Thursday, February 25, 2016

Plant Food and Wine, Los Angeles

After having experienced Matthew Kenney's fantastic raw cuisine at the recently defunct M.A.K.E., I was so excited to try out his new restaurant -- Plant. Unlike M.A.K.E., Plant is not exclusively raw vegan, but instead features both raw and cooked cuisine.  Matthew Kenney is one of the top raw vegan chefs in the world, so I was quite surprised to see that the restaurant featured mostly cooked food.

The restaurant itself is absolutely beautiful. Located on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, it surrounded by funky little shops and cafes. Inside, it is all black and white with splashes of color. From the marble-like tables to contemporary vases, this restaurant screams elegance. Outside, the courtyard is absolutely stunning with its large wooden tables and beautiful flowers and greenery.

My first visit was on a Sunday during brunch. I started with the Chili Beach drink made with chili infused sake, pineapple, cilantro, and Meyer lemon salt. I found it to be tasty, but not well balanced. I'd try something different next time.

For my meal, I ordered the Polenta Scramble. It featured seared polenta topped with broccolini, king oyster mushrooms, almond gremolata, and green harissa along with sweet potato hash. It was incredibly good -- all the flavors meshed together so well. I was really impressed. They also brought out a trio of sauces including an aioli, and two hot sauces. The habanero hot sauce was delicious, but I think I ate way too much of it as I had a stomachache later. :-(

I had such a good experience that I returned with a friend the next day for lunch. After some mineral water and mimosa, we were ready to place our orders.

We started with a two-cheese plate featuring nut cheeses.  The white truffle cheese made with cashews and macadamia nuts was definitely our favorite, but the peppercorn, also made with cashews and macadamia nuts, came in a tight second. Both were incredibly flavorful and had my non-vegan friend raving about vegan nut cheeses. They were served with pickled apples, mustard seeds, and some of the best raw crackers ever made with fennel and flax.

For my entree, I ordered the Roasted Tomato Sandwich. This thick artisan grilled bread had a luscious smoked cheddar nut cheese on it with roasted tomatoes and avocado. Although it was a bit too much bread, the flavors were incredible.

My friend ordered the Mushroom and Vegetable Burger, which was a rich, thick burger on thin spelt flatbread with pickles, lettuce, and carrot ketchup. We liked everything but the flatbread and both preferred the tomato sandwich to the burger.

The service at Plant was pretty good both times I went. There also weren't many people dining either time I went. As it is still new, perhaps they haven't yet built up a customer base. No matter because the fact is that the food is exquisite. The brunch item was $14 and the lunch items were $13-$14 each -- well worth it in my opinion. And the atmosphere is great. This is one of the best vegan restaurants I've been to in LA and I highly recommend you visit it as soon as you can.

1009 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 450-1009

Plant Food and Wine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Real Food Daily, Los Angeles #3

Real Food Daily is one of those restaurants that people return to over and over again because they consistently serve good food. This all-vegan mostly organic restaurant has three locations and I think this may have been my first visit to the Santa Monica location.

The Santa Monica restaurant features light wood and soft lighting for a relaxed feel. We started with a couple glasses of wine as we perused the menu. I am familiar with many of their dishes, but there are still many items that I have not tried. To keep it fresh, we ordered off the seasonal specials menu.

First up was the Three Amigos -- crunchy cauliflower fritters with romesco sauce and jalapeno aioli. The texture was delightful and the flavors perfect.

For our entree, we split the Caribbean Quesadillas. They were made with spinach, caramelized onions, coconut lentil puree, and pepperjack Daiya cheese in a whole wheat tortilla. The coconut lentil puree and coconut cilantro cashew cream really made the meal. On the side were some fantastic grilled plantains and a mango salsa.

After all that, we still wanted to try some dessert. The Brownie Bowl is to die for. The rich thick brownie is topped with chocolate sauce and coconut ice cream. It was incredibly decadent and my non-vegan friend remarked that it was as good if not better than any other brownie bowl he'd ever had.

Although the service was a bit spotty, all in all we had a great experience. The appetizer was $13 and the quesadillas were $17, but for mostly organic high-quality cuisine, I thought it was appropriately priced. Real Food Daily will continue to be one of my staples in the LA-area.

Real Food Daily
514 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 451-7544

Real Food Daily Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Elderberries Cafe, Los Angeles

Elderberries Cafe is a hidden gem in Hollywood! While searching for a place to have a nice vegan breakfast, we discovered this saucy, little cafe.  It looks like it is right out of the forties and frozen in time with its eclectic furnishings, old books, and colorful flare. We were delighted to have discovered this gluten-free, vegan cafe.

We sat at a table at the front as we perused the menu. All items are available all the time and we had a hankering for breakfast with nachos. Why? Because vacation...that's why. I ordered a Fatburner Lemonade with cayenne and my friend ordered an espresso. I loved my spicy lemonade.

The first dish we received was the Elderberries' Nachos. Organic corn chips were served with raw chili, queso, pico de gallo, and avocado. Delish!

