The Rotten Bunch

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img_0395One of the things that the vegan and I enjoy most is discovering a rare gem within the dining world.  The discovery is even sweeter when the restaurant is off the beaten path or tucked away in the suburbs, far from the hustle and bustle of downtown.  We hit the mother lode last weekend when we visited The Rotten Bunch Wine Bar + Kitchen, in the Avery Ranch neighborhood of northwest Austin. The restaurant’s proprietors – Arik Skot Williams and Alan Thomas – take pride in delivering “great food, great wine, good value and no pretense”.   And they do all of this in a space that is approachable, laid-back and filled with employees that truly seem to enjoy their jobs.  To say I am a fan of The Rotten Bunch is an understatement.  Keep reading and you will soon understand why.

The restaurant opened about a year ago and the vegan and I had frequented it once prior to last Saturday.  We would have blogged about our initial visit but that was before Kellie and I set out upon our journey to discover dining harmony for carnivores and vegans.    I mention our first visit because, unbeknownst to the vegan and I, that is where our second visit to The Rotten Bunch begins. . . . .

When we arrived at the restaurant last Saturday evening, without a reservation on the books, the place was busy but not packed, and we opted for a seat at the bar.  Kellie and I often choose bar seating because it affords us a better chance to visit with our server, take pictures of our meals for our posts, and get a better view of the operation without disturbing other guests.  As we took our seats we were greeted by a friendly server named Jen.  This is where the magic of The Rotten Bunch begins.  Jen welcomed us as a server normally does and then, with a look of recognition on her face, she flashed a giant smile and said “I’m so glad ya’ll came back to see us”.   I figured this was a remark that she makes to nearly every table she sees, in an attempt to make her guests feel welcome and appreciated.  In fact, that wasn’t the case whatsoever.  She actually remembered us from the first visit so many months ago, and went on to remind us about the slight mishap we encountered with the appetizer (Brussels sprouts & fingerlings)  coming out after our entrees had arrived.  At my realization that she not only recognized us, but actually recalled the smallest details of our experience, (which Kellie and I had totally forgotten) I was amazed!  Talk about making a guest feel welcome and appreciated!   Jen knocked it out of the park and set the tone for what was certain to be a memorable second visit.

In addition to apparently having the memory of an elephant, our server also possessed significant wine selecting skills.  She asked a couple questions about my preference in wine, and made a suggestion that I was skeptical about at first.  She offered a tasting pour, and I was hooked at the first sip.  I believe it was a Pinot/Syrah blend, and it was FANTASTIC!!    Like our first visit, Kellie and I chose the Brussels sprouts and fingerling appetizer to start our meal.  Bear in mind that, since we share the appetizer, the dish is devoid of butter, bacon, cheese, etc.  In other words, I didn’t really expect to enjoy the appetizer all that much because none of the wonderful carnivorous tastes that I enjoy were present.   I was floored at how tasty the vegan friendly dish was.  I honestly think I enjoyed it more than the vegan at the table.

My entrée was off the specials board and was simply a 5oz filet coupled with mashed potatoes and asparagus.   I believe it was offered with a truffle oil topping but I despise all things truffle, so I opted for a “naked” steak cooked medium.  I specifically chose this dish because I wanted to test the chef to see if he could deliver a quality cut of beef cooked perfectly, and not masked with flavors from a sauce of any sort.  The chef delivered the best tasting steak that I have eaten in quite some time.  It was cooked EXACTLY as I had asked, and was tender enough for me to cut it with a butter knife (which I actually did).  I didn’t even have to add salt and pepper.  The accompaniments were wonderful, especially the mashed potatoes.  Another call out for Jen’s wine selection; it paired perfectly with the beef.

And finally, the ever present question about carnivores and vegans dining in harmony.  Obviously the carnivore side of this coin is an easy and anticipated positive note.  The difficulty lies on the vegan side.  While  The Rotten Bunch sufficiently accommodated the vegan’s dietary needs on this visit, the vegan friendly options, without the need to custom order, are few (There was only 1).  This is always the case, as the ratio of vegans to carnivores is so significantly skewed to the carnivores favor.  I would challenge The Rotten Bunch to add a second vegan friendly dish on the standard menu.  I am confident that the Austin vegan community would welcome the modification and it would result not only in repeat business but in a positive word of mouth recommendation amongst the plant eaters in the area.    All that being said, this dining experience was better than most, in every regard.  This carnivore awards The Rotten Bunch with four cow faces and the sincerest of thanks for a quality dining experience.

