Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Daikaya Izakaya, DC

What's all the hype about the Daikaya restaurant? I decided to find out on my own.  The culmination of a 3-way partnership between Daisuke Utagawa, the co-owner of Sushiko; Yama Jewayni; and Chef Katsuya Fukushima, their dreams were realized when they found a two-story building right next to Graffiato in Chinatown. On the first floor they opened their ramen shop and on the second floor their izakaya or Japanese tavern. Two totally different concepts, but both bearing vegan options.

Although I was super tempted to try the vegan ramen, I wanted to meet an old friend for a leisurely dinner so it seemed like the izakaya was the way to go. Outside, there is a very cool steel structure going up the front of the building that is rusted in such a way that I'm pretty sure it was rusted intentionally. As I entered, I was greeted by a colorful rug with a smiling Japanese cat. Well, hello!

Upstairs was a beautiful eclectic, laid-back restaurant. The bar was backlit with red lights illuminating the liquor bottles while pairs of unusual lamps hung above the bar. There were booths with ropes strung around them for privacy and Japanese paper lined the walls.

As soon as I sat down, my server insisted that I get a drink and small plate in under the happy hour menu before it closed. That sounded like a great idea! So I started with the Sesame Street cocktail made with Beniotome sesame shochu, Fever Tree ginger beer, yuzu and angostara bitters. I loved it.

My friend arrived and we began looking at the menu. They brought me a separate vegetarian menu that listed how items could be modified to be vegetarian, but still nothing was indicated as vegan or not. In the end, there are just a handful of dishes that are or could be made vegan, but that was enough for me.

We started with the edamame, which is probably the best edamame I've ever had. It was served in extra virgin olive oil and lemon with crispy garlic and a pepper on top. The crispy garlic really made this dish.

Next, upon recommendation from my server, I tried the trio of pickled vegetables. The first was napa cabbage, which was a typical pickled cabbage. Then there was the housemade nukazuke, which is daikon radish fermented in rice bran -- very unusual. But, even more unusual was the Takuan flown in from Japan, which is fermented for several years. I liked it if for no other reason than it was different.

I was advised that the eggplant dish had honey and couldn't be made vegan. So I went with the grilled avocado. I think this was my first time getting grilled avocado and it was great. It was served with coarse sea salt and wasabi.

I tried the Zucchini as well. This was grilled zucchini with lemon and thyme -- a simply good dish.

Then, I had the Cucumber Salad. This was a small cucumber with rayu vinaigrette, crispy garli, ground sesame seeds, and chili threads. It was good, but not as good as all the others.

Together, we tried the Brussels sprouts skewer without the mayo. This was fine, but a bit dry. It needed a vegan mayo instead.

There was also a broccoli special, which was cooked with garlic and was pretty salty.

I also tried the Empress of Stockholm drink. I found all of the drinks to be very good.  All in all, we loved the atmosphere at Daikaya and will be sure to come back soon. The food was pretty good and I'm hoping they'll add more vegan options in the future. For now, it is worth trying what they have. I should also mention that our server was very knowledgeable and attentive. Next stop, the ramen shop!

Daikaya Izakaya (2nd floor)
705 6th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 589-1600

Daikaya on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 23, 2013

Saffron Road - Thai Red Curry

I'm a sucker for a good Thai curry, but I don't always make the time to make my own curry sauce. That's where Saffron Road comes to the rescue. Saffron Road's new non-GMO curry sauces get an A+ in my book, but the Thai Red Curry has now become my favorite.

A flavorful, spicy, coconut milk-based curry, it coated my vegetables incredibly well.  I just cut up about a 1/2 pound of pressed tofu, some carrots, 1 pound of green beans, and a red bell pepper and sauteed them in oil for a few minutes.

Then, I added the curry sauce and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. I served the veggie curry mix over brown jasmine rice for a quick, tasty dinner.  I especially loved the lemongrass and ginger combination, which left me wanting more.

You can find these simmer sauces in a Whole Foods near you or you can buy them here on Amazon.

