Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vedge Restaurant: A New Vegan Dining Experience

I've been meaning to go to Vedge Restaurant, the newer establishment by the former Horizons' owners/chefs, for way too long.  Thankfully, some friends and I made a plan to go before Chef Rich Landau recently won his episode of Chopped.  It was hard enough to get a reservation before; now it must be near impossible.


I was a newbie blogger when I'd visited Horizons; my short review and lack of pictures (blasphemy!) is not a sufficient representation of how much I enjoyed my meal.  Everything was so amazing that I kept eating long after I was full and actually had to unbutton my dress in the car on the way home because I was afraid I'd explode out of it otherwise.  Never mind my organs, I just wanted to save on dry cleaning.

The anticipation for our Vedge reservation was exciting.  When they called to confirm, I scared the person on the other end with my shriek.

We'd already had a long, hot day in Philly by the time we made it to Vedge, so we were especially ready to be wowed.

We had a later reservation, so Happy Hour was calling our names.

I immediately let the host know that we were over an hour early for our reservation with the intention of enjoying Happy Hour in the lounge.  He calmly (clearly none of the Vedge staff was as excited as I was) informed me that the only place happy hour was available was at the bar, and punctuated his statement with a glance at the already full room.  Although he didn't seem to care either way, as luck would have it: four seats opened up at the bar at that precise moment.  But I was still perplexed; I knew I'd read about a cocktail lounge on the website.  My recollection was confirmed when I opened the Happy Hour menu.


I couldn't help but to do a little investigating and ultimately found a small room off the left side of the bar.  It was filled with large chairs and small tables: enough to seat about 12 people in a space that a NYC restaurant could fit 30.  So, it was real.  In fact, the couple that came in right behind us was escorted right in.  My guess is, either you need a special reservation for that room or, more likely, a secret password is required.  I'm onto you, Vedge!

Anyhoo, what's Happy Hour without drinks?  These were the picks of the group: white cucumber drop: vodka, lemon, cucumber; and red rumble: rum, strawberry, black raspberry, lemon.

And the bar onto which multiples were placed:

I was way too dehydrated to partake in libations just yet, so I concentrated on the Happy Hour menu food offerings, of which there were five.  Five people, five options: it was a no-brainer. Disclaimer: the HH photos are a bit light and blurry because it was very bright in the pretty space.  Rest assured that everything was plated with considerable thought and devoured with gusto.

Korean seitan taco: I had the same experience here as in Horizons in that I don't love seitan, but I loooooved this appetizer.  A woman next to me at the bar said she comes in for this and a glass of wine when she wants to treat herself; I don't blame her.  The tortilla was soft and the seitan was flavorful and tender.

curry wedge fries: we couldn't really decipher the dipping sauce, but it went quite nicely with the giant, crisp fries. 

smoked mushroom sandwich with white bean sauerkraut puree: the sauerkraut gave this sandwich (the top piece of bread is in the rear) a really nice tang that complemented the sweetness of the smoky mushrooms.


Kung Pao Cauliflower: such great flavor; can this dish be on every Chinese restaurant's menu in New York, please?

Smoked Caponata Toast: a surprisingly yummy aubergine spread on toast with arugula.


It's not easy splitting five small appetizers five ways, but we did it!

And then it was time for dinner...and, for me, a drink.  My Kyoto sour: junmai sake, cucumber, grapefruit, agave, lemon was light and refreshing.  If I wasn't driving, I'd have said to keep 'em comin'.

The dining room was stunning in an understated way.  It was also packed with guests, which is why I only photographed this detail.


You'll notice that as the pictures of our meal wear on, they will become increasingly darker.  The culprit?  The falling sun, which sometimes made it a bit too dark for my photographs to sufficiently capture the detail of the plates.  But, you'll get the idea.

As we were all visiting Vedge for the first time, our waiter gave us excellent ordering guidance.  Even so, between the "for the table" options, the "plates," and the "dirt list" it was hard to both narrow down what we each couldn't leave without tasting as well as to consider the predilections of five different dining palates.  In the end we chose a great assortment of dishes AND were excellent sharers.

