Thursday, December 31, 2009

Roman Bars: Get Them In Your Belly!

A few years ago I heard about Roman Bars, a sort of chocolate-covered fruit newton. They sounded yummy, but since I'm not a fan of the whole mixing fruit with dessert thing, I didn't give it much thought.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was reminded of them by QuarryGirl and I could no longer resist; that chick should be a food photographer! Seriously, my photo does not do justice to this delicious creation.

Anyhoo, The Roman Bar: it is, indeed, a supersized fruit newton cookie type thing covered in rich, dark chocolate. But, this ain't your mamma's fig newton; not even close. The fruit is sweet and tasty, the cookie is moist and yummy, AND IT'S COVERED IN DARK CHOCOLATE! It comes in three flavors, but rumor has it that only the raspberry & blueberry are vegan. Who needs you anyway, stupid apricot?  *please see comments for update!

So, even though I'm not a fan of raspberry flavored things, I tried the raspberry and it knocked my socks off. Then I gave one to my Mom who love, love, LOVES raspberry flavored things (especially paired with chocolate) and she nearly flipped. Then she looked at the calorie label and flipped again (apparently they're practically good for you, what with all that fruit & stuff). Then she pointed out that they reminded her of those chocolate-covered jelly grahams that you can get from the supermarket at Passover, except for that those are not nearly vegan because they contain gelatin and other assorted gross stuff.

Point being, these delicious combo concoctions can be considered a candy bar, a health bar, any kind of bar you want; I'm just telling you that they are delish. To re-cap: the fruit does not taste fake (uh, because it's not), the cookie is super moist, and whoever is in charge of the chocolate dipping deserves a round of applause for generosity.

Unfortunately, these suckers are not currently available on the east coast, but you can order them directly from the website. You have to order them by the box and it will seem silly to be buying 16-24 at a clip, but it won't seem silly once you taste one. And then taste one refrigerated. Then one frozen. Then one a little melty. Then hoard the rest from your mom only feeling a little bit bad because, after all, when you first went veg she acted annoyed that you didn't want Thanksgiving turkey even though you never liked turkey before and she never even liked turkey herself! Aw heck, share the Roman Bars with your mom, would ya please? Neither of you eat turkey!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Vegan Struffoli!!!!

Well, I've been vegan for ten years, and my mom finally made me vegan struffoli! For those of you who don't know, struffoli is an Italian dessert that you typically see around the holidays. Basically, it's a pile of small balls of fried dough drizzled with honey and sprinkles (some people add almonds and those nasty fruit bits you find in fruitcake). It's simple, but inexplicably delicious. And now, a vegan version!  (1/1/13 updates listed below)

Big shout out to VegWeb, where my vegetarian mom found the recipe by googling "vegan struffoli" (yeah, she's crafty like that). And a special thanks to Megan Rascal's mom (Megan Rascal of Vegansaurus) for being another great mom to a vegan and admirably fulfilling her duties as such with pride, glee, and pink food coloring.

This is my condensed & slightly simplified version of the VegWeb recipe; I won't be offended if you just go ahead and ignore mine for the original:

1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 tablespoons vegan margarine, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoon freshly squeezed orange juice (optional use it)
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel (optional use it)

2 1/2 cups flour (plus extra for your hands during dough prep)
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

about 2 cups vegetable oil for frying

finishing touches:
1 to 2 cups agave nectar (mix with brown rice syrup for a more honey like consistency)  definitely use Suzanne's Specialties' Just Like Honey; it's incomparable!
sprinkles (MUST be non-pareils. I don't know why, it just does!)

1) Mix wet ingredients in a large bowl.

2) Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

3) Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients (don't stir too vigorously) .

4) When it starts to look like actual dough, generously brush some flour on your hands and use them for the final mixing.

5) Liberally sprinkle your hands with flour as you take a cookie size handful of dough, roll it into a ball, roll the ball into little gum-cigar sized logs, and the slice your logs into blueberry size pieces (I know they'll be a big rectangular). Repeat until you've turned your lump of dough into a heaping pile of tiny doughballs.

6) In a medium pot (to minimize oil splatter), pour about an inch of oil so that the balls are floating while they cook; add as needed. When the oil is piping medium hot, start dropping in your balls a few at a time.  If the oil is too hot, the balls will cook faster than you can scoop them out.  Cook only a couple at a time until you find the temperature that allows you to drop in the dough, wait a few seconds, flip, and remove; your goal is a light tan color.

7) The balls will cook very quickly; you'll want to turn them as soon as the bottom tans & then remove them with a slotted spoon as soon as both sides are tan.  See above.

8) Pile them on paper towels to absorb the excess oil and eat plenty while they're hot because they'll taste like yummy mini-donut holes.

9) Prepare by filling containers with the balls and then drizzling liberally with your agave/brown rice syrup mixture.

10)Douse with sprinkles and enjoy!

I'd also recommend that you make this recipe with a loved one for two reasons:

- It really is helpful for one person to concentrate on frying while the other prepares the dough balls.

- They won't judge you for experimenting during the preparation by frying up dough-coated Late July cookies and making fresh jelly donuts*.

*You might want to double the recipe if you're going to be sampling as much as we did.

Monday, December 21, 2009

OUR BEST MEAL IN PORTLAND: Blossoming Lotus Irvington

On our first night in Portland we met two vegan girls at Potato Champion who, as natives, kindly discussed our planned vegan itinerary with us. It turned out that one of the girls, Jen (I believe), was a waitress at the new Blossoming Lotus restaurant in Irvington and she implored us to make it a point to visit. We promised to try.

Fast forward to our last evening in Portland. We had been pleasantly surprised by many restaurants that hadn't been recommended by anyone at all (some even discouraged), and grossly disappointed in quite a few that had been recommended highly and often. We had been too full for even a snack when we ducked into the Blossoming Lotus cafe in the Pearl, but on this evening we decided to go big or go home: heading to Blossoming Lotus Irvington for what we hoped would be a nice and enjoyable, no-nonsense dinner to cap off our trip.

For starters, the space was beautiful. Nothing too over the top: every touch from the color palate to the light fixtures was purposeful, delicate, and refined. The atmosphere immediately lent itself to a calming, relaxing, dinner environment.

We hadn't realize beforehand that they didn't have a liquor license yet (I believe they do serve beer and perhaps wine now), so we decided to try the non-alcoholic, basil mojito; it was unusual and fantastic.

Onto the meal. For starters, unlike other purported "fine" establishments in Portland, Blossoming Lotus actually served complimentary bread, olive oil & balsamic at the start! We already felt way ahead of the game and were confident that we were embarking upon a wonderful experience.

For appetizers we chose: The warm pesto and white bean dip: served with blue corn chips, this was a generous portion of a delicious spread that you'd never assume was vegan. Also, the roasted beet and curried cashew salad: a fresh and crunchy salad of greens, veggies, seeds, yummy cashews, and delicious spiralized beets. I rarely if ever order a salad out, but this one made it worth my while to have agreed to forfeit choosing another appetizer to share.

Every meal that was served to the surrounding tables looked incredible and we were anxious for our own meals to arrive so that we could see how they stacked up against what we had already seen. We were not disappointed. My BBQ Tempeh Platter was delicious: tender tempeh and sauteed onions smothered in a delicious barbecue sauce and served with a bowl of hearty bean chili and two giant pieces of corn bread. My companion ordered the Black Bean Quesadilla, a huge, hearty, and super packed 'dilla served with chips. We couldn't pick a favorite of the two, but we did agree that the steaming, multi-optioned stir-fry would have been each of our next choice if we had another evening to visit.

Dessert: When we arrived, the mini chalkboard listing the desserts of the day boasted creamsicle soft serve. My companion was thrilled, but since I abhor fruity desserts I was bummed. By the end of the meal, however, we were both too stuffed to even consider dessert (therein lies the problem of dining out away from home- no opportunity for leftovers). Happily, the atmosphere in the restaurant was so serene that the waitress welcomed us to stay as long as we wanted. Luckily, we stayed chatting long enough that I was able to make some room in my tummy for one of the delicious chais I'd seen ordered in multiples by every table. I was just about to place my order when something drew my attention to the chalkboard again, and it was now boasting chocolate hazelnut soft-serve! I asked the waitress to confirm that it wasn't a mirage, and she explained that the flavor had, in fact, changed during dinner. So, I did what any self-respecting vegan would do: I ordered both the chai and the ice cream. The soft-serve was creamy and dense; I definitely didn't need it after such a fulfilling and satisfying meal, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be enjoying the infamous Blossoming Lotus soft-serve in a respectable flavor offering.