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Finding Ultra - Book Review

Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World's Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself -- this is how Rich Roll sums up the premise of his book, Finding Ultra. It is the story of a man who, at age 40, realized he was near death and turned his life around. This incredible story is a testament to the power of the human spirit to overcome any obstacle.

Previously an alcoholic, cheeseburger-eating, sedentary being, Rich begins with the story of the point at which he realized he needed help -- at age 39 when he became winded after climbing just eight steps. It was at this very instant that he realized he might not be there to see his children get married because he might very well be dead. And just like that he decided he would change his life for the better forever.

In an instant, he became vegan and began running. It didn't just make him feel good--it made him feel amazing.

Then, he jumps back to explain his childhood and how he came to where he was in life. He had pursued swimming in college, which is also the point at which he became an alcoholic -- a high-functioning alcoholic. After that, he went to law school and continued his alcoholic binges. He found a job as an attorney, but was fired because of attendance issues stemming from his alcoholism.
So he finally put himself in a treatment center and became sober..for a while.

Jumping back to the moment that changed his life, he explains his "plantpowered" diet. He said he chose it because it made his body run the best. He also gave up most processed foods for whole foods, which made a huge difference. He said, "If we want to heal--truly heal--and thrive, then we must embrace preventative medicine. A plant-based, whole-food diet has been shown, for example, to prevent and actually reverse heart disease and impede or even arrest the development of a litany of other maladies, including the growth of cancer cells."

So once in shape, Rich decided to sign up for a triathlon, but didn't perform very well. Then he decided to sign up for an Ironman race that entails a 2.4-mile open-water swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, and culminating with a full marathon--26.2 miles of running.  He hired a trainer who taught him how to train for endurance sports. After that, he signed up for an Ultraman, which entailed swimming 6.2 miles, cycling 260 miles, and running 52.4 miles.

Rich ropes you in as he describes in exquisite prose his journey to becoming one of the fittest men in the world. But, really, the most compelling part of this book is when he participates in the Epic 5--five iron-distance triathlons, each on a different Hawaiian island, all completed in less than a week.

Rich weaves in not only his training regimen, but also his journey in discovering the optimal diet for performance so it is educational as well as compelling.  If you are seeking a gripping story of determination, Finding Ultra is where you'll find it. If you are looking for a great holiday present for that person in your life who needs inspiration, look no further. You will find it on Amazon here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tofurky Reuben

When Silver Hills Bakery sent me the Steady Eddie bread, a soft blend of wheat, rye, and soy, I thought, "What a great opportunity to make a reuben!" And so it happened.  In the new cookbook,  Betty Goes Vegan by Annie & Dan Shannon, they describe how to make a Tofurky Reuben that sounded pretty good so I gave it a go.

The bread in particular was delicious. It is not your typical rye bread because it is also made with sprouted whole wheat, whole apples, vital wheat gluten, and whole sprouted soybeans so it had enough of the rye flavor, but with the goodness of sprouted grains. It was perfect for this sandwich.

As you may have noticed, I am leaning towards a more natural way of eating so I am going to be writing less and less about overly processed foods. The Tofurky Peppered Deli slices paired with Daiya Swiss Style Slices went great together, but I can't say that I felt that great after eating this meal. I don't know if it was the excessive gluten or just the overly processed ingredients in general, but it didn't sit well with my tummy.

That said, this sandwich did taste pretty good. The Thousand Island dressing, while not authentic, had great flavor and you really can't go wrong with lots of sauerkraut! So if you have no problem with gluten and eating processed foods on occasion, go ahead and splurge on this sandwich!

Please note: some parts of this recipe have been modified.

Tofurky Reuben
Serves 1

Ingredients for Sandwich
  • 2 Tbsp Bragg's liquid aminos
  • 5-8 slices Peppered Tofurky Deli Slices, separated
  • 2 slices Swiss Style Daiya vegan cheese
  • 2 slices rye bread (I used Silver Hills Bakery Steady Eddie) 
  • Sauerkraut
  • 2 Tbsp Thousand Island Dressing
Ingredients for Thousand Island Dressing
  • 1 cup Vegenaise
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, diced
  • 2 Tbsp sweet pickle relish
  • 2 Tbsp hot sauce
  • 1 tsp diced red onion
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (I used Bragg's, which is rich in B12)

First make the dressing by mixing all ingredients in a small bowl. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the sandwiches.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Place the Bragg's in a shallow bowl and dip the Tofurky slices in it to give it a corned beef-pastrami flavor.

