When writing a restaurant review, I have learned my editor adores neutrality, abhors cliches (though does not consider the word 'fashionista' a cliche, which as we all know, rises the bile in my throat like nothing else--oh sorry, we're talking about food here, I retract that) and generally likes to get a feel of a place without a laundry list of how the place looked or the menu. Mark what stands out, be imaginative with language, but honestly, what is another word for clientele? Crowd? Patron? Diner? And there friends, is the trouble with restaurant reviews. Well, one of them anyway.
I looked at a random sampling of five that I've written and are on the magazine's website for all eternity. In three I say some variation of the word "elevate". Damn.
So when I go to a vegan coffeeshop that's blasting "ironic" music (Foo Fighters--though I'll contend anything from the late nineties isn't far enough gone to be ironic, early Nirvana = OK. Late Foo Fighters = Dear God No.) and serving weak coffee in "ironic" cups that were funny eight years ago (you mean you didn't graduate from Talahassee High, class of '83?) I try to keep an open mind.
I'm a food lover. A huge food-lover. Groomed at food magazines, I revel in every seared scallop, every crisped bit of pork cracklings, the richness of a buttery croissant or the heft of roasted root vegetables (especially when they have some sort of Parmasean crust). I love sushi, miso, coconut curries, meaty cuban sandwiches, crunchy fried chicken, cool rice pudding. All of it. I am an extremely fat person stuck in a thin person's body (this people, is why I have a trainer).
Now when a vegetarian crosses my path, hell I've even dated some, I don't get overly discouraged. Macrobiotic raw food? Pure Food and Wine on Irving makes delicious plates of thinly sliced vegetables layered between a garlicky pesto and gobs of the freshest tomato sauce I've ever had. It's vegetarian, then vegan, then macrobiotic and not even cooked. And believe me naysayers when I tell you it was amazing.
So when I was assigned this vegan coffeeshop, I was not at all irritated (leave that for the friend I opted to bring along). I imagined vegetable sandwiches and awesome salads. Or at least, really hot coffee that was sustainably grown.
What I got was some of the worst stuff I've had. And it's not because it was vegan, it was because the flavors were all off. The pesto had no bite, the tempeh overpowered the soy patty, the greens in a salad arrived grimy and unwashed ("Like the clientele!" My friend joked.) It wasn't awful because it was vegan. It was just straight up bad food. But vegans have little delicious options in that section of the city, and the people who ran it were really interesting, and had a community thing going on. So I don't want to diss it. I mean, how can a bacon-loving foodie ever criticize these sweet folks? Maybe because the "chef's" experience before this was DELIVERING FOOD ELSEWHERE.
But still, I lament. I'm not a vegan, how would I know what good vegan food is? But I'm starting to wonder if it even matters. Because these were vegans who seemed to not enjoy food very much. And I think that if you are a vegan or vegetarian you should never be eschewed for not eating meat (it's delicious, but whatever). Having principles rocks. It's important. Not enough people go green and not enough understand that when done right, being vegan or vegetarian has an enormous positive impact on your body and the world as a whole. But I'm someone who enjoys food down to the smallest level. Salads simply dressed with lemon, freshly-squeezed juices, artisanal and organic breads--all of these things can be amazing. When a food establishment doesn't take the umbrella of vegetarian to mean they can just crank out food that...well, isn't up to par, is it?
Guess I'll try to keep that in mind while writing a review--the place just wasn't for me. And not because I'm not vegan. But because I don't like mediocre meals--vegan or otherwise...