Now for the chai. I don't know how best to approach this, so I'll just come right out and say it. BEST. CHAI. EVER. Hands down. I literally cannot order a chai ever again from anywhere else; it was that good. I ordered it hot because it was chilly on the evening I indulged, but I imagine that the iced version is just as delicious in warmer weather. The waitress told me that the recipe originated in their Kauai, Hawaii location, and would only divulge that coconut milk was involved (she may have even winked). BLPDX, I want you to know that such limited information is worthless to me; I am not that crafty! Please share the actual recipe with me and I promise to use it only for purposes of chai-ing myself into chai oblivion here on the east coast!

This meal was incredible from beginning to end: beautiful space, relaxed atmosphere, friendly & pleasant waitstaff, and a wide variety of quality, scrumptious food and drink options at very reasonable prices. They were very new when we visited, but that didn't prevent the entire staff from being 100% welcoming and accommodating. Oddly, however, not one vegan we met during our trip (besides Jen) recommended BL: more evidence of the Portland clique-ishness we had trouble deciphering. So, as an outsider to this puzzle I will simply recommend- adamantly- that if you are travelling to Portland I urge you not to miss a visit to Blossoming Lotus Irvington; totally terrific.

And Jen, we owe you a huge debt of gratitude; our experience (and meal!) was our favorite dinner of the trip and one of the few places we visited that prompted us to say, "There is nothing of this niche in New York and there should be!" Thank you again for the suggestion and sorry to have missed you, as you weren't in on the night we visited. We hope to return and see you then.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hangawi: Delicious as Ever

I hadn't been to Hangawi in years, and I convinced myself that I was going to be adventurous and not order my old favorite: the bean curd with spicy kimchi. I didn't, but for the record- it is SO GOOD: exquisite spicy kimchi and tofu that practically melts in your mouth.

Hangawi was exactly as I remember it: serene and other-worldly. They were even out of the sweet corn and spinach porridge which I've never had the opportunity to taste...because they are mysteriously always out of it. Not merely deja-vu, I suspect it doesn't actually exist and they simply haven't gotten around to reprinting the menus. No matter, instead I enjoyed the smooth, sweet, pudding-like pumpkin porridge.

I did manage to prevent myself from ordering my "regular" and I was not disappointed. The food was possibly more fantastic than I remembered. The combo pancakes were each unique and divine. One leek, one kabocha pumpkin, and one spicy kimchi mushroom: they were like Asian-inspired latkes and it was hard to pick a favorite. The vegetable dumplings were huge and delicious, although we were surprised that both appetizers came with the same dipping sauce.

The vegetarian stone bowl rice came out sizzling and was finalized tableside with chili paste. The cauldron in which it is served keeps the contents practically cooking while you eat, and the crispy rice kernels around the edges and bottom are the best. I should note that it was also served with a generous bowl of the best miso soup I've ever had. Next time I'd like to try the avocado stone bowl, but I will be sure to add the chili paste!

The unexpected standout of the day was the last minute choice of the crispy mushrooms in sweet and sour sauce (pictured). Besides the simple fact that every aspect of the generous portion was just completely yummy, it was also (oddly) the closest thing I've had to Asian sesame chicken. Don't get me wrong; it didn't taste chickeny and they certainly aren't trying to duplicate the meat dish. The melange of flavors and textures simply evoked sesame chicken to me, so I think it would make a great dish for omnis.

As always, best (and complimentary) kimchi ever: especially the spicy.

I've always had very pleasant service at Hangawi, but I've heard a lot of people complain that they don't fill your water glass often enough (!). To those people I suggest that you solve that problem by treating yourself to the takara plum wine if you like sweet and the soju mojito if you like tart. The wine smells and tastes fruity and delicious; the mojito is crisp and refreshing.

We were so full that we chose not to stuff ourselves with dessert just for the sake of dessert. Ok, my companion made the call and I begrudgingly complied, already plotting to pick up some kettle corn from the Bryant Park Holiday Market (which I did). But from past experience I would recommend the mochi (make sure they have the ones rolled in coconut because otherwise they will look naked), cheesecake, blueberry coconut cake, or ice cream.

Yes, Hangawi is a little pricey. But, you are paying for an entire experience and it's worth it.

(My one complaint is that when we entered, a rather curt & abrupt woman began repeatedly yelling directions at us in regard to where we should put our shoes. Note to this high-strung woman: We see the cubbies (it's not rocket science); you're ruining the atmosphere and practically chasing people away!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Vast Disappointment of Cocoa V

As a chocolate lover and huge fan of both Blossom and Cafe Blossom (now Blossom Uptown), I was very excited when I heard about the impending opening of Cocoa V. Then, when I read a description on SuperVegan likening it to a vegan Godiva- I swooned. I hurried over there one Saturday morning after ten to find it closed, even though the brand new website clearly stated 10:00am as the opening time. I waited until almost 11:00 and then left.

Fast forward a few days and I ducked in on a weekday evening after work. From the outside it does indeed look like a vegan Godiva and I bounded in. Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived. There were about eight people working there and our presence was not so much as acknowledged. On the counter was a truffle pulverized into minuscule truffle crumbs: presumably "tastes"; kind of chintzy when you're used to Rose City Chocolatier's friendly and generous offerings of whole candies while you order. To make matters worse, as we stood around awkwardly waiting to be greeted and/or offered a seat in the cafe, the owner entered and added to the unfriendly atmosphere by completely ignoring us as well. I admit we almost walked out.

Instead, after waiting to try to catch someone's eye we ultimately asked for a table in the otherwise empty cafe. Once seated, the waiter immediately told us what kind of wine they were offering that evening. Yup, that's wine: singular. Now, I'm not personally into wine, but the person I was with is and we had both assumed that someplace tauting itself as a chocolate and wine bar would have at least a minimal selection of both. Not so apparently.

Worse yet, the food offerings were wholly misrepresented both on the menu and the website. They didn't have any of the cakes listed on the menu- including the chocolate raspberry my companion had decided upon and the chocolate peanut butter I had heard raves about and wanted to try. We were told that they were "specials" (Really? On the permanent menu?) and that instead the offerings were....lemon cake, chocolate cake, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies: kind of boring. To add insult to injury, when I attempted to order the crepes and nutella advertised on the website I was told that they "are working on that". Ugh. I lost count of how many strikes we had tallied thus far.

So, we sat in the desolate cafe listening to Fleetwood Mac and waiting an inordinately long time for our 11th choice desserts. We stared questionably at the place settings that consisted of miniature stages for chocolate that should have been removed when we didn't order any. When our desserts arrived, the waiter chose to leave the unnecessary place settings where they were and placed our actual desserts on the end of the table opposite us: leaving us to rearrange things ourselves so that the useless stages were pushed aside and our actual eats were within reach. So not cool and hardly befitting an upscale establishment.

And then we finally began to enjoy our desserts: the chocolate chip cookie was good, but I can grab the same one anytime at Cafe Blossom. Even though I'm not normally a fan of brownies, this one was surprisingly good because it was more of a light, moist, chocolatey brownie/cake hybrid with chocolate chips. The hot chocolate was thick and tasty, but after about half of the mug it was obvious that it was entirely too rich even for this ardent chocoholic.

With some treats in our bellies we were finally enjoying more than each other's company when the owner and another worker entered the cafe, stood nearby, and began having a discussion about how dim the lights should be. Sigh. Call me crazy, but perhaps you should focus on acknowledging the mere presence of your customers rather than discussing the ambiance you're currently ruining by rudely chit-chatting nearby?

Needless to say, we quickly finished our desserts and left.

Ironically, it was one of the owners of Lula's Sweet Apothecary who first clued us in about the impending opening of Cocoa V. In the future when I'm in need of a delicious fix of sweet dessert I will be sure to head over to Lula's instead: exquisite offerings, terrific service, incomparable atmosphere, and no pretense.

