Thursday, October 27, 2016

Aiyara Thai, Temecula, CA

I was out skydiving in Perris, California and looking for a new place to eat when my friend suggested Aiyara Thai in Temecula.

This large Thai restaurant had a mix of wooden and plush seating complete with a dramatic elephant fountain in the middle! As soon as we walked in, we were excited!

We started with a bottle of wine, which turned out to not be very good. Unfortunately, I did not note which wine it was.

I started with the Fresh Spring Rolls, which turned out to be a huge appetizer! The fresh rolls were filled with lettuce, bean sprouts, mint, sweet basil, cilantro, carrots, and tofu. They were very fresh and filling with the peanut sauce.

For my entree, I had the Basil listed as "our most favorite entree!" Loaded with carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, corn, cabbage, and tofu, it was quite good. And they really made it spicy for me. I also like that they offer brown rice.

The appetizer was $9 and the meal was $11 so I thought the appetizer was a bit expensive and the meal appropriately priced. The service was pretty slow and the food isn't any different than a typical Thai restaurant, but it is a nice option in the area.

Aiyara Thai
41533 Margarita Road
Temecula, CA 92591
(951) 296-575

Aiyara Thai Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Plant Food and Wine, Venice, CA #2

After an incredibly positive visit to Plant Food and Wine, one of Chef Matthew Kenney's fine restaurants, I decided to return on my next visit to LA! Step one: fly in to LAX. Step two: drive straight to Plant.

We arrived around 4 p.m. for linner (lunch-dinner) on a weekday and there were very few people in the restaurant. We chose to sit in the gorgeous courtyard with the birds and the vines.

My friend ordered a beer and I ordered a glass of Gewurtztraminer, a fantastic white wine. The glass was $14, which may have been a bit high, but it was very good.

To start, we ordered the cheese plate with Smoked Cheddar and White Truffle nut cheeses. The smoked cheddar was by far our favorite as it tasted not quite like aged sharp cheddar, but more smoky. The raw crackers were fantastic with it too. The white truffle was light and airy. Both were very good!

For my entree, I ordered the Roasted Vegetable Wrap as recommended by the server. Oh my goodness was it good! Inside a freshly toasted lavash wrap was roasted vegetables, quinoa, gnocchi, and mixed greens layered with pesto and salsa verde. It had strong flavors that balanced each other out in a delicious wrap.

My friend ordered the Wild Mushroom Sandwich made with wild mushrooms and caramelized onion slathered with truffle aioli and creme fraiche. It was very good too, but a bit too many mushrooms for me.

For dessert, I went with the Tiramisu, which had a dark chocolate brownie, hazelnut brittle crust, vanilla meyer lemon chantilly, and cashew cream. I loved everything inside especially the cream and cracker, but felt the brownie needed a little more flavor.

My friend got the Ice Cream Sandwich, which was a gluten free chocolate chip cookie with hemp vanilla ice cream. As simple as it seemed, its flavors just bursted!

Wow. Once again, I had an amazing experience at Plant Food and Wine. This is a must-visit for those of you in the Los Angeles - Venice area. Great, unique, upscale food with great service. The prices are not cheap though with my sandwich and dessert being $13 each, the cheese plate being $12, and each glass of wine $14. We spent a lot of money, but had an awesome experience. Highly recommended.

Previous review
February 25, 2016

Plant Food and Wine
1009 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 450-1009

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cross Grain Brewhouse, Boise, ID

In a desperate attempt to find something I could eat in the teeny tiny Boise, Idaho airport, I sat down at Cross Grain, a pub. They call themselves "a brewhouse," but they don't brew beer there so technically they are a pub.

I start with a nice sparkling strawberry lemonade. It took a while for our server to take our drink order and even longer to bring our drinks. When she finally came with our drinks, I had questions about what was vegan and she didn't seem to care. I asked about the flatbread and she never checked with the chef to see if it was vegan. I asked about the veggie burger and she said it came in a box and no one knows what is in it. She was probably the worst server I've ever had.

