Austin's restaurants are catering to our every dietary desire. Excuse me, waiter, is there bread in my bread?
One of the fine, if over-coddling, schools we sent our son to during his fine and over-coddled life had a pedagogical philosophy called DWOK, or Different Ways of Knowing. The school operated under the assumption that every child is a unique flower with different educational needs and a different pace of learning. The underlying philosophy was this: Everybody is special. We all get a trophy.
A generation of kids has grown up believing this. An entire crop of special flowers is blooming in Austin at the unofficial rate of 100 new residents per second, and all they want to do is go to restaurants. If you look at Austin restaurant menus these days—which you have plenty of time to do while waiting in line—you might say they specialize in DWOE, or Different Ways of Eating. Everybody is special. We all get a menu.
There was a time, in a recently remembered past, when your Austin restaurant food options were thus: “Would you like that chicken-fried steak with or without cheese gravy?” If you wanted a vegetarian meal, it was either overdressed salad from a bag or a forced bulgur march to Mother’s. But now, you can have it your way everywhere, no matter how obscure that way might be.
At Odd Duck, an excellent eatery in South Austin, DWOE is infinitely on display. Odd Duck goes much further than marking a menu item with a little G in a circle. There are six separate menus available in addition to the main one: dairy-free, gluten free, a menu for celiac disease sufferers (super gluten-free), nut-free, pescatarian, and vegetarian. This situation isn’t an outlier. More than likely, it’s the dystopian menu future.
Or just the dystopian future, period, though brown-rice veggie sushi at HEB and gluten-free communion wafers don’t exactly look like Blade Runner. This is the birthplace of Whole Foods, after all. Now the rest of the food scene has caught up, largely thanks to a new generation of customers who can order a gluten-free beer with a straight face.
Just look at Austin’s gold standard for fine dining, Uchi, and its sister Uchiko. Perhaps feeling sorry for diners who can’t enjoy the sinful foie gras nigiri, the restaurants recently announced a daily five-course vegetarian tasting menu and a monthly 10-course Omakase menu. Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it to you;” it comes from the Japanese word for “entrust.” As in trust the chef, which is slightly ironic when you circle back to DWOE.
Overall, it’s good that modern restaurants are sensitive to the situation. Celiac disease causes great suffering for many people, as does lactose intolerance. And it’s both wise and sensible not to eat meat.
But how much should we demand of our restaurants? There’s a difference between people with serious health concerns and picky eaters who are trying to turn ordering into an art form. There are many different and totally legitimate ways of eating, but maybe some are best practiced at home. You’re an adult and can figure out what is and isn’t fish.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, my chicken-fried steak with cheese sauce has arrived.