Cocoa V's business card reads: Chocolat Perfecto.
Far from it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

71 Irving Place

When I first tried to find Irving Farm Coffee I wound up across the street from Union Square standing in front of an office building with nothing but a giant, over-filled Starbucks in my line of sight. With no other option, I begrudgingly suffered an overpriced, lukewarm, 3/4-filled decaf soy peppermint mocha in the loud, packed, anything-but-coffeehouse atmosphere. As it turned out, my google text had returned the address of Irving Farm's wholesale headquarters. Ugh.

The second try was the charm, as the gilded sign for 71 Irving Place glistened in the sunlight beckoning me towards it. The neighborhood pooches adorning the facade as their owners' picked up breakfast further suggested that this was exactly the type of place I was looking for: the anti-Starbucks*. Too dark for photos, the atmosphere was pure, upscale coffee house. As I stood in awe my vegetarian companion quickly left me to find a table for us in the crowded cafe and called over her shoulder, "Get me a black coffee and anything for breakfast; it all looks incredible." Indeed, it did.

My attention was drawn by two big, brightly lit cases filled with assorted, delectable baked goods: contents all clearly marked, vegan where applicable. Additionally, there was soy milk for coffee and vegan cream cheese for delightfully minimally doughy bagels (I abhor doughy bagels). I chose a vegan peanut butter chocolate chunk (extra points!) cookie over the maple ginger, and my companion thoroughly enjoyed a giant, non-vegan, mixed-berry scone.

Despite a constant flow of tourists off the beaten path, neighborhood regulars, and peeps like me who may have found them on SuperVegan, the service was quick, efficient, and friendly. It was the kind of great NY place that makes you wonder why anyone ever patronizes chains. It also effortlessly exhibited how easy it is for omni establishments to cater to vegans and allow the two to dine harmoniously for something as simple as coffee. Needless to say, I will happily return.

*Don't get me wrong, I enjoy many of Starbucks offerings and am happy that the nationwide chain was one of the first to offer soy milk. However, their vegan-friendliness seems to have stopped there. Only ONCE did they try offering a vegan baked good 'round my parts and it STUNK. Further, they have made no effort to label which lattes are vegan and which aren't (ahem, pumpkin spice). And, most importantly of all, I make a concerted effort never to visit a Starbucks in Manhattan; the service is abysmal. Give me a reserved, suburban New Jersey Starbucks any day & I will thoroughly enjoy my lattes indoors or out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vegan Treats Donuts

As a follow-up to my last couple of posts on west-coast only donuts (Voodoo & Mighty O) I feel compelled to give a grateful nod to my tried and true east coast favorites. That and I'm also thinking about donuts now.

When I first went vegan I was excited by those Nutrilicious donuts you could buy online or, if you were lucky, at select Whole Foods. Let's face it, they are delicious and come in quite a few flavors, but I find them pricey considering I can pretty much fit the contents of an entire box of the munchkins in my mouth at one time, squirrel style. Also, I often found that when I ordered them online they seemed to get a little sweaty in their packaging in transit, causing some soggification. To make matters worse, my Whole Foods had the habit of stacking them next to the sunniest window in the store, considerably accelerating the expiration date.

And then I discovered Vegan Treats donuts (cue harpsichords). First I tried the "plain" glazed with rainbow sprinkles. What, what!? A true donut! Next up was the Boston Creme. I admit it, I was afraid; this is a tough recipe to duplicate vegan-style. I love, love, loved Boston Cremes as a kid. (That is, until "the incident", circa pre-vegan ASB eating a BC from a major chain: There I was, mindlessly chewing away at the superfluous dough when it came time to lick the coveted cream. My tongue barely touched it and the taste was so vile that before the message could get to my brain, my tongue thankfully acted on instinct and instantly recoiled. Baked fresh every morning, my butt; it was rancid! I'm surprised I didn't contract instantaneous salmonella.)
But anyway, back to the wonder that is the exact replica (minus the salmonella): Vegan Treats' Boston creme creation.

All I can say is that you cannot tell the difference. I know that sometimes we longtime vegans haven't tasted things in such a long time that when we do and dub them "exactly like the real thing", non-vegans roll their eyes at our forgetfulness. But not this time. My father is an ardent carnivore amongst vegans and vegetarians. He kicks and screams against veg food (but he also can't cook: quite the fly in the ointment). With no choice but to consume veg food he is always looking for an excuse to complain about it; he LOVES when something vegan is disappointing, non-authentic, or bland. He loves it most when it's gross. But he will be the first to tell you that Vegan Treats' Boston Creme donut is the best ever. They have everything down: the taste and texture of the dough, icing, and luscious cream; it is a beautiful thing.

Ok, enough gushing. Over that one, anyway.

My favorite is actually the marshmallow cream: a super glazed "plain" donut (think Krispy Kreme) filled to the brim with the lightest, fluffiest whipped cream that exists. Note: for some reason this donut is best enjoyed within hours of purchasing. All others last for days in the fridge, but for optimum enjoyment I always make sure to eat this one immediately. Even if I accidentally buy 3. And a couple of other flavors. Don't judge me! This donut also comes in a devil's food version, but if you can believe it I've yet to try it.

Gotta give a nod to the super duper chocolatey, dense chocolate donut that you can get glazed or sprinkle coated. Be aware that while these are the same donut inside, overall they taste completely different. Take my word for it; I've done the research. The glazed version is decadent chocolateyness and the sprinkle one is more dense, sugary and crispy-- the donut, not the sprinkles. Both are great; it just depends what you're in the mood for: adult-fudgey or kid-sweet.
Can't forget the chocolate-covered angel's food, or what my family has dubbed "the Entenmann's". Remember those vanilla donuts covered in hard chocolate? The first ones to go missing out of the Entenmann's assortment box containing those, crumb, and plain (dumb)? Sooo good. Well, Vegan Treat's version is better b/c 1) they're way bigger and 2) they're covered with thicker chocolate. Bigger + more chocolate x vegan = TOTALLY BETTER. Plus, VT makes a devil's food version. Yep, that's right. So right after you're all, "these are so better than the original, non-vegan version", you're like, "Who needs them? Gimme the all chocolate ones now!"

Let's see, of course there's the powdered jelly: delicious & actually tastes fruity instead of fruit-tinged sugar goo. Lots of other cream filled powdereds too: banana, peanut butter, etc. And other plain, cream filled varieties topped with corresponding icing: oreo, pumpkin, coconut, bavarian, etc. Back to regular donuts, there are also seasonal varieties like pumpkin and gingerbread. Plus, they seem to often add new flavors/creations.

There's also a secret donut hole that they tell you is a "truffle", but no matter what they call it, if you see a little white, coconut snowball, grab it (pay for it, of course); it is a two-bite vanilla donut covered in white chocolate & rolled in coconut. YUM!

Basically, here is the deal: some vegan donut makers create homogeneous versions of the same donut. Not Vegan Treats. Each flavor is true, individual, and decadent. You can find them in a million places in the northeast, but best to visit the shoppe in Bethlehem, PA for the biggest selection at a time. They deliver to NY restaurants/establishments on Tuesdays and PA on Thursdays; all area vegans know this, so they sell out quickly!

Anyhoo that's just the donuts. Don't even get me started on the cakes, cookies, crumbs, bars, brownies, cupcakes... I'll leave them for another day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mighty O Donuts from Whole Foods in the Pearl

So here's what happened. We were wandering through the Portland Whole Foods in the Pearl and my eagle {vegan} eye spotted a teeny, tiny sign in the baked goods cabinet (yes, it was a cabinet) that said "vegan" and "donut". They were kind of teeny and marked $2.50 so I hesitated. But then I realized that the sign said "Mighty O" and, while I couldn't remember exactly what I'd read about them, something compelled me to grab one. As it turned out, the sign was wrong and the donut was an extremely fair $1.50; I tucked it in my bag and went on with my day.

Later, while still in the neighborhood, I remembered having read raves about this Seattle-based company's donuts and decided to take a taste. I had chosen the cinnamon flavor and it was an immediate tingle of cinnamon and sugar and cake within my mouth. It tasted like a fresher, higher quality, healthier, donut version of the butter-laden cinnamon sugar Auntie Anne's pretzels I had enjoyed too many of years ago. I immediately returned to WF to purchase the other flavor: a chocolate donut with chocolate icing and coconut flakes, and managed to hold off on devouring that one.

