Monday, January 30, 2012

The Problem With Sprig and Vine is That Their Food is Delicious

It's true; we've talked about it.  This is a problem for a few reasons.  For starters, I think about their cauliflower banh mi more often than I care to admit- even going so far as to strategically plan errands that will bring me to the area.  But, more unfortunately, because barring one employee, the restaurant staff seems not to be able to get their act together in any way other than the food.  There is rarely, if ever, a welcome of any kind when you enter.  On our latest visit, in fact, we were the first customers of the day and were greeted with 3 stares, silence, and then..."Two for lunch?"  Sometimes you just want to hear a hello, you know?

Our favorite waitress Jackie notwithstanding, the waitstaff is no more warm or friendly than the host and the service lacks the general polish that the beautiful dining room and outstanding food deserve.

But the food?  Look out!

We started with the chilled roasted gold beet crostini with black beluga lentils and smoked cashew ricotta.  The contrasting flavors and textures of all of the chilled ingredients atop the smooth cheese and crisp crostini was outstanding and hearty.

We shared the butterhead lettuce salad: watermelon radish, candystripe beet, grilled avocado, pickled red onion, fried quinoa, citrus-almond dressing.  So fresh and crisp, I especially appreciated the dressing that was creamy but light.  However, it would have been preferable for the serving to have been halved in the kitchen.

For lunch we each had our favorite cauliflower banh mi: pickled carrot & jalapeno, shredded lettuce,
cilantro & mint with lemongrass aïoli.  Just writing the words makes me want another one!

And, of course, a side of the kennebec potato wedges with their awesome grain mustard aoili (and ketchup by request).

Outstanding meal, per usual.  We actually decided to skip dessert; I was disappointed to realize that they still haven't updated their selections.  It wouldn't have mattered, I suppose, as we couldn't have stayed another minute; the dining room was absolutely freezing.  I don't bring this up for the sheer purpose of  knit-picking, but because I really want S & V to succeed and I'm worried that may not be the case, as every time I visit the dining room is less than a quarter full.  I assume that, more recently, this has something to do with the fact that it's winter and the area of New Hope isn't exactly bustling in the frigid temperatures.  But guess what?  It doesn't help that inside your restaurant is just as bad; please set the heat to an appropriate temperature.  Although we enjoyed our mouth-watering, drool-inducing sandwiches immensely, the cold was literally distracting.  Our fingertips were tingling, our legs and feet blocks of ice.  Even our warm drinks cooled practically immediately upon being served.  Interestingly, when our meal was over we were surprised to find that the front of the restaurant was significantly warmer than the back, where all of the few diners had inexplicably been seated.  Did it really not occur to the staff to seat diners in the warmest area of the dining room?

The fact of the matter is that the food is the hard part and Sprig & Vine consistently exceeds my culinary expectations.  The other missteps are unfortunate and constant, but if they could be checked the restaurant would be flawless.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook

I was recently A while back I was lucky enough to win a blog contest for the Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook from I Dream of Greenie.  Bess was kind enough to whisk it out to me pronto and I would have gotten to work on it much sooner had the renovation of all renovations not been dragging on to infinity.

Although I usually start off with dessert, I found myself with some beautifully, tightly curled bunches of kale at my disposal.  I consulted the index and decided to try kale with peanut dressing (p.186) with a few variations.  Instead of preparing it as a cooked dish as indicated, I omitted the carrots and used the ingredients as a dressing for raw kale salad; it was rich and tasty.  Cooked, I imagine it might be a lighter, more Americanized version of this African Vegetable Stew.

Made anxious by the detour, I returned to the dessert section and decided to get serious.  You can never be too full of peanut butter in my book, so I decided on the Alicia's crispy peanut butter treats with with chocolate chips (p.249).  I Dream of Greenie herself suggested that I halve the crispies and I was extremely grateful for the suggestion...until I realized that nothing measures ounces in my house- least of all me (I laugh cry in the face of math). 

Five ounces seemed too much less than a cup to be I quadrupled it.  Don't judge me; I have other skills!

