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Carnivore or non?

As much as I like to cook, I love going out to eat. It’s always an experience, whether I’m trying a new restaurant or a new food, or just sticking with an old favorite, where the waiters know me and I can order “the usual.”

I like to have my food served to me, and I like when waiters ask if everything is to my liking. It’s a nice break from taking a lot of time to cook a good dinner, only to sit down at the kitchen table, eat it quickly and then get up to clean all the mess. I enjoy eating in new atmospheres, rather than sitting in my cramped kitchen night after night. Going out to eat isn’t just about feeding yourself ” it’s about treating yourself to something special, and/or spending time with someone whose company you enjoy.

That’s not to say that food isn’t a major part of the dining experience. The whole night can be ruined if your soup arrives cold, your pasta is chewy, or heaven forbid, you find an ominous-looking hair crowning your mashed potatoes. Similarly, a night out can turn sour when you can’t find anything on the menu that suits you.



From there, you have a few options. You can leave and go to another restaurant, which forces you to sheepishly tell the waitress why you’re leaving. You can order an entree but then ask for all the things you don’t like about it (nuts, butter sauce, onions, whatever) to be taken off, essentially killing the chef’s creation. Or you can just order a green salad and a cup of soup. I’ve tried all three options and never ended up as satisfied as when I go to a restaurant and almost everything on the menu sounds appealing.

One area where many restaurants fall short is in their vegetarian options. I’m not a vegetarian myself, but I’m not a big meat eater, either. And even if a person is the steak-and-potatoes type, that individual has to want a non-meat dish every now and then.



But sadly, vegetarian choices are limited at most fine restaurants. OK, I know you can’t go to a steakhouse and expect the menu to have a full page of vegetarian dishes. But even at restaurants serving a wide array of dishes, a vegetarian’s choices are limited to either salad or the obligatory fettucine alfredo that many eateries stick on the menu as a concession to non-meat eaters.

I experienced this just recently on a date at a very nice, classy restaurant. The drinks were great, the service was good and the interior decor was very stylish. But when we opened our menus, my date, a vegetarian, looked crestfallen. There wasn’t even a pasta dish he could order.

“Hmmm … might just have a salad,” he said, ever the easy-going guy.

So I asked the waitress if there were any vegetarian entrees available. After conferring with someone in the kitchen, she came back and informed us that the chef could fix a special vegetarian plate for either one of us. Not wanting to be a pain, my date waved the waitress off and said, “No, it’s OK ” I’m fine. Don’t worry.”

We both had salads that night.

Don’t get me wrong: It was a great restaurant ” it just severely limited my date’s dining experience.

There are so many great restaurants out there, so many different cuisines and chefs and atmospheres. But in my opinion, if a chef is looking to improve his restaurant in some area, one of the best things he can do is learn to make a variety of high-quality meals, meat and non-meat.

Of course, it never hurts to make sure the potatoes are hair-free, either.

Gabrielle Devenish is the food editor at the Post Independent. She has never found a hair in her food, although she has accidentally lost her ring in the cake batter when mixing it. She never found the ring. Contact her at gdevenish@postindependent.com.

This recipe is from Explore Bistro in Aspen, where Chef Jon Pell’s menu is completely vegetarian.

Beans:

1 cup dried black beans

1⁄2 medium onion

1 clove garlic

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon

canola oil

Salt and

pepper

to taste

Vegetables:

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 carrot, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 red onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

1⁄2 tablespoon coriander

1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Vegetable stock or water (optional; see note)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon dry sherry

Soak beans overnight; drain and rinse. In large soup pot, cover beans with 2 to 3 inches water. Add onion, garlic, bay leaf and oil. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer gently with lid ajar. Cook until tender, about 2 hours. Add salt and pepper at end of cooking time. When beans are cooked, drain, reserving liquid.

Mash 3⁄4 of the beans with potato masher or in blender or food processor. While mashing, slowly whisk in reserved cooking liquid; set mixture aside.

Heat oil in large soup pot over low flame; cover and saute carrot, celery, onion, garlic and all dry spices until vegetables are tender but firm, about 20 minutes. Remove from flame; add cilantro and lime juice. Add mashed black beans to pot, then add stock to desired consistency. Add vinegar and sherry; simmer 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings and cook longer if sherry flavor predominates.

Makes 6 servings.


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