Steve Wynn, I’m Glad You’re a Vegan and All But Would You Please Read This? Thank you.
If I may rant for a minute…
As I mentioned a few days ago, Andy and I visited Las Vegas September 6-9 to celebrate my ?nd birthday on the 7th. The highlight of our trip was supposed to be a decadent vegan feast at one of the dining establishments in mogul Steve Wynn’s resorts: Wynn Las Vegas or Encore Las Vegas. Wynn, a vegan himself supposedly, recently decided that every restaurant in his resorts would offer vegan options.
After reading this article, I was super-excited for the opportunity to enjoy cruelty-free chow–ordered directly from the menu, no omissions or substitutions!–amidst the glitz and gaudiness of the Strip.
Well, if our meal at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare,* located in the Wynn resort, was any indication of the quality of service and cuisine vegans can expect at one of his restaurants, Steve Wynn can keep his vegan food as far as I’m concerned.
Someone needs to go back to the drawing board.
When we returned to Denver, I wrote a letter to David Snyder, executive chef of both resorts, and have yet to receive a response. I’ll admit it’s not my best writing, but hey I was still a bit angry.
Dear Mr. Snyder:
News that both the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas resorts would be offering vegan choices in all of their restaurants spread throughout the vegan Facebook community faster than a good cupcake recipe.
When an article about the Wynn’s new menu offerings popped up in my newsfeed, I immediately commented: “I’m so there!!” And I wasn’t bluffing. Being a flight attendant, I was able to get myself and my boyfriend from Denver to Las Vegas shortly after reading the article—just in time for my birthday on September 7.
When my boyfriend, Andrew, made our reservation, he mentioned twice that I’m a vegan and he’s a vegetarian. We expected the staff of a restaurant of Bertolotta’s caliber (read: price point) to know exactly what to do from there.
However, our evening at Bartolotta taught me that simply having vegan choices on a restaurant menu is not enough. Having a sensitive, knowledgeable staff and chefs who don’t need dairy (or other animal-based foods) to make their food flavorful are key to a pleasurable dining experience.
Even though Andrew and I arrived early, we were seated almost immediately. As we took our seats, I never imagined we’d have an audience of glassy fish eyes staring at us, from the glass case being wheeled from table to table. I held up my menu to shield myself from the pitiful looks until Andrew let the server know what was up.
“They’re already dead!” the server’s assistant murmured jokingly as he brought our bread.
“I’m quite aware,” I replied through my teeth.
After getting what appeared to be the restaurant’s only copy of the vegan/vegetarian menu to share between us, we placed our order.
The meal started out well. My Grey-Goose-Martini-sans-vermouth was perfectly chilled and smooth. The bread we received was crusty, warm and fresh, accompanied by fruity, zingy olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I started with a simple salad of sautéed arugula and mushrooms that was so good I was tempted to just order another one and call it an evening.
The main course, on the other hand… I ordered risotto with summer vegetables, expecting a comforting bowl of Arborio rice topped with crisp chunks of colorful vegetables. What I got was an artless white bowl of goo with flecks of green, which were bits of cucumber, tips of asparagus, and peas. Bleh. Flavorless, and worst of all, undercooked—the rice was unpleasantly chewy, sticking in my teeth.
Andrew fared slightly better, with linguine, tomato sauce and mushrooms. As he slurped it up, filling me with envy, he said the dish was “okay.”
When the server asked how we liked our meals, I shrugged and said the risotto was undercooked. He said that the risotto was “al dente,” explaining that Italians cook it this way because it keeps them from getting fat. I can only assume that this cooking method keeps people thin because there’s no way they’d be able to eat much of it.
I also mentioned that the risotto lacked flavor. “That’s because there’s no cheese,” the server replied matter-of-factly. So… because I’m a vegan and choose not to eat cheese, I’m supposed to have bland food?
After some visible hesitation on the part of the server (and my part as well), I was able to order a replacement entrée: rigatoni with tomato sauce, topped with fried eggplant. It was okay. At least the pasta was slightly less “al dente” than the risotto. I only managed to get a few bites down before I realized what the server had been talking about: undercooked risotto swelled up in my tummy, and I had to put my fork down lest I explode.
