Thursday, February 28, 2013

Veggie Grill, Los Angeles

On a quick one-day trip to Los Angeles, I headed over to the Veggie Grill for lunch. I'd heard a lot about the simple, yet satisfying menu at Veggie Grill and was excited to finally experience it for myself.

Veggie Grill is owned by Ray White, one of the founders of the most well-known vegan cafe chain in the country, Native Foods. But, unlike the hip Native Foods, Veggie Grill is a simple, no-frills restaurant...and it also has really good food. The walls are painted white and red with the Veggie Grill logo behind the counter. Light brown tables set-up booth-style surround the front counter with room for a line to form around the perimeter. It is a basic concept -- just wait in line, order at the counter, take a number, and wait for your meal. Because I had just gotten off a plane, as much as I wanted to try the famed chicken protein blend they are so known for, I just ordered a salad instead. I just couldn't have eaten an entire sandwich during this visit.  The menu had a lot of great options from salads and sandwiches to soups and homestyle plates. I ordered the All Hail Kale salad, then headed over to the fountain drinks to grab a strawberry lemonade.

It was a beautiful day in Southern California -- the kind of day that calls for outdoor seating and a fresh, kale salad. As I was sitting there waiting, a girl got up to ask one of the busboys if she was eating real chicken to which he replied that it was vegan soy protein. That must be some convincing faux chicken!

After a few minutes, a beautiful kale salad arrived. Talk about an entree salad - it was piled high with kale, shredded cabbage, carrots, and a corn, tomato, and onion salsa. I also chose blackened tempeh as my protein. It was just the thing I needed after a long day of travel.  Delish!

For $11, I'd say that was a great, filling salad. I'm really looking forward to coming back to try the sandwiches sometime soon.

Veggie Grill
2025 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 829-1155

The Veggie Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Avalon's Magic Mushroom Gravy

Okay, I know the name of this recipe is weird, but I got this recipe out of Vegan Fusion World Cuisine by Mark Reinfeld and Bo Rinaldi and that is what they called it so be it.  We topped Zach's signature rosemary mashed potatoes with this and it totally wowed us. We really enjoyed the rich taste of the gravy and liked that it had chunks of fresh shiitake mushrooms in it too.

Avalon's Magic Mushroom Gravy
3.5 cups of gravy

  • 2 Tbsp spelt flour
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp filtered water
  • 1 Tbsp  olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, 1/4" dice (1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 T garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1/4 cup shoyu
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
Create a roux by placing spelt flour in a small bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of filtered water and whisk until a thick paste is created. Set aside.

Place the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan on medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Addd mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add remaining ingredients except for roux mixture and cook for 5 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally. Add roux mixture and cook until gravy has a thick consistency, approximately 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Serve with mashed potatoes or whatever you'd like.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Goûter - Mexican "Hot" Chocolate

Goûter, a DC-based raw foods company, is now making a bunch of wonderful, healthy tonics that are available at various yoga studios and cafes across DC. Their newest drink, the Mexican "Hot" Chocolate, is divine! Made with alkaline water, organic cashews, coconut nectar, cacao, cinnamon, vanilla, cayenne, and sea salt, this thick, cashew-based cacao drink is smoothly satisfying.

Upon first taste, you get the milkiness of the cashews, followed by chocolate, then the spiciness of the cayenne lingers on your palate even after it has been fully consumed.  For $6, you can pick yours up today at the following locations: Buddha B, Fuel Pilates, Sculpt DC, Bikram Yoga Reston, Zengo, and Freshii DC.

Fresh, tasty, vegan. Gouter is sinfully delicious.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Shojin, Los Angeles

I discovered Shojin when I was researching vegan restaurants in Los Angeles. It stuck out to me for two reasons -- (1) really high ratings and great reviews on Yelp and (2) its uniqueness in being an all-vegan, macrobiotic Japanese restaurant offering both maki rolls and nigiri. So, when I had an opportunity to go to southern California, I flew into LAX so I could dine at Shojin before heading out to Palm Springs.