So, I had to wing it. I ordered the Baby Kale and Quinoa salad without the blue cheese and hoped for the best. It was not very good. The kale had not been massage at all. To get a kale salad to take up the vinaigrette, you have to massage it into the tough leaves. Because it wasn't, it was a dry kale salad with dressing on the plate. There was some grilled tomato, onions, and quinoa so it was better than nothing, but for $9 you'd hope they'd make it a bit tastier. Some grilled tempeh instead of the cheese would be a nice touch.

The service was so slow that you would have never guessed we were in an airport. Luckily, we had an hour to kill. I would not recommend this place unless you have tons of time and find there are no other options.

Cross Grain Brewhouse
Boise Airport

Monday, October 17, 2016

La Fiesta Mexican, Twin Falls, ID

Picture this -- you've spent the day jumping off a bridge with a bunch of awesome people who just want to go out to eat and have a good time. You are in the city of Twin Falls, Idaho -- so where do you go? La Fiesta Mexican is the only right answer!!

This is a short review just to tell you that this is a fun place to go with great margaritas. And they love BASE jumpers! They accommodated our group of like 30 by putting a ton of tables together. We all ordered delicious margaritas. I went with one with Patron -- always a good idea, and we laughed the night away.

The chips and salsa are great and they are happy to keep bringing out more.

For my entree, I went with the same item I always order -- veggie fajitas. They were happy to tell me what was and wasn't vegan so I could modify the accompaniments appropriately.

We spent a long time there -- drinking, eating, and laughing with good food at good prices. Given the size of our party, I'd say the service was great!  This is my favorite dinner spot in Twin Falls!

La Fiesta Mexican
1288 Blue Lakes Blvd. N.
Twin Falls, ID 83301
(208) 734-0685

La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Firehook Bakery

As someone who has loved baked flatbread crackers and who is a huge fan of local DC's Firehook Bakery, I have been particularly frustrated that I can not try the Firehook baked crackers sold in stores across the DC area because they aren't vegan.  Well, that may be changing soon!

I ran into the Founder of Firehook Bakery, Pierre Abushacra, and expressed to him my disdain with the use of honey in their crackers. As you may know, honey is not vegan and is the only ingredient of the five ingredients that makes these crackers not vegan. I only care because their vegan breads are delicious and I'd love to try their crackers too.

As we began discussing this, he first told me that honey was the only ingredient that they could use for these crackers, but somehow I was able to convince him to try agave nectar. Pierre finally said he would make a batch just for me! Wow. I only halfway believed it. Then, just two days later, Pierre wrote to me and said they had great success with their first ever vegan Firehook crackers and they were delicious.

They used the organic agave nectar they use for their granola and worked on making adjustments to the recipe that week. Once completed, they sent me some samples, and they were truly delicious -- great flavor and great crunch.

Making a change like this is a little more complicated than it seems as they'd have to change all the packaging and labels, but they are working towards transitioning all of their flavors to the new formula soon! Stay tuned! And please reach out to Firehook to let them know that you are excited about this potential change! A list of their bakery locations can be found here. More soon!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Kathryn Hall Release Party

Hall Napa Valley, a leading luxury Cabernet Sauvignon producer, took its popular Kathryn Hall Release Party on the road to DC. I was lucky enough to attend this party with my friend, Matt, a professional wine educator.

When I first arrived, there were four wines available. The Walt La Brisa (2014) was a lighter chardonnay than I prefer, so I quickly moved on to the reds. There was a Walt Blue Jay Pinot Noir (2014) and two 2013 Cabernet's. The Cabs were by far the richest, fullest wines, and they were good enough to garner some acclaim.

We spent some time walking through and observing the rest of the attendees. It was an older crowd who was clearly very familiar with Kathryn Hall. Many were members of the wine club or invited to this party based on past purchases. Some were quite the aficionados.

Towards the middle of the event, we got to meet Kathryn Hall herself. As she spoke and talked about her wines, I thought we had tasted them all. But, lo and behold, the best had yet to come. The flagship 2013 Kathryn Hall Cab that was rated 98-100 points, in barrel, by Robert Parker had yet to be opened. This was a wine to savor.  The notes included blackberries and spice and as a full-bodied, high quality wine, it was clearly my favorite. Retailing at $165, I could see how this wine had been rated so highly. And after a few glasses, I felt almost ready to sign up for the wine club myself!

