Thursday, September 29, 2011

Olivia, Austin TX

You are so not ready for what is about to happen. We certainly weren't. Follow along. You see, we went to Austin to celebrate my parents' 40th wedding anniversary. This is a big deal. We wanted a fancy meal to match the fancy occasion and, while Austin has a gazillion vegan food trucks and casual eateries, they have zero high-end vegan places. What's a gal to do? Well, I researched all the fancy pants places, found a few that always have veg or vegan entrees on their menus and asked if they'd kindly make our group of 6 an all vegan meal. Only one replied in the affirmative (well two, but the other wasn't open on the Big Day) AND they replied that not only would they be happy to help, they'd like to create a TEN COURSE TASTING MENU. Bless whoever came up with Southern hospitality. Here's what the wonderful Oliva restaurant gave us:

So other than to say that it was incredible and long and we also drank a lot, I'll keep it to a short blurb about each dish.

That's okra, olive oil, an basil waiting in the bowl for the rich tomato soup to be poured on top. Next level gazpacho, people. YUM.

In the fresh and light melon and herb salad I encountered my first taste ever of powdered ingredients. Molecular gastronomy goes vegan, and the results are divine.

This pepper was one of my faves of the evening. The apricots brought just the right amount of sweet to an otherwise savory and slightly spicy dish. Beauty, texture, and flavor perfection.

Battered and fried eggplant! Another huge hit at our table. The sesame glaze was to die for and the powdered ingredients really just melt on the tongue. A nice contrast to the crispy eggplant. Umami heaven.

This was the one course we all could have done without. Except for the potato chips. Those were bangin'! Wish I could pick them up on the shelves of my local grocery. The other two were just too plain potato-y.

Holy risotto. This one was fantastic. I know it doesn't looks like much (it was getting darker and harder to photograph by the second) but the creamy and slightly sweet rice paired so well with the olives and (yes) coffee crumbs that it was kind of hard to believe. The ginger crisp was a brilliant way to incorporate a bit of brightness and it made for a great scooper. Talk about the perfect bite! Mmmmmm....

The lemon in this quinoa dish was in powdered form and it was amazing just how much it lightened things up. And crispy mushrooms? Yes please.

So pretty, right? Sadly, the rutabaga tasted a little too much like plain rutabaga, even with the tasty red wine syrup. I'm a fan of greens, though, and I remember the peppery arugula pairing nicely with whatever wine I was drinking at the time.

Our last savory course was this grilled peach with truffle oil. I would not have thought this would work (and for some at our table it did not) but I loved it. I thought it was a genius way to bridge to savory/sweet gap at prepare our palates for dessert.

Now, you know me: I like a rich decadent dessert, but honestly, after so many courses, sorbet was a lovely ending. I forgot which one I took a picture of, but the table's favorite of our choices was an unbelievable raspberry pepper combo. Another one that I didn't think would work but which really surprised me. Go chef!

Speaking of the chef, we thanked him profusely at the end. I mean, he and his team went out of their way to accommodate us, on a night when their entire dining room was packed with regular menu eaters, and the food blew us away. We were truly unprepared for how good the vegan food coming out of this omni kitchen would be and so so SO grateful to Olivia for making it happen. Moral of the story: Ask. You never know which restaurants have chefs just dying to cook something different for a night. Not to mention that the more us vegans demand vegan food, the more vegan food there will be!

Up next, I'm back in SF and have one casual and one high-end meal under my belt (literally) already, so stay tuned.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cafe Yumm and Two "Sweets", Portland

After reading all the buzz around something called "yumm sauce" (best sauce name ever, right?) I was psyched to learn that Cafe Yumm, purveyor of said sauce, was 2 blocks from my hotel in Portland. Off I went!

That's their groundnut soup, above. It was good but not great. Needed more peanut flavor. The end.

Ok, now we're talking. This is the classic yumm bowl with greens, without the sour cream or cheese, and with plenty of yumm sauce. I must say, it was pretty tasty, but I wasn't blown away. Yumm sauce is kind of cheese-esque in flavor, made primarily of cashews, nutritional yeast, and veggie oils, as far as I could tell anyway. I'd eat it again but I'm not about to jump on a plane for Portland to head there (unlike the Portobello gnocchi, about which I still fantasize).

We also went to SweetPea Baking Company to check out the baked goods. They provided some stellar cupcakes for the opening night of VidaVeganCon but they make so much more, like my chicken-less salad above. I think I like the Teany version better, but this all vegan bakery and cafe is so charming I can forgive a little heavy-handedness with the vegan mayo. Besides, the lovely bright balsamic cuts through it nicely.

Since (this wo)man can not live on food alone, I had to try out Portland's newest all-vegan bar. Yes, newest. As in there's more than one vegan bar in Portland. Ugh, so jealous. Especially since The Sweet Hereafter also straight up rules. It's got great ambiance and awesome beers on tap and incredibly good bar food. That little platter of goodies above included some very tasty hummus, olives, roasted almonds, crostini and a dipping sauce of some kind. If only every bar served food like that! Or, like this....