Stack one slice of bread with all the Tofurky, then the Daiya vegan cheese slices on top of that. Put both slices of rye bread in the oven. Remove after the cheese begins melting on the one slice, about 15 minutes. (You may want to remove the slice that doesn't have anything on it after 7 minutes to avoid it getting too hard and overcooked.)

Put the sauerkraut on top of the cheese and top with Thousand Island dressing. Put the other piece of bread on top and serve.

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

doiMoi, DC

doiMoi is hot new addition to Logan Circle and I was excited to check it out for the first time despite a website that doesn't tell you anything about the restaurant and displays an outdated menu. I've actually avoided this restaurant for the past few months for two reasons: (1) they don't take reservations after 6 p.m. for small parties, and (2) related to that, there is usually a long wait to get in. So better to go on a holiday weekend? I think so!

doiMoi's menu consists of Thai and Vietnamese dishes with a small plate concept, which is the growing trend in Logan Circle nowadays. With hardwood floors and sleek white furniture coupled with white light fixtures, the look is trendy yet clean. We went over to the bar, but then quickly realized that there was actually seating available because it was a holiday weekend and we were seated immediately.

We perused the wine list and found some interesting wines including wines from Greece and Lebanon as well as a Carignan mix. Despite that, we went with a Nebbiolo from Langhe, Italy. This big, bold wine really needed to breathe so we had them decant it, but it still didn't really open up until we were almost finished.

I glanced at the menu and noticed the vegan items weren't listed so I requested the vegan menu. Online, they have a link for the "vegan" menu, but it is actually a dietary preferences menu that includes vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan sections so it is a bit confusing. Once we figured out where the right section was though, we were pleased to see so many vegan options -- nine to be exact.

So we decided to order four small plates. The first one to come out was the Kanom Pak Gadd or Crispy Radish Cakes($8). I don't know how they made these, but they came out as crispy deep-fried rectangular cakes. I dipped mine in the mushroom soy dipping sauce and gave it a try only to find that it was much better than it looked. In fact, it was delicious though a bit too over-fried. Made with radishes and wild mushrooms, this first dish got me pretty excited about what was to come.

Next up was the Gui Chai, Pan Fried Garlic Chive & Mushroom Dumplings ($8). We found the dumpling wrappers to be a bit sticky, but the mix of mushrooms and garlic inside the dumplings was delish. They paired well with the sweet soy black vinegar dipping sauce.

Next up were the Phet Mak or really spicy dishes -- always my favorite.  I often don't trust that curries are vegan so I was happy to see one on the menu and had to try it!  I'm so glad that I did. The Gaeng Par Hed ($13) was a red curry made with red peppers, wild mushrooms, bamboo shoots, snake beans, greens, housemade tofu, and lime leaf. The vegetables were cooked to a perfect tenderness and the curry was amazing.

Lastly was one of our favorites -- the Het Paa Naam Tok or Isaan Style Wild Mushroom Salad ($11). I don't usually get that excited about salads, but this one was unique. They sliced the wild mushrooms thinly, but not too thinly probably using a mandoline and served them with shallots, saw leaf herb, dried chilies, toasted rice powder and lots of fresh herbs. It was really the dressing, the tender somewhat marinated wild mushrooms and the fresh mint, cilantro, and basil that made this salad simple, elegant, and delectable.

I guess for a restaurant headed up by Executive Chef Haidar Karoum of Proof and Estadio, one could only expect the best. The name "Doi Moi" refers both to Vietnam's economic reforms in the 1980s and 14th Street's present-day surge of energy. I think they hit that right on point.

The service was great, wine list fantastic, and food divine. I can't wait to come back to try the rest of the vegan menu. And with a seasonal, always changing menu, it sounds like there will always be new options. Highly recommended.

