of hurting the chef's feelings? Surely what the chef wants is for people to enjoy their meals, no? I understand that a lot goes into preparing a menu, and that there is a limit to how much substituting should be allowed, but she's in a service industry, sometimes you have to allow for some compromise.
posted by biscotti at 12:07 PM on April 30, 2003


One should go into a good restaurant like a little lamb to the slaughter.

Bravo! One of our favorite restaurants here in Portland Maine is Hugo's. Even though they generally have a fantastic menu, I prefer to opt for the "Chef's menu", which is the same as saying "surprise me". I've never been let down.
posted by SteveInMaine at 12:13 PM on April 30, 2003


but she's in a service industry...

Saying this is a great way to give a chef an embolism. Also works on fashion designers.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:13 PM on April 30, 2003


if someone wants their pork chop cooked well-done...

Quick note for anyone who orders anything well done. Where I used to work, if you ordered anything well done, you'd get the oldest cuts of meat we'd have on hand - something that's been sitting in the freezer for 5 or 6 days. The idea is, you're going to char-broil the hell out of it anyway, and the customer isn't going to notice because it's going to be covered in a sauce or encrusted in something...

This is a pretty standard practice, at least up here in the north east, probably most everywhere.
posted by SweetJesus at 12:14 PM on April 30, 2003


PinkStainlessTail, maybe the chefs are trying to give the vegans a subtle hint to never eat in their restaurant again?

If I were an interior decorator I don't think I'd want to do business with someone who only let me use brown.
posted by bondcliff at 12:18 PM on April 30, 2003


I agree completely with this chef, it's her menu and it should be served her way. accommodations can be made, but within reason. The sauce for the fish should be served on the fish, parsley will not kill anyone, if you are allergic to nuts then don't order anything that involves nuts, if you are a vegan....well God help you with your endeavor, but don't expect much from meaty French or Italian restaurants. Use some common sense people! No one cares how your mother made eggs or your moral beliefs about free range chickens.

I often wonder why seemingly adult and intelligent people are incapable of eating in fine dining situations, do they feel a lack of control? Are they embarrassed that some things on the menu are unfamiliar? Are they acting out the typical childish American "spit in the face of anything sophisticated" attitude? Or do most people just have really bad manners? Grrrrr. *tries to calm self*

Here are a few tips for diners:

•Be patient and polite to the host. They aren't just putting you into a random table, they have a plan that includes servers, reservations, rush times, and possibly hundreds of other diners. If you want a window seat, call ahead.

•Sit a read the menu carefully, try to understand what the restaurant is trying to do with the cooking.

•If you have food issues (allergies, weird moral structures, etc.) ask general questions and let the server offer options.

•Only ask questions about foods you are interested in eating. Do not ask a question about every entree when you know you just want a burger.

•Never hand plates to the server or buser, they too have a plan that is quickly disrupted by people rudely thrusting heavy, dirty plates in their faces.

•Try not to split checks. Adults should have the math skills to understand how much they owe off a ticket. You are not being billed as individuals, but as parties.

•Don't ask the servers name. This is a real problem when people start using the servers name with every request. When you ask a server's name, a more experienced server will lye and avoid your table. Odds are you are either some kind of creep, or you're planning on running the server like a servant. Your server is not your servant. They are the agent of the restaurant that negotiates between you and the kitchen.

•Tip. overtipping isn't necessary or even wanted, but the tip is how ther server pays the buser, the bartender and the kitchen. Servers also have to pay taxes (the IRS loves to audit servers - lots of undocumented income = major tax liabilities) The tip is how people pay rent.

If people would just relax and let restaurant workers do the jobs they know how to do, eating out can be very enjoyable and life affirming. It's not your office, or your home. When you walk into a restaurant, you are a guest first, and a customer second. Here's perhaps the most important tip, the tip that will get you more out of any restaurant then anything else:

•Be nice.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:19 PM on April 30, 2003


server will lie and avoid........
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:21 PM on April 30, 2003


In a good restaurant one should place oneself entirely in the hands of the chef

OK; but those who have -- more or less happily -- worked as waiters/waitresses know very well what happens in the kitchen -- i.e., that chefs care about budgets, too. and therefore they have to move certain dishes, and always ask the waiters to do so to innocent restaurantgoers, otherwise that not-totally-fresh-anymore pheasant/hamachi/chianina will simply rot and will have to be thrown away eventually, at economic loss for the restaurant. so chefs are always pushing their favorite creatures / soon-to-be-rotting foods
that happens in swanky restaurants, too

sharksandwich,
I can only imagine your reaction upon meeting a pissed-off Texan chef who went to Harvard
posted by matteo at 12:25 PM on April 30, 2003


biscotti:...she's in a service industry, sometimes you have to allow for some compromise.

Not quite that simple. I worked as a chef on and off for about 7 years, and there is a line where food design/preparation becomes art and should not be messed with. I agree that serving a sundae sans nuts shouldn't too much of a big deal, but overcooked meat is another matter. When I'm dining out with friends, anyone asking for meat "well-done" is likely to get a look from me as if they'd just uttered the foulest ethnic slur. It's a sign that one just doesn't understand what one is tasting for, as if one had walked into a club and asked the DJ to turn the bass all the way down and the treble all the way up. And it really, really hurts a chef to send out a cut of meat that ruined.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:26 PM on April 30, 2003


Ok, the one time I don't spend enough time reading the link I get yelled at for professing ignorance...

Ok, so where the hell is Colorado Kitchen? This chat column is distincly unhelpful for those of us who want to eat....
posted by pjgulliver at 12:26 PM on April 30, 2003


s/salt/wasabi/ ...same deal.

I sooooo agree with you, dorian; I can't stand to watch the standard American approach to eating sushi: mix a huge dab of wasabi in with your soy sauce, dredge each piece of sushi in said mixture. How can one possibly expect to taste the fish when one has masked it so thoroughly with wasabi? The chef has seasoned each piece of nigiri/maki with a precise and appropriate amount of wasabi: one should taste this preparation before attempting to alter the seasoning. (A touch of soy sauce is appropriate, but adding wasabi?) The wasabi-on-the-side should really be reserved for sashimi.

Wow. Did I just write that? I'm really not a snob, I swear. Just a pet peeve, I guess.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:27 PM on April 30, 2003


The idea is, you're going to char-broil the hell out of it anyway, and the customer isn't going to notice because it's going to be covered in a sauce or encrusted in something...

Plus, people who order their meat well done usually haven't got the faintest clue about meat dishes anyway...

For you guys who think that chefs are in the "service industry", try one of those "I'll have the broccoli purée but with the shrimp instead of the carpaccio de saumon and please no truffle sauce but ketchup" in a French restaurant and enjoy being hurled across the local town's fountain. Rightly so, I believe. I've seen it happen in films and I always wonder: what sort of underdeveloped, gastronomically challenged Hun does that? In Europe, that kind of behaviour is a definite no-no.
posted by NekulturnY at 12:27 PM on April 30, 2003


Steve, you prefer Hugo's to Fore Street (I haven't eaten at Hugo's in years....)?
posted by pjgulliver at 12:27 PM on April 30, 2003


•Don't ask the servers name. This is a real problem when people start using the servers name with every request. When you ask a server's name, a more experienced server will lie and avoid your table. Odds are you are either some kind of creep, or you're planning on running the server like a servant.

Interesting. What is the message being sent in restaurants where the server identifies themself?

(Yes, yes, 9 times out of 10 it's at a chain restaurant where the marketing department has required it, but I've gotten "Hi my name is Julie and I'll be your server" at classier places too.)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:31 PM on April 30, 2003


"In Europe, that kind of behaviour is a definite no-no."

All the more reason to participate in, nay, revel in that sort of behavior.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:31 PM on April 30, 2003


"sometimes you have to allow for some compromise."

No. You want compromise. They don't have to give it to you. If they don't, then they don't want your business, and you should go elsewhere. There are plenty of people, myself included, who dine frequently just to see if the kitchen can impress me.

Pizza Hut is in the service industry. Good restaurants shouldn't be. They should be in the chef marketing industry.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:35 PM on April 30, 2003


I have an ongoing debate with a friend about how rude it is to salt food before tasting it. It's like you're automatically telling the chef/host "you didn't do this correctly."

I agree. You should never put condiments on an item of food before trying it. One - it's rude for the reason above, two - you might not need it and three - you'll never know what it was supposed to taste like.

I go to expensive restaurants in London (Quaglino's, Mezzo, Mirabelle) occasionally and when I do, I always accept what the menu says and never try to change anything. When you're paying that sort of money you expect the food to be fantastic without you having to fiddle with it ... and generally it does.
posted by ralawrence at 12:36 PM on April 30, 2003


el roboto:
few weeks ago, friend of mine reported that he and a cow-orker went to have sushi for lunch...she promptly dunked the whole ball of pickled ginger into her soy sauce and then gulped it in one go.

we're still trying to figure out if that's just her personal preference, or if someone ignorantly (or mischievously, heh) told her that it was right or proper etiquette or what. I guess we could just ask her but that would spoil the fun.

also, soy sauce being a sort of asian equivalent to salt, it's bad enough that people fill that little tray right up as if it were some kind of sushi wading pool.

these days I am all about chirashizushi (er, when we can afford it anyway...still looking for a trustworthy fishmonger so that we can attempt home sushi abominations)
posted by dorian at 12:38 PM on April 30, 2003


If you have food issues (allergies, weird moral structures, etc.) ask general questions and let the server offer options.

Exactly. My gf's father is allergic to citrus and the reaction is not fun for anyone involved. At a Maggiano's Little Italy a few weeks ago (ok, not the kind of place one calls haute cuisine but still..) we asked the server to point us to things on the menu without citrus, fully willing to listen to what he had to say. They went one better and the sous chef came out and met with us personally.

They won great respect (and a healthy tip) for that one. Ask nicely and you'll be pleasantly surprised. Demand and the surprise may be a little different.
posted by m@ at 12:39 PM on April 30, 2003


it's the equivalent of yelling "play some skinnard!".
posted by Espoo2 at 12:40 PM on April 30, 2003


When I'm out at a nice place, nothing makes me happier after I place an order for lamb or beef than hearing, "The chef recommends medium rare. Is this all right?" This says to me that the restaurant has put enough thought into the dish that it considers cooking time as important as the sauce, side dish, and presentation. If I hear "How would you like it cooked?" this says to me that the chef doesn't think it's a big deal what color the steak is when it arrives at the table. As a result, I'm less likely to appreciate the meal as the work of a professional.

I don't understand why so many chefs complain about people ordering well-done steaks, when they leave this crucial decision completely up to the customer without even so much a suggestion.
posted by PrinceValium at 12:40 PM on April 30, 2003


PST: If the server gives their name, that's one thing. If the patron has to ask, that's another. It's not a hard and fast rule, but people do get strange ideas about servers and it is always good to take steps to protect one's self. It sounds paranoid, but it's true. People will either abuse the server's name through over-use (Larry, I need more water. Larry could I have that steak well-done? Larry? Larry!) or they'll get creepy. Customers who ask a server's name very rarely tell their own names.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:41 PM on April 30, 2003


Be patient and polite to the host. They aren't just putting you into a random table, they have a plan that includes servers, reservations, rush times, and possibly hundreds of other diners. If you want a window seat, call ahead.

