December 20, 2011

Off The Menu At Grange in Sacramento

When dining out with a group colleagues, friends or family the minority of vegans in the party will most certainly influence the choice of dining venue. Conscientious restaurant chefs and managers must decide and subsequently define operational policies for accommodating any dietary needs including the needs of vegans and vegetarians. There are just a few logical approaches to this: identify which menu items are vegan; identify which menu items can be prepared vegan; or leave requests for vegan food to the discretion of the chef. Note that I said “chef”, not cook, not manager. That last approach really takes a confident, skilled chef because what ultimately arrives at the diner’s table is truly representative of the chef’s art. Line cooks are adept at quickly assembling standard fare but the chef must personally create his or her art.

I am impressed and appreciative of a restaurant who offers to make a special vegan dishes at the discretion of the chef because it changes what would otherwise be just dining out into an experience of appreciating the chef’s art.

Crostini with roasted red bell pepper; artichoke; and olive tepanade spreads

Crostini with roasted red bell pepper; artichoke; and olive tapenade spreads.

I presented this ultimate chef challenge to Grange Restaurant and Bar inside the historical Citizen Hotel at 10th and J streets in Sacramento, CA. With just a few hours advance notice I called for reservations and spoke directly with the restaurant’s hostess. I asked if any of the entrées on the menu were vegan. She assured me that, while there were no vegan items on the menu the chefs were happy to accommodate any special dietary needs. Okay, I made my reservations. My party of two vegans was greeted warmly and promptly seated at a comfortable candle lit table for two. Our server acknowledged immediately that we were vegan, saving us the sometimes awkward process of categorizing ourselves. We expressed an interest in some red wine and were presented the bottles so we could determine ourselves the compatibility of with our dietary requirements.  We were asked if we would like to speak with the chef regarding what he might have in store to satiate our picky, I mean discerning, pallets. Chef John Longacre came to our table and described in some detail the ingredients and possible preparation scenarios. While he was understandably busy he did not seem rushed and really took the time to make sure we would be informed and comfortable with our anticipated meal. While we waited for our appetizer we enjoyed some sliced sourdough and rye with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The appetizer was crunchy crostini with three spreads: olive tapenade, artichoke and roasted red bell pepper – all delicious with distinctly different flavors. Our entrée was beautifully presented personally by the chef. I’m not sure of all the ingredients here but it contained diced winter squash, potatoes, young broccoli, onion and marinated and sautéed wild mushrooms. The main ingredients were arranged contiguously yet unmixed, allowing the diner to sample each independently or customize each bite on the fork. Flanking all this were refreshing bites of a citrusy julienned zucchini salad.

Chef's Special at Grange in Sacramento

Chef’s Special at Grange in Sacramento

It should be noted that plant based fried ingredients are cooked in a fryer used exclusively for non-animal products. This is very important for vegans and shows great diligence and conscientiousness on the part of the chef.

The food at Grange was extraordinary. They did everything right. They set the example of what the vegan dining public should expect from a higher end restaurant. Expect to pay premium prices for service and food quality at this level but if you choose to dine at the finer restaurants which may not seem to meet your vegan dining requirement, please talk to the staff, the manager or the chef. Many of the best chef’s enjoy such a challenge because it allows them to work their craft and showcase their talents. Be sure to let them know how appreciated it is.