Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Southern Surprises

The husband and I just returned from a trip to Atlanta and Tuscaloosa to see some family and attend a HUGE southern wedding. I must say I'm not a big fan of the south, in large part because of the lack of vegan options. I am totally spoiled by life in the Bay Area, but I was happily surprised by some of the good eats we found on our journey.

First, I must give a shout out to Subway. Traveling via interstates has never been easier for vegans with Subways being so prevalent. Amen for the Veggie Delite. Alas, one can not subsist on Subway alone, so on my first day in Atlanta, my Aunt and I searched out Cafe Sunflower. Set back from the road in a strip mall, I had my reservations, but once inside the warm-hued walls, I was instantly at home. Sunflower is a vegetarian place, but has a lot of vegan options. I had the Portabella Burger with Baked Sweet Potato Fries, and it was awesome. Totally spot-hitting, it left me deliciously fueled for the rest of my site-seeing day. I highly recommend it to all Atlantans.

Even though I have no pictures, I also think highly of The Spice Market. We had dinner there and our knowledgeable waiter pointed out the numerous items that were vegan or could be made so. The focus here is Asian street food, and all our dishes were highly flavorful and with just the right amount of spice. The space itself is just nice to look at, so check it out. If dining out just ain't your thing, I suggest you do your shopping at Sevananda in Little 5 Points. This huge co-op has everything your vegan heart desires, and lots of raw food goodies too. Plus, a stroll around the eclectic neighborhood will help burn off any indulgences you may have purchased. :)

Atlanta is a large metropolis, so I wasn't too surprised to find vegan fare there, but I was a little worried about Tuscaloosa. As it turns out, I had nothing to fret about. This university town has plenty of eating and drinking options, and as we strolled around we saw a number of places with menus that could be easily veganized. There were a bunch of Italian and Thai places - both good bets for vegan options. But then, as we were looking at menus and deciding, we saw one that had the words "can be made vegan" next to a few items. Done. Any place that knows enough about veganism to put it on their menu is a winner. Into the Mellow Mushroom we headed.We opted to make the most of the laid back atmosphere of this place and sit at the bar. After we settled in with some Hoegaarden, we looked over the menu and placed our order. Good call since the bartender was on point. I had little faith that she'd actually remember all the items I wanted on my "build-you-own" salad but she did indeed. My greens with tempeh and veggies galore was so tasty, and I rounded out the meal by ordering their famous giant pretzels. Vegans must go with the plain variety because the garlic/parmesan is out and even the plain salt has butter (to help the salt stick I guess). Plain was just fine, however, and even though I had to ask for mustard (they were served with marinara!?) they were awesome. Warm and soft and wonderful.

The rest of the weekend, we were at the mercy of our hosts in terms of food, but I must say I was kept well-fed. Even when dinner was just some steamed veggies and hummus, I really appreciated the thought, especially considering "vegan" is still a pretty foreign word down there. The only time I was left food-less was at brunch on the day of the wedding, so me and the hubby bounced early and hit up Manna Grocery in town. I had discovered this place earlier and the deli was hoppin' when we got there. I didn't have my camera, but my veggie sandwich and black bean soup were delicious! Everyone in Tuscaloosa should shop there.

Finally, after an amazing wedding, and with good memories freshly made, it was time to head back to Atlanta for one more meal before heading back to SF. My Aunt (smart lady that she is) chose the R. Thomas Deluxe Grill for the occasion and I'm quite happy she did! Complete with quirky exterior and dining area, R. Thomas is a feast for all your senses. The atmosphere is truly welcoming to all, and the menu reflects exactly that. Serving up food for vegans and others alike is their specialty, and if my Thai Bowl was any indication, they know what they're doing. Places like this are little gems in a big sprawling city, and I love coming across them when I travel.

So, I guess that the south ain't so bad after all. If you head there anytime soon, fear not your stomach's fate. The more people know about food as it relates to their health and the health of the planet, the more people demand healthy options, and I think this trip illustrates that point. Let's hope the trend continues!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Quick Note To Say...

.....that even though my purse (with my camera in it) was stolen off the back of my chair at Millennium while dining with my parents, it is still my favorite restaurant. Will I hang my purse off the back of my chair there ever again? Um, no. However, the food was fantastic, and they were very helpful with calling the police, bringing us water while we waited and giving me a $100 gift certificate. Yeah, the stolen goods were worth way more, but whatever. I hereby declare that a lot more than a stolen purse would have to happen to me there in order for me not to return.

