Monday, September 10, 2007

Vegetarian Travel Series, Episode #14: Vegan Dining in Big City

As one of the great cities of America, Big City has long been known for having some of the very best restaurants in the world. Today, as part of our ongoing travel series, we'll visit a few of the most renowned Big City eateries and see what kind of magic their incredible chefs can stir up for the vegan diner.

The very best place to begin our visit to Big City is with a hearty breakfast at Walter Brennan's. With its selection of incredible egg dishes and homemade pastries, Breakfast at Walter Brennan's®
has been a Big City tradition for more than 50 years. We settle into the opulent dining room with a strong cup of coffee (sorry, no soymilk available—they must be temporarily out) and ask our waiter what dishes would be good for vegans.


We explain what "vegan" means, and the waiter shrugs, pointing blankly at the menu. With a little more explanation he is able to offer some helpful suggestions and we're finally ready to order: the fruit cup and white toast, dry. "The cantaloupe is ripe," one member of our group points out. "Very evenly toasted bread," raves another.

After that delicious breakfast a shopping trip down Big City's famous 4th Avenue seems in order. It lightens our wallets, but also perks up our appetites for lunch. We decide to head downtown to the waterfront, and eat at The Seafood House, a quaint restaurant with a seafaring tradition that was once frequented by the likes of Herman Melville and Peter Benchley (though they weren't necessarily there together). We ask the waitress what kind of sandwiches they have.

"Soft-shelled crab and shrimp salad."

We smile and explain our dietary restrictions, after which she shrugs and points blankly at the menu. After a little more explanation she brings us French fries and coleslaw, hold the mayonnaise. The cabbage and potatoes remind us of Ireland, and the famous famine of the mid-19th Century. How colorful!

We walk off our delicious lunch by spending the afternoon hours in Big City's famous Linkletter-Carney Museum of the Arts. The collection is world-class, but looking at the many still lifes (lives?) leaves us hungry for dinner. After a brief stop at our hotel to freshen up, we take a cab uptown to Palms Up, the famous steakhouse where Herman Melville also used to eat. According to the sign, Palms Up prides itself on serving "huge cuts of aged, prime beef in an atmosphere of quiet sophistication." The big leather chairs are a bit heavy for one person to move, but after we get seated and our eyes adjust to the hickory smoke in the air, we enjoy the wood paneling and the jovial conviviality of all the fat people at the neighboring tables.

We know our vegan diets will be a welcomed challenge for the fine chefs at Palms Up, and we rely on our knowledgeable waiter Edward to guide us through a delicious vegan meal.

"What did you say you people are?" Edward asks.

After a little more explanation Edward shrugs and points blankly at the menu. Still more explanation and a discreet $20 bill (we find out later this is why they named the restaurant Palms Up) put Edward on the right track. He suggests the famous Palms Up salad (hold the bacon bits, hold the cheese, hold the hard-boiled egg, hold the dressing) and the famous Palms Up "twice-baked" stuffed potato (hold the butter, hold the bacon bits, hold the sour cream, hold the "stuffing", no need to bake twice). The dinner is very filling, and when it's time for dessert we're glad that the famous Palms Up cheesecake, when modified to be vegan (hold all ingredients), is remarkably light and airy.

Back at our hotel we're happy and tired after the first day of our visit. We've made wonderful choices, and we've had the kind of rare dining experiences one can only get in world-class establishments. We can't wait to see what culinary delights are in store for us tomorrow, as we explore more of the fine restaurants of Big City!

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