Saturday, August 28, 2010

Johnny Chih's, Westhampton Beach, NY

You think it's going to be easy because you've had a run of good luck eating in restaurants. You think maybe you've turned the corner on this vegan thing because you haven't been offered plates of veggies with grill marks.

Here's a smack in your face.

During a trip, (see some awesome pics on my facebook page), we needed a reasonably quick lunch and ended up pulling up next to Johnny Chih's in Westhampton, NY. Apparently my buddy was told this was an institution. I figured chinese food is easy for me. Easy for anyone.

It's a small restaurant that reminded me of the old restaurants I used to go to as a kid sometimes, with my mom, for lunch on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. White tablecloths, napkins rolled up in the tea cups, and you could get chopsticks if you asked. Very un-chic but perhaps the equivalent, in terms of comfort food, of todays Cracker Barrel. You got your egg rolls, your chow mein and noodles and fried rice.

I was relieved to see the menu broken down into protein section and was going to hit the Buddha's Delight when my taste buds said no no, there's more to life than veggies, and zeroed in on the Ma Po Tofu.  Now this is one of my all time favorite dishes.  It's listed in every single chinese restaurant under Vegetables but is traditionally made with pork.  Even though I don't as a rule enjoy omission dishes, this is the exception. OK, dumplings and tofu.  I'm golden.  Ah, of course there's no brown rice.  What was I thinking?

I ask my usual litany of questions and make my usual statements.  I'm a vegan, I don't eat any meat, fish, chicken or anything made with them.  I ask about the dumplings.  Veggies only.  I ask for the tofu, no pork.  No chicken stock right?  Right.
Look how thick that dough is.

The dumplings are thick.  That's the word that comes to mind.  Thick and glutenous, not delicate but hearty if a word had to be picked.  There wasn't a ton of flavor but the dipping sauce and chili oil, duck sauce and mustard somehow allowed them to all to easily slide down my throat.

The Ma Po Tofu comes and it looks great if very much on the white side but those are hearty sized cubes of tofu, I must say.
I see flecks of pepper and I'm psyched.  I put crispy fried noodles, white rice on a plate, (just in case I haven't had my quota of white nutrition-less food this month),  dump a couple of spoonfuls of tofu on top, stir it all around to make the noodles mushycrunchy and start to shovel away.  I love this kind of stuff your face eating.  Not cutting, no pausing, no chewing.  Shovel, shmoosh, swallow. Repeat.

But there's something I taste that I'm not sure of.  I call the waiter over and ask.  He's not sure.  I guess his dad comes over.  I think he smells like cigarettes but he answers that they're not sure.  Half a minute later they come back.  Yes, it was made with chicken stock but it was only the bones that were used to make the stock, no meat.

I take my plate and dump it back into the serving plate and I'm sure the look of disgust said it all.

Now I'm with a work associate and I'm caught between making a hugh scene or just handling this calmly.  I can't go flying into a rage every time someone either chooses to ignore or just doesn't think it through or just doesn't really really know and makes an honest mistake with our 3% of the population...or can I.  I am served a fresh bowl of tofu.  It has distinctively less flavor so I'm reasonably certain it is all veg.  It's 12:30 and I'm not going to finish my day or have another opportunity to eat anything nutritious until around 7pm, (that's 1900 for you aviation aficionados), so I chow down on my new veganized dish trying to keep the steam I feel under control.

What really ticked me off is the owner, the older gentleman, came up and started to talk to me about why I was a vegetarian and actually stated that most vegetarians that come in there do it for health and don't mind the chicken stock because it's only made with the bones.

Family and friends have to put up with my tirades but my business associates already think my foodal needs are a pain in the ass so I figuratively bit my tongue and made a note to write this review.

You don't have to eat the way I eat.  You don't even have to understand the reasons why I eat the way I eat but if I'm paying you for food preparation you better serve me what I want the way I want it if you take my order. I'd rather you just told me you can't do it than try and slip one by me.


Ali - YumVeggieBurger said...

wow, that's horrible!
and for them to make your already awful experience worse by criticizing you and comparing you to other "vegetarians" who don't mind chicken stock... EW! I would have completely lost it at that point. You must have the most amazing amount of self-restraint.

sorry this had to happen to you - thanks for warning everyone about this place though! :(

scotlandprincess said...

I've worked in customer service a while, so I understand where food servers are coming from when they feel frustrated by vegetarians and vegans. But, that said, that's no excuse for the way you were treated and they should know there's a growing number of vegans/vegetarians and we can indeed take our money to establishments that respect us. And we will, and it's the only way they'll take any notice.

Marty said...

Thanks for your words of encouragement. I believe in voting very strongly with my money and although I'm not sure of how many people are getting these blogposts I can only hope that someone says something. I don't really think they care if 3% of their customers, (the current estimate of the vegan population) don't ever come back. They're the only game in town and people like that ... oh man I just hate this word but it fits ... are supercilious.

I just hope that 3% of us have the veto vote and we can add another 10% to that because in this economy, nobody wants to be down 13%.

The funny thing is, if I had ordered the Buddah's Delight I probably would have had a pretty good experience and this attitude of not caring would have never come out. Yet they have a sign on their door, "Gluten Free" so hopefully no Celiacs have started vomiting in their dining room and they stay away too.

I'm ranting now. Off soapbox. Nite all.