Friday, December 19, 2014

Elevation 486, Twin Falls, ID #2

After having raved about one of the few upscale dining restaurants in the quaint town of Twin Falls, Idaho, Elevation 486, I headed back a few months later. On their website, they were still showing the spicy sesame bowl with coconut rice and I was excited to have it again.

We were seated at a large table in the middle of the dining room. I ordered a Manhattan with Maker's Mark whiskey while everyone else ordered a beer.  I didn't notice the sesame bowl on the menu so I asked the server and he said they had just removed that from the menu. He wasn't sure what could be made vegan and said he'd go back and check.

When he brought the drinks out, he basically said there was nothing he could serve me. So, I started looking at the menu and asked if the pastas could be made vegan. I basically had to make a suggestion because he couldn't think of anything. So I asked if the special of the day -- the Penne with Wild Mushrooms could be made with a red sauce. He said they didn't have a red sauce. Then, I asked if it could be made with just olive oil, mushrooms, and peas leaving the cream and parmesan out. He stated it wouldn't be as flavorful as premade dishes. I said that was fine.  He finally came back and said they could do it. This was frustrating. Most servers can work with the chef to figure out what can be made vegan without the patron doing all of the work. And stating that it wouldn't be as good as a dish already on the menu usually goes without saying. I was pretty disappointed with this service.

The salad that accompanied it was pretty good.

But, in the end, the dish was a plain penne pasta served with olive oil, sauteed mushrooms, and peas. It was fine, but nothing special. I was just glad to have a hearty meal in Twin Falls regardless of the lack of flavor.

I left the restaurant not wanting to return. What was once a vegan-friendly restaurant is now a vegan-unfriendly restaurant. The service was poor, the prices high, and food substandard. I guess I'll check out their competitor, Canyon Crest, next time.

Elevation 486
195 River Vista Place
Twin Falls, ID 83301
(208) 737-0486

Elevation 486 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

White Bean and Kale Soup

Everything about this soup sounded good -- a warm broth filled with cannellini beans and kale. It turned out to be a wholesome soup, but lacked a bit of flavor. I found this White Bean and Kale Soup in Simple Recipes for Joy by Sharon Gannon. I'd recommend it if you are looking for a simple, wholesome soup, but if you are looking for a lot of flavor, you may want to add a bit of paprika or even sriracha to it.

White Bean and Kale Soup
Serves 8 to 10

  • 1 large white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 1-inch strip kombu seaweed, cut into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp bouillon cubes, dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, with their liquid
  • 2 cups loosely packed finely chopped kale
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, place the onion, kombu, stock, oregano, rosemary, sage, onion powder, garlic powder, and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered for 15 minutes.

Place 1 can of the beans with their liquid in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the blended beans and the remaining can of beans wit their liquid to the soup pot. Add the kale and cook, covered, for another 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sage's Cafe, Salt Lake City

Unexpectedly, I ended up back in Salt Lake City early enough for my flight that I was able to enjoy dinner in the city. So, not having done much research on places to go for dinner, I chose Sage's Cafe because it was all-vegan and had been there for a long time. Both are pluses in my mind!

We drove through Salt Lake City to a dodgy part of town known as the Central 9th Business District until we stumbled across this stand-alone restaurant. It is quite large and located in a little green house once known as the original Jade Room though I'm not quite sure what that was.

It looked more like a diner inside with old-fashioned black vinyl booths and a bar with diner-style stools. The decor was otherwise quite plain. The server immediately brought us some lukewarm water sans the ice cubes.  I was not in the mood for an alcoholic drink so instead I ordered the housemade hibiscus soda. I found it to be very tart so the agave nectar they gave me on the side helped.

The menu is very extensive with small plates, salads, raw foods, sandwiches, pastas, entrees, and desserts. We started with a couple of appetizers. I went with the Mushroom Escargot, which was made of thinly sliced, roasted shiitake mushrooms simmered in herbs, red wine, and balsamic vinegar. When combined with the carrot butter pate on the French bread crostini, this dish was excellent. Warm roasted mushrooms with a hearty carrot pate on fresh bread is a great way to start a meal.

We also ordered the Pesto Bruschetta. Another great 7 grain bread topped with basil walnut pesto, tomatoes, rice mozzarella, and almond parmesan. I loved this appetizer.