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Last weekend was fairly dreary and as the reality of January set in, the weekend was a welcome distraction.  Looking forward however, we realized we have so many places to eat and so little time so we decided to review a place nearby, one we had once visited prior to our blogging days.  This Cedar Park restaurant, The Rotten Bunch, is one to which we often refer using several pet names – “The Hateful Grape”, “The Naughty Vine”, etc.  I suppose it’s because we are getting older (Happy Birthday Carnivore!) and just can’t remember sometimes so we play it up as cute so as not to highlight this fact!  That said, it deserves remembering as we had a wonderful experience.

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We were seated by the bar and our server/bartender (Jennifer) remembered us immediately as she had been our prior server.  What a memory!  She discussed some wines with us and even brought us a sample as we perused the menu.  Having had the vegan discussion with her last time, I knew what I wanted to order.  To start, we ordered the Brussels sprouts and fingerlings sans reggiano.  The carnivore and I agree that Brussels are pretty much the best and order them frequently.  These Brussels are served with a creamy toasted walnut puree and sweet golden raisins which balance sweet and savory beautifully.  The fingerling potatoes added a hearty and starchy quality that pleased us both as well.  In fact Larry had to double check that he was allowed to eat this since I often get first dibs on the veggies and I almost told him no!

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For my main course I ordered smoked chickpeas and kale which I am proud to announce is vegan as is!  I love that.  I can’t speak for all vegans but honestly I really hate “special ordering”.  While I do it and am not shy about asking for what I want, I hate the judgement that frankly often comes from my dining companions.  That said, I must commend my carnivore as he has NEVER made me feel this way.  In fact he will often speak up for me and advocate for my needs when I don’t.  Anyways back to the food.  I happen to love chickpeas any way shape and form but these were cooked to the perfect consistency in olive oil and seasoned well with paprika and garlic.  My proof?  Larry was not offended by my scent after and he’s not one to hide his anti-garlic stance!  Also I am not a kale fan (gasp!).  Have I mentioned this before?  It just doesn’t do it for me.  Perhaps I don’t know how to make it well.  The only times I enjoy it is when a restaurant cooks it well for me.  This chef managed to do just that.  Also it was just enough kale without overwhelming the dish.  So I thank you, Rotten Bunch, for helping this vegan eat her greens!  And protein.

I rate the Rotten Bunch four rutabagas.  This was tough for me as I waffled between three and four.  I would love it if Rotten Bunch could add a few more items for me but the service and possibly the wine ultimately pushed them to four.  But please consider my request as I know we will be back!

Cozumel

¡Prospero año Nuevo! The reason we haven’t been writing lately is because we got out of town this holiday season – way out!  As a recently certified diver I wanted to try out my new skillz and so based on extensive research (AKA asking diving friends) we chose Cozumel.  Following Santa out at the butt crack of dawn on Christmas Day we began our journey.  Two flights, two holiday movies (Elf & Gremlins, much to the carnivore’s dismay) and a couple of cocktails later we landed in Cancun.  A taxi, a ferry and two more drinks later we arrived in Cozumel.  Now you might be asking, why aren’t we creating a separate post for each restaurant we deemed worthy of reviewing?  Well the answer is two-fold.  First we didn’t think there would be more than one that was truly worthy.  Second we are lazy!  But really, it was amazing what hospitality particularly I was shown in this country that I had suspected might be difficult to navigate with my needs.  I did predict (accurately) that I would eat a lot of guacamole.  And there’s nothing wrong with that (shut up waistline, you don’t know!)img_0328

