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Un-Granola

Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Watercourse has something for everyone: cheesy nachos for vegetarians who want something indulgent, salads and smoothies for  those detoxing, and a hearty pasta dish for those who wandered in, not knowing or caring that this is a vegetarian restaurant.

All this choice makes Watercourse a great place to take a big group.  Everyone from your vegan sister and your gluten-sensitive cousin to your meat-and-potatoes friend will find something to eat. (Though the meat of course will be made with seitan or tofu. Shhhh…)

The vibe here is hipster casual, with cheerful and opinionated service.

I was in desperate need of vegetables on my visit, so I started with a carrot, kale, apple, beet, celery, and fennel smoothie:

It was fresh and delicious. Fortified with all those vegetables, I split an order of samosas with my friend:

They looked more like empanadas than samosas, but the vegetable filling was very good. I wish they’d serve the chimichurri sauce on the side to keep the samosas from getting soggy. But overall, this was a fun start to the meal.

Next up for me, the macro plate:

This involved quinoa in miso sauce on one side, adzuki beans on the other, with pretty bok choy dividing the two. The beans were a tad bland, but I really liked the quinoa and the picked vegetable garnish. Loved the infusion of protein.

My friend had the Thai peanut stir fry:

The sauce had a pleasant savory/sweet flavor, and the noodles were firm, but the tofu (which my friend ordered blackened, at the recommendation of our server), overwhelmed the dish. This would be a more balanced dish without grilled tofu.

There’s just so much to try at Watercourse. And even your pickiest friend will find something to like here.

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Every city has its pockets of coolness. (Austin, my hometown, is so darn hip it only has pockets of un-coolness.) 

Oklahoma City has Deep Deuce, a historically black neighborhood close to downtown that’s now full of interesting restaurants, sleek new apartments, and the hipsters and young professionals who like such things.

The Wedge in Deep Deuce serves vegetarian and vegan pizza. In any other city, this would be unremarkable. But in OKC, headquarters of the Sonic chain, I think it’s worth pointing out all spots where you can get veggie food.

The Wedge’s open space has a chill urban vibe:

There’s also a patio with plenty of shade and a small garden in the front where they grow some of the veggies they serve:

In addition to pizzas, The Wedge has a good selection of salads and starters. The Wedge Trio, which features artichoke hearts, hummus, and tapenade served with flatbread, is full of veggies and veggie protein.

Of course, the pizza is the main event. And while it’s off menu, The Wedge has cashew cheese. I built my own pizza with spiced walnuts, pine nuts, figs, and pears and cashew cheese in place of the dairy stuff.

The cashew cheese here is much better than the Daiya cheese used for vegan pizzas at other places. And the combination of nuts and fruits on my pie was delicious. They also offer the Vedge, a veggie pizza, and a pizza with truffle oil and mushrooms.

Our waiter said they don’t always have the cashew cheese on hand, so it may be better to call ahead if you’re vegan.

You can’t have a cool neighborhood without upscale pizza…it’s a bonus that The Wedge caters to vegetarians and vegans as well as it does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

On the night we went, Barley Swine had just three vegetarian dishes on the menu. Fortunately, they were three GREAT dishes.

If you’re vegan, this is not the place for you – butter, cheese, and eggs are much used. If the words “chicken-fried pig face” (ewww) on a menu are intolerable, this is not the place for you. If you like cocktails with your dinner, other places do that. (Barley Swine only has beer and wine.) If you can’t imagine waiting an hour or more for a table, you should go elsewhere.

We went early on a Tuesday night, and there wasn’t a wait. The dining room is tiny (there are plans to expand into a larger space), so for now the wait on a Friday night can be considerable.

First up, cream of artichoke with gruyere fritters:

This was a rich, buttery artichoke custard with delicious gruyere fritters and an unexpected element – mushroom “chips” that were earthy and crisp.

Next up, heirloom tomato with pimento goat cheese:

A great dish can make you reconsider your likes and dislikes. I think of pimento as disturbingly shelf stable cheese spread. But when made with fresh cheese, spread on good bread, and served with peaches and heirloom tomato, it is amazing. I loved this interpretation of grilled cheese and tomato soup.

The best dish, scrambled duck egg with morels, came last:

The greens and radishes added a welcome bit of lightness to the indulgently creamy scrambled eggs with morels. Potatoes aren’t my thing, but the purple ones on this dish were very pretty.

The portions are bigger than I expected. My one vegetarian friend  agreed that we could easily have split a third dish. (Our other friends were too busy swooning over scallops to weigh in on portion size.)

I wish I’d been less full, because the desserts here are worth eating:

The strawberry shortcake wasn’t too sweet, allowing the fresh berry flavor to shine. The chocolate swiss cake roll was delicious, but the barley ice cream (which sounds weird), with its sweet and slightly herbal taste, was the standout element.

The menu says no substitutions, but our waiter cheerfully accommodated our request to make the artichoke dish anchovy-free. She also explained that the corn soup was made with fish stock, which I appreciated her knowing.

One day, maybe, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant will open in Austin. Until then, I’ll just have to look past the pig face (ewww) at Barley Swine.

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El Naranjo has moved from a trailer to a spiffy new house on Rainey St — all the better to showcase their no Tex/all Mex food.

The space is sleek and pretty, much like Icenhauers next door.

We sat on the cute patio. There’s also a small room that’d be fun for a  large group.

El Naranjo has specialty cocktails, in addition to small selection of wine. My friend had a Sidecar, which he said was perfect, and I had a glass of wine.

Instead of the predictable chips and salsa, El Naranjo brings out fresh bread, spicy butter, and a trio of totally addictive dips:

So far, so good. These are some serious salsas.

In terms of vegetarian options, El Naranjo has many vegetarian appetizers (salads, a dish with nopales, jicama enchiladas as an appetizer) and a few veg entrees, including a chili relleno made with puff pastry and a mole dish.

I asked the waiter five times, and he swore that all three moles that day were vegetarian, not even thinned with chicken stock. The manager came by later and explained that a couple of the moles (poblano and negro) have chicken stock, but they weren’t on the menu that night.

I ordered the rojo mole with vegetables:

The sauce itself was delicious and complex, as a mole should be, with smoky peppers and a slightly bitter note. The vegetables included chayote, peas, and mushrooms. It was all very good, but I could really have used some protein. The manager said they’d consider adding seitan or some other source of veggie protein (not very traditional, clearly) to the dish.

My friend had the pipian (pumpkin seed) sauce with shrimp, and he loved it.

El Naranjo is not cheap ($75 for two of us). But this is intricate Mexican food, as far as you can get from yellow cheese and grease.

I wish them well — and will be back to try the chili relleno.