Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pasara Thai, Alexandria, VA

My quest for good vegan food in Alexandria continues and this time I found myself at a Thai restaurant off the beaten path. Pasara Thai is located a few blocks from the Old Town area in the business area in Alexandria. I have gone there for lunch a few times and have had fairly enjoyable experiences. Here are my observations.

For one, the food is pretty fresh. I ordered a vegetable dish that had baby corn, peas, cabbage, peppers, green beans, and deep-fried tofu in a garlic sauce that was quite tasty. The vegetables were crisp and very fresh.

On another occasion, I ordered the kaprow tofu that is mostly fried tofu in a basil sauce. This had a bit too much tofu and not enough vegetables, but it was also good.  The next time around, I asked for less tofu and more vegetables and it was much better!

Sometimes, when you ask for them to make your dish spicy, it is actually spicy, but sometimes it isn't. They will bring their caddy with four different hot spices to you, but be sure that about ten minutes later they'll ask for it back. I guess they don't have enough to go around. I find that quite awkward that they come and take it away halfway through the meal. Also, one of the pepper sauces is not vegan so be sure to ask about this.

Reservations are not needed here and they don't ever check to see if you made them. They just seat people as they come in. The restaurant is huge and can usually accommodate all who want to dine here. They also tend to seat people right next to other tables that are occupied even if there are very few people in the restaurant. This makes it difficult to have a private conversation.

I've also found varying answers when I've inquired as to which dishes have fish sauce in them so beware. I've been told the curry dishes have fish sauce and at other times, I was told it didn't. I avoid these dishes for this reason.

For an area with few vegan options, this has since become my go-to place to eat, which is sad because it isn't spectacular. But given the other options in the area, it is top-notch. I guess I'll be eating here any time I eat out in this part of Alexandria.

Pasara Thai
360 Englhardt Lane
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 299-8747

Pasara Thai on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mapo Tofu

Mapo tofu is a popular Chinese dish from the Sichuan province that is known for its heat and "mala" or spicy numbing taste. Mapo means pock-faced grandmother and first originated from a Mapo in Chengdu. I was inspired to create this dish after receiving a sample of Sosu Srirachup, a fairly new artisan sauce.

This ketchup/sauce is made with organic California tomatoes, chili peppers, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, sea salt, and garlic. It is more like a sauce than a ketchup because it is made completely with fresh ingredients and no tomato paste so using it as a sauce in dishes works out well! I like it because it has a bit of spice, is certified organic, and is a nice balance of sweet and spicy.

I used portobello mushrooms instead of the typical pork in this dish and found that the sauce worked really well as it ended up coating the portobello mushrooms in such a way that they tasted like they were slow cooked, while also providing some great tomato flavor to the soft tofu.

  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1/2 lb. portobello mushrooms (2 caps)
  • 1 jar Sosu Srirachup
  • 1 lb. firm tofu, pressed and cut into cubes
  • 1 Tbsp. tamari
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • Scallions, chopped, for garnish

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the sesame oil and brown 2 cloves of diced garlic for up to a minute. Add the portobello mushrooms and cook for 1 minute, then add 1/2 a jar of the Sosu Srirachup. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the tofu and the remaining 1/2 jar of Sosu Srirachup, tamari, and vegetable stock. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the peas and cook for another 4 minutes.

Remove from heat and serve, garnishing with scallions.

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

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rogue 24, DC #2

After exploring some of the top restaurants in the world this year, I thought it would be fun to return to Rogue 24 in DC to experience the Journey that is the 24-course vegan meal. In my first review that was written in October of 2012, I did a thorough job of explaining the concept and rather than repeat much of what I said before, I will refer to the previous review for more a complete report on that. In this review, I will focus mostly on the food and service. 

My friend, Jasmine, and I arrived promptly for our 7 p.m. reservation and were asked to sit in the waiting area. The host and General Manager came out to seat us and to my delight, it turned out to be the same table I sat at last time -- right behind Chef RJ Cooper. Eating at this restaurant is akin to culinary theater as the kitchen is the center of the restaurant and you can watch the chefs preparing the food live the entire time. So no matter where you sit, there is a performance to watch, if you choose to do so.

The chef came out to greet us and then the fun began. The first six/seven courses were paired with this amazing cocktail made of carpano antica vermouth, campari, soda, and beet air. It was light, sweet, and airy. The courses to emerge was compressed brine and watermelon with sorrel leaf. Resembling sushi, this small bite had a sweetness to it that was complemented by the sorrel nicely.

The next few courses were also very small bites. There was a very odd item that could have been an olive or a grape, but really looked like some sort of egg. We weren't a big fan of this one.

Next, was a plate with a puffed pickle, a shaved celery root ravioli with hemp butter inside (so delicious!), and radishes in cocoa and hemp butter that tasted like Reese's Pieces!

