Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Julia's, Pacific Grove

We had the pleasure of an excursion to Monterey last weekend.  We soaked up some sand and surf and more fresh air than our lungs knew what to do with, and then we ate!  Out of all the places we dined, one was clearly our favorite:  Julia's.

Only open for dinner on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, reservations are a must, and you'll be glad you made 'em.  This all vegetarian place is the only one around for miles, and with most of the the items being vegan, we were happy to have numerous choices.  Here's what caught my palate's attention last Friday.

This beautiful roasted veggie salad is served up in a gorgeous wooden bowl and is comprised of the freshest organic greens and perfectly roasted veggies.  A lovely start to the meal.  I didn't get a picture of it, but every table gets complimentary flatbread and roasted red pepper hummus too.  Hooray free food!

For my entree, I chose the faux roasted chicken with braised greens and smashed potatoes.  Holy yum.  The mushroom sauce, the fresh herbs, the paprika on the potatoes... I loved everything about this homemade wheat gluten "chicken" dish.   Entrees my tablemates enjoyed included veggie paella and yellow curry, so Julia's really runs the gamut.  They also have a pizza section of the menu.  Guess I'll just have to go back.

Only one vegan option for dessert and it was the chocolate cake.  Not bad, but not WOW.  Still, I look forward to our next trip down the coast, and highly recommend a stop here should you find yourself in the area on a weekend.  It's got a mom and pop vibe, but the food they're putting out is worth a little lacking ambiance, so go and enjoy!

Next up:  We're heading to Maui so stay tuned for some eats with aloha spirit...  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Get to Gather

Hi guys!  I know I promised to tell you about some good eats in Monterey, and I shall, but I had lunch at Gather in Berkeley yesterday and the cauliflower soup is so good I just had to tell you soon. That way you can go and get it while it's still on the menu!  Look how pretty:

Promise it tastes just as good as it looks (maybe even better).  Rich and decadent, it's a wonderful way to take a pause and warm up this winter, so get you some.  Better still?  Blackboard Eats has a 30% OFF of lunch or brunch deal with Gather right now, so it's even kind of cheap!

Enjoy the soup, and I'll be back soon to dish up my fave spot in Monterey.  Stay tuned!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Navio, Half Moon Bay

Fine dining at omnivorous restaurants can be really hit or miss.  In the Bay Area, we are lucky in that most places will be accommodating, but the quality of the offerings can still be subpar compared to the rest of the menu.  I find this to be true especially as you get further from San Francisco, proper.  So, when I made our reservation at Navio, at the Ritz in Half Moon Bay, I knew we'd be be able to eat something, I just had no idea what an incredible meal awaited us.  Yay happy surprises!

First, we sat down and were handed vegan menus created just for us, based on what was local and in season.  The hard part was deciding!

I started with the "Farmer's Market" salad and I must say that all the elements were as fresh as can be.  The beets were especially sweet and the perfect contrast to the bitter greens and bright cara cara oranges.  A tasty start to the meal.

Up next we got a surprise bonus course from the chef, a butternut squash carpaccio with greens, edible flowers, pomegranate seeds, and marcona almonds.  Such a welcome treat for the palate before the main course.

I chose the mushroom entree, and boy was I glad I did.  So earthy and savory, the trumpet ("french horn" haha) mushrooms really sang in this dish, supported as they were by an incredible gigantes beans puree, shaved brussels salad, and an pistachio and fennel relish that I am going to try to recreate at home.  God bless an omni chef who knows how to coax flavors out of his veggies!  I was so pleased at this point, I didn't even care about dessert...

...which is good, because (womp womp) it was sorbet.  So, after all that, it was the typical vegan-at-an-omni-restaurant dessert BUT the sorbet really was exceptional (especially the coconut) AND we got an extra bonus:

A pear sorbet with fruit gelee and chocolate covered almonds the pastry chef prepared especially for us.  Gotta love that kind of service and accommodation.  If you're ever in the Half Moon Bay Area, I seriously recommend hitting up Navio.  They know how to cater to the compassionate populace, for sure!

