Category Archives: US

All the best of vegan NYC in 2016

Sometimes I think if I lived in New York instead of Austin I would have been following a bagel cleanse instead of a taco cleanse. Bagels have long been my favorite part about trips to the city because they are so amazingly good and so many places have a variety of tofu cream cheeses, including green olive. It’s the best thing in the world.30004804410_1d5acdf7fb

Other than bagels, the last few times I went to New York I felt like the popular vegan places were overrated. Candle 79, Champs, Beyond Sushi, Wild Ginger, and Dunwell Doughnuts are all infamous vegan spots that I was super excited to try and then a bit let down by. This trip was different because I went with traveling expert, and awesomest person ever, my pal Jojo who set me straight on all the best places to go. Wait, actually it was my Austin friend Jessica who told me we had to try the impossible burger at Momofuku Nishi which was our first stop.30124738716_b6ee6f9e27

I had read that you have to get in line before they open because they only make 50 burgers a day so we got to happy hour super early. Eventually a staff person came out and asked us if we were there for the burgers. When we told him we were, he said that they don’t do them for happy hour anymore, only lunch! GASP! But then they said they would make them for us. Whew. The impossible burger is supposed to be so meat-like that vegetarians are grossed out. Known as “the burger that bleeds” we couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about. In the end, all five of us, all vegan, enjoyed it. Someone said it was on par if not better than Arlo’s here in Austin, which, I have to disagree with. The patty reminded me of the burgers I ate in the elementary school cafeteria. The fries were like McDonalds fries, which was awesome since the real McDonalds fries are made with meat so I can’t eat them. I would have liked it better with some cheese and I do think Arlo’s is better but I’d, for sure, recommend it.

Later we stopped for a slice at Vinnie’s in Brooklyn which reminded me of Dimo’s in Chicago, they have all sorts of crazy options like vegan mac and cheese or teriyaki chicken.30046760082_b7d126d9f5

The next morning we got bagels and did the most touristy thing one could ever do in New York: rowed boats through Central Park. I should have taken a video so that I could use it in a video montage set to New York City. It was so fun, we saw turtles and didn’t capsize once. We headed to Riverdel Cheese shop and deli in Prospect Park in Brooklyn for sandwiches and it was just the kind of sandwiches I love, roasty, toasty, and filled with cheese. I got the M Night Shamlani (or something) which was cheese and salami just like the sandwiches I made growing up. Yes, I went from a diet of almost exclusively meat, cheese, and bread (and olives) to a vegan. I wish a place like this would open around here, I love that vegan delis are getting so popular.


After some wandering about we headed for Lagusta which now has a location in the East Village. I had been to the original in New Paltz a few years back and thought I’d died and gone to heaven, a very expensive vegan chocolate-based heaven. I saved my chocolates for an emergency because I knew at our next restaurant we were going to want to eat everything on the menu.


Meeting up with friends at Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s new Brooklyn location of Modern Love is something I’ve been wanting to do for as long as it’s been in existence…or before it even existed. When I found out my friend Laura was going to be in town the same weekend as Jojo I knew it was time to make the trip.


Everything about Modern Love is perfect, from the dark wood walls, the cute bathrooms, to every single thing on the menu. I was overwhelmed. Even though I’d been studying the menu in anticipation for a while I could not decide what to get. Luckily, I had enough people with me that I got to try just about every appetizer. The poutine was what I was maybe most excited for (I did have a dream about it). Instead of french fries they were large potato wedges and covered in the most delicious porcini gravy, and truffled almond  riccotta. We also had chili cheese fries, the tempeh stuffed avocado, Brussels with bacon, and what turned out to be my favorite, the mushroom blintz with smashed beet relish and kasha arugula salad.


For my entree I had a hard time deciding. I really wanted the Mac and Cheese with pecan-cornmeal crusted tofu, BBQ cauliflower and kale and I got to try it and it was truly fantastic. The tofu was just perfectly done and crispy on the outside. I ended up getting the Stuffed Poblanos with Street Corn (spicy lentil meat, yuba chicharrones, red rice, jicama slaw, smoked guacamole, pico de gallo, coconut sour cream, fresh herbs). The yuba was like nothing I’ve ever had before. A couple people thought it was potato-skin esque put when Laura said it tasted like pig skin, it was an aha moment. It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten something like that!


Finally came dessert and I went for the  Dulce De Leche Coconut Cream Pie.30010364610_9cdcd4e0d1

We tried to walk off the excessive eating by taking Isa’s advice and walking across the Williamsburg bridge which was super fun and beautiful.

Dim sum in New York has seemed like something important to do since I first heard of it in the movie Working Girl circa 1988 and I’ve seen many pictures of Vegetarian Dim Sum House. We met up for brunch even though Jojo thought dim sum for brunch was inauthentic and I think Nick might have just been full up still. Everything was crazy good and only 6 dollars apiece.30157812166_c446c3558b_z

The turnip cake (not pictured) reminded me of the most giant noodle ever. The monk dumplings, the coriander ham rolls, & the vegetarian pork rolls were all perfectly done and ridiculously tasty. It was just so much deliciousness in one meal. I could eat there every week. It would suck to live in New York and be super lazy, knowing that you could get on a train and have the best meals ever if only you could leave the house. I would be terrible at it. At least you can get so many things delivered.