These were our selections from "for the table" options:
house made pickles: I can't say we weren't collectively disappointed that this was a dish of house-made pickled vegetables instead of actual pickles, but the carrot/cauliflower/as-yet-unidentified-vegetable combo was still devoured.
peel n eat lupini beans: piri piri, fried garlic: this was the most fun dish of the night!  Reminiscent of this green garbanzos in the pod fiasco, we weren't- at first- certain of what we were attempting to peel off.  One of us finally cracked it: a thin shell slightly firmer than on a chick pea was encasing the bean.  While I removed it on the many that I consumed, most of my friends ate them peel and all to no dismay.
charred shishitos: nora pepper aioli: these elicited the most giggles of our choices, as it turned out the tasty peppers worked out to $1 each.


Have you ever been to a restaurant where one table is having so much fun that you can't help but to glance over now and again to see what those folks are doing?  We were that table.  Despite the friendly instructions from our extremely patient waiter who promised to time our dishes appropriately, we found it difficult to make all of our selections at once.  So we just kept eating and ordering, discussing what we'd eaten and what else we should eat, and eating and ordering again.  It worked out well for us.

These were our selections from the week's "dirt list":
A word about some of the menu descriptions: many of the offerings included an ingredient that we were unfamiliar with.  As none of us had any allergies, we agreed to just go with it rather than to ask for specifics.  Vedge deserves this kind of trust; we knew their food had earned it from when we'd first become Happy Hour.

French beans & English peas: mushroom escabeche, preserved lemon: a terrine of the freshest beans and peas I've ever eaten, along with mushrooms cooked in such a way that a mushroom hater didn't even realize he was eating mushrooms.

cocozelle & yellow zucchini: pesto trapaneze: After all the sad, oily, limp zucchini dishes I've been served at omnivorous restaurants over the years, I generally don't order them out.  But, the friend who expressed interest in this dish was our lightest eater, so it was only fair to defer to her choice.  Shows what I know: it wound up being one of the favorites of the table.

Brussels sprouts: shaved & grilled, smoked mustard: I love everything about Brussel sprouts (and mustard), so I prefer them simply halved and roasted.  This preparation was a little fancy and over-dressed for me, but it was still delicious.

fingerling fries: creamy Worcestershire: While I've never met a fry I didn't like, these were EXCEPTIONAL.  As much as I'd hate to choose, if you find yourself in a position where you can only have one order of fries, choose these.

At some point during our feast we each were presented with a single slice of (presumably) house-baked white bread and herb-filled oil for the table.  I thought the white bread was a somewhat doughy choice, but didn't have to worry about filling up on it; it was purely a one slice per person deal.


Aaaaand, still eating.
These were our selections from the "plates", which we agreed erred a little on the small side:

spicy grilled tofu: gochujang, edamame, smoked miso, yuba cracklin: while the grill marks were impressive, the tofu's preparation was nothing out of the ordinary.  It was tasty, but I expected the gochujang to pack more of a punch.  The edamame puree was a nice substitute for peas or mash (or mushy peas).


grilled seitan: swiss chard, smoked tahini, pickled turnips, za'atar: the seitan lovers in the group went a little gaga over this dish and even I liked it.

All told, we ordered 14 dishes for 5 people.  The suggestion had been 3-4 each and although we fell a bit short of that, we were all incredibly satiated.  I wouldn't dare utter the word full, as it was about that time that we took a vote and decided that while we had done an impeccable job sharing our meal, dessert was going to be a solo effort.

One friend abstained altogether (boo), but another chose the pomegranate jelly donut: halva ice cream, sumac marshmallow.  There were elements she enjoyed and others she disdained; overall I'd say she was disappointed with the choice.

Who could blame her?  She could do nothing but watch the rest of us with envy, as we EACH ordered the chocolate uber chunk: pretzel-peanut crust, malt custard, stout ice cream!!!!

I was the only non-beer fan who ordered this dessert, yet the only one who enjoyed the stout ice cream.   I horrified the haters when I put it directly on my sweet and salty parfait.

The petit-four was ok, but the contents of the jar was the star of the assortment.  If you're a professional, like me, you'll be able to scoop up the pretzel crust, chocolate chips, and all three layers of cream in one spoonful.  We each took turns saying, "I'm so glad we didn't share."

The dining experience was a long one, but I was more than a bit sad when it was over.  Our waiter handled our disjointed group with aplomb, and every element of the service was top-notch.


I highly recommend that you visit Vedge for the first time with at least a few people; this way you'll get to try a lot of different things.  I'd also suggest that you keep a menu at your table for reference; although each dish is presented formally, there were a few occasions where we found ourselves trying to remember a particular element. 

At one point in the evening Chef Rich Landau walked through the dining room; I wanted to burst into applause, but I seemed to have been the only one who'd noticed.  Also, my mouth was full of uber-chunk- which, incidentally, could wind up a nick-name.