🍠🍠🍠 Okay enough of my ramblings.  I won’t go into detail of every restaurant as we were there four full days.  Consider this a highlight reel of the restaurants.  Our first morning of diving was spectacular and while I knew immediately it was my new love, I also realized that I would be voraciously hungry afterwards.  We cleaned up quickly and took a taxi to the one place I had seen on one of my favorite local blogs (Lazy Smurf), Playa Azul.  It took a bit to figure out the place I had read about as the beach café looked at me like I had a second head when I asked about vegan options.  I knew I had found it though when the menu had its own “vegano” section (it’s the inside restaurant).  I excitedly ordered the quinoa tacos and munched on chips and guac while I waited.  They are quite literal in the description “with tomato and coriander”.  These tacos reminded me of great Spanish rice that often comes as a side with beans in our typical Tex-Mex restaurant in the states.  They were tasty but I felt I needed more substance and flavor so I added guacamole and some hot sauce that came with the appetizer.  This helped quite a bit.  I give Playa Azul three rutabagas for having a special vegan section to their menu and for the meal being filling.  I may have ordered poorly but my feedback to gain a higher rating would be to add some more flavor, possibly some beans?  Perhaps that is my American girl side showing.img_0326

🍠🍠🍠🍠 For the rest of the trip we were at a disadvantage as that was my only researched option and without the internet at the ready (we were wifi only down there) it was a bit of a challenge.  But by George we rose to it!  That evening after a little siesta time in the room we were ready to explore and most importantly eat again.  We sauntered from street vendor to street vendor, perusing menus and refusing their insistent pleas for our patronage.  Finally we found what we began to refer to as Pizza Hut street (now I know it was Calle 3 Sur).  Pizza Hut street was a great street that was perpendicular to the coast and was less difficult to navigate as you traveled inland.  I believe this is why we had such good luck here.  We passed a modern looking restaurant called Sal D Mar and some English speaking folks outside assured us that they had just eaten there and that we should try it.  A humble fellow ushered us in and showed us a menu.  I didn’t see much and when we shared my dietary restrictions, he quickly rushed off to check with the chef that they could accommodate my needs.  He returned with the good news and seated us.  It turns out he was our waiter and his name was George.  Or Jorge.  I’m not sure how to spell it but he pronounced it like the American version, George.  He took the carnivore’s order, my drink order and left us to observe the beautiful, obviously new, modern atmosphere.  I got to enjoy a clean restroom break and was excited for my dinner.  It was a gluten free noodle dish with vegetables and a spicy sauce that I can’t quite explain but I’ll do my best.  It was not the typical Asian spices that its appearance suggested but rather a possible Indian or Middle Eastern flair of all-spice nature.  Whatever it was, it was tasty!  I give them four rutabagas for accommodating so well, particularly George, and also for the lovely experience.  Oh and the prices were amazing.  They would receive a five if they added this dish and maybe another with vegan indicators on the regular menu.  Seriously check this place out!img_0340

I have two more restaurants to discuss but first I must take a break, a coffee break.  You will be happy to know that there is a Starbucks in Cozumel and while it did not appear that they have the almond milk just yet, they certainly had soy (soya) of which I took full advantage.  However a taxi driver also informed us of a little place on Pizza Hut street, actually right next to it, called El Coffee Cozumel.  This became our regular afternoon stop and they stocked Silk Almond milk for your coffee drinking pleasure.  They also had chai which I enjoyed frequently.  They only take cash so make sure you hit up the Cashola machine before you go or better yet, hit the atm before arriving in Mexico to avoid the fees.img_0350

🍠🍠🍠 Okay back to food.  On our second set of dives we dove at night which meant we were out late.  It was important to get food quickly as the carnivore had some mask challenges and was needing sustenance asap.  Back to Pizza Hut street we found a little bistro called Cielito Lindo.  They seated us quickly and when I questioned the server about vegan options (vegetarian was clearly marked) he seemed confused.  The more confident English speaker server came over and clarified with me and I ended up ordering vegetable tacos off menu.  They were amazing as was the guacamole.  The guacamole around town was often quite simplistic and even bland but this was seasoned deliciously.  The tacos had a variety of vegetables including cauliflower and mushrooms.  I left very sated and give them a solid three rutabagas for accommodation and flavor.