You're opening a whole other can of worms with this one!! The seating charts at busy places that thrive on reservations are sacred. Nothing wrong with asking for a different table, but a party of 2 shouldn't expect that lovely window table for 4 on a Saturday night just because there is no one in it at the moment.
posted by archimago at 12:42 PM on April 30, 2003


I went to a nice restaurant and ordered lamb. The menu did not say the lamb would be raw except for a brown strip on the outside. I do not like raw meat. I would not have ordered it if I had known. This is how my taste buds work.

I sent it back *3* times asking that the meat be cooked leaving only a little pink. I was very clear each time. There I was in the restaurant, with my companion already eating. If I had ordered something else, it wouldn't arrive until after she was finished.

I don't care what the chef thinks is correct. It's my money and my taste. I will never go back there to that arrogant little twit's place.
posted by Red58 at 12:45 PM on April 30, 2003


and there is a line where food design/preparation becomes art and should not be messed with

I don't disagree, as I thought I made clear. However how one likes ones meat is a personal preference, and if I want it well done (which I don't, unless it's ground) so that it destroys all the flavour, why shouldn't I have it well done? It's not always a sign of anything except the fact that some people don't like to see pink or blood in their food, or that some people don't like the taste of undercooked meat. We're all individuals here. And what PrinceValium said - the chef recommending a certain degree of cooking is ideal, but people shouldn't be frowned at for not wanting that. I've worked as a waitress and a hostess, I never minded people asking for reasonable minor changes, and neither did the chefs I worked with.

Okay, forget I said anything about restaurants being a service industry to the extent that some degree of compromise might be in order. God forbid I should like well-crafted gourmet food even though I have a physical problem which prevents me from enjoying anything and everything a chef might want to feed me, God forbid I should ask that they leave the vital-to-the-chef's-artistic-integrity fruit compote off my otherwise-delicious meal lest I vomit the whole thing up later - I'll stick to Pizza Hut, where finicky ungrateful heathen pain in the ass Philistine slime like me belong.
posted by biscotti at 12:47 PM on April 30, 2003


I try to avoid rising to the inevitable bait to vegan or vegetarians but asking for one damn entree that's interesting is not too much to ask. Why are some servers so stupid that when I tell them I'm a vegetarian they ask me if I eat fish (no) or dairy (did I say I was vegan?)? Duh!

I demand an entree.
posted by Woolcott'sKindredGal at 12:48 PM on April 30, 2003


It sounds paranoid, but it's true.

Oh, having worked retail I believe you. If they had your name, you became their personal shopper every time they came in. I also took more than one creepy phone call angling for a female co-worker's name. Just curious as to what message is being sent when the name is volunteered ("I'm a human, tip me" maybe?).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:51 PM on April 30, 2003


OK, I'm mostly vegetarian but I do eat fish. My wife has a dairy intolerance. We like to go out to eat with other people. Sometimes someone picks a restaurant that really doesn't do much to offer a range of dishes. We are not all that picky. But we've run into problems. If a restaurant is fucking self-important it can't accommodate a variety of diners, then I don't eat there again. I don't complain about it. But I do tell everyoen I know what self-important self-aggrandizing uncustomer-friendly shitfucks they are. So if that's how this guy wants to do business, that's his business. The economy isn't too great right now and restaurants are begging for customers here in New York, while others are shutting their doors. It's all fine and dandy to be artistes, but there's plenty of competition in the world, I have money, so fuck the chefs and all their whining, bunch of drunks and druggies anyway.
posted by Slagman at 12:51 PM on April 30, 2003


"I'll stick to Pizza Hut, where finicky ungrateful heathen pain in the ass Philistine slime like me belong."

Thank you for understanding. This will make everyone's life easier.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:54 PM on April 30, 2003


Slagman, some rare meat will take that edge off of your mood :o)
posted by archimago at 12:55 PM on April 30, 2003


Why are some servers so stupid that when I tell them I'm a vegetarian they ask me if I eat fish (no) or dairy (did I say I was vegan?)?

Because a hell of a lot of people claim to be vegetarian yet they eat fish or "a little chicken on the weekends." I'm sure the servers (assuming they are somewhat competent) just want to make sure so they don't serve you something they shouldn't. They're not being "stupid" they're being polite.
posted by bondcliff at 12:56 PM on April 30, 2003


•If you have food issues (allergies, weird moral structures, etc.) ask general questions and let the server offer options.

Actually, about one sixth of the world's population are vegetarians.
posted by goethean at 12:58 PM on April 30, 2003


2 hrs / 52 comments. Foodies outta the woodwork...
posted by Shane at 1:01 PM on April 30, 2003


can't stand to watch the standard American approach to eating sushi: mix a huge dab of wasabi in with your soy sauce, dredge each piece of sushi in said mixture. How can one possibly expect to taste the fish when one has masked it so thoroughly with wasabi?

Or how about the people who douse their white rice with soya sauce? That would get you killed in Japan, or at the very least cause someone to whisper "Amerikajin wa baka desu yo. Machi ni tabete koto ga dekinai! (Stupid American... Can't even eat correctly)" behind your back.

I think authentic Japanese food is the best food on the planet, and if you can find the right ryoori-ya, you don't need wasabi or soy sauce. But I think it comes down to the fact that Japanese food is a 180 degree turn from what people are used to in western countries. I went to a pretty good Japanese restaurant a few weeks ago with my father, and I couldn't even get him to try the Unaju (charcoal grilled eel over rice with pickled radish, a standard dish in Kansai cooking) because he just didn't like the way it looked.

I used to act this way too before I went to Japan. I decided that on my trip, not only to be polite to my hosts, but to fully experience another culture, that I'd eat everything they put in front of me, no matter how disgusting it looked or sounded..

And it worked. I ate everything, and there were only two things on the entire trip I didn't enjoy - natto (fermented soybean paste with the consistency of mucus) and goya (awful little green things that taste like... I don't know, but they're bitter as all hell). Raw horse, whale and chicken kidneys may sound disgusting, but they taste absolutely amazing.

Since then, I'll eat anything, I don't care. Life is a hell of a lot more fun when you're adventurous and not concerned about maybe not liking something.
posted by SweetJesus at 1:02 PM on April 30, 2003


overtipping isn't necessary or even wanted

Guh?
posted by mapalm at 1:09 PM on April 30, 2003


Throw the vegans and vegetarians in an Antarctic wasteland for a month. I guarantee they'd eat penguin rather than starve to death.

I don't know what enrages me more here: the sanctimonious attitude of the chef or the sanctimonious attitude of diners. The issue here is the arrogance that comes from blindly stumbling into a restaurant, without knowing the drill. If meat or dairy is such a problem for some people, then one can always call the restaurant in advance and find out what the menu is. If Restaurant A doesn't serve vegan dishes, then Restaurant B is certain to. That people are more loath to complain and change every goddam nicety of a five-course dinner says more about the nature of the diners than the restaurant itself.

However, having said that, bring me the boiled head of Clark or Bourdain any day, if they're going to be as whiny and dictatorial as his eaters. If a diner is allergic or reacts violently to a particular food, then the chef is under the obligation to find or accept a substitute with quiet grace. If he can't do that, if he can't understand that different individuals have different biologies, then he really doesn't belong in the culinary arts business.
posted by ed at 1:09 PM on April 30, 2003


However how one likes ones meat is a personal preference...It's not always a sign of anything except the fact that some people don't like to see pink or blood in their food, or that some people don't like the taste of undercooked meat.

One could argue that a preference for box 'o wine over an 1835 French Merlot is simply that, a preference. They'd be wrong, of course.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:10 PM on April 30, 2003


Yeah and I hear that in Holland they put mayo on their fries! That's just uncivilized! I mean that's eggs, right? Geesh, I don't care what the culture is there, if they don't do it right we should just take our freedom fries away from them!
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 1:14 PM on April 30, 2003


•Don't ask the servers name. This is a real problem when people start using the servers name with every request. When you ask a server's name, a more experienced server will lie and avoid your table. Odds are you are either some kind of creep, or you're planning on running the server like a servant.

Just don't tell this to Scott.
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 1:17 PM on April 30, 2003


If a diner is allergic or reacts violently to a particular food, then the chef is under the obligation to find or accept a substitute with quiet grace.

Instead of the diner choosing something off the menu s/he isn't allergic to? And if s/he is allergic to so many things that there is nothing on the menu that can be made as is, then how could you possibly trust that what comes on your plate hasn't come in contact with something in the kitchen that isn't going to cause an allergic reaction. Chefs are only obligated to provide what their menus promise they will provide. Nothing else.
posted by archimago at 1:20 PM on April 30, 2003


A review of Colorado Kitchen in the Washingtonian.

I just learned that the chef who wrote this article used to cook at Cashion's. That alone is enough to get me to her restaurant, and the fact that entrees are between $9.50 and $15.00 doesn't hurt either...
posted by GriffX at 1:22 PM on April 30, 2003


This thread raises an interesting question. Who is touchiest?

A)Vegans/vegetarians and their companions
B)Gourmets/gourmands/foodies,etc.
C)Former restaurant owners/employees
D)Current restaurant owners/employees, excluding chefs
E)Chefs

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:24 PM on April 30, 2003


Steve, you prefer Hugo's to Fore Street (I haven't eaten at Hugo's in years....)?

Hugo's has a new chef/owner - check out the menu on their web site. In my opinion Fore Street is a bit overpriced and doesn't have a terribly creative menu. On the other hand, another of Dana Street's restaurants Street & Company, is a great meal.

I'm hungry, let's eat!
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:25 PM on April 30, 2003


I saw a menu from a local high-end restaurant once and the first thing that I noticed was that it had a little notice on the menu that said something about not inquiring to ingredients, even if it was allergy-related. I thought that was just ridiculous.

But I generally do not like going to fancy places to eat anyway. Anything that costs more than Red Lobster is too expensive for me to enjoy it.

The most expensive place that I have ever dined was in Atlanta and I remember that the fish I ordered was extremely good, but it was also 30.00, not including salad, drink or anything else.

Frankly I would much rather eat at a diner or cafe with a good reputation and local character.
posted by bargle at 1:35 PM on April 30, 2003


I've been objecting to menus lately. I'm sick of ordering stuff. I'm sick of having to read three or four pages before I can get food. Most of the time, I genuinely don't care what they give me, as long as it's good. I wish all restaurants could be trusted not to give you the stuff that's about to go bad when you just tell them to make you whatever they think they make best.

I always find this the best part about being a dinner guest at someone's house. You don't have to order anything. They just make whatever they think they make well, and everyone eats it.

More restaurants should just offer one or two meals per night, and end the eternal tyranny of the menu.
posted by rusty at 1:38 PM on April 30, 2003


•Don't ask the servers name. This is a real problem when people start using the servers name with every request. When you ask a server's name, a more experienced server will lie and avoid your table. Odds are you are either some kind of creep, or you're planning on running the server like a servant.

In a run-of-the-mill restaurant, where I am doomed to dismal service, I always make sure that I get the name of the server. Usually, I don't have to go out of my way, since its printed on the check. If the service is absolutely horrible (and I'm not one of those fly off the handle people, it has to be terrible, like someone chatting with their friends while my water glass has been empty for 15 minutes), I will say something.

In a finer restaurant, I never think about it. If the service is bad (which is extremely rare because those places are better about weeding out bad help, and hire only experienced people) I might just complain there, and not after the fact.

