Talking Turkey

Stalking the restaurant holiday meal

By Elisa Camahort

In the years that I’ve been a vegetarian, I’ve been to many, many meaty Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. And, yes, I confess that sometimes it’s tough. Even pre-veggie, I rarely ate turkey, other than at those holiday dinners. Even so, when those nights roll around, the turkey tempts me. What is that? Nutritional nostalgia, I guess.

In the early years, my mom and I both fell into this “must have main dish” mentality. Other cultures eat a series of small or side dishes: tapas, kimchee, dim sum. There’s no equivalent here. We are definitely an appetizer-entrée-dessert kind of country.

Usually my mom would go all out on some vegetarian main dish: a casserole, a stew, a pasta dish–something hearty, something veggie . . . something I felt obligated to make a major dent in, especially if no one else was.

It took years for me to convince my mom that I would not starve or feel deprived if left to my devices with all of the normal side dishes at holiday meals. We’re talking sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberries, salad, bread, corn, maybe even another cooked vegetable–not to mention the absolute necessity to save room for dessert.

I’m sure you see what I mean: a big, full meal without a main dish.

Actually, I’m often happier in a restaurant if I approach my meal with the same philosophy. You try going to Larkspur’s Left Bank, for example, and finding a real vegetarian entrée on the menu–doesn’t exist. Am I unhappy to chow down on a beet salad, a side of spinach, Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes? Not unhappy at all, thank you.

Sometimes I do feel like dispelling the pitying attitudes of my holiday dining companions. You can only hear so many jokes about Tofurky.

So every now and then I bring a delicious recipe for vegan tofu pot pie, gotten long ago from PETA. (They’re not just about naked models, people!)

It’s got gravy made with nutritional yeast; it’s got a homemade crust; it’s got the corn and peas we all remember lovingly from Swanson’s. It’s hearty, savory and filling.

But it’s got no meat at all. And that makes the holiday season that much more full of thanks, peace and goodwill in my book.

Vegging Out

Where to cage a vegetarian meal on Thanksgiving

Sparks. The mother of all vegetarian menus in the North Bay now that Roxanne’s has inexplicably closed, Sparks offers a full six-course holiday menu of organic, vegan food, prompting the usual mewling question: why do vegans always get to eat such great desserts? There is a pre-holiday seating on Wednesday, Nov. 24, at 7pm, and three Thursday seatings, at 1pm, 4pm and 7pm. Prix fixe cost is $45 per person. 16248 Main St., Guerneville. 707.869.8206.

Lydia’s. More down-home is Lydia’s, which has dishes made three ways, raw, vegan or vegetarian, depending on your preference. They will be open with their takeout for the holiday as well as offering table service. 31 Bolinas Ave., Fairfax. 415.456.5300.

Vegevillage. For something completely different, head out for Chinese food this Thanksgiving. Vegevillage in Boyes Hot Springs offers over 60 vegetarian dishes to choose from and will be open for the holiday, though husband and wife owners Juliana Chen and Jeffrey Huang aren’t making a traditional American menu. “Customers will just choose their favorites,” Juliana predicts brightly. 18350 Hwy. 12, Boyes Hot Springs. 707.939.8383.

Going for Broke

Sometimes, faced with the daunting task of spending two days in the kitchen, families opt to pack up and pack it in where someone else does the cooking. Here are some of the best Thanksgiving spots in the North Bay.

Dry Creek Kitchen. Begin with foie gras or a lobster and porcini soup, trifle with rabbit, turkey, bass or beef and finish with either pumpkin, apple, quince or chocolate at this outstanding eatery. The Kitchen seats between 2pm and 8:30pm on Thanksgiving, and the three-course prix fixe is $55 per adult; under 12, half price. 317 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.922.5399.

The Duck Club. Enjoy a splendid view with that splendid meal at this restaurant in the Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa. Seating between 3pm and 7pm, the Duck Club offers a fairly traditional meal, with choices between turkey, filet mignon and salmon. And, of course, there’s that view. $45 per adult; under 10, $12.95. 103 Coast Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay. 707.875.3525.

Insalata’s. The sun always shines from the plates at this Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, which brightens for the holiday with pancetta-wrapped salmon or roast turkey with a sonnet of side dishes, and could begin with an appetizer platter perhaps containing every good thing on the planet, from spiced nuts to Dungeness crab salad to Meyer lemons to Cowgirl Creamery cheese to roast wild mushrooms. Such lovelies as roast red kuri squash soup, marinated olives, mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and others can be purchased from the takeaway counter as a boost to home-cooked efforts. Seatings are between 2pm and 7:30pm, reservations required. $49 per adult; under 12, $24. 120 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo. 415.457.7700.

Madrona Manor. This elegant building, reminiscent of an earlier time, comes alive at the holidays. Chef Jesse Wiley offers a prix fixe three-course meal that could start with a lobster chowder enlivened by profiteroles, for chrissakes, and could end with a pear quince crisp; turkey or ham in the middle. Six seatings between 1pm and 7:45pm. $64 adults; under 12, $32. 1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg. 707.433.4231.

Mountain Home Inn. Some enjoy working up an appetite before celebratory gorging, and planning a day on Mt. Tam makes a wonderful fit for retiring to the rustic elegance of this table. Thanksgiving begins with a hot apple drink, has a special appetizer for celebrants under 12 and offers perhaps the most unusual holiday main course–a red flannel hash with beets, ham, griddle duck eggs and grits. Indeedy. Seating is from noon to 6pm. $32 per adult; under 12, $16. 810 Panoramic Hwy., Mill Valley. 415.381.9000.

Oakville Grocery. Not offering a sit-down holiday meal, the Oakville nonetheless is there for the harried home cook or the guest requested to bring a little something. Heavy on the comfort side of the food spectrum, the prepared foods range from a whole Diestel turkey, cooked and ready to go ($59.95) to a fresh cranberry sauce ($6.95) to a swooningly good creamed spinach with parmigiano reggiano, which, considering the price of spinach, is a deal at $9.95 a pound. Two North Bay locations: 7856 St. Helena Hwy., Oakville, 707.944.8802; and 124 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707.433.3200.

Santé at the Sonoma Mission Inn. Make the terrible choice between lamb loin or ahi tartar–among others–to begin. Flirt lightly with a black Mission fig and pear terrine, and then stagger on to the heartbreaking decision between prime rib, organic turkey, smoked pork loin, halibut or polenta with a grilled veggie tian for your main pleasure. There are, of course, some six desserts. It’s a feast. Serving from 2pm to 9pm, reservations only. $99 adults; $35, 12 and under. 100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma. 707.938.9000, ext. 2415.

–Gretchen Giles

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From the November 10-16, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley’s Weekly Newspaper.

© Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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