Monday, July 19, 2010

High Tea at the Fairmont

Things I don't do every day - whether it be going to an author's reading, seeing an unfamiliar band play, exploring a new town, or taking a class - really buoy me. They remind me that life is big and that's there's lots to do and enjoy out there. This is exactly what happened yesterday when the husband and I put on our fancy pants and went to the Fairmont's Laurel Court for afternoon tea service. Talk about something I don't do every day!

First of all, the big comfy chairs are awesome. They really adds to the "sit and relax" part of the deal. But, of course, it's all about the tea. I went for the Fairmont Earl Grey. Their own blend, it's a bit spicier than other Earl Greys, but I liked that. The husband loved his jasmine green tea as well, so we were off to a good start.

As we looked around, we saw teeny sandwiches of cheese and meats, scones, biscuits, and little cupcakes all around us. I must admit, I was a little jealous. I wanted a scone and I knew I wouldn't be getting one. (One reason the vegan tea service at TeaNY in New York ROCKS). However, when our platter (above) arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. We were served mini grilled veggie sandwiches, berries, and a ginger and green apple sorbet that was seriously awesome. A heavy hand on the ginger made it a nice compliment to the tea.

These are the tomato and eggplant sammies up close. They were really good but would have been taken to the next level by some kind of spread - hummus, avocado, tapenade, etc. However, the veggies were perfectly seasoned and cooked beautifully, so I can't complain too much.

It looks like a simple cup of berries, but boy were they ever ripe. They were no scones, but you gotta love summer berries. Yum.

No pic of the sorbet as it was melting quickly. In the end, it was a lovely afternoon. We got married at the Fairmont almost 4 years ago so it was fun to walk around after our tea and revisit the ceremony and cocktail hour sites. There really is something about stopping for tea and little bites in the middle of the afternoon that adds an air of relaxation to the rest of the day. I think I need to find a place in SF that does vegan tea service....

Up next: Well, I may make it back to one of my SF faves this week, or I may be next reporting from Boston. Only time will tell, but either way, I'll be eating well! (Poet. Know it.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pizzeria Delfina

It's a lazy Saturday morning over here and I'm just lounging around waiting for the fog to lift. I figured it's the perfect time to tell you about the yummy dinner I had Monday night at Pizzeria Delfina. Their newest location in my Pac Heights 'hood has been open a few months now, and my love of all things thin-crust finally got me over my fear of waiting forever for a table. Yes, folks, even on a Monday there was a wait, but I must say it was pleasant and the guy in charge of getting us all seated was in control, friendly, and generally awesome. Good work, guy. However, even the best service won't overcome bad pizza. Luckily, there was none of that to be found! Let's talk food, shall we?

I started with the tricolore salad (without the parm). As you can see, they take the name very literally. This mix of arugula, endive, and radicchio was beautifully bitter, but also fruity from the olive oil, and tossed with the perfect amount of salt and pepper. I could have used some more veggies, but it was still a good start. Of course, people come here for pizza, not salad. Speaking of which....

I was all set to order a pizza from the menu without cheese, but as soon as I said, "So, I'm vegan..." the waitress interrupted me to inform me that they have a vegan pie! It is a tomato and broccoli rabe pie that you can add any other veggies to. I went with arugula and olives and it was heavenly. The nice chewy crust, complete with slightly burnt edges and puffy air bubbles, was great. All in all this was one solid pizza.

This vegan pizza expert's verdict? Well, if I had to put my Bay Area artisinal pizza joints in order, I'd say Beretta is still the best (the sauce is amazing AND they have vegan cheese), Flour and Water is second (the flavor they get from their veggies is unreal), Pizzeria Picco is third (that crust!) and Delfina is fourth. Don't get me wrong, they are all delicious and I'd eat any one of them again.

Of course, sometimes you want to eat pizza in your pajamas on the couch, and then there's always Amici's to deliver you a Daiya-laden delight. :)

Up next: I get all fancy pants with a vegan high tea. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Maia Resort, The Seychelles

On the island of Mahe in the Seychelles (3 hours off the coast of Kenya) there is a magical, secluded resort called Maia, and we were lucky enough to spend the last bit of our African vacation there. We could have easily spent the entire time in our villa, lounging in the pool and being waited on by the butler but, being the foodies we are, we made sure to make our way to the restaurant for dinner every day. At the very least, it gave us a chance to interact with the chefs and thank them for all the amazing vegan food they'd been creating for us. Speaking of which, here are some examples of their offerings:

On our first night, we were asked what kind of food we like. We had already spied the hookah in the beachside bar, so we decided to request an Arabic feast before retiring to the bar. Little did we know that we'd be given some of the most delicious food EVER. First up was the mezes platter of hummus, fattoush salad, baba ganoush, muhammara, dolmas, and pastry filled with veggies that you see above. All were SO SO SO good. Along with that we had a veggie kabob platter with jasmine rice, a rich tomato sauce, and a sweet balsamic reduction. Perfect first meal!