From the website, I got the impression that it was a fine, upscale restaurant. When I was searching for it, however, it was not easy to find. I finally called them and they told me they were located in a mall. So, I headed back that way and found them in this weird Asian mall. Hmmm...okay. Nestled among the oddest mix of stores ever from massage chairs and pharmacies to jewelry and junk stores, I found Shojin on the top level. From the outside, it didn't seem like the same place I had read about. The Shojin sign was pretty generic looking and below it there was some sort of poster with red and pink hearts. To the right was a darkly tinted window, which had a red curtain on the opposite side. I was a bit frightened. I peaked through the curtain and found a hostess ready to seat me. We walked through one room and into another and were immediately transported into a nice, dimly lit, romantic restaurant. It was so unexpected.

I sat down and took a look at the menu. Shojin is only open for dinner and even though I really wanted to try an entree, I was more intrigued by their rolls and nijiri.  I started by ordering the Peach Detox, which was made with sake and some sort of peach drink. It was light and spicy. I placed my order, then took some time to take it all in. The restaurant was really nice [inside].  The dark wood tables and black chairs along with the flowery Asian prints in a dark, romantic setting all made for a nice ambiance.

I started with the Stuffed Shiitake Mushrooms, which were shiitake mushrooms stuffed with tofu, miso, and shiso served with sweet soy sauce.  Each mushroom just melted in my mouth. There was so much flavor that I felt I could have eaten an entire plate of these as my entree. Yum!

For my entree, I went with the Pirates of the Crunchy. Funny name. These were avocado maki rolls with fried tempeh and green onion prepared in a tempura batter served with spicy dynamite sauce.  The rolls just seemed too plain to be paired with this crunchy topping. I liked the topping, but the meal felt like two items put together that didn't mesh. And it wasn't spicy enough.

Given the great reviews I had read, I wanted to try one other roll before forming my opinion so I ordered the Rocky Mountain rolls. These were really good. The base was, again, avocado maki rolls with sliced barbeque seitan laid on top and shiitake mushrooms on top of that. It was dressed in a sweet soy sauce and served with wasabi mayo.  I think the wasabi mayo really made this dish. I felt like I was in vegan heaven after one bite. As you bite into one of them, you first get the avocado taste, then the spicy mayo followed by a warm firm mushroom and finally the sweet soy sauce. It was so good.

After all of that, I was, unfortunately, too stuffed to try any of the desserts. They promptly brought my check and offered to validate my parking, which was a nice touch. All in all, I enjoyed my meal at Shojin, but I didn't think it was really worth going out of the way to eat here. It is good food and it is all vegan, but the rolls are pretty comparable to the rolls I can get at Sticky Rice here in DC. Shojin, however, offers a wider selection of vegan maki rolls, nijiri and Asian entrees than any other Japanese restaurant I've ever been to. The service was attentive, but the prices were slightly high at $13 per roll, although they were pretty large rolls. I would definitely come back and would recommend it to anyone who does not have access to this quality of vegan maki rolls in their city.

333 S. Alameda Street, Suite 310 (Little Tokyo Shopping Center)
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 617-0305

Shojin Organic & Natural on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 22, 2013

Portobello and Seitan Sausage Sandwich

After having enjoyed Taft Foodmasters' Seitan Gyro, I wanted to make something using their other flavor of seitan as well. Taft Foodmasters' has been serving the wholesale market for a few years and recently decided to start selling their seitan in the retail market, which is great news for consumers. They make their seitan by hand, then season it using the finest blends of herbs and spices.  In this recipe, I use their Seitan Sausage to make a Portobello and Seitan Sausage Sandwich with caramelized onions and a modified version of my favorite pumpkin seed pesto sauce (from The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook).

It took many iterations to find the best way to make this sandwich as I found the Seitan Sausage slices to be have a very strong fennel flavor. Ultimately, I decided to only use one slice on each sandwich so it wouldn't overpower the other flavors. This seitan is strongly flavored with lots of spices including salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, fennel seed, paprika, turmeric, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. It would be a great addition to a hero sandwich, melt, or pizza pie.