Up next, please stay tuned for eats in the Monterey area, and have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Front Porch

I was watching football at a bar one Sunday, as I'm want to do (GO NINERS!!!) and noticed an old timey telephone at the end of the bar with a menu perched against it. I got curious and it turns out that if you're at the Rock Bar (and you should go) you can get food delivered from the restaurant across the street - a restaurant that has some pretty amazing vegan options. So I did. And it was awesome. So awesome that I went back for the full sit down experience the other night. Welcome to The Front Porch, y'all:

Yep, their fried pickles are vegan (eat with ketchup and not aioli) and delicious. So are their boiled peanuts, but I didn't get a picture of them this evening. Both are addictive.  Both were gobbled up!

Also unexpectedly tasty is their mixed green salad. Served up with avocado, fennel, grapefruit, and an unusually good sherry vinaigrette, this is a true expression of winter's harvest - and really, REALLY yummy.

The show stopper is definitely the vegan plate, however. It changes all the time, apparently, but because I ate here twice in a week it was the same both times. Fine by me, because this unique dish is the bomb. The base is a large dollop of mashed purple potatoes. What makes them creamy and sweet? Coconut milk. Yes, delicious. I want to make coconut milk mashed potatoes all the time now. Moving on, there is a layer of braised kale (my favorite) and then perfectly grilled tofu. It all gets topped with some sort of magic sauce and fried sweet potato chips. Right?!? It's so tasty and hearty and exactly the kind of thing that SHOULD be served at a southern, comfort food kind of place that wants to include everyone at the table.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Front Porch. Your food got me in the door, but your service, kitchy ambiance, and all around welcoming vibe will keep me coming back time and time again. I might wait more than a week though... you know, so that you can switch it up... if you must. :)

Next up, a surprise fine dining knock-out on the coast. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sinatra, Las Vegas

This past Friday, I did something I've always wanted to do, you guys.  Eat at one of the many fine dining establishments at The Wynn/Encore in Las Vegas.  Why, you ask?  Well, in case you haven't heard, Steve Wynn is vegan and therefore, all of his restaurants (even the cafes and buffets and mid-range places) have separate vegan menus.  It's kind of amazing.  But the real magic happens in the fine dining spots, as I found out.  Check out my dinner at Sinatra...

First off, the vegan bread basket with Earth Balance.  Yes, really.  At this point, I was already saying quiet "Thank you, Steve Wynn"s under my breath.

I started off with the Caesar salad.  Crunchy romaine and garlic-laced dressing come together beautifully in this swoon-worthy starter.  A sprinkling of chives and black pepper round out the powerful flavors, making for the best damn Caesar I ever did have.

Next up?  Gardein Marsala aka heaven on Earth. This dish of "chicken" with mushrooms in a savory marsala sauce served atop pillowy gnocchi was as good or better than anything I've ordered at high end vegan restaurants.  In fact, it makes me kind of mad that other omni restaurants, especially those in which you're paying a premium, can't offer vegans something as high caliber as this.  Come on other establishments, get you're vegan act together!  And, while you're at it, make your dessert amazing too!  Like this:

Beautiful, right?  And this Cioccolato was as tasty as it was pretty.  Deep, rich chocolate with the bright hint of raspberries was the perfect way to end our meal.  Amazing.

The fact that these fabulous dishes came out of an omnivorous kitchen makes me feel so happy, and also like I can't wait to get back to Vegas to try out all the other restaurants in Steve Wynn's empire.  I mean, the seafood place even does a vegan clam chowder, y'all.  What?  Yes.

Here's the full menu we chose from at Sinatra, just for your enjoyment.  It's all vegan.  Back in SF, we're heading out in the Bay Area to hit some new places soon, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tried and True

And as delicious as ever!  You know I love Millennium, just like everyone who's ever been there loves that place.  Special occasion vegan restaurant perfection, people.  Since I've been a bazillion times (and will continue going forever and ever), I wasn't going to take pictures when I was there this past weekend.  But you know what?  The lighting was pretty good and the camera on my new phone is pretty awesome, so I present to you my meal from Saturday night:

Little Gem Salad.  Best dressing on Earth. Creamy garlic amazingness. I get it every time I'm at Millennium without fail.  Salad heaven.