It wound up being fine, which had nothing to do with the fact that I eyeballed the rice syrup and peanut butter amounts because it was easiest to just finish both sticky jars than to add to my already growing pile of sticky dishes.  Priorities, people.


After (those bits are peanuts; I used chunky PB):

They were ready in a flash.

These were SWEET!! And remember who's talking here, the queen of sweets. Sweet is actually an understatement for these bars, so prepare yourself. [Update 1/27/12: After Andrea made an excellent point in the comments, I realized that besides possibly overdoing it on the rice syrup, I also used sweetened peanut butter. My bad!]

Next up was the roasted curry cauliflower (p.175), with an eye towards the opposite page's red lentil dal for a dinner in the not too distant future.  I'm a big fan of roasted vegetables in general, but for some reason cauliflower never seems to cooperate for me.  However, with this recipe everything was perfectly crisp and robust, the flavors incredible: really the highlight of the three dishes I've tried so far.  Did you hear that?  Cauliflower trumped dessert!  Amazing.


One note: when I have a specific ingredient in the house, I'll often check the index of various cookbooks to see what they have to offer.  For some reason, the index of this book isn't necessarily set up for this kind of recipe shopping in all cases.  For instance, the cauliflower recipe can only be found under "sides" and not "cauliflower", yet the kale in peanut dressing is under "K".  Just remember to scan the meal "type" as well and you'll be good to go.

Thanks one again to Bess for the contest and to Kim Barnouin for the cookbook; more recipes to come.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Unexpected Hit and Miss of Vatan

I've been meaning to try Vatan's all vegetarian pre-fixe for years and finally got to right before the holidays with some super-swank friends.

Everything about our experience was terrific. Pleasant and efficient waitstaff, gorgeous dining room, and delicious (and vegan-friendly) food; what more could you ask for?

When you arrive, you are given a bowl of these appealing crunchy things.  They're like a cross between Wise onion rings and....something less salty and oniony.  Still, good- especially when dipped in the chutney.

The chutneys: coriander, tamarind, roasted garlic slices, spicy pickled carrots, and spicy pickled jalapenos.  So good!

Water for the faint of palate (remember to ask for ice if you order soda; they serve Euro-style).

The impressive Appetizer Thali:

  • The two items on the left are Sev Puri: Potatoes, garbanzo beans, yogurt, and chutney filled in a crispy bread (they leave off the yogurt for the vegan brethren) served, mysteriously enough, somewhat chilled.
  • Top middle is a handful of mini samosas: triangular savory pastries filled with spicy (debatable) potatoes and green peas.  These were delicious, but they were definitely more in line with the frozen phyllo dough samosas you can buy in the supermarket rather than traditional, Indian samosas.
  • In the center left, Mirchi Bhajia: fried hot peppers with garam masala.  I would have preferred these crispier (like pakora), but they were otherwise great! So much so that I also ate my tablemate's (thanks, HK!).
  • Center right: batatavada: fried potato balls in a chickpea flour batter.  These reminded me of a cross between pakora and aloo tikki and were very good, albeit also served at room temperature.
  • Top right is Ragda Patis: potato cutlet in a white bean sauce.  Also room temperature (are you noticing a theme?), it was creamy and slightly sweet- very palatable.
  • On the bottom right is a chilled lentil mixture that was not listed on the menu.  I assume we didn't receive the intended chana masala because they must prepare it with dairy, but the substitution was really tasty and the temperature wholly appropriate.

You have the option of ordering seconds of anything on your thali, but we all figured we'd better pace ourselves if this was only the beginning.

At this point the lovely waitress informed us that the appetizer had been of medium heat and we had a choice; our entrees could be the same, less, or more spicy.  I chose more.  Bring on the heat!