For my entree, I ordered the Nut Burger made of cashews, almonds, and garbanzo beans. Perhaps I wasn't prepared for how big this burger was, but it was too much for me to eat. The 7 grain roll had an avocado spread on it that had very little taste as did the burger. The bread was way too thick and the burger was way too plain. All in all, I gave this one a thumbs down.

The salad was just lettuce and carrots with a runny tahini dressing so nothing special here either.

My friend got the Mushroom Stroganoff with linguini noodles. While the pasta was tasty, the name was deceiving as we were expecting a thick stroganoff-like sauce. Instead, there was a thin sauce with lots of mushrooms and a lemon aftertaste. It was good, but not what we were expecting.

So, all in all, I would say this restaurant is probably hit or miss depending upon what you order. Our appetizers were really good. The entrees not so much. And the drink wasn't that flavorful either. The prices are pretty cheap with my burger only being $7 and the pasta only $8. The service wasn't that great either.  If you are going to only be in SLC for a day, this isn't the restaurant I'd recommend you go to, but if you are there for a week, definitely check it out. The menu is extensive and other items are likely to be better than the entrees we ordered.

Sage's Cafe
234 West 900 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
(801) 322-3790

Sage's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 12, 2014

PIGS Animal Sanctuary, Shepherdstown, WV

I've been to a few animal sanctuaries in my life, but only one in my immediate area. My boyfriend, Chris, found one that is only an hour and a half outside of DC that I had never heard of so we made a trip to go visit it. PIGS Animal Sanctuary is located in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and is a place of refuge for abused, abandoned, neglected, and unwanted animals. It is called "PIGS" because when they first opened, they just had pigs. Now they house almost 500 animals.

The Executive Director, Melissa Susko, was kind enough to take us on a tour, which is something she only offers twice a month. We started at the cat area where there were so many cats of various backgrounds. There were feral cats and cats with neurological disorders. She spoke passionately and respectfully about all of them.

Around the corner, was a separate place for cats diagnosed with Feline HIV. They were beautiful.

Next, we went to see the large pigs. There were beautiful, friendly pigs in a huge area. Most of them were in the pond and covered in mud. So cute. A few came up to say, "hello," including an older pig with cancer. She explained how they removed several masses, but they just kept returning. The mud protects them from sun damage, but, behind their ears tends to get sunburned anyway. Some had skin cancer behind the ears.

Then, she showed us all of the pot-bellied pigs. PIGS was opened when having pot-bellied pigs was all the rage. Once they became full-sized though, no one wanted them and they ended up at this sanctuary.

There was a dog area where all the rescued dogs were who couldn't live with humans or other animals. Most were in their own pens.

Lastly, she introduced us to the horses and donkeys, each with their own remarkable stories.

PIGS is an amazing place and Melissa's passion for the animals is evident as she tells their stories factually, respectfully, and passionately. Even if you can't visit PIGS, consider a donation. This amazing place costs $25,000 per month to operate and all of it is funded by donations. To read more about them go here. Thank you, Melissa, and all of your volunteers and Board members for all that you do for these wonderful animals.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Omar's Rawtopia, Salt Lake City

I was flying into Salt Lake City airport on a Wednesday morning and thought I'd only have one meal in the city. So as I began my research, I came across a little restaurant called Omar's Rawtopia. The reviews for it were great, the pictures of the food looked spectacular, but the website was very basic. I wasn't sure what to make of that, but figured I'd give it a shot anyway.

Located in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Rawtopia is nestled on a block with other small businesses like clothing and antiques. I walked in from the street and to the right there was a case filled with vegan desserts. It looked more like a take-out joint as there were a bunch of things for sale in the front and in the back, there was a very small, simple dining room. I wondered if many people stayed to dine in. There was only one other table occupied at that moment.

Regardless, I was happy to be there. Having just landed and hungry as I could be, I took a look at the menu. I started with a special drink they were serving that day. One sip of it though reminded me that I need to ask a question at any restaurant claiming it is "raw vegan." Does this have honey in it? The answer was "yes" and, once again, I was foiled by a restaurant claiming to be vegan, but serving honey. *sigh* After a bit of back and forth, I decided to let the issue rest and ordered a bottled kombucha instead as that was the only non-smoothie drink without honey. Disappointing to say the least.

