Sunchokes prepared for Vegetarian Times editors by chef Tom Colicchio's Craft Los Angeles.
For a vegetarian or vegan living—and dining—in a non-veg world, obligatory engagements at less-than-veg-friendly eateries can be tricky. Many veg newbies fear that giving up animal products means giving up all appearances of normalcy at family, social, and work gatherings that involve eating. That’s not true. It takes a little know-how, but vegetarians and vegans can dine well almost anywhere—even at a steakhouse.
You probably wouldn't choose to eat at a steakhouse, but there are those times when family, social, and work engagements require the sacrifice. Hopefully you won’t lose your appetite by being surrounded by plates of meat, or ruin everyone else's night by ranting and raving about why their food is bad for their health and the health of our planet.
Here are four tips for making the most out of your dinner at a steakhouse:
ORDER A TRIFECTA OF SIDES Steakhouse menus are big on red meat (obviously) and seafood, but they always have a side dish section on the menu. (Check out the mouth-watering sunchokes prepared by Tom Colicchio's Craft Los Angeles, pictured above.) Consider ordering two or three different side dishes as your main meal. You can even suggest to the waiter that the items be plated together, to save room on the table.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK Check out the menu online before you go to see if there's a main dish that might be easily made veg or vegan. If so, call the restaurant as far in advance as possible to ask if the chef's would be willing to make a substitution. Be extra nice about it, and you may get your wish.
SPICE IT UP When obligated to dine at a steakhouse with family members, I have found that my dish always seems to lack pizzazz. I love spicy food, so I’ll bring one of my favorite spice blends to the restaurant with me. Some of my favorites are Ethiopian Berbere and Indian Garam Masala. Instantly, steamed spinach and sautéed mushrooms get a kick—and the fragrant spice might make the person sitting next to you jealous.
LAST RESORT: EAT BEFORE YOU GO If you scope out the menu and call in advance, and you're still not convinced that the dining experience is going to be an enjoyable one, there's always the option of eating an amazing veg or vegan meal before you go. That way, your belly will be happy while others are busy chowing down, and you can focus on the main objective of the evening: spending time conversing with the people around the table. You might want to save a little room so that you can order something small to eat along with the rest of your party. This is probably the most budget-friendly option as well, so you can use the cash you saved to pick up your favorite dessert on the way home.
About Jenné Claiborne
Jenné Claiborne is a vegan chef, cooking instructor, and health coach based in New York City. On her vegan food blog, Sweet Potato Soul, she shares delicious healthy recipes inspired by her Southern upbringing and world travels. She also has a vegan cooking show on Youtube. Follow Jenné on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Pinterest.