Good choice to pass up the appetizer seconds; this was the Entree Thali, clockwise from center:

  • Papadam: thin lentil wafers- always good dipped in tamarind
  • Puri: puffed whole wheat bread- a little on the oily side and naan's less popular cousin.
  • Toor Dal: boiled lentils cooked with Indian spices- seemed like sambar.
  • Chole: chickpeas cooked with tamarind and garam masala- not as spicy as the chana masala of my youth, but you can't really go wrong with this.
  • Ful-Cobi: cauliflower and green peas sauteed in a savory sauce- not as spicy or authentic as traditional aloo gobi, but also very good.
  • Bhaji: sauteed spinach and corn- outstanding and reminded me of a similar Ethiopian collard greens dish I've had and enjoyed countless times.
  • Batakanu Sak: potatoes cooked in a mild red gravy.  Potatoes; how can you go wrong?  You can't.

And to accompany, Entree Complements:

  • Pulao: boiled basmati rice with peas- standard and light.
  • Khichdi: lentils mixed with rice and assorted vegetables- extremely thick and pasty; I filled my batakanu sak with this, but probably should have left it alone.

While the spice and flavors were a little more muted than I'm used to, everything was delicious and I felt extremely comfortable dining at such a vegan-friendly establishment.  So much so that I was able to forgive them for the vegan dessert option: Aam Rus: mango pulp- straight up, mango pulp!  To be polite I smelled it (ok, that wasn't polite), I tried it, I grimaced at it, and then I thrust away shared it.  I will note that everyone else at my table enjoyed.  As for me, if I want a mango I'll just eat one with a side of sweet Thai sticky rice thankyouverymuch.

I left with a great feeling, anxious to return.

I really wanted to go back take VM, so my return visit was soon thereafter.  Unfortunately, it was immediately apparent that our waitress this time was disinterested and in an inexplicable hurry. It was early and the restaurant was more than half empty, so there was no reason for this.  She quickly snatched our menus because we "didn't need them", so we blindly ordered one vegan dinner and one vegetarian, with VM hoping it would mean there was some paneer in her future.

Even they put a bird on it.
The Appetizer Thali was as good as I'd remembered, but two minutes into enjoying it the waitress was back to ask if we wanted more of anything.  How were we to know yet?

why only two samosas this time!?
Mostly just to catch her off guard I did immediately ask for more Mirchi Bhajia and, to her credit, she brought it right out.

The only difference between VM's vegetarian plate and my vegan one was that she received Khaman, puffed cream of wheat flour cakes (that she didn't like), and her Sev Puri was drowning in yogurt (that she didn't like) instead of tamarind chutney like mine.  Since I had two, I gave one of my superior, vegan ones.

the non-vegan options were the big losers of the thali
As will happen in waitstaff situations such as these, she had no sooner cleared our first plate that the Entree Thali was served (the restaurant was still only 1/3 full).  As the waitress rushed through the descriptions of the dishes' contents like a stewardess explaining the location of the emergency exits with that annoying two-fingered motion, she removed one of the selections from my dish- the Bhaji that I had so enjoyed on my previous visit.  "This contains dairy and should not be on there," she explained.  What!?  I was not sure who to believe as I generally want to believe nice people over not-so-nice people, but I had to err on the side of veganism and go without.

VM received the non-vegan plate, inclusive of the coveted Bhaji and the added bonus (not really) of Kheer: rice pudding with saffron and dried fruits.  She did not indulge.

Because there was a non-vegan present, we received an additional Entree Complement: Kadhi: soup with yogurt and chickpea flour in authentic spices.  VM was so frightened by this milky substance that she did not even try it.  Note to vegetarians: at Vatan, non-vegan = yogurt, yogurt, and more yogurt.

It was hard to enjoy the meal through the eyes of someone obviously disappointed after my initial, glowing review.  VM was disappointed and, needless to say, I was annoyed and disappointed.  After having hated the mango pulp on the previous visit, I already knew I wasn't having dessert.  I urged VM to order the homemade Indian ice cream if she liked, but when we found out it too was mango-flavored, she passed and we anti-climactically ended our meal in the now nearly empty restaurant- much to the delight of the waitress, who clearly had other things to do.

the view from our hut at 7:30pm
On the way out I noticed this fine fellow who I had missed seeing on my last visit; even he looked perplexed.

