Thursday, October 31, 2013

Blue Duck Tavern, DC

To bid adieu to my boss of six years, I scheduled a farewell dinner at the Blue Duck Tavern in DC. Upon arrival, we were immediately astonished by how beautiful this restaurant was inside and out. From the outside, the massive doors and floor to ceiling windows revealed a contemporary setting. On the inside, the beautiful decor featuring clean lines, handcrafted wood tables, and 20-foot ceilings leaves one in awe upon first glance. A look around reveals this amazing open, stainless steel kitchen featuring a custom-designed commercial Molteni range crafted in France.

We were seated at a table inside the restaurant with a beautiful view of the fountain. The wine list is one of the most impressive wine lists I've seen in DC. An extensive listing featuring exquisite wines organized by country, then by type. I chose our first wine from the Sommelier Selection -- a crisp 2011 Seghesio Arneis from the Russian River Valley.

The menu didn't appear to be incredibly vegan-friendly, but our server did say that many of the salads and items listed under the "vegetarian," "vegetables," and "potatoes and grains" headings could be made vegan. He introduced these items as the side items and the meat as the main dishes. Minus two points for that one.  I should mention that I indicated on my reservation that I was vegan and when I arrived I inquired about the vegan options, but when our server came back to the table, he immediately introduced the meat specials, then later told me which options I could choose from. I was already beginning to feel like a second-class citizen.

When he brought the bread basket out, he included flat bread for me, which was nice. I started with the Baby Carrots salad. This was a large, hearty salad featuring yellow, orange, and purple cooked carrots making for a colorful presentation. The carrots were adorned with shaved fennel, oranges, parsley, and olive oil croutons in a light vinaigrette. It was much better than I would have expected a simple carrot salad to be.

For my entree, I ordered the Farro dish with wood oven-roasted baby vegetables including zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, onion, and purple and orange cauliflower.  It was garnished with crispy garlic and fresh herbs. It was a nice light, vegetable and rice-based dish, but was a little too much on the oily and salty side.

I also ordered a side of the Sauteed Wild Mushrooms served with olive oil croutons, garlic, and parsley. It was as good as a simple wild mushroom dish could get.

I should also mention that we ordered a fantastic 2009 Nebbiolo Blend from Italy - Proprieta Sperino "Uvaggio." This was a big hit with the table.

For dessert, I went with a the Cherry Blossom Sorbet. It was served in a huge container that was enough sorbet to feed several tables! It tasted like it had been made in house and had a nice cherry flavor to it.

At the end of the meal, our server brought a plate of three chocolates for the four of us. When my coworker asked why there were only three, I remarked that they probably weren't vegan. It would have been nice for him to have said whether they were vegan or not when he brought them out.

All in all, it was a nice dinner. I think the best part of the entire experience was really the atmosphere. The design and decor of the restaurant alone make it worth visiting. But, in the end, for one of the restaurants listed as one of the top ten restaurants in DC in the Washingtonian, I was a bit underwhelmed. The food was great and actually very reasonably priced with my entree only being $22 and the sides $10 so I really can't complain about that and the wine list was pretty spectacular. I guess I was just expecting an overall fantastic experience, which I didn't get. I was mostly disappointed in the lack of attention to my vegan diet as the server seemed to disregard me whenever he could. And the fact that they didn't even bring out some type of vegan gelee as they usually do when they bring non-vegan chocolates at the end of the meal was a bit disappointing.  I might be back someday if they add new vegan options, but definitely not anytime soon. And with all the great upscale options in DC, this one doesn't even make the list.

Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th Street NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 419-6755

Blue Duck Tavern on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Graffiato, DC

After strutting his stuff on Top Chef, Mike Isabella opened his own restaurant in the Chinatown neighborhood in DC in 2011 -- Graffiato. The Italian-inspired restaurant specializes in simple, small Italian meals, tapas if you will, served in an industrial setting.

The inside decor features illustrations of vegetables in various costumes on the walls while the feel is quite contemporary with its exposed ductwork and wood tables with aluminum chairs. On the walls one will find information about local farmers from which they source their ingredients and in front of the open kitchen is a funky wall of wheat.  The restaurant was much larger than I had expected with its 130-seat configuration laid out across two stories.

Me and my coworker arrived on a Friday for lunch at noon. We were promptly seated on the second level. I was very aware that there were only a few vegan options, but I was still eager to try them out.  We both started by ordering the Prickly Pear, Lime, Jalapeno, & Agave juice, which was quite delightful.