Then, we were served squash cooked in embers covered in oatmeal with huckleberry that had a fiery taste to it. One thing I will mention is that we were only served six courses in this bunch while seven appeared on the menu we received at the end so I think they missed one course of ours.

Next, we were served creamy avocado mousse with sweet fresno pepper, tomatillo, and corn nuts. This dish melted in my mouth.

Then, there was globe artichoke sliced somewhat thickly with olive oil  and dehydrated marigolds along with black truffle emulsion and lemon preserve. We loved the flavor explosion that accompanied this dish.

For the ninth dish, there was baby romaine with garlic puree and garlic capers. Yum! We had a Domaine Weibach Reisling with this set of dishes.

For number ten, there was asparagus served with broccoli seed and alfalfa seed.

For number eleven, we had grilled carrots with hemp butter over cocoa soil with blood oranges. This is one of the dishes were the unusual flavors meshed perfectly and made us wonder how one would even think to pair these together. Spectacular!

Next, we had a delicious soup of fried tofu, leek, and chive in onion broth.

One of our favorite dishes was the beluga lentils with kohlrabi foam and wild wasabi greens. We also loved the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery ale that we were served from Michigan.

Now this one looked very cool -- savoy cabbage filled with barley over pear butter and topped with sorrel leaves. Creative?!

For number fifteen, we had fennel with black truffleand blood orange with an Alexander Valley Cabernet.

For number sixteen, there was detroit beet with ash, clementine gel, and marigolds.

Phew...lots of food! Next up was an amazing potato agnolotti with shaved white truffles. Soooo so good.

Number 18 consisted of a mushroom with black garlic emulsion, pea brulee, black truffle emulsion, and Peruvian clover.

Number 19 incorporated sweet potatoes and hazelnuts in hazelnut foam with black truffle sauce. Amazing.

Next up was The Parting Glass Semillon, 2009 from Yakima Valley, Washington with the dessert courses. This began with a coconut, litchi, white chocolate, and lime dish that was sweet and tart at the same time.

Then a peanut butter sorbet atop banana and a brown sugar vanilla crumble. We were loving this dish.

Number twenty-two was chocolate and strawberry ecstasy! Chocolate dipped in liquid nitrogen served with strawberry gelato and more chocolate. Oh my!

Lastly, for our happy endings, a box of delectable chocolate, white chocolate, and coconut small bites.

This gastronomic tasting extravaganza lasted five hours and by the end, we wished it would go on forever. For $135 per person plus $150 for the premium drink pairing, this meal is well worth it and much more lower priced than a meal of this caliber in Chicago or New York. RJ Cooper and his staff put on a grand performance presenting each meal and drink with the utmost professionalism. The service was quite spectacular and the show is a lot of fun. I'll be back soon.

Me and Chef RJ Cooper

Previous review
October 15, 2012

Rogue 24
922 N Street NW (rear)
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 408-9724

Rogue 24 on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 24, 2014

Aloo Matar in Turmeric Sauce

When a brand new company called "Saucee" contacted me about trying their 100% organic sauces made in the San Francisco bay area, I jumped at the chance. The first one I opened was the Turmeric No. 2 sauce and it just screamed Indian to me! So, I made a traditional Punjabi dish called "Aloo Matar," which just means potatoes and green peas and it turned out awesome!

Saucee was launched as a Kickstarter campaign by founders Mohit Jain & Himanshu Shah. They met as roommates at UC Berkeley, but ventured off on their own paths in the corporate world. They ultimately got back together to start creating sauces because they found most sauces not to have a good heat/flavor balance, too much vinegar, and full of unnecessary gums and preservatives. As soon as I heard this, I knew these sauces were right up my alley as I feel the same way!

The Turmeric No. 2 sauce in particular has just the right balance of heat and flavor. When I tasted it, I thought -- wow! it has a great taste and a little heat and there are no preservatives! The ingredients are just yellow bell peppers, water, onions, apple cider vinegar, garlic, sea salt, ginger, coriander, turmeric, amchur powder, and dried habanero peppers. The color and mild flavor come from the yellow bell peppers and the spice from the habanero along with the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric root. And I love that the jars are the perfect size for one meal so you don't have half a jar taking up space in your refrigerator. Light and spicy -- perfect for the Aloo Matar. I predict these sauces will begin winning awards -- that is how good they are.

Aloo Matar
Serves 6

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 3 russet potatoes, diced and boiled for about 15 min
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 jar Saucee Turmeric No. 2
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped
  •  1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked

Heat oil at medium heat in a saute pan. Add the cumin seeds and asafoetida for about a minute, stirring regularly until cumin seeds begin to pop. Add green peas and stir for one minute, until thawed. Add potatoes, salt, and sauce. Turn down to medium low and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and fold in cilantro.

Garnish with cilantro, if desired. Serve over basmati rice. Enjoy!

