I felt compelled to build this site and start writing after a recent business trip to Los Angeles, California. I had the pleasure of dining with two close business colleagues at Wolfgang Pucks restaurant on the 24th floor of the Ritz Carlton. As a vegetarian for 25 years, business travel is always an adventure and this trip was no exception. After a few days eating convention center food, I was looking forward to the prospect of dining in a nice sit down restaurant and I’ve always enjoyed Wolfgang Pucks food whenever I’ve had the opportunity to eat at his restaurant in Orlando.
After a short wait to be seated we were escorted to our table. We had a great view out over the city and of the top floors of some of LA’s most prestigious businesses. The waiter handed us our menus and proceeded to tell us the specials for the evening. As he talked I scanned the menu for vegetarian options. Nothing. I looked for vegan options. Nothing. I was quite surprised to see not a single vegetarian menu items, especially as the fare for this venue was described to be an “Asian Experience”. Never dazed, I was certain that the restaurant would be able to accommodate a vegetarian, for I’ve always heard they are much more common in California then where I come from.
When the waiter returned to take our order he recommended, without hesitation, a number of items on the menu which could be customized for a vegetarian palate. I selected an entree which the waiter said could include tofu instead of the “protein”. My two colleagues selected Whole Roasted Duckling “Peking Style” with Traditional Garnishes (For Two). My work-mates are used to my vegetarian lifestyle and I am accustomed to their “need for meat”. I was actually pleased to be dining at a restaurant without a large steak knife on my table. Steakhouses are well funded by business travelers on an expense account … but I’ll save that for another post.
Our appetizers arrived first and as we were finishing those, our main courses arrived. I honestly can’t fully remember what I had that night. It was delicious, I assure you, but the my head was reeling from the the whole duck that arrived at our table draped on a platter held with two arms by a server. The duck’s body lay listless, covered in a dark brown sauce. It’s long neck hanging off the platter, I watched the head wobble to and fro as the server took it to a nearby cutting station.
Now I was uncomfortable to say the least. I don’t ever recall seeing an entire duck served table-side like this. The closest I could recall would be seeing ducks hanging upside down in shops of San Francisco’s China Town. Peering a a dead duck hanging in a China Town window is a different experience as you can easily walk away. You are also separated by glass which somehow keeps you an atmosphere away from the experience I was being subjected to at the Ritz.
As the server stepped up to the table-side carving station and began carving the sticky brown duck flesh from the bones I had to look away. I didn’t see him sever the head off the duck but I can tell you that my two meat eating counterparts were both jolted by the sight, one more than the other. The two joked at how uncomfortable it was to watch as a way of reassuring themselves that they ordered the right meal. I don’t know what other thoughts may have crept into their heads that night or the following days but I couldn’t help thinking about that poor duck and the others that visited the nearby tables that night. I think that the Roasted Duckling is a “specialty” of Wolfgang Puck, or at least that particular restaurant. I think there is a reason we don’t see more of these sightings around the U.S. It is uncomfortable for most and I have to think that staring down a flight of ducks each night has to be hard on the servers some nights … if they let it cross their minds.
As I flew back to my hometown I thought about what elegant creatures ducks are. There are so many kind people in the world that admire them and even take time to watch them with their families and friends at a local lake or pond. I love to watch their feet paddle beneath the water, or watch them dunk their heads under and stick their tail feathers up as they feed off what’s underneath. I also love to watch ducks in the Spring and early Summer as they watch over their young and protect them as they grow. Of course, the ducks at Wolfgang Puck’s have likely never seen the outdoors.
Wolfgang is credited for being a “Top Chef” and he is certainly a top restaurateur. I wish him the ability to add more compassion to his plates at all his restaurants.