Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Amsterdam Falafelshop, DC #3

I must admit that I was super excited when Amsterdam Falafelshop moved into the area.  Why? Well...falafel and fries with loads of scrumptious vegan toppings. Yeah, that's all I need. And although I am not a late night person, I do love that they stay open until 4 a.m. because what could be better after whiskey and dancing than FALAFEL!

The menu here is ultra simple. First, choose whether you want falafel (a chickpea-based fried ball) in a pita or a bowl. The pita is a fixed price whereas the bowl is priced by the pound (so be careful!). Then, choose how many falafel balls you'd like -- usually three to five. Then, fill it with loads of vegan toppings. There are only a few toppings that aren't vegan. It's awesome! And the ones that aren't vegan are clearly marked on the sign on the wall where you place your order.

I got a bowl with three falafel balls because I love the toppings even more than the falafel. I loaded it with so many good things like Cucumber and Onions, Turkish Salad, Eggplant (which is to die for), Chickpea Salad, Pickled Turnips, Jalapenos, Pickled Cauliflower, etc. Then, I topped it with Jalapeno-Cilantro Sauce, Babaganush (eggplant spread) and Tahini (sesame seed paste). It was delicious!

The total for my bowl was $8. Most notably you should read the signage because all are hilarious. See below.  If you look carefully, you will see they advise you to indicate how many balls not the type of balls you desire. :) Even the signs in the bathroom make you laugh!

Their drink selection now includes beer as well as other great non-alcoholic drinks so why not start off your club night with falafel and beer, then come back for more if you are still hungry. I'm sure they won't mind.

Previous Reviews
November 12, 2014
October 18. 2011

Amsterdam Falafelshop
1840 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 232-6200

Amsterdam Falafelshop on Urbanspoon

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

Cocktail Crate Mixers

Cocktail Crate makes very, very bad products. Why do I say that? Because they are so good that they make me want to drink cocktails at home alone. I mean -- it's acceptable to drink wine at home. But, whiskey and tequila -- not so much. Then again, no one said you had to drink them alone!

Seriously, I love these mixers. I ran into these guys at a show and I was like, "Yeah, they taste great, but I don't want any samples." They were like, "Why not?" I said, "Because I don't ever make cocktails because it's too much work." Then they said, "That's EXACTLY why we made this product." And they were right. They give you the mixer and you mix in one part of their mixer along with one part alcohol and voila! you have an amazing drink.

They sent me two to try at home. The first I tried was the Maple Whiskey Sour because I'm secretly becoming a whiskey aficionado. It was absolutely delish -- maple, lemon, whiskey, YES!

Next, I tried the Sriracha Margarita. I was worried about this one because I've had bad sriracha drinks before. Lo and behold, this one was very well balanced. I went out and bought a nice bottle of tequila, put one part tequila and one part mixer in a shaker, shook it with ice, and bam! had a margarita fit for a cocktail bar. The pepper spice on my tongue danced with delight!

This is way too easy.  Cocktail Crate makes five mixers of which four are vegan. They are the Sriracha Margarita, Maple Whiskey Sour, Grapefruit Daiquiri, and Spiced Old Fashioned. Only the Ginger Bee contains honey.

To try some for yourself, you can find the Spiced Old Fashioned on Amazon here. Or you can order all the other flavors on Cocktail Crate's website for $12 each.  Totally worth it! It'd make a great holiday gift or a great addition to your family holiday dinner. Drink up!

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

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Black Bean and Quinoa Soup

From Isa Chandra Moskowitz' 10th Anniversary Edition of Vegan with a Vengeance comes a simple, yet satisfying recipe -- Black Bean and Quinoa Soup. This hearty soup filled with onions, carrots, black beans, and quinoa is a meal unto itself and once topped with avocado and cilantro, it'll be sure to please.

Black Bean and Quinoa Soup
Serves 6

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced medium
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh tomato
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-ich pieces
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups vegan vegetable broth
  • 1 24-ounce can black beans (reserve the liquid)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 avocados for serving
Heat a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Saute the onion in the olive oil with a pinch of salt, for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and saute with the onion for a few seconds. Then add the chopped tomato, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for a minute or so, just to break down the tomatoes a bit.

Add the quinoa, carrot, and bay leaves, and then pour in 2 cups of the broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Let boil for 5 minutes or so, until the veggies are al dente (that's mostly tender with a little bite).

