Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Challenge: to dine out every night, most afternoons, and some mornings for a week... with our parents.

Yes, this week my fiance and I have our parents in town, both sets. Jonathan has been vegan for six or seven years now, and I have for a bit over two. Nevertheless, the parents don't always quite grasp what we do and do not eat. (Do y'all eat wheat? Well, what about fish?) Our primary interest is keeping them happy, and having them in town is truly a test of our standard statement that we can find something to eat anywhere...

Jonathan's parents arrive in the afternoon. We head down to Little Italy for an early dinner at a place Dad remembers from a previous trip. I order spaghetti al pomodoro, Jonathan orders linguini with maranara. Translation for each: pasta with red sauce. We lucked out here: the bread was not covered in garlic butter, the tomato sauce was not cooked with any kind of meat stock, and cheese was added to the dishes at the table, not in the kitchen. So alright, one down.

Met the parents at the hotel around 1pm. Mine were to be arriving around 3. In the interim, we went to lunch... at Johnny Rockets. Jonathan's parents love a good diner, and they think the JR is just great, with its shiny counters and its nickel juke boxes at each table. New York is really not quite their speed, since they actually live deep in the mountains of western Virginia, so we like taking them places that they're really comfortable. So. Being extremely nervous about my parents' impeding arrival, I only ate onion rings. (I later found out that they contain whey, which is aggravating, but I'll probably live.) Jonathan had "the streamliner", a Boca burger piled high with lettuce, tomato, and grilled onion. They do, supposedly, use the vegan Boca. (And anyway why, pray tell, is there a non-vegan Boca? But that's a discussion for another day.) We escaped largely unscathed, and hey, at least we're encouraging them to keep the vegetarian items on the menu.

A side note... Checking it out later, I found this on their website:

A Note for our Vegetarian Guests
At Johnny Rockets we strive to meet the needs of all of our guests. The Boca Burger patty that we use in our Streamliner is their Original V35 and is manufactured as a vegan product. Our spec hamburger buns should not contain any dairy nor other animal-derived ingredients. Our American fries also should not contain ingredients which are of animal origin and are always cooked in 100% vegetable oil. Beef tallow, or flavorings derived from animal sources, are never intentionally added during the manufacturing or cooking process. However you should be aware that, due to the proximity of the manufacturing equipment to sources of animal protein or oil from animal sources there is the slight, though extremely unlikely, possibility that traces of these unwanted products may be accidentally transferred to our American fries during their production. For this reason, and this reason only, we feel compelled to list beef tallow as a possible (however extremely unlikely) ingredient.

Please be aware that we designate a special area of the grill on which to cook only the Boca Burger and we do everything in our power to keep the area free from other materials. We also have special color-coded turners and tongs which help to keep cross-contamination to a minimum. However due to the limited space and tight kitchen layout at Johnny Rockets we cannot guarantee that there will not be unintentional contact with some small amount of material from an item which is of animal in nature.

You know what? I appreciate the fact that they seem to be trying, and that they're fairly forthright about what they're doing. I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're on the level and are actually doing what they claim here. They do, of course, mainly exist as a business that thrives on selling animal products. But I'd still rather people eat there than at, say, McDevil's.

I won't get into the story of my parents not turning on their cell phone, or my father's trepidation about riding the subway. Suffice it to say that they did arrive, and we introduced two and two, and once all hands were shook we corralled them all down to Spring Street Natural at the corner of Spring and Laffiette. We like taking parents here, since it has food for us and food for them and it's also nice and big and fancy. It also has a full bar.

Now, my parents are from New Orleans, and all my father ever wants to eat is seafood. I've tried to explain to him that New Orleans restaurants have different cooking and serving theories than do New York ones; basically that if you opened up a new restaurant in New Orleans and tried to get away with the serving sizes and cooking techniques that are commonly perpetrated in NY, the restaurant would go out of business in about a week. My mom saw the light of reason and got the goat cheese ravioli; goat cheese is something they know about in New York. She loved her dinner. But Dad, he can't stop trying. So he proceeded to order the shrimp bisque, (which he hated - there's only three shrimp in here!), and the mussels (which were no good), and the soft shelled crab (which was rolled in cornmeal, a deadly sin, and which there was only one of). (Hey dad, don't say I didn't warn ya.) Needless to say, he wasn't thrilled. And he wasn't quiet about it. Nor was my mother, the queen of tact.

So it's probably a good thing that this is the dinner when we told them about our engagement. Everybody forgot about their food, and my dad ordered a bottle of champagne.

Me and Jonathan, we had the corn crusted tofu, this time served with broccoli rabe and shaved jiccama salad. And it was delicious as always.

Sunday began with all four parents at Ess-A-Bagel. Now, I introduced all four of them to this place, because I freakin' love it. It's my contention that these are the best bagels in New York, which would actually make them the best bagels in the world. Literally. It's a classic Jewish bagel joint, and in New York there's a bit of a trend in Kosher establishments to offer tofu cream cheese - to dodge that whole mixing-meat-and-milk hedge law. Now, for me it has nothing to do with religion, but I do consider it a small miracle that I can walk into a place on third avenue in Midtown and be confronted with a choice of 6 different flavors of tofu cream cheese. (They actually have seven, but one of them is lox. And, um, no.) My parents, of course, went for the classic lox and cream cheese on a plain bagel. Jonathan's parents went the sausage and egg route. But me? I got my standard: whole wheat bagel, toasted, with herb tofu, lettuce, and tomato. A more perfect breakfast (or lunch or dinner, for that matter) never has been had.

We were planning to take them to Wave Thai in Astoria, but we never made it. Lunch was basically skipped that day; those bagels pack a wollop, and they weren't eaten until about 11am anyway. Dinner was had after the City Lights cruise that took us around the bottom half of the Island of Manhattan, with a crackpot tourguide who told us all about how the "graffiti movement" was started by Andy Warhol in the 70's... fascinating stuff.

We needed to eat close to the hotel, so we went to China Dynasty, the Chinese place that's actually the hotel restaurant for the Radisson down the street from where the parents are staying. The waitstaff there take themselves very, very seriously, hardly ever cracking a smile. But the service is good, and the food is excellent. There's one thing that bothers me immensely, though, which is that they serve shark fin soup. Granted, I don't know if it's the genuine article, but to even have it on the menu seems wrong. That's probably why I never consider eating there unless I'm desperately trying to feed parents who happen to be staying on the same block. (Oddly enough, Vegetarian Dim Sum house in Chinatown serves a vegetarian version of The Soup That Shall Not Be Named, an anomaly that I find just bizarre. Maybe that's why I've always preferred Buddah Bodai.)

Dynasty has a dim sum style menu as well as entrees, and what always makes me happy is that they have those little steamed bread buns with the stuff in them. They even have two for us - one with red bean paste and one with minced vegetables. They offer two kinds of bean curd, but when we tried to order the Ma Pau, the stoic waiter said, "with pork?" D'oh! "No!" Oh well. At least they told us - that's not the kind of thing you want to find out when the dinners are arriving at the table. House special bean curd times two it is.

And as this post is now officially excruciatingly long, I'll leave it...


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