img_0346🍠🍠🍠 Finally I will share one last experience.  On our last dive we met some Americans who had been away from home for a while and shared that after like five days in a row of tacos they were ready for something else.  While normally I would shun this talk declaring blasphemy, the carnivore was intrigued and admittedly I was feeling a need for something different.  They spoke of a place called Del Sur Parilla Argentina and how they enjoyed a delicious burger.  Now to be fair, this did not sound vegan friendly but I knew Larry was itching for a burger and so I helped him find it with my eagle eye.  When we arrived for dinner I checked the menu out and then called the waiter over to begin my questioning.  Again he was wary and went to get the manager who spoke with me about options.  I ended up ordering a corn empanada as an appetizer, then grilled vegetables and papas fritas for my main meal.  While this sounds hodge-podge I must say it was a delight to have something different.  The corn empanada was light and delicious with just a bit of spicy chimichurri dipping sauce.  The roasted vegetables were well seasoned, in fact almost too much so which is rare for veggies.  And the fries, oh the fries.  They really hit the spot.  They even brought us ketchup.  Also on a side note, this was the best sangria in town – I highly recommend it.  For these reasons, I give them three rutabagas.

img_0367Overall this trip was amazing and not just for the dives (Thanks Deep Blue!) or the hotel (Thanks Casa Mexicana!) but also the hospitality of the people and how they were up to the challenge of meeting a hungry vegan’s needs.  We cannot wait to return.

Well, it’s official!  Him Carnivore Her Vegan is international!!   (hint hint Travel Channel)  The vegan and I took the show on the road this past holiday season, and visited our neighbors to the south for some Mexican eats and fun in the sun.  As this was our first venture outside the US for critique and commentary, we opted to chronical the various eateries enjoyed during our trip, and to also make a summary judgment about the opportunities for meat eaters and plant killers to dine in harmony on the island of Cozumel.  Candidly, I was leery of how successful our quest would be but I am pleased to say that, on multiple occasions, my skepticism was proved unnecessary, if not flat out wrong.  The following is a series of vignettes about some of the Mexican restaurants we tried and enjoyed during our trip. img_0331

🐮🐮 Playa Azul – The vegan sourced this location via a vegan friendly website that she follows – “Lazy Smurf”.  We had been advised that this was a quality choice inasmuch as there were “vegano” options identified on the menu, and the food was reported to be quite tasty.   While Kellie had some sort of a plant based taco concoction, I opted for fish tacos since the restaurant was no more than 50 yards from the water’s edge.  My tacos were fine.  Not much more to say about my meal then that, it was fine.  The staff was rather unengaging but, since we were dining late in the afternoon, I got the feeling that the A-team wasn’t working that shift.  Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm also has something to do with the fact that we were seated downwind from The Marlboro Man and, though the fish in my tacos was not smoked, by the end of the meal I smelled more like an ashtray than the salt water in which we had frolicked all morning.  I’m disappointed to say that Mexican culture still has not shaken itself from its embrace of the cancer stick.    Playa Azul is awarded two cow faces.

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On our second night on the island we opted to stroll along the tourist laden streets and pick an eatery on the fly.  If you’ve never been to Cozumel, I assure you that this approach is not for the faint of heart.  The streets are lined with “hawkers” trying to entice you into their respective shops or restaurants, and they are nothing if not persistent.  I understand this is their job, and they do it with a sense of sincerity for the most part.  The locals understand that their livelihood, in large part, depends upon the tourists frequenting their location, so they beseech each passerby with a welcome greeting and a brief explanation of their shop or eatery.  I found this charming, at first. . . . . .

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🐮🐮🐮🐮 It was on a side street that we came upon our second notable dining experience, Sal D Mar .   I mention the “street hawkers” only because we chose this restaurant without an employee asking us to come inside.  Rather the enticement came from a random group of three American customers who had just eaten and were leaving the restaurant.  They saw the vegan and I looking at the menu and remarked how wonderful their meal was.  Upon receiving an unsolicited recommendation from a satisfied trio of patrons, we felt obliged to give it a shot.  I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I am that we did!  Sal D Mar appears to be one of the newer restaurants in the area – modern amenities and architecture – and the staff was as helpful and inviting as they could be.  Our waiter was a gentleman named Jorge, and he did an excellent job serving us.  When we asked him about the vegan options, he left us for a moment to chat with the chef.  Upon returning, he assured us that the chef could accommodate the vegan’s dietary needs and was anxious to ensure that we were 100% satisfied.   After considerable input from Jorge, I settled upon the pork spare rib with mellow rice.  It was fantastic!!   The meat was succulent and rich, as though the tasty pig had been bathed in honey milk before being placed over the fire.  It’s been three weeks since we ate there, and I am salivating as I write this post.  It was AMAZING.