Between the vegan misinformation and the missing pleasantries and ceremony of the second visit, I'm not sure how quickly I will return.  VM is completely disinterested in doing so.  It is a shame, really, how one establishment can afford two such distinct experiences; it was almost as though I wasn't at the same place. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

To Pancake or Not to Pancake at the Pancake House

Despite being a chocolate chip pancake aficionado from way back, on my last visit to the Rutherford Pancake House I was (embarrasingly) won over by the savory breakfast offerings.  While my meal was terrific, I left full of regret and devoid of maple syrup.  This time I swore it would be different.

When we entered, my eyes were immediately drawn to this sign boasting Vegan Challah Bread French Toast Stuffed w/ Sweet Cream and Strawberries.

A creamy (seemingly vanilla), fruity breakfast isn't generally my idea of a good time (chocolate chips FTW), but the fact that it was such a generally spectacular and totally unexpected vegan offering had my wheels turning and my stomach rumbling.  I did peruse the menu*, but my decision had already been made.  VM tried to tempt me away from a sweet breakfast with her savory lunch choice, but I held firm.  I double-checked with the waitress that it was definitely, completely vegan and had a special moment when she soon after instructed VM that the cheese on her veggie burger was "real" and, therefore, not vegan.  Good looking out!

While we waited for our meals I ordered a vegan egg cream.  What do you expect?  There it was on the menu, just waiting to be ordered.  It was good, but had a slight aftertaste- probably from the syrup.

VM's veggie burger looked completely awesome; there she goes with those impressive ordering abilities again.  She told me it was delicious and just as good as leftovers.

not sure if this burger is vegan minus the cheese
As for mine?  Hmm.  Ok, fresh fruit always puts on a good show, but this French toast was definitely not any kind of Challah bread I'd ever seen.  Rutherford, I ask you; do you really think this is what Challah looks like?  Because the whole point of Challah and, by extension, Challah French toast, is that it's thick and doughy; this looked like regular pre-packaged bread slices to me.

At first I thought the cream was missing, but there it was between the slices of white bread- kind of like a sandwich.  It was smooth and slightly thick- a consistency like nothing I can relate it to, but altogether pleasant.  It was mildly sweet and- dare I say- slightly cheesy?  Slathered with maple syrup it was tasty...buuuuut, still not Challah.

And then came the drama.  For some reason my breakfast appeared on the bill as $9.95 instead of $6.95 as advertised on the specials board; no big deal.  At RPH you pay at the counter, so we simply pointed it out at the register to the manager/owner (?).  Without skipping a beat, the snippy reply was something along the lines of the fact that obviously the specials board was wrong.  Really?  And who's problem might that be?  We suggested that he check the board and he informed us that he believed us, but that it didn't change the fact that it was obviously wrong.  Ok, I didn't write the sign and I'm not psychic; now what?

At this point there was an awkward silence wherein I can only assume he thought he could wait me out and that I would simply give in to the unnecessarily uncomfortable situation and pay the higher price.  Not with an attitude like that I wouldn't!  It was turning into quite the standoff and then it happened: to add insult to injury, he began explaining how everything- including the bread- is made fresh daily.  Um, by Pepperidge Farm?  Come on.  The bread?  That's how you're gonna play this?  Let's not go there.  Even if this loaf was homemade, it was not Challah!  Which means that on top of charging me wrong and then annoying me about it, I could accuse you of false advertising.  And besides, am I supposed to pay more than advertised because you're telling me it's homemade?  Just fix the bill and let me be on my way already. 

Eventually Mean Bean face prevailed in the silent stare-off and he slammed the price adjustment into the computer and made a show of crumpling the incorrect bill and throwing it on the floor.  Now why ya gotta have a nice, vegan-friendly menu and then act like that?  While I appreciate the vegan love, I do NOT appreciate the attitude.  We spent the whole meal talking about why there weren't more places like this one and how we should visit more often, and then a bad attitude ruins it all.  I don't fault you for a mistake, but I do fault you for mishandling it.  Bad form, RPH, and no reason for it.

