Monday, August 31, 2009

A vegan meal at Ralph's at the Park... I suppose stranger things have happened?

As you may know, my fiance and I spent the week of August 17 in New Orleans. As you also may know, New Orleans is not known for its plethora of vegetarian restaurants. While it does have an up and coming veg community, it has only one veg restaurant, and that one happened to be on vacation the week we were in town! What is a vacationing vegan couple to do?

Well, as we all know vegans can eat well anywhere with just a smidge of determination. It's only the odd steakhouse that truly has nothing on the menu for a vegan, and even when dragged to such an establishment by family members or the like we can still usually get some decent french fries. Luckily, New Orleans actually does have many restaurants with great vegan options - Middle Eastern places like Mona's, Medditeranean cafes that serve a variety of roasted vegetable sandwiches and pastas, Japanese restaurants with the standard vegetable sushis and tempuras, and Thai sit-downs that are happy to leave the egg out of the noodle plates and are clear about which dishes contain fish sauce. There's even a Vietnamese place on the Westbank called Pho Tau Bay that has a vegetarian section on the menu - and it's truly awesome.

But the most remarkable meal we had during our week in NOLA came from a quite unexpected source. We've been questioning Ralph's on the Park, a fairly upscale establishment across the street from the main entrance to City Park (hence the name), for a couple of months now regarding the possibility of getting them to serve our wedding party a veg brunch after the ceremony. The ceremony is, of course, happening in City Park just steps from Ralph's, so it would be wildly convenient. Unfortunately they specialize in seafood and things like roast pork, so we feared that asking them to do a vegan meal for fourteen people might be a bit of a stretch.

Well, Friday morning we had a semi-impromptu meeting to see the room they could give us and to maybe discuss potential menus. But since the woman we've been speaking with wasn't in town (everyone leaves NO in August), there weren't any potential menus. The room was lovely though, and the girl helping us was sweet. So we asked if, maybe, could the chef do something for us for lunch right then and there?

Well, our helper was slightly taken aback. But she spoke with the kitchen staff, who took it as a challenge no doubt. And as any vegan knows, it's just not that hard to create a vegan meal when you've already got a fully staffed and stocked kitchen. It took them a minute, but the meal we were served was incredible.

Appetizer: Watermelon and mango tartar, lightly seasoned with herbs and garlic. It was amazing! The fruit was still light and crisp, and their flavors were only enhanced by the preparation.

Main course: Creole tomato in a tomato basil chutney, lemon infused cous cous in a lightly grilled vadalia onion ring, and - la piece de resistance - lightly breaded and fried domestic and wild mushrooms including shitakes, oysters, and chantarelles. For a place that doesn't have even a singe vegetarian appetizer on its menu, this was a fairly astounding plate to receive.

The chef came out to present the meal when it was ready, and came out again to see how we liked it. Naturally we showered him with appreciation. After all, when someone goes out of his way to create such a deluxe vegan meal, he should be praised! Mayhaps they'll figure out that it's just not so hard - that you don't have to mess around with any tofu or mock meats to create a great vegan meal and get some veg options on your menu.

Friday was our last day in the city, and this experience was such a great way to leave off. The moral of the story? Ask for what you want! You might just get it, and someone might learn something valuable in the process.

Until next Monday,

Melissa Bastian

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