Portobello and Seitan Sausage Sandwich
Serves 8

Ingredients for Sandwich
  • 1 red onion, sliced thinly
  • Olive oil
  • Salt 
  • 8 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1 package Taft Foodmasters Seitan Sausage 
  • Fresh loaf of bread, thinly sliced
  • Vegan mayo
  • Micro greens or arugula
Ingredients for Pumpkin Seed Pesto
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, raw or toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
Start by making the caramelized onions as this process will take the longest. Coat a thick-bottomed saute pan with olive oil and heat to medium high. Add the sliced onions and stir to coat with oil. Spread them out evenly over the pan and let them cook, stirring occasionally.  You may need to reduce the heat to medium to prevent the onions from burning or drying out. After 10 minutes, sprinkle salt over the onions. Add water to the pan as needed to keep the onions from drying out.
Let them cook for 30-60 minutes total, stirring every few minutes. Once the onions start sticking to the pan, allow them to stick and brown a little, but stir them before they burn. After the first 30 minutes, you may want to lower the temperature a little more and add a little more oil. You will need to stir them every minute or so towards the end until they are a rich, brown color.

While they are cooking, you can make broil the mushrooms. Preheat the broiler. Line a large baking sheet with foil. Brush both sides of  mushrooms generously with olive oil. Then, place the mushrooms, dark gill side up, on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Broil mushrooms about 5 inches from the heat source until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Turn them over and broil until tender, another 7 minutes.

In another skillet, heat up the sliced seitan using oil or cooking spray. Heat both sides for a couple minutes.

To make the pesto, just puree all ingredients in the blender.

Grill the bread, if desired.

Finally, to assemble, put mayo on one side of a slice of bread. Then, top in the following order: 1 seitan slice, 1 mushroom cap, pesto, caramelized onions, and greens. Either top with another piece of bread or eat open-faced.

Enjoy the flavors of the broiled portobello mushroom and spicy seitan with the rich pumpkin seed pesto and caramelized onions. Yum!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mad Momos, DC

Mad Momos is a new American and Himalayan restaurant located in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC. It opened in December of 2012 and was of particular interest to me because they were advertising vegan options for every meal including brunch -- a meal that is hard to find vegan.

So, me and my friend headed over for their very first brunch. The restaurant is located at 14th and Spring Road in Mt. Pleasant, quite a ways away from DC USA, the heart of Columbia Heights. That said, it is not in a bustling area in town so it was easy to find parking right in front of the restaurant.

From the outside, it looks like a new cafe, painted in baby blue with large floor-to-ceiling windows. We arrived around 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday and there were only a few occupied tables. We had our choice of downstairs or upstairs and we chose to go upstairs. The upstairs is very eclectic with its exposed brick walls, colorful artwork, and a seemingly random set of tables, chairs, armchairs, and sofas. Under the table by the couch, was a set of board games presumably for use by the patrons. There was also an outside patio that looks like it would be a wonderful spot once the weather warms up.

We each started with mimosas, opting for just one rather than the bottomless mimosa deal for $15. It was a bit early to consider getting lit for the rest of the day.

We ordered an appetizer -- the crispy vegan rock and roll. We asked the waiter what that was and he wasn't really sure as there was no description on the menu. Come to find out, it is basically vegan egg rolls filled with cabbage and served with a mango and black bean sauce. We enjoyed this dish and found the sauce to be delightfully unusual.

In case you are wondering where the name came from, momos are tasty dumplings native to the Himalayan region. At Mad Momos, they make all of their momos on site with creative fillings and sauces. The owner, Topden, is originally from Sikkim, a part of India in the Himalayas. Despite being intrigued by the momos, I decided to order the scrambled tofu mad wrap instead while my friend got the momos.

I have to admit that my expectations are usually pretty low when I order a tofu wrap as many restaurants make them so that they have no flavor whatsoever. Boy, was I surprised with this one. This huge wrap came loaded with scrambled tofu, curly kale, sunflower seeds, and "momo crisps." The tofu had been seasoned just right so that when paired with the kale, seasoned sunflower seeds, and fried crisps, it was absolutely delicious. It was served with a nice, fresh salad with balsamic vinaigrette along with sweet potato fries. Beware of the creamy sauce that comes with the fries though as the one I was served was not vegan. I'm glad I was suspicious enough to ask. Perhaps in the near future, they'll make it vegan. For now, I just requested ketchup and hot sauce. Hey, they are a new restaurant so I'm sure they'll iron these things out. Just be sure to ask if you are suspicious about anything.