The hospitality and service provided by Jorge, coupled with the delicious food gets Sal D Mar four cow faces from this carnivore.  This one is a MUST TRY for anyone visiting Cozumel.

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🐮🐮🐮 Our third night found us wandering the streets of Cozumel with a purpose.  We met a group of Americans on our dive boat that morning and they raved about an Argentinian restaurant that happened to be walking distance from our hotel.  It took a little exploring to locate the address but we soon came upon Del Sur Parilla Argentina.  Please believe me when I tell you that you have never enjoyed an empanada until you have one of the tasty pastries from this establishment.  It truly was the best thing I ate on the island.  Perhaps even more enjoyable than the empanada was the sangria that they made fresh for us when we ordered.  It was tart yet sweet.  Tangy yet smooth and filled with chunks of fresh fruit that tasted as though it was picked that very morning.  The staff was gregarious and fun, and quick to explain the subtle differences between Mexican and Argentinian fare.   It is here that I must share with you the mistake that I made while dining at Del Sur.  The scuba divers that referred us to Del Sur were nice guys and they insisted that the hamburger (yes, hamburgers) at Del Sur were the best they had ever eaten.  As I find it difficult to resist a good burger, I decided to follow their recommendation and give it a try.  I was disappointed.  This is NOT an indictment of the restaurant.  Rather it is a sad statement about my inability to embrace the culture that surrounded me and let go of my American habits and preferences.  The next time I go to Del Sur (and I WILL be back) I will try one of the many Argentinian dishes that they offer.  Based upon the empanadas and sangria, I know the traditional fare will be remarkable.  I was and am disappointed that my closed mindedness likely kept me from truly discovering a gem on the streets of Cozumel.  Del Sur receives a very respectable three cow faces.  Imagine how many it would receive if I had ordered the right meal!!img_0335

I also want to give a shout out to our hotel – Casa Mexicana.  While not a beach front property – this was a work trip, and not a vacation, after all – the accommodations and staff were wonderful.  Very friendly and happy to assist two Americans as we learned a bit about their culture and traditions.  One especially noteworthy aspect of our stay at Casa Mexicana was the breakfast that they offer each morning.  I looked forward to it every day because the food was fresh, hot and served by a team of people who truly seem to love their jobs.  Of course, the fact that the migas were the best I have ever eaten didn’t hurt either.

VIVA LA MEXICO!!!img_0364

 

Paul Martin’s

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Are you missing us yet?  We have been having so much fun that we are behind on our write ups.  But now that 2017 is upon us we would like to catch up and get back to it.  First on deck is the meal we enjoyed on Christmas Eve’s Eve in the lovely new Rock Rose area of the Domain.  We chose Paul Martin’s on a friend’s recommendation and they did not disappoint.As a vegan, I truly appreciate a restaurant who indicates vegan on their menu.  While Paul Martin’s has few (two for dinner) vegan options, they are very clear.  This is what I noticed immediately upon being seated.  Now a little secret that we also learned from our friend.  Paul Martin’s is on Open Table which also puts them high in regard as I hate waiting.  Anyways back to the meal.  Our waiter arrived and gave us food and drink menus.  When he returned to get my drink order, I asked for a Pinot Noir suggestion and he shooed me away from the Willamette variety I know and love.  He instead suggested a California style, less expensive, and promised me I would love it.  He was right!  I know this isn’t a wine tasting blog but this girl does love her wines and it goes to show the level of service here.img_0305We ordered and since we were extra hungry the Carnivore requested an appetizer.  The only one we could share was the Castroville Artichoke which the waiter assured me was only non-vegan due to the dipping sauce (aioli) and that if I avoided it would be fine.  It arrived shortly and we dug in.  Now you must understand how to eat an artichoke if you wish to order this.  You take a leaf (dip if you can/want) and scrape off the tiny bit of vegetable at the bottom with your teeth.  Our waiter shared that someone once came and ate the whole thing!  Holy fiber overload batman!  It tasted fresh and yet smoky but ultimately it is kind of a pain to eat with little reward.  That said, since the New Year is here, if you wish to lose any holiday weight, this is probably the equivalent to eating celery – negative calories when you factor in the effort to eat it.

