Friday, August 29, 2008

It's all About the Info

I love the experience of a fantastically fancy meal as much as I love finding a gem in some mom and pop restaurant. But, every now and then, I do hit up a chain. So, my favorite for today is my favorite chain restaurant: California Pizza Kitchen. Not only do they have quite a few vegan offerings, but they make this information really easy to find on their website. Just go to the menu area and click on the "Vegetarian/Gluten-Free Information" where you will find tons of info about what vegans and our vegetarian and gluten-intolerant brethren may eat. Try getting the same info from the Chili's or Olive Garden or Applebee's websites. Not happening - and personally, I don't want to have to email headquarters before I feel comfortable eating somewhere. At CPK, I love the Smashed Pea Soup and the Grilled Vegetable Salad (pictured). You can even go sans dressing on the latter because of the marinade on the veggies. However, the show-stopper for me is the Tuscan White Bean Hummus. Served with pita and a drizzle of olive oil on top, it is smooth and creamy in a way chick-peas could only wish for. Next time you are heading out for some convenient chain food, try CPK. A chain where everyone is welcome.

In other news, I'm off to a fabulous friend's wedding in Monterey, returning on Monday. Have a fantastic Labor Day Weekend everyone!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Some Days are Soup Days

I'm feeling a little run down today. I think all the traveling and (let's be honest) drinking and having just way too much fun is finally catching up with me. What really sucks is that the weather isn't cooperating at all. SF is having a heat wave and it is GORGEOUS outside. Too bad all I want to do is curl up on the couch and watch Jon and Kate Plus 8. And what goes better with mindless programming and bit of a cold? Soup. Now my favorite soup when I'm sick is the Hot and Sour Vegetable Soup from Citrus Club over on Haight. However, they don't deliver, so this just ain't happening today. Therefore, I must turn to my trusty pantry, where I keep a plethora of the yummiest and healthiest soups around made by Amy's. Today I think I'm going with the Minestrone (pictured). It tastes just like a minestrone should, with the right amount of salty-tomatoey-goodness, the creamy starchiness of the beans, and a smattering of veggies and Italian spices. Pretty dang good for something that comes from a can. So, for taste and convenience, it's my fave of the day. Off to the couch...

Monday, August 25, 2008

New-to-me in L.A.

I just got back from the most kick-butt weekend in SoCal. My main objective was attending a friend's bachelorette sleep-over at Lake Arrowhead, which was SO much fun, but I also got to hang with a few pals in LA proper.... and eat some damn good food of course! I've been to Real Food Daily a million or so times, so I decided not to even bring the camera and to just enjoy. Highlights include the best potato salad ever and a ridiculously sweet and rich Oreo Cake. Yum. Now let's talk about some first visits:
M Cafe de Chaya is a macrobiotic joint (read: all vegan except for some fish items) with two locations. I hit up the one on Melrose at lunch hour on a weekday. It was packed, but my friend and I were able to snag a table pretty quickly as people were eating and running. Feeling the need for greens (as I often do) I got their green salad which had tamari-roasted almonds, beets, and pickled lotus root. It had a sweet balsamic dressing that was very well-balanced. I was still hungry after just the salad though and so I had... another salad. I kid you not. It was so good and it was too early in the day for my sweet tooth to kick in (a real shame as you can tell by looking at the cupcakes and case full of other goodies below) so I decided to stay the course and get more of the same. I did, however, try to sesame dressing this time, and I'm glad I did. It's Thai flavors were great on my greens and I left completely satisfied, tastebuds dancing on my tongue. Same goes for my companion who ordered an amazing-looking tempeh BLT. I should also say that one of the girls I met in Lake Arrowhead went on and on about said 'bacon' and now I feel bad I didn't try it myself. Next time I suppose... I will certainly go back to M Cafe next time around.

