When my husband and I go out for a nice meal, I can never shake my vague sense of guilt. I enjoy checking out the D.C. restaurant scene, partially because I learn a lot about it at my job and partially because, well, duh.
But, although Mark loves a good plate of food (almost) as much as I do, he'd often be happier eating at the empty place with no wait list next door to the new place everyone's talking about.
And I think I've figured out why: The vegetarian entrees are uninspired, even from kitchens that otherwise turn out creative, well executed food. While I'm having an epiphany over unctuous duck confit, poor Mark is faced with yet another grim Melange of Seasonal Vegetables, one just like what he could get at the empty place next door. I feel terrible about subjecting him to places where I'll have all these amazing choices and he'll scan the menu, find the one veggie option (if there is one at all), and say, "Well, mushroom risotto it is, I guess." We skipped Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal because I just couldn't subject him to that scenario, even though he always swears up and down that he wouldn't mind (bless him).
In fact, it seems that the better the restaurant, the slimmer the meatless choices. (With exceptions, like certain types of ethnic restaurants and booked-in-advance tasting menus.) In casual-dining places where the philosophy is "give the people what they want," Mark generally gets to at least choose between the mushroom risotto and the Melange of Seasonal Vegetables. (Oh, goody!) But in places where the menu reflects the chef's culinary point of view -- places we'd both be excited to eat at -- that point of view comes across as "vegetarians, go home." Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. But the point is, they're showing you what they make best, what inspires them, what they like, and mostly that doesn't happen to include vegetarian entrees.
Here's the thing, though. Right now, the sustainable seafood movement is translating into a restaurant trend in D.C. -- look at Hook
in Georgetown. And most respectable chefs these days make at least some effort to source ingredients as locally and sustainably as possible. So, given that going veggie at least part of the time reduces your carbon footprint, I don't understand why this isn't also manifesting itself in the form of more innovative vegetarian food in restaurants. (And I say this as a most-of-the-time carnivore, lest I sound preachy.)
I understand, I guess, that chefs view meat as the centerpiece of what they do -- that they can demonstrate their technical mastery by cooking it perfectly, and then demonstrate their creativity by having it be a vehicle for innovative flavor profiles. It's what lets them show off their chops (no pun intended). But come on, can someone please, please show me a vegetarian entree I wouldn't think to make at home? Do it for the vegetarian foodies, and for the omnivores who love them.
Is it better in other cities, maybe? Because it's bleak in D.C.
Labels: restaurants, vegetarianism