Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Vegetable Garden, Silver Spring, MD #2

Vegans rejoice -- Vegetable Garden is back! Oh, happy days call for the happy dance! Vegetable Garden is a 100% vegan Chinese restaurant that was open for about 18 years in Rockville, MD. They closed down in July of 2012 citing problems with their lease and rumor had it that they were not planning to reopen. Then, all of sudden, I get word that they are reopening in Silver Spring. Bam! So we got a group of people together and headed out to see the new space.

The first thing I will say is that this restaurant is like an hour drive outside of DC with traffic on a Friday night. It is not in the heart of Silver Spring, but more like 25 minutes further past the heart into a suburban area that doesn't even resemble Silver Spring. But as soon as we saw their sign, we knew it was the old Vegetable Garden that we remembered.

Inside, it is a different configuration -- a bit smaller than the old location, but a very similar feel as I think they are using the same furniture and artwork as they had in the old location. It is a very casual feel. The menu still has pictures of every dish, which is helpful and some items appear to be new while some older items are missing, but, for the most part, the menu is the same as it was before.

After expressing some disappointment that their liquor license was still pending, I reluctantly ordered an organic carrot juice, which turned out to be delightful.

We started with a number of appetizers. The Spring Rolls were not that great as the cabbage was cold and I'm just not a big fan of deep-fried spring rolls in general.

The other spring rolls, which were more like summer rolls in rice paper were pretty good.

The Spaghetti Squash Patties were pretty plain.

The only appetizer I really enjoyed is my old-time favorite -- the Steamed Dumplings. These are always good and I love the sauce they are served with!

When we started ordering, we asked for everything to be super spicy and, boy, did our server take us seriously. He went into the back and came back with some extremely spicy pepper and oil mixes that they made fresh. He even stated that he had to steal some of them from the chef!  They were super hot and a hit with our table.

My entree was one of my old favorites as well -- the Jian Pao Veggie Gourmet. This delicious vegetable-based dish was loaded with asparagus, tofu, lily bulb, sugar snap peas, oyster mushroom, yellow squash and red bell pepper in a spicy sauce. And when I say spicy, I mean spicy. I asked for super spicy and I think this is one of the spiciest dishes I've ever had. In fact, when the server dropped off our meals, he stated that no matter what, we must pay (because we asked for extra spicy)! That's when we knew we might be in trouble.

Chris ordered the General Tsao's Veggie Chicken. This is like one of their best sellers. Made with soy & wheat gluten, they have absolutely perfected this dish. Everyone at the table loved the crispy soy chicken and the broccoli was a nice way to temper the sweet flavor of the chicken.

Another friend got the Mushroom Forest, which was mushrooms galore! Filled with shiitake, oyster, portabello, crimini, enoki and white mushroom in a spicy sauce, it was very good, but a bit too many mushrooms and not enough of anything else for me. But, the guy who ordered it loved it.

My other friend ordered the 8-treasure eggplant. This dish had a great mix of diced eggplant, shiitake mushroom, yellow squash, zucchini, red bell pepper, lily bulb, pine nuts, dried cranberries, cashew nuts and firm tofu in a spicy sauce. I loved this dish too!

For dessert, my friends ordered the chocolate orange pie while Chris and I ordered the sweet potato pie. Both were quite satisfying.

We are so happy you are back, Vegetable Garden! The food was great, the service was excellent and with $12 - $14 organic entrees, the price was right. Now, just get that liquor license and you'll be perfect. Oh, and open another restaurant in DC. We really would like you to be closer so we can go all the time!  If you haven't been yet, I recommend it -- it's worth the drive.

Previous review
February 3, 2012

Vegetable Garden
3830 International Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20906
(301) 598-6868

Vegetable Garden on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Core Food Group - Pop-Up July 2014

Last week, I attended a vegan pop-up put on by Christopher Roberson of Core Food Group. It was a 5-course meal held in a private room in Kora Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia.  It wa as intriguing to me because I had never heard of this chef. Why was he holding a vegan pop-up, I wondered. So I caught up with him afterwards to get the scoop.