With all of the other things I was stuffing in my face all day I forgot about the chocolate donut until about 24 hours later. Imagine my surprise when I bit into it and it was just as fresh and delicious- only super chocolatey compared to super cinnamonny- as if it was just baked. Wow. This one was, like I said, perfectly chocolatey cake with a dreamy chocolate icing and delicate coconut dust. Just. Superb. Om Nom.

So, if you haven't already guessed- the reason there is no photo is because it was one (okay two) of those times where I was caught in such a flurry of unexpected vegan goodness that I lost all sense of archival purpose. I urge everyone on the east coast to check out the Mighty O website to see what I'm talking about, and then sulk because the donuts are only available on the west coast. Then go grab yourself one of the many varieties of scrumptious Vegan Treats donuts to assuage the self-pity until you can get yourself to Seattle!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Little Lad’s Goodies in Central Park for a Limited Time Only!

In conjunction with Blu Toddy, “an early stage functional beverage and food developer”, some Little Lad’s treats are currently available at the Columbus Circle Market. Located at the Merchant’s Gate at the southwest entrance to Central Park (right across from the Time Warner Center), the market offers a wide variety of shopping opportunities from unique vendors. Many of the products are handmade and the artists are on hand to discuss their work; what an especially nice alternative to the mass-produced gifts you would otherwise be purchasing right across the street!

When you need a break from shopping, bypass the non-vegan, giant gingerbread men and go directly to the Blu Toddy booth. There you will find a trio of Little Lad’s offerings: blueberry lemon cookies, blueberry tarts, and mini blueberry pies-- priced between $2-$3. Little Lad’s suggests that you warm their baked goods for optimum enjoyment, but I can assure you that they are quite delicious at any temperature. For a more decadent dessert, though, I would recommend toasting the tart and serving it with vegan ice cream. Blu Toddy offerings include three variations of hot blueberry toddies that are especially enticing on these frigid days, but be aware that they contain honey.

The market runs until Christmas Eve day, Monday through Saturday: 10am – 8pm, Sunday 10am – 7pm. If you’re like me and can’t stand descending the Time Warner Center Whole Foods’ escalator only to be met with checkout lines blocking your entry into the store, take advantage of this unexpected and limited time offer of Little Lad’s goodies right across the street for your snacking pleasure. But, be forewarned: sadly, there is no herbal corn available!

** This post also appears on SuperVegan. If you want to read it again, click HERE

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Animal Friendly Esprit Coats: If You Look Hard Enough

Winter is upon us on the east coast; today we were treated to our first snowstorm of the season & it was a cold, wet, slushy mess. That said, I was even more freezing than usual.

In light of the impending, continuing, inclement weather, the stores have filled up with coats made up of our animal friends. It's easy to bypass the suede and leather because you can usually tell the real from the fake on sight (and neither keeps you warm anyway). But finding a warm, decently priced, true winter coat that is not made of wool or stuffed with down is more of a challenge. It's time consuming to read every label for content and disconcerting when you've gone through 100 and every one of them refers to "waterfowl" (yuck).

Last year I threw in the towel, but my Mom (who is never cold) persevered. I lucked out when she found me a completely man-made Esprit coat in Macy's. It was really toasty and had so many nice features that I was intent on getting another one this year. So, on my way home from Woodstock Farm Sanctuary's Thanksliving I stopped off at Woodbury Commons to visit the Esprit outlet. Lo and behold I had my choice of colors, lengths and styles; it was hard to choose just one. The other day was particularly wet, windy, and overall blustery: a perfect opportunity to test out my new coat. To my surprise, it was just as warm-- if not warmer-- than my first one.

I immediately logged onto the Esprit website to see what else they had to offer, but was disappointed that all of the coats on their site were filled with down. Then I visited their Flatiron retail store and found the same dilemma. So, basically the point of my rant is to tell you to get thee to an Esprit outlet because that seems to be the only place where you can get a warm, stylish, multi-functional, animal friendly coat suitable for the cold, wet days ahead. Know that I emailed the company to relay my gratitude and ask for some insight as to how to track down more animal friendly items and they never responded. Grrr*. Dudes, I thanked you for your product and asked you how I could buy more and you don't respond? Not cool.
**Speaking of grrr- what was up with that literal monstrosity that Aretha Franklin was wearing at the Rock Center tree lighting ceremony? Besides being hideously ugly, the mere sight of her wrapped up in hundreds of our animal friends was ridiculously more offensive than the Adam Lambert smooch and Janet Jackson's boob flash combined.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Voodoo Doughnuts

I've read really good reviews of Voodoo Doughnuts, and really bad reviews. Plus, I'm spoiled by a ridiculous variety of extraordinary Vegan Treats donuts here on the east coast. So, I was actually willing to bypass Voodoo on our eating journey through Portland. However, on our way to the Saturday Market I couldn't help but notice a line coming out of an unassuming establishment relatively early on an otherwise desolate street. Lo & behold, it was the SW location of Voodoo Doughnuts; I couldn't pass it up.

It was nice to hear that other people on the slow-moving line were also waiting to partake in the vegan donuts, but all I heard from folks coming out were mutterings that there weren't many flavors available. Picky, picky! In the olden days there were no vegan donuts!

When we got inside, it became obvious why there was a line into the street: the shop only only holds about 8 people at a time. It's kind of creepy and dimly lit, never an appetizing effect in an eating establishment. But, in stark contrast is the brightly lit, rotating case of donuts in the corner. Despite the lengthy overhead listing of donuts, though, the only ones they have are the ones within the case and you can't see them until you're second on line! Note: the donuts in the case are real donuts displaying the current variety available. There are trays upon trays upon trays of fresh "stock" behind the counter.

Surprisingly, the lone guy at the counter acted neither like a primadonna or a gestapo- and he easily could have, given the demand. He patiently answered all questions and did not rush anyone. There were more vegan varieties than we expected, although out of 6-8 options, 2-3 were the same flavors in different shapes. Either that or he was just tired of answering, "What's that one? What's that one?" All of the vegan donuts looked very appetizing and just as donutty as the non-vegan versions, of which there were significantly more and quirkier options. We decided upon an iced cake donut covered in chick-o-stick crumbs and a larger, pleasantly lumpy-shaped apple fritter.

The chick-o-stick donut tasted like Mister Donut donuts I remember as a kid: fresh, dense, and cakey- almost crispy on the outside. It was delicious and perfectly enhanced by just the right amount of icing and a generous amount of chick-o-stick. Although I don't like apple, the fritter was a lighter, airier donut with an appetizing fritter glaze; my apple dessert-loving companion enjoyed every bite. Overall, we were both please and surprised by the donut caliber and would definitely recommend Voodoo as a stop on your own tour of vegan Portland. They are hard to miss; Voodoo has two locations (SW and NE "too") and are open 24 hours.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kyotofu: Quest for Pumpkin Ice Cream, Part II

Sometimes restaurants have an off day.

Sometimes you can't trust your first impression.

Sometimes you've spent the day dining at midtown, omni establishments that don't have any vegan dessert offerings and the vegan health bar you excitedly picked up at Fresh & Co. (it actually says vegan on wrapper!) was too much like an Odwalla bar to count as dessert and then it occurs to you that there is the slightest possibility that Kyotofu might redeem its having run out of pumpkin ice cream at Halloween time by having it at Thanksgiving time so you call them to check and lo and behold they tell you that they do indeed have pumpkin ice cream, so you ask them to repeat themselves because you can hardly believe your ears and then you call them periodically throughout the day just in case they run out before you can get there, the last time being fifteen minutes before you step through the door.

This is why I revisited Kyotofu.

I was exhausted from all of my phone calls and so too were my companions since they made some of them (different voices, different caller ID numbers: duh), so, when we walked in and saw an empty table in the front we decided to park ourselves and enjoy dessert we all of us reclined rather than gulping out of a plastic bowl walking down 9th.

I confirmed with the waitress that it would be okay to take up a table just for dessert and she was completely sweet and said it was fine. I coyly asked what flavor soft serve they had (surprise: pumpkin!) and then asked her what other desserts were vegan. Without missing a beat she pointed out the other two options from the dessert bar: the signature sweet tofu and the black sesame sweet tofu. I took the liberty of ordering the ice cream and the sweet tofu, which had me intrigued (but not so much to try the black sesame version). When she repeated the order she referred to my ice cream as a "soft ice cream sundae" and, seeing as she had been so obviously vegan-friendly already, I decided to roll the dice and suppress the urge to reply, "What do you mean, sundae, crazy lady? Can you prove that all of the accoutrements will be vegan?"

