Monday, January 31, 2011
(Mis)adventures in Veganism: My First Real Vegan Eating Out Experience
I knew this day would come. I had been telling myself that when it finally happened, I would keep my cool, play it on the down low and everything would be okay. And, yes, everything did turn out fine, but I don't think I realized how much of a challenge it could be to eat vegan in a non-vegan world. The day I am talking about is the day a vegan goes out for the first time to a restaurant with a group of people who are not vegan.
I know, I know... the world we live in is rapidly accepting vegetarianism as a mainstream way of life, and more and more restaurants are incorporating vegetarian options into their menus. But, veganism is a different ballgame. You have to question the bread they bring to the table, the dressing they put on your side salad, and the sauce they use to garnish your pasta. For a newly-converted vegan, this can be quite a novel experience. It was for me.
I went with my friend to Carino's Italian Restaurant. First of all, let me say that I am not the kind of person that likes to draw attention to myself. I am the kind of guy who, when he gets the wrong order, doesn't complain but rather eats the dish he is given. So, when my friend went to use the restroom to wash her hands, I used the opportunity to discreetly ask our waiter if there were any vegan options available. I assumed most Italian restaurants had vegan dishes, maybe a little pasta plate with some steamed veggies or some such fare, but when the guy solemnly shook his head no, I panicked. Should I just not order anything?
I feel like it's rude to go to a restaurant with people and not eat. It's also drawing attention and we can't have that. Plus, I was damned hungry - me not eating was so not happening!
Times like these are when you break out the iPad or iPhone . There is a wonderful app called VeganXpress that catalogs all the vegan items at various chain restaurants around the country. It also lists vegan-friendly food, beer, and wine. Unfortunately, I did not have my iPad on hand to check what I could eat. So I had to scrutinize the menu carefully.
I used my cell phone to check the message boards. On Yahoo.com, I typed: "vegan options at Carino's Italian." Chacha.com informed me that "Carino's doesn't offer much for vegans (they do offer gluten-free options), but you can get a salad, and omit any cheese or grilled chicken, and get oil & vinegar for the dressing." Not too promising, but I could make do.
I asked the waiter if the kitchen could make me a dish with some plain old angel hair pasta, some artichokes, black olives, capers, and diced tomatoes, and absolutely no sauce. I also ordered a side salad with no croutons, cheese, or dressing, but rather a side of vinegar and lemon. When he brought me the salad and the sides, I mixed the vinegar with the herb olive oil they have on the table and the lemon and, voilà, a wonderfully good dressing! The pasta was delicious with just a drizzle of olive oil over it. When I left the restaurant, I was content with my meal.
There is a lesson here: American restaurants, especially those in Barbecue Capital, USA (also known as Lubbock, Texas) might not yet offer the most diverse vegan menu options, but if you are flexible and creative and you can keep your cool under pressure, then a perfectly satisfactory vegan meal is not too far away.