If you are looking for a high quality wine club, I would definitely recommend Kathryn Hall. Going into this event, I had never even heard of this winery and I left there impressed. We were even given her latest book, A Perfect Score. I'm looking forward to reading it while I enjoy one of her delicious cabs. And next time I'm in Napa, I'll be sure to look them up.

Full Disclosure: Although I was provided a complimentary ticket to this event, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

SKWR - kabobline, DC

Just last year, a new fast casual concept popped up on K Street called SKWR - kabobline. My friends raved about how good it was, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

The line tends to get quite long after noon, so we headed over at 11:45 a.m. Voila - no line! The concept is not unlike that of Cava Mezze Grill or Roti with a few differences. You choose a bowl, plate, or wrap. Why there's a bowl and a plate, I have no idea.

Then, you choose your rice or greens or a combination of both. I went with the brown basmati rice and kale. Next, you choose your spread of which the Hummus, Jalapeno Cilantro Chutney, and Apple Chutney are vegan. I went with all three.  For the protein,only the white bean falafel is vegan. Then, you choose your toppings. I went with the cabbage, cucumber and tomato salad, and mint. Lastly, you choose your sauce. I went with the Charred Chutney.

While I really liked the white bean falafel and appreciated how different it was from your typical falafel, I did not think it was as good as Cava Mezze Grill. The charred chutney really didn't add anything to the dish. The apple chutney tasted like dessert and didn't go with the savory flavors at all. Everything else was pretty good, but I still wouldn't choose this place over Cava.

All in all, the food is good, but given the other options for $10 in the area, it isn't going to top my list. I'll give them an A for ample seating with their huge dining area. And I appreciate that all vegan items are marked. Two recommendations are: (1) replace the metal chairs with wood for comfort and (2) devise a better system for marking vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free as the symbols are so small they are hard to discern.

1400 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 682-1717

SKWR kabobline Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, October 3, 2016

Oyamel, DC #4

Having just been to Jose Andres' Spanish tapas restaurant recently, I hadn't planned on going back so soon. But, a colleague of mine wanted to have a nice sit-down lunch and Oyamel came to mind.

We arrived on a busy weekday with reservations for noon. They seated us at one of the booths near a window. This restaurant has a lively decor with colorful walls and multi-colored butterflies everywhere. It is consistent with the vibe you get from all of the other Jose Andres restaurants in town -- one that assures you that you arrived at a happening place.

For lunch, they offer a short list of items that are 3 for $20. Usually that means an appetizer, entree, and dessert. They served us the delicious spicy chips as we perused the menu. Unfortunately, there isn't a vegan dessert so I inquired as to whether I could take advantage of the special at all. The server confirmed that I could. I'd just order from the appetizers and entrees instead.

For my starter, I went with the Nopalitos, one of my favorites. This light salad of cactus is served with these huge, fresh peas, chopped red onions, and roasted tomatoes in a lime dressing. I love it.

I reluctantly ordered the Acelgas con nuez de Castilla -- I say reluctantly because I thought it might be very sweet and I don't like a lot of sweetness in my savory dishes. I was pleasantly surprised. This was a hearty dish filled with sauteed swiss chard, cabbage shallots, toasted hazelnuts, dried cranberries and raisins with spiced apricot puree and topped with pickled swiss chard. It was like a party in my mouth with the savoriness of the veggies, the crunchiness of the nuts, and the sweetness of the puree and dried fruit. It was delicious.

Lastly, I had one of my longtime favorites -- Taco de hongas minus the cream. These sauteed wild mushroom tacos are topped with salsa serrano and pickled red onions. If you love mushrooms, you will love these.

All of this food was just $20, which isn't bad at Oyamel. The service left much to be desired as our server didn't seem to know much offhand without going back to the kitchen and the food wasn't delivered very quickly. This may not be the spot to go to if you are in a hurry to get back to work, but the food was very good. I'll be back, but probably just for dinner when I can take my time and nosh on guacamole.

Previous reviews
April 28, 2016
April 10, 2013
December 6, 2011

401 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 628-1005

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