That there on the left of the pic is my "sundae". While it's certainly no Lula's creation, it was a surpisingly pleasant mix of tastes and textures that were presented beautifully in separate dishes (yay! I hate when food touches!). I don't know why my ice cream appears mint green in the photo; it was actually a pale orange. Those small, green blobs are matcha green tea mochi that tasted like a cross between a nut-less Turkish delight and a gumdrop dusted in green tea powder. The sticks to the left are cookies with some kind of candy/chocolate coating. The small dish in the lower left corner is filled with red raspberries in sssweet sauce. As anyone at Lula's Sweet Apothecary can tell you, I don't "do" fruit and ice cream; fruit is not dessert. However, these raspberries were ridiculously sweet and I while I didn't dare mix them with my ice cream, I did enjoy them on the sweet tofu. Thusly, I feel I should partially take back my reference to the "mixed fruit garbage" that was offered to me upon my first visit. In my defense, though, besides not liking to mix healthy and dessert, the waitress at the time had referred to the topping she was offering as "compote"- blech.

Ultimately, I'm glad that I was able to finally try Kyotofu's pumpkin ice cream. It wasn't as pumpkiny as I had been expecting, but that seemed to be par for the course for me this fall. I somehow missed any and all fall-related items at Lula's and Vegan Treats throughout the season, so it seems fitting that I should happen upon only one pumpkin dessert and have it wind up being pumpkin "light".

As for the signature sweet tofu, it was definitely pleasant and refreshing: much sweeter than I expected. Cream in color and also presented beautifully, the texture was kind of like flan (but not). It was served with a shot of kuromitso black sugar syrup (sweet!), a dried apricot, and this crazy little thing I think they call "tuile" that tasted like the holey, caramely cookie from a florentine. Having enjoyed it, I think I would be daring enough to try the black sesame sweet tofu on my next visit (?*).

That drink you can barely see in the back hiding out behind my not-really-green ice cream was the "Kyotofu", a DELICIOUS mixture of raspberry, fresh mint, and a white sesame shochu (rice based, Japanese alcoholic beverage). I am not a drinker, but this was good: exactly sweet, minty, bubbly, and strong enough; this puts Kyotofu on my list of places to go to grab a cocktail I will actually enjoy. Oh! They also have those fun glass bottles of fruit flavored Japanese sodas that have a glass ball floating around in it. Yes, I know these were meant to entertain children but I think they're cool and may possibly also keep an empty bottle of one in my fridge because I feel like it.

One more thing to note: for once, my reading about the waitress had been spot-on. Not only was she terrific, but she was also so accomodating to this sole vegan at the table that when she brought the check it was accompanied by mini chocolate souffle muffins that she quickly clarified were not vegan. She further explained in the nicest way possible that she wanted to bring over a vegan item, but that I had already had all of them (ouch). For all you non-vegans, my companions said they were very good.

* Yes, I'm on the fence about returning. On the one hand, this experience at Kyotofu was incredible. The waitress was wonderful, everything was served elegantly, and I tried and enjoyed a few new things. However, when I really think about it, wouldn't I be better off cabbing it over to Lula's to enjoy something truly decadent?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lula's Sweet Apothecary Just Keeps Getting Better

Ladies & Gentlemen,

I hereby present to you


Scratch that...

The Best Lula's Sundae So Far.

Yes folks, Lula's Sweet Apothecary has done it again: won my heart with this stunningly beautiful and equally delicious sundae. Let me break it down for you:

Chocolate ice cream
Coconut Fudge ice cream
Mint Chip ice cream
Peanut Butter Cookie ice cream (yes, that's PB cookies & cream!)
hot fudge perfection
graham cracker crumbs
whipped cream and a cherry

All washed down with a daring and delicious Peanut Butter Cookie float (there is no limit to the amount of peanut butter I can consume).

For those of you who haven't been, please see my previous post for the lowdown.

For those of you who are familiar, I know you're on your way.

The shoppe is adorable, the owners are divine, the ice cream is spectacular, and the creations are art: ice-creamified.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Portobello Vegan Trattoria

We did not meet a vegan in Portland that didn’t recommend this restaurant, so we were happy to have made our reservations a month in advance. As we’d heard, residing on an unassuming corner across the street from a bodega, Portobello takes over when Cellar Door coffee closes in the evenings.

On initial glance the lackadaisical transformational effort comes across as quaint, but we were immediately disappointed at the severe lack of warmth in our greeting. A small restaurant gaining a following should really back it up with personality from the get go. At very least, they need to do better than “Do you have a reservation?” as the first and only words spoken from hostess duty. But, the small "dining room" was completely filled with reserved tables, so we took that as an extremely promising sign.

Once seated, we weren’t surprised to find ourselves looking at a menu full of delicious choices. Our host, now the waitress, was quiet and unsmiling. We had hoped she’d offer some enthusiasm and/or insight to help us with our decisions, but she merely stood before us with her pencil poised over her order book. So, we ordered some wine to start, along with an appetizer to share. We were disappointed by the bitterness of the wine. While we saw another table collectively give theirs back, we merely asked for a glass of ice for ours. The waitress returned with a jar containing 3 crumbs of ice cubes and flatly asked if that was enough; it was almost as if she was trying to be unhelpful, or worse: antagonistic. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have generously brought a glassful of ice to the table than to make such an insultingly chintzy offering of frozen water? On the second try we received about ten cubes.

Our appetizer was sliced bread served with olive oil. We found it more than a little unusual to have to order bread and olive oil as an appetizer in an Italian restaurant rather than have it served gratis, but it was delicious nonetheless. The bread was fresh and crispy (although not even close to focaccia, as it’s listed), and served with very nice olive oil sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

For dinner we chose to share three options:

spaghetti with meatballs: The meatballs were the most delicious, vegetably meatball substitutes I've ever had. Not at all meaty tasting, they were the perfect texture and consistency and were nicely complimented by Portobello’s tasty, basily, tomato sauce.

tempeh hazelnut ravioli: adorable handmade raviolis filled with tempeh and sprinkled with hazelnuts and olive oil.

Best potato gnocchi ever: The most accurate description I can give of this dish is that it tasted like a cross between fresh pasta and the filling of a hush puppy from Gargiulo's (yes, I remember); to call this dish gnocchi is to grossly simply it-- by far our favorite choice of the evening.

When it came time for dessert we were tickled to find out that this “coffee shop by day” didn’t so much as offer decaf in the evenings. The irony notwithstanding (and unacknowledged by the possibly lobotomized waitress), we ordered two desserts to share. The chocolate hazelnut cannoli was a huge portion of two giant "cannolis", but extremely disappointing. The shell was a maple-flavored wafflecone-like cookie filled with room temperature chocolate mousse. The Tiramisu, however, was very rich, creamy, authentic and also generous in size; we could see why this is so popular.

A few times during the meal the chef made an appearance in the dining room. The first time everyone looked up excitedly from their tables in anticipation of his greeting, brimming over with their individual responses of certain accolades for the food. Unfortunately, not once did the chef acknowledge any of the patrons in the full dining room except for one couple at one table. He came out three times during the time we were there to gush over the same diners in a way that screamed, "You are the only people who interest me", and it was uncomfortable for everyone else. Surely he is much too busy to chit-chat with everyone, but a smile and a nod goes a long way. Clearly the hostess/waitstaff aren't the only people at Portobello who could use some training in the customer interaction department.

The fact is, I could return to a restaurant nightly on the basis of this caliber of gnocchi of alone. But customer service is very important to me and to come to a “nice” restaurant and not have any more conversation with the staff than if they were robots was more than a bit unsettling. I’d rather have mediocre food and great service; it's that important to the experience. But, in a vegan-friendly place like Portland, you don't have to compromise: you can get the whole package elsewhere.

