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March 1999
Editorial: The Very Best

By Martin Rowe



I will be the first to admit that I’m not much of a gourmet. Not only did I once dine on pig’s liver and potatoes followed by toast and yeast extract but I once reviewed a restaurant for Vegetarian Times where virtually all the food was either “good” or “interesting”—for which descriptive and insightful analysis the magazine quite rightly canned the review.

So, it’s not as if I’m a foodie on a rampage—but I’ve come to the perhaps unremarkable conclusion that vegetarians deserve more from vegetarian or mainly vegetarian restaurants than we’re currently getting. Too often we’ve felt grateful to walk into a place where you can eat more than salad and steamed greens and the waiter knows that fish(es) or chickens aren’t vegetables. Too often we’ve been delighted not to have to ask what’s in that strange green sauce that has been drizzled—if that’s the word—over our food without our asking. Too often we’ve been relieved not to sit down in a restaurant where the clientele is so aggressively chic or just plain aggressive that they look as though they would eat you if they could. Unfortunately, this live-and-let-live approach to dining bred, in me at least, a kind of total tolerance for veggie-oriented restaurants that may not have been a good thing. As a friend once told me, too often vegetarian food suffers from the three Bs: boring, bland, and brown. “We deserve the best,” he continued. I use to think I’d settle for “moderately tolerable,” but I’ve had a change of heart and—gosh darn it—my friend is right. We do deserve the best!

I should say that most of the veggie restaurants I have been in over the last few years have delicious food with outstanding service in a delightful atmosphere. There are places which are cheap, cheerful and functional; warm, cozy, and mellow; and clean, crisp, and conversational. These shall remain nameless because I don’t want to name those places that are—to put it mildly—crap. I’m getting tired of walking into a joint where the tables have no place settings or lights, the other tables haven’t been cleared, and the room is so dim that you can barely make out which way you’re holding the menu. The menu itself is scrawled and misspelled; the food is brought to you (if it is brought to you) by a waiter who’s out when he should be in for lunch; and when the food comes it lacks elementary vigor and spice. Call me fussy, but I like a clean bathroom with no paper strewn on the floor, a restaurant where they actually have in stock the substances they advertise on the menu, and where you don’t have to beg for a glass of water. I like a restaurant that is open when it says it is, and where your entrée doesn’t all fit on top of (or under) a lettuce leaf.

Now I don’t want vegetarians to turn into luvvies—Loud Urban Vegetarians—who will only eat tofu if it has been marinated in pomegranate and passion fruit juice for 264 and a half days and certified by a member of the Animal Liberation Front. I don’t want to sound off like someone who expects their restaurants to be as hygienic as Howard Hughes’s loofah. But I think it’s about time we vegetarians stopped being downtrodden sad sacks who will settle for a half-cooked potato and watered-down carrot juice—if it’s not too much trouble. These are radical ideas, I know. But I believe that restaurateurs should learn how to run a restaurant before opening one. I believe they should pay their staff well so the latter don’t deliver your food to the table looking as though you’d just kicked them in the shins. I believe there should be managers—ones who acknowledge that you’ve walked in and are welcome. If you want to be abused, why go to a restaurant? The subway is cheaper—and at least you get somewhere.

So here’s to great vegetarian dining—the sort that celebrates the food we choose to eat as a healthy, life-affirming pleasure. Heaven knows, our plates are full enough in life without enjoying full plates. And remember, O restaurateurs, before irate vegetarians run amok with large root vegetables and garlic bulbs—we deserve the best! Bon appetit!


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