Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Suburban Franchised Eating? Sure!

Generally speaking, I avoid large franchises like the plague. They are, on the whole, not very vegan-friendly, and full of gross additives and preservatives - not to mention way more fat and calories than anyone needs. There are notable exceptions to this rule, however, and my favorite has got to be Fresh Choice. At this salad and hot bar set-up they use mostly local produce and every item is labeled with its ingredients, fat content, and calorie count. Oh, and veg things are marked VEG and vegan things V. It makes life so easy, and the best part? It's all you can eat and there are tons of tasty options.

My first plate consisted of this large salad made up of greens, carrots, steamed broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, black olives, and some pita triangles. I used the chipotle hummus as my dressing. Freshly delicious, with just the right amount of spice.

I also had some harvest vegetable soup, which was full of comforting spices and totally hit the spot. After this, I may or may not have gone back up several more times, trying out all the vegan breads and noodle dishes, until I was stuffed. ;)

If there is a Fresh Choice near you, I highly suggest trying it out. It's a great place to eat well with others in suburbia. Enjoy!

I'm off to Napa for the weekend, so stay tuned for that upon my return. Meanwhile, have a fantastic week everyone!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Plant and DOSA Updates

Yesterday was a day of old favorites around here, as we played host to my husband's parents from NJ. It was a lovely day all around, so I just wanted to blog some updates. First up, let it be known that DOSA on Fillmore is still my second favorite restaurant in SF (Millennium, you'll always be my number one, baby). Let's adore my masala dosa from last night, shall we?

Yes, it's a savory, beautiful half moon of goodness. And that coconut chutney is so delicious I get all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it. Love it.

I also had my fave DOSA appetizer, of course - the mango and goat cheese salad without the goat cheese. They seem to always switch up the dressing on this salad, and last night was a raspberry vinaigrette, but who cares. It's all about the mango and toasted hazelnuts. Yum.

Earlier in the day, we had lunch at the perfect place to take any out of town guests, especially on a Saturday: The Plant Cafe at the Embarcadero. Sit along the water and have yummy food, like my Napa cabbage salad with baked tofu, above. Go to the Farmer's Market next door before or after. If the sun is shining, it's the perfect Saturday. Don't get me wrong, I do not forget my past disappointments here, but The Plant was back on point for our visit yesterday, so while all is not forgiven, their tasty dishes and superb location means they'll have to mess up royally for me to never return.

In between lunch and dinner, we checked out the Cal Academy, which was far more awesome than I thought it would be. My new friend (above) from the rain forest there wants you to visit him. :)And the perfect way to end the night after sending the (very tired) parents back to their hotel? Hookah and wine at Cafe Chanta. San Francisco, I love you all the time, but it's on days like yesterday that you make me swoon.

Today will be much more low-key, but I think we're heading to my favorite suburban chain restaurant for dinner, so stay tuned. Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


It might be that it's all the way across town from my apartment, or that they - up until recently - haven't taken reservations (I have a low tolerance for waiting), but I have been wanting to try out Contigo for a long while, and just haven't made it. Until last night, that is. I can't believe I waited so long, especially since I know chef/owner Brett Emerson and really respect his passion for the food he serves. Specifically that would be the food of Barcelona (and thereabouts) cooked with the freshest, mostly organic, mostly local ingredients. These California sensibilities allow the food at Contigo to shine with flavor, and I couldn't have enjoyed my experience there any more if I tried.

I mentioned I was vegan when making the reservation, and we were met at the door by co-owner Elan who had painstakingly taken a menu (above) and put dots next to everything that was vegan or could be made so. All the non-vegan items had been crossed out, making my options clear. I was floored by that hospitality. What hit me next was the beauty of the space. As anyone who followed Brett's blog as he built Contigo can tell you, this baby is GREEN. We're talking sustainable and reclaimed to the nines, but with no scrimping on style. It is a homey, bright, and inviting space, and I couldn't wait to dig into the food.

First up was a gorgeous salad of arugula, hazelnuts, and some juicy cherries that was to die for. What a wonderful combination of tastes and textures. My mouth was just having so much fun eating this. But then this next beauty arrived:

Behold the little gem salad with roasted beets, mint, and sherry vinaigrette. Oh, and those things that look like off-white flower petals on top? Garlic chips! They added the perfect salty and, well, garlicy, bite to this salad. Stunning.

Even the olives, served with marcona almonds and pickled veggies were something special. The veggies, in particular. I don't think have had such good pickled vegetables in a long time. Could have eaten a whole plate of those.