I admire that the vegan community within Portland supports each other so adamantly, but there seemed to be different cliques that we, as tourists, weren't equipped to differentiate between. Certain vegan establishments that we were repeatedly recommended to were disappointing, and others that were dismissed by many vegans were surprisingly wonderful. With our New York accents, maybe we were simply not from the clique that is entitled to receive friendly service from Portobello? Final word: excellent food, mediocre atmosphere, abysmal service.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

NY Dosas Cart

Thanks to Supervegan, I made my way to the NY Dosa cart on Washington Square South right outside of the park on an exceptionally warm and sunny weekday in November. Comfortingly, it looks like any other cart until you get close enough to read the menu and see the exclamations of "vegan" and "dairy-free" alongside the multitude of print accolades this vegan cart has amassed thus far.

Despite being a veritable celebrity to vegans far and wide, Thiru, the owner & "Dosa Man", is instantly welcoming. I half expected him to be the Sri Lankan, dosa-doling version of the Soup Nazi, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. He never stops working as he simultaneously cooks and greets, without ever rushing a customer or an order. While you wait he regales you with NY stories and history as he brings you behind the cart into his spotless kitchen to show you how his artistry and fresh ingredients combine to turn into something much more spectacular than the simple word lunch implies. He effortlessly endears himself to each and every customer whether new or familiar and you feel as though he had been looking forward to seeing you rather than vice versa.

The food is outstanding, high quality, generously portioned and extremely affordable. While many upscale Indian restaurants offer minuscule, greasy samosas consisting of thick dough, a few tasteless potato cubes and a pea or two, NY Dosas' are practically the size of your head: overflowing with tasty ingredients and practically a meal in and of themselves. The roti is also a delicious appetizer, similarly stuffed but with differing spices that I couldn't place but of which I loved the contrast. Next time I should try the veggie spring roll and drumstick, but I don't know how I'll bypass the confirmed goodness of the roti & dosa. Perhaps a to-go bag?

The main event: I asked for the most popular dosa and he wasn't lying: everyone on line in front of and behind me ordered the same- the Pondicherry Masala Dosa. The last time I had a dosa I was seated at a well-known, cloth napkin establishment on curry row and was disappointed to have been served a ginormous crepe containing a minuscule amount of spiced potatoes. In contrast, NY Dosas' version is a dosa the way it was intended: huge and proportionately filled with potatoes, spices, and fresh, crunchy veggies spiced to your liking. Accompaniments included soup and generous helpings of at least four chutneys: including a super fresh and unique coconut.

There are so many incredible lunch options in the area, but I'm going to be hard-pressed to pass up the Dosa Man in the future.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar at MooShoes

Had a great time at the launch of Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar at MooShoes: an excuse to simultaneously shop and stuff your face.

I’ll start from the beginning: I’ve never been to Foodswings, but their generous contributions to the event last night reminded me that I probably should go asap. First, there were mini corndogs*. Not the corndog perfection that I enjoyed at Hungry Tiger Too, but still delicious in their own right. I’d say they were coated in the crunchy corndog coating but missing the key cakey batter. I wouldn’t be so picky if there wasn’t the HTT deliciousness to compare to, but again- still very good. Next up were simple chicken sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, and black olives: fresh and yummy-- made you feel like you were a "normal" person grabbing a quick sammie. Finally: crazy authentic chicken parmesan sandwiches made with Daiya had all the exact textures and tastes I remember from the local pizzeria’s non-vegan version. Yes, a trip to Foodswings is definitely in order.

Onto the stars of the show: the cookies! Okay, the stars were really Isa and Terry and everyone knew it. They were lighthearted and down-to-earth but the truth is that they have accomplished a legendary collection of cookbooks and show no signs of stopping anytime soon. The only disappointment was that these super-talented and outgoing women didn’t decide to talk a bit more. Ok, I get it, the do enough for us what with a new, incredible cookbook practically every year, but it would have been nice to hear some behind-the-scenes stories about their process; I’m sure there are doozies.

And then there were the cookies. Not only were they terrific, but I’ve got to hand it to the team who coordinated the whole event: there were tons of cookies of various flavors circulating at all times with the utmost sincerity and generosity; what a fine group of nice, hard-working folks. I’ll try to remember all of the flavors that I sampled:
3 chocolate chip variations,
oatmeal espresso chip,
sweet potato blondie (soooo moist and, frankly, a vegetable),
some kind of peanut butter/coconut/oatmeal concoction,
magic coconut chip bar (my fave of the evening),
peanut butter,
peanut butter blondie,
rocky road (cover cookie),
and the ubiquitous NY black and white cookie (haven't had these in ten years!).
At some point I had to admit that I was stuffed and wave my cup of nog in defeat.

Overall, the launch confirmed a few things:
1. Like all their other stuff, Terry & Isa's cookies rock.
2. MooShoes has some swanky & beauteaous goods.
3. A visit to Foodswings is in order.

* Why is it that everytime I see Isa in person there is a corn dog involved?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Candle 79

As excitedly as I vote for them and anxiously await their results, I don’t always agree with the VegNews’ Veggie Awards’ readers’ picks. Too often I’m convinced that people vote merely by reputation and/or name recognition rather than actual experience with or love for the product/establishment.

However, the editors’ picks rarely miss their mark and never has it been more evident than this year with kudos going to Ellen Degeneres (Veg Media Maven of the Year), Daiya cheese (Product of the Year), and Candle 79 (Restaurant of the Year).

Lately I’ve been finding myself downtown more than up, and it’s only been with the addition of Peacefood Café and Café Blossom (now Blossom Uptown) on the UWS that I’ve been making excuses to venture uptown more frequently. This weekend I decided to head towards the UES for a change, and made a reservation for brunch at Candle 79.

It stands repeating that Candle 79 is a beautiful restaurant. The colors are rich but muted, the atmosphere is elegant but welcoming, and it is always spectacularly clean and seemingly just waxed/reupholstered. More importantly, they know that reputation and beauty only go so far and have obviously invested as much in their staff as in their ingredients because both worked to provide an upscale and thoroughly enjoyable meal and experience.

A gentleman with a gorgeous accent took my telephone reservation unhurriedly with the utmost professionalism and precision. Upon arrival, we were greeted warmly and without pretense by the friendly hostess who promptly showed us to our roomy and comfortable booth.

From beginning to end our waitress (thx Christine!) was flawless. Her conversation and service was effortless and spot-on; she set the pace for a relaxed and enjoyable multi-course brunch (what’s brunch without dessert and drinks?). Our requests and customizations were met without the bat of an eyelash and she did not miss one detail.

The bartender graciously delivered all of our delicious drinks with antidotes about the ingredients, the manager non-intrusively confirmed our enjoyment, and the bus staff was exceedingly friendly, polite, and extremely well-timed.

Oh yeah, the food! I enjoyed the absolute best French toast I have had in my almost ten years being vegan. Fluffy, delicious slices of pumpkin-spiced French toast served with cranberry butter, cranberry compote (on the side by request) and maple syrup. This French toast hit the bar my Mom set high with the non-vegan French toast that I enjoyed growing up: both versions sweet concoctions that were neither soggy nor dry, but perfect combinations of crispier crusts with softer insides to balance the absorption of the overabundance of syrup I can’t help but indulge in. Next to this pile of sweet breakfast goodness was a generous portion of scrumptiously smoky tempeh bacon and caramelized bananas.

My vegetarian dining companion enjoyed a Mushroom and Butternut Squash Crepe that was equally incredible on the savory side of things. The crepe was the thinnest, lightest, crepe-iest crepe I’ve come across, sturdily enfolding an abundance of all kinds of deliciousness (in addition to the mushrooms and squash). Accompanying was a ridiculously crisp and fresh salad boasting romaine and beets.

Since we love us some carbs, we also requested a side of their Yukon-gold skillet potatoes and an order of polenta fries. The potatoes were absolutely delicious (was that paprika?) and the fries out of this world: piping hot, crispy on the outside/creamy on the inside, and made only more delicious when paired with the accompanying chipotle ketchup.

Yes, there was room for dessert. Across the table I watched as the simply-named but intricately prepared apple pie was enjoyed. A whole, personal-sized pie in a crispy, flaky phyllo crust overflowing with apples and covered with almond crumble with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream atop. While not my cup of tea (apples, shudder), the ice cream, almonds and shell were as good as I expected.

