Monday, June 27, 2016

Traveling Overseas Vegan-Style

You may have noticed that I've switched gears a little bit this year -- less frequent posting and mostly restaurant reviews. Why? I've been traveling for skydiving and BASE jumping A LOT! Most recently, I traveled overseas to a remote island off Panama where it was rumored there'd be no vegan food! Yes, seriously. We are talking a remote island two hours by boat from Panama where there are few restaurants and lots of fish.


How did I survive? Just to be safe, I brought a ton of food! I thought it would be helpful to share some tips.

First, I rented a villa. That's a house with a kitchen. That way if there weren't any restaurants to eat at, I could make my own food. Second, I contacted the local chef beforehand to let him know there'd be a vegan staying there for a week. As a result, he had bought Field Roast sausages, Hilary's burgers, vegan cheese, and more and was ready to cook when I arrived!

What kind of food did I bring? Here's some ideas of stuff you could bring while traveling.

No cook:
  • Purely Elizabeth cereal with almond milk
  • Raw Revolution bars with almond butter
  • Almond butter (good protein)
  • Trail mix
  • Mary's Gone Crackers pretzels
  • Go Macro protein bars
  • Dried mango 
  • Tastybite Indian Meals: ready to eat out of the pouch

Cook:
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Fig Food Co. soups: ready to eat out of pouch, but better when warm
  • Rice
  • Daiya cheesy mac (not that great)
  • Modern Table pasta meal
  • Lots of fresh veggies to make fajitas with salsa and tortillas
  • Asparagus

And on that, I survived. It was a great trip. Don't get stuck overseas without back-up food. As long as you have bars and trail mix, you'll survive!!


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sweet Earth - Frozen Meals

Sweet Earth Natural Foods recently reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in trying their new line of frozen vegan world entree bowls. Yes, please. Although I will always continue to promote fresh, unprocessed whole foods, I must say that with my crazy traveling schedule this year, I've been seeking more convenience foods, and frozen foods can be a good choice. What's great about this line is that they are even being sold in Target! Talk about reaching the mainstream consumer!

Now, let me be clear -- not all frozen food is okay. Most of it, in fact, is loaded with all kinds of bad stuff. What I love about the new Sweet Earth bowls is that I couldn't find a bad ingredient in any of the five new vegan flavors.

Take the Kyoto Stir Fry for example. It was just so naturally good. The ingredient list includes organic brown rice, spinach, tofu, edamame, snow peas, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, miso, sesame oil, and pickled ginger -- all good stuff! The calories at 310 were reasonable, but the fat at 17 grams was quite high. There's 5 grams of fiber, 10 grams of protein, and 590 grams of sodium so while you are getting 20% of your recommended fiber for the day, you are also getting 25% of the max sodium.


I actually liked all five bowls. If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be the Curry Tiger. Imagine lentils and brown rice along with broccoli, sweet potatoes, curry seitan, and a great curry sauce. Yum! 15 grams of protein, but 20 grams of fat...so yeah, all in moderation.


The Moroccan Tangine was absolutely delicious. Made with bulgur, garbanzo beans, sweet potatoes, raisins, and cinnamon, it had a lot of flavor and a lot of depth. This one was lower in calories and fat than the others, but higher in sodium.


The General Tso's Tofu was probably my least favorite, although I still thought it was good. I would have liked to see more broccoli and less tofu in this bowl, but that's just my preference. Also, the picture showed white rice, but there was brown rice inside. I hope they update their packaging soon.


Lastly, there is the Bean and Mango Cubano, which is a good, hearty, whole foods-type dish. It is just black beans, quinoa, and mango. I added some nutritional yeast and hot sauce for flavor. This is the kind of dish I could eat regularly -- simple, but good.


So, all in all, I'd say they've done an excellent job. The dishes have many organic ingredients and are all-natural, but realize that they can also be high in sodium. I did notice that I had to heat these dishes well beyond the amount of time listed in the directions. I usually had to stir and heat at least another minute. I'd also like to point out that there are 12 meals -- 7 of them are vegetarian and not vegan and 5 of them are vegan, so be sure to look at the front of the box, where either "vegetarian" or "vegan" is clearly stated. Great job, Sweet Earth! I'm so happy to have more convenient options in the freezer section.