We stopped in Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery to grab some knishes to-go and I followed the sign’s advice and brought one home for a friend! It was delicious. The perfect airplane treat.


We also stopped at By Chloe a couple of times for various desserts. I had never had a black and white cookie so I was super stoked to try one. 30216253151_2784f399ac

We had heard that the yuba sandwiches from Superiority Burger were some of the best food in town so we tried those as well. The restaurant was so tiny we couldn’t all sit at once and I didn’t take a picture but I had to share Jojo’s. I now want to make all sandwiches with yuba.


Seriously. This trip was 100% tastier and way more fun than my last few trips and it was all thanks to Jojo and her wonderful husband Nick. If you are ever on a trip check out her blog Vegan in Brighton cause girlfriend does her research and there is no dicking around eating shitty food with Jojo. It’s all good all the time. 30005346660_64e4545211_o

And grab a knish for the airplane. You won’t regret it. 29671630334_0ce036499d


Vegan Las Vegas

For Halloween I got to go to Las Vegas for the first time and it was surreal. From now on when people from other countries ask me where to visit in the US I think I will say Vegas because it’s the ultimate manifestation of the American experience. Doing research for the trip about where to eat it also seemed like Las Vegas was going to be the most vegan friendly destination ever. All anyone will really tell you is to stay at the Wynn because all of their restaurants are vegan friendly. The Wynn, however, was way out of my price range so we just had a meal there. It was difficult to figure out which of their 20 restaurants to go too because the vegan menus aren’t on their website but, after some searching, I found a pinterest board that has them all Wynn and Encore Vegan Restaurant Menus which was very helpful. I went to make a reservation for Sinatra but then found that they had a dress code and since Dan only had sneakers we had to find something else. Grr! As Austinites, we are just not used to dress codes. I finally settled on La Cave and it was a lovely experience, except for the ever present thumping music. I had the mushroom tortellini, arugula, and cashew cream sauce along with the Gardein chick’n, celery root puree, and lemon caper sauce. Everything was fantastic, it was supposed to be small plates but just one of them would have been quite filling. Luckily, I was able to walk it off since we were staying at the other end of the strip at the Luxor.

I was really glad that we stayed there, and not just because I got a hot deal. Everything is pyramid shaped and it’s connected to the Mandalay Bay shopping center. Along the walkway there are three very vegan friendly restaurants that I learned about on the eating vegan in vegas tumblr. We tried the over-hyped but still really good Slice of Vegas Pizza. It wasn’t the best vegan pizza I ever had but they did have a shockingly vegan friendly menu with sausage, chicken, cheese, meatballs, pasta fagoli, fried caluliflower, garlic bread, and several vegan desserts like cheesecake! Next door has Hussong’s Cantina which has many Mexican plant based options and Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar which has a vegan burger. Downstairs at the Luxor they also had vegan friendly tacos at T&T (Tacos & Tequila). So while the food at the Wynn was amazing if you can’t spend a hundred dollars at every meal the Luxor seemed like the best alternative. Plus you get to live in a pyramid. I walked through most of the other casinos which is fun and exhausting.

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And we got to see the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil which was so beautiful. Now I want to see all my favorite albums transformed cirque style!

On Halloween we dressed up as Axl and Slash which was really fun for the shows at the MGM.

The Vegas Strip made me feel really crazy and I learned that’s a common refrain. You endlessley walk through these casinos and there is loud, horrrible music being blasted every which way, and the noise from the slot machines, and people trying to get you to see naked girls, and people wanting you to buy their vacation packages, and people begging for money, and tons of indoor smoking. By day three I was desperate to get out of there so we took a cab to Komol restaurant, an incredibly vegan friendly Thai restaurant. We got tons of food, a appetizer platter with fried Tofu, spring rolls, fried eggplant, crispy spinach and fried sweet potato, Tom-Kha Soup, Gluten Sukiyaki-Thai Style, and orange tofu. They even had vegan Thai Iced tea. My favorite part was the orange tofu, it was super crispy and delicious. I’ve been craving it ever since. I realized after the ridiculously expensive cab ride that it was about a half mile walk to take the monorail back.

For our last big meal we went to Hakkasan inside the MGM. Even though getting into the restaurant was a maze like everywhere else in Vegas I loved that it was dark with soothing music. Dan had the most delicious cocktail ever, the Green Destiny with Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka, cucumber, kiwi and apple juice. It didn’t even sound that good to me and I ordered wine instead and then tried to steal his drink. Everyone I was with had a lot of trouble deciding what to get but as soon as I saw the Dim Sum plate, I knew there was no other choice. It had morel mushroom dumpling, a truffle beancurd rolla, edamame dumplings, and crystal vegetable dumplings. I think the mushroom was my favorite.

But honestly, even with all the amazing food, glorious shows, and so many of my favorite people I was never so happy to get back to Austin where everything is on a human scale. I think if I do Vegas again I will have to stay off the strip. And eat doughnuts because I was really sad to miss out on that.


