Where’s the veg?
I’m no vegetarian (actually wary of them), but I eat greens every day. Radishes, cucumbers and tomatoes too. Always another vegetable or two – fennel, salicorne, broccoli, eggplant; there isn’t a vegetable I don’t love.. At this time of year, it’s gorging time, I am way beyond the Canadian food guide. But even year round, this is my minimum. Not because I’m on some diet, purely for gustatory reasons. Because my body craves it. At least Five Veg a day, plus fruit in the morning. People don’t believe me, but it is true – every day.
Luckily I have a steady source for quality produce and a fruit&vegetable loving partner all in one package (once a farmer, now mostly a forager with the best farmer contacts). Not only can he find edibles in the woods, he has a magical green thumb, and he will scour the market for the ripest, healthiest specimens be it tomatoes, herbs or kohlrabi. He can sniff out the best melon, better than any chef.
Every night that we eat together, we start with the same salad – Tomatoes, Radishes, Cucumber, scallions, fresh Cheese, anchovy stuffed green Olives with a generous drizzle of good olive oil and a smaller drizzle of chilli oil (both Pettinicchi), a splash of 12yr balsamic, and a green salad on the side. Sometimes, we add endive, wild greens, a new arrival depending on the season, but the TRCFO backbone is religion. Then we move on to fish, pintade, onglet, moose or some good meat (200g or so for two) and another side or two of cooked veg – asparagus in spring, corn in summer, cauliflower, string beans, sea spinach etc., always cooked simply with a bit of butter or olive oil, salt and pepper. I make a point of having an accompaniment such as rice, potatoes or polenta too - something to compliment the meat and sop up the sauce. François could do without both but I need my sauce and starch; the protein is like seasoning – essential but bonus. Regardless. In our home, salad and vegetables come first. On the nights after service when I eat solo, it’s the same salad, the same pattern. No matter how late it is, no matter what happened that day, it is my one simple extravagance - a good, balanced meal with a glass of wine; my reward, a comforting ‘period’ at the end of my day.
Living the country life with a small business, I don’t get out all that much, but when I do, I can’t help but notice that I almost always come back from dinner craving a salad. I’ve had many great meals in Montreal fine dining restaurants and bistros (more often these days it’s somewhere in-between) - often super tasty, inspired and enjoyable.. But seriously, amidst the large chunks of protein and fat laden delectable, carb rich sides, I find myself asking, where are the veg? Stellar wines, professional service, neat artwork, spectacular dishes and tricks up the ying-yang, so much thought put into every detail.. But where are the veg? It’s summer! A smear of root purée and a baby carrot, a few micro-greens, that’s it? No salads without beets and goat cheese, poached eggs or pork belly on the menu? If you’re local and seasonal (as everyone claims to be), for god sake, serve up some greens and vegetables in summer beyond a pretty garnish!
Maybe it is just me/us who is weird.. Maybe customers don’t want too much veg - that they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth with the big slab of meat. I can’t help but think of Les Chevres (which I thought was fabulous), but caused a stir back in the day with its veg driven menu.
I can say that I had a couple of refreshing meals recently, at Inferno and at Tuck shop, in that I didn’t rush home to eat a salad immediately. At Inferno, the salads and entrées were lively, loaded with fresh herbs, crisp radishes, zucchini, tomato, greens.. At Tuck shop, there were D’Avignon radishes with my tartare, fresh peas and corn in my Lobster salad, there was a hearty green salad that came with beans and more veg in the mélange. Like in other Montreal hotspots, the main courses are meat hefty; I’ve learnt that if I order enough appetizers, I am more likely to get my veg fix.
I realize that all Chefs should be true to themselves, serving it up however they want, and there is room for all kinds of restaurants, menus and markets. I love Martin Picard for doing his thing, even if I’m not dying to eat there on a regular basis. I also understand that most restaurateurs are going to play it safe and cater to the majority, who apparently are impressed with ridiculous portions in general, with more meat and pasta as opposed to veg. Personally, this is one trend that I hate. That makes me less inclined to go out to eat.
It makes no sense anyway. Everyone should be eating more local, fresh produce and less meat in general. Who needs such a heaping plate of anything. Quality over quantity. If you’re sourcing top quality natural meat, or even little veg from a farmer you know or you’re growing your own, making homemade bread and fries, you can’t/won’t overdo it, you won’t be piling it high without the customer balking at the price. Not to mention that less goes into the garbage in this scenario. Customers might actually wake up and value the good stuff if conscious and paying for it, encouraging restaurateurs to put more emphasis where it counts without them having to cut into their bottom line.. It’s all about relocating.. Everyone is so scared to take the big steak off the menu and buy a carcass to serve up more creative dishes in smaller portions, to spend more on local, fresh veg and serve up more veg. It all comes down to the customer wanting it.
It can’t only be me.