As our server came back to take our order, I told her that I was told over the phone that the hand-cut spaghetti was vegan. In fact, I called twice and was told both times it was vegan. Our server apologized and informed me that she had checked with the chef and confirmed that all of the pastas were made with eggs so none of them were vegan. Although I was glad she had checked, I was still very disappointed.  That left me with only a few dishes to choose from under the "Vegetate" heading and the option for flatbread or a pizza without cheese. Hmmm. Even some of the vegetables under the "Vegetate" heading were off limits like the roasted cauliflower and charred asparagus as they are both made with butter.

So, I decided to make the most of it and ordered three small plates.  I started with the Broccolini sans the feta. I think this was the best dish of all. The broccolini was sauteed in oil and served with a chunky tomato ragout and toasted walnuts. It was very good.

The next dish I tried was the Smoked Beets sans the ricotta. The beets looked almost like tomatoes as they were sliced thinly. They were served with this incredible beet puree made of smoked beets and pickling juice along with chunks of pickled orange.

Lastly, I ordered their flatbread and substituted their housemade marinara sauce for the pepperoni sauce. I loved the wood fired flatbread that could have been eaten without any toppings. The marinara sauce was okay, but nothing special. The bread could really stand on its own.

When our server brought the bill, she told me she took one of our drinks off because she felt bad that I had been told I could have the pasta here when I really couldn't. I thought that was nice. All in all, I enjoyed the small plates, but there really are only a handful of small plates to choose from that can be veganized. The prices are a bit high for small plates ranging from $7 - $14 per plate. The service was pretty good and I liked the atmosphere. However, I probably won't be back unless they add more vegan dishes as I feel like I tried most dishes that I could try. I only hope Graffiato adds more vegan options in the future.

707 6th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 289-3600

Graffiato on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 28, 2013

Garlic-Toasted Vegan Cheese & Tomato Sandwiches

Inspired by my mother's German tomato sandwich, I created a classy version of a simple sandwich. It is quite simple -- just take grilled bread and top it with Treeline soft vegan cheese, fresh heirloom tomatoes, olive oil, and fresh herbs and voila! you have a delicious savory meal.

Since discovering Alvarado St. Bakery from Petaluma, CA, I've been all over their breads. In this recipe, I used their hearty Sprouted Whole Wheat bread to give these open-faced sandwiches a healthy base. Made with sprouted organic whole wheat berries, organic dates, wheat gluten, sea salt, organic raisins, fresh yeast, soy based lecithin, and cultured wheat, you really can't go wrong. And it is Non-GMO Project Verified.

I also used Treeline soft cashew-based cheese, which is amazing! Read my full review of this cheese here.

Now it is your turn to try this delicious sandwich!


Brush bread with olive oil and rub crushed garlic on it. Grill it in a grill pan on medium heat for about 1.5-minutes each side until grilled. Spread Treeline cheese on top. Top with fresh tomatoes, chopped garlic, and fresh herbs. Drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ruby Cakes Bakery, Willamette Valley, OR

My friend, Corey, and I arrived at a winery in McMinnville, Oregon about 30 minutes earlier than our scheduled appointment. Imagine how delighted we were to find that right next door was a vegan bakery -- Ruby Cakes! Wow - there are so many vegan bakeries in Oregon!

So we stopped by to grab a few treats. Come to find out that this bakery specializes in allergen-free baking so it is gluten-free, vegan, and nut-free. I was still pretty full from lunch so I only indulged in two tiny bite-size cupcakes.  Before I mention the food though, I have to mention the decor. It was a huge bakery with a lot of seating including an area that had rocking chairs and sofas. What a great setting!

Just be careful as you walk to the restroom as there is this creepy snowman holding cupcakes hovering over the door. Other than that, I think it is pretty safe.

I first tried the Salted Caramel Chocolate cupcake. Although I found it to be rich, the flavor wasn't all that great.  The other one I tried was the Blackberry Poppyseed. Now this one was moist and rich with a great tasting blackberry filling. I was very impressed.

Other items on the menu included bread, cookies, donuts, muffins, whoopie pies, brownies, and scones.  Corey appeared to enjoy all of his baked goods as he didn't share any with me. :(

So if you are in the area, definitely check out Ruby Cakes!

Ruby Cakes Bakery
920 NE 8th Street
McMinnville, OR 97128
(503) 857-0636

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast, Willamette Valley, OR

As soon as we left Portland, we headed to the Willamette Valley for a few days to enjoy the countryside and do some wine tasting. Willamette Valley is known for their Pinot Noirs and I was so excited to finally see this wine country.  I spent a lot of time researching hotels and bed and breakfasts in the area and ultimately decided to stay at Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast and I'm so glad I did.