So, all in all, with an $8 appetizer and $9.50 brunch platter, I thought it was a great value for the money. The food was fresh and delicious, the service was good, and the restaurant had a fun vibe. I bet it gets a lot more popular over the coming months.

Mad Momos
3605 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 829-1450

Mad Momos on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wonderfully Raw - Coco-Roons

Raw macaroons seem to be a dime a dozen nowadays as the raw foods section in most grocery stores is usually stocked with them. One brand in particular, however, seems to be making its way into grocery and health food stores across the country at an expedited pace. Wonderfully Raw uses all-natural, organic, vegan, and gluten-free ingredients including raw cold-pressed coconut oil and unfiltered maple syrup to make its Coco-Roons. I've been amazed at how many times I've seen these colorful bags in grocery stores nationwide.

The woman behind this brand, Sequoia Cheney, wanted to create healthy snacks with a low gylcemic load as she had once been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She knew she had to make some changes to her lifestyle and began by attending the Living Light Culinary School where she trained with some of the best raw food chefs in the business. When she graduated, she teamed with her son, Eric Hara, a trained chef, to create these healthful macaroons. By changing her way of life, she was able to lower her blood sugar to normal levels and stop taking medication altogether.

What I like most about these macaroons are the natural ingredients. They are all made with raw unsweetened coconut, raw almond flour, unfiltered maple syrup, raw cold-pressed coconut oil, vanilla extract, and Himalayan crystal salt. These are all good-for-you ingredients. One thing that gives me pause though is why a raw product would use one non-raw ingredient. They indicate that the maple syrup is not raw on the package. I would think that if you are creating a raw product, you'd want to include only raw ingredients. She does state that she uses maple syrup because it is an excellent source of manganese and zinc, which helps lower cholesterol and that the maple syrup they use is processed at lower temperatures than other manufacturers, but it still isn't raw. While I love maple syrup and know it is good for you, I just wonder why she didn't choose a raw sweetener instead.

Anyway, on to the flavors! Coco-Roons come in six flavors. I will say that despite enjoying all of the flavors, I found most of them to be very dry. In the end, I felt that if they had been called, "cake bites," then I would have enjoyed them more as they are more cakey than they are macaroons. The one that was the least dry though was my favorite and that was the Almond & Strawberry "PB & J" made with raw almond butter and strawberries.

The Lemon was also slightly moist and had a good subtle lemon flavor that paired well with the grittiness of the coconut.

The Apple Pie flavor made with real chunks of apples and walnuts had great flavor as it was seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, ginger, and chili powder.

I also enjoyed the Vanilla Maple, which had subtle hints of vanilla in a maple syrup-sweetened macaroon.

Surprisingly, my two least favorite flavors were the chocolate ones. The Brownie one was fine, but nowhere near as good as the chocolate ones put out by Hail Merry (which are also much more moist).

The Cacao Nib flavor was my least favorite in the end. The flavors of the macaroon just didn't mesh well with the cacao nibs.

So, in sum, I really enjoyed them when I stopped thinking of them as macaroons and started thinking of them as raw cake bites. From a health perspective, these are some healthful raw treats that are much better for you than cake or vegan ice cream. And I will say that they are larger than most commercially available macaroons on the market. To try them for yourself, you can order an 8-count bag for $8.99 here. And as Coco-Roons says, you will "taste the love!"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Millennium, San Francisco #2

Eric Tucker is one of this country's finest vegan chefs. Having been the executive chef at Millennium for over 20 years, he has perfected many of his dishes and is always adding new ones to the menu. I make it a point to go there at least once a year to enjoy his culinary masterpieces.

We had a reservation for 7 p.m. on a Saturday and needless to say, they were completely booked. Millennium is located inside the Hotel California and the outside facade really doesn't do it justice. When you see the yellow awning and the Best Western sign, you wonder if you are in the right place and soon enough, you realize you are. Once inside though, it is quite the elegant restaurant.

