When dealing with vegetarians at -most- restaurants (at least here in Chicago)... you deal with a few things: lack of imagination, bad timing and outright snobbery.
Oh... and the Chef's fragile ego. And the fact that; in the Heartland... We like things to die for our meals.
Currently work at a -steak focused- eatery. Have worked at 2-3+star restaurants and it does blow me away as to... how unaccomodating many of the restaurants I have worked at, as well as... where I do work at, can be.
We try... Usually comes at a horrible time though, requesting a Vegetarian dinner. Like 8p on a Sat night. I'm the epitome of NOT being a vegetarian. Generally do prefer that something die for my dinner.
BUT... I have myself cooked veegetarian for fiends (even taking on an entirely vegetarian 5 course meal for friends). With a rather small touch of imagination... things CAN be done.
Look, if I can make Bolognese Ragu ENTIRELY out of mushroom duxelle and a roasted veg stock with a bit of Almond Milk, and make a Lasagne Bolognese with organic Goat's Milk (that was cool) cheese made without rennet and use thin layers of zucchini for noodles...
I am NOT saying I can stand up to a quickfire.
Most of the chef's I've worked for, I think would crumple in a few shows. Current one, I think can stay the course... But then again... our vegetarian options are a bit uninspired as well.
Just like the Military; a restaurant has not too many excuses for having a Standard Operating Procedure for a few vegetarian (or even pesc-etarian) options. And not being an unjoined collection of random sides.
I thing that, in accepting that we are not in India and that the US at least is a very much MEAT or something MUST DIE for our dinner... Both vegetarians (and the ones making reservations) as well as chefs/ owners DO nned to meet in the middle.
ANYONE with special dietary restriction; be it a vegetarian (and don't suprize a restaurant with being a 4th level macrobiotic who doesn't eat anything that casts a shadow) or a serious food allergy... CALL FIRST! Insist upon speaking to the chef (don't matter whom the dude is... Ask for Wolfgang Puck (if it's Wolfie's place)damnit!) and speak to them about dietary restrictions (and... not at 5p on a Sat night, 2hrs before your reso). Give a shot to the idea that we just MIGHT have to put something together entirely special and possibly out of our prep.
Try something like... 24hr notice? Work with us and we will work with you.
Chefs and owners... be cool about it when these customers call you. Be accomodating. Be CREATIVE!
If Natalie wold ever care to have Mushroom Bolognese, enirely vegetarian... I'm more than happy to make it for you!