Add the remainder of the broth, the black beans with their liquid, and the cilantro. Cover and bring to a boil, then remove the lid, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 10 more minutes or so, to cook the quinoa the rest of the way.

Taste for salt and seasonings; adjust if you like. Turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the flavors to marry. Remove the bay leaves and serve topped with avocado and cilantro.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Upton's Breakroom, Chicago

My visits to Chicago have been numerous over the past few years and this year I was hankering for something new. With only one day in Chicago and tons of vegan restaurants -- where to go?! After much contemplation, the choice seemed obvious -- Upton's Breakroom.

In case you don't know, Upton's Naturals makes the best seitan in the country and is located right there in Chicago. So, it seemed only natural to them to incorporate their seitan into delicious meals and open a cafe right in their building -- so Upton's Breakroom was born.

When I arrived to this unassuming tiny little cafe, it was pretty busy.  I had just hopped off the plane and was waiting for my friend to arrive so I took a seat at one of their three tables. Their menu had so much delicious-sounding stuff on it that I found it hard to choose. And all of it is vegan!

I will disclose that I have gotten to know the owner and his partner over the years and they came to say hello while I was there. I almost felt guilty, but I was really in the mood for one of the few items on the menu that did not have seitan. They encouraged me to try the Chicago Style Italian sub along with the selection I was most interested in so I convinced my friend to order the sub. :)

I went with the Togarashi Bowl made with baked tofu, grilled kale, pickled radish, scallion, shredded seaweed and sesame seeds over purple rice with a lemon tahini miso dressing and togarashi seasoning. It was quite good -- a macrobiotic bowl with spice!

But, even better was the Fried Bacon Mac. Remember, calories don't count on vacation. I dare to say this was the best vegan mac and cheese I've ever had. A housemade mac and cheese made with nutritional yeast and fried Upton's bacon seitan all fried on the grill made-to-order -- the flavors mesh in a way that makes you want to eat a trough of it!

My friend got the "Chicago Style" Italian that featured their herbed seitan with giardiniera. This is a classic-style Chicago sandwich veganized. We liked the inside - you can't go wrong with seitan and giardiniera (pickled veggies), but felt it was a bit too much bread and not enough filling.

On the side, she got the flash grilled seasonal greens. Yum.

Other choices that sounded yummy were the Bahn Mi, Bacon Ranch Cheeseburger, Korean Tacos, and Nacho plate.

The dishes and sandwiches average $6 - $9 each with sides being $4. That's awesome pricing for excellent food. The cafe is quite small with no service, but as long as you can snag a seat, it is well worth the trip. During the warm months, outdoor seating is also available. I'd totally rate this as one of the top vegan cafes in the city -- totally worth the trip. And I'll be back next year!

Upton's Breakroom
2054 West Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60612
(312) 666-7838

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Sloppy 'Shrooms

I've been super busy skydiving lately and complicated day-long meals are just not an option right now. Luckily, I received a new book called "The Easy Vegan Cookbook" by Kathy Hester. In this book, I found a recipe for Sloppy Joe's made with quinoa and mushrooms. It was difficult to keep this mixture from falling off the bun, but it was so easy to make that I would make it again. I added a little seasoned salt to give it some oomph and put spinach on the bottom and topped it with avocado to make these simple sandwiches even better!

Sloppy 'Shrooms
Serves 4

  • 3 cups mushrooms, chopped small (I used portobello)
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, minced
  • 1 medium carrot, minced or shredded
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 veggie bouillon cube or 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup minced kale
  • Toasted buns or baked potatoes to serve
  • Optional: Avocado, spinach, and seasoned salt for fun

In a soup pot on medium heat, stir the mushrooms until they start to release their liquid. Add the garlic, pepper, and carrot. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients except for the kale, stir, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the quinoa is tender.

Stir in the kale and serve over toasted buns or baked potatoes. Add spinach to the bottom, avocado on top, and seasoned salt for more oomph.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Moto, Chicago

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.