There is a bar in the middle of the dining room adjacent to a semi-exposed kitchen. We were seated at a two-person table that had booth seating on one side and a chair on the other. For whatever reason, it had never occurred to me how close the seating was until this time. The couples on either side of us were finishing their meals though and were soon on their way. Soon, we realized that the reservations are staggered for just this reason -- because you are pretty close to your neighbor. So, when you are seated, those around you are leaving and once you leave, others are seated. I really like this approach.

Millennium is one of the finest vegan restaurants in the country. It was, once again, rated the number one vegan restaurant by readers of VegNews magazine this year.  They usually have daily specials along with their seasonal menu. It took us quite a while to decide what we wanted to order because there are so many great options. Zach and I both went with the Fall Harvest menu, which allowed us four seasonal courses. I also chose the wine pairing.

We started with an amuse of fresh bread with a white bean and jalapeno spread.

Then, the first course was served. The Roasted Beet "Tartare" consisted of roasted red beets served "tartare" style with Belgian endive, syrah-grapeseed oil, pickled golden beets, and macademia cheese. This course was good, but not overwhelmingly so as I felt like the macadamia cheese was missing something and wanted a bit more of the roasted red beets. It just didn't feel well balanced.

Next, we received a gift from the chef, Eric Tucker -- crusted king trumpet mushrooms. Now, Zach and I love mushrooms and were excited to receive this, but nothing could have prepared us for how good these were. It was like a taste explosion. The king trumpet mushrooms were dredged in rice flour, sesame, and spices and served with a sauce. I don't know exactly what was in the sauce, but it all tasted pretty amazing. So much so, that Zach nearly bought the cookbook when we left! What a wonderful gift!

The mushroom dish was pretty filling and we still had three more courses to consume. Next, we were served a Popcorn-Wild Rice Cake. The little cake was made of wild rice and king trumpet mushrooms and was served with a subtle parsnip sauce. It was deliciously satisfying.

The third course had many different components. There was a yuba roulade, which consisted of housemade seitan (some of the best seitan I've ever had), cumin-roasted crimini mushrooms, and sweet potato-sage puree wrapped in a yuba skin and baked to a crisp. These flavors all meshed so well together. It was served with creamy roasted garlic polenta, carmelized shallot-red wine gravy, pickled chiles, quince, and cranberry sauce. I especially enjoyed the polenta.

We were pretty full by then, but we had to make room for dessert. I ordered the pecan-chocolate pie served with Chantilly cream. The pie was great, but the cream was even better. It was made with coconut milk and some type of liquor and blended into a smooth, silky cream. Zach liked this one the best.

We also got their signature dessert -- the Chocolate Almond Midnight, which has to be one of the best desserts I've ever had. Imagine a mocha chocolate filling with a white chocolate mousse layer on an almond cashew crust topped with chocolate and served with chocolate and raspberry sauce. This dessert is about as good as it gets.

We also ordered a flight of three dessert wines, which were a nice mix of sweet and semi-sweet wines.

Before we left, Eric came out to say, "hello," to us as he remembered us from the cooking class we took with him last year. He was telling us how he's been dabbling with making his own yuba and how difficult it is. It was fun to hear about his experiences and great to see him again  as he is such a nice guy.

The four-course meal was a steal at only $50 per person plus the optional wine pairing of $26 -- an amazing price for such a great restaurant. The service was especially exquisite as our server seemed to know about everything and seemed attuned to assist when we had any questions. So, as always, we had a wonderful experience at Millennium. Every vegan (and non-vegan) should visit this restaurant at least once in their lifetime.

Millennium Restaurant
580 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 345-3900

Millennium on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sweet Earth - Pumpkin Pie

I've often heard people say that they haven't found a good commercially available vegan pumpkin pie. Well, look no further. Sweet Earth has a vegan pumpkin pie available that is just as good as your mother used to make or even better. It is the perfect blend of pumpkin and spices with a maple syrup-derived sweetness that will make you want to try to recreate it at home.

The best part is that they sell a single-serving size pie that you won't have to share.

And as stated on the package, it is perfect for breakfast or dessert. So go ahead and have yourself some perfect pumpkin goodness.