Mendocino California and it’s Vegan Bed & Breakfast: The Stanford Inn

I was so overwhelmed by wonder and beauty of my last trip that it’s almost hard to blog about. I have so many pictures to share and things to rave about that I don’t even know how to put it all out there without just gushing. Let me start by saying my Mom is the greatest person in the world. She knew I’ve been going through such a super rotten unbloggable time this summer that she really wanted to cheer me up with a trip to visit her in Sacramento. We had a lovely time day-tripping to San Francisco and eating in vegan hot spots in Sac but the highlight was to be our drive out to the Mendocino coast via Napa. We stayed the first night in a little town in the valley and drank wine by the pool and already I started feeling better. The next day, as we drove to the coast, the views just got more and more beautiful.

When we got to the coast we stopped to see the Pygmy forest in Van Damn state park where conditions make it so the usually giant trees only grow 12 feet high. We had a picnic lunch on the beach. The water was sparkling and so blue. My pictures don’t do it justice.

After this we arrived at the Stanford Inn which I was a little nervous about since it was really expensive and all vegan. I didn’t know how my mom would feel. I needn’t have worried. As we drove up to the Inn we were already falling in love. It’s surrounded by an incredibly well maintained organic garden and sitting beautifully up on a hill. As my mom checked in I wandered through the lobby that sells dog and cat themed greeting cards and pretty much every vegan cookbook in existence.

When we walked into our room soft music was playing as we gaped at the horse + ocean view from our balcony.

The rooms are wood paneled which reminded me of the vegan version of the Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks. The room was bigger than the picture shows, I didn’t have a wide angle lens! I loved that the bathroom was stocked with wonderful vegan spa products. All the accouterments were top notch. You can’t tell from my picture but our room had a potbellied stove that was all set up for a fire. 

Every room in the Inn has a fireplace and though it wasn’t too cold I saw most of the chimneys lit and so we did ours too. I was glad because it did get quite a bit cooler and it was just lovely having a crackling fire. Every night they set up the fireplace so all you have to do is drop in a match. It’s like having Hogwarts house elves. House elves that you tip.

There were so many other little touches that made me feel like I was in the perfect place. You know how sometimes you go to a hotel and they want to give you a fresh baked cookie and you have to say no, I’m vegan, I don’t get a cookie. Well at the Stanford you get to eat the damn cookie.

Or how your hotel will have a coffeemaker but usually it’s terrible coffee and dairy cream so you have to find a starbucks or something? Nope! Not here! There isn’t a Starbucks anywhere around but there is complimentary soy milk in your freaking room.Or what about when the included breakfast has tons of stuff but you are lucky to find a bagel with jam because that’s the only option? Nope, at the Stanford you get your choice of fresh squeezed juices to choose from and then there is an elaborate menu of any breakfast item you could ever want from waffles to crepes to chilaquiles to a bennedict florentine with your choice of marinated tempeh, roasted tofu, sausage, or grilled portobellos. And of course they even have raw and gf options. Of course. The Ravens Tempeh Bennedict

When we asked the waiter what time they started breakfast in the morning we realized we were going to miss it the next day. No matter, he said, just let us know what you want. We will box it up and you can take it with you, and what juice would you like tomorrow. The entire staff couldn’t have been more graceful.

You know how sometimes you are really looking forward to the pool but it’s an outside pool that’s too cold, and there are a million kids playing so they have to over chlorinate the water? Well at the Stanford Inn the pool in in a lovely solarium complete with hot tub and sauna. The pool is a giant saltwater pool and several times I was the only one in the whole room.

The solarium had banana trees growing and other tropicals but there were beautiful flowers and plants all over the grounds.

And you are allowed to wander anywhere on the property, they even have complementry bikes that you can take down the river road or you can rent a canoe and paddle the river or the ocean and tour caves. You can pet the animals and stroll the beautiful organic gardens. And you can see the team harvesting vegetables that they are serving for dinner at night. It takes a lot of kale to run a vegan restaurant.During the day we checked out the shops in Mendocino and went hiking at the Headlands state park (there are three state parks within ten minutes of each other)We also checked out the Russian Gulch State Park. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the coastline was, it truly reminded me of Hawaii (aka my favorite place on earth).We stopped at the botanical gardens too and I was amazed by all the different gardens. Of course the hotel also has complimentary tea time from 2-4 so that just when you are done digesting your breakfast you get a lovely pick me up. We had some delicious date nut brownies. Did I mention all the food is amazing? Even if you can’t stay at the Inn I highly recommend stopping at The Ravens, their attached restaurant if you are anywhere near the area. My mom and I LOVED the food. I thought it was better then Candle 79 and Millennium which are the two vegan restaurants always taking the top of any “best of” lists. The dinner menu was balanced with Japanese, Mexican, and Italian influences and all the local ingredients were marked. Here is most of what we had over the course of several meals. Each meal started with a nice amuse-bouche and they also had a different featured spread for breads each night that we couldn’t stop eating. Every night there was a different soup too. We loved the cauliflower with shitake bacon.One night for an app we tried the Tamari-Maple Glazed Tofu with wasabi emulsion, sesame seeds and scallions which was practically a meal in itself. 