Christopher Roberson has been working in the restaurant industry for more than ten years. He started in Baltimore as a banquet prep cook for a large hotel chain. Then, he moved to DC to follow a cook he looked up to and became the lead cook in the savory and pastry areas of Butterfield 9.  After that, he worked under the now owner of Mintwood Place and Michael Richard of Central. He eventually made his way to Vidalia to further his pastry knowledge.

So the real question was -- why a vegan pop-up? He said, "Veganism closely aligns with my core food philosophies. I'm passionate about local, environmentally sound food that has been produced as ethically as possible. I believe that connecting with the earth and the people who grow our food are critical to understanding the delicate relationship we have with the planet. I think that, ideally, food that we put into our bodies should reflect the world we want to live in and that means minimizing the harm involved -- from not exploiting animals, to treating our workers well, to not using produce that was picked by abused and vulnerable migrant workers."  Well, he blew me away with that response. So, now you are wondering -- how was the dinner?

The first course was Cream and Spinach. It was a soup made of baby spinach with pickled red onions and cheesy parmesan foam and a soy-based ricotta. I loved the thick ricotta, but thought the soup itself was way too thick. It was more like a spinach smoothie. I thought the ricotta and onions went well, but wasn't a big fan of the cheesy foam.

The second course was Tomatoes and Potatoes. I liked the ripe heirloom tomatoes in the cider vinaigrette topped with yellow potatoes, but the hash brown-like fried potato seemed out of place in this dish. I also was caught off guard by the smoked flavor as he had smoked the tomatoes. It wasn't my favorite dish of the night.

This is where it really started getting good. The third course was Peas and Carrots. The first layer was this amazing artichoke puree alongside a carrot puree with housemade soft tortellini filled with a spiced pea mixture. It was terrific. On top were smoked maple glazed carrots that were a bit too smoky for me, but they went well with this dish.

Next up was another of my favorites of the night -- Chicken and Everything. He took some of the premade chicken drumsticks and seared them until they had a crispy, crunchy outside -- it was lovely. Served over a potato puree with roasted oyster mushrooms and finished with a cherry demi-glaze, this dish was spectacular.

I wasn't expecting much of the dessert, which is where he really threw me a curveball. The Peaches and Herb course was also fantastic. The pastry was filled with tarragon poached peaches and rose scented coconut cream and served with blackberry sorbet. It was really very well balanced and cooked just right.

At the end of the dinner, he personally handed everyone a bag of produce from the farm he used to cook that night's meal. What a great way to end the night!

So now that the pop-up is over, now what? Christopher hopes to open a vegan fine dining restaurant in DC, which is something our city needs desperately.  And although I didn't love every dish, I liked aspects of every dish and was very fond of the last three. In fact, that tortellini was truly fantastic. I'm really looking forward to the next meal from Mr. Roberson. In the meantime, I'll just wait to see where his next dinner will be. Stay tuned.
Full Disclosure: Although the meal was provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tastymakes - Raw Bites and Granola

I continue to believe in the healing power of raw foods and reading the story of the founder of Tastymakes only reaffirms my beliefs. Melissa Lacitignola was hit by a car and had lost her sense of smell due to severed nerves.  But, rather than accepting the diagnosis, her husband conducted some research that led him to the healing powers of raw, alkaline food. She became cured and the business of Tastymakes was born.

Raw food is never heated above 118-degrees so its natural enzymes stay intact, which increases the nutritional profile and bioavailability of those nutrients so your body can absorb them better.  Melissa found it hard to find good raw, vegan food so she and her husband began making their own treats and selling them and the business has really taken off. I was able to try four of their products and loved all of them.

They make snack bites, granola, and crackers. The first bag I opened was the Vanilla Nut Bar Bites. These are little snack bars made of wholesome ingredients. They have a strong vanilla flavor and a nice texture. Made with dates, walnuts, cashews, sprouted almonds, vanilla extract, flaxseed meal, and sea salt, there is nothing unnatural in these. No preservatives or artificial anything!

I also liked the Lemon Bar Bites. In these, I think it was the crunchy sprouted millet and cashews along with the lemon flavor that stuck out most. These would be great with a little tea for an afternoon teatime break.

If the bar bites were good, then I thought the granola was great!  My favorite of the two that I tried was the Choco-Coco Granola. I tried it in a bowl with almond milk, but I think it is even better straight out of the bag. We're talking crunchy sprouted buckwheat, sprouted millet, flaxseed meal, dates, coconut flakes, cashews, agave, cacao nibs, vanilla, and sea salt. Crunchy buckwheat with cacao -- please give me more!