Blue Corn Polenta Cake.  YES.   Some heat was running throughout this one, and the bitter rapini and walnuts were the perfect crunch against the soft polenta.  So yeah, they basically serve magic at Millennium.

If none of the dessert options call your name, you can never go wrong with the Sweet Ending.  Your plate shall arrive full of sinful one bite truffles and tiny cookies full of flavor that belies their cuteness.  Oh, and that brownie in the middle?  Best brownie I've ever had.

Back to the land of every day eats 'round these parts, though I am hitting up a new-to-me spot or two shortly.  Stay tuned!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Bellanico, Oakland

I rarely get to Oakland, or to the East Bay at all for that matter (hate going over the bridge, what can I say), and when I do, it is mainly to go to a vegan - or at least vegetarian - establishment.  However, I happen to have a good vegan friend who lives "over there", so on a recent visit, I trusted her to lead me in the right food direction in her 'hood.  This, dear readers, is how I ended up at Bellanico.  On an adorable stretch of Park Street, it looks like any other Italian restaurant/wine bar, but it is so much more!  You can already tell the food is good by the fact that the place is packed, but what you wouldn't know by looking is just how vegan friendly they are... and just plain friendly in general.  The knowledgeable staff, the accommodating chef, the amazing wine list...  the place is just great.  And look, risotto!

They almost always have a vegan risotto (or one easily made so) on the menu and this version had brussel sprouts, almond milk, sliced almonds, and a very zingy and delightful lemon flavor running throughout.  It was mmmmmmmm-inducing.  The salad I had was also delicious, and there were soup and pasta options available to boot.  Here's to finding more omni restaurants with tons of vegan options in 2013, y'all!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Central Florida Eats

I had the pleasure of spending the holidays in Florida with my fam and, as usual, I was pretty amazed at the good vegan eats available there.  In fact, there seem to be more options every time I visit.  The word is getting out people!   Even in places like Disney World, vegans can happily chow down with everyone else.  Check out the burger at Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom, for example:

This mouth-watering vegan patty is made up of potatoes and quinoa with a slight hint of spice and is served up with sweet potato fries and a deliciously tart pickle.  No better fuel for a day of characters, rides, and lots of walking, I say!  Unless, of course, you want a sweet treat.  In which case, make your way to the Downtown Disney location of Babycakes:

All gluten-free and vegan, their donuts, cupcakes, and other confections will keep your sweet tooth sated and prepare you to take on any theme park you choose.

And speaking of those parks, when you want to get away from all the madness and dislodge "It's a Small World After All" from your brain space, hit up Falafel in Lake Buena Vista.  Authentic Moroccan food, like that above, awaits you, along with a decent wine list and belly dancing (some nights).  You'll forget all about Mickey with a quickness.

After our trip to Disney, we spent the rest of the holidays around grandma's place in New Smyrna Beach, where we hit up Big Planet Pizza for cheeseless pies (above) and The Breakers for what is easily my favorite vegan burger on the planet:

This housemade patty is so full of flavor from the Mediterranean herbs and spices that everyone who tries it (omnis too!) loves it.   As a side note, I don't trust that the buns are vegan even though they say so, so I always bring my own.  I know that is a bit crazy, but I like Rudi's buns so much anyway, that it ain't no thang to me to bring 'em along.

I've saved the best for last, folks!  New to the New Smyrna scene, and BY FAR, the most vegan friendly restaurant for miles, Cafe Verde is my new fave place near grandma's house.  Any place I can get a kale salad (above) with quinoa and avocado is a winner in my book, Cafe Verde has a ton of other vegan options, like these crazy good vegan tacos:

As super impressed as I was with FL this time around, I'm psyched to be back in SF now and ready to tackle some new eats in my hometown.  Happy New Year... and stay tuned!