As a general rule, the one thing that ruins my restaurant dining experience, if anything, is the server, and not the chef or the kitchen staff.
posted by benjh at 1:39 PM on April 30, 2003


, bring me the boiled head of Clark or Bourdain any day

I don't know, his travel book was pretty boring, but Les Halles is a pretty good brasserie (I've been to the NYC and DC restaurants, not in the Miami spinoff), for the US at least
posted by matteo at 1:40 PM on April 30, 2003


"Because a hell of a lot of people claim to be vegetarian yet they eat fish or "a little chicken on the weekends." I'm sure the servers (assuming they are somewhat competent) just want to make sure so they don't serve you something they shouldn't. They're not being "stupid" they're being polite."

First off I don't think "a hell of alot of people do that", although I have met a few. I get the impression that despite being in the food industry most servers can't be bothered to know the difference. If you eat fish or chicken you aren't a vegetarian and it's usually considered pretty irritating to those of us who are. If I tell you I'm vegetarian don't ask me about meat or fish, the dairy question is fine. I can tell you that there is little polite about what you usually get served for a vegetarian entree. Steamed vegetables, for God's sake, do they think we don't have a sophisticated palate if we don't eat meat or fish?! As far as polite goes, vegetarians and vegans get little or no respect.
posted by Woolcott'sKindredGal at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2003


I'm a food fuss. I don't do it because I "enjoy being a pain in the ass", I do it because I can't tolerate certain foods (not an allergy, an intolerance - I don't puff up and die, I feel really horrible, then I puke).

I'd class that as an allergy even if it technically isn't an 'allergic reaction'. I wouldn't then categorize what you do as food fussing, but rather, as protecting your health.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:59 PM on April 30, 2003


I agree about the respect thing, but all the "vegetarians" I know eat fish. I think it's a pretty common thing.
posted by agregoli at 2:00 PM on April 30, 2003


I can tell you that there is little polite about what you usually get served for a vegetarian entree. Steamed vegetables, for God's sake, do they think we don't have a sophisticated palate if we don't eat meat or fish?! As far as polite goes, vegetarians and vegans get little or no respect.


Well boo-hoo. I don't go into vegetarian restaurants and demand that they accommodate my love of veal. The overwhelming majority of people in America are not vegans or vegetarians.

If you want Chinese food, you go to a Chinese restaurant. If you want vegetarian food, go to a vegetarian restaurant. Don't expect people to accommodate your little niche, unless they want to.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:05 PM on April 30, 2003


Well, on the fish and chicken eating "vegetarians" they are pretty common. I've had many people sit down and claim to be vegetarians and then order the salmon (well done with a bottle of Bandol - I stopped wincing at food and wine parings years ago.) Most of the time I tried not to ask too many questions and give the patron an opportunity to descirbe what they are willing to eat, but other people are somewhat unresponsive. Sometimes getting an order is like pulling teeth. Often, when I'd ask how someone would like the meat cooked I'd say: "Is medium rare okay for your steak?" It was almost funny how many people would just say: "No."
"Okay, so how about medium?"
"Ergh, no."
"Mid-well?"
"Gah."
"Well done for you, then?"
"Yeah, but don't overcook it, okay?"
Don't be offended if a server is unsure what you are requesting, just tell them in simple terms. The server wants to bring you a meal, not validate your particular moral stance.

on preview: When somebody would say "I don't mean to be a pain, but...." I knew trouble was ahead.
Sorry if I sound bitter, but I worked 15 years in kitchens and on floors. I loved it, still do, but give me a chance to bitch about customers instead of being bitched at by customers and I'm all over it.
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:06 PM on April 30, 2003


Again I ask, if they're not interested in accommodating the niche then why have the token "steamed vegetable" entree? Bondcliff suggests it may be a subtle "push off" to the veg crowd, but that seems like a petty waste of time to me.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:10 PM on April 30, 2003


You know SweetJesus that veal bait got stale a decade ago. My dollar is just as good as yours and asking for ONE vegetarian entree is not unreasonable.

Anyone who eats chicken and fish here isn't a vegetarian.
Just so you know...
posted by Woolcott'sKindredGal at 2:13 PM on April 30, 2003


Any really nice restaurant I would go to wouldn't have a "steamed vegetable entree." It's obvious that's not an entree at all. I'd also imagine that restaurants that do things like that are lazy and add that as an entree after enough vegetarians requested it, instead of making something they'd probably rather have.
posted by agregoli at 2:14 PM on April 30, 2003


Again I ask, if they're not interested in accommodating the niche then why have the token "steamed vegetable" entree? Bondcliff suggests it may be a subtle "push off" to the veg crowd, but that seems like a petty waste of time to me.

Because some people like vegetables AND meat. My point is, is that if you don't see anything on the menu you like, don't take it upon yourself to invent something for the chef to make for you. That's not the way it works. The menu is pretty fixed. If you don't like the menu, leave, and find another restaurant (I've done this plenty of times).

A lot of chef's don't like vegetarians because a lot of them think they can walk in and have the chef make them whatever the hell they want, and they get angry when you tell them that's not the way it works.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:17 PM on April 30, 2003


Yeah, Street and Company is fabulous.

Always been a fan of Back Bay grill as well.

Fore Street is the home of many fond memories for me (then again, so is Jones Landing on Peaks Island....). I kind of think of it as the best comfort food money can buy. It may be simple New England fare, but its made with the best ingredients and excells at what it is. I have respect for that. Plus I think Sam Heyword, the chef, is a totally cool chill guy. He would never yell at a patron for requesting a dish differently.
posted by pjgulliver at 2:18 PM on April 30, 2003 [1 favorite]


There's a disconnect here in which chefs are being placed in the same category as cooks; a good syllogism would be the difference between house painter and painter qua artist. When you hire a house painter, you don't want him decorating your walls with his particular vision of your space, and if you commission art from an artist, you wouldn't expect to be able to watch over his shoulder and tell him which colors to use.

In the same sense, a chef is someone whom we assume knows what he is doing and we pay for the access to his particular culinary vision (or whatever). The guy at Denny's, on the other hand, probably won't complain if you order your Moon over My Hammy without the sausage links. It's just a question of what you're after.
posted by vraxoin at 2:20 PM on April 30, 2003


Its pretty amazing how good and varied Portland's dining scene is for a relatively small regional center....oh, now I wish I was in Maine rather than a cubicle in DC.
posted by pjgulliver at 2:20 PM on April 30, 2003


Don't ask the servers name

Most every meal that I've eaten in recent times starts out with the waitstaff saying something like "My name is Tina. Greg and I will be taking care of you tonight." While I almost never use that name later, I've never found it odd that I do know the name of my server. After all, if somebody provides particularly outstanding service, I may want to make sure I'm at one of their tables next time I'm taking a potential client out.

Tip. overtipping isn't necessary or even wanted

I can understand how it would be bizarre to leave $100 to the waitstaff at Applebee's. That being said, I believe in rewarding quality service, and that service industry personnel deserve to make a good living, so I tip generously when it's been earned. I have a very hard time imagining that anybody has ever found the situation to be uncomfortable, or creepy.

After all, if I feel that the quality of service provided by barstaff or waitstaff helped me close a $100,000 account, is an extra $100 overtipping or undertipping?
posted by mosch at 2:21 PM on April 30, 2003


i was lucky enough to eat at chez panisse a few months ago and while we were there we asked -- out of curiosity -- if they had vegetarian or vegan options. our server told us that they usually offered a vegetarian option but that alice (that's what he called her, i call her 'god') viewed the restaurant as her home, and didn't like to cook vegan as she felt it limited her.
seemed reasonable to me.
posted by dolface at 2:21 PM on April 30, 2003


some people don't like to see pink or blood in their food

Some people are in denial.

I don't think "a hell of alot of people do that"

I've met more "vegetarians" that will eat fish, than not, and I used to be a vegetarian, and no I didn't eat fish.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:22 PM on April 30, 2003


If I tell you I'm vegetarian don't ask me about meat or fish, the dairy question is fine

The simple solution here seems to be to say "I'm a vegetarian, I don't eat any meat, poultry or fish, I do eat dairy, what could you recommend?", rather than taking offense that the server doesn't understand the myriad permutations (however inaccurate) of the word "vegetarian".

And I'm sorry about saying "I don't mean to be a pain", elwoodwiles, next time I'll just be straight-up rude and demand things my way. I am unfailingly polite to wait staff, not least because I have done that job and have seen how horrible people can be, I always leave a big tip (unless the service was appalling), and I make sure to thank the staff extra-enthusiastically (and ask them to thank and compliment the chef) if I've asked for anything special and they've accommodated me. I don't see what's so difficult about this.

Yeesh, people get offended over the strangest things, people being polite, people not knowing exactly what "vegetarian" means to a given person when it means something different to another person, people asking for minor changes to dishes (in my case anyway, I usually try to choose something which will probably not have been prepped in advance, and I always ask IF it can be done).
posted by biscotti at 2:23 PM on April 30, 2003


You know SweetJesus that veal bait got stale a decade ago. My dollar is just as good as yours and asking for ONE vegetarian entree is not unreasonable.

First off, the veal thing isn't bait. It's an an accurate analogy. If you go into a restaurant that serves French food, and you want them to make Italian, they're not going to do that.

If I go to school for a number of years to become a French chef, and then I work for a number of years at a French restaurant, I am not going to diverge from my French style just to suit you. It's too hard. It's not worth the time to buy the ingredients, keep them fresh, have them prepared properly, when the dish is only going to be ordered occasionally.

When you look for vegetarian food, you're looking for a specific type of food - food with no meat, no dairy, no whatever else. If you want this, just go to a speciality restaurant. Why is that so hard?
posted by SweetJesus at 2:25 PM on April 30, 2003


Again I ask, if they're not interested in accommodating the niche then why have the token "steamed vegetable" entree?

Because vegetarian diners don't always dine alone or in groups of other vegetarians. Restaurant managers would rather offer a token entree to placate a vegetarian than see a party of 6, five of whom would have ordered the $15 steak, walk out and go elsewhere. It indeed is a "fuck you" gesture. But it's one that makes economic sense.
posted by PrinceValium at 2:26 PM on April 30, 2003


There's a restaurant locally that my wife and I frequent that is rumored to have this kind of policy. This chef has even gone to the length of not putting salt and pepper on the table. A friend of mine told me about this because he was kinda pissed about it, but I told him I thought the food was good enough (great actually) that I didn't even notice there was no S&P on the table.

When I go to a high-end restaurant, I'm not only paying for the food, I'm paying for the experience. I generally will order a special and then sit back and relax with a good bottle of wine. If the chef wants things a certain way, that's the gist of what I'm paying for and I'm happy to pay for it. If I wanted something specific, I'd go to a place where I knew I could get it.
posted by tholt at 2:27 PM on April 30, 2003


Pinkstainlesstale: you have a point. Some restaurants do not do enough to accommodate vegetarians. There should be at least one vegetarian entree on every menu. Often, the pasta dish, if served as an entree, can be made without the meat portion. Options should be available other then steamed vegetables. The problem arises, however, for pure vegans. Many restaurants are simple not prepared to cater to a very exclusive form of diet. If one is going to be as radical (okay, my stripes are showing on this one, but c'mon. vegans are the Hezbolla of vegetarians) as being a pure vegan, the onus is on you to find restaurants set up for your special needs.
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:29 PM on April 30, 2003


Because some people like vegetables AND meat. My point is, is that if you don't see anything on the menu you like, don't take it upon yourself to invent something for the chef to make for you.

I totally agree with you on this, but let me just stress I'm talking about a seperate entree of "hot vegetables on a plate" offered on the menu, not someone ordering a customized big version of the side veg. If you don't want to serve that type of food, than don't offer some half-assed appeasement and tell me "yeah we have a vegetarian entree". Just say no so I can go elsewhere.