For main courses we tried the Spinach ravioli filled with broccoli, shallot, and hemp ricotta, with vodka cashew cream marinara, braised greens and cherry tomato garnish

The Grilled Cauliflower Napoleon – Layered grilled cauliflower, tomato, zucchini, eggplant, hemp seed cheese, with Balsamic reduction and basil-spinach infusion drizzle. Served with roasted fingerling potatoesThe Wild Mushroom Crepe – Wild mushrooms in a chickpea crepe, Forbidden black rice, braised bok choy, port wine reductionand The Sea Palm & Root Vegetable Strudel* – Local sea palm, carrots, onions in sesame phyllo, accompanied by a stir-fry of broccoli, shiitake, bell pepper and cashews. Served with Umeboshi and wasabi sauces 

Everything was impeccable, you really can’t go wrong. I loved that the wine list had all the vegan options marked and I do recommend trying the ’12 Rivino, Viognier from Mendocino, it was my favorite of the week.  I only made it to dessert one one night and tried the Mint Chocolate Ganache Tart – Almond and hazelnut crust. It was so decadent I could have died right there.

Oh, and did I tell you that the whole place is dog friendly and you they even have seating for people with canine companions. Of course you can bring your dog cause it really is vegan heaven. By the end of the trip we were planning our next trip back. Scratch that, by the first hour of checking in to the Stanford Inn we were planning our next trip back. I hope this doesn’t sound like they paid me to write this. I promise I didn’t but I would, Standford Inn if you are reading this and you want to hire me to blog about how awesome you are I could do it every day. Just let me come back. Maybe we can do a taco cleanse retreat 🙂


Sacramento – Bangkok@12

I had another amazing meal in Sacramento worth writing home about. This time was Thai food downtown, or maybe it was midtown I’m not 100% sure on the neighborhoods. We walked around the Capitol building first and, I would imagine, that would be the center of downtown. It’s a beautiful Capitol park with trees from all over the state. Some are bursting with oranges, and there are stately redwoods, and silvery olive trees, and towering palm trees.

Bangkok@12 was recommended to me on the PPK several trips ago but this was the first time we tried it. I was amazed by the vegetarian section of the menu and just when I decided what I wanted I saw something else I wanted more. They had all the standard apps but I had to try the potato curry puffs because they sounded so unusual “Thai style mashed potato and onion wrapped with tortilla, then fried to golden brown, served with cucumber salad.” They looked like quesadillas but they tasted very Thai. The cucumber salad served alongside was excellent too.

I ultimately decided on the Thai Orange Tofu which came out and looked incredible. The tofu appeared battered and fried, the vegetables were crunchy and fresh, and their were mandarin oranges and cilantro served up as well. Sadly, the menu didn’t say that the batter contained mustard which I don’t like but they were still quite, just not to my taste.

My mom absolutely loved her mango curry too. I think next time I will try the Bangkok noodles or the avocado curry. Or the pumpkin curry. It all sounded so good. Today we are headed through Napa on our way to the coast so I probably won’t blog again for a few days. But, rest assured, I will be doing all my favorite things, eating, drinking, hiking in the trees, and reading books by the pool.


Sacramento – Noble Vegetarian

My favorite part about traveling the west coast, well after the trees, the ocean, the flowers, and abundant avocados, is that there are tons of Asian restaurants seemingly everywhere you go. Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Indian and every cuisine in between are all over the place. Every time I come to Sacramento I get to check out a new place and this time my mom brought me to another Vietnamese themed all vegetarian spot called Noble Vegetarian. They have every kind of vegan meat on the menu so I wanted to try every one! We started with the vegeham paste wontons. My mom was very wary but she ended up loving them as did I. 

We were also very impressed with the vegeprawn spring rolls. I was a bit nervous since I’m allergic to eating the animal shrimp but I’m happy to report that they were indeed vegan and I had no ill effects. God, that would be the worst! 

Next, we tried the Vegebeef Vegetable Medley and it, unfortunately, reminded me of a Beef Vegetable Medley you could get at any shopping mall. No, I take it back, the vegetables had more bite than you’d find at the mall. It just wasn’t anything special. 

Finally the soup came. I had a hard time deciding which one to try, there was a whole page of the menu dedicated to vegan soups and this NEVER happens in Austin. In the end we went with Au-Lac Sweet and Sour because I just couldn’t decide and I saw it had rice paddy herbs.

I was excited when it came out to see that it was completely loaded with vegetables, tofu, more shrimp, pineapple, tomatoes, okra, and who knows what else. It was delicious. I was sad I didn’t have room in my belly for vegan flan. That’s twice now on this trip I’ve been too full to try it. URGH!

And that ends 2014 VeganMofo for me, I am super proud of myself for pulling it together after my dismal start. There is plenty more to come.

San Francisco – Gracias Madre

I decided that I’d had about enough of Austin and headed out to California to spend some quality time with my mom this week. It’s been gorgeous. Yesterday we went to San Francisco to visit some friends and stop at one of my all time favorite restaurants Gracias Madre which I hadn’t been to in a few years. I saw that they opened up a beautiful location in LA and I sure hope Austin is next. California Mexican food is so different from in Texas. I love it. We started with the potato and masa gorditas.

