Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Muriel's Jackson Square

First off, kudos to this restaurant for putting a vegan dish on the actual menu. That's pretty cool!

That said, it's pretty obvious that we vegans need to do more to educate non-vegans on what constitutes a meal for us. This is my second experience leaving hungry from an upscale New Orleans restaurant after eating (what they considered) a full meal.*

There are actually two parts to this account: the first, a trip to Muriel's back in September with my parents and brother; the second, a private dinner party at the same restaurant last month.

In September, I ordered the vegan entree that was on the menu, totally excited that I didn't have to go through the usual rigamarole of explaining what I would and wouldn't eat. Then it arrived:
Well, it was pretty, I'll give it that. But where are the calories?! As you can see, it's basically a pile of cooked veggies -- spinach, squash, red onions, and red bell pepper -- topped with herbs and surrounded by oil and vinegar. (I know I said in an earlier post that I'm a sucker for any dish surrounded by squiggles of sauce, but apparently I have additional standards after all.) No significant protein, fat (unless I had felt like slurping up the olive oil), or even carbs to speak of. Of course, this would have made a nice appetizer. But it was the main course! I left the restaurant with mixed feelings: grateful for the friendly staff and the attempt to cater to vegans, but disappointed with the results. I mean, I was still hungry!

A month went by. My aunt M was throwing a big party, complete with jazz band, at Muriel's in honor of my cousin G's recent wedding. She made sure to give the restaurant advance notice that there would be a couple of vegans (Johnny and I) among the invitees. I didn't have high expectations after my previous experience, but I did decide that this time, I would ask for more food if the story repeated itself.

First course: spring rolls. They were pretty good to me, and Johnny thought they were delish:

Next came a variation on the pile o' veggies for the main course: as soon as a server passed by to check on things, I explained (politely, of course!) that this just wasn't enough food. She said she'd get us something else -- what would we like? I asked if they had any beans (no). She consulted the kitchen and came back asking if pasta would be ok. Yes! But again, while it tasted very good, there just wasn't much of it on the plate:

We were really glad to be able to get a dessert -- sorbet:

-- and it was so delicious I thought about asking for 4-5 more scoops, but decided I had already been enough of a pain in the butt for one night.

Clearly, the intentions are good at Muriel's: they want to be vegan-friendly! This is totally awesome. I think there's a very simple misunderstanding at the root of the problem I described above... Dishes centered around meat are pretty much automatically high-calorie, so in fine-dining establishments, a main course involves an appropriately small portion on a proportionally large plate for presentation's sake. That's the look they're going for. The problem is that when a chef tries to get that same visual effect in a vegan dish, it results in not enough food. When there are no animal products involved, larger quantities of food -- including plant sources of protein and carbohydrates, and maybe even fat! -- are needed. If New Orleans-style restaurants are aiming to cater to the vegan crowd, this is one important consideration for their chefs to keep in mind.

*I had a similar experience back maybe eight or so years ago at Commander's Palace. After spending $50 on my meal -- which suffered from the Huge Plate-Tiny Food Syndrome -- I went straight to Papa John's and ate half of a large (cheese-free) pizza. One of these days, I plan to give the commander another try.