One night in Chicago and so many Michelin-starred restaurants. This would require some research. As a seasoned Michelin-starred restaurant patron, I know what I want and it's quite simple -- I want the same experience everyone else gets, but vegan. Having already dined at both three star (the highest rating) restaurants, Alinea and Grace, I took a look at the two-star restaurants. Of them, L20 had just closed, 42 grams states that they will not accommodate any dietary restrictions to include vegans, and Sixteen will serve vegans only four courses instead of their typical 10. Well, blah. That took me to the 17 one-star restaurants of which I did a lot of research. I ultimately landed on Moto who responded to my inquiry with: "We can definitely accommodate your restrictions with our 9 course tasting menu. It's $150 per guest and is a 2.5-3 hour experience." Done.

The outside was very unassuming with a simple red brick facade and a silver sign with green letters stating "Moto." We walked in to this West Loop location and were immediately greeted by the host. As we walked by some large booth-like seats, we were surprised to see a ladder laying in one of them. Not the best presentation, if I do say so myself. At least clean up a bit before dinner!

The dining room we sat in was very small with only a few tables. The decor was simple -- black and white walls with modern artwork. The chairs were plush white chairs with contrasting black tables -- very comfortable seating. The ambiance left much to be desired though as it was very loud and very bright. Not the most romantic place for sure.

Now before I begin, one thing to note is that the owner and Executive Chef Homaro "Omar" Cantu had just recently hanged himself in a new brewery location just a few months prior to this review. The restaurant was operating under the direction of Trevor Rose-Hamblin and the plans are for it to remain open in spite of the recent events. So, we were quite curious to see what was in store given the recent change in leadership.

The server knew immediately that we were vegan and greeted us appropriately. He also knew of my friend's allergies without us having to restate them. That's the kind of attention to detail I expect in this level of establishment so I was pleased with that. We were eating the Gather menu -- the vegetable tasting veganized. And, so it began.

We started with an amuse bouche of a split pea puree with dehydrated tomato.

For the first course, we had the foraged forest, as they called it. There was a lot on this artistic plate including fried pumpkin, seared hearts of palm, and mulberry powder. I wasn't a big fan of the mulberry, but the pumpkin was delish. The pairing with this dish was a chardonnay.

For the second course, there was an poached tomato in olive oil over a cracker and white and "purple" asparagus in olive oil with black olive puree. I loved the asparagus -- simple yet elegant. But the cracker was too thick and plain for me.

For the third course, there was okra three ways. Crispy okra, pickled okra, and an okra chip. The crispy and pickled okras were both very salty and excellent. The okra chip was kind of plain.

The fourth course was one of my favorites. It featured smoked daikon radish, cocoa nibs, hazelnut, creamsicle foam, mandarin orange, and compressed orange juice. Paired with sake, this was a taste explosion. Party in my mouth for sure.

The fifth course was my least favorite. The corn panna cotta set with agar agar was weird and rubbery. It was served with cilantro curl, jalapeno gel, and corn shoots. I'll have to given them an "A" for presentation though.

The sixth course was fried hen of the woods -- freeze dried with morels, juneberry jam, and shiitake mushroom foam. This course was mind-blowingly good. The mushroom flavors with all of the sweet accompaniments made for a savory spectacle. The wine was also very good -- Turner Pageot Grenache Syrah.

This next platter is also something to rave about. It included small bites to be eaten in whichever combination you chose. There was date spread, blueberry jam, cashew butter, and hibiscus along with mango panna cotta, rosemary thyme bread, pine nut with sherry reduction, and golden beet foam. It was a hit with the table.

The eighth course was a key lime mousse in a waffle cracker with strawberry sorbet and raspberry spread. The waffle cracker and sorbet were fantastic, but the key lime mousse left something to be desired.

Lastly, there was the "pecan pie" sorghum coated with chocolate ganache with a twill brown sugar cracker, peach sorbet and mint leaf. This was paired with a very nice 15-year aged sherry.

They even finished it off with a special sorbet with a rice candle as an early birthday celebration! And gave the table some gelee.

We all talked about the experience afterwards and agreed on a number of things. I loved that, for the most part, there were elements of every dish that were good and some dishes were hands-down winners. However, there were some dishes and/or elements thereof that weren't all that tasty. We were very impressed with the servers knowledge of these dishes given that they were made especially for us. The wine pairing I had was okay, but not anything to write home about. Some wines were good and some weren't. And as I mentioned, the ambiance left something to be desired. That said, we had a great time and enjoyed many delicious bites and when I saw the check, I felt that it was appropriate for the price. The meal was $135 (less than they said it would be) and the pairing was only $60 -- so for the value, it was well worth it. The total ended up being $266, which is quite low for this caliber of restaurant.