They were fried perfectly crisp and soft inside and served with a cashew cream and the ubiquitous avocado. We also got the mole empanada. The last time I was here I wasn’t a fan of their mole but with the sweetness of the fried plantain in the empanada it was more balanced and delicious.

For my entrée I chose the pozole because I’d heard it was delicious and also I had in my mind all day that it would be cold and foggy in SF. It was sunny and warm but, whatever, I was set for some soup.

It was yummy and chock-full of avocado but it wasn’t as good as the recipe make at home all the time. I was hoping after this to try the flan but by the time our waitress came back all that food had hit my belly and there was no way. For dinner we went to Dosa on FIlmore and I’m still recovering from all the delicious cocktails, Uttapam, potato and basil spicy dosa and every kind of chutney. If you go, and you should, make sure you ask for the vegan menu because it’s very clear and even mentions if cashews are used which I know many are allergic too. It was magical, highly recommended. Now I’m going to lie down.

Ahhh, vacation.

Chicago-grams: The Summer of Seitan

I’m pretty sure Chicago has the most meaty vegan food of any town in the Union. I love it. This time I was back for my sister’s wedding reception. In between getting ready for the Skup Svatova (our Serbian bridal pre-party) and catching up with tons of family I still managed to squeeze in tons of tasty vegan food. I started the trip on a rough note, there were storms at O’hare and my plane was 16 hours late getting there. After spending 8 hours on the plane I thought it couldn’t get worse, until I saw all the folks passed out and set up like a refugee camp in the terminal at 4 am. I’ve been there before. I was so happy I was able to sleep in a bed.

The next day I woke up starved and headed straight for Native Foods because my sister had told me that they had a muffalata on special. As a life-long olive fanatic the muffalata has long been my favorite sandwich and I was sad they didn’t have any vegan versions in New Orleans! It was great but probably not quite as good as the one you can get here in Austin at Unity Vegan Kitchen. The best part was when the waiter asked if I wanted ranch dressing for my fries, I used to love that and it was so nice to just say yes since Native Foods is 100% vegan. Their Italian seitan was delicious and thinly sliced, I think it just didn’t have the sheer number of olives that I require.

Later that night I had another Italian sandwich at Santullo’s that was really good too! Wicker Park has gotten ridiculously vegan friendly in the last 5 years or so. It’s such a big difference from when it was just Sultan’s Market, now you can eat just about anywhere and have several awesome vegan choices. When my friends Sandra and Adrian got in the next day Sandra wanted to go directly to Handlebar and so we did. I got the Pepita Tofu Scramble which had fried onions on top and actual green vegetables. I also had a beermosa!

The best part about this trip to Handlebar was that they had tons of amazing Star Trek Art up on the walls.

Later we went down to the Wormhole for coffee. I was sad that I missed the vegan doughnuts again but happy to show Adrian all their 80s memorabilia. 

For a wedding present, Sandra, Adrian, and I decided to make cupcakes for the reception. I don’t think I’ve ever even double batched cupcakes and this time I made 141! We made Golden Vanilla with a fresh blueberry topping and Pineapple Right-side Up Cupcakes, both from Vegan Cupcakes take over the World. They were a hit!

After a long night of baking I was so pleased that there were ton’s of places still open to eat. We set out for Dimo’s pizza since I read they had a vegan option. I had no idea though, that their vegan options were going to be so over the top! When I asked what slices were available and they told me BBQ chicken, Philly Cheesesteak, and several others I couldn’t believe it! Chicago is amazing! My BBQ pizza even had french fries on it!

We ended up getting a hotel in Greektown and I was surprised to find that Karen’s on Green was right around the corner. The next afternoon we headed there for brunch and I was pretty excited to order Belgian Waffle sliders that had tofu eggs, seitan bacon, and almond cheese. I wanted the waffle to be a little crispier and the home fries were too oily but other than that it was a great sandwich. Their tofu egg is amazing, it’s not at all like a scramble. I wonder how they make it.

The reception was crazy fun. We danced all night and Sandra learned how to do the traditional Serbian Kolo dance. I was up way too late and so hungry by the time we got to my all-time favorite restaurant, the Chicago Diner, for brunch. When I saw they had chicken and waffles on the menu, served with peaches, I couldn’t resist! In fact, I don’t think I considered resisting. It was so freaking fantastic. I did wonder if I could also have a milkshake and decided against it.

After that I don’t think I needed to eat again the rest of the day but I grabbed a Upton’s Sandwich at the Go Grocer for the trip home. The Leftover wasn’t as good as the Aurora but I was sure glad I had it! I wish some of our awesome Austin places would stock the grocery stores with sandwiches, mac & cheese, and BBQ like they do in Chicago. It’s so nice when you are in hurry.

I’ll be back up there next month for my cousin’s wedding so I think by the end of the summer I’ll get to try every single Upton’s sandwich. Maybe I’ll even make it to the breakroom, I have to try the Elvis which has Bacon Seitan with sunbutter and grilled banana on multigrain bread.

Vegan Chicago – Puffs of Doom and a Trip to Green Zebra

On May 10th my family and I threw a beautiful bridal shower my one and only sister. When we were planning the food the one thing I was sure of was to have Puffs of Doom which are the most amazing vegan cream puffs ever. Really, if you are ever in Chicago go out of your way to find these, they are so light and delicious it doesn’t even seem possible. The ones pictured about were strawberry basil but the strawberry champagne ones were incredible too. Here’s another whole post about my Puffs of Doom obsession.