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

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Nuit du Champagne - Wine Event

As a lover of fine wine and a patron of regular wine tastings, I was very intrigued when the individuals behind Nuit du Champagne contacted me asking if I would help them promote an upcoming event in DC.


Nuit du Champagne will be hosting upscale wine events across the country this year to promote French Champagne as the only authentic Champagne. This series of festive events will have an educational twist to allow you to learn more about Champagne.

Hosted by the Sofitel hotel in Washington, DC, the first Nuit du Champagne event will be held on Tuesday, June 28 from 7 to 10 p.m.. The most prestigious French Champagne brands will be presenting a selection of their wines for this event including Veuve Clicquot, Moet & Chandon, Krug, Dom Perignon, and Ruinart.  To sign up, go to nuitduchampagne.com. Tickets start at $70 each.

Following this event, there will be others in Houston, Philadelphia, Miami, New York, and Chicago.

Nuit du Champagne is produced by French Touch Events, an experiential agency specialized in promoting French Excellence in the US and producing major Franco-American events.

CHAMPAGNE-BUCKET

Full Disclosure: They have offered me entry to this event in exchange for promoting it. As this is their first event, I have no experience with this organization.

Friday, June 17, 2016

00+Co, NYC

After having eaten at several Matthew Kenney restaurants in the past and having been impressed with every one, I could not wait to hit his newest vegan pizza joint in New York City! 00 + Co is named as such because double zero flour is used for the pizza dough. This dough is finely ground, holds up to high heat, and has a lower gluten content than most flours. Unlike other vegan pizza joints though, because Matthew Kenney is a chef, they do not use commercially available vegan cheese shreds such as Daiya. Instead, they either make such flavorful pizzas that no cheese is added or they make their own nut-based cheeses. Totally different and totally radical!


We showed up on a Sunday for lunch/dinner around 2 p.m. They had just opened (now they open at 12 p.m.) so it was empty. We chose a seat inside. The white brick contrasted the black ductwork, which was all illuminated by the clear lighting. There are several large light wood communal tables to choose from with high stool seating. We sat closest to the window.


Upon first glance, I got really excited to see there was a cheese plate on the menu -- hard cheeses made from nuts in-house. Then, they told me they were out of it. Wes was like, "we came all the way from DC for the cheeses." Well, somehow they found some and brought us a cheese plate! Using cultured nuts, they created hard nut cheese. The truffled cashew was excellent. The smoked cheddar was so much like cheddar with a smokiness! And the almond ricotta was great too. The cheese did taste a little stale so not as fresh as I had expected, but the flavors were there and Wes remarked that if he had grown up only knowing this as cheese, he'd be happy. Win!


We also shared a bowl of the Sweet Potato Cavatelli. This was the best thing I had at 00 + Co. It was like sweet potato gnocci with arugula, topped with a creamy sauce and dehydrated olive. It was a flavor explosion in my mouth. It seems they took this off the menu. They'd be wise to add it back on soon.


We ordered two different pizzas. Wes ordered the Tomato Basil Cashew Mozzarella and it was pretty good. It was different having the cashew-based cheese on the pizza for sure.


I ordered a pizza without cheese -- The Truffled Celeriac with Maitake Mushroom pizza with parsley pesto. I loved the celeriac, but there were too many mushrooms that were overcooked and not enough pesto. I absolutely love mushrooms, but this pizza wasn't balanced. The crust, however, was very good and very doughy.


The service was okay -- there were times when we couldn't find our server and times when he showed up promptly. The pizza is very expensive at $15-$17 per small pizza, but given that these are in-house cheeses and how fresh and high quality the ingredients are, it isn't surprisingly expensive. We also ordered some great wine so our bill was quite high, but that's New York. I hope this place continues to expand its menu and thrives in this hot little neighborhood.