SO, M Cafe was actually supposed to be where I went for dinner that night, and having crossed it off the list, I had to pick somewhere else to go. Luckily, I didn't have to look far. While I was at Whole Foods that morning, I noticed that Native Foods was right down the street, within a miles or so of my hotel. My friend and I met there and were not disappointed. I was expecting a sit-down restaurant - maybe because the website is so nice? - but NF, like M Cafe, was an order-at-the-counter-and-we'll-bring-it-to-you joint. Not a big deal though, and after pouring over the extensive menu, I decided on the Voluptuous Veggie Pizza. I was in love with this square of pillowy organic dough covered in pesto, veggies, and a ton of kale. My only complaint is that it is served on the metal baking sheet, and not cut all the way through. They should either cut it all the way, or serve it on a real plate because trying to cut through the pizza on the wobbly baking sheet was difficult and messy. The taste, however, made up for this hardship and then some. My friend ordered the Soul Bowl because she liked the idea of its BBQ sauce and ranch dressing stylings. Even I was impressed that a vegan version of something with those flavors satisfied my meat-eating pal... and it had cornbread to boot!

So, while I still put RFD at the top of my list, these places will do in a pinch to say the least. I was particularly impressed with the M Cafe and hope to be back to eat more sometime soon. Meanwhile, there's still plenty of food left to try in San Francisco so I better get some rest....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back to My Faves

I'm off on a brief jaunt to L.A. tomorrow. I won't be able to see all those whom I love and adore while I'm there, but I go back often enough that it's okay. Anyway, I wanted to give you all a quick dose of ye olde "favorites" before I skip town. As I was looking up a picture for today's product, I was surprised to find that I'm not the first one to endorse it... in fact, I'm right behind Rachel Ray of all people. Well, before she can say "EVOO" let me get to the point. Glenny's makes the most amazing vegan marshmallow treats on planet earth. Gooey and sticky and sickeningly sweet, just like the originals I had as a kid. But, these only have 100 calories per bar, and of course no cholesterol or other yucky stuff. I'm pretty sure Rachel doesn't give a crap about animal welfare, but she gave Glenny's whole line her seal of approval for being healthy and delicious. No matter why you try them, you'll be mighty pleased. You might even say they're "Yum-O."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cooking for Kids (Both Young and Old)

While I do eat in restaurants quite often, most of the time I'm cooking at home. Actually that is not really true because at home I eat mostly raw foods, so I'm not really cooking.... but you get the idea. Every now and then, however, I do put flame to pot and whip something up, especially when people come over. Last night, our friends and their 3 year old came by for dinner and so I went to an old stand-by: Pasta with veggies. I just sautee some veggies (I used broccoli, red peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, a bit of carrot, and garlic) in a good olive oil, add a jar of my favorite marinara sauce, toss that with some pasta, and I have myself a tasty and kid-friendly entree. Carb-phile that I am, I of course served it with a fresh loaf of Acme Bread which I warmed in the oven. I was given a savory red pepper tapenade from a certain generous friend, and it was perfect slathered on top. Paired with one of my favorite wines, this meal really hit the spot. On the left are said entree, bread, and wine. (Also note the beautiful gerber daisies given to us by our super awesome guests!) Try not to drool. Maybe if you're nice, I'll even have you over and cook for you one day. Maybe. :)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I am a little ashamed to say that I've never eaten a quince before. I understand that they are pear-like and quite delicious, so I was seriously hoping to have one while dining at the restaurant of the same name. Alas, I was not in luck. Maybe it just isn't quince season. :(

Lack of namesake fruit aside, I really enjoyed my time at Quince. I was a little apprehensive that our party of 10 would even fit inside the small restaurant, but apparently they seat one ten-top a night at the "chef's table" in the back. Sure enough, we walked (trying not to hold our heads too high) through the main dining room, into the kitchen, down a flight of stairs and into our own private area. Surrounded by ovens and fridges and chefs at work, we settled in for a great night of food, friends, and a little bit of voyeurism. Indeed, I could have watch the chef tossing truffles in cocoa powder right over my shoulder all night along. But the wine was flowing, as was the conversation, and my attention was brought back to the table over and over again with each course. But first a quick side note about the wine...