On a day that we were craving some good old American food, we asked for veggie burgers and fries (If you haven't guessed by now, this was a create-your-own-menu-ask-for-whatever-you-want-and-the-chef-can't-say-no type place) and we were delivered the above for our lunch.
The burgers were made of veggies and tofu and were superb (especially considering the chef had never made veggie burgers before) and the fries were crazy good - light, crispy, and perfectly salty.

Most impressive to us, however, was the night we requested an Italian feast. Even the specially made hazelnut rolls with grassy olive oil (above) were fantastic, but it just got better from there.

This salad with balsamic dressing was fresh and crispy and wonderful. 'Nuff said.

Pasta primavera is always a favorite of mine, but the fact that the chefs spent an afternoon figuring out how to make fresh vegan pasta made it that much better. Well, that and the awesome caramelized onions and smokey eggplant. Heavenly. And for dessert? We had the same thing we ate EVERY night we were at Maia:

The mango sorbet they made there was the best I've ever had. By far. It tasted just like the most sweet, ripe mango on the planet - only cold, refreshing, and with a little teeny sprig of mint for extra incredibleness. I miss it.

I miss our whole vacation of course. I mean, it was the trip of a lifetime! Luckily, there's good food here in SF too. I promise to finally get around that pizza place I mentioned in the last post, and soon I'll be on the east coast eating at some great places from Boston to Florida. This particular trip of a lifetime may be over, but there's still plenty to look forward to, good meals included. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gorilla Forest Camp, Uganda

I could have watched the endangered mountain gorillas of Uganda, like the one above, eat their dinner all day long. Sadly (happily for the gorillas) trackers like myself and the 7 others in my group, are only permitted a one hour stay with the gorilla family. This means that us humans had better find a good place to eat dinner ourselves! Luckily, the Gorilla Forest Camp is a great place not only lay one's head, but to get a decent vegan meal as well. Don't get me wrong, my food in Uganda was not as good as it was elsewhere in Africa, and the chef seems fairly confused by my dietary restrictions, but in the end he made it work. I definitely ate more bread and fruit in Uganda then anywhere else, but there were also salads, rice dishes, and great local tea. Not to mention the curry!

Before batshit crazy Idi Amin kicked them all out of the country, there was a sizable Indian population in Uganda. Luckily for me, they left behind some of their culinary magic. The curries I had in Uganda (like the one at GFC, above), always served with warm chewy chapati, were delicious. Hooray for all the inherently vegan food to be found in cultures around the world!

Up next: Lest you think I've been slacking since being home, I hit a new-to-me pizza joint recently and will tell you all about it....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chief's Camp, Botswana

Listen up vegans! If, like me, you've always wanted to see the incredible animals of Africa in their natural environment, but were afraid of vegan food availability, fret not! I'm here to tell you that every place we stayed had plenty of fruits and veggies (and bread and lentils and beans and squash...) to go around, and some, like Chief's Camp on the Okavango Delta in Botswana (sunset shot from the porch there), even go above and beyond. I knew I was in good hands when the chef came to meet me only a few minutes into my stay. Chef Phinias and I talked for a while - me insisting that salad and bread was fine, him insisting they would do better - and then he was off. Pretty soon it was tea time, and well....

I got these delicious nibbles. Better yet was that while everyone else was at the tea buffet, I was hand delivered my own plate! The cucumber and basil bread rounds were topped with either a refreshing guacamole or an avocado and veggie tapenade and both were delicious. But you see those biscuits in the back? Those were the real show stopper. They are actually sweet, with a nice anise flavor, and Chef Phinias made them especially for me (using olive oil instead of butter) which I just thought was so nice. A great start to the stay, and that was just the beginning.

For dinner that night, I started with this really slurp-worthy soup of pureed veggies, coconut milk, and spices. It doesn't look like much, but trust me, it was awesome. Not pictured, but also scrumptious, was the homemade herb bread to go with it. So good.

My main course was this very palate-pleasing rice and veggies. It was seasoned to perfection, the tomato flavor was incredibly rich and the veggies weren't overcooked at all. A home run dinner for sure.

Breakfast was a dizzying array of tropical fruit, and then a snack of some more of those biscuits was served on the morning game drive. Lunch back at the camp? Amazing:

I told Chef Phinias exactly what I like to eat (lots of greens, some grains and lentils, tons of veggies....) and he made it happen. The lentil salad, in particular, was one of the best I've ever had. Light, citrusy, and herbaceous. I wish I could have more of it right now.

Chief's Camp also holds the animals in their preserve in the highest regard, treating them with respect and dignity, and not just as tourism. I was amazed by the knowledge of all the guides, and supremely happy with the eco-consciousness of the camp in general. Yes, I did have to politely decline a taste of impala and hippo meat, much as I would have to politely decline hamburgers here, but that is a small price to pay for the experience I had.

