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Un-Granola

Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Tag Archives: vegan

Rooftop restaurants sound cheesy to me. I always wonder if they’ll revolve. And I expect only dreary decor and forgettable food.

Departure, at the top of The Nines hotel, looks like the sleek, sexy airport departure lounge of your dreams. And the food is amazing – possibly the best meal we had in a week of dedicated eating during our trip to Portland.

Departure has a vegan menu. For a gal from Texas, this is astounding.

And since this Asian-inspired food, there is vegan protein in the form or tofu, tempeh, and edamame.

I started out with shiitake nigiri sushi:

The complexity of the smoked citrus soy and garlic soy caramel were perfect with the chewy, earthy mushrooms. This might have been my favorite dish of the night.

The gingered mushrooms followed:

The mushrooms, some greens, and slices of Asian pear came on a bed of pureed parsnips. While the puree was delicious (it tasted buttery, which is hard to accomplish in a vegan dish without butter), the dish overall could have used something crunchier than the fresh greens. Maybe panko?

Then came the brussel sprouts, which friends had told us we had to order:

Cooked with malt vinegar, lime, and chili, this was a complex, tasty dish. These brussel sprouts are pulled apart, with individual leaves composing the salad. This gives them a light texture. The strong flavor of cilantro tasted great with the heat of the chili and the acidity of the vinegar and lime.

Since we only had to waddle to the elevator to get back to our hotel room, we went ahead and split a warm ginger black plum crisp.

It was comfort food (sweet cooked plums) with a surprise element : the astringent, only slightly sweet Thai basil ice cream.  An Asian-influenced crisp.

Departure can be expensive (order lots of sushi) or moderate (stick with the  larger plates).

All this deliciousness, AND you get a gorgeous view:

Makes me rethink dining at the top.

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I once stayed at a lovely old hotel in Bruges, Belgium where they required all guests to eat one meal at their restaurant. My obligatory meal involved multiple courses of wild rice. In a salad, in a soup, in a dish cooked with vegetables. I don’t remember dessert, it may have involved wild rice too. The chef clearly just didn’t know what to do for a vegetarian, Belgian cuisine being as meat-focused as it is.

Congress is nothing like that. They don’t miss a beat in serving vegetarians.

This elegant spot in the Austonian building offers 3-course ($75) and 7-course ($125) tasting menus. On a prior visit, they had printed vegetarian tasting menus. On this visit, our waiter just pointed out the vegetarian dishes and the ones that could be modified to be made veg-friendly. She also said the chef would make special dishes if guests didn’t like the ones on offer.

Our amuse bouche was a potato custard with parmesan foam. I asked if it was vegetarian, and she said: Everything I bring you tonight will be vegetarian. Now folks, that’s what you call service.

The rich custard and light, salty foam vanished quickly:

First up on my 3-course menu: a burrata, peach, and tomato salad.

Burrata (fresh mozzarella with cream inside) is always a treat. The tomatoes and peaches in this dish made for an unusual combination of tart and sweet. Sage, in place of the expected basil, cut through the rich dairy goodness.

I could probably make that dish, it was more about the combination of ingredients than technique. I would not, however, attempt to make what came next:

I’d asked for a dish with vegetarian protein but no pasta. They served me fresh fava beans and black quinoa with micro-greens, corn and smoked buttermilk. The acidity of the buttermilk complemented the chewiness of the beans and quinoa. The smoky note added umami, that quality of mouth-fullness.

I have no idea how to smoke buttermilk, and never has quinoa tasted so good.

My third course was carrot ravioli:

The cardamom, shiso (a variety of mint that is frequently used in Japanese cuisine), and garlic broth had a deep, complex flavor that tempered the sweetness of the carrot filling in the ravioli. Cardamom is great with sweet vegetables such as carrots and pumpkins.

For dessert, we split a lime-basil sorbet. Sounds simple, right?

It was anything but. Dehydrated, candied grains added crunch to the tart yogurt mousse. There was sweet mango and Asian pear, offset by a puree of intensely sour calamansi lemons. Overall, our dessert was sweet and sour, creamy and crunchy – totally delicious.

Calamansi lemons, our server told us, are a cross between mandarin oranges and kumquats traditionally grown in the Philippines. They might be the new “it” ingredient, the way pomegranates were a couple of years ago. (See this article from the Kitchn: http://www.thekitchn.com/strong-and-sour-calamansi-lemo-154832)

Congress is not cheap. But you would pay a lot more for this level of cooking in NYC or LA. The manager came by and told us that, in addition to happily accommodating vegetarians, they can serve vegans with a couple of days’ notice. So – Austin now has a restaurant that can offer a vegan tasting menu.

Congress is worth your saved pennies.

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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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Vegeria is San Antonio’s only fully vegan restaurant. Are the city’s vegans rejoicing that they have a restaurant for their needs? Especially a spot with a pleasant deck?

And signage that would make a cool tattoo?

In addition to the deck, Vegeria has a simple but pleasant indoor dining room.

The menu has a Mexican influence, with dishes such as potato poblano lentil cakes and quinoa burritos. They have tamales and baked treats, which can be hard to find in vegan versions. And salads and sandwiches, including a BBQ one made with mushrooms.

I started with the vegetarian posole because the server said she loves it so much, she sometimes has it twice a day.