I love Frog's Leap. This biodynamic winery is an amazing place just to hang out and breathe some fresh air, but should you have the time, the tour is fantastic. On the menu at Quince was their Sauvignon Blanc. Normally not my favorite varietal, but the FL version is aged in steel, which gives it a crispness and takes down any flowery tastes, and leaves behind a ton of citrus and some apple. Try it next time you see it on a menu (or order directly from the winery).

Okay, back to the food. For my first course I had the grapefruit and avocado salad with butter lettuces. I have similar dishes in the past, and this one was pretty comparable. The grapefruit were extra tart, as they can be this time of year, and it was a little much for me. Still, a good opener.

Next up was a mission fig salad with balsamic reduction. This was the pasta course for all my companions, but all the pasta had egg in it. I would have been a little upset, but this dish was amazing. The figs were perfectly ripe and the balsamic was sweet enough to balance the bitter greens. This is a dish they usually make with cheese, but it really didn't seem like it was missing anything at all. It was perfect.

My main course was tempura-battered squash blossoms atop a corn and heirloom tomato succotash. I totally chomped into this expecting traditional Italian flavor, and was surprised that is was more southwestern. Quite delicious. As can be the problem with many omnivorous restaurants trying to cater to vegans, there was no starch (rice, potato, etc) available to me because they are all made with some sort of dairy. I could have been left very hungry (and very drunk) had there not been one type of bread that was vegan. It was very good, too, with yummy rosemary salt on top.

So, I left Quince satisfied that they can feed vegans and others alike, but not as blown away as I would have like to have been. Luckily, the company, and the experience of sitting at the chef's table, largely made up for anything lacking in the food itself. Here's to catching up with friends over a good meal... and to making meat-centric restaurants and chefs think outside the box!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


One might think a raw restaurant in Boston's North End would be doomed or, at best, stick out like a sore thumb. Generally, people flock to all the traditional Italian restaurants with their pastas and cured meats, but lately the masses have been showing up for Allisa Cohen's first restaurant. A raw food diva and author of numerous books on the subject, she has created a space in this bustling neighborhood that is everything all those Italian restaurants are - warm, welcoming, delicious - only without the stoves.

Named with a nod to its surroundings (Grezzo is Italian for "raw"), this small space was packed when we visited, and all the patrons were doing the same ooohing and ahhhing that we were. With menu items like gnocchi, steak, and brownie sundaes, everyone at my table left way more full than we had anticipated, and sufficiently awed by what the chefs were creatively putting out. The only low point of the meal was the very beginning: my creamy fennel soup. (left) I could have used more fennel and less 'cream' (made from cashews), and the whole thing lacked salt. Still, it was pretty yummy, and it was all uphill from there.

Next I had some 'sliders'. Done easily enough with soy burgers at vegan restaurants, these little poppers were made of nuts and seeds and served with potato chips which we neither baked nor fried, but simply brined and dehydrated. Talk about flavor - these guys were bangin'. Still, I was not prepared for my papaya 'steak'. A hunkin slice of papaya is cut at angles along the top and marinated in a teriyaki sauce to mimic grill marks, and served with creamy dill 'vermicelli' and a olive and cucumber salad. Amazing and beautiful and full of surprising tastes. That's the great thing about raw food: Everything is in its most natural state and when you use the finest organic ingredients (as Alissa does) the freshness and flavor just pop. Which brings us to dessert. Oh my god...

This brownie sundae was so rich and decadent you never would have known it was vegan, let alone raw. And you see that amazing red streak? That's the yummiest raspberry sauce you ever did try. I was in heaven, and so were all my dining companions. Grezzo is a must go for anyone simply in love with food. It's not about being raw or not, it's about being exposed to all new flavors. It's kind of like eating in color when you didn't know you've been eating in black and white for so long. :) Everyone, vegan and others alike, should go.