For my main meal I ordered the Warm Quinoa Bowl.  Now if you read our blog, you know that the carnivore calls this kwin-o-a!  I never tire of this joke.  Also you might realize by now that I am not a salad girl.  If a place only offers me a salad, I am unlikely to give high praise; however, this was not a salad but a warm bowl.  It did still have a lot of nutritious elements such as the nutty quinoa, creamy avocado, delicious roasted cauliflower, crisp snow peas and amazingly tender sautéed spinach.  All of this was topped with a tangy blistered tomato relish which seasoned and finished the bowl beautifully.  I ate the entire thing!

img_0304This meal was a solid three rutabagas.  One of my favorite parts is that Paul Martin’s makes everything in house and it certainly tastes it.  Also it is a lovely dining experience overall.  To get a higher score it would be wonderful to add more vegan options in the future.  Also it would nice if the wait staff was more knowledgeable about vegans as that makes us feel more welcome.  Our waiter was nice but self-proclaimed lacking in knowledge other than the specifics of the menu.  That said, I know my carnivore and I will return for another delicious experience.

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Happy New Year to our loyal readers!  As 2016 came to a close and Christmas rapidly approached, the vegan and I ventured out to The Domain for a nice holiday meal on the 23rd of December.  We had heard wonderful things about a relatively new establishment called PAUL MARTIN’s AUSTIN GRILL, and were keen to put it to the test of vegans and carnivores dining in harmony.  The proprietors – Brian Bennet and Paul Fleming – are on a mission to “make the food America loves set to a higher standard—always without hormones or antibiotics”.    This mission falls right in line with my vegan cohort’s passion for the humane treatment of animals and the fresher more wholesome foods that are tough to find set upon the tables of the average restaurant.  So Kellie was especially anxious to review this one.  As for me, I heard the food was great, and they have a quality bourbon selection, so I was down for the critique as well.

Since it was a Friday night, we made a reservation with Open Table and arrived promptly at the chosen time.  We were seated without delay, and a gregarious server named Mo greeted us quickly and warmly.  He inquired of our drink selection and made a quality recommendation for the vegan’s Pinot Noir.   The bourbon selection did prove to be better than average, and I enjoyed a quality pour.

As I have explained in previous posts, I often inquire of the server’s recommendation at new restaurants.  I asked Mo for the most popular dish on the menu and he answered without hesitation that the “Brick” Chicken was undoubtedly the best choice.  I was glad to hear this because it was exactly what my friends had told me to order.  Score one for consistency!   The entrée is free-range chicken, mashed potatoes, za’tar croutons, herb jus.   While I prefer beef over fowl, I opted to give it a shot and hoped that the decision was a good one.  It proved to be a quality selection and, though I have no idea what a za’tar crouton is, the flavors complemented each other exceptionally well.   Over all the meal was delicious and I would recommend any chicken lover to order this dish.  That said, my next trip to Paul Martins will be to try the Braised Short Ribs.  I mean, a humanely treated cow has got to taste better than most, right?  A happy cow is a tasty cow, I’d bet.

Now for the real meat and potatoes of the experience – the ability for carnivores and meat eaters to dine in harmony.  I’m disappointed to say that, while Paul Martins does a great job for the meat eaters, the options for plant killers are lacking.  I think there was only one option on the menu that fit a vegan’s unique needs.  I understand that the vegans are few, relative to the rest of us, but two or three options doesn’t seem too unreasonable.  Another point of contention for me has to do with our server’s lack of knowledge of the dietary limitations encountered by vegans.  I get that not everyone has a reason to know exactly what a vegan’s food limitations are, but to not understand the most rudimentary facts – no dairy, meat, eggs, fish, etc –  about what represents a vegan food choice seems the least that a server at a quality restaurant should know.  If nothing else, it is a learning opportunity for the staff to become better informed about the varied guests that frequent their restaurant(s).  I think the servers would welcome this knowledge, in an attempt to ensure that EVERY guest has the best dining experience possible.  Their gratuity does depend on it, after all.

Paul Martins Austin Grill scores a respectable three cow faces from this meat loving carnivore.  If the vegan options and/or staff knowledge were greater, the rating would quickly reach four.