Thursday, June 30, 2011

Loving Hut, Falls Church, VA

Loving Hut is the fastest growing chain of vegan restaurants in the world with 120 locations worldwide.  While all of these restaurants have a similar decor, each is independently owned and operated. To keep things interesting, each even has its own unique menu. 

I have dined at other Loving Hut restaurants in Chicago and Tampa as well as the Vegetarian House in San Jose, which is also associated with this chain, and the food has always been great. I was so excited to hear that they were opening their first restaurant in the Washington, DC metro area in Falls Church, VA.

This Loving Hut has the same feel as the others with an inviting, bright yellow decor and friendly people on staff. This casual, no-frills restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived so we had our choice of tables. Once seated, I began to look at the menu and was surprised to see that it was Vietnamese-inspired as most of the other ones I've been to were Chinese-inspired.  They have only been open for four months so they are still developing the menu, but they seem to have a good variety of appetizers, soups, salads, and entrees.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I noticed about the menu were the prices. Each entree was priced around $7 and the appetizers around $3. Wow!

We started with an appetizer of Golden Rolls, your typical deep fried rolls filled with vegetables. These rolls had carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, taro, onions, and bean threads. They were pretty good.

For our entrees, one of my friends ordered the club sandwich with a salad while the other ordered a soba noodle dish. I ordered the lemongrass protein dish, which I chose over the lemongrass tofu dish.

The lemongrass protein dish is crispy soy protein sauteed and fried with lemongrass, red peppers, green peppers, and onions in a tangy sauce. It was served with a salad of shredded carrots and cucumbers along with brown rice. I was so happy that they offered brown rice! This was a great tasting dish for a great price.

The soba noodle dish had broccoli, avocado, and red pepper in sesame oil topped with sesame seeds. The club sandwich had different slices of deli soy "meats" with lettuce, tomato, and avocado on toasted bread. Both of these dishes were great as well.

We had noticed all of the delicious cakes in the case when we first walked in so we saved room for dessert. There were a variety of chocolate cakes and "cheesecakes." We chose the Death by Chocolate cake and I'm so glad we did as it was delicious! It had layers of mocha-flavored icing with chocolate cake and chocolate icing. When I inquired about the desserts, they told me that they were delivered weekly by Vegan Treats from Pennsylvania....I should have known!  They sure do a lot of business in the DC metro area.

In sum, the food was great, the prices were dirt-cheap, and the staff was very friendly. One of the owners even came out at the end to ask if we enjoyed our meal. On the way out, we bought a few items to take home -- they sell their own brands of faux meats as well.  Though it is 30 minutes outside of DC, if you are in northern Virginia, you should stop by and try this place. I know I will definitely be back!

Loving Hut
2842 Rogers Drive
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 942-5622

Loving Hut on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wild Rice Salad with Oranges & Roasted Beets

Last night, I decided to make the Wild Rice Salad with Oranges and Roasted Beets from Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It turned out great so read on!

I started off by steeping the wild rice. Then, I put the beautiful assortment of beets that I picked up from the farmer's market on Saturday morning into the oven to roast. Once the beets were roasting, I took the beet greens and sauteed them in olive oil and garlic to preserve them as they wilt soon after being separated from the beets.

Then, I prepared the navel orange segments as indicated in the recipe. Navel oranges do not have any seeds so they are great for salads.

Next, I toasted the sesame seeds by putting them in a pan over medium-low heat. I tossed them for a couple minutes and they were perfect. You have to be careful because as soon as you turn around, they could burn and then you'll have to start all over again.

Lastly, I made the Orange-Sesame Vinaigrette dressing that had orange juice, red wine vinegar, toasted sesame oil, salt, Sriracha sauce and finely minced fresh ginger.

Once everything was done, I combined the orange, sesame seeds, dressing, wild rice, currants, red leaf lettuce and beets in a bowl and ta-da, I had a great salad.

