Sunday, November 13, 2011

This little piggy had spinach and mushrooms for supper...

My beloved friend Jenni came into town a couple of weekends ago and was interested in trying out Cochon. She really didn't want to drag us vegans there, but I assured her it was worth it to me to go -- after all, I have a blog to update! So Johnny and I tagged along to see how this renowned, porky restaurant would measure up in the vegan-friendliness department.

I'll give you three guesses.

I know what you're thinking -- I should have known better, considering the name of the place. I'd be inclined to agree, but I had read a comment some place online a while back that a vegan tourist had scored an incredible meal at Cochon. I dared to dream that it would knock my socks off, too, and I'd have good news for my readers. It was at least worth a shot. When I made the reservation and mentioned that a couple of us were vegan, the person on the phone acted like it was no big deal at all. Yea!

We went. I don't make it out much these days, so it felt special, even more so because we had Jenni along. Have I told you I lived in Dallas for a few years? Well, I did. And Jenni is one of the things I miss from there the most. No worries, though, I was never ever for a single second a Cowboys fan!

A picture of the pig on the wall was hard to ignore. It was a big female pig with milk-filled piggy-breasts for her babies. How do people slaughter animals? Obviously I'm not musing about the technicalities. What I mean is, how can someone shut out the commonalities that we share with animals effectively enough to do the job? And then, how can someone ignore the obvious suffering and yearning for life? And not just once, but over and over again? This is something I can't wrap my mind around. I'm sure many of you have wondered the same thing. It's a question I always come back to.

I was glad they hadn't fixed any appetizers for us, since I figured the entree would be enough of a splurge by itself; all the meaty entrees on the menu ranged from $15 to $23 each. As usual, there was nothing vegan on the menu, so we left it up to the chef.

The positives: Our entree was a creative dish -- a spinach-mushroom gratin topped with panko breadcrumbs. It was creamy with a crunchy top, and had great flavor. It was also attractively served in individual cast-iron skillets, which I just realized were probably seasoned with pig fat, WOW, I did not think of that until just now, UGH.

My complaint at the time was that the dish was entirely too small, and then entirely too expensive for its size and ingredients. I usually keep my negative comments to myself until blogging time, but when I saw we were being charged $22 EACH for this little dish, I felt it was necessary to offer the most genuine feedback possible -- the spontaneous kind. I told the waiter that it was so little food that we were going to have to eat another whole meal once we got home. I emphasized that $22 was a ridiculous amount for a small dish made of a few vegetables that they already had in their kitchen. Imagine, their top meat entree costs $23, and our vegetable dish was $22.

I do appreciate that the effort was made to serve us something creative and tasty, but the price felt like a slap in the face because it was so disproportionate to the amount of food and ingredients (vegetables and rice -- no beans or other significant protein source).

If anyone from Cochon reads this, here is the point I'd like to make to you:

First, thanks for reading!

Our waiter -- who was great -- said that he serves two or three vegetarians every night. He also said that the best part about it was that no two vegetarian dishes were the same -- the chef comes up with something different every time.

I think it's awesome that you have chefs that can (and are willing) to do that. Our dish clearly had some thought behind it. It needed some work in the nutrition department (it was too lightweight to be considered a main dish), but it was prepared with care, creativity, and skill.

But I happen to disagree that variety in the form of "coming up with something different every time" is a good thing. I don't much like guesswork when I go out to eat at a non-vegan place. I like to have some idea of what I can get, and how much it will cost me, in advance. This is equally true of your non-vegan patrons -- that's why you have a menu, and why prices are listed on it.

If you have vegetarians (and sometimes vegans) eating at your restaurant every night, why not make room for them on your menu? You obviously have talented chefs that know how to create great flavor without the animal products. How about adding a vegan appetizer and a vegan entree to the menu? If you prefer not to tie yourselves down to any particular dish (if your chefs love playing with the endless flavor possibilities that exist in vegan cooking, and it seems they do), you could still make room for a "vegan entree based on seasonal produce" or something of the like, and list the price next to it. That way, someone looking at your menu online will know in advance what to expect. (And just a tip, if you want fewer of us pesky vegetarians dropping in, keep that price at $22.)

Johnny and I got off easy that night because Jenni very kindly footed the bill. Thanks Jen, for gracing us with your visit, AND for helping me satisfy my curiosity about this place! Next time I'm in Dallas I'll treat you to all-you-can-eat at Spiral Diner :-)