The dining room was very simple with its small, blue wood tables, vinyl chairs, and fresh flowers. I began talking to the server about the restaurant. They opened back in 2005, 9 years ago, and are doing so well that they are moving to a larger space. Yay! I asked if Omar was a trained chef. He was actually a geologist who had a passion for good, healthy food. Everything in the restaurant is organic, gluten-free, and vegan with the exception of the use of honey. The food is washed with purified water and takes at least two days to prepare.

The menu, though extensive, is quite simple. There are appetizers, soups, salads, rolls, pizzas, and entrees -- many with a Lebanese influence. It was so hard to choose, but I finally ordered and handed over my menu in a committed way.

I went with the cleverly labeled "bean burrito." As beans must be cooked, it wasn't actually made with beans and it wasn't in a burrito. Instead, there were sunflower seeds and walnuts soaked and processed into a mushy bean-like substance and mixed with herbs and spices. It was served with romaine lettuce and cabbage that you used as a wrap. And it was topped with fresh avocado, cucumber, celery, tomato, red bell pepper, onion, olives and cilantro. It was a bit odd as it was a gooey mess, but goodness gracious was it good! Once layered in the cabbage leaf with the veggies and topped with macadamia nut sour cream and the house made hot sauce, it was an amazing mix of flavors that made my tongue jump for joy. The raw olives gave it the oomph it needed.

Also, the crackers served with it were incredibly good. They were raw crackers made of veggies dehydrated. I bought a bag for $5 on the way out!

So all I have to say is "wow." Who would have thought I'd find such a treasure in Salt Lake City. This restaurant is one of the best raw vegan restaurants I've ever been to. If only I'd had room for dessert!  The service was great, the food was spectacular, and the prices were consistently high for a raw joint. If you only have one day in SLC, this is the place to go. I can't wait to come back again in the near future.

Omar's Rawtopia
2148 Highland Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84106
(801) 486-0332

Omar's Rawtopia on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Most Simple Dressing

I wanted a quick, easy dressing so I looked to my Simple Recipes for Joy cookbook for an idea. This dressing couldn't be simpler. Just put olive oil and lemon juice over greens and you are done. The only flaw with this recipe is that it doesn't state how much greens to use. My advice is to use at least an entire pound of greens with this dressing.

The Most Simple Dressing

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pour the olive oil over the salad first, and gently toss so that all leaves are coated. Add the lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, then toss again.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Jardines, Ottawa, IL

Having had such a great experience with Mexican at La Fondita Mexican in Ottawa, Illinois, we decided to do Mexican another night as well while in this small town. This time, we found ourselves at Jardines.

Jardines is a huge Mexican restaurant in downtown Illinois. What really makes it stick out is its decor as you will find an array of random decorations such as fake plants and flowers, fountains, murals featuring Mexicans and their territories, and paper streamers. There isn't a color that isn't in this restaurant giving it a warm, happy-go-lucky feel! We were seated in the main dining area near other large groups that we knew.

As is standard, we were served the complimentary chips and salsa except that there were very few chips and a note on the menu that each basket of chips would be $1.50. That's a downer as we gobbled up the chips in no time. The salsa was pretty good.

And, of course, we all got margaritas. Yum.

I called ahead to this restaurant to ensure that there were vegan options and they were very nice. They stated that did not use an animal broth in their rice nor did they use lard in their beans so that they could serve vegetarians. Nice! As usual, I went with the fajitas, but this restaurant really surprised me. They offered three types of vegan fajitas: roasted veggies, cactus, or soy chorizo. Wow! It was a really hard choice, but I went with the soy chorizo. The soy chorizo was cooked with tomatoes, peppers, and onions and served lettuce, tomato, rice, and beans. It was good, but dry and way too filling. I could only eat half of the soy chorizo and wished, in the end, I had ordered the roasted veggies as I'm more of a veggie kind of person. But, it was still pretty good.

The service was a bit slow, but that was probably because there weren't many people working and there was a large party in the dining room. The fajitas were $12.95, which was pretty expensive for this little town, but not overpriced. And the food was good with several options for vegans. Next time I come back, I'm trying the roasted veggies or cactus!

711 LaSalle Street
Ottawa, IL 61350
(815) 434-2833

Hacienda Los Jardines Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon