Ever wondered what a 14 dollar carrot would look like?
Wonder no more. here it is:
As it turns out, a 14 dollar carrot looks suspiciously like a regular carrot that somebody cut in half, heated up and put on a plate with a few artful mooshes of unidentifiable shit.
The 14 dollar carrot is what you get when you go to a very fancy vegan restaurant in Philadelphia.
Perhaps some backstory.
My wife has been a vegetarian for almost a decade and while I support her lifestyle choice, I personally continue to eat meat. Partly because I like meat and partly because most vegetarian/vegan foods taste like what I assume getting a degree in Latin yodeling then being sad for the rest of your life because you're unemployable and in a mountain of debt would taste like if it were food. In other words: disappointing and unpalatable.
Despite the fact that I am not a vegetarian myself, I'll occasionally bite the bullet and try whatever form of weird grass-fed lettuce she wants me to eat for the sake of marital compromise. She tolerates me cooking meatloaf, which even as a person who likes meatloaf I can admit is fucking disgusting, so I figure I owe her one every now and again.
We happened to have a gift card to this fancy vegan restaurant in the city that she'd been talking about trying for ages. We'd never actually made the trip because the place has a reputation for being a bit pricey and I've got the pallet of a third grader, so it wasn't likely I was going to find anything on the menu appetizing. With the gift card though, I thought why not; if I'm going to subject myself to choking down some upper crusty vegan nonsense as a meal at least not having to pay for it makes me feel better.
I made a reservation a few weeks in advance and surprised Emily with a dinner date in the city.
I pretty much anticipated the place was going to be an insufferable den of hipster bullshit and I was not disappointed. It was a veritable smorgasbord of flannel shirts, buddy holly glasses and wrist tattoos of anchors up in there. I felt out of place immediately upon entering the building in that I'm positive they could tell I was an outsider as if I had a visible aura around me that indicated to them that I don't own a fixed gear bike and think Cochella is stupid. The restaurant itself was very nice, but walking in the door was like a way more passive aggressive version of when a city-slicker walks into an old west saloon; If there had been a guy in suspenders and a bowler hat playing a piano he'd have hit a flat chord and come grinding to a halt while everyone in the room turned to glare at me.
I mean, there absolutely was a guy with suspenders and a bowler hat, but he was just there having drinks.
The dining experience was generally as expected; every single ingredient used in every single item on the menu came equipped with its own own resume of qualifications on how vegany it was. This equated to roughly a six hour seminar just to hear the specials. We get it Becky, the tofu is free range, cruelty free, contains no gluten, is organic and donates it's free time to underprivileged urban children on the weekends. We all get to claim moral superiority for the next twenty-four hours for having eaten here over anybody who had the audacity to eat a cheeseburger at a TGI Fridays tonight like a fucking plebeian; Can we please just move on with our lives?
On the bright side, all of the extra time it took to listen to the life story of every vegetable on the menu was offset by extremely fast service; It wasn't five minutes between when we ordered and when our food showed up at the table. I suppose when your entire menu only consists of three different ingredients, one of them is a carrot and the other two are soy paste it doesn't take all that long to prepare a dish so I guess that isn't a huge compliment but credit where credit is due. It may have been some warmed up vegetables, but goddamnit if those warmed up vegetables were not in front of my face pronto.
Here's the highlight reel of the experience from the time we sat down at the table until the time we left:
Everything on the menu was weird stuff. Fancy Radishes? Fuck off. Unless you put little tophats and a monocles on those things and give them a trust fund they're still a shitty mostly tasteless tuberous root that you washed dirt off of six seconds before you fed it to me. Also, I saw someone order the Glazed Romanesco. I don't know what shit you people are trying to pull, but that was a piece of lettuce with some stuff drizzled on it.
I've got to hand it to them at least, looking through this menu, there is not a single item on here that can possibly cost this restaurant more than a dollar a plate. they are successfully charging people out the butthole for this stuff.
Before the Meal
This is the vegan restaurant version of bringing bread to the table. It's 'carrot soup'. It was warm-ish, served in a shot glass and tasted like spicy carrots strained through a tube sock. It had the consistancy of baby food and I did not care for it.
For our meals Emily got the previously depicted 14 dollar carrot and I got this tofu because it enraged me the least out of everything on the menu. No, that is not a trick of perspective, that is in fact a 15 dollar meal consisting of a single piece of grilled tofu only slightly larger than the head of a fork.
Also whatever this shit was that looked like what you pull out of the bottom of your lawnmower when it gets clogged up.
The one thing I will say is this: The outside of that piece of tofu was fucking delicious. It may have been the single best marinade on a grilled piece of food I have ever eaten.
No matter how mouthtacular the glaze was, there is a singularly detrimental issue with this dish, which I have depicted in a handy diagram below:
And again for further clarity:
Not even all of the top hats could disguise what essentially boils down to eating a mostly tasteless lego brick of pressed bean milk. They can grill any flavor they want onto the outside of a piece of tofu but the entire interior is always going to taste like licking a kitchen sponge. I ate it though. So help me I ate it with nary a top hat or monocle to be seen to fancy it up.
If the rest of the meal up until this point was a parade of overpriced pretentious crap where they put a single vegetable on a plate and drizzled a sauce on it, dessert made up for it in spades.
I got this thing that was different toffee, caramel and peanut butter flavored stuff and it was good. Not even like, good for being vegan food. It was regular food good. I couldn't even tell that the dessert had been made of sadness and a sense of moral superiority (the only vegan ingredients left when you remove dairy from an ice cream based treat). I would come back to this restaurant just to eat that.
The thing that looks like a hockey puck of monochrome cat food in coffee grounds I understand was some sort of ice cream with chocolate dusty stuff that Emily got. It was also very good I am told despite perhaps less than stellar curb appeal.
All in all, my expectations were met regarding our dinner at the vegan restaurant. I went in assuming I was going to find the general demeanor of the establishment vaguely annoying, and that I was going to force feed myself something way too expensive that I found moderately appetizing at best. I was correct on both counts.
Emily seemed to enjoy the experience though, and I am not devoid of an ability to at least fake proper dining civility once in a while for her benefit. I doubt I'll be rushing back to any vegan restaurants any time soon, but if you are a vegetarian, vegan, or have an abnormally tiny stomach and some spare cash, you could do a lot worse. I can certainly see why people who, unlike myself, are not complete barbarians would very much like the place.