How many times have you witnessed the subtle protrusion of the tongue accompanied by the
“phffttt” sound or watched someone’s eyes roll back when you mentioned that a certain dish was
meatless? Descriptions such as rabbit food, cardboard, tofu and Euell Gibbons have all been
unjustly applied to cuisine lacking in animal flesh.
Most uninformed diners simply assume that unless a dish contains animal parts (for lack of a
better term), they may as well be eating plain steamed broccoli. For the record, your four basic
taste sensations – sweet, salty, bitter and sour (five if you count umani) can all be experienced in
the vegetable kingdom. Therefore, just as you find delectable dishes in the “meat” world, so too
can you find it in the “meatless”.
Levels of Vegetarianism
For the uninitiated, here are some basic vegetarian definitions.
A vegan is someone who consumes absolutely no animal products regardless if there’s no actual
animal flesh in the product. Therefore, a dish with dairy cheese, eggs or chicken stock is not
appropriate for a vegan. Why it’s pronounced like Vee-gun or Veh-gun is beyond me. Since
vehjetables are the foundation of the diet, I always thought it should be Vehj-ahn. Anyway,
lacto-ovo vegetarians do consume non-flesh dairy products and unfertilized eggs. Finally, the
pseudo-vegetarian class includes those who consume “faceless” cuisine, fish and chicken but no
“red meat” and most Chinese restaurant vegetarian cuisine, which usually includes animal stocks.
The pseudo groups aren’t truly vegetarian.
For the Record
If you’re concerned that you might start looking like those sickly-looking hippie-types associated
with vegetarianism…relax. Some of the best athletes in history were vegetarian. Last time I
checked, Martina Navratilova still held the tennis record with 167 singles titles and 165 doubles
titles. Her tennis comrades Billie Jean King and Chris Evert are also vegetarian, I hear. Thomas
Hellriegel didn’t need meat to power him to a 1997 Kona Ironman Title. And Bill Walton didn’t
win those NBA championships with burgers.
Vegetables contain almost all of the minerals, vitamins and protein that meat has. About the
only nutrient that may be in short supply is vitamin B12 – which you can easily get with a B-
The one thing that is missing from vegan cuisine is cholesterol. Zip, nada, none – which should
please your cardiologist. Simply balancing various protein sources – bean, wheat, rice and seeds
along with a mixture of the root, leaf and stalk vegetables – gives you complete nutrition…along
with a lot of taste sensations and flavor.
A Taste of ‘Fleshless’ Cuisine
To help convert you to meatless or just simply explore “fleshless” cuisine, I heartily endorse
Millennium Restaurant. Located at Geary and Jones in the Savoy Hotel, it features vegetable-
based dishes, soy protein-based dishes and everything in between.
During a recent visit, we had the Plantain Torte – sautéed cooking bananas layered with tomato
sauce and a cilantro-tofu dressing enclosed in whole wheat tortillas then baked and served with a
tropical fruit salsa and red pepper sauce. We also indulged in Sauté of Exotic Mushrooms –
shiitake, portabello and chanterelle, roasted with garlic to intensify the flavors then sautéed with
olive oil. The former would be expected at a vegetarian restaurant, the latter might also be found
as a side dish at a steakhouse.
Entrees included the Seitan Marsala and Asian Udon Cake. Seitan is a wheat protein-based meat
substitute that like tofu doesn’t really have a flavor of its own but takes on the flavors of
ingredients added to it. In its unprocessed form it’s also known as gluten. Unlike tofu, it does have
a meat-like consistency – not like a New York strip steak, but more like a cold cut consistency.
Millennium combines sautéed seitan with a rich rosemary marsala sauce along with crimini and
shiitake mushrooms served with mashed potatoes and multiple baby root vegetables. The Asian
Udon Cake featured a seared udon? Cake (actually looked more like linguini) served with assorted
stir-fried vegetables, mushrooms and squash over a coconut curry sauce.
An added bonus is their wine selections, which feature several 2 ounce flights of wines – whites,
light reds, full body reds, etc. Their wine list alone rivals those found in non-vegetarian
For dessert we tried the Chocolate Peppermint Roll and the Bananas Flambé. The former being a
minted version of your Yule Log and the latter playing off of Bananas Foster minus the butter. My
only complaint is that I would have preferred the bananas with a bit more texture. They were
sautéed to the point of Gerber 1st Foods though the banana sorbet was as good as any real ice
cream. Just how they produce desserts without any dairy or eggs is beyond me.
If you prefer simply looking at vegetarian cuisine before actually taking the plunge, the
Millennium Restaurant does have an attractive cookbook available in most bookstores. It does
have a Hawai’i connection in co-author John Westerdahl, MPH, RD, CNS, director of health
promotion and nutritional services at the newly completed Castle Medical Center Wellness Center
in Kailua, Hawai’i. Though why someone would simply just want to look at vegetarian food
instead of eat it is again, beyond me.
580 Geary Street at the corner of Geary and Jones
5 to 10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.
5 to 11 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
Meatless But Not Tasteless