I would not hesitate to return to Vedge and look forward to doing so sooner rather than later: hopefully for a very happy occasion.  Until next time.

One more thing: I'm a sucker for FAQs, so I couldn't resist reading Vedge's.  This note on their "child-friendliness" caught my attention:

"Child-Friendly It depends on the child. We have no special menus or seating, but well-behaved children of all ages are always welcome."

I've heard that Vedge gets a lot of flack for this, but I think it's clear and fair.  I wouldn't want to be seated next to an unruly person of any age.

Friday, July 26, 2013


You may not know this, but I don't always blog in the exact order in which events occur. There are all kinds of factors that affect what gets blogged at what time; sometimes posts are way overdue!  But today I've decided to push the venerable Cinnamon Snail up in queue because they had a crappy week and could really use some love right now: this is the best way I know to show it, but you can also vote for them to be the 2013 Vegetarian/Vegan food truck of the year.

This past weekend, the Bean gals took a ride south to visit the Red Bank Farmer's Market and, of course, The Cinnamon Snail.  It's one of our favorite ways to spend a Sunday.

VM ordered the, um, how do I say this?  She ordered the basil pesto grilled tofu with white truffle cashew cheese, kalamata olive tapenade, arugula, and caramelized onions on garlic grilled baguette...WITHOUT THE TOFU!  What can I tell you; she maintains that she doesn't like tofu (only if it's very "well-done"), tempeh (only if it's crispy or crumbled), or seitan (I'll give her on that one; it's generally too "meaty" for both of us).  So, she had all of the divine accoutrements and instead of the, you know, base of the sandwich, she subbed greens.  She loved it.  

I couldn't wait to get my hands on another Thai BBQ tempeh sandwich with pickled onions and Thai basil, arugula, smoked chili roasted peanuts, and sriracha mayo on grilled spelt bread on gluten-free bread (because it's that good).  I got VM to taste it this time and she really liked it, although her spice receptors are disappointing of late and she's convinced  that she couldn't order it- due to the heat level, not the tempeh.  Wuss.  I learned my spice love from her and now she's regressing!

As for 89, she ate some arugula that slipped out of my sammie undressed.  She said it was the best arugula she's ever had ;-)

Because we've each been doing our own weekday healthy thing, we reduced the amount of donuts we took home.  Baby steps, people!

Here's a brown sugar beer-glazed donut palling out, as it so often does, with an apple-cider donut.  (My sincerest of apologies to Idil, who thankfully gave me the brown sugar beer donut I wanted, instead of the coffee ice cream donut I inexplicably kept saying I wanted; she was right and I was wrong and she handled it like a pro...not to mention she also makes a mean star anise-spiced coconut milk iced coffee).

And, a caramel apple crumb donut (it continues to defy all logic that I like anything with apple, but I can't help it):

It was really hot out, so some of the donuts got a little melty.  Note to self: this is an excellent temperature at which to enjoy donuts!

For example, the s'mores donut (made with Sweet & Sara marshmallows!): isn't it the very nature of a s'mores donut to be enjoyed at least partially gooey?  We say yes.

And the caramel pecan turtle bar (shortbread crust!!): I've been waiting to get my hands on this monster for a long time and it went far and beyond my caramel-y expectations!


Finally, the outstanding Norberweiberberweiberhydrafab white chocolate glazed donut stuffed with bourbon hazelnut ganache and dusted with dirty blonde streusel.  You heard me.

Melting into further deliciousness:

Those who can't eat chocolate:

Don't look!

You cannot IMAGINE how ridonkulous this donut is.  As much as I love all Snail food and baked goods, this one really took me by surprise: creamy chocolate, crunchy hazelnuts, and all kinds of magic I can't even wrap my head around; this is a new favorite.  Thanks for out-doing yourself, Mrs. Snaily!

inside look

We love the Cinnamon Snail.  Owners and staff are the greatest, and the food never ceases to amaze.  They work incredibly hard to spread love; light; and gourmet, organic, vegan food to the masses, all the while making sure that each and every customer has a special day because the Snail was involved.

So obviously I am a humongous Snail fan.  See me here sporting my newest Snail shirt, which is available on Etsy along with some other great items and designs.  You know, so you can be cool like me.

Aaand, this is an outtake of me thinking I got a sweet double-Snail shot on the first try, only to realize I was disoriented by the sun and that it was, in fact, the Freezy Freeze truck behind me. 

