Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Trickle Down Vegetarian

Ezra Klein makes the case for "haute vegetarian cuisine" leading to a wider availability of vegetarian entrees overall:
If trendsetting restaurants begin producing plates of food that happen to not include meat, hopefully other restaurants will just copy their dishes, and over time, adapt them and improvise off of them. It'll become part of the tradition. And that's what you need. If veggie-friendly food requires chefs to sit with a pen and a pad and brainstorm meatless recipes, there'll never be much of it. If it just requires them to emulate and tweak something they've long loved eating, then it'll become a natural addition to menus.
While I'm even less of a vegetarian than Ezra, I've been trying to find places to go out and eat with them for... I dunno... maybe 18 years now? And I have often thought that the biggest problem vegetarian/vegan cooking has, is how poorly defined and lacking in culinary tradition it is. It's no accident that the very best vegetarian food has always been ethnic cuisine (e.g. Indian and Asian) with a strong food culture associated with meatless dishes. I complain fairly regularly, that this lack of standards and tradition outside of ethnic foods leads to some pretty mediocre food getting seen as the face of vegetarian cuisine... and despite the fact that the food is decidedly mediocre, these places can do an extraordinarily swift business because nobody really has a clear picture in their mind as to what exceptional vegetarian food is.

Well, hopefully Ezra is right, and six course vegetarian tastings are paving the way for a more coherent conception of vegetarian cooking. Certainly the high end dining scene is looking better than it ever has for vegetarians... and anecdotally, I can say there are two places near me (Temple Bar and West Side Lounge) that have significantly expanded their vegetarian offerings in the last year or so. Maybe it's working.

picture of the roasted baby beets by flickr user eprescott used under a Creative Commons license