I’m often prompted to tackle a topic when I read either posts or comments on Table Hopping. Steve Barnes typically has the inside track on what’s happening in the local restaurant scene so he’s a good source of inspiration and information. Two recent posts grabbed my attention and started me thinking.
The first inspiration is about the Pizza and Sub shop Spinners expanding their menu to include vegan options for their standard fare. Allow me to preface my discussion with declaring my lower expectations for culinary creativity and resourcefulness for a pizza joint as opposed to a chef-driven dining establishment. This is not really about the failure of a specific pizza shop in their effort to supply vegan options, but about the failure of restaurants and chefs in general to produce good food without having to lean fully on processed foods made to act as meat and other animal products. Not that a pizza and sub shop cannot have good food, but it’s not likely that they would employ a culinary professional who can do vegan food without relying on seitan as an across the board substitute for creative, and unprocessed choices for vegans.
Vegans deserve better than a “here, we’ll put fake meat on everything so you can pretend you’re eating meat” approach. I cannot speak for vegans, and I I’m sure each individual has their own personal reasons for not including animal products in their diets, but I would think they would prefer food choices that are fresh foods with minimal processing that are recognized as the foods they are. I certainly won’t deny using some processed dairy-free substitutes in my home due to a severe dairy allergy held by my daughter, and I won’t deny that there are some quality items that I can thank the vegan market for, but they should be minimally used. Mostly we cook at home with good food and consume very little dairy as a rule.
Since I’ve come to the understanding that keeping at least one vegan entrée option and several small plate choices on the menu is good business and a fun task, I’ve grasped that vegan offerings do not have to employ fake and processed food, and I will continue to challenge myself and my kitchen to keep meatless options made with whole, fresh ingredients in a thoughtful and creative way. Keep in mind that the prime NY strip is my favorite thing on the menu. Trust me, I’ll never be anti-meat or anti animal product, but I think I can and should be able to make my Mediterranean cuisine available to just about anyone.
The other topic is the removal of star ratings from the Times Union restaurant reviews. It’s about time. I could never understand why a restaurant could only achieve four stars if it were a fine dining establishment. I have always thought that a hamburger spot should have the same opportunity to earn a top rating for the type of restaurant it aspires to be.
Since I’m not a writer by trade I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have my words be a vital part of my work. The line from the post that I very much agree with is “we’d much rather you read our words to understand the nuances of a dining experience.” Steve is a craftsman and clearly demonstrates on a consistent basis what a good piece of written material should be. I’ve always enjoyed his work and it’s too bad he cannot be the regular reviewer, but he’s too recognizable (and perhaps too busy). If the Times Union reviews are going to be written with clear, concise language and accuracy then that’s great. If not, then not so great. No, big words don’t scare me, I’m pretty smart. What makes some food writers difficult to read is the use of abstruse adjectives, misplaced references, and imagery with no culinary basis. If the reviews will be written with a coherent knowledge of food and the restaurant business then I applaud the removal of the star rating and good riddance. Change can be good and is sometimes needed.
Not to be overlooked in this post is high praise for Malcolm’s on Union Street in Schenectady. I’ve heard wonderful things and they appear to be a welcoming and accommodating place with great food. A welcome addition to that part of town.