Sigh; they can't all be winners.

But you know who is?  Chef Adam.  In case you missed it, check out the story of Snail meets Radish.  And keep in mind that this was after he'd already had a crummy week.  Viva la Cinnamon Snail.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Day at the Long Island Animal Rights and Vegfest

Because I'm vegan, because I adore the Bethlehem Vegfest, because I have a love/hate relationship with the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, but mostly because I'm from Long Island, I was super psyched to attend the Long Island Animal Rights and Vegfest hosted by Karuna for Animals.

So into Long Island I went, not even stopping to catch this illegal photo of what is possibly the world's most expensive toll bridge.

I arrived quicker than expected, so I busied myself with a tour of my childhood neighborhood.  So many memories...the bushes that I used to fling myself into in order to "brake" on my bicycle (I wasn't very good at the backwards pedal) as I took the corners too fast around the block were still there and had grown in proportion to my own expansion.  In other words, they'd still get the job done.

Eventually I tore myself away from Memory Lane and found my way to the event site.  Tents were set up on the gravelly and grassy area outside of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which was unfortunately very muddy from the week's rainstorms.  There were only about ten parking spaces available on site, so a school parking lot a short way down the road was the way to go (as long as you were careful to stay in the narrow shoulder on your walk back).

There was a nominal entrance fee required, I signed up for the Karuna email list, and then I was in (apparently by signing up for the email list I was also entered in a raffle for a door prize.  Marty from Marty's Flying Vegan Review later informed me that I'd won, but you had to be there to claim your prize.  No word on what it was, so no way to know what I'm missing!).


Although the event was much smaller than I'd anticipated, it was an informational haven for curious folks new to the vegan lifestyle and a compassionate way of thinking, as there were many tables set up with free pamphlets: Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and Sea Shepard to name a few.  One was new to me: HEART, a non-profit whose mission is "to foster compassion and respect for all living beings and the environment by educating youth and teachers in Humane Education".  I was glad to have had the opportunity to find out more about them from the friendly and enthusiastic representatives; check out all of the cool things they do and consider supporting them in their efforts.


Before the speakers began, there was some really enjoyable live music.

There were also some local business people tabling: life coaching, cooking classes, and pet mediums were all represented.  A couple of tables had homemade snacks: one woman was selling jam thumbprint cookies and another had containers filled with strawberries, walnuts, and maple syrup.  Save hemp chocolate bars, there didn't seem to be any mainstream, vegan, packaged products for sale or sample, but there were a few familiar bakers with an assortment of goodies available.

One of the main reasons I'd attended was to visit La Pirata Kitchen, purveyors of the best vegan Linzer tarts.  I was lucky to have had the opportunity to meet the baker herself, along with another gentleman: both were as pleasant as their cookies!

I chose two with a promise to return once I'd eaten them and decided where to go from there.

I want to point out that I'd been cleansing all week, so when I finished this fudgy, decadent, salted chocolate almond cookie, my heart was racing from the caffeine!  It was worth it.


This shortbread was another story altogether. 

Simple, sweet, authentic: I loved the touch of the naturally died crystals.

I returned to buy a couple of the amazing shortbread cookies for the dog sitters (a.k.a. The Esteemed Tasting Panel), but La Pirata had sold out of the individually wrapped gems.  What's a girl to do?  I had no choice but to buy a boxfull.

I'd recently read about Michelle Leon's creations, so was happy to see the jewelry and finely crafted, high-end belts and handbags in person.  I especially like the animal buckles, also echoed on some of the handbags. 

At this point I'd visited all of the tables at least twice, so I intended to go inside the building to view the art on auction.  Unfortunately, I was told that the art was only viewable from 10:00am - 12:00noon, and again from 2:00pm - 6pm.  Instead, I made my way over to the speakers' area and listened to Victoria Moran for a bit; she gave a great spiel on the misconceptions of protein deficiency.  Jenny Brown, who I've had the pleasure of hearing speak before, was next on the schedule.  Unfortunately, this is when the threat of rain became a reality; I ran to my car for refuge. 

I was really looking forward to hearing Demosthenes Maratos, particularly after having read his guest post on the My Face is on Fire blog, but he wasn't scheduled to speak for another two hours.  It was still going to be well over an hour until the art was on view again, as well as when Jay Astafa of 3 Brothers Pizza was expected to arrive with the event's sole food option.  The whole timing situation was a bit unusual, so- after some contemplation, I decided to leave the event and head straight to the source.  To be continued...