That's my "3 Sides" in which I chose kale (of course), broccoli, and the house tofu. The latter is seasoned nicely with herbs and nutritional yeast. So great with beer! And, if you want something even more substantial, you could go for my friend's sandwich:

That right there is the "Steve Martin". I have no idea how this scrumptious sammy got its name, but I bet the reason is both hilarious and charming, not unlike the man himself. In summary, I love this bar and want it to move to San Francisco BADLY. Sigh...

Guess what, folks? That's it for the Portland eats! Next up, there's one epic meal in Austin to share and then we're back by the bay. Yay!

Friday, September 23, 2011

More Austin Eats

It's been busy around the Eats Well With Others headquarters lately, but now that a foot injury is forcing me to sit still and rest a while, I may as well use my time wisely and show you all some good eats! I still have more from Portland, but let's travel back to Austin for a bit, shall we? Errr... actually, let's start in San Antonio. We took a day trip over that way and got to eat some real treats along the way. First stop was the brand new Vegeria, an all vegan restaurant about 10 minutes from downtown San Antonio. Best thing on the menu? The nachos for sure:

Served up with Vegeria's own vegan queso and super flavorful taco filling, this pile of food is divine. Crispy chips and shredded cabbage and carrots give some crunch, and there's even a sprinkling of quinoa for.... nutrition? Who knows, but it is truly yummy. If only it hadn't taken FOREVER to come to the table. But more on that later. Check out my lunch entree:

This is the quinoa salad with pecans and fresh herbs. It was alright. For all the flavor that was in the nachos, this one was pretty flavorless. Seemed like Mexican food was the way to go at Vegeria as everyone loved their tacos and enchiladas while my dad's BBQ mushroom sub and my mom's avocado sub were both kind of bland. Meanwhile, the service was insanely bad. Food took a crazy long time and when it did come things were missing and messed up. I can only hope it's because they are new and they were slammed and we were a party of 6 sitting in the back room where nobody could see us. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and would definitely go back next time I'm in town for the nachos alone, but I hope they get it together!

On the way back from San Antonio we decided to take the long route and go through Hill Country. This also meant we got to eat at the truly awesome Fralo's, where we ordered the heck out of some pizza.

As you all know, I love me some artisan pizza, and this is some of the best. Perfect crust, slightly sweet sauce, and the Daiya cheese us vegans know and love. This place is not all vegan by any stretch of the imagination, so it speaks volumes about how far veganism has come that they stock Daiya for us folks! I mean, it's sort of in the middle of nowhere (imagine al fresco picnic tables surrounded by rolling hills) in Texas, which isn't exactly known for being vegan-friendly, and I was able to eat VERY well with my others. Gotta love it.

I've still got our epic celebratory meal to tell you about in Austin, so stay tuned for that. It could come quickly, since it's just me and my ice pack over here. :) Happy Friday, everyone!

PS- We've got a great giveaway going on over at VeganFavorites. Enter to win some So Delicious goodies before it's too late!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blossoming Lotus, Portland

Since Blossoming Lotus was the only place I visited twice on my trip to Portland, I think it's high time I told you about it! I've been to BL before, but not in its current location. This slightly fancier incarnation still has a homey vibe and friendly service, as well as some delicious food. Here's a portion of what we had.

I highly recommend this starter of fried artichokes if you're into these thistles. Crispy outside and creamy inside, these polenta-breaded bites are crazy tasty, especially when paired with the smoky BBQ sauce. A great start to your meal.

This Thai BBQ salad I had on my first visit was also a fave. The combination of the BBQ soy curls and the sweet and tangy ginger dressing is really nice. Same can be said for the difference in textures between the chewy golden raisins and crispy rice sticks. Just an all around great salad/meal.

My dining companion had the lasagna and LOVED it. I would tell you more but I didn't even get a bite. Looks good though, right?

On that trip we also has the chocolate cake. Not the richest chocolate flavor in the world, but moist as all get out and still terribly yummy. Mmmmm..... cake. :)

If there is soft serve somewhere I must have it. Blossoming Lotus only does one flavor a day and they have no toppings. Fail in my book. It was still decent, but this type of vanilla is exactly why the word now has the negative connotation of "bland and boring." Vanilla should sing... this one merely hummed.

On my second visit, I decided to see what else they could do with salad and I got the house salad with tempeh. I think this was even better than the other one. The mounds of savory tempeh (some of the best I've had) really make the dish but set against the crisp fresh veggies and creamy house dressing it is divine. I love a good salad, and this is up there with the best.

That's it from Blossoming Lotus. Up next, I finish up the Portland eats and get us back on down to Texas. I'm also heading to L.A. soon so stay tuned for some SoCal eats soon. Hope you had a great weekend, everyone. Enjoy the week!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Brief Detour Through Austin

Hi Y'all! Don't mind my newfound Southern accent - I acquired it on my recent 3 day trip to Austin, TX. :) So, while I am well aware of how many more Portland eats there are to tell you about, I wanted to do a quick round up of some of the best of Austin. First up? Breakfast of course!