On preview: PrinceV raises a good point that this may be more of a manager's decision than a chef's, though I still say it lacks creativity and smacks of "just a cook after all".
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:30 PM on April 30, 2003


And I'm getting far too worked up about this since th' wife has said many times "I am absolutely thrilled to have someone else make me a salad." Just a bit of a nut for choice I guess. :-)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:33 PM on April 30, 2003


This is why taking someone out to dinner on a date is such a great idea; it reveals so much about your mate's personality. Does she (or he) berate the wait staff? Do she ask a litany of ridiculous questions? Do she insist on a number of special requests (my favorite pet peeve-- "salad dressing on the side." wtf?) ?

To a large degree, as the poster who went to chez panisse pointed out, the chef regards the restaurant as an extension of his or her home. During times when I decide not to eat and meat or dairy, I know which restaurants have plenty of vegan options, and I will avoid the ones that don't. If for some reason I end up with a restaurant that doesn't do something strictly vegan, I'll eat what the host provides, just as I would at a friend's house.

It's better to enjoy a meal of "imperfect" food with your friends than it is to eat a meal fitted to your ultra-specific preferences all by yourself.
posted by deanc at 2:36 PM on April 30, 2003


If you don't want to serve that type of food, than don't offer some half-assed appeasement and tell me "yeah we have a vegetarian entree". Just say no so I can go elsewhere.

If I ran my own place, I wouldn't have any vegetarian entrees - it's just not my thing. But I can also understand from an economic standpoint that sometimes, vegetarian or not, people want the steamed vegetable entree.

We served our own version of the steamed vegetable dish at the place I used to work, and probably 8 times out of 10, people would order it with a meat-based appetizer or small bowl of pasta. People who are trying to lose weight, or just aren't hungry for a big slice of meat also tend to order it. So it's not just there as a fuck-off to the veggies.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:38 PM on April 30, 2003


Oh, and always be polite to the staff, because they've got full control over stuff you're about to ingest.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:43 PM on April 30, 2003


If you go to an architect to have a house designed--surely as "artistic" an undertaking as cooking--you aren't expected to pick one of eight designs or else be labelled a jerk. You're paying them, and its reasonable to expect that they are going to ultimately (and graciously) obey your wishes, even if they think your ideas are appalling. Same goes for chefs. If its not possible for economic or practical reasons to change an dish, that' one thing. But if a chef just refuses out of some sense of moral outrage, that's just rude as far as I'm concerned. Especially when you get into the whole thing about not cooking a grilled cheese for a little kid because they need to be indoctrinated into the world of fine dining. Who is she to be telling the parent what she should feed her kid? It's likely that the kid simply will not eat Beef Wellington, no mater how hungry he is.

That's just no way to treat the people that are directly financing your occupation.
posted by boltman at 2:44 PM on April 30, 2003


It bears highlighting that strict vegan/vegetarian and "casual" vegetarian are extremely important distinctions. The difference is tolerance to cross-contamination. Your veggie burger from TGI Fridays (I'm pretending they have one to make my point) will be cooked on a grill that earlier in the day or week cooked somebody's bacon cheeseburger. If this is okay with you, the burden of accomodation on the part of the restaurant is pretty small. But strict anything, whether it be vegan, vegetarian, or kosher, is asking too much of most establishments. As has been said multiple times here, your experience will be much more pleasant at an establishment that specifically caters to your needs. (We recently celebrated my grandfather's 90th birthday at a wonderful dairy kosher restaurant in Florida - fish and pasta only, no meat - that left even the ham-and-cheese-eaters in the family wowed. Anything's possible with imagination, skill, and most importantly, ground rules at the outset.)
posted by PrinceValium at 2:46 PM on April 30, 2003


You are if you go to Howard Roark boltman (where Midas when we need him....)
posted by pjgulliver at 2:47 PM on April 30, 2003


sorry should be an "is" in there...
posted by pjgulliver at 2:49 PM on April 30, 2003


Honestly, one of the things I love most about Northern California is the fact that no matter where I dine, there is something fabulous and vegetarian (and often, vegan) on the menu.

Not that I ever take advantage of that availability, but it sure makes it easier to dine out with friends.

incidentally, I know numerous "vegetarians" who eat fish and poultry. I know. They're fooling nobody but themselves. They're really "people who don't eat red meat". But the fact remains that they call themselves vegetarians.
posted by padraigin at 2:49 PM on April 30, 2003


biscotti: I didn't mean to single you out, I'm sure you are polite. I was just reacting to the phrase, since it's still burned into my brain from years ago. I'd hear a few times a night and it was almost always followed with complex and unreasonable requests.

The name issue: I cringe visibly when the server introduces themselves and then recites the specials. It makes me wonder if they are working for the right people. My opinion on this is probably a result of working French places where the server wasn't supposed to distract from the food. I think making people wear name tags or introducing themselves is demeaning and is meant to keep servers "in their place" more then anything else. The customer is anonymous, but the server is treated as a public personality.

Tipping: Yes, there are times it is good to tip well, I just don't want anybody to get the wrong idea. If someone was a difficult customer, but tipped well, I still wasn't excited to see them return again and again. The message can be "I have money, I can be rude if I want." Many people tipped well for all the right reasons and I was grateful as I understood they didn't have to, nor were they compensating for their own lack of proper social skills.

Boltman: OOOHHHH! GRRRRRR! Uh, no comment.

I think I need to go into therapy. I've evidently got PTSD or something.
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:52 PM on April 30, 2003


If you go to an architect to have a house designed--surely as "artistic" an undertaking as cooking--you aren't expected to pick one of eight designs or else be labelled a jerk.

If you go to an architect and tell them you don't want any wood, stone, or metal in your house, and you want it to be made of out mud and exactly 12.2 ft high, they'll tell you to leave. An architect can specialize in certain materials. If you ask a metal-worker to sculpt you some clay, they'll look at you like a moron.

That's just no way to treat the people that are directly financing your occupation.

Just because you have money, you don't get to dictate every possible variable. Don't ask us to turn the house lights up a bit, and turn down the heat. You're probably one of 300 or so people we'll feed today, and unfortunately, we don't have the time or energy to prepare your dish anyway you want it.

*Pet Peeve*

If you have kids, and these kids don't want to eat what is on the menu, leave the building. This isn't Chile's, we don't have a line chef and a kids menu.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:57 PM on April 30, 2003


I should clarify that veal is the standard bait that is used to get a rise out of me and I've been a vegetarian for 13 years. I didn't say that I ask for anything special, I don't. My question is usually what the base is of soups and sauces is.

I live in the Bay Area and it's usually not a problem to get a good veg meal, but it is more difficult when I travel. I don't like being told by some people that I can't go to a "nice" restaurant if I want a decent entree because they don't serve my kind there. What do you tell people who have a nut allergy? They have to ask the same questions. I'm allergic to walnuts and to tell you the truth walnuts are much harder to avoid than meat!
posted by Woolcott'sKindredGal at 2:58 PM on April 30, 2003


It occurs to me that the people who balk at putting their trust in a chef's creations are exactly the reason why there's such a proliferation of chain restaurants (Lettuce Entertain You, I'm looking at you), and fast food infestation, especially in the U.S.

Maybe it's because I've got to watch my budget more than most people, but why on earth would you go to some swanky restaurant without researching beforehand whether it's the right place for you to go?

That confuses me. Unless you're talking about getting fried rice and egg roll carryout from the Chinese place down the street, going out to eat is an investment of time and a significant chunk of change. It seems like a waste of effort for the diner, and unnecessary stress for the chef to blindly go into a restaurant setting like that, and expect the restaurant to change its entire routine because the diner can't get out of their McDonald's Combo Meal mentality.
posted by wells at 2:59 PM on April 30, 2003


I don't like being told by some people that I can't go to a "nice" restaurant if I want a decent entree because they don't serve my kind there

The crux of the issue is, is that you can't expect someone to accommodate your pickyness (Just from a standpoint of the amount of options one has, if you're vegan or a veggie, that eliminates a hell of a lot of things) when you waltz in off the street.

There are HUGE differences between regular, run-of-the-mill chain places with line chefs, american favorites and crazy crap on the walls, and a really good restaurant with a quality chef and a theme menu.

Your choice to eat vegan (for any number of reasons) is exactly that - your choice. Just as it is my choice, or a chef's choice, to chose not to cook vegan or vegetarian food (for any number of reasons). You can't have it both ways.
posted by SweetJesus at 3:06 PM on April 30, 2003


I'm a vegan and I would NEVER go to a restaurant expecting the chef to bend over backwards to accommodate me. I just don't eat at that kind of restaurant. If I do for some reason wind up having to eat at one I just make sure I ask the right questions and negotiate acceptable modifications (like leaving the cheese off etc.). If I am going to fork out $100 for a meal, I am going to go somewhere that offers food I can eat, not somewhere I have to barter the contents of every mouthful. I think the big difference is in the attitude of the customer. The customer isn't always right. In fact, most of the time, the customer is a jackass.
posted by evilcupcakes at 3:08 PM on April 30, 2003


incidentally, I know numerous "vegetarians" who eat fish and poultry. I know. They're fooling nobody but themselves. They're really "people who don't eat red meat". But the fact remains that they call themselves vegetarians.

I have vegetarian friends who have lived abroad who tell me that in most of Europe this is an acceptable definition of vegetarian. They refer to fish as "fruit of the sea".

Not debating, just an FYI
posted by evilcupcakes at 3:14 PM on April 30, 2003


If you go to an architect to have a house designed--surely as "artistic" an undertaking as cooking--you aren't expected to pick one of eight designs or else be labelled a jerk. You're paying them, and its reasonable to expect that they are going to ultimately (and graciously) obey your wishes, even if they think your ideas are appalling.

That really depends on the architect. In my experience, some architects are more agreeable than others to (though all are secretly resentful of) clients looking over their shoulders during the construction process, the designs having been agreed upon beforehand, though is such large projects unforeseen situations do arise. This is hardly comparable to a dining experience, where if one doesn't find the chef sufficiently amenable to their suggestions, one can always go eat somewhere else the next time.

That's just no way to treat the people that are directly financing your occupation.

Bah. If enough other customers are happy with the food, it's entirely up to the chef whether or not to accomodate a few whiners.
posted by Ty Webb at 3:16 PM on April 30, 2003


I'm not "picky". Being a vegetarian isn't an alien concept and it's not even unusual. Occasionally a work or social event requires me to go somewhere I wouldn't choose to go to because of their lack of veg options. In my inital post I said "I demand an entree", that is the phrase that my veg friends and I laugh over with each other when we are stuck somewhere without an entree. Just to be clear. I want an entree, but I don't really demand one.

For the record, all the vegans I have known have been some of the most easy to accomodate and understanding people I have known. They are well aware of how tough it can be to cook for them and frankly I've really enjoyed cooking for vegans, it's challenging and vegan food can be pretty fabulous.