As soon as my friend, Corey, and I arrived, the Innkeeper, Kristin showed us around the B&B. On the main floor, there was the dining room, kitchen, and a communal living room as well as a balcony that overlooked the valley. On the basement floor, there were books and games we could choose from if we wanted to read or play a game. Then, in the Wine Country Room that we stayed in, there was a jacuzzi and a private balcony. We were in complete awe of the view and ended up just drinking wine on our private balcony and watching the hawks fly above the trees for the first night.

But, the real reason I am mentioning this is because of the food, of course! Kristin, who runs the B&B, is also a trained chef who specializes in accommodating any dietary needs or preferences. So I was delighted when she told me that vegan meals were no problem. As soon as I arrived, she put out fresh vegan lemon drop sugar cookies and I knew that I had made the right decision.

For our first breakfast, she completely blew me away. She started by serving a parfait complete with strawberries, soy yogurt, and locally grown hazelnuts.

Next, she served us a poppyseed loaf with two homemade jellies.

And finally asparagus crepes with herb bechamel sauce garnished with savory and chives. Oh my goodness, these crepes were amazing. I raved about them all day long.

The next day, she started the breakfast by serving slices of canteloupe and watermelon in a Marionberry sauce.

Then she served rhubarb muffins with peach melba.

And for the main entree, hazelnut waffles with strawberries and elderberry syrup. Um, can I move in forever??

Kristen was very accommodating as she let us use the mini refrigerator to store our food and drinks while providing us with picnic packs we could use to picnic in the wine country. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and I'm looking forward to returning to Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast in the years to come.

Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast
28700 NE Mountain Top Road
Newberg, OR 97132
(503) 538-3474

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cork & Fork Giveaway Winner

Wine, wine, and more wine -- the prescription for happiness. Now one lucky winner gets to enjoy wine while learning about the viticulture.  The lucky winner of the 3-part Wine Education Program is [drumroll]..........Angela H. of DC!

Congratulations Angela! You will be attending the Wine Education Program at Cork & Fork November 6, 13, and 20!  You also have the opportunity to bring a friend for half off. I hope you enjoy learning from the wine master, Matt Stollenmaier.  It is sure to be a good time.

For more information about classes at Cork & Fork in DC, click here.

Cork & Fork
1522 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 588-5766

Monday, October 21, 2013

Missionary Chocolates - Vegan Truffles

Perhaps I'm on a bit of a chocolate truffle kick. Whatever. When I was in Portland and saw that there was a local truffle company called Missionary Chocolates, I just had to try their truffles. Missionary Chocolates was founded in 2008 by Melissa Berry, a Naturopathic Physician. She started by giving her truffles away as gifts and a few months later won first place in the Northwest Chocolate Festival. And just like that, her business began. She is hoping to someday build an inpatient, integrative healing center in Portland funded solely by the chocolate.

I just bought a small box of two truffles. The Meyer Lemon Explosion is just that. Super lemony with a thick, rich soft center. There is something that is so right in these handcrafted jewels.

The other one I tried was the Spicy Cinnamon Chipotle. There was so much kick to this one, it almost caught me off guard. Loved it!

If you'd like to try them for yourself, you can order them online here for $3 each.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Todd Gray's Muse at the Corcoran, DC - Vegan Brunch #3

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.

As you may or may not know, the vegan brunch at Todd Gray's Muse at the Corcoran has been so popular that they are now holding it weekly -- every Sunday! That is great news for vegans and non-vegans alike as it is a stupendous open buffet brunch that is sure to please anyone's palate.

I recently realized that I hadn't been to that brunch in many, many months so we headed over on a Sunday morning. One thing that has changed is that they are no longer holding just two seatings. Instead, they now take reservations for any time between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.  One thing that hasn't changed is the live music -- one of my favorite things about this brunch.

Once we were seated, the server informed me of the Chef's Sangria special of the day so I promptly ordered that for an additional $7 on top of the $25 all-you-can-eat buffet. The choices this day were varied with everything from salads, a soup, hot and savory entrees, and desserts. What a spread.

Of course, we had to try everything. I'd have to say that my favorite item was the Tofu Scramble. This was not your ordinary tofu scramble. It had shiitake mushrooms, baby spinach, and roasted pepper confit all served under baked vegan cheese. It was soooo good.

Another favorite of mine was the passed dish of the chickpea fritters with berry aioli.

For the salads, there was an Arugula and Frisee Salad. This had late summer peaches, pickled onion, and spiced hazelnuts. The creamy dressing was very good.