I'd definitely recommend checking it out if you are looking for a Michelin-star experience at a lower price point as you will definitely have fun tasting all the molecular gastronomy-style food you can over the course of three hours. It's an experience.

945 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 491-0058

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Monday, December 7, 2015

The Easy Vegan Cookbook

Kathy Hester's The Easy Vegan Cookbook is a great cookbook for the new vegan,  experimenting omnivore, or carefree flexitarian. With beautiful pictures of most dishes, it'll be easy for you to eyeball what might be palate-pleasing.

The Make-Ahead Staples section includes recipes for homemade bouillon, gravy, cashew cheese, and enchilada sauce.

In the Soups Save the Day section, there are recipes for Indian-Spiced Red Lentil and Veggie Soup, Creole Okra Corn Soup, Ramen, and Super Quick Creamy Broccoli Soup. I tried the warming Autumn Harvest Noodle Soup filled with root vegetables, mushrooms, and pasta. Flavored with fresh dill and caraway seeds, you will find this to be a very satisfying main course or a complement to a bigger meal.

In the Stews section, you will find recipes like the Inside-Out Stuffed Pepper Stew, Mapo Tofu, White Bean Kale Stew, and Chili. In Pushover Pastas, you'll see Creamy Cauliflower Pesto Pasta, Vodka Sauce, and Almost Effortless Lasagna. Other sections include Manageable Mains, Speedy Stir-Frys, and Desserts.

In the Easy Sandwich Fillings and Spreads section, I tried the Sloppy Shrooms with Zucchini Fries.
This is a recipe for Sloppy Joe's made with quinoa and mushrooms. It was difficult to keep this mixture from falling off the bun, but it was so easy to make that I would make it again. I added a little seasoned salt to give it some oomph and put spinach on the bottom and topped it with avocado to make these simple sandwiches even better!

This cookbook would make a great holiday gift for anyone looking to incorporate easy vegan meals into their diet. It is currently being sold for $15 on Amazon and you can buy it here.

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Gibson, DC #3

By this point, I assume everyone in DC knows about The Gibson and that it needs no introduction. It's one of DC's best cocktail lounges -- it was when it first opened years ago and still is now. But, for those who don't know -- it is a speakeasy-style lounge hidden away on 14th Street with no sign. You just have to be in-the-know.

We had a 7:30 p.m. reservation on a Friday night and the downstairs lounge area was only about 50% full. The drink menu was extensive. I don't think I remember there being this many choices across several pages. The drinks at The Gibson are special -- unlike typical drinks at any bar. High quality liquors are mixed with syrups, bitters, and even champagne. It's usually a case of you love it or you hate it.

I started with the Diablo's Pissed, a cocktail made with Don Julio Tequila, Kummel, Lime, Cilantro Raspberry Syrup, Champagne, and Hellfire Bitters. This one was my favorite. Exquisitely mixed, sour, sweet, and spicy. This drink was all that and then some, short, dark, and handsome.

And we had some olives just for fun. They have a few light bites and I think the olives are the only bite that is vegan.

Next, I tried the Deserves Got Nothin' to Do With It. I'd really like to be there when they come up with these names -- there must be alcohol involved. This drink was more of a classic feel with George Dickel whiskey, Zucca Amaro, Crown Royal Maple Whiskey, and Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters. And with all of those ingredients, it still tasted like a simple whiskey drink.

After two hours, we got booted out of our table in the downstairs area, but, luckily, a table on the outside patio was open and it was a gorgeous night! Inside, it is dark and sexy, but outside, it is playful and bright. The only things I didn't like about the outside patio was that the drink menu is very limited and that people smoke.

But, I found a great drink outside as well. The Jake Brakes Promises is made with Aquavit, Kummel, lime, ginger beer and hellfire bitters. It had an amazing flavor with an interesting aftertaste. Highly recommended.

We ended up leaving after like four hours. Time flies by when you are drinking great cocktails with good friends. The prices of my cocktails ranged from $12 to $16 each and were well worth it. The service was pretty good too. This cocktail lounge is one of my favorite places in the city. It never disappoints.

Previous reviews
August 28, 2012
March 24, 2014

The Gibson
2009 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 232-2156

Gibson on Urbanspoon