Mike - I think you found the secret to eating out as a vegetarian/vegan. You said you were at your favorite restaurant, so they probably recognized you as a regular customer. Then you gave the chef the freedom to make a salad for you. The chefs get bored making the same things over and over again, so by giving him some room to create something for you, it was probably very refreshing for him.
If you go the same restaurants frequently, let the hostess/waitress/chef know that you're vegan or vegetarian. If they really want to make you happy and keep you as a regular customer, you will know it when you get your meal. I would even call ahead to ask if the chef knows how to prepare vegan/vegetarian. If you get a bad meal or they add things you asked be removed, don't go back, because they don't really care.
If you're visiting a city, you can always look for vegetarian/vegan restaurants on www.happycow.com
"God gave you your body as a gift, so you should take care of it." - My Mom