Salisbury Steak

From the Dining Critic's Notebook

Consider the Vegan Restaurant

At places like V-Eats and Spiral Diner everything is vegan, even the banquettes.

A recent phone interview with chef Troy Gardner of V-Eats Modern Vegan in Trinity Groves reminded me of what a complicated process animal-product side-stepping can be.

Of course you expect gleeful animal-shunning in the menu. At V-Eats, the eye-catching Salisbury steak is seitan. Vegan Worchestire sauce gets umami power from a combination of chickpea-based miso and the soy amino acid liquid, Braggs. A blue cheese alternative derives its color from spirulina and a pungent punch from fermented rice and quinoa. A substitute “egg wash” of flax seed and silken tofu adheres the crust to the chicken-fried chicken-that-isn’t (it’s breadfruit).

You assume the chefs wear no leather. No one shows up in furs.

But consider, too, that a 100-percent vegan restaurant means all products are vegan, and that includes the paint on the walls and the material covering the banquettes. Gardner describes as “eye-opening” the meeting in which he had to sit down and discuss with the folks at Trinity Groves what this would mean. Education is an endless task.

At vegan mainstay Spiral Diner, the same holds true. When they retro-fitted several years ago, owner Sara Hicks ushered in all-vegan elements, from paint to cleaning supplies. All their contractors are aware of their imperatives.

Meanwhile, for Gardner, one of the greatest challenges was putting together the vegan wine list. And this is where you hate me for sending you places no wine-lover wants to go. Because it’s all fun and games until someone brings up the fish bladder. But the process of filtering wine traditionally relies on animal products like isinglass (that’s the fish swim bladder), albumen (egg white), gelatin, or casein (a milk protein). These bind to impurities to clarify the wine, similar to the way you might use egg white to clarify a consomme. (Guinness drinkers, isinglass is apparently in your stars, too.)

Just know that when you scan the wine list at V-Eats, those Old World and New World wines were painstakingly assembled … and no fish bladders were involved. Nor did any creatures give up parts of themselves to become any part of anything between floor, ceiling, and walls.