We also ordered sides of sauteed chard (with almonds, raisins, and garlic), roasted cauliflower (with olives, dates, and lemon) and patatas bravas. All were delicious, especially the salsa brava served with those perfectly crispy potatoes, but my hands down favorite was the cauliflower. I never would have thought to cook it with dates and olives, but man does it work. The balance between salty and sweet makes this dish a wonder. But, there's more!

This coca (flatbread) of asparagus and meyer lemon was just divine. Asparagus and lemon is a favorite combination of mine already, but atop some perfectly crispy flatbread served right from the oven it becomes a mouth watering, knock-your-socks-off, end to the meal.... or at least I thought it was the end....

My husband fell off the vegan wagon at this point and ordered churros for dessert. I was happy to just finish off the wine and sit and digest a while, but the "cookie" above magically showed up as a gift from the kitchen. I put cookie in quotes because this was simple deliciousness; pizza dough flavored with anise and coated with sugar that gets caramelized an top. Trust me - my picture does it no justice. An amazing light and sweet end to an amazing meal. (For the record, my husband declared Contigo's churros as the "best ever".)

So, my darling Bay Area vegans, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better place to eat well with others in San Francisco. Contigo means "with you" in Spanish, and I'm so happy that they include us animal-friendly folk in their embrace. I know I will be back (again and again most likely!) to Contigo, and highly suggest you get there too.

Meanwhile, I'm heading to some old faves this weekend, so stay tuned for updates. Enjoy the rest of the week, everyone!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In the Mood for Food: Yet Another Wonderful Installment of Philip Gelb's Dinner Concert Series

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Philip Gelb's dinner concerts are one of the reasons I love living in the Bay Area. I mean, where else will you eat 5 courses of locally-sourced, lovingly made, and insanely delicious vegan food AND enjoy a performance by some of the best musicians alive today, all in an intimate setting and for a very reasonable price? Nowhere, my friends. Philip's events are it, and I can't recommend a night spent with him more highly.

Yesterday's food was some of the best I've had in a long while, starting with the pea soup, above. The addition of pureed sweet potatoes, cashew "cream" and red miso made this way better than your traditional split pea, and the fresh whole peas and daikon shoots really balanced out the deep savory notes. A perfect way to start the meal, especially on such a chilly evening.

Next up was this amazing salad of baby romaine, string beans, fava beans, and 2 types of Rancho Gordo heirloom beans (check RG out if you haven't already!) with a sun-dried tomato and herb vinaigrette that was to die for. Not pictured was the Arizmendi baguette which I used to sop up every last drop of that dressing. Seriously tasty stuff!

The third course was the most surprising to my taste buds as the cherry dipping sauce was distinctly Indian in flavor and SO much better than any chutney or sauce you can find in a can or jar. The subtle hint of fresh cherry in the sauce was divine and perfectly complimented the cherry-roasted tempeh, wild rice, and root vegetable puree in the collard roll. Genius.

The fourth course was homemade tofu with mushrooms, asparagus and lotus root tempura, and chrysanthemum greens in a mustard dashi (Japanese soup stock). This earthy dish was so well-composed - as though maestro Gelb was conducting a symphony of ingredients as a prelude to the concert portion of the evening. The harmonious flavors certainly had me prepared for some music!

Stuart Dempster, along with his trombone and a slew of other toys, was the evening's pre-dessert entertainment, and entertain he did. Using the event space sonically, and even interacting with the street noise outside a bit, he demonstrated beautifully the relationship between performer and audience, silence and sound, and musician and instrument. When he put down the trombone to roam the room with an auditory garden hose, we were all entranced, including the chef:

After Stuart ended his performance with some gorgeous pvc-pipe playing (and a little help from the audience), we all gave thanks for his gift to us, and settled in for an edible gift from Cori (Phil's partner in crime) in the form of dessert:

Nothing better than chocolate cake I say....

... except for chocolate cake with raspberry rhubarb filling and cherry ice cream! Even my husband, who admittedly has no sweet tooth whatsoever, devoured his dessert. Cori really outdid herself with this cake - and there was no refined sugar (all maple, baby) to be found. Light yet decadent, it was a heavenly way to end another magical evening with In the Mood for Food. Seriously, if you live in the Bay Area, you must check out one of Philip's events pronto!

I'll be checking back in on Thursday with a full report on a restaurant getting rave reviews and which I've wanted to try for a long, long time. Meanwhile, have a fantastic week everyone...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flour+Water (and compliments for me, oh my!)

OK, so last night I finally went to the much loved Flour+Water. We made our reservation two months ago (and if you check OpenTable now, the next available dinner within two hours of 7pm is for July 7 at 8:45pm!) so the anticipation was killing me. Needless to say, my expectations were high, and I'm happy to say they were exceeded. Not only is the food homey, delicious, and beautiful, but the whole space is just so welcoming. I mean, c'mon, are those beaker candle-holders not the cutest? And so helpful for seeing your food!

