Dining Out: Going Rogue

By: Annika

I love eating at 100% vegan restaurants.  You can really relax & explore the menu without lining up a number of questions about this or that ingredient or dish.  You don’t need to inquire about the coffee creamer, worry about cross contamination (usually not something I stress about but definitely a significant concern for those with allergies) or wonder if the kitchen staff will scoff at special requests from “that vegan”.

All that said, I also love eating at restaurants that are not 100% vegan but offer delicious plant based cuisine. Some of the most incredible vegan dishes I have had have been at locations that are not exclusively vegan.

My first article in a US publication was a 4 page spread covering the vegan dishes at the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island, Hawai’i and at the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui. The dishes were fresh, often exquisite, unique and so delicious that just the memory of many of them has me craving a return. Entirely plant based menus for guests at resorts and hotels is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past vegetarians may have been catered to but 100% plant based menus are a fairly new development and, fortunately, buzzing with momentum.

I thrill at experiencing the select plant based dishes at an establishment as much as I do to hear of a new 100% vegan restaurant opening or making the news (in a good way). Witnessing more and more establishments cater to vegans and develop entirely plant based dishes is a culinary movement I follow increasingly with rapt observance.

Lentils Braised in Coconut Milk with Hamakua Alii Mushroom, Choi Sum, Kabocha Pumpkin, Pea Shoots & Lemongrass in Lime Coconut Sauce at Fairmont Orchid

Lentils Braised in Coconut Milk with Hamakua Alii Mushroom, Choi Sum, Kabocha Pumpkin, Pea Shoots & Lemongrass in Lime Coconut Sauce at Fairmont Orchid (above)                                                                                                          Classic Rich Dark Chocolate Cake with Cocoa Powder Icing at Fairmont Kea Lani (below)

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Occasionally I end up at a restaurant with no visible vegan dishes on the menu. I recently visited Mystic, CT with my family and for dinner we chose a place with great ratings and gorgeous atmosphere- the Oyster Club in historic downtown Mystic. I was initially focused on just getting my busy toddler son settled at the table and then having a toast with my Mom who was in town from her home on the Big Island (we toasted with the establishment’s delicious ‘Dirty Barbados’ cocktails).  When I finally was able to check out the menu, I knew I would have to make a special vegan request.

I don’t mind doing this, but you can’t ever be sure how chef & kitchen staff will respond, when the entire menu of an establishment is so clearly non-vegan.

I smile as I think back at how blown away by the response to my request and the quality of the service, from the kind and reassuring server to the creativity of the chef- who apparently brainstormed two dishes for me before settling on making this special dish of Crispy Tofu & Thai Green Curry with Black Radish, Celery, Rainbow Carrot, Red Onion, Lime, Sesame & Cilantro.  I have had many curries in my life and this one was so unique and delicious as well as beautifully plated.  I would return simply to order this again! 

I’m always excited to eat at and cover vegan cafes and restaurants but I am also keenly interested and optimistic about the culinary creativity of many chefs in non vegan establishments to whip up something amazing for their plant based diners.

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