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

POP! Gourmet Popcorn

Popcorn -- it's been around since the beginning of time. And even though it is timeless, it isn't the kind of thing I hear people say they are craving. But, after trying POP! Gourmet Popcorn, I can truly say that I am a convert. Now I'm craving popcorn and eating it too.

POP! makes a bunch of flavors of gourmet popcorn, three of which are vegan. I must say that the best one is the Fire Corn Jalapeno Popcorn. The look and feel of the brand is different because it represents a partnership between Greg B.A. Anders and POP! Greg was a fighter pilot who prepared his Fire Corn for the pilots as they gathered after their training flights to unwind and debrief. It's a spicy mix of fiery popcorn and real jalapeno slices that are slow-fired to a satisfying crisp. It is the only popcorn that I've ever felt is truly out of this world!

The other flavors are incredibly good too...especially the White Truffle Bliss. Made with just popcorn, olive oil, Spanish white truffle olive oil, and truffle salt, you get a light airy popcorn with just a perfect hint of truffle. It also comes in a "lite" version that is just 40 calories per serving.

Another delicious flavor is the Sunflower Oil & Sea Salt, another "lite" one that comes in a small single serving bag. It is a bit salty, but still has great flavor.

Best of all, their flavors are gluten-free, non-GMO, and devoid of trans fat. POP! gourmet is sold at gourmet stores across the country including Dean & Deluca in DC for $5.99 per bag. You can find store locations here. I'm just happy to have found yet another healthy, light snack.

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Republic, Takoma Park, MD

Having opened just a few weeks ago, Republic seems to have taken Takoma Park by storm. Owned by the Black Restaurant Group, the same owners of Pearl Dive and Black Jack, this restaurant clearly has money behind it and a bumpin' social scene to match. Takoma Park isn't known for having nice establishments so we weren't expecting much, but when we walked into Republic, it was like walking into a Logan Circle restaurant.

They don't take reservations so me and my friend put our names down for a 45-minute wait. They texted me to confirm the wait and told me to watch my phone for a text letting me know once the table was ready. We walked over to a very busy bar and placed an order for drinks. Luckily a couple was leaving just as we arrived so we actually got seats at the bar. The unfortunate thing that we didn't realize is that we were sitting at an oyster bar with a clear view of them shucking oysters the whole time. Oh, well.

The decor appeared like they had spent some serious money on it. It had an old fashioned feel with red velvet booths, wallpaper, and pony-hair barstools (boo). A wrought iron fence separated the large bar area from the dining area and the bar had a great selection of liquor. My Old Fashioned made with bourbon, bitters and orange peel was pretty good. The drink selection consisted of specialty cocktails, classic cocktails, local drafts, cans, and wine so pretty much everything.

After exactly 45 minutes, we were seated. When asked about the vegan options, we were told that any salad could be veganized as could most of the market vegetable sides except for the lentil dish. And there was one vegan entree. So we started with their finest sparkling water as we perused the menu and placed our orders.

We were delightfully surprised to find that the bread they bake in-house is vegan and instead of coming with butter, it comes with a vegan white bean puree. Superb! The bread was soft, fresh, and salty and was very much like an everything bagel without the bagel. The spread was an awesome touch.

We started with the Ancient Grain Salad, which is vegan as-is. It was loaded with quinoa, wild rice, and farro with pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and mint in a sweet pomegranate dressing and topped with crispy fried shallots. We really enjoyed this dish, but were surprised it wasn't served warm as it seemed like it would have been better as a warm dish. Regardless, it was really good.

For the entree, we both ordered the Black Olive Farro with Wood Roasted Mushrooms. The hearty mushrooms were roasted to perfection while the Swiss Chard was also cooked perfectly -- not too long or too short and atop the farro, it made for a hearty, filling dish. The balsamic braised cippolini onions added a nice sweetness to an otherwise meaty dish. This one was a winner.

We also had a serving of the Crispy Brussels Sprouts sans the parmesan. These Brussels sprouts were pretty good as the smoke paprika and lemon added much flavor to the dish, however, they were a bit too oily for our palates and a little overdone for our taste.

I also ordered a glass of the La Cabotte Cotes Du Rhone, France, which was an elegant pairing for these dishes.

Lastly, we were surprised to find out that the special dessert of the evening was vegan so, of course, we had to try it and we were glad we did. It was a poached pear with brandied apple sorbet and a ginger pistachio crumble. It had just the right sweetness and balance for a spectacular dessert.

In the end, we were quite pleased with the experience. The entrees at $17 were a bit pricey while the sides at $7-$8 were on point. The dessert was also just $8. The food was very good, other than the Brussels sprouts being on the oily side and the service was pretty good as well. I see great things in the future for this restaurant. The big question is always...Is it worth a 45-minute wait. I'd say, "yes."

6939 Laurel Avenue
Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-3000

Republic on Urbanspoon