I started with this little gem salad that was fresh and crisp and refreshing. It normally comes with a buttermilk dressing, but the chef tossed mine with some lemon and olive oil and it was just perfect. Having been thoroughly "appetized" I was more than ready for the star of the show; my pizza.

Is that not the most gorgeous pizza ever? I had ordered the ramp and hen-of-the-woods mushroom pizza, but the chef informed me (via our lovely waitress) that he though it might be a bit dry without the cheese and that he'd prefer to make me a vegan pizza of his own creation. Um, yes please. This one did indeed have ramps and mushrooms, but it also had shallots, onions, olives, red sauce and a little chili flake. SOOOO good. And the crust? Thin as paper and downright amazing.

So, my verdict? I think I prefer the pizza at Beretta, but only by a smidge. The crust at F+W is better, but the sauce at Beretta is to die for... and the fact that they offer vegan cheese doesn't hurt either. Beretta also offers lots of other vegan-friendly dishes that F+W doesn't. On the other hand, for being one of the hippest spots in San Francisco, I was surprised by just how darn nice the people of Flour+Water were. I may slightly prefer the food at Beretta, but I'll take the service with a smile at F+W anyday.

In other news, I was honored that Vegan Junk Food thought my white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies were one of the best things at the SF Vegan Bake Sale last weekend. I'm always thrilled to contribute goodies to such a charitable event, but having people enjoy them makes it even sweeter. Hope you all had as good a week as I have, and may you have a tasty weekend too! I am off to enjoy one of my favorite Bay Area evenings - a dinner concert hosted by Philip Gelb. Stay tuned for the full report...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fantastic Frittata

I'm a member of the Robert Sinskey wine club, and even better than getting wine shipped to me every month is that they include a special foodie gift in every package. Sometimes it's something nasty like cheese, but recently it was chickpea flour and I've been looking for a way to use it ever since. So, when the latest issue of VegNews came and I saw Allison's (of the amazing Allison's Gourmet) frittata recipe using this mystery ingredient, I knew I had to try it. I had to wait a little longer though, as it also included a little-known salt called kala namak, which I had to order. This unique Indian salt is very sulfur rich and imparts a distinctly eggy flavor, but the real surprise was how the flour took on an egg-like consistency when cooked.

That's it in the pot on the left. On the right is the sauteed onions with broccoli and red pepper. After both were done, it was time to mix together with the kala namak and let it set up in the dish before baking:

After cooling in the fridge, it was time to bake it. I put a sprinkle of Daiya cheddar on top before it went under the broiler for the last few minutes, and here's the superbly tasty final product, in the dish, and then sliced up:

I highly recommend this frittata. It was light, savory, and delectable. The recipe in the latest VegNews is more than enough reason to pick up a copy.

But enough at-home eats! I'm heading to a super popular new-to-me place tonight and I can't wait to tell you about the vegan options. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spectacular Saturday

The clouds have come back to San Francisco, so it's the perfect time for me to curl up with my laptop and tell the tale of my great day yesterday. Nothing all that spectacular happened, actually, but it was just a nice day from start (kickboxing class) to finish (good eats and dancing at Medjool). One of the highlights was definitely my time spent at the SF Vegan Bake Sale, of course. There were donuts...

and cupcakes....

and cookies (by yours truly, btw).....

Oh my! But wait, there's more!

Lest you think the bake sale was all sweet and no savory, these tempeh collard rolls by In the Mood for Food were flying off the table and into the mouths of many a happy customer. All the items - sweet tooth satisfying or not - were delicious, and even better, we raised more than $3000 for Wildcare and Gorilla.CD. Yay! If you missed out this time, you best start following SF Vegan Bake Sale on Twitter and get your butt to the next event in July!

After the bake sale, I enjoyed some nice time with the niece and nephew and even got some sunshine. For dinner, we had plans to meet some friends at Medjool, where the vegan offerings are pretty plentiful, and very tasty:

First up, we had the sampler of hummus, tabouleh, and baba ganoush. All were good, but the hummus (in the back, above) was my favorite. It's got a thinner than usual consistency but for what it lacks in the ability to hold up your pita crisp, it makes up for in big garlicy, tahini-fueled flavor.

The warm stuffed grape leaves are also a must-try at Medjool. Vegans should make sure to get them without the yogurt-laden side salad, but other than that, these warm rolls are nothing but savory goodness.

Honestly, I don't think I've ever had broccolini as good as this. They arrive perfectly salty, garlicy, and with just a hint of chili. I was so glad we decided to order this dish.

Last up was this scrumptious salad. It seems simple, but greens, almonds, and pears (get it without the blue cheese) come alive in the wonderfully mustardy vinaigrette.

After dinner, we spent some time up on the lovely roof deck (view, above) before heading back downstairs for some dancing. (The DJ starts at 11pm). Now it's time for some much-deserved relaxation... and some apple celery turmeric ginger juice methinks!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone, and stay tuned this week for an old haunt in new location, as well as a trip to one of the hippest restaurants in town. Coming soon!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Colibri Mexican Bistro

I know that just yesterday I was hating on Cinco de Mayo in favor of its futuristic cousin, Ocho de Mayo, but really there's nothing I like more than some guacamole, so you know I had to celebrate the day Eats Well With Others style. For me and the husband, that meant heading to Colibri Mexican Bistro.

Luckily, I had made reservations long in advance because tables of two were being given 2-3 hour wait times while we were being whisked off to our lovely seats by the window. The live music was keeping the atmosphere festive, and the delicious guacamole, salsas, and tortillas (above) were on the table in no time.

To start I had this very tasty (and very pretty, no?) salad. I forget what it's called, and it's not on the menu they have posted online, but it consists of butter lettuce (plated to look like a flower no less), shredded jicama, spiced avocado and mango, and edible flowers. I had to get a different dressing than the one it normally comes with (that one has icky eggs in it) and whatever they gave me was really fresh and vibrant. My taste buds were brought to life by citrus and chilis.... and ready for more!

For my main course, I actually ordered 3 sides as there are no vegan entrees. I'd normally be disappointed about that, but the sides were so good I could care less. On the left, you see the Nopales Asados (cactus with mushrooms) and Hongos al Chileado (mushrooms with garlic and chili oil). Both were well cooked, perfectly spiced, and quite tasty, but my favorite was the Estofado (on the right). This savory sautee of zucchini, corn, mushrooms, onions, and pasilla chile was mouth watering. Herbacious, savory, delectable. Easily the highlight of the meal for me.

I'd definitely go back to Colibri. It might even be nicer on a night where it's not so jam packed with drunken people in need of fuel for their fiesta. Meanwhile, I've got some other good eats coming up this weekend so stay tuned. Enjoy the rest of the week everyone! See you at the SF Vegan Bake Sale, right??? Right.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ocho de Mayo is the Real Party!

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! Drink your margaritas and eat all the veggie burritos you want tonight, but make sure your stomach is fully recovered for Saturday's SF Vegan Bake Sale. As usual, this event will be an off-the-hook smorgasbord of sweets, with all proceeds going to charity. Bakers will include yours truly, Sugar Beat Sweets, Black Orchid Bakery, In the Mood for Food, Violet Sweet Shoppe, and many MANY more. Don't be dumb - come by Herbivore on Valencia any time between 11am and 4pm and get in on that action!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

From Blue Print to Bake Sale

I love a good spring cleaning and, while tackling the over-stuffed closet is nice, nothing is more rewarding than cleaning out the body. I've been eating a lot of the heavier vegan foods out there lately (soy cheese, ice "cream", cookies, chips, etc.) and so for this past week I've been eating all raw. I was raw for 2.5 years, so it's easy to fall back into, and it feels great. To take my detoxing to the next level, I been doing a juice cleanse for the past 3 days. Not wanting to spend the time or energy making my own juice, and wanting to be sure I was getting the nutrition I needed, I opted to try the Blue Print Cleanse - their "excavation" cleanse to be exact. Meet my "meals":

Every day of the cleanse, you drink these tasty (really!) concoctions in the order they're numbered. On the excavation level, the first three are green juices, the fourth is a lemonade, the fifth is another green juice, and the 6th is a heavenly "dessert" of cashew milk with vanilla and cinnamon. Everything is raw, most ingredients are organic, and best of all, it'll make you feel pretty darn good. Honestly, I was worried about having enough energy, but I did everything I normally do (including long walks and a kickboxing class) and was fine. I'm even using this last day of the cleanse to take it even further with a 90 minute massage, infrared sauna, and herbal body wrap (yes, I'm totally spoiled). I'll be toxin-free in no time. For a little while anyway....

My pristine system can't last forever, and if there was ever a reason to go back to cooked food, it's the SF Vegan Bake Sale, which is coming soon (next Saturday!) to Ike's Place. As usual, there will be the most amazing treats you've ever tasted, with every cent of your purchase going to charity. PLEASE get off your booty and come by. I'll be there slinging my white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies if you need even more incentive.

I'd like to think I'll make it until the bake sale still eating raw, but let's face it - Wednesday is Cinco de Mayo and I can't let that pass without some chips, guacamole, and margaritas. After all, we all know that whoever said "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels" is an idiot and has obviously never had guacamole. :)

Have fun this week everyone. See you on the 8th I hope!