1800 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 733-5131

Doi Moi on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 16, 2013

Amella Caramels - Coconut Almond

Amella has done it again. First, they blew me away with their vegan gray salt caramels and now they've come out with vegan coconut almond caramels! What next?

Each caramel is made by hand by stirring organic coconut flakes into the caramel base adding a coconutty texture to each morsel. Then they top each caramel with a lightly roasted organic California almond before enrobing it in 66% cocoa dark chocolate creating a deliciously satisfying chocolate coconut almond morsel.

As always, Amella uses no refined sugar and sources organic products when possible. And they are Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, and Kosher. I have to say that I still like the vegan gray salt caramels better, but these are a great addition to their growing line of vegan caramels. Keep them coming!

They sell two packs of six for $25. To order some for yourself, click here.

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Califia Farms - Holiday Nog

I can actually say that I don't think I've ever drank eggnog. The thought of egg yolks in my drink was never appealing to me. But now those who love the taste can have their nog and drink it too (and without the cholesterol!) Califia Farms has come out with a Holiday Nog that is made of their delicious almond milk made with blanched almonds.

It's a light nog with a distinct almond milk base and a little pure cane sugar and nutmeg spice. The best part is that it is only 50 calories per serving and 1.5 grams of fat. Even better is that it is vegan, gluten-free, and Non-GMO Project Verified.

Let this be the nog you share with your family and friends this season. To find it, go to a Whole Foods near you -- just $3.99.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cedar, DC

Cedar has intrigued me since it began participating in Meat-Free Week in DC. As an older, more established restaurant in the Penn Quarter area, it is now trying to branch out to please the local vegan clientele.

Located on E Street, it isn't where I normally go to find restaurants when I'm dining in this neighborhood.  I saw the simple brown awning from afar and soon entered into the dark abyss. Down a spiral staircase I went to find a host awaiting me at the bottom. She informed me that they had a very nice table prepared for me and my friend and I was excited to see it nestled in the corner of the 70-seat restaurant. Pictures of the forest adorned the walls complemented by cedar wood panels. The stone walls near the bar gave the restaurant a rustic feel while the dim lighting contributed to the intimate, romantic atmosphere. I liked it already.

As another host seated me and handed me the menus, I inquired about the vegan menu. He brought it to the table and immediately informed me that he knew two of the wines were vegan -- the Witness Tree Pinot Noir by the glass and the bottle of Mourvedre, Cline Ancient Vines from Contra Costa County, CA 2011.   I tried the Pinot and found it to be too light at which point the server told me they'd open the bottle of Mourvedre for me if I wanted to order it by the glass. Wonderful! I must say that I was super impressed with their knowledge of the vegan wines. Most servers have no idea whether their wines are vegan or not. Major kudos.

Me and my friend went with the 3-course meal, which allowed us to choose from two items for the first two courses while there was only one item for the dessert.

To begin, we were served an amuse bouche of artichoke with saffron and radishes. This was a nice start.

We were also served some delicious fresh bread from Lyon Bakery with olive oil and sea salt.

For my first course, I started with the Arugula and Greek Olives salad, which had roasted pequillo peppers under a bed of arugula with diced kalamata olives on either end surrounded by toasted walnuts. It wasn't quite what was described on the menu as there weren't any pine nuts, but that was fine. I thought it was good, but not quite balanced as there were a bit too many peppers and olives and not enough arugula.

For my second course, I went with the Truffled White Bean Puree & Morels. This dish had truffled cannellini beans under a bed of sauteed swiss chard with spring vegetables, morel mushrooms, and a truffled vinaigrette. I really enjoyed the spring vegetables and mushrooms, but the bean puree and swiss chard left something to be desired. I think this dish could be developed into something wonderful, but it isn't quite there yet.

Lastly, there was the star of the show. Vegan beignets served with sorbet and a crispy pineapple slice. This dessert was excellent and just the right balance of cold sorbet with warm beignets with a passion fruit sauce. Loved it!