I appreciate what you're saying evilcupcakes (wow, was that fun to just type!), the cultural differences are interesting. It's funny because at my house we call fish "sponges of the sea" because of all the pollutants they soak up.
posted by Woolcott'sKindredGal at 3:25 PM on April 30, 2003


I can't agree more with this chef. It reminds me of a time my wife and I were in a restaurant in Florence and the chef refused to give parmigiano to the customer (German, not American, all of you American-tourist-bashers out there) for their seafood dish. The customer made lots of noise that they are right, and the chef categorically refused to allow the woman to destroy his food in that manner. Bravo to that chef, and brava to this one!
posted by Birichini at 3:50 PM on April 30, 2003


Slightly O/T, perhaps, but evilcupcakes reminded me: I've often wondered about vegans being willing to eat in non-vegan restaurants at all. I suppose I've always thought that being vegan would be a bit more like keeping kosher--you would not want to eat things that might have been prepared alongside animal products. And furthermore, since veganism is in many (not all, I'm aware) cases a political and/or environmental statement as well as a health choice, that you would not want to support an establishment that trafficks in animal products.

I understand that actually living that way wouldn't be too realistic in most locations, and that in order to live in the world as it actually exists, you might have to be willing to compromise certain aspects at certain times. But it is something I've pondered, and any vegans who have insight for me are welcome to offer it.
posted by padraigin at 3:51 PM on April 30, 2003


What a great thread—and great post, PrinceValium! I shuddered when I saw "107 comments total" (probably a dozen more by the time I hit Preview), assuming that it was all going to be "Jane, you ignorant slut" about whether customers/chefs have the right to be jerks. Archimago, Miguel, and zekinskia set the tone for a generally thoughtful and enthusiastic thread. Now for my two cents:

The problem with the chef who wrote this article is that she's gone way overboard and sounds completely unreasonable

...the sanctimonious attitude of the chef...


You people have never known a professional chef, have you? I used to be married to one and have heard more than one fancy-restaurant chef sound off, and let me tell you, this woman is a paragon of sweet reason by the standards of her profession, which is filled with people who will throw a cleaver at you as soon as look at you. (This may not apply to the Pacific Northwest, where I have never been and about which I hear weird things. I speak of what I know.) Chefs are not librarians; adjust your expectations accordingly. This one makes a lot of sense.

Anyone who eats chicken and fish here isn't a vegetarian.
Just so you know...


Others have made this point, but I want to stress it: you may think they aren't vegetarians, but they think they are. My own brother not only eats fowl and fish but the occasional ground-meat dish; he has the grace to sound sheepish, but he still calls himself a vegetarian, and a server would be wise to check on precisely what that involved.

If you go to an architect to have a house designed--surely as "artistic" an undertaking as cooking--you aren't expected to pick one of eight designs or else be labelled a jerk.

And if you hire a chef to come to your house for an evening and cook just for you and your guests, you have a right to choose the menu and make other suggestions. If you think your analogy relates in any way to restaurants, you're wrong.

a preference for box 'o wine over an 1835 French Merlot

I'll take the box o' wine, thanks. Do you have any idea what shape an 1835 merlot would be in by now? Merlots don't even have any tannin, for chrissake! OK, if it was a Pétrus from one of the great vintages, say 1828 or 1848, I might give it a whirl (whenever I start thinking merlots are all flabby and boring, I remind myself that Pétrus is almost pure Merlot), but the 1835s were probably not worth drinking twenty years later. (I have a great story about the 1828 Mouton, by the way, but this comment is too long already.) [/insanely recondite wine snobbery]
posted by languagehat at 4:05 PM on April 30, 2003


If I were an interior decorator I don't think I'd want to do business with someone who only let me use brown.

You don't really know much about vegetarian food, do you?
posted by dobbs at 4:11 PM on April 30, 2003


languagehat, that was SO HOT.
posted by padraigin at 4:11 PM on April 30, 2003


Sweet Jesus: If you go to an architect and tell them you don't want any wood, stone, or metal in your house, and you want it to be made of out mud and exactly 12.2 ft high, they'll tell you to leave.

Agreed. But that's not what we're talking about here. Sure, if you go into a restaurant with your own recipe, give it to the waiter and say "cook me this," I'd agree that's pretty unreasonable. But asking for well-done meat or putting some extra salt on the potatoes is more like a disagreement about what color to paint the shutters. And refusing to cook up a grilled cheese sandwich is like refusing to put up corny wallpaper in the kid's room because it's too garish. It's just totally indefensible, IMO.

Don't ask us to turn the house lights up a bit

Why not? Maybe everyone in the damn restaurant is annoyed because they can't even read the menus but nobody has had the courage to say anything. Sure, to demand it would be rude, both to the servers and to your fellow guests. But I can't see anything wrong with observing to the waiter that you're finding it difficult to read the menu. In fact, it's probably the right thing to do.

I also think that its perfectly acceptable for a chef or server to politely refuse to make modifications if there are good reasons to do so (extra expense, too busy, not enough staff, etc). I just have a problem with chefs refusing to make modifications because of their personal opinions about what makes a good meal. Quite honestly, I could care less what the chef thinks of my likes and dislikes. I happen to hate asparagus. Why should I have to get a serving of it on my plate that I'm not going to eat simply because the chef finds it unthinkable to serve a particular dish without asparagus? Its both highly arrogant and at least mildly oppressive, IMO.
posted by boltman at 4:19 PM on April 30, 2003


Well, I'm a heterosexual who only fucks guys on the weekends. But in my eyes, I'm still straight, y'get me?

BTW, over in the UK, we put a little V next to meals which don't contain fish, fowl or flesh. Might this help on that side of the pond?
posted by dash_slot- at 4:25 PM on April 30, 2003


pjgulliver: ARGH! Jones Landing sucks. There is no bottom to the depths that place plumbs. Last summer their deck collapsed, but tragically no one was injured and they re-opened in a couple weeks. Seriously, Jones Landing is the worst food in a fifty mile radius. And hey, maybe the food's bad, but at least it's really fucking expensive! Fish and chips? That'll be twelve bucks.

Oh, how I hate that place. Die, Jones Landing, die die die. And if you even so much as think the words "Reggae" and "night" in any kind of proximity to each other, I cannot be responsible for my actions.
posted by rusty at 4:27 PM on April 30, 2003


Let me preface this with the fact that I agree with the author of the letter, that one should not fuck with a chef's creation (a true chef, does not apply to TGI Lobster Garden).

That said, I can't fathom why some people are so vehemently (coughsweetjesuscough) against vegetarians. There are limitless possibilities for vegetarian recipes, all of which do not depend on a select group of animals (cows, pigs, sheep, and to a lesser extent, goats) that are only prevalent in our diet because of historical circumstances*.

Though I'm not a vegan or a vegetarian, I often cook dishes at home that are vegan only by happenstance. It matters not to me whether or not they have animal products in them, they just happen not to. And they're delicious.

Food doesn't need (insert favorite meat here) to be tasty, and it's not crazy to have a good and complex vegetarian dish on a menu, at least in New York. Even in French restaurants (hell, even when I was in France) there was generally something for vegetarians. I would think that there would be some open-mindedness about this in Providence, especially on Thayer Street and the Brown area. Perhaps I'm wrong. No, chefs don't have to provide a good (again, not steamed vegetables) vegetarian dish, but if they don't or can't, that's showing a lack of talent and imagination.

*These circumstances being:
These were the animals native to the Near East and North Africa, the first centers of animal domestication in the Old World. From the Near East, they spread throughout Europe, and eventually to North America through colonization. Of course, other animals were domesticated elsewhere, notably the turkey in North America, but the American and European diet is very heavily based on the aforemention "Big Four."
posted by The Michael The at 5:06 PM on April 30, 2003


On a semi-related note, anyone in or travelling through the Boston area should check out Centro in Cambridge (Red Line to Central Square; enter through the adjacent Good Life restaurant/bar). I ate there a few weeks ago while travelling; it's amazingly good New Italian (for lack of a better term). You won't be disappointed, and there are myriad meat and vegetarian dishes for whomever wants them. Bon appetit!

[/rave]
posted by The Michael The at 5:16 PM on April 30, 2003


As a former waiter of the Blue Door restaurant in Miami Beach, I feel compelled to add my two cents.

When talking about fine dining, I agree with the chef. A fine dining experience should be guided by the chef, who presents a selection of different dishes on the menu. Choose one you like most. Simple as that. If you don't like it, don't go back. Read restaurant reviews ahead of time if you're picky. If you're really picky, go somewhere that's tried and true to you. You're bound to be disappointed otherwise, even if they accomodate special requests.

An evening of fine dining should be like going to a play. Put your experience in the hands of the chef and waiters, (playwrite and actors) and enjoy. A busy kitchen is an atmosphere of controlled chaos, and throwing a monkey wrench in it is bound to produce bad results.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 5:54 PM on April 30, 2003


If you go to an architect to have a house designed--surely as "artistic" an undertaking as cooking--you aren't expected to pick one of eight designs or else be labelled a jerk.

What an appallingly bad analogy. Unless your architect is handling 100 clients a day, in which case you have a Barret home, and yes, you only get the choice of eight designs.

You want an individually crafted dinner, you pay for the whole of the chef's attention.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:19 PM on April 30, 2003


inphilltr8r -- so you think that the chef in this article would be just fine with people asking for deep fried flounder if she was only cooking for them? because I certainly didn't read it that way. She was comparing her flounder to Beethoven's Third Symphony for goodness sake!
posted by boltman at 6:38 PM on April 30, 2003


For some interesting rants about working in the food service industry, check out The Stained Apron.
posted by whatever at 7:14 PM on April 30, 2003


On second thought, most chefs I've worked with have been overbearing, difficult people. I think it is almost necessary for them to be that way. They work in a hot, chaotic workplace, staffed by (some) people who cannot get a job anywhere else. Many(not all) of the prep/sous chefs I've known were alcoholics or drug addicts. A chef's temperment needs to be militaristic to get through the night successfully.

My pet dream is that anyone in the United States who wants to ever eat at a fine-dining restaurant should be drafted to work for at least six months in the food service industry before doing so. Try to see the situation from both sides.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:23 PM on April 30, 2003


Ugh! Someone tell me this guy (from whatever's link to Stained Apron) is not an impending sign of doom from bartenders to come...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:48 PM on April 30, 2003


I have vegetarian friends who have lived abroad who tell me that in most of Europe this is an acceptable definition of vegetarian. They refer to fish as "fruit of the sea".

This reminds me of some fun I had traveling with a "vegetarian" friend in Italy (for the record, he eats fish, but that's not my point). No one knew what the hell a vegetarian was, so he'd be (what he thought was) blunt: he didn't want meat (carne). Of course, he'd be smilingly served something with prosciutto, his protests answered with all sincerity: "But that's not carne, that's prosciutto!" We usually refer to prosciutto as a vegetable ever since.
posted by Zurishaddai at 9:11 PM on April 30, 2003


This comment is only slightly related to the topic at hand but I thought I'd stick a link to an excellent behind-the-scenes article written by a waiter in an unnamed high-end restaurant. (You'll have to scroll down quite a bit on the page but at least you'll be scrolling past a variety of chefs listing their favourite ingredients, techniques and tools. Or you can search on the page for "Waiter Confidential" to go directly to the article.)
posted by Jaybo at 9:59 PM on April 30, 2003


I'm not "picky". Being a vegetarian isn't an alien concept and it's not even unusual. Occasionally a work or social event requires me to go somewhere I wouldn't choose to go to because of their lack of veg options. In my initial post I said "I demand an entree", that is the phrase that my veg friends and I laugh over with each other when we are stuck somewhere without an entree. Just to be clear. I want an entree, but I don't really demand one.