We also had a gluten-free bagel with cashew cheese and jam. This was very interesting. I really liked the cashew cheese though it was nothing like what you'd expect. It was thick and had a different texture than I'm used to -- kind of gave the sweet jam a savory twist.

I also had the Emerson's Frittata, which was zucchini, tomato, quinoa, peas, spinach, Daiya cheese, sprouted tofu, and a touch of corn chowder baked to perfection. The rosemary potatoes on the side were delightful.

Other options include French Toast, salads, wraps, paninis, and desserts. I found this guy outside.

We left stuffed and pleased. The breakfast was a bit pricey with the nachos being $12 and the frittata at $10, but it was all so good and ORGANIC that we couldn't complain. The service was fine -- there were only two people there doing everything, so they did a good job. And the atmosphere was so relaxed and fun, it would be hard not to enjoy that place. And we got to read through the Farside book while enjoying breakfast. Good times.

Elderberries Cafe
7564 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 851-0700

Elderberries Green Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, Los Angeles

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! So, there I was, just walking down Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Ventura when I see an ice cream truck and I think, 'I wonder if they have vegan ice cream.' Guess what?! They do!

Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream has shops in LA and NYC and trucks in each city too. This one only had two vegan flavors this day: Coffee Bean and Sicilian Pistachio. I went with a pistachio ice cream sundae. The ice cream is made with cashew milk, coconut milk, coconut oil, and cocoa butter and it si delish!

Topped with their homemade chocolate sauce, cacao nibs, and pistachios, this sundae was to die for! The ice cream had a creamy texture and all the toppings served to complement the flavor really well. I was in heaven.

For about $10, it wasn't cheap. But, heck, I'm not complaining. I just got a gourmet vegan ice cream sundae from a truck. Could you please bring this to DC?!

Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream
Food Truck - location varies

Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Plant Cafe Organic, SFO Airport

Even though I had an 8 a.m. flight on a Monday, I got up early so I could hit The Plant Cafe Organic in the Virgin America Terminal 2. I was so excited because I thought it was a vegetarian place. Clearly, I didn't do my homework. In fact, for breakfast, there weren't many vegan options at all. And they serve lots of meat. Ugh.

Determined to still eat here, I decided to go up and ask some questions. There didn't appear to be any vegan hot items for breakfast so I asked if they could substitute tofu for the egg in the breakfast burrito. They did. It turned out to be an okay burrito with tofu, tomato, black beans, and avocado in a whole wheat wrap. Okay, but not really exciting.

Overall, I was disappointed.  A place called "Plant" really has an obligation to be at least vegetarian, if not vegan. And a new Plant not related to this one just opened up in southern California. And, guess what? It's vegan. I'm not sure how these two will operate with the same name, but, I don't think I'll be coming back to this one anytime least not for breakfast. They did have a salad and wrap marked as vegan for lunch -- but the choices are slim and expensive.

The Plant Cafe Organic
SFO Airport
Terminal 2
(650) 821-9290

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cafe Gratitude, Berkeley, CA

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.

I first dined at Cafe Gratitude many, many years ago -- before I started this blog. This feel-good chain was rapidly expanding and I loved their all-vegan menu. At some point though, allegations were made, lawsuits were filed, and Cafe Gratitudes were closing left and right. In fact, most in northern California closed. But, at least there's still one in Berkeley and after a long day of wine tasting, a hearty Cafe Gratitude meal was just what I needed. 

We drove the long drive from Sonoma to Berkeley to dine at Cafe Gratitude on a Sunday evening before they closed. It was a beautiful day so we chose to sit outside on their gorgeous patio. With nice wooden tables and chairs and green foliage, it was just as nice as being in a restaurant, only better.

While Cafe Gratitude offers both cooked and raw meals, everything is vegan. I started with the Effervescent --a housemade ginger ale. It was sweet and tasty.

I ordered the Warm-Hearted polenta bowl. It had grilled corn polenta, sauteed greens, mushroom ragu, cashew ricotta, basil, and almond parmesan. Everything about this meal was amazing. I did, however, think there was too much polenta and not enough of everything else. But, overall, the warm corn polenta meshed well with the mushrooms and spinach and the ricotta brought it all together.

My friend, who is not vegan, ordered the specials. Her meal was even better than mine. She had a huge tomato soup with cashew cream.

And she got a Bahn Mi made with tempeh, avocado, and carrots. They were both fantastic.

The service outside was fine, but nothing to write home about. The food was awesome and the prices were appropriate -- my bowl was $13. It was exactly what I was expecting -- great food no matter what you order. I only wish they'd continue to open more...and then expand to DC.

Previous review
March 12, 2012

Cafe Gratitude
1730 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 725-4418

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Thai Spices, Lodi, CA

I was lucky enough to skydive all day The Parachute Center in Lodi, California and was starving by the end of the day. I consulted with the local skydivers and they recommended Thai Spices in downtown Lodi. Sounded good to me!

By the look of the outside strip mall-type facade, I thought this would be your typical hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant with one vegan option. But, lo and behold, was I pleasantly surprised. This turned out to be an awesome restaurant with tons of options! Inside on this Friday night, it was fairly busy, but they were able to seat our party of four right away.

