Viva la Vegan

Our food critic goes two weeks on a strict diet, and lives to share some fabulous dishes

Veganism—the other other white meat substitute.

It’s a little easier when you live in a community with three Whole Foods Markets that have giant salad bars, places like the Go Raw Café where the entire menu is vegan, and have a wife from Nepal, a country where the staple of the diet is dalbaat, rice with spiced lentil gravy.

But it’s a lot harder than being just vegetarian. A true vegan goes far beyond not eating meat. Vegans do not eat butter, cheese or products from any animal, or eat things produced in a facility processing them. They don’t wear or use leather, or animal by-products. There are other restrictions as well that I simply don’t have space to cover.

When I scoffed at the almost religious aspects of this discipline, I got angry responses from practitioners about chickens suffering during the laying of eggs, and so forth. I am definitely against factory farming, supportive of farmers markets, and painfully aware that a vegan diet lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.

Nor am I proud of my Sasquatch-size carbon footprint.

My first two days were easy. I started out eating Fuji apples and Chipotle Pistachios from Gone Nuts, available in the Raw Food section at Whole Foods in Town Square. I also ate lots of my wife’s dalbaat.

On the third morning, I had pangs of hunger, assuaged with seven-grain sourdough bread and Marketa fig jam, sold at the Cosmopolitan. I also became hooked on tamari soy pumpkin seeds, which I ate obsessively almost every day during the two-week period.

Day 4 at the Go Raw Café (2910 Lake East Dr. and 2381 E. Windmill Lane) I ate tasty nut loaf and “fries” made from sliced avocado, then dalbaat for dinner, a huge bowl full. I’d inadvertently broken the diet that morning at the gym, by eating one of those protein bars. After I ate it, I saw that it contained trace amounts of milk solids.

Two days later, while eating a grilled veggie burrito at a place called 100 Percent Natural on South Eastern Avenue, I was told there was chicken broth in the rice. Into the trash it went. I got real careful after that. I’m going to master this thing yet, I vowed.

A wonderful lunch followed at the Wicked Spoon, the innovative buffet at the Cosmopolitan. This is a vegan’s dream with dozens of options from farro tabbouleh with pine nuts to fresh broccoli rabe, plus amazing sorbets for dessert.

During Week 2, I went to the Wynn, where there are vegan dishes on every restaurant menu. Botero’s Mark LoRusso does muffaletta sliders using portabella mushrooms filled with olive relish, and a tofu avocado Napoleon—both amazing.

At Wazuzu, Jet Tila’s pan-Asian restaurant, the vegan menu is huge. I chose vegan crunch roll, sushi rice coated with Japanese rice cracker, stuffed with asparagus and green beans and served with soy dipping sauce and fresh grated wasabi.

I also tried four vegan pastas at Bartolotta, my favorite being rigatoni with fried eggplant, and the terrific polenta at SW Steakhouse, topped with steak-like grilled trumpet mushrooms. Dessert, vegan carrot cake at Lakeside Grill, came topped with a rich, thick soy-based frosting.

Hmmm. It’s even easier to be vegan, when you have a bunch of world-class chefs to cook for you, like Mr. Wynn has.

Most of the time, though, I ate dalbaat, sesame broccoli, beans and stuffed vine leaves from the Whole Foods salad bar and pined away for fried chicken, pepperoni pizza and coffee ice cream. I had cappuccinos made with almond milk at Sunrise Coffee Co. at 3130 Sunset Road., and dreamed I was a male model, in one of those Calvin Klein ads.

In the end, I lost eight pounds, and felt better than I had in a long time. Tonight, however, I’m having a nice, juicy steak.