I've been to Austin before, but never to The Steeping Room, and I'm sure glad it was our first stop of this trip. Their Sunday brunch is AMAZING! Even though they are not an all-vegan place, they have a ton of vegan options, like the tofu scramble above. I love that they don't feel like they need to dye the tofu yellow with mustard or turmeric like so many places do (as though that makes it any more egg-like), and instead they focus of texture and flavor. The tofu has a nice bite to it and is paired with the exact right amount of peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Super-tasty fried potatoes and a crisp green salad round out the meal. I capped off my meal with a currant scone that had a beautiful crumb and light sweetness to it. Perfect with any of their gazillion teas! My husband got his sweetness elsewhere, however. Check out his beautiful French toast:

Vegan French toast is not something many vegan restaurants try, let alone omni places, and even from the one bite I was allowed to have, I could tell they nailed it. Wonderful balance of cinnamon and sugar, good coating on the chewy bread, real maple syrup and fruit. Not a bad way to start the trip, eh? But, alas, one can not live on breakfast alone!

Want to eat the best darn veggie burger ever? Get the guacamole burger at Mother's. I've had this before and I still think it's one of the best burgers you can buy. You can get it plain or with vegan cheese and with or without guacamole, but I'm telling you that the combination of the savory burger with the fresh guacamole is perfect. Ready for dessert? I've got two good options for you:

You could try a peanut butter cup from Wheatsville Coop and you would be a very happy camper. More like a peanut butter cookie with a thick layer of fudge than the peanut butter cups you've come to know, this is one for a hearty sweet tooth. It is rich and decadent and worth eating your vegetables for. BUT....

.... there's also soft serve from Toy Joy. Vegan soft serve ice cream is a pretty elusive commodity in this country, so if it's an option somewhere, you know I'm getting it. If I can get it topped with crushed Chick-O-Stick and chocolate syrup, I'm in heaven. Toy joy makes their own soy and coconut-based soft serves and they have two flavors everyday, which they churn out in addition to making shakes and sundaes galore. It's smooth and creamy and even better than the soft serves of my youth. I love Toy Joy!

Ok, that's enough for now. We did have one hugely epic meal in Austin, as well as a day trip to San Antonio, and I'll get to that, promise. Up next though, more Portland talk. How awesome that all these U.S. cities are so vegan-friendly, eh? Here's hoping it's that way where you are!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Portobello in Portland

While in the lovely city of Portland, we ate at many places, but I'm starting with the best. Not only was this hands down my favorite meal of the trip, it was one of the best meals I've had pretty much ever.
I'd heard good things about Portobello, and about the gnocchi in particular, but I really was not prepared for just how happy my taste buds would be. First up, the mushroom rillette:

I'm pretty sure rillette is just a fancy word for pate, but it's fitting in this case because this is some fancy-ass pate! Earthy mushrooms combine with herbs and spices (and probably magic) to make this delectable spread, and the spicy mustard and tangy cornichons are the most wonderful complimentary flavors to all that savory, smooth goodness. I would definitely order this again and again - but not if I was dining alone. The portion is HUGE! Still, we had room for entrees, of course. Up first, the cashew cream pizza:

This was one tasty pie, I must say, but honestly I've had better. I've been spoiled by the insanely good cashew cheese at Gather and the amazing sauce at Beretta I guess. In any case, it was still very good.... but let's cut to the real deal, shall we? Check out the best gnocchi in the universe:

I will be dreaming of these puffy potato clouds for some time. The way they melt slowly on the tongue, the ever so slightly crispy exterior (they're pan-fried after all), and the way they soak up all that beautiful sauce..... heaven. This is a close-your-eyes-and-go-slowly kind of dish, as you'll want to make it last as long as possible. The vegetables are cooked to perfection and the sauce (which varies depending on the season) was an orgasmic combination of pesto and olive oil and herbs and lord knows what else. Truly a dish worth traveling for... and I WILL be back!

Of course, we still had room for dessert (or at least we pretended we did), and in no time we had tiramisu with salted caramel ice cream on our table:

The tiramisu consisted of light and fluffy layers with the most creamy sweet filling and is dusted with cocoa powder and served on a zigzag of chocolate sauce. I don't remember ever eating tiramisu before going vegan, so I have no idea if this is anything like the original, but I do know that it's delicious! And that salted caramel ice cream? It tasted EXACTLY like a salted caramel, only cold and ridiculously smooth. Other ice cream can only dream of being that good.

Because, for me, dessert must always mean chocolate, I opted for the rosemary chocolate tart, and boy am I glad I did. I was a little fearful that the rosemary flavor would be overwhelming, but it balanced the decadent chocolate nicely, freshening it up a bit by providing a slight kick of lightness in an otherwise rich dessert. The silky layers of deep dark chocolate, crunchy cocoa nibs, and caramel drizzle, make this a study in texture as well as a true chocoholic's delight. This was honestly one of the best desserts I've had in a long time.

I can't tell you how sad I am that Portobello is not closer to me. I guess I need to start coming up with excuses to visit Portland more often!

Up next: More Portland eats, plus I'm on my way to Austin, TX soon and will surely be eating well there as well, so stay tuned!