Yesterday was my birthday (happy birthday to me!) and bf offered to take me to dinner wherever I wanted to go. Now, bf is very far from vegan and there are only 3 or 4 restaurants that we both like and visit regularly. I wanted to go somewhere we didn’t normally go, somewhere a little nicer than our standard Mexican or Chinese joint. I perused the restaurant rankings at tripadvisor.com (some of which are a little surprising) and was reminded of Amelia’s, a nice Italian place downtown that I went to once about 8 or 9 years ago, before I was vegetarian. All I really remember was an amazing mushroom appetizer and that the prices were a teensy bit higher than we wanted to pay as college students.
You sometimes hear about vegans going to nicer restaurants whose menus aren’t vegan friendly and asking what the chef can do for them. Of course, this approach will produce varied success. Last October we ate at a restaurant in Disney Land (the one right next to Pirates, can’t recall the name) and we had previously informed them about my situation. Disney is pretty good about that stuff, especially at the nicer places. The chef came out and spoke to me about what she could do and actually seemed a little excited. It was really nice to be catered to, but to be honest in the end the meal was just okay flavor-wise. The food was abundant at least, I had a HUGE spinach salad with warm lemon shallot vinaigrette (the warm dressing on the spinach wilted it a bit and that was really nice, but the shallots were overpowering), some relatively bland but edible couscous, and a plate of broccoli rabe and white asparagus. I’d always wanted to try those two vegetables but never had a chance, so that ended up being the highlight of the meal. The chef came out while we were eating to make sure everything was okay, and when I mentioned this she brought me more of each! Overall, I left full and really don’t mind being a chef’s guinea pig as long as the food is decent. If nothing else maybe I put it in her mind that it is possible to make meals without animal products.
Back to the story at hand – I wanted to call Amelia’s to see what they could offer me, as they already had a vegetarian section on the menu and I didn’t see why they wouldn’t be able to accommodate, but I kept chickening out and coming up with reasons not to call. (Side note – I used to be terrified of calling business or people I didn’t know. I would not do it. I would not call a store to see when their hours were and always made someone else do it. Four years of working in phone based customer service cured that pretty well.) I think subconsciously I didn’t want to ask for special treatment. I try not to make a huge deal out of my veganism or draw unnecessary attention to it, so asking to be catered to was making me feel uncomfortable. I mentioned this to bf, and he sweetly offered to call for me. Call he did, and he spoke to the chef/owner who not only knew what vegan meant, he also knew that most wines aren’t vegan, said he could definitely make me a meal, and even offered to order things they didn’t have on hand if I wanted something special. I pretty much gave him license to do whatever he wanted, as he seemed to be knowledgeable on the subject.
The meal started with a bread basket containing both standard French bread and a sun-dried tomato bread, both of which I could eat. The tomato bread was a little dry, but dipped in oil & vinegar it was really nice. We ordered a bottle of wine to share. The waiter did the ceremonious opening and cork presenting, then poured just a teensy bit in my glass. Then stopped. I looked at it, wondering “is that all I get?” and then bf mentioned that I should taste it. Doh! I’m not used to dining at fancy places. It tasted fine, and the waiter kept refilling our glasses before they were empty so that it was really hard to tell how much I’d had. We also ordered bruschetta, half without parmesan for me, and that was really nice and fresh. Our meals came with salad, and the waiter was concerned that their house vinaigrette had cheese in it. He offered to bring it out dry, and I asked for oil & vinegar. I thought it was funny that he didn’t consider that option. The salads had a marinated mushroom and carrot piece, and bf thought it odd that I cut each in two pieces. It’s so I can enjoy the flavor with two bites!
When the entrees came out I realized I forgot to bring my camera. It’s my instinct now when I see pretty food to photograph it. Thank goodness for the camera phone in times of need.
We’ve got mushrooms with garlic, thinly sliced potato with leeks, and broccoli. I think the mushrooms and broccoli are regular preparations the chef does and he just left out the butter. I don’t see how they could’ve tasted any better with butter because all of the flavors were really great. The potatoes were crispy at the edges, and I had unbelievably never had leeks before! I now love leeks, and hope to put them in many things. I thought the broccoli was going to be plain as steamed broccoli usually is, but to my delight it was very flavorful. I think it was cooked in a large amount of white wine, as it was extremely acidic but not so much that it was off-putting.
The moral of the story is: Don’t be afraid to ask! Also, if you’re in Gainesville and you want a nice meal and don’t mind spending a little bit of cash (or if your significant other is paying), give Andy at Amelia’s a call and he will be happy to accommodate you.