There was also a Red and Golden Beet Salad with oranges, shaved radicchio, capers, and toasted pistachios. The beets were absolutely perfect and the flavors meshed well.

One of the most unique items was the Granola-Crusted Whole Wheat French Toast. This sweet, crunchy toast was served with a gingered berry compote and was really hearty.

To balance it out, there were sauteed vegetable dishes like the Oven-Roasted Cauliflower with Haricots Verts served with golden raisins and cherry tomatoes. There was also a Roasted Corn and Red Potato Hash with red peppers and onions.

For dessert, they offered housemade lemon poppyseed scones with blueberries and powdered sugar, sour cherry brownies, banana muffins, and fruit salad.

We were quite impressed with the quality and quantity of the brunch spread. I think we are very lucky to have such a great vegan brunch in DC and I encourage those who haven't yet tried it to try it soon!

Previous reviews:
July 13, 2011
July 10, 2012
Sept. 12, 2012

Todd Gray's Muse at the Corcoran
500 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 639-1786

Todd Gray's Muse on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Treeline Soft French-Style Nut Cheese

Umami -- it is that pleasant savory taste that people have struggled to describe for thousands of years. The fifth taste, as it is known, is often present in fermented foods and it is what makes Treeline cheese so amazing. You will know it as soon as you taste this new cashew-based vegan cheese.

Treeline cheese is being produced by The Gardener Cheese Company in Kingston, NY and is the first soft vegan French-style nut cheese to hit the market. In the same way that Daiya changed the definition of vegan shredded cheese and Dr. Cow redefined hard vegan cheese, Treeline will go down in history for producing the first amazingly delicious soft vegan cheese.

Treeline soft cheese comes in two flavors -- Herb-Garlic and Scallion. Although the manufacturing process is proprietary, I can share that the cheese is made by culturing cashews in the same way that dairy cheese is made. It is produced in a dedicated, all vegan facility in a blighted but recovering part of downtown Kingston, NY.  And so far, everyone working for the company is vegan.

Who is behind this?  That's what I was wondering.  His name is Michael Schwarz and he is a former intellectual property lawyer. He started Treeline because he feels that providing alternatives to dairy products is an essential element of the animal rights cause. He feels it isn't enough to tell people they shouldn't consume dairy. The animal rights movement has to provide them with an alternative that tastes good. His animal rights views have their origin in South Africa.  He grew up in the apartheid era.  His parents were active in anti-apartheid politics and instilled in him the belief that he didn't have to go along with things that were wrong.  When you see an injustice, you have to do something about it. The way that animal-based foods are produced is unjust, just as apartheid was unjust.

And so Treeline cheese was born. I first tried the Herb-Garlic flavor on a baguette. It's soft texture coupled with the umami flavor just explodes in your mouth and makes you want more. This is the perfect cheese to pair with a glass of wine.

Then I tried the Scallion flavor on Carr's crackers. The herbs are subtle, but tasty, and again, the texture is absolutely perfect. The Carr's crackers are great with this cheese because they really let the flavor shine through.

I also tried it on a baguette topped with strawberry rhubarb jam. Magnifique!

But, by far, the best way I tried the cheese was on toasted sprouted wheat bread with heirloom tomatoes. The cheese and tomatoes complemented each other so well. It was scrumptious. I'll post that recipe soon.

But, the most fun I had this week was bringing that cheese to a potluck full of non-vegans and watching their reaction to eating cashew cheese. They loved it! One guy said that dairy cheese doesn't really taste like anything, but this -- with it's subtle herb taste is great. He wanted to know where he could get some for himself. Win!

So what is in the cheese? The Herb-Garlic is made of cashew nuts, filtered water, acidophilus, dried scallions, sea salt, lemon juice, white pepper, garlic and onion powders, dried parsley, basil, and oregano. The Scallion flavor is made of cashew nuts, filtered water, acidophilus, dried scallions, sea salt, onion powder, and lemon juice. So they are quite similar.

Treeline is working hard on their distribution and will be in stores near you soon. In Maryland, they will be carried at all MOM's markets. In DC, they can be found at Rodman's. They retail for around $7.99 per package.

In other news, their hard cheeses in cracked pepper and classic smoky flavors will be in stores later this year as well. I had the pleasure of trying the hard cheeses too and let's just say that they were darned good. Look for a review of those cheeses in the near future.

For now, get ready to try one of the finest vegan cheeses yet. For those who say they can't go vegan because they like cheese too much, well, now you can because you'll love this cheese even more and with no cholesterol, it'll be the solution for people who want to have their cheese and eat it too.

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