Natural Café on State Street for some delicious, inexpensive Mexican fusion food.
The Natural Café has a bunch of locations, including one near my old apartment in Goleta. The last time I had eaten lunch at the Goleta location, I had ordered a Buddha Burrito (sautéed vegetables, pinto beans, and rice in a whole wheat tortilla topped with ranchero sauce, cheese, and guacamole). When I had asked my server how to veganize it, he had suggested substituting their soy cheese.
Now, I tried to order the same thing at the State Street location. The girl taking my order was wearing a nametag that said "Justine" and she looked like she meant business. As it turned out, she did.
"I will have the Buddha Burrito, please, with soy cheese and no sour cream," I said.
Justine wrinkled her nose. "You’re vegan, huh? So am I." I was pleased. But Justine looked angry. "So… you know that our soy cheese is not vegan, then. It has casein in it."
"Really? I didn’t know that." It slightly annoyed me that when I had ordered the Buddha Burrito at the Goleta location with the specific direction that I would like it to be made vegan-friendly, the server had suggested this apparently non-vegan soy cheese. Oh, well.
But Justine was not finished. "And… the ginger soy sauce we use is not vegan, either. So you don’t want that."
This news was confusing to me. "How is the soy sauce not vegan?"
Justine sighed, exasperated. "Be-cause. It has white wine in it. And most white wine is not vegan." Her eyes added, "Duh."
I know that animal products like isinglass (fish bladder) are used to clarify most wine after it’s been fermented. But none of those animal products actually ends up in the wine, so it’s not like I’m ingesting them when I consume wine (or in this case, ginger soy sauce on a Buddha Burrito).
"Oh, that’s okay," I told Justine. "I don’t mind the wine."
She stared at me. "But it’s not vegan."
"Okay, but I don’t –"
"Look," she interrupted. "I’m going to make your burrito without the ginger soy sauce that isn’t vegan. Mmmkay?"
I didn’t know what to say. This had never happened to me before. A server at a restaurant had never, upon hearing that I was a vegan, insisted that I maintain the highest vegan standards while I was dining in their establishment.
I considered ordering something different because I was nervous that, without soy cheese or ginger soy sauce, my Buddha Burrito would taste less than enlightening.
But I felt like I had to prove myself to Justine. I was committed to the cause of veganizing the Buddha Burrito now. And I was going to eat that Buddha Burrito and I was going to like it.
It tasted fine. Whenever Justine the Vegan Police cruised by our table, I made a point of devouring it voraciously and raving to Nadia, through a mouthful of food, about how delicious this totally vegan Buddha Burrito was. As a result, I ended up eating it a little too quickly and I felt slightly ill afterward.
But in the end, I’m glad Justine knew what she was talking about. It’s really helpful when a server at a restaurant is vegan, since they know from experience what ingredients at their restaurant are not vegan-friendly.
And her proselytizing convinced me to get informed about which wines are vegan-friendly so I can go out of my way to drink them. All of them.