The flavors blended well together. I like the way the orange complemented the beets and the slight spiciness of the dressing brought it all together. Although it is a bit time-consuming for a small salad, I really like the way it turned out.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Zaytinya, DC

The award-winning executive chef, Jose Andres, never ceases to amaze me! At, Zaytinya, one of his many restaurants, he and his chefs focus on innovative Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese cuisine. This restaurant boasts almost a full page of vegetarian dishes on its extensive menu. Of the small plates offered on the vegetable mezze menu, many are vegan and most can be veganized. I've probably been to this restaurant close to twenty times and I've been delighted with my selections every time.

This time I noticed that there were many new vegetable dishes on the menu making it harder than ever to choose!  I finally decided on a mushroom dish, cauliflower dish, and a stew. The Medley of Seasonal Mushrooms included enoki, crimini, and hen of the woods mushrooms sauteed in olive oil with a garnish of herbs. The mushrooms were complemented with slivered almonds and figs -- a delightful combination. I order this dish often.

My all-time favorite dish is the Roasted Cauliflower. The cauliflower is lightly roasted and served in a soft, yet tantalizing sauce accompanied by sultans, caper berries, and pine nuts, then topped with fresh dill. This dish is absolutely delicious!  Who knew cauliflower could be this good?!

I also tried one of the newer dishes -- Bamya, which was a stew of tomatoes, carmelized okra, and crispy green chickpeas. The stew was strongly flavored with cardamom, which gave it a delicious kick. This could become another one of my staples.

Other delicious dishes that I've had on other occasions include Crispy Brussel Afelia, Grape-Leaves Dolmades, Falafel, Piyaz, Ottoman Pilaf, and Asparagus.  With so many delicious dishes to choose from, one might be tempted to order many more, but beware, these $6 to $10 mezzes will add up quickly.

But, wait, there's more! Besides the amazing food, the decor is ultra-chic. This restaurant is huge and always packed so be sure to make reservations, if you can. The service is usually very good. They have this great bar area that is typically packed as well so if you come during happy hour, be sure to get there early. The drinks are fantastic. And, the wine list is spectacular. Oh, and did I mention the beautiful bathrooms? Yes, you must see them when you eat here!

The only negative thing I have to report about this place is that, unfortunately, the puffy bread they serve when you first sit down is not vegan -- it contains milk. If only they'd make that bread without cow's milk...oh, well.

All in all, Zaytinya is one of the best non-vegan restaurants in DC for vegan food. If you are visiting DC, you should add this restaurant to your list of "must visit" restaurants.

701 9th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 638-0800

Zaytinya on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Live Green Summer Block Party, DC

Tonight was Live Green's third birthday bash and oh, what fun it was!  Inside Local 16, there was fun a-brewin' when we arrived. Because I was one of the first 100 people to come in, I got two free drinks instead of one! The event was sponsored by a number of companies including VeeV, which they claim is the world's first acai spirit. I got a drink that had VeeV mixed with lemonade and it tasted pretty good.

The food served was from Java Green, Cafe Green, and, to my delight, Elizabeth's Gone Raw! I got a little of everything. My favorites of the night were the mandu (Korean potstickers), Elizabeth's raw kale chips, and the chips with queso.

At the Elizabeth's table, they were giving away raw cocoa butter in a little box with a tag that stated, "Heat to 105 degrees. For baking, for skin awakening, for the occasional love making." :-O  Love the marketing!

Downstairs, there was a silent auction with a number of great gifts including gift certificates to restaurants, yoga classes, and even ZipCar.  There was also a Live Green-sponsored raffle.

Towards the end of the night, they brought out the cake prepared by Sticky Fingers Bakery. It was a white cake with vanilla icing. The cake was soft and moist; the icing so satisfying.  On the way out, they handed out gift bags with Vega smoothie packs inside.