That being said, the rest of my parents' trip was awesome. Sure I had to spend part of it at the DMV, getting a new phone, and having my locks changed, but it was great just to have them around for all of that. We had some delicious meals too, and even though I couldn't take pictures, I highly recommend Judahlicious if you're out by the beach, and La Mediterranee for dining with others, especially before a show at Yoshi's.

The husband and I are taking off for Atlanta and Tuscaloosa on Tuesday. We're headed to a wedding but will be seeing some family and dining at some veg-friendly places along the way. I was able to get a replacement digital camera today, so more colorful blogs are forthcoming. Have a great week everyone!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Back to Lettus, Ubuntu, and Cha-Ya

With my parents in town, the eat-fest is officially on. Being vegan and food-lovers, not unlike yours truly, they are happy to be dragged around to every vegan eatery in town, much to my delight. So far, we've had a blast and have had three meals of note. I've been to all three restaurants before, but have only actually blogged about one. In any event, here's the run-down:

After picking them up from the airport, we head directly to Lettus for brunch. Hunger and excitement precluded me from taking any pictures, but I have to say that this is the best place for vegans and others to get brunch together. The vegan blueberry pancakes are amazing, and always served with whatever fruit is fresh and seasonal. My dad had the tofu scramble which he claims was awesome, and the hubby got his share of dairy and eggs in some french toast. (Note to self: Bring friends to brunch here more often.)

The next day was spent entirely in wine country, and we had a blast. Certainly a highlight of our trip was an amazing lunch at Ubuntu. I'm not sure how I feel about them switching to an all small plate menu, but it did allow me to sample a bunch of different things. I took pictures of almost all the dishes so here you go:

From left to right, you have chickpea fries with romesco sipping suace, heirloom tomato in free-form, yellow-bean soup, polenta and veggies, fregola and tomato stew, muscat grape sorbet and tapioca, and mini carrot cupckaes.

Not a single thing was less than stellar, but my faves were the yellow-bean soup and the grape sorbet. The former was so savory and comforting and those croutons were doused with some super fantastic olive oil and salt. The latter was refreshing, cool, and deeply flavored. Like the grape candy of my childhood without tasting even slightly artificial. Ubuntu serves up some of the yummiest veg food in the Bay Area. Go there if you haven't already.

Finally (for now anyway), we hit up Cha-Ya yesterday. My dad loves vegan sushi, but is always stuck with the pre-made stuff at Whole Foods; not bad, but no Cha-Ya. The pictures I took are of my two most favorite things there: The Seaweed salad with miso-tahini dressing, and the Cha-Ya roll. Normally I don't like seaweed salad because normally it comes with a vinaigrette of some kind. But, with the miso-tahini, it becomes salty and savory and divine. One of my favorite things to eat in the whole city. Simple and light. On the other hand, the Cha-Ya roll is as decadent as vegan sushi gets. It's a regular roll stuffed with veggies and then tempura-battered and deep-fried. The sauce it is served with is more sweet than savory, making this roll almost like dessert. Of course, if you're anything like us, you'll still be up for a quick jaunt to Maggie Mudd for mini-waffle sundaes:

My parents are in town until Saturday and we have plans that include vegan eateries Herbivore, and Millennium as well as some places that are "other-friendly" as well. Stay tuned to find out if my stomach can handle it all!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cafe KATi

Last night my husband and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary, 9 years of being a couple, and 15 years of friendship. It hardly feels that long, but such is life I suppose. Last year, we celebrated our big day with an elaborate Bodega Bay and wine tasting trip. This year we decided to keep it simple and just go out for a nice meal. This was due in part to the fact that it was a Tuesday night, but also because my parents - fun-loving vegans that they are - are coming into town on Saturday and we're in for a week or good eats, Napa trips, and other surprises. So, in keeping with the mellow theme, we wanted to go somewhere in the neighborhood and decided to finally try out Cafe KATi.

First of all, let me assure you that is no error in capitalization; that is actually how they write it. As for pronunciation, I have no idea. I meant to ask while we were there, but I forgot. Oh well...