I started with some sake and spring rolls. These rolls had a bit too much lettuce, but also some nicely seasoned tofu, carrots, and vermicelli. With the sauce, it hit the spot.

For my dinner, they brought out this awesome basil tofu dish with musrhooms, onions, peppers, and tofu strips that were seasoned perfectly. The sauces were excellent and the multigrain rice gourmet. I was surprised at how good this was.

The woman who served us was used to skydivers showing up there and acting silly so she was great. And my whole meal with drinks was under $25. Put this place on your list of places you must eat at while in Lodi -- either while wine tasting or skydiving, there's something to please everyone.

Thai Spices
2401 West Turner Road # 224
Lodi, CA 95242
(209) 369-8424

Click to add a blog post for Thai Spices on Zomato

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sunflower Caffe, Sonoma, CA

It's challenging to find good vegan lunch spots in Sonoma as many associate wine with cheese and meat. So, finding a place where we could grab a quick lunch before checking in was hard, but Sunflower Caffe seemed like a good bet as there was a sandwich with the word "vegan" right on the menu.

Downtown Sonoma is a quaint little town with a variety of shops and restaurants, but for some reason everyone wanted to eat at Sunflower Caffe. There was a line out the door when we arrived and we were told there'd be a 30-minute wait after the long wait in line to order. Well, we were already here, so why not?!

We ordered some glasses of wine, then found a seat outside in the beautiful courtyard. Luckily, they have a ton of seating outside and it was a gorgeous day. We took a seat at one of the metal tables and our wine was brought out fairly quickly. We toasted to the start of a fine adventure while enjoying the fountain next to us.

After a while, they brought our meals out. As my friend had bought the meal, I didn't want to say anything negative, but after a while, I just couldn't help it! I ordered the Vegan Pita that had roasted cauliflower, roasted red pepper hummus, summer squash, pickled onion, and cauliflower-almond sauce. That all sounded good and with the wait being as long as it was, I was expecting perfection. I was very disappointed. The sandwich had no taste at all. In fact, it couldn't have been any more bland. My friend expressed disappointment with her sandwich as well. Alas, what could we do.

The worst part was that the meal was overly expensive with my sandwich being $12 and each glass of wine being like $15. There wasn't even service other than them bringing the food out to you. So, why the heck do people wait for this food? I'll never know. But, I'll never be back again.

Sunflower Caffe
421 First Street West
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 996-6645

Click to add a blog post for Sunflower Caffé Espresso & Wine on Zomato

Monday, February 1, 2016

Black Bean and Chipotle Tofu Quesadillas

The Superbowl is next Sunday!  Whether you are into football or not, it's likely you'll be watching the game for something -- sweaty men fighting over a ball, fantastic over-the-top halftime performances, and/or wacky commercials.  It's traditional to have lots of appetizers at hand while watching the game so I've developed a tasty, healthy appetizer using Chipotle TofuBaked with all you fans in mind.

Nasoya recently launched this new baked tofu seasoned with chipotle powder. They contacted me and asked if I would use it for a recipe challenge they were hosting this week and I gladly accepted.  As soon as the package arrived, I cut open the plastic and was amazed at how good it was! Nasoya has always been one of my favorite tofu brands and this baked version has just the right consistency with loads of chipotle flavor, which is spicy and smoky at the same time. I could seriously just eat it out of the package. I also love that it is a great source of protein and low in calories too. Nasoya does a really nice job with its products by keeping the ingredients all natural and organic, which has always been important to me.

The recipe I developed is for Black Bean and Chipotle Tofu Quesadillas and it's not only loaded with delicious flavor, it's a snack that is good for you too! I took sprouted whole grain tortillas and spread black bean dip and sliced chipotle tofu on them, grilled them, then topped them with guacamole and a mix of red peppers, scallions and corn in lime juice. It turned out fantastic. I invite you to make these for your party and see if they don't absolutely love it. Game time!

Black Bean and Chipotle Tofu Quesadillas
Serves 8

Ingredients for Black Bean Spread
  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 tsp crushed chipotle peppers (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Water as needed 
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Ingredients for Red Pepper and Corn Topping
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup corn (frozen or fresh)
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 lime, squeezed
  • 2 packages of Chipotle TofuBaked: slice tofu
  • 8 tortillas (whole wheat or sprouted grain are best)
  • Cooking spray 
  • Guacamole
  • Cilantro for garnish
First, make the black bean spread by putting black beans, chipotle peppers in sauce, crushed chipotle peppers, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until smooth. You may need to add a bit of water to soften the consistency. Add salt to taste. Remove from processor and fold in the red bell pepper and cilantro.

Next, make the red pepper and corn topping by mixing all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Heat up a cast iron skillet or grill to medium. Spray one side of tortilla with cooking spray, then place on a plate. Spread black bean spread on half of tortilla. Top the same half with slices of tofu and fold tortilla over. Grill for 4 minutes or until browned on each side. Repeat with other tortillas. Once cooked, slice each quesadilla into four triangles. Arrange on a plate and top with guacamole and the red pepper and corn topping. Garnish with cilantro if desired. Should be a crowd pleaser!

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