The garlic and chili broth with hominy was delicious.  I wish it were easier to find versions of posole made without chicken stock. (At least it’s rarely made with human flesh these days, in the style of the Aztecs.)

Next up, green chili lentil burger:

The side salad was fresh, but the lentil burger itself was very dry. It needed something (oil? mushrooms? tomato paste?) to keep it moist. The green chili sauce, while tasty, didn’t add enough moisture  to this dish.

Maybe I ordered the wrong thing. Maybe, when in San Antonio, one shouldn’t venture too far from the local specialties. If I find myself in Vegeria again, I’ll try the enchiladas. And a giant bowl of the posole, please.

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Ever eat badly for a few days? Coffee for breakfast, pecan pie for lunch? ME NEITHER. But people who have: get yourselves to Field of Greens.

It’s a simple, unfussy joint in a Houston shopping center with lots of options for pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, raw foodies, and anyone who needs an infusion of vegetables. Lots of burgers, salads, pastas, as well as a few juices and smoothies.

After a few minutes of my usual deer in headlights routine (vegetarians don’t always have so many choices!), I went with the waiter’s recommendation, tofu quiche salad. And a carrot kale juice.

The dish looked great, and the tofu tasted like a crustless quiche. It was filling, and, especially with a dab of the garlic soy sauce, delish. I loved the bed of fresh greens and my juice.

At the next table, people in scrubs were discussing flax seed. People who know about food and nutrition eat here, OK? So should you, especially after a week of nutritional lapses.

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You probably have a beloved friend who can’t stop making snarky comments about the deprivations vegetarians face. If you truly love this person, and you have some cash to spare, take them to Pure Food and Wine in Gramercy Park.  (Tell your friend afterward that the food is vegan + raw, and see if she believes you.)

I went with two beloved friends — neither of them snarky — and Pure amazed from start to finish as we sat in the middle of the womb-like red dining room.

We started with a bowl of the house-cured olives, a dish that would be a throwaway at a lesser restaurant.  Citrus and fennel made the olives here interesting, even addictive.

Our entrees arrived very quickly. Since the food is raw, I imagine that most of it is prepared ahead of time and assembled very quickly. One of my friends had the spanakopita. The texture of the fake phyllo pastry was pleasing, and the almond feta and cucumber yogurt were remarkable for being dairy-free.

My other friend ordered the sweet corn and cashew tamales with chili spiced portabella. We all agreed that this was the best looking, best tasting dish of the night. Mole, the Mexican chocolate-based sauce, is generally made with chicken stock, so I rarely get to have it. I’d put Pure’s dark, rich mole up against more traditional ones in my hometown of Austin, which takes Mexican food pretty seriously.  The corn and cashew filling inside the corn husk had a satisfying texture, and, as with the spanakopita, the dairy sauce (cashew coconut sour cream in this dish) was fabulous.

My dish, Pad Thai with kelp noodles and baby bok choy, was very tasty. The noodles were firm, with no overtly kelp flavor, and the dish overall had a bright tamarind flavor.

On to dessert – we ordered the chocolate semifreddo. The tartness of the accompanying passionfruit sorbet complemented the richness of the chocolate. It went quickly.

One of my friends would have liked a coffee, which Pure doesn’t serve. But there are plenty of coffee places down the street. Very few places serve vegan, raw food of this caliber. I can’t wait to round up some snarky friends and show them how astonishing and great vegetarian food can be.

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Gobo‘s website has an “audio off” feature. You should use it. Otherwise, you’ll hear someone talk about food for the five senses. It  seems kind of stuffy, which the restaurants themselves are not. I recently had lunch at the Upper East Side outpost of Gobo and dinner at the one in the West Village.

Both restaurants are clean and modern, with warm touches like the salvaged wood art (shown below at the UES location) and a pretty window display (West Village). The West Village location is bigger and has a small communal seating area in addition to tables. It is really loud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The UES Gobo has a weekend brunch menu where you can get two courses for $20. Choices on the day I visited included root vegetable crepes, breakfast burritos stuffed with hummus,  frittata made with mushrooms, and sandwiches. The dinner menu is divided into quick bites, small and large plates, and salads and soups, as well as a small section describing some of the specialized ingredients used. The lunch and dinner menus are largely Asian-inspired, with some detours into pastas and casseroles. True to the Asian influence, there are bubble teas as well as smoothies and juices.

For lunch, I had the grilled soy cutlet sandwich with cashew puree spread on seven grain bread, served with white bean soup and a mesclun salad.

The sandwich was a little dry but the soy cutlet and sundried tomato gave it a satisfying, chewy texture. I would have preferred a sharper flavor and would have preferred mustard to the cashew spread, but it was a delicious sandwich overall. The soup had great herb flavor — overall, a lot of good food for $15, including tip.

I had the soy protein and cashew spinach rolls with jade mushrooms when I visited the West Village Gobo for dinner. It was a huge plate of food:

The pan-fried rolls, topped with a mustard sauce, were flavorful and delicious. I could eat a plate of those. But instead I had a giant mound of mashed potato, which didn’t really do much to set off the rolls. The accompanying vegetables and tofu were good but not distinctly flavored.

Overall, it was a fine plate of food that made creative use of soy protein – love those rolls! I’m sure the risotto and casseroles at Gobo are fine. But the Asian options seem more inventive and are totally worth checking out.

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