Thanks to everyone who made this happen -- the sponsors, Steve Ma, and Live Green!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tonic, DC

I had heard that a bar in Mount Pleasant called, "Tonic," started offering vegan options so one of my friends and I went to check it out.  It was in a slightly sketchy area that I don't go to that often, but it appeared that the area was on the up-and-up so after some discussion, we decided it was safe to get out of the car (kidding!).

There were only a few people in the restaurant/bar when we arrived so it was pretty quiet. They said we could sit wherever we wanted so we chose seating away from the two large-screen televisions, which were playing sports at the time. I started off by ordering the Strawberry Basil cooler, which was listed as a classic at Tonic. I figured this meant it was pretty good. It had fresh strawberries, muddled basil and strawberry vodka. Although it sounded good, it tasted like it had been watered down so I sent it back and asked for a glass of wine instead. The wine, Regaleali, Nero D'Avola from Sicily, wasn't very good either. It tasted thick and old like it had been opened a week ago, but I decided to just drink it anyway. Strike number one.

When I inquired about the vegan options, which are not clearly marked on the menu (though they are online), the waitress didn't know much about them.  The meal that sounded the best to me was the risotto with white wine, garlic, and spinach pesto. The waitress told me that although this dish is not vegan, they could modify it so that it would be vegan. I asked her what wasn't vegan and she told me the pesto had cheese in it.  I asked her what kind of sauce it came with then and she told me that it didn't come with any sauce. She said they'd basically just serve me the risotto in a broth. Well, that doesn't sound very good.  Why offer to veganize a dish if you aren't going to make it much like the item on the menu? Why not make a vegan pesto without cheese? It is easy enough to do. So, that was strike number two.

I finally decided to order the curried tofu dish, which was 100% vegan.  It arrived as just curried tofu without any rice or anything else, which I thought was odd. The curry with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro was a tasty base. Unfortunately, the tofu wasn't all that good in it. The tofu tasted like it had been taken out of the package and just dropped into the curry so it was very bland. The curry itself was tasty, but the tofu really wasn't. Had they let it marinate for a while, it would have been better...or if they had used baked tofu with a firmer texture, it would have been even better. definitely should have come with rice. Strike number three.

For $16, the curried tofu dish was expensive and way over-priced. This place was like a cross between a sports bar and a Friday's -- not my favorite type of atmosphere.  And, the service left much to be desired. I don't think I'll be going back there any time soon.

Tonic Restaurant & Bar
3155 Mt. Pleasant St. NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 986-7661

Tonic Mount Pleasant Bar and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dr. Cow's tree nut cheese and One Lucky Duck quackers

When I was at Pure Food and Wine in NYC, I noticed that they served an appetizer that consisted of their crackers and Dr. Cow's tree nut cheese. I was really surprised to see that they sold Dr. Cow's brand cheese as I would have thought that their amazing chefs could make anything. That was when I realized that this [vegan raw] cheese must be really good.  I didn't order that appetizer while I was there, but I did go next door to their store, One Lucky Duck, to buy some of their raw Rosemary Quackers.  I decided I would buy a couple of flavors of the Dr. Cow cheese from Pangea and eat it with the quackers when I got back to DC, which is exactly what I did.

I bought one of the aged cashew nuts and kale cheese and an aged cashew nuts and blue green algae cheese from Pangea.  The cheese is very expensive and SUPER small. Each package of cheese was smaller than the palm of my hand and they were each $10! The rosemary quackers were also super expensive. They sell a bag of them for $15!  Alright, I know that raw food is expensive, but this had to have been the most expensive snack I've ever had!