The server shared with us the chef's philosophy of serving what one might find in the forest so he keeps it pretty natural while showcasing the bounty of the great outdoors.  All in all, I think this restaurant is on the right path though some of these seasonal dishes need a little tweaking. One can't overlook the fact that they identified their vegan wines and have gone out of their way to offer a separate vegan 3-course menu as that is more than most restaurants in DC have done. For $35, I think this was a good meal for the price point and I hope to be able to dine here again in the future as the menu changes each season.

822 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 637-0012

Cedar Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Brad's Raw Made Easy

Brad Gruno, founder of Brad's Raw Foods, is coming out with a new book called Brad's Raw Made Easy. This is Brad's story told in his own voice about his journey to a raw foods diet and how it changed his life.

Brad wrote this book to demystify and simplify the raw foods diet so I think it would be a great book for someone who knows nothing about this type of diet. For me, I felt like it was entirely too simplified and was missing much of the science behind the benefits of eating raw. But, I am not the audience he wrote it for and I had to remember that as I read through this book.

I really like that he talks about acid versus alkaline foods as I think it is really important to focus on alkaline-forming foods. He includes a list of these foods in the book. In fact, there are lists for a lot of the topics he discusses, which I found quite helpful for reference.

I found it interesting his views on how his old diet had contributed to his sleep issues. He talks about how he only drinks water a few hours before bed to ensure he is hydrated and that his digestive system isn't working overtime. Now he sleeps much better.

Then, he goes into how to go raw in three phases. I enjoyed reading through his plan, but thought it was way too specific. He actually lists everything you should eat every day for weeks. The reality is that you can not eat something different for every meal if you live alone as you will be throwing away most of the meals you prepare if you don't eat the leftovers. This is not addressed in the plan at all.

He avoids using the word "vegan" throughout the book, which is appropriate given that he recommends one eat honey in this diet, but then uses it in the FAQ where he refers to the diet as a raw vegan plan. This is pretty inappropriate considering that there are nonvegan recipes in the book.

I also think the nutritional recommendations are completely irresponsible. He states that if you eat a 100% raw food diet, that you do not need any supplements. The truth is that no diet is perfect. And while I'm not a big proponent of supplements, there are two that are crucial in a vegan diet. One is B12 -- it is very important to ensure you get enough B12 and usually a supplement is the best source. And the second is Vitamin D as most people are deficient in this vitamin whether they are vegan or not.

I didn't like how he would state things like, "If I want a steak once in a while, I'm going to eat one, and I'm going to enjoy it," because it goes against everything he recommends in his diet.

At the end of the book are a bunch of recipes. I tried two and neither turned out to be very good. The first was the Rawkin Red Bell Pepper Soup, which wasn't all that great.

The other was the Energy Bars, which, again, were okay, but definitely not good enough to go into a book. There was way too much banana and ginger and not enough of the other ingredients.

So if you are looking for a really basic book on raw foods, you may enjoy Brad's Raw Made Easy, but it is not for an experienced vegan or raw foodist by any means. You can preorder the book here for $23.

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

Two Boots Pizzeria, Baltimore

While walking around at a festival in Baltimore searching for food, I came across Two Boots Pizzeria. Two Boots is named for the geographical shapes of Louisiana and Italy and calls itself "NYC's pizza pioneers since 1987."

It is a wildly colorful place with red ductwork and a huge yellow sign. That's not to mention the eclectic furniture with different chairs at every table. I noticed that they had one vegan pizza by the slice that day so I ordered the V for Vegan.

Boy was this pizza good.  A couple things made it stand out. First, the cornmeal crust was thin and crispy. Secondly, the red pepper and basil pestos are to die for! The pizza is covered in artichokes, shiitake mushrooms, red onions, and Daiya cheese as well as these pestos.  The pestos are on top of the vegan cheese in thin lines and they add so much flavor to the pizza. I could totally see ordering an entire pizza and taking it home, but I decided against it this time.

This is an awesome place to get pizza if you are in Baltimore...or any of their other locations.

Two Boots Pizzeria
1203 West Mount Royal Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21217
(410) 625-2668

Two Boots on Urbanspoon