That's my thought. When I eat out, I check out the menu in advance. I've actually never been to a place where I could not find something on the menu to order, and if there is any doubt asking "I don't eat meat, what would you recommend?" gets the desired results.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:14 PM on April 30, 2003


Jaybo: excellent article, thanks. The byline, though, is apposite: After being fired, Marcello Di Cintio finished his first book. Harmattan: Wind Across West Africa was published last fall by Insomniac Press.

Real waiters, which you only rarely see in the States, want to be waiters all their lives and are. They're respected and loved as such. American "servers" are just doing time. I've been to a few very good restaurants in New York, Washington and LA but I can't remember one single good waiter. In Europe, average waiters are better than your maîtres de.

Bartenders, on the other hand, are almost always superb. I wonder why.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:40 PM on April 30, 2003


I can shed some light on the fish-eating vegetarian phenomenon.

I was a vegetarian for health reasons for 10 years. Then I realized that I felt like crap. I was exercising a lot and was not getting enough protein. I know this makes vegetarians crazy
to hear it. Yes, you can get a lot of protein from vegetable sources, if you don't mind eating your weight in soy product, for example. But it's a lot of work. And it's dull. And if your motivation is health, you realize there are contradictions: Give up red meat but keep eating high-cholesterol cheese and eggs? What sense is that? A lot of vegetarians are unhealthy because they replace meat calories with fatty foods like cheese and sugary stuff like cakes and cookies. I've know a lot of chubby vegetarians. Cheese is the crack of the vegetarian world.

Now I have been almost-vegan at times, and I felt half-starved much of the time. I was never full. I would bonk and get weak on long bike rides once the carbs were burned.
And it's hard to justify not eating fish if your motive is health.
Fish lowers your cholesterol. Yeah, some fish are high in toxins, but so is the air outside my door. Politically, the fishing industry does not bother me as much as big agribusiness and factory farming.

I do not describe myslef as a vegetarian. I eat vegetarian cuisine, and fish. I don't eat red or white meat of land animals. Vegetarian and vegan are useful shorthand for a recpie or a dish. I don't think they are particularly good labels for people. Somebody offers me a sausage, I don't say, "No thanks -- I am a vegetarian!" I just say no thanks. It's the ideological spin that people find off-putting, the evangelical zeal of some. Despite my earlier comments, if a restaurant does not accommodate my tastes on the menu, I don't make a lot of demands -- but I don't return, either.

Here's my pet peeve as someone who mostly eats vegetarian meals -- I never try to press my dietary preferences on meat eaters. But for some reason, certain meat eaters just have to start a debate when they find out. If you don't want to have a conversation over your lunch about how chickens spend their entire lives in darkness shitting on each other and stuffed full of antibiotics, unable to move, don't bring it up.
posted by Slagman at 10:56 PM on April 30, 2003


I generally agree about abandoning oneself to a good chef's ministrations - that's why you pay the big bucks! I admire a true gourmet - SweetJesus, I wish I could have your sense of food adventure but I ain't quite there. There's just some things I have a mental block against - I found it almost unbearable to sit next to a diner who had tete de veau in Paris once, let alone order it myself. Ewwww.

SteveInMaine and pjgulliver, another ex-Portland denizen here, but I am close enough to return now and again. I vote for Back Bay Grille too - wonderful! A couple named Martha and James used to run one of my favorite places, the small and delightful Madd Apple Cafe - I think it has new owners now though. And Walters Cafe! There are truly many fine places for high end cuisine in that city - and minus the pretensions. And a bit further down the food chain but worth a mention nonetheless, you used to be able to get some yummy lunches and lots of local color at Jay's Oyster Bar or Brian Boru's.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:33 PM on April 30, 2003


Bartenders, on the other hand, are almost always superb. I wonder why.

I don't know. Perhaps it comes from living in a college town but it seems that the art of the cocktail is pretty much gone when cocktail.com prominantly features Jello Shots and Sex on the Beach. 'round here the best you can get is to combine:

1: Vodka
2: Rum
3: Whiskey
4: Tequila

with

1: Canned fruit juice.
2: "Drink mix" (a horrible tasting swill of corn syrup and artificial flavor)
3: Soft drinks
4: Jello!?!?!?

Ask for a whiskey soda and you will get whiskey and coke. Ask for a twist and you will get a slice. In fact, I can't remember the last time I got an actual twist. For that matter, I can't remember my spousal unit ever getting a tequila sunrise that didn't come out of a carton.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:37 PM on April 30, 2003


our server told us that they usually offered a vegetarian option but that alice (that's what he called her, i call her 'god') viewed the restaurant as her home, and didn't like to cook vegan as she felt it limited her.

Ah, Alice, how sad this makes me. Vegan? Limiting? Tis to giggle. One day I might find myself moved to write Alice a long letter in which I describe 150 different entrees one can build on eggplant, chickpeas and cauliflower.

My dream is a fine vegetarian restaurant -- truly fine, and not high priced just because its vegetarian, which is obnoxiously prevalent, IME.

Oh, to be downright technical, a "vegetarian who eats fish" is a pescetarian. That spelling may be off, but pronounce it phonetically and we'll be on the same page. It'd be a benefit to many to introduce this word into the common vocabulary. (A "vegetarian who eats chicken" is, well, a liar.)
posted by Dreama at 2:54 AM on May 1, 2003


What the hell kind of vegetable is a fish?
posted by walrus at 4:38 AM on May 1, 2003


Throw the vegans and vegetarians in an Antarctic wasteland for a month. I guarantee they'd eat penguin rather than starve to death.

I don't know what enrages me more here: the sanctimonious attitude of the chef or the sanctimonious attitude of diners.


No offense, but you sound a little sanctimonious and judgemental yourself, and I have absolutely no idea how you're first statement has anything to do with vegetarianism or veganism. Jainism, maybe, but that's different.

Hell, if you and I were lost in the "Antarctic wasteland," I might eat you. Raw. I'm sure you taste something like chicken, though probably not nearly so lean.

But I sure wouldn't order you in a restaurant, even if you were on the menu.

Vegetarianism and veganism are about choice, and about the fact that humanity isn't in the wasteland struggling to survive anymore.
posted by Shane at 6:05 AM on May 1, 2003


Rusty, you live on Peaks I assume? I waited tables/barbacked there through high school and beginning of college...my fond memories tend to come from underage drinking with the staff...not the horrifically bad food...and believe me, I could set the ferry schedule to the same endless repetative set "Rocking Vibrations" played every friggin Sunday...I almost killed them, all of them...

On the other hand, Peaks appears to have two decent restaraunts now, the one next to Hannigan's and the one in the new B&B...God, I can't wait for a long weekend on Peaks this summer....
posted by pjgulliver at 6:30 AM on May 1, 2003


MMJ:I found it almost unbearable to sit next to a diner who had tete de veau in Paris once, let alone order it myself.

"Hmm. I wonder what tete de veau is."

[typety-type}

"Oh."

*Barfs*

Yeah I'm sure it's delicious. I bet that pile of barf I just made is a delicacy too, but I'll be damned if I'll taste it a third time.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:43 AM on May 1, 2003


how you're first statement
Oops--Your/you're

posted by Shane at 6:46 AM on May 1, 2003


My dream is a fine vegetarian restaurant

Roxanne's is expensive, but it's supposed to be really really good...and ultra-vegan, and raw! what will they think of next...
posted by serafinapekkala at 7:29 AM on May 1, 2003


Agreed with Miguel on the European concept of "waiter" vs. the American one. I've had some really good waiters in the States, but they are few and far between. Oddly enough, I've had FAR better waiters outside of New York City (I'm thinking of a couple of superb ones in Durham, NC here) than in it.

(my favorite pet peeve-- "salad dressing on the side." wtf?)

That's a pet peeve? I often ask for it on the side (granted, not in a really good restaurant, but in diners and such) because lots of times, one's salad arrives positively drowning in the dressing. A touch of dressing will make the salad. An avalanche ruins it. When I don't trust them, I'd rather add the dressing myself.

And I've never been to one, but I find the vegetarian restaurants that make (supposedly) amazingly accurate simulacra of meat dishes to be intriguing. (I doubt I'd go, but it's an interesting idea.)
posted by Vidiot at 8:03 AM on May 1, 2003


Vidiot: for my money, original veg creations are better than meat sims. Consider this: butternut squash ravioli with a walnut and wild mushroom sauce.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:10 AM on May 1, 2003


If I am going to a nice restaurant, and have a vegan/vegetarian member of our party, I find that if I call the restaurant a few days in advance and speak to the chef that they are usually more than happy to plan for us, and have something special on hand.

But I will admit that so many chefs these days are trying to put so many different flavors into a single dish, they are almost certain to stumble across something I don't like or am allergic too. But for the most part I'll strust the chef and have no problem picking things out or leaving food uneaten if I think the chef went astray.

For vegans/vegetarians looking for a great meal in the Bay Area, I recommend Millennium in San Francisco. Their food isn't just a meat entree with the meat removed. Nor is it an attempt to get vegetables to taste like meat (something I've never understodo).
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:23 AM on May 1, 2003


an attempt to get vegetables to taste like meat

Morningstar does it for me. Hot (Not) dogs fried in organic butter (the butter is made with a different process, too--something about adding something like cottage cheese instead of oil or water during the churning process). Mmm Mmm! You could fool a meat-eater with these things.

How the heck did this thread get so far off-topic?
posted by Shane at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2003


We're hungry?
posted by agregoli at 8:43 AM on May 1, 2003


It's funny to see the difference in viewpoints here -- it looks like a clean line can be drawn between those who have been waiters or chefs at some point in their lives and those who haven't.

I'd add my own personal horror stories, but frankly, there's too may of them. Suffice to say, most of them revolve around one of two things:

1. People who bring beastly children to nice restaurants.
2. People who order you around and then stiff you on the tip.

(And as much as I love Canada and Canadians, I have to say that they were the worst tippers I have ever experienced. Worse than the Germans, worse than the British, worse than poor college students.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:09 AM on May 1, 2003


There's always Waffle House.
posted by konolia at 9:26 AM on May 1, 2003


"Hmm. I wonder what tete de veau is."

[typety-type}

"Oh."

*Barfs*


And you think they delicately leave out the jaw meat in hamburgers? Tsk. It's just muscular meat, so it's basically red meat. I wonder what you think of riz de veau then, or gésiers (confitted duck stomach), or calf brains. It's funny how we all draw a line somewhere - mine's brans - but gésiers, tête de veau and riz de veau are fine by me. Yum.

If this disgusts you, you'd better stop eating fish sticks then, because they're almost certainly made from jaw meat from codfish and other cheap white fish.
posted by NekulturnY at 9:30 AM on May 1, 2003


Yes, I eat none of those things. But de gustabus, etc. I dig on sea urchin, the mere smell of which makes some folks gag.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:32 AM on May 1, 2003


Ah, Alice, how sad this makes me. Vegan? Limiting? Tis to giggle. One day I might find myself moved to write Alice a long letter in which I describe 150 different entrees one can build on eggplant, chickpeas and cauliflower.

And if you add meat you can make at least ten times that many entrees out of the same ingredients. And they would all taste better, because there is no vegetable that tastes as good as meat. So, you'd be proving her point for her.

Vegetarians remind me a bit of certain of us Mac users. "Sure, we don't have that many word processors, but hey, you really only need one! And how many games can a person play in their lifetime anyway?"
posted by kindall at 9:38 AM on May 1, 2003


kindall...vegetarians and mac users....

That goes down as the most brilliant analogy I've read on Metafilter in a while....(granted...that's not saying that much.)
posted by pjgulliver at 9:45 AM on May 1, 2003


"Tastes better"? Huh, what? Taste is highly subjective.

