I was out last night for a university-related "business" dinner at one of this city's finer dining establishments. I had eaten there once before, and so I knew there was one thing on the menu I could order: the Pad Thai (yes, I checked to see if it had fish sauce in it). The original dish comes with chicken and pork and shrimp, but they were able to make it for me with tofu. No such luck this time. With that option out of the way there was literally nothing else on the menu I could order. I told the waitress to have the chef make me something without any animal products in it. Sometimes this strategy has worked for me. Once, at a sports bar and grill no less, it resulted in a grilled and thinly sliced portabello mushroom fanned out over roasted potatoes with a side of asparagus and carrots. Last night it resulted in one of the most uninspired and awful dishes I have eaten in a while. The chef threw together artichokes, asparagus, red and yellow pepper, broccoli, and zucchini with rice noodles and what appeared to be 1/2 cup of oil. That's right. No seasonings, no sauce, no garnishes, no real taste. Just an incoherent mess of greasy and slowly congealing food. It was awful. I hate to think what they charged for that "dish." The experience actually highlights a larger problem, namely, the fact that many chefs have no idea what to do if a large chunk of animal flesh is not the centerpiece of a dish. In fact, the meat dishes served last night were pretty much to exact inverse of the food guide with vegetables playing a very minor role. And yet this is considered normal eating.
UPDATE: After writing this rather whiny post, I decided that I would actually do something about the situation. I wrote an email to the restaurant asking them to add a vegan entree to the menu, and that such an entree would have broad appeal to those interested in a low-fat diet. I gave a few links to recipes from my blog to show that vegan food is easy, tasty, and photographs well. We will see what comes of it.