On Monday night the hubby and I headed off to Oz Kafe in Ottawa to support a chef’s tasting dinner featuring vegan dishes. The restaurant was cozy, arty and comfy, with white tablecloths and small candles on each table. The servers were attentive (perhaps a bit too attentive, in fact) and very nice. We were shown to our table at the rear of the restaurant in the “table for two” section, and it was lovely.The menu was for evening was presented to us, and we were asked if we had any allergies, or if we were vegan. The only non-vegan item on the list was egg, so removing it for us posed no problem. It all looked very interesting. I ordered a nice hot cup of tea to go with it (although, sadly, it wasn’t very hot) and Alan ordered a beer. He loves it when I say I’ll be the designated driver when we go out for dinner. Another couple sat down 2 tables away and were given the menu for the evening. The woman looked at it, turned it over and looked on the back, obviously searching for something extra. She looked at the front again. “Where’s the meat?” she asked the server. “I don’t see any meat on here. But it all comes with meat, doesn’t it?”. The waitress shook her head and looked surprised. “No, it’s a vegetarian tasting dinner, but it can be made vegan if you prefer.” The woman did NOT prefer vegan. She told her partner to get up – they had to leave. “I can’t stay here and eat a dinner with no meat!” she cried. “I didn’t know there was NO MEAT!. We have to go.” And they left. I know some people feel uncomfortable when they go out for dinner and have to become “that person”. You know the one I mean. The one who can’t eat this and can’t eat that. The one who draws attention even though they would rather be hiding under the table. They’re usually vegan, vegetarian, allergic to something or intolerant to gluten. Some restaurants are happy to be accommodating – after all, it’s their job to feed customers. Some restaurants are rude and unpleasant, making the customer feel like they are being a problem. Having watched the meat-lady in action yesterday, I want to encourage everyone who has strayed from the standard diet to hold your head up high when you go out for dinner. She wasn’t ashamed to declare “I love to eat slaughtered animals” in a restaurant full of veg#ns. Why should those of us who have chosen, or have had restrictions forced on us by our bodies, a different diet be made to feel embarrassed about it in public? I know it drives my son mad when he asks for a gluten free menu and is immediately asked “Are you celiac?”. It’s nobody’s business but his own why he can’t eat gluten. My personal beef (play on words here) is with servers who roll their eyes when I ask for something without meat products, egg or dairy. There are so many things I want to say (mostly “Did you just roll your eyes at me??”) but don’t. I admit I get a bit cheesed off (or should that be non-dairy-cheezed off?) when I’m assured that something is vegan, but it turns out to be a gluten free item stuffed with dairy. Sigh. Anyway – back to the land of Oz. The appetizer was a fabulous piece of mushroom on top of shaved sweet potato (?) arranged on a baked gluten-free flat bread. It was crunchy, and it was chewy. It was a good start! Next came the salad which was, to be honest, disappointing. The kimchee didn’t have that “very fermented” taste and smell which makes it…kimchee. The white radish was watery, and everything tasted pretty much the same. It took Alan a surprisingly long time to work out that he was eating bits of cauliflower, and he hates cauliflower with a passion. There were a few slices of Granny Smith apple tucked away amongst the veggies, adding a bit of contrast, but otherwise it was kinda meh.
The main course was forbidden rice with soy 3 ways, although technically it was 4 ways. Tofu, fried yuba, cold edamame and miso dressing. Miso is made from soy. It was nicely presented, but neither of us liked the texture of the forbidden rice and left most of it sitting in the dish. It was all covered in the dressing making it taste a bit flat – it felt like there was something missing – as indeed there was. The vegetarian option had a poached egg on top, which probably gave the dish a bit more depth. Dessert arrived next. As mentioned in previous blogs, I’m not a dessert person. So it must mean something when I ate all of the sweet potato pie and declared it to be good. It was sugar free, so maybe that was why I liked it. Perhaps “dessert” people didn’t enjoy it as much? Both Alan and I scraped off the coconut cream, since neither of us particularly like coconut. Tonight will be another soy dinner, but cooked at home and eaten in front of the TV – Tofu with Bok Choy. I’ll be serving it with steamed short grain rice instead of forbidden rice. And there won’t be any dessert.
Shiitake mushrooms are fabulously earthy and chewy. Soak in warm water for 30 minutes before using.
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 4 tbsp sesame oil
- 800g / 1 ¾ lb firm tofu, cubed
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 8 baby bok choy, broken into individual stalks
- 225g / 8 oz / 1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
- ¼ cup soya sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- ½ tsp crushed dried red chilli flakes
- ¼ cup crunchy peanut butter
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce (check the ingredients and make sure it’s vegan)
- 1 tbsp soya sauce
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- To make the sauce, heat the oil in a small pan and add the garlic and chillies. Cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes then stir in the peanut butter, coconut milk, hoisin sauce, soya sauce and brown sugar. Cover and leave over a very low heat while you cook the vegetables.
- To make the tofu: Squeeze the water out of the mushrooms, cut into thin slices and pat dry.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the tofu. Fry over a high heat for 3 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove the tofu and drain on kitchen paper.
- Add the onion to the pan and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes or until golden brown, adding more oil if needed. Stir in the water chestnuts, mushrooms, soya sauce and sugar.
- Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the bok choy to the sauce. Cover and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes or until the bok choy is soft. Serve with rice or noodles.
I’m really happy that Alan and I went to support the vegan event. Chefs should be encouraged to push their boundaries and cook up tasty food for non-meat diners. I enjoyed the experience at Oz Kafe, and I enjoyed the food despite my grumblings. But, to be completely honest, I know I’ll enjoy tonight’s dinner more. But I like going out, and I like trying new things, so if Oz Kafe has another vegan night I’ll go back. But next time I’ll be the one with the beer.
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