August 17, 2008

Grand Lux Cafe

Grand Lux Cafe at theVenetian was the location of my most recent dining out experience.

If you don't already know, I work at the Venetian. I say "work" but we musicians rarely call what we do "work". It truly is a gift to use your talents in such diverse ways. At the Venetian, I perform with The Phantom of the Opera, renamed for this production Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular. It's truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get to play for such a fantastic production. And the Venetian is one of the premiere destination spots for tourists & celebrities. You never know on any given night who is sitting in the audience!

One of my friends is a musician with Blue Man Group also performing at the Venetian. We often joke that since I started playing with Phantom 2 years ago, we still haven't met before/between/after our respective shows for coffee or snacks. So last month, he suggested we meet for coffee at the Grand Lux - just a hop, skip & a jump from the lobby of Phantom. I ordered my coffee and stood waiting for him to arrive. No luck. His sound check went long & he was unable to meet me. No big deal: I'd see him the next day in our yoga class so I could give him a hard time later.

But this excellent cup of coffee has stuck in my mind for the last 4 weeks. Nothing has compared - I LOVE coffee, though I don't usually wax poetic about it. But this iced latte was, how can I say it... heavenly. Starbucks, who?

Last night, I had plans to meet a friend for dinner before the 7pm Phantom show. She wanted to meet at the Venetian, so we decided to try the Grand Lux for food, not just coffee. I didn't realize that Grand Lux is part of the Cheesecake Factory franchise, but apparently it is.

I downloaded the pdf menu and scoured it for vegetarian & vegan choices (she is a lacto-vegetarian). There were 4 choices that jumped out at me immediately:
1) Wild Mushroom Burger
2) Pasta Fresca
3) Crispy Sesame Tofu, and
4) "Vegetables as a Meal" served with rice

Not wanting to take any chances in getting stuck at a restaurant where we wouldn't be happy, I called for more information on each meal:
1) Is the cheese in or on the mushroom burger?
2) Can I have the Pasta Fresca without the parmesan?
3) What about the orange sauce on the tofu?
4) How many veggies can I choose for my meal?

The man who answered the phone was helpful, answering each question patiently and politely. I felt armed & prepared for our meal, as did my friend, so we proceeded to meet at Grand Lux Cafe for our dinner at 5pm. We only waited 2 minutes for a table!

Our waitress took our orders - my friend ordered Manhattan Salad "Vegetarian" (chopped salad with Romaine Lettuce, Asparagus, Tomato, White Beans, Fresh Beets, Red Onions, Lentils and Assorted Vegetables all tossed in the house vinegrette). You can order this salad as Vegetarian, or with Tuna, Chicken, Shrimp or Turkey. When my friend said "vegetarian", the waitress asked "Do you eat cheese?" My friend answered yes, she would like cheese on her salad.

Then it was my turn to order. I wanted the Tofu but the waitress asked "Are you vegetarian? Because this dish is not vegetarian - the sauce is oyster based." Hmm.... this is an odd turn of events (the man on the phone did not tell me this tidbit). The waitress told me that she is vegetarian and was very upset to find out after eating the plate of tofu that there was oyster in the sauce. I changed my order to Pasta Fresca without cheese.

Pasta Fresca: pasta tossed with roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, garlic & olive oil.

The food arrived and we were astounded by the sheer size of the Manhattan salad! My friend couldn't finish it - she actually took half of it home with her. My pasta was fantastic, and even though I didn't finish either, I did not take the leftovers with me because I had to play the show right after & didn't really want to have to store food in the orchestra green room - not because it would spoil but because people would undoubtedly eat it! (Musicians are generally very hungry people)

Although our meals were delicious, and obviously we had the added bonus of having a vegetarian waitress, my mind keeps trying to wrap around the oyster base in the tofu dish. I have to ask the powers-that-be "who eats tofu?" The unilateral answer is usually vegetarians, right? Who goes to a restaurant like Grand Lux Cafe, where the menu includes a wide variety of foods (pasta, meats, pizza, salads) and orders tofu? Vegetarians. No? So, why, if you know vegetarians are going to gravitate to the tofu, would you serve it with a non-vegetarian sauce? That doesn't make sense to me. I've written a long comment to the restaurant in regard to this situation.

There were enough choices on the menu that were lacto-vegetarian & could easily be modified to be vegan. Of course, I am still swooning from the idea that my waitress was vegetarian and that she was so vocal and helpful with our ordering process.