In front of my own fat face sat two perfect, sugar-dusted cannoli shells filled with cool, smooth, dreamy, vanilla cream, sitting in a delightfully generous pool of chocolate sauce and topped with a scoop of chocolate chip ice cream. Not a fan of traditional, cheesy cannolis in my vegetarian life, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole dessert and enjoyed every crumb.

Finally, I finished off my meal with a cup of what I have long considered to be the best hot chocolate in the city…i.e., the most chocolatey.

Hopefully I have adequately described what I consider to unequivocally rank up there as one of my best overall restaurant experiences (dining company included!). From food to service to atmosphere, Candle 79 did not miss a trick: every single worker in every capacity worked together to create a mood, set a pace, and present a meal that I don’t expect to be rivaled anytime soon.

I’ve been a fan of both Candle Café and Candle 79 for years and years. While I have often been impressed by a meal or a drink, I’d never been blown away by a complete experience in either place. This visit changed all that; Candle 79 seems to have found the magic combination of getting everything right. I will be back soon and often.

* Both Candles now generously offer a 10% discount to Woodstock Farm Sanctuary members.

Veggie Conquest III; Yes We Cran!

I attended another wonderful installment of Veggie Conquest III this month. Please read my post here on Supervegan.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Back to Eden Bakery

Lucky for us, Back to Eden Bakery had just opened a week prior to our visit. Ardent Vegan Treats fans, we hadn't had much luck on the baked goods front since arriving in Portland, but we entered the Back To Eden shoppe and were immediately blown away; it is decorated with such exquisite charm and care: the personality comes through in every adornment. It has a decidedly Lula’s Sweet Apothecary flair and John, the owner, even told us that they were his inspiration. He was warm, welcoming, and the embodiment of the personality that his shoppe conveys. It’s hard to decide where to look first at Back to Eden. Besides the decoration, there are a bunch of great things to buy: from pre-packaged vegan foods to handmade items from local artists, to beautiful artwork: everything is displayed in such a way so as to fit with the theme of the shoppe.

And then there is the food. The cases are full to the brim with an eclectic and inviting assortment of freshly baked goodies: both sweet and savory. Every single item looks just-baked and delectable; it’s impossible to choose just one thing. Take a moment to read the framed article on the wall overhead: it details how everything is baked out of their home’s garage, which has been newly renovated into a commercial kitchen. Also learn how many of the ingredients have been grown in their own garden. You just can’t fake this kind of dedication.

On our first visit we showed some restraint and went with the following:

pumpkin whoopie pie: DIVINE. What’s not to love about something that tastes like a perfectly spiced, pumpkin devil dog?

butterscotch white chocolate chip pecan cookie: Fantastic. Just soft and chewy enough, while retaining a crisp-- possibly my new favorite vegan cookie (and I'm very picky about my cookies).

lemon blueberry scone: Perfect texture, flavor, etc.; now THIS was a scone.

And the piece de resistance: A sundae made with ½ Dark Chocolate Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream, ½ Chicago Soy Dairy Temptation soft serve twist, smothered in Holy Kakow chocolate sauce, homemade caramel sauce, and a chopped up Go Max Go Jokerz candy bar. Let me be the first to HIGHLY recommend this concoction. May I even be so bold as to name it “The East Coast”? Besides being a veritable Snickers sundae, the cold of the ice cream had an incredible and unexpected freezing effect on the already incredible Jokerz pieces and I enjoyed every single chomp of this hefty sundae.

We, of course, returned to Back to Eden on the last day of our trip in order to bring home an assortment of their ever-revolving, equally scrumptious goodies. This time we went for:

More pumpkin whoopie pies: You’ll understand after you’ve eaten one...or 12.

macaroons: regular, chocolate walnut, and strawberry

hazelnut shortbread: delicate and delicious

marionberry muffin: soft, airy and fresh

marionberry pie: delectable

apricot scone: fantastically filled with dried apricot pieces and a center of apricot preserves

cherry pecan tart: tasty, gooey tart of caramelly goodness...oh yeah, cherries and pecans too

chocolate strawberry cupcake: You know the run-of-the-mill vegan cupcakes with overly sugary icing and bland cake? This was the antithesis of that.

I can’t say enough about the incredible offerings at Back to Eden. They have attended to every single detail and it shows. Now THIS is the kind of bakery I expected of Portland. And now I hear that they have chocolate croissants? Let’s work out a coast-to-coast shipping estimate, shall we? Thanks to John, the bakers, and the friendly staff for all of the incredible goodies. You are officially our go-to West Coast bakery. Continued success!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Angelica Kitchen

I’ve been an east coast vegan for almost ten years now, but had never been to Angelica Kitchen before this past weekend. Too bad I didn’t realize that I wasn’t missing anything.

The place is cute enough and their menu options seem inviting. Unfortunately, the waitstaff is obviously hit or miss and we invariably missed: bigtime. While one waitress greeted everyone warmly and smiled as she interacted with the people seated at her tables, our waitress made no attempt to hide her boredom, disinterest, and overall apathy. She could offer no recommendations, responded to menu questions with one word, monotone answers, and avoided us until it was time to pay. I’ve never had a server place a meal in front of me in silence: without so much as murmuring, “enjoy”.

The food: I don’t know what all the fuss is about their reuben. It consisted of a dry, tasteless slab of tempeh, sauerkraut, lettuce (on a reuben!?), and a thimbleful of “russian dressing”. Not only wasn’t it a good sandwich, it didn’t taste anything like a reuben! After waiting ten minutes- to no avail- for our waitress to check in, I got up from my table and went to ask another waiter for additional dressing. He promptly brought it over and the added moisture (though not much taste) made it edible. Note: it was an additional charge of $1.75 for a dixie cup amount of additional dressing.

The Angelica cornbread was absolutely disgusting. I’m not sure what they put in it (rice?), but it seems neither corn nor bread, and is completely devoid of moisture as well. The Southern style cornbread was meh at best: not very tasty and also terribly dry. I’m not sure I would have pegged either as cornbread were it not for the fact that they were yellow. Neither is served with spread (butter, jam, etc.). This would be okay if it weren’t so damn dry! Blech.

The soup of the day (yukon gold potato) was forgettable: nothing you couldn’t whip up in your vita-mix…better. I’m all about potato soup: rich, thick, creamy, chunky, steaming bowls of potato soup. This tasted like potato flavored water; the garnish had more taste than the soup.

The best item we ordered was the wrapsody, which was a nice mélange of taste, textures, and flavors. Unfortunately, as with the reuben, it was served with no accompaniment- making it pretty pricey for the tiny, lonely sandwich.

With so many vegan options within walking distance I wouldn’t bother stepping foot in here again.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Daiya Ode to Chi-Chi's

Remember Chi-Chi's? Moreover, Chi-Chi's buffet? Endless platesful of sweet corn cake, Mexican rice and cheese & onion enchiladas...finished off with a pile of warm sopapillas drenched in chocolate sauce- no wonder they went out of business; I could really pack it away! I hadn't thought about them in ages until I placed my most recent Daiya order from Pangea and began brainstorming the use of my incoming bags of shredded cheddar. In the end it wasn't a quesadilla, nor the chili con queso, but the cheese and onion enchiladas that won the opportunity to showcase my cheese this time around.

In the interest of honesty, I will admit that when I imply that I chose to make the cheese and onion enchiladas, I invariably mean that I had the Daiya shipped to my vegetarian Mom, tracked its delivery from work, and sent her a text message immediately upon its arrival indicating that she should check her email for the detailed instructions that she was to follow. Said instructions included a very simple enchilada recipe, and began with some variation of, "This is your mission...if you choose to accept it". Of course she did; she's my Mom. And who can resist Daiya and the prospect of cheese and onion enchiladas? Right, no one.

Anyhoo, you'll note in the picture above the beauteauos pan-ful of enchiladas that she was able to create under such vegan duress: yum. I hesitate to mention that before partaking, the carnivorous Dad asked if we had any "real" cheese to cover it with (!). More important to note, though, is that after being refused, he proceeded to scarf down double the helping of the other diners, sans "real" cheese. Hmm, not exactly missing anything, was it, Carnie? No, I didn't think so.

To be clear to vegans, vegetarians and omnis alike, the Daiya smelled, melted, looked, stretched, and tasted just like mild, delicious cheddar cheese of vegetarian days gone by. The onions were suitably crunchy in contrast to the squishiness of the rest of the enchilada sauce laden, generously cheesed 'ladas and there were happy tummies all around. There is still quite a bit of Daiya left over from this delivery, but I think I am once again going to forego the baked macaroni and cheese in favor of a good old grilled cheese, some melty nachos with jalapenos, and cheesy fries (Nathan's, of course).

