Reviewing food is tough. 1) I’m not a food expert, nor would I pretend to be one. 2) I stopped eating meat two weeks ago. I’m torn between taking the plunge and partaking in an extravagant meal that happens to have meat or stick true to my guns and forgo the flesh. Part of my thought process hinges on the fact that I will be missing out on meals that my maybe? readers might want to read. That’s right, I’m confident someone will read this shitty food criticism.
Such was my plight when I decided to take a trip to my local art museum and indulge myself in their “fancy” cafe. I’ve gone many times in the past and my go-to dish has always been the salmon filet sandwich. Just a 6 oz cut of fish with some tzatziki-like sauce and a tomato. The pickle on the side is just icing on the cake.
Heading to the cafe, I started to worry. Yes, fish isn’t technically “meat”, but it comes from a living creature, and I’m not going to get too pretentious but I don’t want any more part in that slaughter machine. (I shit you not, the spark that set me off on my vegetarian lifestyle was a Facebook video of a little girl facing a plate of chicken and pasta crying because those are animals and she doesn’t want to eat animals. It’s silly, but man did that logic hit me in the feels.) Alas, all my worries were for naught because the damn cafe doesn’t offer the dish anymore! Worse, they also didn’t have much of an offering for vegetarian dishes. Yes, they had salads, and no, I didn’t want a salad, because I absolutely positively loathe the damn things. If I’m going to eat a dish consisting solely of vegetables, I want it to be something more substantive than lettuce, which as a nutritionist once told me, has the same nutritional value as plain water.
However, they did have one category of food that I had never heard of before–a whole column on the menu labeled “Gnocchi”. The word sounded foreign to me and to be completely honest sounded like a fancy word for salad. But the kind cashier told me it was a potato dumpling like the dish, and that it was wonderful. Plus, they had not one but two vegetarian-friendly dishes. The first was a Gouda and onion gnocchi while the second was a melon and pear gnocchi. Faced with my only options, my heart screamed for me to try the melon and pear dish, but I started to worry that that would feel like a side dish and-and went for the safe and boring Gouda and onion.
To round out my meal I ordered hot tea, of which I had the pleasure of choosing which tea packet to flavor the water with. They had the usual gang: earl grey, chai, and green. Earl has always bored me and chai seemed too adventurous, so I stuck to the tried and true gunpowder green. And, just to give it a punch, I added a pinch of lemon. I wavered on using honey, correctly choosing the sour bite of the citrus albatross.
As I waited for my meal in the dining area a child chomped mindlessly on potato chips and I wondered how such a fine looking cafe could be interrupted by the crudeness of Lays. There was the clash of intrigue and exotic that the museum cafe allured and the reality that a kid could order a grilled cheese and chips. It was cute though, and he was with what I could only assume was his grandfather. The boy also had one hell of a DSLR camera that I could only dream of one day afford.
The wait wasn’t long and the waitress brought the dish out to little fanfare from me. I had just eaten a huge iced frosting topped cinnamon from Meijer, the local grocery store, and honestly was only here because I wanted that unicorn of a salmon sandwich.
I poked around at it a little bit, unsure of how or what I should try first. Layered across the pile of cheese battered potato dumplings was a blanket of red striped slices of what looked like liver. I took a taste and was relieved to find they were onions sautéed with a sweet vinegar, delivering an unexpected flavor from the liverish appearance. I then poked further, this time at the little potatoes. The Gouda tainted potato dumplings offered a smoky yet familiar taste, like a smoked grilled cheese sandwich and potato pancakes. Balancing out the mush of the potato was a crisp exterior that pleased these meant for meat chewing teeth.
After sampling many bites off just the spuds and cheese, I wrapped a strip of sweet onion around the potato to create a mishmash of worlds.
To be honest, the resulting smorgasbord of flavor didn’t quite work for me. The saccharine flavor of the onion skimmed over the homestyle Gouda and potato, and like a marriage of unfamiliar genres, it took a while to get used to. Not to say it wasn’t bad, but rather a new melody to which I didn’t know the notes.
The more I ate, however, the more the contrast of tones tingled my imagination. I felt a longing for the continent across the pond (I later learned the dish originated in Italy) and bitter gentility clash with the retro hop onion as if Lady Gaga had feigned being classical music. I then perfected the gentile with a splash of pink flavor by forking two dumplings and wrapping them with a single red onion. There was just a tiny hint of sweetness to haunt the lingering of savoriness of the cheese on my tongue. It felt like a hit of the joint, just small enough to make you say “that’s some good shit.”
Looking back at the meal, I think it might have been presented better with fewer onions. There were so many layers on top of the gnocchi that it spoiled what could have been a haunting taste. The platter it was presented on was too large as well. There’s an odd trend in American cuisine of making everything big and bold, and this dish definitely verged on too much. I could cut the rim of the plate and just leave a small plate to create a far more elegant presentation. Something definitely more fitting of a prestigious art museum.
On another note, the green tea felt too light and I was wanting something a little more bitter. A beer might seem like the most appropriate choice, but I feel the drafts on hand might be a little too heavy and obvious as a companion to such a traditional meal. I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman sitting at the table next to mine and noted he had ordered the same dish but was sipping a dark red wine. That would have been the perfect beverage.
To the cafe’s credit, I had trouble finishing the meal. I had come to the cafe a little hungry but definitely not starving enough to wolf down the whole meal. But, like a principled man that I am, followed through with my task and left no spud wasted. I find it an insult to throw someone’s hard-earned meal to the wolves. Imagine walking out of a film theater before the film is over and passing judgment over it.
Stuffed and confused by trying to rinse my palate with the wrong drink, I was content at having tried a new dish. Gnocchi sounds foreign but feels quite at home with this Midwestern white mutt. I miss the salmon filet sandwich the cafe once offered, but I don’t miss giving up meat. Animals deserve respect and companionship, and this born and raised omnivore has struggled with the loss of chewing meat. I’m just thankful the museum offered a vegetarian dish that wasn’t a salad.