The shower was champagne themed and I was really excited about the favors that we made.

The next day was my birthday and my family took me out to the Green Zebra, an elegant vegetarian restaurant in Chicago that I have been dying to go to for years. They really focus on seasonal vegetables and when I first saw the menu I was a little disappointed. All the hearty protein heavy options had eggs or cheese and they don’t substitute tofu or anything for vegans, they just remove the cheese or eggs. In reality, it turned out to be a non issue and I was very well-fed. Even though the restaurant is small plates style the portions were ample and I ordered more than enough food.  I started with the “Chilled Somen Noodles, Hawaiian heart of palm, edamame, shiso, ginger-soy” which also had an avocado mouse. 

It actually reminded me quite a bit of soba noodle dish with seaweed and sesame oil that I make often at home. Obviously, it was a bit more refined and everyone at the table loved.

Next I had the  “Acorn Squash Potstickers, soy caramel, carrot sesame purée, shaved radish

I was a little less wiling to share these with anybody because they were amazing. The potsticker wrappers were more like fried raviloi than typical potstickers and just delightful. The squash inside kind of exploded with flavor when you bit into it and the caramelized soy was just delicious.

Next I had the “Salt Roasted Yukon Potato Hash, jalapeño relish, fried egg, pistachio chimichurri ” with no egg.

Although I loved the potatoes and the fresh green and chimichurri I did feel like this dish was lacking without a replacement for the creamy egg which would have balanced the salty potatoes. It ended up tasting like a damn good breakfast side.

We also tried the maitake mushroom dish that had lots of orange citrus and fresh scallions. They were delightful and perfectly prepared.

Finally, since it was my birthday, we shared the “Malted Banana Ice Cream, banana bread, salted caramel, macadamia nut tuile” for dessert. 

I loved the crispy wafers, what can I saw I’m a total wafer girl. The banana ice cream was so rich and banana-y I was wondering if it was just frozen bananas processed with a bit of cream. The whole thing was delicious.

I’m thrilled that I finally got to try the Green Zebra and would highly recommend it even if the vegan selections are a wee bit lacking for an all veg restaurant. Everything that I had was very well prepared, they had a great wine list, and it’s right down the street from my brother-in-law’s awesome wine store The Noble Grape. I’ll be back in Chicago for more wedding this summer and I am excited to go back to the Chicago Diner and other favorites next time.

Vegan Feasting in New Orleans

My sister decided to get married in New Orleans on April 19, 2014 and I have been excitedly planning the trip there for months. I’m sad it’s already over, we had danced until the sun came up. As usual I tried to pack in as much vegan cuisine as possible in between wedding obligations and my oh my, New Orleans did not disappoint! My first stop in planning was the amazing blog New Orleans in Green by Melissa Bastian who has categorized every vegan option in NOLA and even has a map! It’s like she’s my New Orleans blogging counterpart! She gave me a ton of recommendations as well based on where we were staying on Canal. We drove to New Orleans from Austin and ended up getting in after midnight so we headed out to a bar called 13 that serves food super late. When I opened my menu I couldn’t believe my eyes, they serve vegan chili totchos! It was super dark so I have terrible picks, but I had to show you because who knew totchos were something you could buy in the real world? It’s the ideal bar food imo.

I wanted to try the po’boy but I couldn’t resist the bahn mi which ended up being fabulous with crusty bread, fresh veggies, and vegan mayo.

From reading New Orleans in Green  Breads on Oak became my number-one can’t-miss spot so we headed uptown first thing in the morning. 

Although it isn’t even an all vegan bakery, they had more vegan options than just about any vegan bakery I have been too. I raced back and forth from one end of the bakery case to the other trying to decide what to order. Everyone working behind the counter was so nice even though I kept changing my order every five seconds.  In New Orleans you have to have cafe au lait so I started with that and a chocolate ganache tart and took it to their little back courtyard. It was just as rich and delicious as it looks.

We also sampled the cashew ricotta tomato pie which was so perfectly delicious. Everywhere I went in New Orleans had fantastic garden fresh tomatoes somehow. I don’t understand it all because we haven’t hit tomato season in Austin yet and we aren’t that far away. Where do you get your tomatoes New Orleans? I want them!  

The tart was incredibly delicious with it’s beautiful tomatoes, rich interior, and flaky crust but I have to say, the pumpkin cheddar breakfast sandwich was somehow even better. 

It didn’t look that exciting in the bakery case, but this was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I have ever had. The biscuit itself was kind of like a scone that could have been eaten it’s own but instead it was filled with marinated tomatoes, fresh greens, a perfectly seasoned tofu scramble, and some sausage too. Dare I say it was better than a breakfast taco? We also ordered some olive bread and peanut butter blondies to take back to the room and everything was perfect. I swore I would come back to Breads on Oak every day but there were still so many places to try! We tried to walk off our giant brunch by touring around the garden district and were so starstruck when we passed Neil deGrasse Tyson on the street on a guided tour!

