Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thoughts on Pigging Out at Dante, a Trendy (not Vegan) Restaurant

Last night I went out for a lavish dinner for my brother-in-law's 40th birthday (Happy Birthday Rob!). I'd been looking forward to the experience for months, but not because of what I might eat. In actuality, it was all about Rob's birthday, a night off from parenting and what I was going to wear, in no particular order. We don't get babysitters too often, and when we do, we always go to the movies. So when I know months ahead of time that we are going out on a Saturday night to a hip neighborhood in Cleveland (yes, we do have those) you can bet I'm going to look forward to it.

But last night surpassed my expectations by 100 miles.

The restaurant, Dante, brainchild of chef and musician Dante Boccuzzi, was chosen by my brother-in-law Rob and his wife Kathy (biggest carnivore I know, hands down) as apparently this is the spot that you can find them on many a Saturday night. I thought about doing the "call-ahead" move and letting the kitchen know that a Vegan (not that I even qualify, but it's easier than explaining the whole Nutritarian thing over the phone) was coming, but I didn't want to be a bother. Something inside my head was saying, "Leave it alone, if you tell them that a Vegan is coming they will probably put pig fat in your food just to spite you."

I even glanced at the menu before we left, but I must have been extremely distracted because I didn't take note of what was on there. I think I had made up my mind that I was going to beg the waitstaff for a huge salad ("Really, more lettuce, please. Yes, a giant bowl, as big as you've got, please").

You can imagine my surprise when I looked at the menu and there were two salads labeled as Vegan, one soup and one entire entree! This was going to be more fun than I imagined.

I'm not going to go into gory detail about the food that I ate (which involved the best hearts of palm that I ever tasted and a banana butternut squash soup-yum!), except to say that it was absolutely delicious and creative and that dessert did involve a lot of sugar and dairy (hey, I'm NOT a saint). What I do want to tell you about is what transpired after dinner. Before we went in the restaurant's basement and my sister-in-law Janet kicked Chef Dante's ass at two games of Millipede, that classic 80s video game (very, very impressive Janet!).

We were sipping coffee, it was getting late, and who happened to stop by our table? Dante himself. Incredibly warm and personable, I think he spent time talking to all eleven of us at the table, individually. Jim, my other bro-in-law, mentioned to him that I write a food blog so the conversation naturally went in that direction.

I thanked him profusely for having Vegan options on the menu and asked him about the demand for them. He replied that it was very strong. I asked about the possibility of having greens (kale, collard, swiss chard, spinach, etc.) on the menu as a standard selection and I could tell that he'd never considered it before but would after our conversation. I told him that greens were becoming more and more of many peoples' everyday diet, that he could have a constant rotation of them on the menu. I explained that they were the single most nutritious food known to man. But then it hit me, as fun and cool and hip as these restaurants are, they are in the business of nourishing people's minds, not their bodies. I asked him if he had ever read The China Study and guess what . . . he had never heard of it.

I really liked him anyway.

I didn't even bother to mention the no oil thing. I didn't want to scare the pants off him.

So I know that even though our Nutritarian movement is gaining momentum, we're just at the beginning. I invite Chef Dante Boccuzzi, his wife and four kids to come to my house for a home cooked Nutriatarian meal, sans oil. On his one day off, of course. We've got kids of the same ages and he seemed super nice. I don't have a vintage Ms. Pacman or Millipede, but I think I can convince him that there is a place on his menu for greens, everyday.


JL goes Vegan said...

Don't you love the surprise of going to a 'regular' restaurant and being able to eat exactly what you can (and want) to eat? Always such a joy! It's great that you had a chance to speak with the chef and to THANK HIM for including the vegan options on the menu! And love the greens activism. Go, Wendy!

whootsybootsy said...

Will definitely go check this place out next time I'm in Cleveland! What a wonderful experience! =)

QZB said...

That rocks! Scott and I will definitely check this place out.

lea said...

Wow- who would have thought Dante would have vegan options! One more place to add to the list of places to go when friends want to eat out. (without having to be the weird vegan girl eating just lettuce). Thanks!

megan said...

I'm so happy that you were able to try and love Dante! It has been one of my favorite places to eat.

Anonymous said...

I just read your post; interestingly we were looking for a good restaurant for dinner after theater at the Cleveland Playhouse today. Unfortunately they're closed on Sunday, but we'll put this on our list of places to eat. AWESOME that there are vegan entrees. Hope you piqued the chef's interest in The China Study. I love your blog and follow it regularly. You do a great job.

Chef AJ said...

People have to understand that restaurants are in the business to make money. Something like 1% of the population is vegan and an even smaller percentage of those are healthy (or oil-free vegans). Even the healthy ones like us will occasionally eat regular vegan food when dining out. I offer every restaurant chef and restaurant owner my class for free to try to get them to offer even ONE oil-free option. (You can forget about asking for no sugar and salt). It has only made a difference twice. Chef Rawhseed now offers food with no oil or agave (but still can't figure out the no salt thing) and Hugo's offers a ton of vegan no oil options. I have asked the others why they won't do it and they say "no one will eat this way". The people that do eat our way would really have to start supporting these restaurants for it to work. At Millennium in San Francisco you can call ahead for oil-free options but most chefs do not know how to prepare food without oil AND make it taste good, so to them no oil means less oil. They do not teach chefs how to cook this way in culinary school. Unless they are already ill themselves, I find most people are resistant to reading "The China Study" just like they are resistant to reading "Eating Animals" or watching "Earthling". If they knew the truth, they would either have to change or continue with their animal-suffering/ill-healht promoting behavior and feel guilty about it. Most people would rather not know. We have a local MExican chain called Sharkey's. I have been working with the CEO to create a vegan menu. They now have a burrito named after me. It's an all organic low-fat whole wheat tortilla fillied with brown rice, pinto beans, steamed broccoli and a dab or guacamole. I had to practically start a Rosa Parks type movement to get this to happen telling everyone I know constantly to go and order it. Most business decisions aren't beased on doing what is morally right (did you read about the big scandal with VegNews using photos of meat to save money?). They are beased obn profit or at least ecomonic feasability.

katshealthcorner said...

That place sounds really good! :)

Heather said...

Sounds like a great restaurant. I don't think there's even a notion of what vegan actually means here.

Oil free?! Lol. I asked for a salad with "dressing on the side". I learned that this means, still tossed with oil. :/

@ Chef AJ - San Fran sounds great. Also thanks for the videos!

Anonymous said...

Living near Cleveland (Bath) I am excited to try his restaurant. I would also love to hear what your favorite restaurant in Cleveland is.

Blogging tips