Both flavors of cheese sounded funky as one does not usually expect to taste kale or algae in their cheese. They were wrapped in white wrappers so I didn't see what they looked like until I unwrapped them. The kale cheese was green in color, which seemed odd, but made sense seeing that it had kale in it. :) This cheese is only made of cashews, kale, acidophilus, and himalayan pink salt. I tried the kale cheese on a quacker and absolutely loved both the cracker and the cheese. The kale cheese tasted great and was so much more like regular cheese in both taste and texture than any other vegan cheese I've ever tried. It was truly amazing. This cheese was harder in texture than the blue green algae one and had a sharper taste. I mean, I haven't eaten cheese in many years and I certainly don't miss it, but this raw cheese is incredibly good. The blue green algae cheese (made of cashews, blue green algae, acidophilus, and himalayan pink salt) was much softer and also tasted great. The rosemary quackers were also very good. In fact, I think they were the best raw crackers I've ever had. The rosemary, almonds, flax seed, and nutritional yeast blend nicely together to form an excellent crisp cracker.

Is the bag of crackers worth $15? I don't think any bag of crackers should be that expensive so I'd have to say no. But, they were really good. Was the cheese worth $10? Yes, absolutely. This is the best vegan cheese I've ever had, that is, for one that you can eat right out of the package. It is perfect for a wine and cheese party! The thing that boggles my mind is that the cheese is not easy to find. It can be found at vegan grocery stores, but not any mainstream grocery stores. I wonder why Whole Foods doesn't stock it. Well, hopefully in time, it will become more easily available. In the meantime, you can order it from Amazon by clicking here: Dr. Cow Aged Cashew & Kale Cheese, 2.5 oz.. If you haven't tried it yet, order some today! You won't regret it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sababa Market, DC

Last Saturday, Zach and I were perusing Eastern Market in Washington, DC in the 100-degree heat desperately searching for a bite to eat. Amongst all of the meat-based vendors was a stand selling falafel. My first thought was "ugh, another falafel place," but as I began to walk away, I caught a glimpse of their toppings. The toppings looked very gourmet and immediately I realized that this place was a hidden gem within the market. I asked the woman working the booth if I could take pictures and she immediately asked me if I was from the health department! She had a funny sarcasm about her, which I found amusing.

So, we ordered a falafel sandwich to share and she kindly offered to split the pita for us to create two sandwiches. After handing us the falafel sandwiches, she walked us through the different toppings, all of which were 100% vegan. I topped mine with cucumber and tomato salad, picked baby eggplant, Israeli pickles, and purple cabbage salad. There was also an array of delicious homemade hot sauces and Amba sauce (pickled mango and cumin).

When I finally tasted it, I thought it was absolutely delicious! The falafel was not overfried or greasy.  The bread had been freshly made and delivered that morning and was incredibly soft, yet thick. And the toppings and sauces were very good. I especially liked the hot chili sauce (you only need a little!) and the green sauce. At $8, these falafel sandwiches are a bit pricey, but it seems you get what you pay for in the falafel world. If you are at Eastern Market and looking for good eats, you should definitely stop by Sababa!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chocolate Inspirations caramel sensation bar

On my last trip to Pangea, I picked up a handmade Chocolate Inspirations caramel sensation bar. I'm always on the hunt for a good vegan caramel chocolate bar even though I've been disappointed by others in the past. So, I reluctantly purchased this one hoping it would taste as good as it looks.

It is a thick, decadent bar and, upon first bite, I realized it was different than others I have tasted. When you bite into this bar, the thick Swiss dark chocolate melts into the caramel in an amazing way. It is more caramel-like than any other vegan caramel I've ever had.  As far as the texture, it is not a creamy caramel, but not a hard caramel either -- it is more like the texture of peanut butter, but with a caramel taste. And the thick chocolate pairs very well with the caramel flavor. For $3.99 this is a steal. Highly recommended!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Raw Kale Chip Showdown!