00 + Co
65 Second Avenue
New York, NY
(212) 777-1608

00 + Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Kajitsu, NYC

On my trip to NYC, I wanted to hit an upscale restaurant and when I heard of Kajitsu, I thought it was perfect. Katjitsu has been open in New York City for many years, but it was 2016 when it garnered one Michelin star in the acclaimed Michelin Guide for this year. It wasn't until that happened that the restaurant was on my radar. There are very few veg restaurants, if any, that have actually been awarded a Michelin star so this makes Kajitsu really shine.


The unassuming outside facade consisted of a large window in a building with a sign that was difficult to read from the street. Luckily, our Uber driver located it just fine. Inside, there are actually two restaurants. Kokage serves fish and is located on the ground level whereas Kajitsu is vegan and is located on the second floor. They seated us in the very small dining room at the top of the stairs. What was frustrating to me is that the word vegan is not found anywhere on the menu or website. It made me a little uneasy, but I was assured that all items were vegan by the staff. I'm not appreciative of how some restaurants choose not to use this word for fear of scaring people away, but I do understand.

The dining room was quite simple as was the theme of the night. For a Michelin-starred restaurant, I was a bit disappointed with the lack of color and I don't mean literally in the dining room. There was no artwork -- just a tile floor, cream walls, and light wood furniture. It looked like what you'd find in a cafe and not an upscale restaurant.


This theme continued throughout the night. We went with the Chef's Omakase, which is the multi-course menu using ingredients available daily, and the sake pairing. The meal is based on Japanese shojin cuisine, which is a type of vegetarian cooking that originated in Zen Buddhism. It is regarded as the foundation of all Japanese cuisine and is still prepared in Buddhist temples throughout Japan.

In traditional Japanese cuisine, the dishware is an integral part of the meal. The dishes used at Kajitsu include pieces created by master Japanese potters over 200 years ago as well as works by modern ceramic artists. They began the meal by asking us to choose a cup from a selection.


The meal began with Yin and Yang, black sesame tofu, lily bulb with soymilk and cacao nibs, asparagus, daikon radish, and leek powder. It looked beautiful, but tasted like nothing. This made me worry from the start of the meal, but I was hoping this was isolated to this one dish.


The second course was a soup made with kale broth and turnips. There was a mochi rice cake, plums, and lotus. I loved the broth, but the rest of it was meh. Again, very simple.


The third course was a huge seasonal assortment of vegetables celebrating spring! It consisted of kanpyo,  mitsuba, shiso, cucumber, shiitake, myoga, nama-fu, carrot, soybean, arrowhead, dandelion miso, turnip, pickled plum, citrus jam, nameko, scallion, daikon, broccoli rabe, potato, shojin mayonnaise, cauliflower, olive, cabbage, and ume-fu. Yeah, all that.  Again, very simple with light flavor. The items were fine, but nothing really stood out as fantastic.


The fourth course was seasonal veggie tempura. there was chrysanthemum, king oyster mushrooms, broccoli rabe, string and fava beans. It was good, but tempura usually is. By this point, we were both very full and it was getting difficult to continue eating!


The fifth course was a very heavy mochi dish covered with black truffle shavings. Now this was good, really good!


The sixth course was a meal in and of itself. It was winter vegetables sukiyaki, which was a broth with lotus root, konnyaku, taro, mizuna, scallion, and shimeji mushrooms. I thought this was very good.


The seventh course was Curry Udon Noodles served with tofu along with yuba rice with shaved black truffles and pickled vegetables. Again, this could have been the only thing we ate all night. I tried a little and it was very good, but boxed up the rest.


The eighth course was more of a palate cleanser. It was a nigori sake sorbet with dehydrated apple chips. It wasn't great.


The ninth course was a mochi cake with sweet potato, azuki bean, and cinnamon. It was okay. The Kijoshi sake from Hiroshima that was paired with this dish was amazing!


Lastly, they served some sugar candies that we took home because we were stuffed!