* For some reason, the online menu doesn't nearly give you an idea of how many vegan offerings RPH has to offer.  In person, the word vegan is all over the actual menu and there are many options in each category.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Kale vs. Collards (Team Kale here)

A few friends and I have been having an ongoing kale vs. collards debate.  A group of us is particularly infatuated with kale (raw kale salad especially), while a small, super-fit few are all about collards all (most) of the time.  I'm obviously no nutritional wizard; the sole basis of my being a member of Team Kale is taste.  So I'll let them wax poetic about the health benefits; let's have some fun.

I admit it; there was a time in my life when I didn't even know what kale was.  Now I have my whole omnivorous family eating it: raw salad, baked chips...even in soup (cannelloni bean concerto)!  With no end to the debate in sight, I feel like I should be a public advocate for kale.  What better way to do it than with an Eat More Kale t-shirt?

Besides being rad, by supporting this small business you are not only advertising a superhero vegetable, but you are also standing up for a little guy who is being bullied by a giant, non-vegan company.  Read all about, support Bo, and let big business know that you're not having it TEAM KALE!!

You want more kale?  You got it.  Guess what I recently gifted all of the friends involved in the kale vs. collards fiasco?  Kale propaganda!!

Really, how cute are these pins?  They are from Sick on Sin, a company that offers all kinds of adorable pins and magnets and stuff: the vegan/animal themed are only some of their many offerings ("I love kale" is design #45).

Besides their adorbs merchandise (vegans love pins), the folks at Sick on Sin were incredibly kind as well as efficient.  When I placed my order for multiple pins of the same design, they wrote to confirm my order and still shipped the very same day.  So even though I'd waited until the last minute to order, it still arrived in a flash.

After having explained the friendly kale vs. collards debacle in the email conversation regarding my order, guess who weighed in on my packing slip?  Yep, another member of Team Kale!  Very cool.

"P.S. I vote kale too!"
Think that's all the kale I have for you today?  Think again.  Look what I found at Herbivore: a thumbs-up kale belt!

as modeled by My Vegan Gut
It too was a gift and now I'm wondering why I didn't get one for myself- especially since it seems they are out of stock.  Kale belt buckles FTW!

And, finally: if you're afraid of offending collards if your kale-ness isn't ready to be represented so tangibly, perhaps stickers are more your speed.  For a small donation, there's always the sizable Eat More Kale sticker to get your point across.

Most importantly, eat some kale!

And, to my friends (the collard sympathizers) who have been trekking through Nepal: welcome home!

Let's go get some kale?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Things I'm Still Eating Even Though the Holidays Are Over

So besides the fact that I'm still making my way through all of the generous booty I received over the holidays, I also have a couple of things I picked up myself to plow through.

To all you Starbucks' (soy/decaf/extra hot/no whip) Peppermint Mocha fans out there (myself included), let me let you in on a little secret: WestSoy Chocolate Peppermint Stick is the bomb.

I found it while searching for their taste-bud exhilarating soy shake and it has made a more than fine consolation in the absence of my original fave.  It's shelf stable so you can stock up, it heats up to a delectable adult hot chocolate (no booze; I meant the light mint flavor), and it's even good cold.  Really good.  Seriously, get on this; it's only out at the holidays but I've still seen some out there.

Late July Dark Chocolate Covered Sandwich Cookies Sprinkled With Organic Peppermint are just as good as you've heard.  They too are only around this time of year, so my advice would be to buy more than one box if you have the chance.

They come individually wrapped, which is great.  Not because you're only going to eat one (HA!), but because they travel so well in your pocket.

I'm not generally a huge sandwich cookie fan,

but the combo of the cookie, cream, chocolate, and mild peppermint is really decadent.

I have to admit I have yet to enjoy these chocolate peppermint creations together, but if you're feeling particularly chocolate-minty...have at it.  Happy New Year.