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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dad's Homemade Birthday Ice Cream Cake

In honor of my Dad's birthday I decided to regale his carnivorous tummy with a vegan ice cream cake, inspired by and courtesy of The Discerning Brute's recipe. You guys on the west coast have Maggie Mudd, but I've yet to convince the incomparable Lula's to move into the cake business (I admit they don't have to since they do what they already do so damn well). So, it was a do-it-yourself job that could have gone either way (like most of my cooking).

Anyhoo, the DB assured me that I did not need a spring-form cake pan to make an ice cream cake at home, just some waxed paper. So, I lined my pound cake loaf pan and went to town with my layers:

#1, the bottom crust: crumbled vegan thin mints mixed with Holy Kakow which, by the way, is the best chocolate sauce ever. They should really reconsider calling it "syrup" because it is so much more than that; I don't even like chocolate syrup! And, besides being TBCSE, I took the liberty of comparing the ingredients to those in my Dad's non-vegan standby: U-bet syrup. Holy Kakow's list was- of course- organic and completely impressive, while U-bet's ingredients actually made me shudder. Tossed! Sorry, Dad; I know it was your birthday. Instead, enjoy the better sauce with a half naked man on the front!

#2, first layer of ice cream: Dark Chocolate Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss ice cream (pure chocolatey, coconutty goodness)

#3, center topping layer: crumbled Vienna fingers (I know, but it's the Dad's favorite cookie and it is vegan by default. I will note, though, that the Magic Bullet completely pulverized the Vienna fingers so they didn't make an impressive filling and will thusly not be re-used for this purpose.)

#4, top-most ice cream layer: Naked Coconut Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss ice cream (coconutty and the creamiest CB flavor yet...& that's saying A LOT of creaminess)

#5, pizazz: ye old standby...rainbow sprinkles

I have to say that I was utterly impressed by how easy it was to make this cake and how much "fancy" credit you get for creating an ice cream cake (and serving it drizzled with more Holy Kakow). I wasn't prepared for the adoration! Ok, the adoration was from the vegetarian Mom, but carnie Dad did eat it.

I just want to share one suggestion about the cake assemblage: be sure to "sprinkle" your dry topping layers so that the ice cream layers can merge at various points in between. Otherwise, too much tightly packed dry topping will cause your layers to involuntarily and, quite spontaneously, disassemble! Also note that the waxed paper very easily peels away from the cake, so you may want to go crazy and even try an ice cream layer as your bottom so that all of your toppings are neatly sandwiched (my bottom layer was a little crumble-a-fied). All in all, you really can't mess up this recipe. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hungry Tiger Too: Vegan Corn Dog

Our delayed arrival in Portland prevented us from partaking in Hungry Tiger Too’s $1 corndog Wednesday (not to mention drag queen bingo at Crush bar). Luckily, the gal we met at Potato Champion on our first night warned us that it would have been a madhouse, and that it was worth the extra $$ to leisurely enjoy a corndog on any other day. That I did.

In my defense, I had already eaten breakfast, but still I admit my foolishness: I only ordered one corn dog. I was so excited that I couldn’t even read the menu (separate for vegans and extensive), just begged the waitress for a vegan corndog! I should say that I have never had a corn dog before: vegan or otherwise. Why didn’t anyone tell me how good they are? Oh my goodness, this thing was delectable. Not only was the outer “shell” crunchy, corny, and delicious, but somehow the preparation of the corndog made the inner dog the most succulent vegan dog I’ve ever had. Condimentally speaking, I chose plain ketchup. The cold, sweet, tomato taste really lent itself to the warm, fried creation and I was a happy camper. Why aren't there vegan corn dog vendors on every corner of every city on every coast, I wonder?

Bonus: While in the vegan mini-mall I thought I spied the infamous Isa Chandra Moskowitz walking by. Then, when I entered HTT there she was in the flesh (as opposed to on the cover of my cookbook looking knowingly at me as if to say, “I couldn’t have made it any easier for you, you cooking reject.”) Alas, I was too embarrassed to say hello because 1.) I was afraid she might quiz me on one of her recipes and 2.) I didn’t think it was fair to say I was a fan of her cookbooks whilst being handed an unhealthy (albeit vegan) corn dog. Anyhoo, “Hi Isa, your recipes are literally the only ones I can follow!”

I can only speak for the corn dog, but Hungry Tiger Too is a DEFINITE must stop for vegans on its merit alone. I can’t say anything about the service or the atmosphere because first I was too excited to notice, and then I was too satiated to care.

Anyone know where else in the country one can find a vegan corn dog? Must. Get. More.