Usually when I’m in Hawaii I do what sane people around the world do: go to the farmer’s market and cook tasty meals based on fresh local produce.
Also we go to a lot of taco trucks.
And about 25% of my diet is fruit.
But after a month of home-cooked meals on the rickety two-burner electric range in our beloved little shack here + tacos + fruit, it’s time for a treat night out. And sometimes friends come to visit and we want to have special vacation meals where we don’t have to wash the dishes.
And so we go to nice restaurants.
AND THEY ARE FUCKING HORRIBLE.
And year after year we go to them.
And they take hours (“Hawaii time” is a real thing).
And they cost INSANE AMOUNTS of money. Easily $200 for 4 people—for vegan dishes. Maybe two drinks. Last night we spent $240 for two vegans, two nonvegans, two alcoholic drinks, one juice, and one kid’s meal.
No dessert, ’cause we’ll get sorbet ourselves down the street at the ice cream place for slightly less markup if we want it, thanks very much. It’s always the same brand as the ice cream place down the street.
There is a very simple and very racist equation for what constitutes a tasty restaurant and what constitutes a shitty tourist trap fancy restaurant in Hawaii: tasty restaurants are staffed, cheffed, and owned by people of color. Shitty tourist trap fancy restaurants are largely staffed and cheffed and owned by haoles (white people), and people of color bus your tables and take out the trash.
That sounds overly simplistic.
I’m trying really hard to challenge it by thinking of even one restaurant we’ve literally ever been to on Kaua’i that didn’t follow this formula. Ok, there’s a taco place in Hanalei run by white hippies that’s not so bad (it’s not nearly as good as all the other taco places run by people from Mexico). A haole chef runs a taco truck on the beach in Hanalei I used to like but now not so much. There’s a vegetarian crêpe stand in Kapaa run by a white hippie lady that’s pretty decent (mostly because there are tons of vegan options).
I mean, as I said, we eat a lot of tacos. & Jacob’s stepmom cooks at a Thai food truck where they make us all kinds of fish sauce-free delights. & I make stuff like this:
Maybe if we weren’t vegan & ate a lot of Italian food or something my ludicrous over simplification wouldn’t work but I really fucking doubt it.
This is not to say that there aren’t tons of terrible restaurants run by people including people of color in Hawaii. There are so many. But typically (with some exceptions, sure) they are suspiciously cheap, scroungy, unfriendly, and unpleasant, with unappetizing-sounding menu items: that is, they display the typical characteristics of any bad restaurant the world over. The sneakily terrible restaurants here are mostly in hotels and my god I wish I’d stop going to them, even if it means never having a “special” night out ever again.
Here’s how you can tell if you’re in one of them: the menu items sound real good. Local produce / florid prose / $24 entrees / nice clean lovely dining rooms / by the ocean / a sunset view / a koi pond running through the dining room / signature drinks /
you know the kind of restaurant I mean. If I were a copywriter for a resort restaurant I’d write something like this:
“Embrace the tempting combination of contemporary Hawaiian cuisine served in a unique Hawaiian setting. Thatched-roof bungalows float above a koi-filled lagoon at the base of a waterfall to create romantic ambiance. Inspired by local ingredients and the rich culinary traditions of Hawaii, Fancy Resort Restaurant will dazzle you with the freshest of fish and steak prepared with unique island flair. Chef de Cuisine, xxxx, learned the trade at Le Cordon Bleu…”
I mean obviously this is something I just came up with on the spot out of my own head & all, just as an example, just to explain the type of restaurant I’m talking about.
Basically, upscale restaurants in Hawaii (with some exceptions in Honolulu) are laughably behind the times—an endless captive audience of one-time diners eager to drop nice cash chasing special memories handily obviates the need for chefs to innovate, keep their skills sharp, or do anything other than phone it in.
(At home home [on Kaua'i, Kaua'i is "home," and upstate NY is "home home," when did that start, I wonder?], things aren’t quite so dire, but they’re still pretty bad. If I go to a fancy restaurant on the mainland, it’s in NYC [or apparently Chicago]. I’m not going to an upstate “nice restaurant” because the upstate world suffers from much of the same provincialism as described here. I’m sure there are exceptions, but in ten years of upstate life I’ve gone to NYC for 100% of my special dinners—let me know if you know of upstate gems, eh? If I want a special night I just go to Dumplings to see if I can break my personal record of eating three dozen dumplings plus three different mindblowing salads.)