There’s always room for dessert though, and I received a special one for my birthday. I don’t know what it was called, but it was a rectangle of vanilla “ice cream,” with a crunchy layer of chocolate underneath. “Happy Birthday” was written on the plate in chocolate, and it was lit by a single candle. Delightful! It tasted like a cold version of crème brulee.
But sigh…I was only able to finish half of it, while Andrew got the check.
$125!!!! PLUS TIP!!!
We were expecting the meal to be expensive. But we were also expecting it to be a whole lot better than it was.
I am originally from Cincinnati. There are several upscale “omnivore” restaurants in my hometown that were able to prepare a decadent, flavorful vegan meal for me, with little to no notice. Those restaurants never formally announced a special vegan menu, the way the Wynn resorts have—they just did their thing and did it well. You mean to tell me that I can get better food in Cincinnati than I can on the Strip in Las Vegas??**
Overall, I’m grateful for your decision to offer vegan / vegetarian meals and hope you’ll continue to do so. I’m writing to you because I hope you’ll take note of my experience and use it to make improvements so you can ensure that everyone has a wonderful meal at Bartolotta, as well as all the other dining establishments at the Wynn resorts. Word does travel fast in the vegan community, after all.
Alecia A. Lott
P.S. It is easy for me to hop on a flight to Las Vegas; I’ve been there twice since July and plan to visit frequently. Have you ever considered hiring a vegan consultant for your restaurants? I am willing to work in exchange for food.
Anyway…told you it wasn’t my best writing… ;)
The reason I’m posting my letter today is because I just read another article about Mr. Wynn–he’s now tying his staff members to straight-backed wooden chairs and making them watch vegan documentaries on a continuing loop, only pausing to let them drink wheatgrass shakes. Okay, okay, okay maybe not so much. Though I think his heart’s in the right place, he’s clearly missing what’s important.
I don’t want Steve Wynn to be perceived as some hero just because he’s offering vegan food now. Big fucking deal–you can get vegan food at Taco Bell (ahh, the lowly bean burrito, my savior on so many financially-challenged nights). Who the hell cares if the food is vegan, if the food SUCKS?
Mr. Wynn–if you happen to be reading–I propose that you do the following:
- TRAIN YOUR CHEFS. TRAIN YOUR CHEFS. TRAIN YOUR CHEFS. Make them understand that the vegan dishes should be given just as much (if not more) attention and care as the non-vegan ones. Have them visit some vegan restaurants to get some pointers. Have them talk to vegans (hey, I already volunteered!) and get feedback. They shouldn’t just throw some slop on a plate and expect me to be all excited just because it’s devoid of animal ingredients–that’ll only get you so far. Impress me, dammit! I’m on vacation, I got all dressed up for this, and I’m paying just as much as the meat-eaters, for food that cost you far less!
- TRAIN YOUR STAFF. TRAIN YOUR STAFF. TRAIN YOUR STAFF. (And no, I don’t mean sitting them down in front of a TV.) If someone announces their veganism before visiting one of your restaurants, the staff should plan accordingly. A vegan should not have a case full of dead animals wheeled in front of their table. (I don’t even think people who eat meat truly enjoy looking at a case full of dead animals!) A vegan in an upscale establishment should not be given butter for their bread, only to wait for what seems like an eternity to get olive oil/balsamic instead. Above all, no one should be telling them–or even implying–that their food is less than the highest quality because something is “missing.”
- Print more than one copy of the friggin’ vegan/vegetarian menu per restaurant! And make it available on your website as well. (I called the Wynn resort to request a copy of Bartolotta’s vegan menu via email, and was supposed to receive it within the hour. That was two weeks ago.) Absence of menus is just another example of the lack of preparedness that I perceived.
Mr. Wynn, if you’re going to have vegan food in your restaurants and announce the fact to the entire world, I believe you are obligated to show the world that said food can be delicious and worthwhile, that vegans don’t have to be treated like weirdos when they go out for a fancy meal. You are obligated to be prepared when vegans actually show up to eat at one of your restaurants (what, really??). Otherwise you’re doing the vegan movement a huge disservice. And no amount of documentary screenings can make up for that.