Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Tale of Two Holiday Parties

Last week we had our formal office holiday lunch at the Grand Concourse in Station Square. If you don't know Pittsburgh, Station Square is one of those touristy places with over-priced shops and restaurants that people who like really touristy places love. The Grand Concourse is a seafood and meat restaurant set in the historic old train station at Station Square and seems to be one of those fancy, expensive restaurants that gets a crowd regardless of the quality of its food because of its location.

They'd given me two vegan options to choose from: pasta primavera and stuffed mushrooms. But when I got to the restaurant, they told me the pasta had eggs in it and the mushrooms had cheese. (!) So this is what I was served: steamed broccoli, steamed asparagus, and lemon-scented white rice.

My boss was seated at the table and asked if it was what I'd consider a good vegan meal; he honestly didn't know and was curious. I replied that they had tried very hard to accommodate me. With veggies and a whole grain, the meal really wasn't absolutely awful, nutritionally speaking at least. But here's the thing:
  1. Where's the protein??? Protein is really important nutritionally (though most American diets include too much protein). For me personally, I need protein to feed my muscles, keep me lean, and maintain my weight loss. I wrote a post a while back on how I get enough protein, but the gist is I need to eat protein at every meal and sometimes for snacks too. And really, how hard is it to open a can of beans, drizzle some olive oil on them, and sprinkle with salt and black pepper? 
  2. The restaurant probably equated "she's vegan" to "she wants really bland food." I imagined the cooks in the kitchen trying to think of the least offensive thing they could serve me. I guess if you're not familiar with vegan cooking, that might make sense. But come on...they couldn't saute the veggies in a bit of olive oil for me, maybe with some minced garlic, and maybe even be a little crazy and add some crushed red pepper? Or maybe they could have been even crazier and added everything to a wok with some fresh minced garlic and ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. 
In contrast, I made my own dish for a less formal potluck holiday lunch today. I made the Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions and Spiced Pita Chips from Veganomicon. I knew others were bringing a salad and fruit platter, so my veggies were covered. This protein-rich dish is one of my all-time favorites. I've made it before for dinner parties and just as a splurge for myself. It calls for a lot of olive oil to caramelize the onions so it's not the poster child for ultra-healthy vegan eating, but damn is it good (though it photographs like a pile of mush).
I also made Peppermint Brownies, which were originally Frankenmint Brownies that I recast with a holiday theme.

These brownies were soooooo awesome. I used slightly more tofu (yes, tofu!) than the recipe calls for, and they ended up so moist they melted in my mouth. Combined with the rich minty frosting, they were amazing. Recipe here!

What I learned from this tale:
  • Grand Concourse could learn a thing or two from me. 
  • Most omnivores are clueless about what vegans eat and think we eat bland, boring food (we don't!).
  • It's good to represent and bring vegan awesomeness to potlucks, even if the other potluck selections are gross and offensive. [Um, someone made bacon chocolate chip cookies. :-( So I guess it wasn't bad enough that two animals, cows and chickens, suffered to make the cookies, but pigs--the 5th most intelligent animal on earth and likely the ones most attuned to their awful treatment on factory farms--too. Boo!) 
  • While it's good to represent, I didn't even need to bring anything. Five coworkers made vegan versions of their dishes for me and another vegan in the office. Yay! I felt so loved. :-) 

The End (until next holiday!)


  1. wow... it sounds like a very unimaginative, boring restaurant to be honest. your dishes look great though!

  2. Haha, I'm sure Grand Concourse has a LOT to learn. I like plain food, so the top dish would be okay by me but you're right; it really isn't a complete meal.
    Love the Frankenmint brownie remix - it sounds like they actually go better with a Christmasy theme than Halloween.
    In RE the mustard-tahini dressing, yep - it's pretty much just that: about 2:1 tahini to mustard, thinned out with water, lemon juice, a bit of minced garlic, and salt (if necessary)

  3. I find people are usually pretty accommodating when they know what to offer, but most of the time they don't know what to offer. And it is honest ignorance, not a confrontation. It is a terrific opportunity to introduce them to Vegan-ism though you are right, the best way is to make really awesome Vegan food and share it with them.

  4. So happy to have stumbled on this blog! Thanks for sharing links to some great recipes, I've only been eating a plant based diet for 7 months and am always looking for new fabulous recipes. {oh-and just so you know, broccoli does have protein...more than steak actually!}

  5. You are right--thanks for reminding me! A cup of broccoli has 4 grams of protein :-) I usually try to get between 15 & 20 grams of protein for lunch though; otherwise I'll be starving an hour later!