Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Equinox, DC #4

When the Corcoran Gallery of Art announced it would be taken over by the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, Todd Gray's Muse was forced to close. Offering the only all-vegan brunch in DC, we all feared this would be the end. Well, fear not, my friends. I am pleased to report that the vegan brunch is in full-swing at their other restaurant, Equinox, so it has merely moved and it is better than ever.

I gave them a few months before checking out the new brunch. The style is the same as it was at Muse -- buffet style, but in a fine dining atmosphere. I was pleased to see that they had a live musician as well.  The drink menu is extensive -- with eight "hand-crafted muse libations." They had everything from Classic Mimosas and Bloody Marys to a unique Pushkin Milk Punch. I started with a Bellini made with Prosecco and pear juice and my friend ordered the Rum Warmer made with Myer's rum, cider reduction, and fresh lemon. Both were very good.

As we approached the brunch area to dig in, we saw Chef Todd Gray himself serving up a mean tofu scramble. You could choose from all kinds of things like cauliflower, roasted potatoes, oyster mushrooms, bell peppers, scallions, and celeriac chip crunch. I chose it all and it was delicious! Some of the items were pre-cooked and others were raw, but it all made for a fantastic, fresh tofu scramble. I bet Todd would have never pictured himself serving tofu scramble twenty years ago.

One of my favorite dishes was the soup -- a Forest Mushroom Dashi with Bok Choy, Tofu, and Nori Chips. It was super flavorful and just the right amount of bok choy and tofu. I felt like I could have stopped with this dish, but there were still so many more!

As is customary with their brunches, there is usually a passed hors d'oeuvre and this time it was a cheesy fried risotto ball. One taste and we wanted more!

On the buffet, you could choose from a variety of dishes. For some reason, we were compelled to try them all. I will admit, I ate too much, but, I am human.

The Salad with Roasted Citrus, Watercress, and Shaved Red Onions in a Blood Orange Vinaigrette was a nice accompaniment to the other hearty dishes.

On my second plate, I tried the Stuffed Granola Crusted French Toast with Cara Cara Orange Marmalade and Red Maple Syrup. I have to say, it was a bit too much bread for me, but that marmalade made it all worth it. I also had Farro Salad with Caramelized Winter Squash, Smoked Trumpet Mushrooms, and Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette. And there was a Root Vegetable Jambalaya with Celery Root Rutabaga Turnips and Riso Nero (black rice).  And a little fruit for good measure.

With no room in my stomach, of course, I had to try the pastries and little bites. I just about exploded.

The brunch is $30 and while that is pricey, you get more than $30 worth of food for this price so it is well worth it. Everything is fresh and incredibly inventive. And where else can you get tofu scramble made fresh right in front of you?!  I'm happy to see they've continued the brunch at their restaurant and am excited that they'll be having guest speakers once a month as well. This is the kind of brunch you'll want to take your mom to when she's in town. Fresh food served on white tablecloths with live music and delicious drinks -- yeah, she'll enjoy that too.

Previous reviews
August 16, 2013
December 9, 2011
October 17, 2012

818 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 331-8118

Equinox on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 29, 2015

Creamy Broccoli with Garlic and Cilantro - Savory Smoothie or Soup

Smoothie or Soup? I guess it is your choice! I'm not a huge smoothie drinker so when I was asked to review 100 Best Juices, Smoothies, and Healthy Snacks by Emily Von Euw, I immediately flipped to her savory section where smoothies are soups and soups are smoothies! It's all in one. The Creamy Broccoli with Garlic and Cilantro is a very strong-flavored thick soup made of good stuff -- broccoli, cilantro, oranges, almonds, and miso paste. It's a bit bitey because of all of the cilantro, but I love cilantro and, therefore, loved this soup. I think it could have used some more water though as mine was really thick! Just keep adding water until it feels right. Drink or slurp!

Creamy Broccoli with Garlic and Cilantro

  • 2 cups broccoli
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 Tbsp miso paste
  • 1 orange
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 cup cilantro
  • 1 1/2 cups water, as needed
  • 1 avocado (optional)
Peel, wash, and chop everything as needed. Blend all the ingredients together, adding water as needed.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Late July Tortilla Chips and Frontera Salsas

Sometimes I can be a chips and salsa fanatic. I mean - who doesn't like chips and salsa?! The problem is that there are so many cheaply made chips with low quality GMO corn and crappy salsas out there that I don't even eat the chips and salsa when I'm out half the time. But, when I can choose my own chips and salsa and devour them at home, I'm all about it!

Late July makes outstanding chips in soooo many flavors. Ten of their flavors are vegan like the Sweet Potato Multigrain and Chia & Quinoa Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips! What I like most about their chips is that they are made with non-GMO corn, mostly organic ingredients, and good-for-you seeds like chia, millet, flax, quinoa, and amaranth. That's about as healthy as a tortilla chip can get!

But, wait - no chip is good without some sort of salsa or guacamole, right?! My absolute favorite salsa - I mean the salsa I choose when I go to the grocery store is Frontera's Gourmet Mexican Salsas. These salsas have incredible flavor and real ingredients. So what happens when you pair the Late July chips with the Frontera salsas? It's magic!

