Sunday, August 16, 2009

Indianapolis Vegetarian Society's Savor the Summer Garden

Chickpea Mini-Burger:

A trio of sorbets- we especially liked the basil one:

Maybe we've just experimented for too many years at home with meat free meals and maybe we've eaten at too many ethnic restaurants that really get how to prepare vegetarian food but, we have to say, we didn't find a lot of inspiration at the Savor the Summer Garden event. We appreciate what they are doing but just didn't walk away with many ideas or any dishes that really excited our taste buds. Several years ago, we went to one of the Society's Meat-Out events. This was definitely an improvement on that. That was held in a church and got so crowded that we had to eat outside on the church steps after a very long wait in the buffet line. As we recall, there were some prepared foods by companies like Amy's Organics at that Meat-Out. We were grateful that wasn't the case this time.

There were several rooms that had serving stations with different offerings. Each room had tables and chairs but it still felt very crowded and confined as people stood in line out of the doorways, tried to get by the people in line at the doorways, etc. It was also awkward (and a little icky) to jostle our plastic plates and plastic utensils from room to room when we were asked to not get new plates for each dish since they were running low on plates. As for the food, maybe our expectations were too high. There just didn't seem to be a lot of flavor in the dishes. Just like dishes with meat, vegetarian food can be greatly enhanced with spices. We were looking forward to the Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Peanut Pesto but, not only were the vegetables way too raw to stab our plastic fork in, we did not taste peanut pesto. The Oven Roasted Cauliflower, Vegetables in Curry Sauce, Ratatouille, and Quinoa were all good but nothing special in that "Oh my gosh I can't believe they did that all with vegetables" kind of way. We liked the Chickpea Sliders but were surprised that beans, tofu, and tempeh were so under-represented. Those are all such great blank canvases that we would have thought for sure there were going to be some innovative dishes utilizing them. Maybe they didn't fit into the "Summer Garden" theme. Things ended on a disappointing note in the last room which our menu said would have Fruit Tarts but, not only did we not find those, the huge platters that had "Vegan Cookies" signs in front of them were empty (this was a little after 2 and the event went until 3).

It was nice to see the Chef's Academy and also nice to see that the event was so popular. We'd love to hear thoughts from anyone else who attended.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, we must say that we were kindly offered complimentary tickets to this event but, as bloggers, we felt that we couldn't ethically accept them. We happily bought our tickets and experienced the event in our usual covert way.)


Anonymous said...

As one of the event planners I really appreciate you blogging about Savor. I will keep all your comments in mind as we plan for next years event, which we hope to make even better.

(I was sad about the lack of fruit tarts too!)


JimPanzee said...

(full disclosure: I helped out a little in the planning stages of this event and will likely have a larger role in next year's)

Thanks so much for coming to the event and mentioning it on your blog both before and in review form. I've read your blog for a couple of years now and have always found your reviews to be done in good faith even when I didn't agree and I assume the same for this one.

Certainly as someone accustomed to vegetarian dining I'm not surprised to learn that you didn't find a lot inspirational options. But sparkling new haute cuisine dishes wasn't really the point of the event. The event's goal, which I think was met, was to introduce people unaccustomed to vegetarian dining that such a thing was possible without sacrificing flavor.

For those used to vegetarian dining, the hope was to provide a good meal. That too, I think was accomplished. While some dishes weren't perfect (it is hard to serve for 200+ diners all at once) I didn't think any were bad--not too dry, bland, or over-salted.

That second bar, I think, is too low for what the event actually achieved. I think a lot of the dishes stood out as actually quite good.

The lemon and basil sorbet that you mentioned I thought was spectacular and all three were quite good. I was also quite pleased with the melon and mint soup and the roasted cauliflower.I also enjoyed the watermelon salsa and I don't even like watermelon. The ratatouille, while not awe-inspiring turned out very well and from what I gathered from my co-diners, well received by them as well.

Unlike you I was not particularly enamored of the chickpea sliders. The flavor was good but they didn't hold up under my (too paw-like) grip.

I'm glad you thought it was an improvement over the Meatout; I did too. I will be looking forward to helping IVS and The Chef's Academy work out some kinks for next year's event.

I think the proper context in which to understand this event is not to hope for exciting new dishes like what one might find in a chic urban restaurant, but rather a catered fundraiser which is what the event is. While it might not be as interesting as an individualized restaurant menu, it was way more adventuresome and better tasting than your typical fundraiser meal. And the type and quality of food was certainly worth the ticket price. I've had salty chicken breasts covered in brown sauce for twice the price and for the additional dollars all I got was a lousy speech.

vegetarian guy said...

I had a good time at the Savor event. I do think the planning could be somewhat improved in future years. Crowding was an issue - as nice as the Chef's Academy is, it doesn't seem to feature a large dining hall like you'd really want for 200+ people. So opening additional rooms or spacing out the tables differently might be necessary. The raffle was a lot of fun though and I think it's touches like that that may keep people coming back.

The food was good and some dishes surpassed expectation - watermelon salsa was surprisingly delicious, ratatouille was excellent, and I'm always up for a homemade veggie burger. A couple dishes were less successful to me, but the event wasn't lacking for variety even if you didn't care for one or two things.

Going more to vegetarian standards like tofu, beans, pasta, and traditional salad might be a good idea for next time - at least it's an island of safety for people not so used to experimentation. Still there was a lot of really good food on hand.