I'm back in SF and off to Quince with my husband and 8 of our friends tomorrow to sit at the chef's table and have an epic meal. I'm so excited. Talk about "eats well with others" - there'll be me (the vegan), a vegetarian, my hubby the pescetarian, and 7 omnivores. I can't wait to see what the chefs throw together for us. Soon after that I'm off to LA. I'll make my regular pilgrimage to Real Food Daily of course, but am also planning on trying M Cafe De Chaya for the first time. Can't wait to tell you all about it. And do forgive me if I take a while. We just got this super awesome giant flat screen, a blue ray player, and the Planet Earth series. I'm engrossed. Our world is amazing and all of her creatures are so beautiful. I love that the way I eat is so yummy AND it helps protect everything I love about our planet. Remember, every meat-free day helps!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Birthday Favorite

I promise to get to more of my travel eats soon, but I just got back from a long weekend in Tahoe where we celebrated my husband's birthday. He loves a good ice cream cake and this year I totally fooled him with a vegan version from Maggie Mudd. He had no idea it was vegan until I dug in too! You can get these bad boys with character themes or with any of your own photos right on top, plus they can make them in any of their awesome vegan flavors. They even started doing "stuffed" cakes which they fill with your choice of swirls and/or chunks of goodness. I highly suggest your pick one up the next time you or anyone you loves gets older. That way, you can both celebrate. :)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Where to Begin?

My travels are not quite over, but I do have a minute to pop in and give some updates. Of course, it's been so long now that I'm not even sure where to start. I was up and down the east coast of this fine country for almost a month, and did some awesome eating if I do say so myself. I guess I'll just start with some simple recommendations.

Last time I was in NYC I got really sick so my family and husband went out to dinner without me, only to come back and rave about it and make me feel even worse that I missed it. The restaurant in question was Candle 79 and I finally got to go this time around. I was starving when I got there, and then had to wait an hour while my parents were stuck in traffic coming to meet me. The smells and sights of the other diners' food was almost too much to handle, so when they finally arrived, we dug right in. No pics, sorry. I was not level-headed enough to remember. The food was fantastic though. I, of course, had to order the picatta simply to compare with Sublime's. Sublime wins hands down, but 79's was still yummy and all the appetizers, salads, and desserts we had get high marks for flavor, creativity, and presentation. I highly recommend it, and even though my folks are vegan, I think others would love it too.

The night before that meal, my friend and I had dinner at Blossom, also in NYC. The food here was just alright, but if you ever are in the neighborhood, you MUST go in and have the chocolate ganache cake with peanut butter ice cream. It was the greatest vegan dessert I've ever had. Hands down. Rich and moist and balanced well between chocolate and peanut flavors. Even my omnivorous friend was closing her eyes and moaning. In fact, I think her exact words were "Oh my god, what is happening in my mouth?" :)

Those are both pretty high-end places, and sometimes, like when you've spent the day at the beach, you just want to kick back with a burger and fries... or some ribs.... or chicken nuggets (all vegan of couse). If that's the case, head to Kaya's Kitchen. They make vegan comfort food like nobody's business. And, if you're like my cousin who just can't handle the thought of eggplant parm without the real cheese, they've got you covered. With two vegans and two omnivores going into this meal, I was afraid my side of the table would have to be convincing the other side to try things, but they dug right in and were just as blown away by the food as we were. The "ribs" were especially awesome, but the vegan burger I had was a damn close second. Definitely hit the spot. Here is the appetizer medley (ribs in the foreground), my vegan burger, and my cousin Allison and friend Jake proving that Kaya's is so good even omnivores will love it:

That about covers it for now. I'll save my amazing Boston eats for another day. I promise to be posting more frequently now that travel is winding down, so do stay tuned!