There's no doubt about it: The majority of serious food, and therefore food writing, is heavily meat-centric. There are certainly fantastic outlets, in the form of blogs and magazines and columns, that cater specifically to vegetarian readers. But as part of the regular discourse, and reviews in particular, vegetarian options aren't discussed nearly enough for the regular vegetarian to decide if a restaurant is a viable option for them.
So, we present The Undercover Vegetarian. This is a look at a restaurant with vegetarian diners in particular in mind. Mostly it will be as an addendum to a review; sometimes it will simply be a look at a well-known restaurant's meatless options. It is presented with no moral agenda. Obviously I love meat, and I don't fault chefs who cater to meat eaters. But the fact is there's a large dining public who want to know if their trip to that new hyped restaurant is going to be as awesome for them as it is for their carnivore compatriots, or if their options are going to be a salad and some half-assed pasta dish they could have made at home. Eating that while watching the rest of the room chow down on porky genius must be frustrating. So I aim to address that.
Which brings us to ink., Michael Voltaggio's Hollywood restaurant reviewed in this week's paper. Voltaggio is a mad scientist of a meat lover. Look down his menu and even some dishes that might look promising to a vegetarian (as in, “Brussels sprouts”) are actually not even close to being meat-free (as in, covered in lardo that stretches over the sprouts like some weird alien skin and then sprinkled with slivers of pigs' ears). If you're a pescatarian, you could easily put together a phenomenal meal here: of oysters, kanpachi (one of the best dishes on the current menu), octopus and halibut.
But for the strict vegetarian, there are not a lot of options. During my visits there was one, and while it was one of the most playful dishes on the menu, it sure wouldn't count on its own as dinner. The carrots with coconut ice, cardamom soil and pea tendril mojo was like a bizarre garden landscape made edible — an early spring veggie patch dusted with tropical snow.
If you're a strict vegetarian and want to see a chef do something wholly weird and interesting with the concept of salad, I highly recommend stopping by the bar at ink. to try the dish. There's also an egg yolk gnocchi dish that's been served at times with scallops but also at times with porcini, so that's another drinks-and-a-bite possibility. A full dinner here? Not so much.
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