The entire time, we were amazed at how quickly others ate these 10 courses because we could barely get through this much food!  In the end, I have to say that we were very disappointed. Why? Because it is a Michelin-starred restaurant, albeit, one-star, but still, I only expect the best from Michelin-starred restaurants and this one served very plain food that clearly needed more flavor. The service was pretty good and attention to detail was great. But, for $185 per person plus sake pairing, I expect so much more. Given the price and lack of taste more generally, I would not recommend Kajitsu. I understand that this may be indicative of the style of Japanese cuisine, but it was not flavorful enough for my palate or my wallet.

Kajitsu
125 E 39th Street
New York, NY 10016
(212) 228-4873

Kajitsu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, June 13, 2016

Candle 79, NYC #2

Five years ago!! I cannot believe it's been five years since I've been to Candle 79, one of the top vegan restaurants in the world! I was so excited to take my boyfriend, Wes, there so he could experience it too. He is not vegan, so I was interested to see what he would think.


This quaint, unassuming restaurant on the Upper East Side hasn't changed much in the past five years. I recognized its red awning and cherry red doors upon arrival. Inside, I have to say, it feels a bit outdated. That cherry wood and olden-day color scheme feels like you are back in the 90s and seeing that the restaurant is over 20 years old, maybe it just hasn't ever been updated. In any case, a remodel is definitely overdue!

Interestingly enough, the lunch menu had some similarities as they've kept some staples on the menu for years. Before we ordered, they served little muffin bites that were tasty.


After some hemming and hawing, we we started with the Hydrogarden Farm Edamame. This edamame was topped with chili powder, sea salt and a lemon slice. Nothing special really.


Wes started with a creamy tomato soup, which was the soup of the day.


For my entree, I went with the Wild Mushroom Crepe. Oh my goodness, this was to die for. Filled with spring vegetables, wild mushrooms, spinach, tempeh, and poblano peppers, it was fantastic. And the garlic truffle aioli pulled it all together. I loved it. The salad with fennel and arugula was delicious too.


Wes went with a safer lunch -- the spaghetti and wheatballs. This was a big bowl of spaghetti topped with seitan meatballs, truffled tomato sauce, roasted garlic, spinach, and cashew parmesan. For spaghetti, it was pretty darned good.


After all of that, we did not have room for dessert. Other items on the menu that sounded delish were the Angel's Nachos, Grilled Kale Salad, Black-Bean Pumpkin Seed Burger, and the ever-famous Seitan Picatta.

The service was fine. The food was great. And the prices were expensive at $20 and $23 for a lunch entree. But, hey, I love this place and I hope it is still here in 30 years -- but, with a new, hip design.

Previous review
May 24, 2011

Candle 79
154 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10021
(212) 537-7179

Candle 79 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Evolve, DC #2

Evolve is one of the few vegan restaurants in DC. That's right -- we really don't have many. Sad, but true. Evolve is a very casual place and is often too busy and understaffed. But the food is good, so I like it here.

It's located in DC, but almost in Maryland -- very close to the border and convenient to the Takoma Park metro stop. You will find the entrance to the restaurant on the street with just a simple green awning and red brick facade. On this particular Saturday night, it was packed! We took a seat at the bar to avoid the wait.


The cuisine here is vegan soul food so most of the menu is some sort of meat or cheese substitution. On this particular night, I wasn't in the mood for that. So, I ordered the Eggplant Parmesan and was happy I did! This fried eggplant was layered with tomato sauce and topped with a creamy cheese sauce, then baked to perfection. It really was very good. I got the sides of the mac n cheese and the garlic kale. Both were as good as they always are.


My friend went with the Southern Fried Chick-Un, an imitation chicken that is breaded and fried and served with homemade barbeque sauce. He absolutely loved it and I have to admit that it was good. He also tried the beet salad and was a fan of that too.


The service was slow as they were understaffed, but the drinks and food were very good. And for $11 for an entree with two sides, the meals are a steal here. There aren't too many options for entrees, but I'm always happy with what I order. I'll be back and I think you should go too.

Previous review
May 22, 2015

Evolve
341 Cedar Street NW
Washington, DC 20012
(202) 882-8999

Evolve Vegan Restaurant on Urbanspoon