Zach and I have been searching far and wide for the best raw kale chips over the past six months. We have tasted many brands from grocery stores in San Francisco, New York, and DC.  During this particular taste test, we tasted 3 brands -- New York Naturals; Brad's (nasty hot flavor) from PA sold in DC; and Elizabeth's Gone Raw from DC. The New York Naturals brand was okay, but not very tasty. The texture was good, but the kale rinds were hard and difficult to swallow. Brad's "nasty hot" didn't taste very hot at all. Oddly enough, this chip was lighter in color and less crisp than the other two.  Lastly, we tasted Elizabeth's Gone Raw's kale chips. They were a good texture, crisp, spicy and tasty. You really can not eat just one of Elizabeth's Gone Raw's chips. There is so much flavor in these chips!
From left to right: Elizabeth's, NY Naturals, Brad's
Interestingly enough, the ingredients in all of these chips were similar with slight variations.  They all used red bell pepper, cashews, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, sea salt and cayenne pepper. Elizabeth's and Brad's also had jalapeno. New York Naturals and Brad's included sunflower seeds in their recipes.

As far as packaging, Brad's and New York Naturals' used plastic containers, which are probably better for shipping. As Elizabeth's doesn't ship her kale chips (sorry for those of you outside the DC area), she has a very cool green bag in which she packages her chips.

In the end, Elizabeth's won this taste test - hands down!  These chips are only available at Elizabeth's Gone Raw, the restaurant. So, you can only get these chips one of two ways: (1) you can dine at her fine raw restaurant or (2) you can pick up a bag at the restaurant during the day. Just be sure to call first as they aren't always available.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Todd Gray's Watershed, DC - grand opening reception

Last night, we attended the official grand opening of Todd Gray's Watershed, his newest restaurant.  He describes this restaurant as a neighborhood gathering place giving homage to the regions of the Eastern Seaboard.  The menu is very "coastal" -- it consists mainly of seafood.  This night was a special night for which there was a reception to celebrate the new restaurant. The restaurant is located in NE Washington, DC in the Hilton Garden Inn.

There were three stations of food and while two of them were mostly seafood, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the station in the middle was completely vegan.  Immediately, Todd showed me around and showed me what was vegan and told me he had two special soups for me as well. On the vegan station, there was this wonderful kalamata olive tapenade, Israeli hummus with pita chips, and bruschetta. Although all of these items are quite common at a reception, they were especially good here. Todd also prepared a wonderful corn bisque with scallions and roasted tomatoes that was incredibly delightful. It was deliciously creamy, yet there was no cream! This dish is on his regular menu, but with some type of seafood so I'm sure you can just order it without the meat. The other soup he brought out was a tomato gazpacho that was loaded with flavor.  But, I wouldn't have expected anything less from Todd.

Ellen, Todd, and me
Todd Gray is, in my opinion, the best chef in DC. Although he serves mainly meat-based dishes at both of his restaurants, Equinox and Watershed, he is an incredibly versatile chef who truly enjoys cooking vegan. In fact, his wife, Ellen Kassoff Gray, is vegetarian and is the co-owner and mastermind behind the marketing for both restaurants. Together, they are a power couple in the restaurant scene in DC. Although I haven't enjoyed a formal sit-down dinner at the Watershed, based upon this experience, I would say that the food is very good. I highly recommend visiting one of his restaurants if you are in the DC area. Just let them know when you are making the reservation that you are vegan and they'll take it from there.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fine & Raw Chocolate, Brooklyn

As I was perusing the Brooklyn Flea Market, I stumbled upon a fine raw chocolatier called, "Fine & Raw Chocolate."  The woman at the booth was excited to tell me about the chocolate -- letting me know that while some of the bars could be found in the local Whole Foods, the bonbons were only available at the market. After much discussion about her chocolate, I picked up a box of the cacao & agave bonbons and only now was I able to taste this delicacy. They are amazingly smooth for raw chocolate. As I indulged in this sweet sin, I enjoyed the bitterness of the raw cacao tempered by the sweetness of the agave -- ah, a perfect match. The packaging is also impressive, that is, if you are into that sort of thing. It is a very clean design and the bonbons are nicely wrapped in paper with decorative tape.