Last night’s dinner was maybe the ultimate example of the rage-making type of meal we often experience here, matched possibly only by a similar dinner we had two years ago involving a $25 plate of sautéed spinach with a pale tomato laid festively on top which I won’t even go into.
Last night: I researched every nice place in the area we wanted to eat in, and I knew we were fucked from the start. But it was our farewell dinner with Jacob’s family and we were too far from home to make dinner together or something nice like that, so I picked the least offensive-seeming place (it had a easily-veganizable menu item) & made a res.
I of course mentioned the Dreaded Curse of Veganism on the phone to the unfailingly polite & smiley hostess (people in Hawaii truly are polite & smiley, that’s a real thing, which makes it hard to be annoyed at them.). “Well, there are some vegetarian options and many gluten-free options, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
AND NOW HERE I NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE oh god stop screaming you overprivileged weirdo. My god it’s not like your life is hard or anything, you’re talking about fancy restaurants being insufficiently fancy. For fuck’s sake tone it down.*
But! This co-mingling of and co-optation of the gf thing for the v thing has to stop.
(The weird thing is, I’ve actually been eating a lot more xgfvx these days. Why not. I tried it to stretch myself, and because Jacob sometimes has stomach upsets, and because I felt like I was being so hard on gluten freeeeeedom that it might be nice to see how the other half lives. Half the shop is gf or gf-lite so why not. It’s good for a chef to make things hard for herself, and switching in a good-quality tamari for shoyu isn’t all that difficult. And I love rice noodles with a wild noodley love anyway. And aside from that it’s just bread, which we never eat out here anyway unless I make it, but the oven’s too fitz-y. Quinoa and fuckin fruit for breakfast, man. With coconut cream and sugar. Do it!)
Anyway HOW HAVE GLUTEN-FREE CRAZIES (oh god I can’t not yell when it comes to gf stuff wtf) stolen valuable menu abbreviations from us? I know because it’s like a medical thing or something, but far FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT IS AN ETHICAL THING. There are zillions more vayguns than there are ACTUAL CELIACS. Fake celiacs who are just plain idiots are one thing, and people like Kate who aren’t fanatics about it but really & truly do feel better on a low-inflammation diet (and pity the pauvre vgf, will you? Did you know that everything gf has eggs in it? Like literally everything. My god, it’s tough for her, & for Lucy who’s seriously celiac-ish and 99.99% vegan) are another, but FUCKING VEGANS! There are, like, hundreds of us. Like probably at least like 100, right? Maybe even 200?
We’re losing the battle, aren’t we? The battle for restaurants to care about us? When we were kids we said we were allergic, but now they know: no one’s allergic to all those animal products! People are allergic to gluten, and you damn well better have menu items for them.
OK, I need to calm down. It’s not a contest. Restaurants should care about all of us. We all pay the same cash! Ain’t I a woman?**
So when the hostess said that the plentiful amount of gf options should make a tasty vegan meal I asked if I could talk to the chef, who was not in yet, as it was merely 2 PM and what chef would be at work then anyway?
(I’d venture to say that 110% of the chefs on this island are surfers—dude culture is dude culture—and, you know, the waves were up.)
We happened to be in the area of the restaurant a few hours later, so Jacob popped in and talked to someone then, in a friendly way—in truth, I was pre-grumpy about this dinner, and I’m obviously post-grumpy about it, too. The manager told him the chef would whip up something nice for us.
(You’re probably thinking right about now that we’re insane to care this much about one dinner & you’d be right. It’s just that I could die tomorrow & don’t want to waste even one more meal on mediocrity, ok? IT’S JUST THAT. Nothing much, really. Just an incessant and unending desire for sublime experiences that won’t let me sleep at night is all.)
When we walked into the restaurant, it smelled heavenly of bread.
And I remembered with an almost violent wave of excitement that I hadn’t had bread in three weeks. I hadn’t even cared, or even noticed really, until that exact moment.
Fancy hotel restaurant = bread bowl! Always something vegan in a bread bowl. After about 1/2 hour (Hawaiiiii tiiiiiiiime brah) the bread bowl came out, and it was just suspiciously shiny rolls with ice cream scoops of butter on the side. As all vegans know: shiny bread = egg wash. (Maybe some pastry chefs know this, but all vegans know it.). We inquired about cruelty-free bread (“CAN I GET SOME BREAD WITHOUT ABORTIONS SLATHERED ON IT” is what I yelled, I believe***) & evoo & the olive oil came quickly (10 minutes or so) and with a smile, as well as with a smiling report that the bread did have eggs in it (I didn’t ask if it did, I knew it did, so this was useless information which was preventing me from EATING BREAD which, I was realizing more and more by the second, there is nothing a human being wants to do more than EAT BREAD when they haven’t eaten bread in three weeks & just walked into a restaurant that is apparently situated directly on top of the finest clouds of bread baking air ever to grace one’s nostrils)—and that there was no vegan bread. “We do have a gluten-free bread, though, would you like some?” “Um, sure—do you know if it has eggs, or dairy in it?” I said with the voice of someone who is unfailingly polite to someone who has to do a job which would without a doubt cause the speaker to gouge out people’s eyes on a regular basis, a voice excellent at disguising the fact that OF COURSE THE GF BREAD HAD EGGS IN IT why was I even asking, “It does have eggs in it, yes.” “Ah. No thank you, then.” “Ok!”
And that was the bread. Mika and Warunee and even Anandhi, three years old & picky as fuck but not picky right then, nope not picky at all as her mom spread butter on a roll and she ate it with the cuteness with which she does everything, GOD WHY IS SHE SO FUCKING CUTE, they were chomping on the bread, remarking on its deliciousness I WANTED THAT DAMN BREAD. I had a little dish of olive oil, maybe the egg wash was only on the top, bad bad thoughts were entering my head, Jacob & I were sharing stomach-grumbling psychic vibes,
ok, enough about the bread. Why I thought there would be vegan bread is the real question. Why I thought we’d have any food in our mouths within an hour of walking into the restaurant is another question. Why I didn’t have what every vegan always has in their pockets, almonds, is yet another question. (The answer to that one is that I was wearing a very cool dress & it didn’t have pockets BUT STILL. I DUG MY OWN GRAVE HERE PEOPLE.)
So we ordered or rather some people ordered.
I got my typical marg (rocks // salt) & was going to do my New Tricky Restaurant Technique that actually serves me real well: instead of taking the most blah-looking entrée on the menu (this is how you find what’s most vegan, follow the trail of dry unsalted breadcrumbs) and ordering it minus the only things that give it flavor (“Can I get the Chef’s Special Kauai Sautéed Vegetable Medley with Housemade Goat Cheese and Fresh Pasta, minus the goat cheese and with boxed pasta instead? And is that made with butter? Yes, $29 does seem like a good price for that, and no, no substitution is needed for the cheese or homemade pasta, nope I’m fine as is. Just try to make it as dry as possible, OK? Vegans all like really really dry pasta dishes. Oh, and can you just steam the vegetables? Yeah, that would be great. Vegans hate flavor and we’re all trying to cut down on olive oil consumption. Thanks!”)
so my New Technique is to pretend I eat like a person without a heart and look over the entire menu. Vegans! Here’s a secret: if you just elide the meat words, fancy menus have all these fucking nice-looking sides that accompany meat dishes that they can totes veganize for you! So I was about to get a Maui purple potato mash that was supposed to go with a steak with some habanero-yuzu ponzu from a sashimi dish on it, why not, plus sizzled leeks from a beef dish & a decent-sounding salad that probably would just be local spring mix plus wan vinaigrette, but not too too shabby, right? Instead the server told Jacob & I that the chef was “making something special” for us & we were all taken care of.
I wanted to know what it was, and I wanted to know if I should still order a salad, but I thought maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised and so I just enjoyed my marg and Anandhi’s ridiculously cute face running all around terrorizing everyone and a quick 45 minutes or so later out came our special dishes, identical and instantly heartbreaking:
Some mandolined zuke and onion as a special garnish.
I don’t know that it was a romesco sauce. The server called it a pesto, but I make romesco sauce sometimes & it sure tasted like romesco sauce
WHICH IS MADE OF PEPPERS
So we ate
The romesco sauce was real good though, it did have some basil in it, a nice idea, a sort of romesco-pesto combo.
And then a few minutes after bringing out our
OUR $25 ENTREES
ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY NOT LOCAL PEPPERS EITHER SAYS THE GIRL WHO GOES TO SIX FARMER’S MARKETS A WEEK JUST CAUSE OH REMEMBER THAT ONE LADY IN KILAUEA HAS SURINAM CHERRIES SOMETIMES IF SHE REMEMBERS TO PICK THEM? LET’S DRIVE TO KILAUEA OK? AND HAS NEVER SEEN PEPPERS AT ANY OF THEM EXCEPT HOT PEPPERS
He bought out this bowl of roasted oyster mushrooms for us to share, “the chef wanted you to have this.”