The Apple Pie Granola was great as well. Again, it is crunchy because of the buckwheat and millet and is flavored with dried apples, agave, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sea salt. This one is the sweetest of the two with 10 grams of sugar per serving. The sodium content in both of the granolas was low at only 30 mg while fiber was high at 6 grams. They are a bit high in fat as this flavor had 9 grams of fat, but it is good, healthy fat.

Next up, I want to try all of their crackers. With flavors Sea Salt and Vinegar, Garden Herb, and Fig & Onion, they sound delicious. Oh, and did I mention that an inspirational quote is included in each bag? Love it!

 All of their products are vegan and gluten-free. The bar bites retail for $5.95 per bag while the granola sells for $8.95 per bag on their website. They say that Tastymakes snacks are made to empower people and their bodies to be their natural best. With such healthy ingredients without added preservatives, I think they may just do that.

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Gibson Lab at Marvin - Whiskey

Through yet another awesome Gilt City deal, I bought tickets to a whiskey tasting class held by The Gibson. The Gibson is one of DC's premier speakeasies serving craft cocktails with housemade bitters and syrups. They hold The Gibson Lab classes at their sister bar, Marvin, because it has a much bigger space suitable for classes. So what does one do at a whiskey tasting? Well, I'll tell you.

There were two instructors -- one representing whiskey from the U.S. and one representing scotch from Scotland. One of the things I like most about these classes are that they are very educational. I always learn a lot while tasting great spirits. So it began with a tasting of four whiskeys from the U.S. The first was Bulleit 10, a Kentucky bourbon, made from 68% corn, 28% rye, and 4% barley. They explained to us that the mash is the mixture of grains that whiskey is made from and passed around a glass filled with the mash for each liquor. Next up was a Bulleit Rye, a Tennessee whiskey, made from 95% rye and 5% malted barley for fermentation. Then the Dickel Barrel Select, a 12-14 year old whiskey. And finally the George Dickel Rye Whiskey. I loved all of these.

In between tastings, we got a light cocktail made with a strawberry soda, kiwi, sage, and Bickel whiskey. It was good, but a bit too light.

Next, we went to the Scotchs starting with a Clynelish.  Then, a 119-proof Caolila that was 14-years old. They showed us how to add a drop of water to the scotch to enhance the flavor, but advised us not to do that with anything more than 20 years old. So much to remember! We tried an 18-year old Oban and a Lagavuli Distillers Edition as well.

The coolest thing was them actually lighting some peat on fire and explaining how the Scotch got its peaty taste.

So, all in all, a very educational class with a lot of great whiskey. I'd just recommend they serve two cocktails next time like they did at the tequila tasting. Many of us wanted to try more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Crossroads, Los Angeles

Tal Ronnen is one of the most well-known celebrity vegan chefs of all time. I've had the pleasure of attending events that he catered before and have found his cuisine to never disappoint. So when I heard he was opening an upscale vegan restaurant in Beverly Hills, I jumped at the chance to eat there. Crossroads sits in the heart of Beverly Hills just down the street from all of the top fashion designers.

Tal Ronnen is the chef who prepared vegan meals for Oprah Winfrey's 21-day vegan cleanse, catered Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi's wedding, and catered the first vegan dinner at the U.S. Senate. He has worked at Sublime, Madeline Bistro, and Candle 79 -- some of the top vegan restaurants in the country. He is also the author of  The Conscious Cook, one of my most favorite cookbooks.

The restaurant has an unusual look to it with a gray painted facade donning two knives as the only indicator that you've arrived. Inside, it is very nice with a beautiful bar, tables, and booths set in low lighting. I was impressed immediately upon entering. Since I arrived well before a group of my friends, I decided to start my meal at the bar alone. I only had a couple of hours to kill before my departing airline flight so I wanted to make the most of my visit and not spend it waiting for my friends. I asked the bartender to make me something spicy and she gladly obliged. She made a cocktail with Bulleit rye, lime juice, muddled mint, and hellfire bitters. It was very good.