Anyway, I found the restaurant online first, during one of my OpenTable searches, and I remembered it because it's Asian-fusion-heavy-on-the-seafood menu seemed right up my husband's alley. I emailed them about the veg options on the menu and received a quick response that they could happily veganize them for me. Score one for KATi. I must admit I was still a bit skeptical because some of the reviews on yelp are downright odd. Some recount wonderful evenings while others tell tales of drunken chefs and horrendous service. Still, it was in walking distance, had a decent menu, and was something new, so off we went.

Right off the bat I was a little worried since the small dining room had a large party in it and there was only one waitress. When almost 20 minutes went by without anyone helping us, the bus boy finally took our order, telling us that his boss had to go to the store. Huh? While my husband tried to figure out what they possibly could have ran out of, I was just a tad worried that the broken English of our bus boy was not enough to translate "vegan" to the chef. However, as soon as the waitress did return she assured me that she checked the ticket and all was well. Soon thereafter our appetizers arrived. I had the delicious Vietnamese spring roll - rice paper around mango and rice noodles and bursting with mint and cilantro. My only gripe was that there could have been more of the accompanying sauce. It was so yummy, and my rolls were a bit dry. No worries though. My gnawing hunger was abated, and we sat back to enjoy our wine while we waiting for our entrees.

And waited...

And, well, you get the idea. It took a while. About half way through the wait, the waitress alerted me that the chef had put butter in the cous-cous and asked if I would like jasmine rice instead. Um, yes, yes I would. I'm pretty sure at this point they had to start cooking some rice. Luckily, we were in anniversary bliss and our mood could not be dampened. Our waitress was extremely nice which made up for the kitchen's slowness, the dim lighting was lovely, and it was a beautiful night. To top it off, when our meals finally arrived, they were awesome. I mean really freakin' good. I had Malaysian red curried veggies and rice en papillote (cooked in parchment paper) and the flavors were spot on - vibrant, savory, and rich. It reminded me of some of the best food we ate in Thailand. Well worth the wait.

So, will we go back? I doubt it. I mean, they only have the two menu items for vegans, one of which has to be altered, and while the husband loved his meal, he is pretty easy to please. I will say that we lucked out in that Tuesday is free corkage night, so perhaps if we've got a bottle of wine that goes well with curry on some Tuesday in the future, you could find us there. But otherwise, there are so many more places to eat in this town, and I plan on trying as many as possible!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Jessica, Sarah and me at the Book Bash!

Ever since Sarah Kramer put out her first book How it All Vegan with then-partner Tanya Barnard, I've been hooked on her sassy style and fun approach to food. So, when I found out that VegNews was hosting a party for the release of her latest book, Vegan-A-Go-Go, I knew I wanted to be there. Then I found out that a $30 ticket got me a copy of the book (complete with autograph), all the drinks and food I could eat, and the possibility of winning some awesome door prizes, and I knew I HAD to be there.

"There" was the Ginger Rubio hair salon right here in SF last night. My friend Jessica and I went and had a great time. Sarah was inviting, warm, funny, and oh-so stylish, and the food and drink were fantastic. All in the 50's rockabilly style Sarah is so known for, we dined on rocket-dogs (spicy vegan sausages in a blanket), triscuits with mushroom spread, celery and carrot sticks with french onion dip, tollhouse cookies, root beer floats made with Virgil's, pink ladies (lemonade and vodka), and Pabst blue ribbon.... just to name a few. The crowd all had a blast and, even though I didn't take home any of the awesome door prizes, I still feel like I won because the book itself is prize enough. It is also my fave of the day. I mean, c'mon - an awesomely designed vegan cookbook and travel guide that fits in your pocket? I'm all about it. You should be too!

The root beer floats were awesome!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tasty Soda That's Safe

After my post about my love of Hansen's Diet Black Cherry Soda, I think it only fair to point our some other yummy diet sodas that DON'T contain any artificial sweeteners. To that end, I present my fave for the day: Zevia Sodas. Sweetened primarily with stevia extract, these guys are not as strongly-flavored as the Hansen's, but still quite yummy in that bubbly fizzy way a soda should be. I've tried all the flavors but the cola (because it has caffeine) and they are all way good. Finally, a soda without chemicals that tastes good and I can get in a store near me. Hopefully, you can find it by you as well, and we can all drink healthfully and sweetly together.