I lost my taste for meat soon after I became a vegetarian. Knowing that no animal or fish died for my meal makes it taste better to me. For some reason carnivores really like to quiz vegetarians and vegans and get fixated on what we eat. Not a day goes by that someone in my office doesn't come in to see what I'm having for lunch that day.

It's amazing how little most people know about the foods they eat or how they got to their table. There's something very strange about putting blinders on and not thinking about what you're putting in your body.

I'm healthier now than I was when I ate meat. As an example of this I can tell you that the local blood bank calls me for special blood donations because my blood is so "clean" they prefer it for infant surgery.
posted by Woolcott'sKindredGal at 10:04 AM on May 1, 2003


so you think that the chef in this article would be just fine with people asking for deep fried flounder if she was only cooking for them?

...and you think a top flight architecht will be happy to design your garden shed?
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:10 AM on May 1, 2003


Is anyone else still waiting to hear LanguageHat's story about the 1828 Mouton?
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:15 AM on May 1, 2003


C_D:
1. I think the line is between people who see food as an art and those who see it as a consumable. I've never worked in food services (though I started cooking when I was 10 because I'm better at it than my mom) but I fully understand a creator being protective of an artistic vision.

2. All the Canadians I know regularly tip 15%-20%. Maybe they just didn't like the service in your case and were being politely passive aggressive, or maybe they were from somewhere else in the country.
posted by cardboard at 10:42 AM on May 1, 2003


There are a couple of (mostly) hard and fast rules that one picks up if you work in a restaraunt for any period of time:

1) The upper-middle class are the worst tippers.

2) The more substitutions/hassle/work demanded by the customer, the smaller the appreciation/gratitude/tip that you can expect to be returned by them.

3) You can never be accomodating enough for some people.

I worked briefly at an "organic" restaraunt which had a large vegetarian/vegan section of it's menu, but was not exclusively vegetarian. We were, in general, very understanding of special requests, but were constantly amazed with the stuff that people expected us to do to accomodate their individual food quirks. Case in point: In the middle of a Sunday morning brunch rush a woman wanted to know if we could please clean the grill before preparing her hashbrowns (which would mean completely shutting down production on a day where the kitchen staff was always riding the edge of being hopelessly behind) so that no meat cooties would contaminate her fried starch. When I told her that would be impossible, she got into a big huff about how I was discriminating against her right not to be opressed by our restaraunts meat-eating culture of murder. (I kid you f%#king not.)


One day I might find myself moved to write Alice a long letter in which I describe 150 different entrees one can build on eggplant, chickpeas and cauliflower.

Dreama - and they will all taste like eggplant, chickpeas and cauliflower. Come on, you can eat very well and have a lot of variety in a vegetarian/vegan diet, but don't try to imply that by removing hundreds, if not thousands of potential ingredients you are not limiting your options.

Before the genetics handed down from my cattle-ranching parents reasserted itself, I spent a half-dozen years as a pescetarian - there is simply to much fabulous fish available in Seattle to not eat it. Seattle is a great town to be a vegetarian (whatever your flavor of that said lifestyle is your choice). Lots and lots of options - even the steak houses generally have a couple of vegetarian entrees that rise above the "steamed veggies on a plate" default that has been mentioned here. But, I never lied to myself that I wasn't limiting my available options.
posted by edlark at 10:49 AM on May 1, 2003


Yes. C'mon, out with it.
posted by The Michael The at 11:04 AM on May 1, 2003


that last comment was to languagehat.

edlark, unless you're counting each cut of meat as a different ingredient, there are far fewer than "hundreds, if not thousands" that one is cutting out of his/her diet by being a vegetarian. Are you counting porterhouse as an ingredient different from filet mignon? I'm sure that I could describe 150 different entrees one can build on beef, and they will all taste like beef. "But I could spice it!" you claim. So can vegetarians. Of course one is limiting his options by choosing to be a vegetarian, but similarly is one limiting his options when he chooses to base his meals around a meat. Despite the limitations, however, both vegetarians and omnivores have enough diversity remaining to eat a different dish every day for the rest of their lives and never repeat once. If you really think that vegetarians' diets are that limited, well, you're wrong.

("No, you're wrong!" "No, you're wrong!")
posted by The Michael The at 11:19 AM on May 1, 2003


Dreama - and they will all taste like eggplant, chickpeas and cauliflower. Come on, you can eat very well and have a lot of variety in a vegetarian/vegan diet, but don't try to imply that by removing hundreds, if not thousands of potential ingredients you are not limiting your options.

I guess the issue is that no-one ever seems to harp at length about how eating Kosher is culinary suicide because of what you are not permitted to eat. In other words there definitely seems to be this sense that my choice not to eat meat is somehow this big fricking deal beyond the dozens of other dietary choices we make on a regular basis.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:29 AM on May 1, 2003


I think the line is between people who see food as an art and those who see it as a consumable.

That, and between those who think asking for dressing on the side or "no tomato please" is reasonable, even in haute cuisine, and those who think that one should be prepared to eat what the chef gives you no matter what, and if you've got special food needs or allergies, you should stay out of gourmet restaurants. One can understand that some food is an art and still not be able to eat certain things, and a dish may be perfectly edible to you if one simple thing is removed - believe me, people like me know full well that we're not getting the "whole experience" if we ask for something without a specific ingredient, but if the "whole experience" is going to make me want to die later, and what I really want is dish x without sauce y, I don't see what the problem is. It seems some in this thread see no difference between asking for something minor to be left off a dish, and asking for the grilled trout with lemon sauce to be battered and fried and served with tartar sauce. It's also obvious that those who have the freedom to view unknown food as an adventure instead of as a potential gastrointestinal nightmare, have no idea how good they've got it, or how difficult it can be if you just can't or won't eat certain things.
posted by biscotti at 11:52 AM on May 1, 2003


edlark, unless you're counting each cut of meat as a different ingredient, there are far fewer than "hundreds, if not thousands" that one is cutting out of his/her diet by being a vegetarian.

Well, if you are comparing a rib-eye to a porterhouse then, I'd agree with you a different cut doesn't really make that much difference taste wise. I think you could easily make the case, though, that there is a big difference - taste and texture - between any "steak-cut" on the cow and the cow's organ meat or it's tongue. American's are very unimaginitive, and wasteful, when it comes to their meat choices. Also vegetarians tend to overemphasize the differences between the taste/textures of different vegetables, while denying that similar distinctions can exist between animal products. For example - to me cauliflower, cabbage, kohlarabi, and broccoli stems are variations on a very similar vegetable theme, with subtle variations, but not that much different than between the rib-eye and the porterhouse from above.

But my real point is that if one is to truly eat vegetarian, then you aren't just ruling out slabs of "meat protein on a plate" - chicken, duck, beef, lamb, fish, clams, shrimp, horse, gator, etc. - but all the ingredients that are made with animal products.

Most "vegetarians" I know - and I include my former self in this - cheated and fudged their food options all the time, especially those that went veggie for health reasons rather than for moral ones. If you are a vegetarian, it isn't just about not having shrimp, but not eating any entree or cooking any meal that uses shrimp paste or other shrimp derived ingredients as a flavoring - that knocks out a lot of chinese and thai food options. As a vegan, you may be perfectly happy with margarine or olive oil, but the taste (and food texture in the case of baked goods) you get will be different than you would with butter. Go through your local supermarket and pull all the products off the shelf that have any non-vegetarian ingredient and see what you are left with.

All this is fine - there are complete cultures after all that don't eat meat and they manage to have full and diverse food options - and I don't have any moral or intellectual aversion to vegetarians per se. A little intellectual honesty on the part of vegetarians, and especially vegans, however, would be refreshing.

Basic math dictates that if you are eliminating a set of options from your potential ingredient set, you are limiting your options. That limitation may be inconsequential for some people who prefer the options left open to them, but that preference has nothing to do with the fact that the vegetarian's/vegan's food options are far less than those of the diner who is open to animal-based food landing on their plate.
posted by edlark at 12:07 PM on May 1, 2003


pjgulliver: Yes, I do live on Peaks. Nothing personal, I assure you, against anyone who works or has worked at Jones Landing. But it sounds like you understand why I think the place is evil, anyway. :-)

We had three other restaurants, but Happy Cooking (formerly something else, way formerly The Cockeyed Gull where I had my birthday lobster every year as a young'un) has just closed down. The owners moved somewhere else. Given the history of the location, I'm sure someone else will open a place there before too long.

The restaurant at the Inn is pretty good, but has a long uphill battle before most of the islanders will deign to set foot in the place. It was built by notorious swindler Rick Weinshenck (sp?) and is run by someone else the islanders hate for reasons that have never been clear to me. Most of them refuse to eat there. They better do a lot of off-island business in the summer if they want to last.

Also, the Peaks Island House has a little restaurant that's mainly open in the summer. Nothing particularly special about it though.

Anyway, this thread has gotten unmanageably long, but if you do come up this summer, drop me an email. rusty at kuro5hin dot org.
posted by rusty at 12:40 PM on May 1, 2003


But my real point is that if one is to truly eat vegetarian, then you aren't just ruling out slabs of "meat protein on a plate" - chicken, duck, beef, lamb, fish, clams, shrimp, horse, gator, etc. - but all the ingredients that are made with animal products.

You're blurring the line between vegetarian and vegan. Vegans are as you describe. Simple vegetarians are more flexible: as eating eggs, butter, cheese, honey, etc. aren't necessarily harming animals, many vegetarians feel that they are fine to eat.

Otherwise, I think we're thinking alike, though with different emphases. The problem is with our implicit definitions of "limited". You seem to see "limited is BAD!" Like I attempted to say above, and KirkJobSluder put much more eloquently, every dietary choice made results in a different subset of foodstuffs being available. The pure choice of not eating meat is subtractive, so it reduces total number of foodstuffs available, but to claim that one person's whole set of choices results in less variety than another set of choices, one would have to make a lot of arbitrary delineations and do a lot more calculations (how many discrete "foods" exist?); while vegetarians may have one more limitation than full omnivores, I'd like to see mathematical examples of every member of the world's population, split into vegetarian, omnivore, and vegan groups, with accompanying 30,000-word paper. On my desk by Monday morning, please. [/unreasonable]
posted by The Michael The at 1:20 PM on May 1, 2003


I agree that limitations aren't necessarily bad. Currently I'm eating low-carb and some people perceive that way of eating as so limiting that they won't even try it. Yet the universe of food is so vast that really, it's not a big deal. If you think about it you have maybe 100 meals you eat on a regular basis, if that many. You can easily find 100 low-carb meals or vegetarian meals or kosher meals. And on low-carb at least, not only do you stop craving carbs, but typcial desserts (calibrated for people who eat a lot of sugar) are so rich that they actually taste bad. I suppose something similar might happpen if you stop eating meat, although refined sugar (since it's a relatively new foodstuff) is kind of a wild card and I wouldn't necessarily draw any conclusions from my low-carb experience.

Still, there's a reason that in the traditional meal, which contains both meat and vegetables, the meat is considered the core of the meal and the vegetables are side dishes. And that reason is that of all the things on the plate, the meat tastes the best.
posted by kindall at 1:59 PM on May 1, 2003


...the meat tastes the best.