Take the Sea Salt by the Seashore and Red Hot Mojo chips with the Jalapeno Cilantro salsa.  The Sea Salt chips are made with brown rice, chia seeds, and a grain & seed blend that includes millet, flax, brown rice, quinoa, and amaranth.  The result is just a fantastic basic tortilla chip. But when you dip it in the Jalapeno Cilantro salsa it really comes alive with tomatoes, jalapenos, and cilantro. This salsa has perfect flavor that could complement just about any chip. The salsa is not overly thick so it lasts a bit longer than those super thick salsas.

My favorite chip was the Red Hot Mojo -- a fiery blend of jalapenos and red peppers in a chip. This chip is amazing. It's not too hot and not too mild and has just the right amount of crunch! I paired it with the Jalapeno Cilantro salsa because that salsa is not too spicy while the chip really is!

For my next double pairing I took the Cure for the Summertime Blues (yes, the names are all that cute!) and the Sub Lime chips with the Roasted Habanero salsa. Oh my! The Roasted Habanero salsa is one of the hottest salsas with habanero I've ever had! You get chunks of fire-roasted tomatoes with habanero that leave a slow burn at the back of your throat. Pair this salsa with mild chips like the Summertime Blues - a great high-quality crunchy blue chip with chia and flax seeds or the super-limey Sub Lime chips and you get a party-ready pairing!

After all that, I decided to try Late July's new JalapeƱo Lime Clasico and Bacon Habanero Clasico chips. Honestly, I really wasn't a big fan of these. I tried them briefly at Expo West and was really more excited at the novelty of Bacon Habanero chips than the taste itself. After taking the time to really try these at home, I felt like some of the added ingredients like maltodextrin made these chips taste like they had fake flavor added.

Late July chips can be found on Amazon here and Frontera salsas can also be found on Amazon here. They are commonly found in Whole Foods as well. And with that, I'm going back to planning a Mexican siesta!

Full Disclosure: Although the products were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sunflower Vegetarian, Vienna, VA

After having recently dined at Sunflower Vegetarian in Falls Church, I decided to check out their other location in Vienna, Virginia. I thought it would be really close to Tysons Corner, but it turned out to be much further away than I expected. Finally, we saw their green and yellow awnings over yonder in the two-story building and turned in with anticipation.

Inside, it's a medium-sized restaurant with small wood tables. Sunflowers adorned everything -- as it is their signature flower. This all-vegetarian restaurant has just a few non-vegan items, which are clearly marked. Yes, the non-vegan items are marked -- I love that.

I really enjoyed the dish I got at the Falls Church location so I really had to try hard to find something I thought I'd like as much at this location. They seem big on the faux meats here, which aren't my favorite thing. I'm more of a vegetable dish person myself. This is where our server came in. As we described what we were looking for, she helped us identify what we might like. With her help, we placed our orders.

The restaurant was really cold this day. I mean, really cold. I didn't even want to take off my knit hat. They obviously saw how cold I was as they suggested I order a cup of tea.  I went for a funky tea that was mix of mu, earl grey, ginger, and burdock. It was very unusual, but I liked it.

For my lunch, I ordered the Kale and Burdock Deluxe that came with lots of kale, burdock (a root vegetable), organic tofu skins, seitan, and chickpeas in a light ginger sauce. As simple as it was, it was just what I needed. It felt cleansing and the ginger sauce was quite mild. I asked if they had any hot peppers and they brought me fresh hot peppers that were burn-your-ass-off hot. They added just the right amount of spice to my dish.

Chris ordered the vegan General Tso's Magic, which came with steamed broccoli.  They have a non-vegan version as well so be careful when ordering. These crispy chunks of soy protein were tossed and cooked in a hot kung-pao sauce and served with sliced carrots. I thought it was pretty good, but I'm generally not a big fan of deep-fried dishes. Chris proclaimed that it was better than the same dish at Vegetable Garden. That's a lofty statement -- but, he really, really liked it.

We had to flag our server down to get our check, but it is a casual veg restaurant so I don't expect top-of-the-line stellar service. I have to say that I am very excited to have found that they greatly improved their dishes over the past few years. We found both of our dishes, moderately priced at around $10 each, to be quite good and very filling. The atmosphere is inviting, minus the cold temperature, and the drinks are good too.  I think this is a great place to schedule a get-together with veg and non-veg friends.  Now, it is time for them to open one in DC. A girl can dream, can't she?

Sunflower Vegetarian
2531 Chain Bridge Road
Vienna, VA 22181
(703) 319-3888

Sunflower Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 22, 2015

Spaghetti and Seitan Wheatballs

Seeking a way to dress up a simple pasta dish, I turned to the seitan wheatballs described in the Candle 79 Cookbook. Made with shallots, onions, celery, and seitan, these wheatballs had some great flavor that was enhanced with red pepper flakes and fresh chopped celery. The cooking method described below will steam them so that they are very soft. I prefer them to be a bit more on the baked side so I uncovered them and baked them for an additional 5-10 minutes. These wheatballs are a great addition to a simple spaghetti dish with roasted tomato sauce.

