Why I’m Always Captain Crankypants

It’s been rough going since I completely nixed fish from my dining out possibilities. Places I might have raved about a year ago have become big disappointments. I look over the majority of my posts, and it’s Bitch Fest 2007 in here.

Frankly, I feel kind of crappy about it. I hate being the person who never seems to have anything nice to say. But what can I do? I’m going to call it like I see it. Or as I taste it, as the case may be. My standards are high, and I intend to keep them that way.

For those of you who think I’m off my culinary rocker, I invite you to conduct a little experiment. The next time you go to your favorite restaurant, order a vegetarian meal. No shrimp. No fish. No chicken broth in the stock. You gotta play by the rules for this one. Then compare your experience to the last time you ate there. Bonus points if you can make it through dessert without being force fed risotto.

I’m not looking for pity, people. I’m looking for a good meal.

I’ve had vegetarian food that has taken my breath away. I’ve had eight course tasting menus that kicked their meaty counterparts flat on the ground—amazing, innovative, flavorful, beautiful food. So why are the everyday menus of San Francisco such a vegetarian wasteland?

P.S. I’m serious about the experiment. Try it. Tell me what you find.

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9 Comments

Filed under Rants

9 responses to “Why I’m Always Captain Crankypants

  1. You are right. Even though it’s been years since my veggie days, I can still recall so many pastas, risottos, etc, for lack of other options. Or worse, the dreaded steamed vegetables. Innovative. With the incredible produce we have here, why do we not have our own Alain Passard?

  2. rsn

    Read your blog for a while, thought I’d comment here. As a long-time vegetarian (since the 6th grade), I guess all the things you’ve mentioned have cautioned me to avoid restaurants that don’t explicitly have vegetarian items on their menu. In fact, when my wife and I go out to dinner together, I’d rather that the restaurant had more than one veggie option explicitly mentioned on the menu (which sometimes causes my wife to get a bit aggravated with me 🙂 ), as I’d prefer that we were able to order different items.

    Does this mean that we don’t eat at the latest and most hip places? And I totally understand the desire to go to these new upscale places… the places we visit often don’t have the greatest ambience or feel, but we generally avoid the crankiness that comes with disappointing or non-existent food options. It’s also so nice to go to an explicitly vegetarian restaurant (like Golden Era, a vegetarian chinese place in the city) and have so many options that we are super excited and don’t know what to order! Of course, the ambience at Golden Era (or one of the myriad south indian veggie places in sunnyvale) leaves everything to be desired, but at least the food leaves me satisfied.

    I do sympathize with your recent string of disappointing restaurant experiences… I passed my breaking point with those experiences long ago, and so I’ve consciously decided to limit my restaurant options these days to places where I at least have a choice listed on the menu before I go.

    And just so I end the comment on an up-note, my wife and I really liked two middle eastern places in SF: Saha (http://www.sahasf.com/) and Aziza (http://www.aziza-sf.com/). At the times we went, they both had multiple vegetarian options that we really enjoyed. I don’t know if the menus have changed, but they were very good dining experiences.

  3. Thanks for the comment, RSN. Keep the faith, though! The good food is out there, and the more we ask for it, the more we’ll get. (At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.)

  4. rsn

    Yeah, I know the good food is out there, and definitely pushing for more vegetarian fare is a great thing to do. I guess my rationalization for limiting my choices is this: living in one of the most veggie-conscious major-metropolitan areas in the US, if there are local restaurants that pay only lip service to vegetarian options (or no service at all), then it’s I believe that the management of said restaurant is consciously ignoring us vegetarians, and so I’m happy to take my business elsewhere.

    Now that’s probably simplistic and a bit unfair, and maybe I’ve been pushed to that viewpoint by one too many plates of steamed vegetables or fettucine alfredo, but that’s my take :).

    Another rec: Mantra in Palo Alto (http://www.mantrapaloalto.com/).

    And if I didn’t say it before, I really enjoy your blog and your restaurant reviews. We’re always looking for new restaurants to try out, and so your recommendations (and your thumbs down reviews) are very helpful!

  5. Oooh! California cuisine with a dash of India… that sounds fantastic. I’ll have to check it out. I appreciate the reco.

    And I hear ya, brother. That’s part of my goal here. To knock some sense into restaurateurs. Not everyone wants to eat meat all the time. Not even meat eaters.

    Thanks for the props. 🙂

  6. L. Silva

    http://www.tulsaworld.com/entertainment/article.aspx?articleID=070504_8_S16_hAtSt47180&breadcrumb=restaurantsdining
    MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
    The Veggie Stack from St. Michael’s Alley is portobello mushroom, tomato, zucchini, yellow squash, polenta and red bell pepper coulis.

    This might be what you are looking for. Sorry, it’s not in San Francisco. It is closer to Dallas, Tulsa, OK.

  7. I couldn’t agree more, although I have to laugh a little because, well, you live in San Francisco, in California. I long for the days that I lived in Los Angeles when I think about what I have had to deal with since moving from there.

    Most recently, I lived in Boulder, Colorado, where it was surprisingly difficult to find interesting vegetarian food. Then I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico. In Mexico, one can *always* get things like cheese quesadillas or enchiladas, but on the down side, it’s impossible to find anything that is truly interesting like stuffed vegetables or terrines. In Mexico, you also have the added complication that people don’t tend to understand what “vegetarian” means. To most Mexicans, vegetarian food can include fish filets or chicken breasts. Forget about trying to explain why chicken stock or gelatin are not vegetarian! And if you’re vegan, ¡oy vey!

    I have come to the point that I rarely go out; I fix most of our food at home for the reason that it’s so hard to find decent vegetarian food that is not the same exact thing I’ve had over and over and over and over everywhere else.

    To make matters worse, I hate mushrooms. That even makes other vegetarians treat me like a freak of nature.

    It infuriates me that decent restaurants don’t offer more vegetarian dishes. What’s the harm? So people that insist on having meat don’t order that dish. Like you say, not everyone wants to have meat at every freaking meal, not even people that eat meat. Even my friends that argue that they have to eat meat at every meal or isn’t a meal agree with me that restaurants could be more considerate of people that don’t feel the same way they do. It almost seems like restaurant owners think that if they accomodate people with dietary restrictions they’re somehow lowering the quality of their menu.

    Sometimes I think I’ll never be truly happy until I move to India.

  8. home cooked meals..thats the answer! restaurant food is, afterall, only food for money. even the most gifted restauranter will feel uncomfortable with the mark ups he needs to break even. its easier to make money on meat and wine.

    again..home food is the answer! nothing matches food that is served with love and care..and all they want is flattery and appreciation! watch them beam as you gush! my advice..make a lot of friends from india and the middle east!

  9. RawDaddy

    Vegetable cookery is the most interesting part of cuisine. Vegetables provide an incredible depth and complexity in both flavor and texture, not to mention an extraodinary range of colors and shapes, that cannot be matched by beef or salmon. Whereas meat and fish tend to be one-dimensional in there flavors and textures, vegetables provide a kaleidoscopic assortment of possibilities.

    Most chefs and restauranteurs don’t look at vegetables in this way, and that is why we are in the state that we’re in, when it comes to dining out. They look at vegetables as being difficult and flesh based proteins as being easy. If they could just change their mind set slightly, vegetables could move from being second class citizens to front of the line where they should be.

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