If you are in Brooklyn on the weekend during the summer, I highly recommend picking some of these up...and probably some of their chocolate bars as well. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Great Sage's raw dinner, Clarksville, MD

I've become a bit of a raw vegan connoisseur having dined at such fine establishments as the Blossoming Lotus in Portland, Cafe Gratitude in San Francisco, Elizabeth's Gone Raw in Washington, DC, Grass Root in Tampa, and Pure Food and Wine in NYC. I've also chosen raw items on the menu at Karyn's on Green in Chicago and other restaurants. All have been great. 

So, I preface this review by stating that I have many points of comparison and, unfortunately, Great Sage's raw meal, is going to come out on the bottom of this ranking. I will also note that while Great Sage (located in Clarksville, MD) is a great vegan [cooked food] restaurant, it is not a raw vegan restaurant. They do a raw meal about twice a year. This particular one was a 5-course prix fixe with only one seating. 

It started with an "amuse", which was really the first course -- this was a "mushroom ceviche" with a flax cracker, chipotle cream and a cashew brie. It was fine, but nothing special. The cracker wasn't nearly as good as ones I've had at Elizabeth's, Pure, or Grass Root. The cashew brie was kind of weird. The chipotle cream was spicy and pretty good, but it didn't pair well with the marinated mushrooms. It felt like a lot of random stuff on a plate.

Mushroom ceviche with chipotle cream
For the second course, there was a salad of wilted kale and watercress topped with avocado, candied pecans, and shaved fennel in a lemon-olive oil emulsion. This was pretty good. The kale was soft and the dressing was savory. The pecans didn't go well with it, in my opinion, though. Throughout the dinner, the size of some of the portions of food was a bit too large. This salad could have been an entree in and of itself. When I go for a 5-course meal, I want a sampling of 5 courses, not a full course in each of the 5 courses!

The third course was a sweet corn puree soup with bell pepper oil and ripe grape tomatoes. I did not like this dish at all. The corn soup was chunky and had this bitter aftertaste that I couldn't get over. Again, the portion size was way too large. It was a nice presentation though.

Sweet corn soup
The intermezzo was a local wild berry ice with mint infusion. It was more like a puree of wild berries without any sweetness to it. It really needed some sugar.

The fourth course was definitely the best course. It was jalapeno-pecan tacos with guacamole and sour cashew cream. These were really good. The nutty mixture inside the taco shells was delicious and the "shells" were just right. The flavors blended well with the cream and guacamole. The chef did a great job with this one.

Jalapeno-pecan tacos
Finally, for dessert, they served a banana split. It was a banana with macadamia-agave ice cream topped with caramel and fudge. The caramel sauce was delicious -- sweet and fulfilling. The ice cream was way too nutty. Now, I know what you are thinking - the ice cream is made of nuts so of course it will be nutty. Not so. The ice cream at Pure is smooth as anything and scrumptious. This one was not -- way too nutty and gritty. The fudge was thick and chunky as well. And, again, the dessert was way too large. One scoop would have been more than enough for this rich dish.

Banana split

So, in the end, I was mostly disappointed. A few of the dishes were good, but none were spectacular. If you are in the DC-Baltimore area, I would recommend Elizabeth's Gone Raw as the raw restaurant of choice.

Great Sage
5809 Clarksville Square Drive
Clarksville, MD 21029
(443) 535-9400

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nuts on Clark cashews, Chicago

This is my first food product review! No better way to kick this off than with my favorite cashews in the world from Nuts on Clark in Chicago. Okay, so you are wondering how one cashew could be better than another, right?! Well, I pretty much eat cashews every day and I have to say that these are the best cashews I've ever had. They are salted and roasted to perfection - not overcooked like many of the local cashews or the ones I find at Whole Foods. They are super flavorful -- melting in your mouth and not in your hands. Don't let their lack of updated packaging or marketing throw you off - these cashews are the real deal! If you fly through O'Hare or Midway or spend time in Chicago AND love cashews, then you have to pick some of these up. And, if you would, please pick some up for me too. I can never get enough with the luggage weight limits these days. *sigh*