Next up: Veganism in Uganda!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Signal Restaurant, Cape Grace Hotel

In Cape Town, South Africa there lies a wonderful hotel, the Cape Grace. We were blessed enough to stay there on our trip and it was an exceptional experience. Wonderful service, luxurious rooms, great waterfront location.... and, be it by fate or coincidence or just pure luck, it turns out the hotel restaurant, Signal, has a fantastic vegan tasting menu (left). I did not know that when I booked our stay and it was easily one of the best meals we had on our entire trip. Vegans, if you ever find yourself in Cape Town, save up a few pennies ($73 a person with wine) and go there. You'll be very happy you did. Here's what was on the menu:

First came this amuse bouche of avocado salad on a potato crisp. Think of it as gourmet chips and guacamole. It was like that only fresher and more flavorful. A lovely start.

This beet carpaccio and arugula salad was up next. The tahini dressing was light and refreshing and, well, I love beets, so I was sold. The root veggie chips added some crunch and made this just a delight to eat.

Our 3rd course was a 'patjuk' soup. I had no idea what patjuk was before this, but it is a Korean red bean soup, much like a very rich, dark miso. Extreme umami going on here, especially with the mushrooms, but it all came together very nicely with the spring onion to balance it out.

Next up was actually a green apple sorbet to cleanse the palate, but I must have eaten it too fast because there's no picture of it. I do know that it was the prefect thing to eat in between the soup and the rich risotto you see above. This had such a cheesy flavor that I am still unsure how they achieved. I've actually written the restaurant to try to get the recipe, but haven't heard back. If I get it, I'll let you know the secret, but for now, I can just say that it was the highlight of meal. Supremely satisfying.

Our last course before dessert was this beautiful concoction of butternut squash and greens between amoretti wafers with a playful rosemary and agave vinaigrette. Just so tasty. I love the combination of orange and green (sweet potato and kale being a favorite) so this dish was right up my alley and I thought it was the perfect ending to the savory courses.

For dessert, this gorgeous plate was perfection. An unbelievably rich chocolate caramel tart, cranberry compote, and cranberry ginger sorbet inside a sugar globe! All the flavors were top notch and hit the palate in all the right places. In addition, the smooth, warm chocolate tart was complimented nicely by the crunch of the sugar globe and the cold, bright, sorbet hidden within. We both could have eaten another one of these desserts easily. So good.

Each course also came with a South African wine pairing, all of which impressed us and made us wish we had factored in enough time for a trip to wine country. Next time! And if there is a next time, we'll definitely be back to Signal as well. Such an unexpected treat on our African adventure.

Up next, eating vegan in the bush or "Just because the guy next to you is eating impala doesn't mean you're screwed". Stay tuned!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Good Eats of the Middle East and South Africa

Hi there good eaters! I'm just back from an amazing trip to Africa, where I had some fantastic meals. Let's start at the beginning, shall we? We stopped first in Dubai to visit some friends who live there and they took us around showing us all the hot and dusty sights that wacky town has to offer. After visiting about a thousand malls, the world's tallest building, and witnessing the madness that is indoor skiing in the desert, we were hungry. Luckily, there's The Boardwalk. This place is all about its creekside location, making it a lovely spot for a sunset drink and some grub. Better yet? All the veggie options are clearly marked. I went with the salad (meh) and the mezes (not too shabby):

Basically the salad had way too much raw onion for my taste, but the mezes delivered authentic flavor and really hit the spot, so no complaints.

After our day in Dubai, we headed on to Cape Town and went straight to dinner at a place I found online when searching for hookah bars. Mesopotamia is quite the vegan find! This Kurdish restaurant has plenty of vegan options so we basically got small portions of everything that sounded yummy, along with some deliciously chewy flatbread:

The Rojda (lentils with ginger and spices) and Sholik (green beans stewed with olive oil, tomatoes, and onions) were my favorites, but everything was tasty... and there was belly dancing and hookahs to boot! Definitely worth a trip.

The next day we wandered around the V&A Waterfront, checked out a bunch of menus, and ended up at Karibu for lunch. They have a whole vegetarian section and most things can be made vegan. I went with the vegetarian wrap:

This scrumptious plate consists of curried veggies wrapped in roti and served with sambals (obviously I did not need or use that creamy-looking one). It's not a wrap in the sense that you pick it up - it's a knife and fork deal - but it was very tasty. Plus the view from our table didn't suck:

For lunch the next day, we went to another place that had caught our eye: Balducci's. Like most Italian places, there were lots of vegan options and I had a wonderful salad and some garlicy flatbread with arugula:

This was the perfect lunch after a night of too much drinking. World Cup party-goers mean business!

On our final night in Cape Town, we headed to The Jewel of India. The name sets the bar pretty high, and I'm sad to say the food doesn't quite reach expectations. My aloo gobi was decent, though it was my first time having it cooked in coconut milk.

Everyone we dined with was in agreement that we'd had better Indian food elsewhere. But whatever, they can't all be winners.

Speaking of winners, you may have noticed that I left one dinner out of this post. That's because it was so good it deserve a post of its own. Next time, folks. Stay tuned!