Later I went to my sister’s bachelorette party which started at Bacchanal Wine which is a combination wine store and lounge with foodie type cocktails and dishes. I tried the Pinky Tuscadero which had Rose’, Orange Bitters, and Champagne.

They also veganized their fresh bucatini dish for me which had cauliflower, Swiss chard, sofrito, & breadcrumbs. It was a little spicy and totally delicious. I split it with my aunt who isn’t too keen on vegan food and she really loved it so it was a double win!

Later my Mom flew in to town and so we stopped at a little tropical influenced cafe called Carmo. Everything on the menu sounded fantastic so I asked the waiter for recommendations. He said their Japanese tofu dish was very special and so we all tried the Shio Koji (soft tofu fermented in fermented rice malt) with avocado stuffed with peanuts & an awesome tomato salad. The tofu was incredibly cheese-like because of all that fermentation and the avocado salad perfectly counterbalanced it since it was so bright and fresh.

I also tried the Acarajé – black-eyed pea fritters with vatapá (a cashew peanut coconut paste) because I love Brazilian food and it’s tough to find vegan. The fritters were crunchy and the paste inside was very unique. I could have eaten these all day too. We also had banana bread pudding for dessert which was incredible. 

The next day we were very excited to try New Orleans’ newest plant-based restaurant Seed

The inside was very eco-chic with reclaimed wood and a bright white interior. The menu was a combination of raw and comfort food and they do a separate terrific-sounding brunch. We started with the breads and spreads but they were out of so many of the spreads that I can’t remember what we ended up with. We liked the ranch style one the most but the hummus & carrot based ones were well done too.

I was feeling a little under the weather so I thought a bowl of gumbo might bring my voice back. It was good, but not as good as this recipe which is how I do it lately.

My partner got the Tofu Po’boy and I was jealous because it was so damned delicious with it’s golden chunks of fishy tofu, mayo, and crusty bread. I love that everywhere in New Orleans has good bread! I think it’s really rare here and I grew up eating homemade bread at almost every meal (along with every trip to church and every holiday). How did my mom do it?

We also ended up sharing (sorry Dan!) the Mac and Cheese which was thick and creamy without being heavy or greasy as mac & cheese can be.

I really wanted to try the beignets for dessert but there was no way I could eat anymore food at that point. We wandered around the french quarter meeting up with friends and family after that until it was time for the rehearsal.

Later that night we skipped out on the rehearsal dinner at a clam place and took a long walk through the quarter to Feeling’s Cafe. It was so dark that pictures weren’t happening but I highly recommend a trip to Feelings if you make it to New Orleans and book a table in their beautiful little courtyard. They have a special vegan menu so we started with the vegan boudin, which is a popular sausage throughout Cajun Country. At Feelings they wrapped the sausage in a corn husk and I wondered if they steamed it that way. I am curious to try that as a foil alternative. It was filled with tofu and shitake mushrooms and I thought it was savory and delicious.

I ordered the Potato and Tempeh patties and Dan had the creamy walnut pasta. The latter was nothing special but the potato tempeh patties were outstanding. Dan couldn’t stop himself from eating them so I ended up giving him a whole patty. Sacrifice.

They were served with zucchini ribbons dressed with sundried tomatoes and olives.

The next day was the Wedding Day and it started with a planned meeting at Cafe du Monde, again thanks to NOiG I found a vegan friendly stand right there in the French Market serving vegan blueberry pancakes and smoothies called Meals from the Heart. I loved this little place, the ladies who ran the counter learned everyone’s name and called you by it throughout the meal, it was such a sweet touch! They were so friendly and the pancakes were some of the best I’ve ever had. They even had real maple syrup and homemade vegan butter.

With my belly full of pancakes my sister and I sprinted through the French Quarter in search of a flower store that was no longer at the listed address as we prepared for the big event.

It was a whirlwind of activity getting ready for the wedding on the roof of the Ritz but everything went perfectly. It was so much fun. The next day everyone went to yet another seafood place but Dan and I headed uptown again to try some of the Vietnamese food that New Orleans is famous for. Jazmine Cafe was nice and cool and they had tons of fancy spring rolls filled with different things like seaweed or mango. I wanted to try them all and everything else on the menu but I stuck with a stir fry dish called Sweet Heat. If I lived in New Orleans this would be one of those places where it would be hard to sample all the items because I would just want to keep going back to this one. 

We headed back to the French Quarter to meet up with the family, and see the gay Easter parade.

Again I was so impressed with all the different street performers everywhere. I don’t know how Austin can call itself the Live Music Capital of the World when New Orleans exists! There are brass bands playing at all hours and everyone is dancing everywhere. It was so hard to leave, I can’t wait to go back. Next time I want to rent a little house on Air B&B since so many of the ones I saw included bikes and New Orleans seems extremely bike-able since it is so flat. There are so many places I still want to try. It was a fantastic trip.

See you at the Crossroads – my latest California Trip

I decided after this last trip to California in August that I needed to stay home for a little while and I’m starting to go a little stir crazy! I miss the coast! I want the tropics! I went to visit my mom in Sacramento August, after a couple of days we trucked down to Monterrey & Carmel to see the sights. We took a whale watching tour and my life was complete when at one point there 12 humpbacks jumping for joy all around us.