I will make a concerted effort not to order another shipment for at least a month, lest I become addicted as I once was with "real" cheese. In the interest of full disclosure though, I'll admit that I have two wheels of Dr. Cow in the fridge from my order as well; so, I'm not exactly cheeseless in the interim.

For those of you who may have missed it, please see my first Daiya swoon here on SuperVegan.

And for those of you who also miss Chi-Chi's, does anyone have the recipe for their moist, sweet, corn cake? You know the one: they used to serve it by the ice cream scoop! Gotta miss Chi-Chi's.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tour De Crepes

Walking down NE Alberta for the second day in a row I was determined to find Tour de Crepes; I hadn't had a crepe since my eighth grade french class! As it turned out, it was a tucked behind “Suzette”: an adorable little restaurant that is somehow connected to the tiny silver crepe cart in back. I’m still not entirely sure how the two are related, but after you order at the cart you can seat yourself either in their restaurant or in their front garden/patio area where they'll serve you your freshly made crepe with your silverware in an adorable little box on the side.

So, despite having just had breakfast, I couldn’t pass up 1) the welcoming chalkboard sign exclaiming, "Vegans Rejoice" as a header to their vegan options and 2) the offering of a vegan nutella crepe. It was soft, fresh, generously sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar; overall: divine. I was no longer lamenting having passed up the unusual crepe from Perriera Creperie, as this was exactly the soft, desserty crepe I’d had in mind when I’d dismissed their crispy one.

In a nutshell, Tour De Crepes' crepe was delicious. Make a conscious effort to look for them (apparently there is a sign that says, cryptically, "This way to order crepes" but I somehow missed it) and then enjoy in the courtyard of Suzette.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Night of Bliss, Courtesy of Luna and Larry's Coconut Bliss

Question: How do you get carnivores to admit that a vegan diet isn't all about the sacrifice of taste and open up a dialogue about the cruelty involved in the dairy industry?

Answer: Start with Luna and Larry's chocolate hazelnut fudge Coconut Bliss ice cream and go from there.

As one of the winners of the Night of Bliss contest, which provided one person from each state with enough goodies to host a Coconut Bliss party for 20-25 people, I decided to share the evening with omnivore friends in order to open up the world of vegan eating to them in a fun and light-hearted, make-your-own-sundae kind of way. Sure, I only serve vegan food at any gathering held at my house, but people who are used to consuming the standard American diet easily bypass the offerings that are more foreign to them (you'd be surprised at how many people haven't ever eaten lentils) and stick with the more mainstream and recognizable staples like hummus and guacamole. However, not many people can pass up ice cream: especially if that's the point of the whole event. And, the make-your-own-sundae aspect doesn't hurt either.

The ingredients: After canvassing the Coconut Bliss offerings within the tri-state area with ice packs and coolers in tow (thanks to Pangea Daiya orders), I wound up with a few pints each of the following assortment: Naked Coconut, Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge, Cherry Amaretto, and Cappuccino. Admittedly, I'm not a fan of fruit flavored desserts and so I chose to omit such Coconut Bliss offerings like Pineapple Coconut, Vanilla Island, and Strawberry Lemon Love from the offerings.

Some delicious toppings were provided as part of my contest winnings:

Essential Living Foods organic chocolate covered goji berries: To compare them to raisinettes would be a huge understatement, but you get the idea...multiplied by a million on your taste buds. Everyone went gaga over these and there was a lively debate over whether they were better enjoyed room temperature by the handful, or a little frozen from being paired with the ice cream. My vote: by the handful, so you could enjoy the tastes and textures to the fullest. These morsels are delicious, good for you, and good for the planet. Check out their website and order some goodies.

Grizzlies Brand organic Calypso Crunch granola: As a sweets lover surrounded by glorious ice cream and topping options, I uncharacteristically wanted to pour some of this granola into a bowl of vanilla soy milk and call it a day. Instead, I sprinkled it over some Naked Coconut ice cream and enjoyed it so much that I had to go back and taste each individual ingredient dry so that I could confirm the deliciousness. They have a ton of flavors (and other products) to choose from, but Calypso Crunch was right up my alley with coconut chips (giant, toasted flakes) and cashews.

Navitas Naturals sweet raw chocolate nibs Cacao Power: How can you go wrong with ultra dark, sweet, cacao crunchies sprinkled generously onto your already chocolatey sundae? You can't. This sweetened superfood reminded even me how healthy and delicious raw options are and I've learned even more by browsing their website; I urge you to do the same. If you do it whilst enjoying a sundae covered in nibs, more power to you.

And I also provided some house sundae topping favorites: Holy Kakow chocolate syrup, pecans toasted with cinnamon sugar and maple syrup, wet walnuts, Magic Bullet crushed Chick-o-Sticks, peanuts & raisins, Go Max Go candy bars, chocolate covered pretzels, Laura Lee's Flaky Peanut Butter Treats, and rainbow sprinkles.

More important than all of the delicious sundaes that were enjoyed was the fact that I learned something very important and had the opportunity to explain something that would have otherwise continued to go misunderstood. Without me knowing, these omnivores that I've known for a long time (some even before I was vegetarian, let alone vegan) didn't understand why people become vegan. They equate vegetarianism with "not wanting to kill animals", but don't understand how dairy factors in, since the animal has to be alive to provide milk/eggs. As strange as it sounds, the idea of these animals living lives of cruelty never occurred to them. And even now, as the term factory farming is in the news as being an environmental issue, the cruelty that is associated has yet to go mainstream. So here I was, thanks to my contest win, in the position to explain that the idyllic image of happy cows being hand-milked is a fallacy of the highest order. So, between my calm, fact-oriented explanation and the delicious Coconut Bliss, I think I may have changed some minds about veganism...or at least gave my omnivore friends an alternative option to reach for in the dessert freezer.

Thank you, Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge, for being the favorite flavor of the evening and to Coconut Bliss, for the opportunity.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tin Shed Garden Cafe

In my exhaustive restaurant search in preparation for our trip to Portland I had come across glowing reviews of the Tin Shed Garden Café. Yet surprisingly, all the vegans we met in Portland were very dismissive about it. Granted, it’s not vegan or even vegetarian, but it is vegan friendly AND dogs are welcome (and even have their own menu), so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dine amidst some canine friends.

We went for brunch and sat outside in their adorable covered, heated seating area. We started with a fresh squeezed OJ and a gigantic, fresh mimosa: both delicious. I had the vegan friendly “Tim Curry”: a blend of veggies and tofu over fresh spinach, topped with peanuts and raisins in a coconut curry sauce, and served with potato cakes (shredded hash browns). Smothered with Secret Aardvark, this was a delicious and hearty way to start the day. The vegetarian went for the “Sin”: sweet potato bread French toast served with maple syrup and fresh fruit (even figs!), and a side of potato cakes.

One of the nicest things about the Tin Shed is that even though they are super busy, no one makes you feel rushed or as though your service is being adversely affected by the crowd. The service was terrific and we enjoyed a leisurely meal in the clearly popular spot. The fact that most (all?) of their produce comes from the garden in the backyard doesn’t hurt either; to say that it is fresh would be an understatement. The food is very local, very fresh, and tastes it.

In fact, we enjoyed our experience at the Tin Shed so much that we returned for dinner a few nights later to both enjoy the “Baby Beluga”: the dinner version of the coconut curry breakfast, served with lentils over rice (instead of spinach). We added a generous side of crunchy chips and (always vegan) potato salad and were very pleased with both.

Most important to note, though, is how much we thoroughly enjoyed our vegan Bloody Mary’s, which were garnished with some Picklopolis goodies (pepper, pearl onion, olive) and a giant, fresh celery stalk. We even tried one “Cajun”, made with Hot Monkey Pepper vodka: terrific.

It is also possible that the handsome Jesse James was seated across from us, but we weren't and still aren't sure (he's in the way background of one of our pictures). Does anyone know if he's a Portland frequenter?

All in all, I would highly recommend this casual, friendly, all-inclusive restaurant to anyone dining in the area.