Jun 27, 2008

Eating out while vegan; humour as digestive aid

I haven't been updating, for which I apologize. I will be doing quite a bit of it over the long weekend now that my employment woes are over.

In the meantime, I'd like to share a little story with you. One of my biggest peeves about the transition to veganism has been eating out. I was a server for a long time; I don't trust most of them, because I know what the conditions are like and how easy it is to screw up, unintentionally or not. When something like this happens, I'm not sure how to react. I'm not the type to make a lot of noise, or demand free stuff, or whatever, but at the same time I get enough crap from carnivores who "can't believe why you'd do such a stupid thing, animals are delicious, etc etc". The usual shit we all seem to get. Why is veg*nism so...offensive to people? I know an insane, pushy, evangelical Christian who doesn't get as much criticism as we do.

So, please enjoy, and if you have thoughts on what to do when you're served something you weren't expecting, let me know! Back with a recipe for Channa and some sweet potato fries with miso gravy tomorrow.

So, okay, my old man and I go to have dinner with a friend after work. We decide between Green Mango (Friend: "It's so limited, all they have is Thai food.") and something called "Dr. Generosity". "They'll have more selection, and they have a patio", we decide. "It looks kitschy. Let's go."

Off we go, and the menu looks fantastic, and our waiter is obviously an out-of-work actor ("Ma'am, your eyeshadow is beautiful. Allow me to show you my laid-back surfer dude character, and then to switch it up into a knowledgeable snotrag impression. I'll just go ahead and leave my headshot under your plates.") I order a vegan soup and ask if the base is beef or chicken or something. "No, no, completely vegan, made from a veg broth."
"Awesome, that and the portobello sandwich, please."

Friend and my old man order, and we start a-waitin'.

About half an hour later, our soups show up. No worried, we were chatting, and our drinks had arrived. Smells good, but a little…musky? I take a bite and there are tiny chewy bits. "This has the texture of bacon" I remark in my internal monologue. "I am being silly." I plow through some more soup, but it has a weird greasy taste. You see what is coming, and you are waiting for the big reveal. Patience, patience.

The food comes about a minute later. The runner looks embarrassed. "I didn't realize you still had your soups," she says, "I'll take it back."
"No no, we're hungry, please leave it," we beg, and she does.

The sandwich is great. The burger was apparently great. I look at my friend's chicken and it's bright pink. A little mushy.
"Gross," I say.
"Yes." comes the confirmation.
"Excuse me, but my friend's chicken is a little raw," I say to the ActorServe 5000 and he comes out to the patio, looking put-upon.

"That's the colour chicken is," he says. "Chicken is pink. It's real chicken, so you're not used to it, but that's the colour chicken is." He sounds so petulant and superior that I finally get a bit pissed off. My friend is civil. "I'm not comfortable eating it the way it is, can you put it back in the broiler for a while?" He takes it in a huff.

I go back to the soup to take a wee break from the great but filling sandwich. The taste is even stronger. I reach in with my spoon and pull out a 2x2 cm, fully formed and marbled piece of bacon.

"Okay," I stand up and stride into the restaurant. "Okay." The waiter intercepts me and comes out to the patio.

"What's wrong now?" sniffs he. Very sniffy, this guy.
"Is this a vegetarian soup? Made with vegetable broth?" I ask icily. I can be so icy if I try, it's amazing.
"THEN WHY IS THERE BACON IN IT?" I say with my "stage voice". So he understands me. We are speaking the same language- THEATRE.

The wind is taken from him! He peers over onto the little wretched piece of porkfat and screws up his face. He is about to tell me it's a bean skin or some such nonsense, but I say "I have found several smaller pieces in the soup also."
"Well, lemme go ask the chef," walking away, trying to minimize the damage at the other table on the patio, "before you get all psycho."

"Did he just say "before you get all psycho?" I ask of the group, the assembled knowledge of whom in relation to this situation is impressive (Old man: worked in bacon factory. Friend: longtime server. Mom owns restaurant.)
"I think he said 'before you get all excited'," opines my old man.
"It sounded like 'psycho' to me," comes the Second Opinion.

The soup disappears. Friend's chicken: still MIB (Missing In Broiler). My old man is munching away on his burger, looking sheepish.

Captain Kangaroo returns with her chicken, now a healthy white colour. "It appears that the other soup tonight, which is beef barley, may have come into your soup. The theory right now is that it's bacon or beef. I think it's beef." Helpful young man!
There is a long pause while I wait for the "And so, I throw myself on your feet with apology and hope that you can understand."
Which I would have. Cross-contamination happens. I worked at a Taco Bell, for God's sake. I know the meaning of "stuff in other stuff."

But he just stood there. Waiting? Struck mute with guilt? Retarded? Who's to say?

"Uh huh," I say, with an "And?" to follow.

"I hope that doesn't... compromise you," he wheedles.
"It does. Thanks."
"I can bring you another one," and I know he is about to give me on of those patented "It comes out of my pocket/the chef is a dick/I don't know what happened/the kitchen staff doesn't speak English" speeches. I have them too; honed while I worked at Fran's, these speeches are powerful tools for servers who hate customers, and are available from my website for $12.99 plus tax. Worth every penny!

"I don't want another one, and I understand, thank you." The sniffee…has become the sniffer.
"How's your chicken?" he finishes lamely.
"Cooked, thank you." Oh snap!

When we are finished, we wait another half hour for the bill. It's been 2 hours. For some sammiches. I give up and go inside to our waiter, standing behind the bar.
"Can we get the bill please?" A sagely nod.

By now we are in full swing with the mocking and the sniffing and the prayers for me to start barfing so we can make with the suing. He comes out with the bill.

"I've comped your meal, and I didn't realize it but I forgot to charge you for your Coke."
Oh, generous hosts!
He offers me desserts and coffees for free.
"No thanks."

We grab the bill, throw it on Visa, wait another 20 minutes for him to come back. When I get back to the table from a phone call, my old man has taken a big leap.
"I left him three dollars."
On a 60 dollar bill!

I am always huge on tipping. I will always blame the kitchen before the server. However. When you basically tell off customers throughout a meal and then insist that you have a food-handling certificate after serving a vegetarian soup that's been the victim of cross-contamination (when most places make the servers grab soups themselves from a common pot, though I don't know if they do here), you are being a crappy server and you cannot blame the kitchen for the fact that you're a douchebag.

Have a great long weekend, everyone!