I also saw jellyfish and sea lions and all kinds of birds. The Monterrey Bay is pretty magical. I was ready to move and work on conservation but, dang, it was too cold for me. Even Miss Sasha had her little jacket on. She wasn’t that excited by the whale watching even though she’s originally from Illinois. 

We found a place called Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Room which was perfect for us because they have tons of vegan options and seafoody type stuff for my mom.  They would substitute tofu in any fish dish! Why can’t every place do that? It was perfect I had Jerk rubbed tofu one night with plantains and then a jungle tofu dish another night. 

We also went to an amazing spa called Refuge in the mountains, they didn’t allow pictures but this golf course was next door. It was one of those places that had different hot tubs, cold dips, dry saunas, and eucalyptus steam rooms that you rotate between. I also had the best massage of my life and I almost proposed marriage to my therapist. It was amazing and not expensive so if you are ever out that way check it out, it was what I always thought spas would be until I sadly found that they are mostly about trying to make women remove skin and flesh. The whole area was so gorgeous.

And I loved that there were sea lions everywhere.

After a few days in Sacramento I flew down to LA to visit my friend Laura where the mission was to eat all of my favorite things and see as many sights as possible. I sent Laura a list of my favorite foods and we basically hit them all in an eating out odyssey. The first stop was Seed in Venice, for tacos (of course). 

I loved these tacos, I think they had fried zucchini and all sorts of vegetables under that creamy sauce. California Mexican food is so different from our Mexican food. It’s so fun to try other styles. I have a feeling that everything at this little macrobiotic cafe would be super tasty even though it caters to the healthy crowd. We didn’t stick with healthy for long though, after a walk on the beach, I think we headed directly to ice cream.

Maddy’s in a tiny little cafe and vegan ice cream parlor which is packed with gourmet flavors. I think we tried just about every flavor between us but I went with peanut butter crunch.

Growing up with bi-monthly trips to Chicagoland it is always sad when I return and can’t get deep dish stuffed pizza. Laura promised to take me to a Chicago-style place Masa and, wow, it was really good pizza. The crust was perfect and sauce was really good.  I was so happy that they didn’t use daiya cheese because I’m not a  fan but I still would have preferred Follow Your Heart over the Teese. We still ate enough that we had to lie down and watch Veronica Mars for a while when we got home.

Although everyone knows I’m quite the breakfast taco aficionado I love a good breakfast sandwich too! The Badassarie had, maybe, the best I’ve ever had? It didn’t even sound good since there was maple syrup and cheese with the sausage patty but I will remember it fondly whenever the wind whispers breakfast sandwich.

After the sandwiches we barely made it down to Hollywood Boulevard for the TMZ tour, I really wanted to do the cheesiest tour out there because, that’s what your supposed to do in LA, right? What a scene it was in front of the theater with all the superhero impersonators and gaggles of tourists. It’s maybe the most American spot I’ve ever been. On our tour I got to learn all sorts of things like where Brad Pitt used be a bouncer. We didn’t see one celebrity but Laura did win a T-shirt.

I think, maybe more than any other restaurant on the trip, I was excited to go to Doomie’s Home Cookin’. I love Southern Comfort food and we just don’t have anything like that here, well besides the Wheatsville hot bar, so it’s always a highlight. We ordered everything but don’t worry, this time we didn’t come close to eating it all. I was so jealous knowing that they would have all the leftovers for a week. I adored the jalapeno poppers

The amazingly creamy mac and cheese

buffalo wings

And the best vegan fried chicken, probably in the world.

There is a layer of “skin” and then a layer of gravy, and then the “chicken” so it completely replicates the juicy crispy aspect. I haven’t had anything like it. well except for real fried chicken in my pregan days but I would much rather enjoy a version where no one gets hurt.

We also went to the Griffen Observatory for what was probably my greatest planetarium experience ever. The performer who lead us through the cosmos was so into it and I was so excited to be where I’d once seen Kelly & Dylan make-out. And the Leonard Nimoy theater is there too! I love Hollywood!

Another favorite food of mine is Vietnamese and Vin Loi Tofu did not disappoint, in fact we were all kind of overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the menu that we just asked the owner to bring out whatever. I was ready to move in next door. They even had doughnuts!

My last stop before the airport was for fine dining at the famous Crossroads, Chef Tal Ronnen’s restaurant. We tried so much of the seasonal menu and I can’t even remember it all because, like at most fine dining places, the light was not very conducive to photography. I love the cheese they put in everything, it tasted exactly like dairy cheese to me. This watermelon salad was vibrant and salty and perfect.

The tiny paella appetizer was another favorite.

But, for me, my the best was definitely the meaty cheesy lasagna. No wonder why this place is so popular. The food is all perfectly prepared, with a nice casual but classy atmosphere and the chef really knows how to put a menu together with seasonal vegetables and even plate everything beautifully.

Now I’ve been to most of the fine dining vegan restaurants in the US and Crossroads is towards the top for me, although I haven’t tried Vedge yet, I have to go to Philly next! I didn’t even mention the spanikopita egg rolls, the crab cakes, the cocktails, and the amazing flatbread. It was all so good. I’m ready to go back. This break from vacations is never going to work.