The dishes at Crossroads are tapas-style so you order several small plates rather than one entree. I started with the Artichoke Oysters. These were served on a bed of rock salt and were incredibly creative. The oyster was a crispy fried oyster mushroom set in an artichoke leaf served with yellow tomato bearnaise and kelp caviar. The sauce was light, but provided just the right complement to this dish. I was blown away from the get-go.

Next, I had the Tortelloni. These vegan tortellinis were stuffed with almond cheese served over spinach cream and topped with oven-dried tomatoes and parsley frisee.  Oh my goodness were these good! They were rich and filling with a lovely taste.

Next, I had the Roasted Baby Fennel. This vegetable-based dish consisted of roasted cippolini onions and roasted baby fennel with toasted buckwheat, clementines and a clementine sauce. Unbelievable.

I was stuffed by the time my friends showed up, but they still insisted I try a few of their items. So I tried the Spicy Crab Cakemade of hearts of palm, granny smith apples, and heirloom beets and loved this too. The crispy onions brought a lot to this dish.  The other dishes were good as well.

For dessert, I ordered the Chocolate Mousse, which was also very good with an amazing port dessert wine.

I must say I was incredibly impressed. This restaurant is up there with my favorite vegan restaurants in the country including Candle 79 and Pure Food & Wine. The dishes were innovative, the flavors expansive, and drinks fantastic. My meal ended up being about $80 when it was all said and done with drinks included, but it was well worth it. The service was excellent as well. Highly recommended for the Los Angeles area.

8284 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA  90046
(323) 782-9245

Crossroads on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 14, 2014

Earnest Eats - Superfood Cereals

Oatmeal isn't the most exciting thing in the world and I bet if given a choice of all the delectable items on the breakfast menu, oatmeal wouldn't be your first choice. But, believe it or not, oatmeal is not only good for you, but it can taste great too! Earnest Eats has taken rolled oats and made them even more nutritious by mixing them with superfood grains like quinoa and puffed amaranth and on top of that, they added an array of other nuts, seeds, and dried fruits to bring a "wow factor" to your morning meal!

What makes their new oatmeal mixes unique is that there is very little sweetener if any at all. In fact, only two of the four flavors have any added sweetener at all. This is great for people who are trying to limit their sugar intake and for people who just generally want to eat healthier. If you are used to eating very sweet cereals like Quaker-brand oatmeals, then you will probably take a bite of these cereals and remark that there is very little flavor. But, what you have to realize is that they are completely natural, filled with good-for-you grains, nuts, and seeds and if you want them to be sweeter, all you have to do is add your own sweetener like agave nectar. I tried them both ways and liked them with and without added sweetners.

My favorite was the Blueberry Chia by far. In their new eco-packaging, they combined whole grain oats, quinoa, puffed amaranth, dried blueberries, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, Korintje cinnamon, and sea salt. The quinoa and amaranth give the cereals a nutty texture while the blueberries and seeds give it all the flavor. I loved the big, juicy blueberries!

Then there is the Asia Blend that is loaded with raw chopped almonds, chopped dried mango, raw sesame seeds, raw sunflower seeds, raw fax seeds, matcha green tea, dried cane syrup, Korintje cinnamon, and sea salt. I love the array of raw seeds in this mix. Even with the added cane syrup, the sugars are only 2 grams along with 5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of fat (per serving). This health in a canister.

The American Blend has all the grains with juicy dried cranberries that plump up when cooked along with the crunch of almonds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and pepitas. This is another one with a little added dried cane syrup giving it 1 gram of sugar per serving.

The Mayan Blend is like cocoa meets grains and seeds in a cereal! With pepitas, sunflowers seeds, cashews, almonds, and flax seeeds along with cocoa you really get the nuttiness of the nuts and almonds with the chocolaty cocoa flavor.

For those of you on-the-go, they also make the single-serving cups, which are very convenient -- you just need to find the boiling water!

All of these cereals are made with rolled oats. Rolled oats have the bran mostly removed and are rolled flat to make them easier to cook. With the bran removed, they have less fiber than steel-cut oats, but instead of cooking in 30 minutes, they cook in 15.

I think Earnest Eats has done a nice job of creating mixes of healthy grains, seeds, nuts, and berries that will allow you to start the morning off right. They retail for $5.99 per container and you can order them on Amazon here. Start your morning off right with some whole foods happiness.

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