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Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Monthly Archives: June 2012

I’m suspicious of weird food combinations. So I resisted the Sunflower pizza (endive, dates, capers, artichoke hearts, walnut pesto), but my server said it was his favorite thing on the menu.

In the wrong hands, these ingredients together would be train wreck awful. At Cafe Sunflower, they’re delicious:

What a great sweet/salty/slightly bitter combo. The pita bread crust made this a light dish, more like an open face sandwich than a pizza.

I also had the butternut squash, which could have used a bit more salt, and a dish of collard greens:

The greens were perfectly cooked, not mushy at all. And I loved the crunch added by the slivered almonds and bean sprouts.

I wish I’d had time to come back and try the other intriguing options, like the coconut tofu risotto and the Tostada Napoleon made with their house chili.

The on-line menu looks pretty standard, while the specials are more inventive. There are plenty of vegan options, as well as dishes made with dairy.

Cafe Sunflower is a pleasant spot, with paper lanterns livening up the strip mall setting.  But the real draw here is the creative, tasty food.


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Vietnam has amazing street food, even for vegetarians. While Vietnamese is tough to learn, it uses the Latin alphabet. So you can stand at a food cart and, using a guidebook, order just the vegetarian items. Which are delicious and surprising in their variety. I remember running out of stomach before the cart vendors ran out of veggie dishes.

So I was excited to try Spice Market in Atlanta. Vietnamese street food, interpreted by famous Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. All served up with swank at the Midtown W Hotel in Atlanta. (There’s also a Spice Market in NYC.)

The space is sleek, as you’d expect of the W, with a few pops of color:

Our server suggested the ginger margarita, made with baked ginger. We had a couple at the table: With these strong gingery drinks and papadum (not so Vietnamese, but then neither are margaritas) in hand, we were off to a good start: Our next dish, mushroom spring rolls with galangal emulsion and Bibb lettuce, was my favorite of the night:

The umami of the mushrooms contrasts makes for a pleasing filling, and the galangal emulsion had a bright but pungent flavor. Great dish.

Spice Market has a reasonable number of options for vegetarians, including an off the menu tofu steak. The tamarind marinade was pretty good, but there wasn’t enough of it — the interior of the tofu “steak” was unflavored. Cutting the tofu in smaller pieces would have improved this dish. (Maybe tofu wasn’t meant to be a steak.)

The Asian spicy slaw, served with pears and fried shallots, was a better dish. It was spicy as advertised.

The green curry got mixed reviews at our table. It really should be called cilantro curry. That is the dominant flavor. I liked the curry and the mix of vegetables, but some of my friends didn’t.

The egg noodles with chili and mint (without shrimp at my request) had a nice texture, but the sauce was a little too sweet.

We also had the green beans, which came coated in a sticky sweet sauce that no one liked. And one of the fish dishes was so salty that no one managed more than a bite.

There were some bright spots at Spice Market, but it was disappointing overall. Judging by the half empty dining room, we aren’t alone in that opinion.

I love the concept of this restaurant, so I hope this place reworks some of the dishes.

And I hope they rethink the tacky, backless shirts (in an unflattering muddy orange) that female servers have to wear.  Ao dai, tight-fitting Vietnamese tunics, are way sexier. I remember that too, from my wondrous travel in Vietnam.

I love diners – blame Edward Hopper. But diners don’t generally have much love (or food) for vegetarians.

Except for the all vegan Spiral Diner.

I went to the one in the fun and funky Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas; there’s another outpost in Ft. Worth.

Spiral Diner looks like a diner, complete with booths, a bakery case, and waitresses with nametags that say “Flo.” (OK, that last one isn’t true. But it should be.)

The menu has breakfast all day (variations of tofu scramble), burgers (your choice of soy, portabella, or nut patty), sandwiches (lots of seitan), salads, hot plates (many dishes with cashew cheese), and smoothies. They also make vegan baked goodies and ice cream. In short, something for everyone.

I had the red coconut curry with tofu and brown rice noodles. I know, not really diner food. But I needed the infusion of broccoli, red pepper, carrots, zucchini:

The noodles were firm (not mushy), and the sauce was fine once I added lime juice and sriracha. I love spicy food, so it’s possible that others would like the slightly bland coconut sauce exactly as is.

I also had the hemp green smoothie with almond milk:

This smoothie was more of a gritty because of the fiber-rich hemp seeds. If you don’t need smoothies to be this nutritionally virtuous, Spiral Diner will oblige with pure fruit smoothies or even shakes made with chocolate milk.

Diners are awesome. Especially when they have food a vegetarian can eat.

PS: Check out Dallas Vegan’s useful listing of vegan-friendly spots in Big D.