I have always maintained that this blog was dedicated to making your dining out experience as pain free as possible. And last night, that mission was put to the test. It’s all well and good if you can be the one who makes the reservation (so you can inform the desk of the vegan in the group) or if you have any hand in choosing the place to eat, but in the real world, we all know that’s not how things happen. Such is the case with last night’s outing.
I give you: Luxe Sunset Blvd Hotel
We were getting together with two other couples for a night out; our ages span almost 40 years! To say that we have varying tastes, expectations and needs is an understatement. We were not involved with the restaurant choice, and although I had almost a week to research the place, I failed miserably at that task. How many of us are in the car when we realize that one little thing we should do the second we get home only to walk in the door and be assailed by a million other household chores that don’t involve sitting at the computer?
Last night, the 405 was eerily devoid of traffic, so unlike most visits with these friends, we were actually the first to arrive. This, I figured, was a great turn of events. I could speak to the staff before the others arrived and wouldn’t have to make a spectacle of myself whatsoever. We were seated and our server took our drink order. I then informed him that I was vegan and that I noticed there were quite a few vegetarian items on the menu, perhaps something could be made vegan from an existing dish? And his response is what made my heart sink just a few inches short of my toes. It wasn’t the normal “no problem, the chef can do something for you.” It was more along the lines of “did you have something in particular you wanted?” He wasn’t condescending, not at all, just seemed a bit confused as to what vegan means. I explained that along with no meat, I don’t eat any dairy. I revised my expectations when I realized I may not be getting a completely dairy free meal. I just told him that I would leave the meal planning to the chef.
Looking around the restaurant, there was only one other table seated besides us (and they were still waiting on drinks to arrive), no one waiting at the door, it was completely empty in there. I figured it shouldn’t be a problem, kitchen isn’t busy at this point, I should hear back soon before the others get there. No. The rest of our party arrived and we spent a great long time (maybe close to an hour?) catching up, drinking drinks before we finally called the server over to take our order.
One of the women in our group is a lacto-vegetarian, and happily ordered the “On Sunset” Organic Chopped Salad. With much nostalgia, I remembered how easy it was to be lacto-veg but I also remembered that this exact scenario was why I started this blog in the first place. When it was my turn to order the server looked at me like we had never even met and definitely like we had never spoken about the vegan thing. He actually said to me, “And for you?” Oh…kay? Again, not wanting to make a scene in front of everyone (they all know I’m vegan, and in fact are full of questions and comments regarding this blog) I just asked politely if the chef had any suggestions when he spoke to him. Nothing. Blank. He then goes on to tell me that they could make a fish dish for me, and I nearly laughed. I may not have laughed, but the vegetarian chuckled under her breath.
I was so tired of this whole thing by this point, I just said bring me some pasta with some vegetables. He asked if I wanted marinara sauce on it, and so I had to ask “is there cheese, any dairy in it?” and he responded with no, but he’d tell them to put it on the side. Fine, if that’s about as good as I’m gonna get. I had actually planned on trying the Gazpacho, but having to perform all this dentistry on this guy left me exhausted and disinterested.
While we wait for the dinner paragraphs to arrive, I must point out the two things that shined very bright: the mojito and the olive tapenade. My glass of Pinot Noir was not so great. It clearly had been open for a long time, so all the liveliness and personality had long faded. The only thing that saved it was eating a schmear of tapenade on an Italian bread slice before sipping the wine. On the other hand, Friand ordered himself a mojito and it was quite possibly one of the best mojitos we’ve ever had: a fine balance between sweet and minty. Loved it! I instantly regretted having the wine.
The bread was fantastic, though! I must’ve filled up on 4 slices of Italian bread and single-handedly finished off the tapenade on our side of the table. And judging by Friand’s use of the same tapenade on the raisin nut bread, I think that it was a hit! In the basket was also a crispy cheese flatbread, which looked great, and something that resembled ciabatta. Clearly, they have a great baker in the back making these breads because they were the true stars of the evening.
And then dinner arrived.
A quick glance around the table showed me and my pretty well-trained culinary eyes that no one really got an exciting meal. Whether or not they enjoyed it or thought it exciting is their business. But I was not moved, and neither was Friand. Over all, I’d say that every entree was monotone in color and what I found kind of strange was that the food didn’t have an aroma. It just seemed weird. Friand will probably post a review on Yelp! when he gets a spare moment, but I’m not even sure he’s inspired. ** I just took a break after that sentence to read the reviews on Yelp! and those definitely are echoing our experience in the restaurant. The service, although polite, was slow. Even the couple at the table next to us was saying that they had waited too long for their meals. Too bad. It was a small place, there was no reason for people to be noticing how long their wait was.
And now on to my meal. It really was just spaghetti and veggies. No seasoning, no nothing. There’s no question in my mind that this was dried boxed pasta (which is fine because then I know for sure it’s vegan), but the veggies were bland and when I say “unseasoned” I mean there was nothing on them whatsoever. It was just pasta taken from the pot thrown on the plate with some steamed veggies. Oh boy. Glad the bread basket was still there on the table.
The sauce was definitely dairy free, although I questioned that assessment a few times during the meal. I did put a few spoonfuls on my pasta because, well, naked pasta is chewy and gluey and just stupid. That much stress and worry leaves me with little appetite. I seriously can’t repeat this enough: it was naked pasta and steamed vegetables. No salt. No pepper. No olive oil.
Dessert menus were offered, and I’m happy to say that there were several flavors of sorbet. But, since no one else was ordering dessert, I abstained. I was particularly interested, though, in the cabernet sorbet, and there were several choices including raspberry, blackberry, lemon and pineapple.
In all, Luxe gets 3 Sprouts. There are so many vegetarian options on the menu between the soups, salads and pasta entrees, but the second the word “vegan” came up, the whole system collapsed. There was clearly no “plan” for this scenario, and I received the one thing I dread the most, and only because I asked for it: veggies with pasta while everyone else is getting a nice meal. There’s nothing quite like feeling like you’re eating toddler food while others are eating well thought out meals.
For future vegans who may venture into the Luxe Sunset Blvd Hotel, they should have at least one option in the kitchen for this very situation. Doesn’t have to be complicated, but seriously, a little salt and pepper go a long way. Perhaps instead of feeling like they have to shut the whole kitchen down to magically make something out of thin air, they can understand that “vegan” means no dairy, meat or fish (hello?) and that something like the ravioli can be done with the same interesting toppings (sweet potatoes, sage, pinenuts) in an olive oil just with that simple Barilla pasta they served me. I’m sure they have some mushrooms in the walk-in? How about saute some mushrooms in olive oil and garlic on top of the pasta? Wilt some spinach or basil in there? Fill a portabello mushroom cap with chopped tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, bread crumbs? Seriously. This isn’t hard. And there was no reason for things to fall apart like that.
You can do better, Luxe. This is LA and I’m not the only vegan.
On Sunset Restaurant
11461 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90049