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Shogunmoon

I love chowhounds! Didn't track with you being the person on the show. The episode with you and the D'amico's should be an interesting listen...

Re Masa: I believe you have made a valid point, especially regarding the idiot bartender. I would probably have walked. Hopefully the offender is long gone by the time some friends and I make a planned visit in january. Anyhow, The odds are decent that they have a few more veggie items, but your personally knowing about them would have had to have been the result of the server actually going to ask someone it the kitchen what they can do. That said, I do believe your point, though valid, is somewhat unfair. Masa, like many restaurants, probably has very has limited vegetarian options. The reasoning, I am afraid, is rather simple and unassailable: chicken stock.

Regarding Campiello, I actually used to cook there, so I know the drill... They want to do seriously classic, rustic, artisan quality regional Italian cuisine blah blah, something they pull off. (note: I do not critique places I have worked) Like Mexico, Italy has a plethora of regional culinary styles... unfortunately, "vegetarian" is not one of them. Jay Sparks, being as a chef an Italian specialist, does not do vegetarian for vegetarians sake. Not part of the concept at either place, really. I will say this though– when Jay does an item that happens to be Vegetarian, such as the delightful (and, as the steam burns on my arms will attest to, difficult to prep) beet and arugula salad topped with a rich and complex 10 year aged balsamic vinegar, he hits it out the park.

(for the record, in addition to the spaghetti with tomato and basil, Campiello veggie options include the woodfire pizzas, all of the salads on the menu, and about half of the appetizers. Also, many of the pastas can be prepared using water as stock, with the meat left out. Again. the stock thing... They are an Italian restaurant, and thusly, do not happen to have veggie or mushroom stock laying around typically, hence the sometimes lackluster options.)

Ultimately, Vegetarianism and veganism are a choice, a luxury that citizens of our wealthy nation can afford. More then half the people on this planet live hand to mouth, eating anything they can get a hold of, meat, bugs, plants, whatever. We are a rich people, and we can afford to take principled stands, and we should. Some of us protest cruelty to animals be refusing to eat meat. Others protest the oil industry by riding bike to work. Me, I cook free range everything and boycott Wal*mart. Many, many options.

I wonder though, is it right for us to expect (our collective favorite band) to play a few acoustic songs during a set because we object to the usage of environmentally damaging fossil fuel based electric guitar amps? Having a dinner party can be a hassle in a similar way... not only do I have to make special items for the token vegetarian, there is also usually some jackass that won't eat anything but plain meat, potatoes, and bread. Luckily, I personally specialize in southeast asian cooking styles, easily modified for veg and @#$% vegan standards. I actually have more trouble with picky meat only set. But... Arrgh! Whatever happened to just being courteous, and eating what is served?

I do understand the collective frustration vegetarians have with menus at most restaurants– Unfortunately, the hip foodie places are not usually catering to them, any more then they are catering to would-be diners with kosher or halal dietary restrictions. Indeed, I bet that Masa has NO Kosher food available, period. Luckily, Orthodox Jews are well served in the community by the kosher cafes and grocery stores around town. Those who are Muslims have options as well, such as the tasty and cheap Holy Land Deli. Mmmm, falafel. Vegetarians have choices as well– Cafes Brenda, Barbette, Modern, and Seward; most any Thai, Vietnamese or Indian Restaurant; and the infamous Psycho Suzi's, right here in good old nordeast.

I guess my point could be summed up thusly: Stating Masa is a bad restaurant solely based on the fact that they do not have a veg menu is unfair. Now, if we qualified it, and said Masa is a very bad vegetarian restaurant, then we have something.

-shogunmoon

Alexis

Man, does everyone start out cooking at Campiello? I know like 7 people that worked in that kitchen when they started out.

It’s true, “Vegetarian” isn’t one of Italy’s regions of cuisine, but Southern Italian food tends to be meat-free, with fish and seafood frequently served as a main course. God bless Apulia for giving us its classic dishes of pasta, vegetables (including scrumptious, sun-soaked tomatoes), pecorino, and the region’s famous olive oil.

Good Italian restaurants pull this off effortlessly, even here in the Midwest. Holy sh*t, you should’ve tasted the meal I had this weekend at Bartolotta in Las Vegas. Everything is flown in daily from Southern Italy and Sicily, right down to the little tomatoes in red wine vinegar salad served alongside the main course of some Mediterranean-caught fish that I didn’t know the name of.

Half the selections were vegetarian, so the chef easily put together a separate tasting menu for me, while my dining companions enjoyed his fish and seafood tasting menu. For starters, I had the parmigiano-reggiano custard with basil-pea puree, leeks, and asparagus, as well as an artichoke, arugula, and pecorino salad. Second course was a sheeps-milk ricotta ravioli in a Marsala wine glaze, as well as a gnocchi in a tangy, creamy tomato sauce. My main course was a thin liguini in a parmigiano-reggiano cream sauce, dusted with thinly-sliced fresh, white truffles. There was sautéed zucchini on the table, but I was too busy with my little pile of heaven to bother with it.

The food was so amazing, so wonderful, I was still trying to eat long after my stomach was saying no, no, no. My mouth and I kept pleading yes, yes, yes. Just when all of us swore we couldn’t eat another bite, they brought out five different desserts to sample.

My memory’s a little hazy at this point, but I’m pretty sure I tried a warm chocolate custard and some sort of apple crostada. There was also a raspberry sorbet that was so delicious I can still taste it right now.