How kind of the chef!
Then about halfway through eating our plates of
WITH PEPPER SAUCE
the chef himself came out! Surfah dude for sure, super nice, plainly here to collect praise from the vegans and
you know what I wasn’t about to say anything.
I guess for the sake of veganism I should, but man I was HUNGRY. So I smiled a tight smile when he asked how we liked our special dishes and asked if perhaps I could snag a side of those roasted purple potatoes (dudes, have you had the Okinawan purple potatoes that are all all over the Sandwich Isles? They are the best potatoes you’ve ever had, seriously. INSANE.)?
“Ah, man. Yeah…those have, like, dairy already in them”
Said the man curiously wearing a chef’s jacket with the same name embroidered on it as the name of the executive chef of the restaurant.
I wanted to be all, “Actually potatoes don’t come with dairy already in them, they grow just beneath the surface of the earth, and…” but instead I just literally stared at him in simple disbelief that I was talking to someone who was the executive chef at what is arguably one of the fanciest restaurants at one of the fanciest resorts on the island and he was telling me he didn’t have the capacity to cook me up a potato without dairy. and finally he said, “I mean, I could steam you some? If you wanted.”
“No, thank you, I don’t really want a steamed potato.”
And here I think I need to say that for serious, I am one of the most polite people on the planet in restaurants. I am never snide or snotty. And I wasn’t here, either. I smiled as I said I didn’t want a steamed potato to accompany my
I’m over making scenes. Jacob’s family there & all, had a marg in me & all. Fuck it.
& we declined $8 scoops of the exact same sorbetto (mentioned by name) they sell down the street for $3.50 a cone (not saying restaurants shouldn’t charge more for the convenience, they should, just saying that charging more than double is, well it certainly is something. And I am certainly saying that it’s humiliating for a restaurant of that size and stature not to have a pastry chef and not to be making in-house desserts, yes I am saying that. Am I saying that in 2014 serving a Molten Lava Cake, a popular NYC Jean-George dessert circa late 1980s, is just fucking laughable? Yeah why not, yeah, I’m saying that too.)
Finally, I am at the point of this post.
What The Problem Is
Restaurant chefs of the world!
I think I know What The Problem Is.
I’ve distilled it into three parts:
- Your stupidity
- That you do not care about your own stupidity
- Your heartlessness
1) For that you are stupid is obvious. And that tied to this stupidity is laziness is also so totes obvi. And twinned to these two in as much as something that comes third in a list can properly be “twinned” is that you look so down upon us, us vegans, that you think we will not notice your extreme stupidity and laziness. And it is thusly and justly the combination of these three that has led me here tonight in front of this computer screen to call you out.
It’s getting fucking old, basically.
Like, pick up
I mean, try the Millennium books. Or even, like PURE FOOD & WINE’s book. ANYTHING. Freaking CANDLE CAFE’s books. Obviously the Bloodroot books would be best since they are best at everything, but anything to give you some sort of imagination into what a vegan expects in
will do. Have a little respect, stop making your stupid idiotic jokes about vegans and how stupid we are, and BONE UP.
2) That you do not care about your own stupidity is something far more vexing than your simple stupidity. Part of the reason you do not care is because you think we are beneath caring about. Which leads me to
3) Your heartlessness. I’m not going to get into how loyal vegans are. I’m not going to get into how much we are DYING to spend money in your place. I’m just going to get all my-mom on you (that is to say: typical Jewish mom) and say this: We’re vegan because we don’t want to kill things.
It’s that damn easy.
And you’re just mean to us, is all.
*A lovely British lady emailed me recently, bemoaning the overuse of swears on this here blog. I referred her to the MILLION FUCKING PLACES this blog tells you to go to my profesh blog (& what a scintillating blog it is!) for less swears.
Actually I was mega polite when doing so, as I unfailingly am over email. Sigh.
**If there were blog awards for “Most Usages of Inappropriate Mischaracterizations of Famous Phrases by Sojourner Truth” I would be all over that award. I’d have 50 little lucite trophies scattered all over my desk. I am a great writer!!
***I am cracking myself up tonight! Myself, and no one else, I bet! CRACKING MYSELF UP OMG