It tastes the best to you, kindall, to you. Taste is subjective. Sub-Effing-Jective. That means it differs from person to person. For me, the smell of cooking meat is nauseating. For you it's cause for salivation.
[/beating head against wall]
posted by Shane at 2:11 PM on May 1, 2003


Miguel, re your two bartending comments--concern about this guy and then yet finding most bartenders here superb--I think your two questions kind of answer themselves. As a long-time bartender in the heart of NYC before I moved on to other things, I'd guess you're probably a very reasonable bar customer. If you thought your bartenders were being anything more than professional and actually becoming your friend, though, then you were probably being a little naive (unless it's your very regular neighborhood hangout, and even then, I wouldn't get carried away unless you've spent quality time outside the bar together).

I spent a lot of dead time behind the bar washing glasses and thinking of Sartre's waiter. Granted, the guy at The Stained Apron was venting a lot of venom, but that's kind of the point of the site--he was really writing more for other bartenders and waitstaff, I think, than customers. Nevertheless, on an existential plane, he's right on--you consciously play the well-defined role you're assigned, in order to achieve the your personal objectives. At least he's aware of the inherent duplicity.
posted by LairBob at 2:19 PM on May 1, 2003


cardboard - No, they're just cheap bastards. The worst part was that in general as a server, you know when you're going to be stiffed. Either the customer is too demanding and unsatisfied, or they whip out their calculators after the meal... the problem was, all the Canadian customers I had were really nice. Civilized, cultured, ordered good food and wine, seemed very pleasant, etc. But for some reason that I could never understand, they were lousy tippers. I realize I sound like I'm bashing Canadians here, and I don't intend to. It's simply an observation I made.

Just to give you one example, I once had a party of twelve, all from Montreal on business in Boston. The restaurant I worked for was an upscale Italian place in the North End. I sold them 8 specials and 12 bottles of wine (as well as "regular" menu items and apps all-around). Their bill was a little over $900. Service was perfect, simply because my manager wanted me to handle them alone and not do any other tables while they were eating. My tip for running my ass off for three hours? $30. THIRTY DOLLARS. Two bucks fifty per person. The owner gave me another fifty out of his own pocket and let me go early that night (it was an otherwise slow night, anyway).

A few rules for people going to a nice restaurant:
1. Leave very young children at home with a sitter.

2. Don't expect your food to come quickly, particularly if you want something done in a special way. There is more to a meal than just eating. Enjoy yourself, relax, converse. Three things most people in this country have a hard time doing.

3. If you don't know anything about wine, please don't pretend. Don't sniff the cork. Don't ask for a white merlot. Don't pronounce it shee-an-tee.

4. Tip well.

Off the top of my head.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:53 PM on May 1, 2003


Roxanne's is expensive, but it's supposed to be really really good...and ultra-vegan, and raw! what will they think of next...

Being ultra-vegan and raw foods based, however, it is automatically viewed as serving an extremist clientele which limits its accessibility to the general population. Someone like Kindall, for instance, would be as unlikely to visit a place like Roxanne's as I would be to go to a Ruth's Chris.

I guess what I really want is a vegetarian restaurant where the quest for good, artistic, creative, delicious food and good service is the force behind its existence instead of the philosophy behind the owner's or chef's personal veg'nism.

Is that too much to ask?

Dreama - and they will all taste like eggplant, chickpeas and cauliflower. Come on, you can eat very well and have a lot of variety in a vegetarian/vegan diet, but don't try to imply that by removing hundreds, if not thousands of potential ingredients you are not limiting your options.

If listed 150 recipes based upon beef tenderloin, pork sausage and duck, they'd all taste like beef, pork and duck. What's your point? I'm limited in my options only inasmuch as I reject the idea that living creatures are foodstuffs. The range of vibrant, delicious, complex, creative and healthy dishes that can be created from that paradigm is limited only by the chef's imagination, hence my disappointment at Alice Waters's stance.

I guess the issue is that no-one ever seems to harp at length about how eating Kosher is culinary suicide because of what you are not permitted to eat. In other words there definitely seems to be this sense that my choice not to eat meat is somehow this big fricking deal beyond the dozens of other dietary choices we make on a regular basis.

Hehe, try being a vegetarian who also keeps kosher. Or worse, vegan. Restaurant options are non-existent. You either make the choice to eat some dairy or the choice to be "generally" kosher. (Refraining from forbidden foods, but not being picky about the specific kashrus of items which are kosher by nature, like vegetables and grains.)
posted by Dreama at 4:00 PM on May 1, 2003


LairBob - thanks for your knowledgeable comment. I'm sure the author of the piece is a good bartender. Hell, what about good customers? We don't want bartenders to be our friends - we just want them to be good professionals, which mainly means being able to mix good drinks and, at a pinch, accommodating any subjective preferences.

I prefer American bartenders precisely because they do this well. Admittedly, as a tourist, I only go to the best bars in Manhattan - the Bemelsmans mostly - but my experience in run-of-the-mill bars across America is also very good. European bartenders are far poorer as mixologists and far too chummy and talkative - though the Portuguese and Italians are almost as good as you Yanks.

I think the perfect bar relationship - and I have a few - is strictly professional, on both sides. I take the bartender's side because I'm ashamed for the other customers.

It's just as difficult being a good, respectful customer, able to enjoy a bartender's expertise without presuming, as it is to be a bartender. Well, almost.

My pleasure at bars is always ruined by customers - mean, over-familiar, chatty, demanding - never by bartenders. I identify with you guys.

I served in a pub in England for two years, which doesn't count in an American perspective (warm gin and tonics served in wine glasses, no ice) but it helped me with that essential identification.

Boy - was this a longwinded way of saying What LairBob said.! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:07 PM on May 1, 2003


I find the vegetarian restaurants that make (supposedly) amazingly accurate simulacra of meat dishes to be intriguing.

I discovered this phenomenon in Taiwan. Someone suggested we all go to a certain restaurant, and when we got there it turned out to be vegetarian—and yet the menu looked like a typical Chinese menu: duck, pork, chicken, you name it. I ordered as I would have anywhere else and was amazed to find that the food looked exactly like its carnal equivalent; the taste wasn't exactly the same, of course, but closer than you'd think. I realize there are vegetarians who would find this repellent and/or ridiculous, but Chinese vegetarians (like Chinese in general) tend to be intensely practical; they may be practising Buddhists and thus not eat meat, but it doesn't change their taste for normal Chinese food. And for what it's worth, I'd gladly go back there, even in preference to a normal restaurant next door (the food was excellent), whereas under normal (American) circumstances I avoid veggie places if I possibly can (being a confirmed carnivore and not enamored of what such places normally serve). Oh, wait, I forgot—there's a place like that in NYC, Vatan, a beautifully designed Gujarati restaurant at 409 Third Ave. that has some of the most complex and delicious Indian food I've tasted. Who needs meat? And that's a question you won't often hear coming from me.

Civil_Disobedient, that three percent tip story curdled my blood. I trust they will all be reincarnated as small and noisome vermin, unattractive even to each other. People, if you're going out to an expensive place, figure in the tip before you even sit down, don't wait till the bill comes and then go "Whoa, that's a lot... how little can I get away with tipping?" If your group is ordering several bottles of wine and a bunch of entrees, you're looking at several hundred dollars before tax, and as a largish group you're automatically causing more problems for the server, so unless the service is epically horrid (in which case speak to someone about it, don't just stiff the waiter) you'll want to leave 20%—in C_D's case, $150 would have been the minimum acceptable amount, and $200 would have been nice. If you can't face leaving amounts like that, don't go to that kind of restaurant. Otherwise, you will be reincarnated as small and noisome vermin.

OK, you wanna hear the Mouton story? It's not that great, but I'm a sucker for 19th-century wine stories, so I like it, and it gives a good idea of a certain kind of wine-snob mentality. Anyway, it seems the British consul in Bordeaux gave a dinner party around 1860 at which the culminating wine was the Mouton '28. (The equivalent today would be a 1970, also a great vintage.) One of the guests was the mayor of Bordeaux, M. Duffau-Dubergier, who was a very rich man. He loved the Mouton and asked "How much do you have left?" "Only a dozen bottles." "Well, I'll make you a proposition. Twelve bottles, twelve thousand francs." (This was a very large sum, probably over $25,000 today.) "You're asking the impossible of me, my friend," answered the consul. "But to show you how much I value you, I'll share it with you; let's say six bottles, six thousand francs." "My dear fellow," said the mayor, "if I buy wine at a thousand francs a bottle, it's so that I can be the only one in a position to serve it to my friends." The consul nodded. "Right, we'll say no more about it." And, turning to the butler, "Bernard, decant two more bottles of the '28 Mouton."

On preview: Miguel, this thread seems to encourage longwindedness somehow...
posted by languagehat at 4:40 PM on May 1, 2003 [1 favorite]


Someone suggested we all go to a certain restaurant, and when we got there it turned out to be vegetarian—and yet the menu looked like a typical Chinese menu: duck, pork, chicken, you name it

Yes, that's the kind of restaurant I was thinking of in my comment (far) above. The one I know is on Buford Highway in Atlanta, and I only know it because it's two doors down from my favorite Malaysian place there, and I'd usually walk past it on the way.

One thing that I think distinguishes some of the best restaurants I've been to is that in addition to superb food, the service is truly hospitable. I'm sure it's difficult to do, but a restaurant that can successfully navigate the thin line between expressing a chef's creative vision *and* care about the customer's experience to the extent of making changes for them is one to be reckoned with.
posted by Vidiot at 11:42 PM on May 1, 2003


there is no vegetable that tastes as good as meat

This is such self-congratulatory bullshit. I would have expected better from you, kindall.
posted by walrus at 2:48 AM on May 2, 2003


pesce ( PAY-shay) is the Italian word for "fish"
posted by matteo at 7:27 AM on May 2, 2003


Reading through this lonnnng thread (only because I'm passionate about cooking), I thought I'd add this because it hasn't been said yet.

You folks should go to an Indian restaurant some time. Here in India, some 50% of the population is vegetarian, and Indian cuisine is wonderfully diverse as well as having some spectacular pure vegetarian dishes. I was rather amused to read posters here begging for just one vegetarian entree on the menu, and thinking about restaurants here where there's always a big vegetarian selection.

I'm also atypical in that despite living here, I cook South East Asian food almost every day for myself. There is so much vegetarian variety in Oriental food. I'm a hardcore carnivore, but I respect the vegetarian way of life, and I can cook numerous pure vegetarian dishes for you. It's possible, and other cuisines do it. Granted, Thai food uses kapi (shrimp paste) for almost everything, but that can be substituted with fermented bean paste.

And now, to add something constructive, here is the recipe for one of my favourite vegetarian dishes - Gado Gado (Indonesian vegetable salad with a peanut sauce). Try it out. It's very simple to make.

I also dislike French food a lot. SE Asian and French are poles apart. Personal opinion, of course.
posted by madman at 9:08 AM on May 2, 2003


I recently ate a very expensive meal at a local restaurant. I called in beforehand and asked about vegan options, and they bent over backwards to accomodate me and ended up serving me one of the best vegan meals I've ever eaten. The chef regarded preparing my meal as a challenge rather than a limitation, and I left the restaurant a very happy customer.

Apparently, from what I've read here, my experience was more the exception than the norm. Why is culinary hubris regarded as acceptable behavior?

And why all this anger towards vegetarians and vegans? You don't see vegetarians getting angry at everyone else for the various ills of the carnivorous lifestyle, so why get angry at us for being "picky"? Sure, there are some pretty self-righteous vegans, but I'm seeing some rather self-righteous carnivores in this thread as well.
posted by fishbrando at 3:11 AM on May 3, 2003


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