As a listener of Chowhounds!, you’ve probably heard Andrew Zimmern, Kate Kunkel, and me discussing how strange it is that restaurants don’t offer 15-20% of their menu to vegetarians, what with 15-20% of the country’s population being vegetarians. But I suppose this is the steak-eating Midwest. Luckily, traveling anywhere outside of the Cattle Belt, my dining options suddenly become wide open.

I don’t want to have to assemble a meal consisting of a greens salad and an entrée-sized appetizer (balsamic vinegar ad-f**king-nauseum). I want to enjoy the bounty and flavors of the land that inspires the menu. Hell, even down at Babalu they’ll put together a delicious (and HUGE) vegetarian entrée for you with all the delicious Caribbean flavors you get on the regular menu.

Which is not to say I expect this from every restaurant. Obviously, they can’t pull something together that’s savory and complex at Manny’s. They’ve got nothing readily available to make such an option, and any vegetarian entrée will be, as you stated, lackluster.

As far as “just being courteous and eating what is served”, this hardly applies when one is paying for dinner at a restaurant. This is why we choose from a menu. This is why we send things back to the kitchen when they’re not up to par.

I did mention how much my friends enjoyed their meat entrees, and I did mention that other carnivores have called/emailed to tell me how much they enjoyed their meals at Masa. I also wrote about the scenery, the service, the drinks, the dessert, and the prices. My critique is based on my own experience, as a vegetarian who goes out to local restaurants and bars several times per week... what else would I write about?

And, ugh. Psycho Suzi’s? You actually eat the food there?

Shogunmoon

Hey! I like the pizza at Psycho Suzi's... rather, I used to when it was still possible to get a table... been a while. I think the pizzas are of reasonable quality, considering the infamous Northeast Quality Pizza Blackhole. However, though I do appreciate irony and kitsch as much as the next metrosexual, I will not personally pay for tater tots at a restaurant... even someone as low brow as me has his standards.

You have a point with the Italian food, especially considering the very high occurrence of seafood dishes, though I was under the impression that you did not eat fish, like some veggies do. No matter though... even a simple standby like butternut squash ravioli is something better then "salad". Lord knows, If I were a veg, I would grow very weary of being offered "grilled cheese, portobello sandwiches, and anything with @#$%@# tempeh on it. Whenever I think of great vegetarian food, I am in the rut of thinking asian asian asian. Not that that is a crappy rut...

That said, I did note that La Belle Vie has a veggie menu... I try to keep track of places that have "real" veg options, because amongst my pals, the veg count is certainly higher the 20%. Not that at $75 a head La Belle Vie is an option for a casual night out!

Anyhow, I guess I was under the impression the vegetarions were more like 5% of the population at best, as opposed to the 15% and 20% percent numbers you quote. Minneapolis is a little behind the culinary curve in other ways, so I suppose we have fewer veggies per capita then most major cities. Even in 2005, we still have to put up with bland menus items toned down for our fellow Minnesotans with childlike meat and potato palates. As a cook, these folk are far more annoying then any veggie will ever be, as far as I am concerned.

As far as “just being courteous and eating what is served”, I meant that at dinner parties. Hey, I am lazy, you know? For what it is worth, everything is local and free range though :) At a restaurant, I agree with you completely. Especially considering how much cash is outlaid at the nicer places. I can understand where a one man show like Fugaise is not very herbivore friendly, but larger places do have the staff to handle some variety, and should.

At any rate, that was a thoughtful response. And, thanks a lot, I am now heavily craving for caribbean food... think it is going to be a happy hour at Tiburon kind of day.

Alexis

You should try the pizza at Snap!, if you haven't already.

I'm glad you understand how weary a vegetarian can become of the same old options. The next person that says "but look, Alexis, they have a portabello mushroom sandwich for you" gets kicked in the face.

I'm also glad you didn't mistake my response for getting snarky with you. Defending vegetarianism, especially in this context, can be very difficult and irksome and engrossing, all at the same time.

I recently received an email from Don Saunders (via a third party) inviting me to come down to Fugaise and request something vegetarian. I had stated previously (on the blog or on the radio, I don't remember) that there were no vegetarian entrees on the menu, and, after looking over the ingredients in the other dinner selections, I shouldn't expect one. It is a French-themed restaurant, after all, and the rich, meat-heavy flavors of that cuisine hardly yield to a meat-free palate.

But maybe I am wrong in not giving local French restaurants a chance. I see that the website now says "We are happy to create vegetarian entrees for our guests. Please call ahead with your wishes and we will accommodate you." (Or maybe it always said that and I just didn't notice.) I'm going to take Saunders up on that invitation sometime soon, and I look forward to reporting back.

Alexis

P.S. Correct, I don't eat fish or seafood.

433

Actually, we've done Christmas-on-Christmas-Eve my whole life. Reason being, I'm related to a lot of farmers and loggers, and they don't just not work because it's Christmas morning. We'd gather at my grandparents' house after the cows had been milked, fed, etc. for the evening and have dinner and presents then. It was pretty cool for us kids, because Santa delivered to our own house, so after the 3-hour drive back to Minneapolis, we got *more* presents.

We're in the same mold now that we just stay down here and go to my brother and sister-in-law's place, thus allowing me to have my Traditional Jewish Christmas every year.

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