Spaghetti and Seitan Wheatballs
Makes ~ 20 balls

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1 pound seitan
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • Tomato (spaghetti) sauce
  • Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.

To make the wheatballs, heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, shallots, onion, and celery and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Put the seitan in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until completely ground. Add the red pepper flakes, parsley, and salt and pulse to incorporate. Add the sauteed onion and celery and process until completely ground.

Transfer the seitan mixture to a large bowl and stir in the flour. Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls and put them on the prepared baking sheet. There should be about 20 balls. Brush the balls with olive oil and put 2 tablespoons of water into the baking pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well. Heat the tomato sauce on the stovetop until warm and bubbly. Portion the pasta into individual bowls and top each serving with tomato sauce and wheatballs. Garnish with basil and serve warm.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Meridian Pint, DC #2

I've been taking a yoga class in Columbia Heights lately and my fellow yogis mentioned that they love to go to brunch at Meridian Pint. I had a good experience at a Vegan Drinks event there in 2012, but hadn't been back since so I was way overdue. I joined them on two occasions.

Meridian Pint is a large restaurant that focuses on craft beers and environmental sustainability. The first floor is traditional dinner seating while the downstairs features these amazing huge booths where you can get beer on tap. The atmosphere is relaxed and the lighting dark.

I started with an orange juice and perused the menu. I was so delighted to see that items were marked as vegan or vegan optional, which made it so easy to understand. I decided to go with the housemade lentil barley burger served as Mother Earth and I'm so glad I did. This hearty, fresh burger is loaded with flavor and served on grilled ciabatta with caramelized onions and Daiya as well as fresh lettuce and tomato. I think this burger is better than the Science Club's black bean burger, quite frankly. The salad was also very good and came with a light vinaigrette dressing.

A friend of mine ordered the Thai Noodle with Avocado, Basil, Tomato, Peanut and Arugula and said it was very good.

On my second visit, I was so tempted to order the same thing, but instead went with something new. I started with a delicious mimosa and had the Vegan Curry Burrito. I noted that the vegan burrito was misspelled as "burritto" while the regular burrito was spelled correctly so it was kind of funny. This burrito looked very plain, but was anything but. Again, I got that great salad. The burrito was filled with black beans, onions, roasted eggplant, and avocado and served in a very fresh wrap that was grilled perfectly.

The burger was $12 while the burrito was $13 so it wasn't cheap, but given the fresh, high-quality ingredients, I had no complaints. The service was quite good and the atmosphere inviting. Overall, I am very happy with where this restaurant is going. The food is excellent, the menu is labeled appropriately, and the drinks are top-notch. Meridian Pint has just jumped back up on to the top ranks of my favorite casual restaurants in DC.

Previous review
June 12, 2012

Meridian Pint
3400 11th Street NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 588-1075

Meridian Pint on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Raaka - Chocolate Bars

It isn't very often that I feel like I actually want to order chocolate bars that I can't find locally. With Raaka, this is definitely the case. Raaka is a new Brooklyn-based company making super high-quality, unroasted chocolate. Their unique low temperature process preserves each region's natural, wild flavors, bringing you closer to the bean...or so they say.

Ryan Cheney was introduced to chocolate-making at a yoga school in Thailand. Inspired by companies with social missions, he founded Raaka to explore low-temperature chocolate making and create a more equitable global society in which communities have the opportunity to improve their quality of life. After spending a year learning bean-to-bar chocolate making, Ryan teamed up with Nate Hodge, a musician and gastronomist with a lust for exotic flavors and groundbreaking processes. For several months, Nate and Ryan enjoyed the sound of micro-batch chocolate grinders churning around the clock as they developed a new approach to chocolate making.

They sent me two bars and other tiny samples to try. My favorite of the two was the Vanilla Rooibos. Rooibos is a nettle tea from South Africa and brings warm notes to this bar. But what really arouses your tastebuds is the vanilla. Upon first bite, you get a melt-in-your-mouth vanilla flavor enveloped in pure, natural cacao. It's one of the best bars I've ever tasted.

The Maple & Nibs is also great. Maple sugar adds sweetness and cacao nibs coat the back of the bar for crunchiness and flavor.

Other tiny disc-sized samples were of their 75% Madagascar, Coconut Milk, Lapsang Chai, Dark with Sea Salt, Bourbon Cask Aged, and Yacon. All were excellent. I especially liked the milky Coconut Milk flavor, the Sea Salt, and the Bourbon Cask Aged.

Farmers at OKO Caribe and CIAAB co-ops are paid a 20% premium for the beans used in Raaka's bars. That's social responsibility at its best. All of their bars are certified Organic, soy-, nut-, and gluten-free as well as vegan. You will find them on Amazon here for $7.95 each. Well worth it in my opinion. They even make vegan truffles too!

Full Disclosure: Although the products were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.