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Delicious new discoveries in Portland

23 Sep

Almost a year ago, Jud and I headed to Portland for a quick weekend of vegan food tourism with my sister and her boyfriend. We ate and discovered so much it took two posts to report on!

Portland’s Vegan Street of Dreams: Alberta

Dining Vegan in Portland: Portobello’s new brunch, and getting down to Brass Tacks

This weekend we returned, putting our bikes on the Amtrak Cascades train for a car-free trip that took advantage of this ongoing beautiful weather–and gave us a hand in working off some of the food we shoved into our mouths for another 24-hour whirlwind. Although it might seem odd to have skipped VegFest, which was happening while we were there, it would have been the third such festival Jud and I would have attended in less than a year–and we’re not much on crowds. So we focused instead on enjoying a handful of businesses and the beautiful sunshine!

We started with a delicious lunch at Blossoming Lotus. I won’t go into a lot of detail and will just say that this is one of my favorite, most consistently good restaurants anywhere. The menu is a mix of raw and cooked items (all vegan, with several gluten-free options) prepared in fresh, creative combinations. The atmosphere is pleasant and would be very nice for a special date but also works for a casual drop-in while wearing bike-friendly clothing, and the prices are quite reasonable for the quality of food and ambience. There’s a Sunday brunch I’d love to try sometime.

Fruit and cheese plate, with house-made nut-based cheese spreads

BBQ soy curl sandwich with whiskey BBQ sauce

Tempeh with a coconutty red curry sauce and yams

Raw falafel wraps. I was alone in thinking they didn’t taste that much like falafel, but we all agreed they were very good.

My sister also grabbed a gluten-free brownie to go, which we tried later. Yowza. Super, super good. Fudgy without being stodgy, and plenty of chocolate intensity.

There was a bit of time left before the Portland Farmers Market at PSU closed, so we headed over there and made a beeline for Petunia’s Pies and Pastries (Note: the website automatically plays music when you load it–don’t jump!). I’d read about this all-vegan, all-gluten-free bakery business on Facebook and heard my sister’s enthusiastic reviews, but I hadn’t yet tried any of the treats.

Now I have, and I can tell you with authority that you should find your way to some of these products just as soon as your legs will carry you (regardless of whether or not you can eat gluten). Check out this case:

So many difficult choices! Fortunately, Lisa, the owner, was on hand to help me narrow things down, but it was still a struggle.

Those would be s’mores cupcakes, with graham-cracker bases, chocolate cake, marshmallow frosting, chocolate ganache and more cracker crumbs. Tragically, I did not sample. But Maren did and gave full approval.

Fluffernutter cupcakes. Seriously. I also summoned the courage to pass on these since I knew they wouldn’t travel well in a pannier.

My spoils: Olive-oil orange bundt cake, Almond Joy pie, and a chocolate-covered peanut-butter crispy treat bar. Amazing, every one.

I also tried a bite of the pumpkin-chocolate-chip whoopie pie. Perfection. If you like any one of those things, even if you don’t like the others, you want one of these pies. And today, I lucked out and found more Petunia’s products at a Stumptown coffee, allowing me to try one of the mint-chocolate brownies I’d reluctantly left behind yesterday. Again, spot on:

I might guess that this was gluten free, but I absolutely wouldn’t care. Definitely up there with the best brownies I’ve had.

Petunia’s is scheduled to open a storefront in January, which will make it easier to get a hold of these wonderful treats. I will insist on a stop the next time I’m in town!

It was time to take a break from eating for a while, so we hit Powell’s, took a ride on the brand-new Eastside Streetcar and checked out the grand opening of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. We still weren’t hungry, so we threw in a little more biking and a short walk before settling in for dinner at Canteen, the relatively new storefront run by the owners of the Sip juice cart. Canteen is a small, casual place, with about as much seating outside as in. The inside part smells wonderful from the fresh juices being prepared behind the counter, but we went for the bowls that make up the bulk of their menu.

The Portland Bowl, with quinoa, maple tempeh (or sub Soy Curls), delicious yeasty sauce and hazelnuts. I loved the bite I had and would be glad to get my own another time.

The Bangkok Bowl: brown rice, adzuki beans, steamed vegetables and kimchi, with peanut sauce. Very good, if maybe a little too similar to the lunch I’d had.

Walnut taco salad. OMG. Maren alerted us that someone needed to get this, and she was so right. Next time, this is what I’m ordering. You can see how bright and fresh it is, and the flavors were wonderfully balanced.

I wish there were more restaurants that served food like this: nutritious food, simply prepared in delicious combinations. Grain (usually) + legume + vegetables + fabulous sauce. In a reasonable portion and for a reasonable price. Why is this so rare to find in restaurants? If this business were anywhere in Seattle I would be there all the time.

Brunch today was at Portobello. For the most part, I love Portobello as much as the next food-lovin’ vegan northwesterner. Maybe because it does so much so well, I found a few nits to pick, but we did have another fantastic meal there.

We were pleasantly surprised to beat the line by getting there when they opened (beating a breakfast line is no small feat in Portland, and our last brunch at Portobello involved a little more competition), but for the second time were perplexed at how long it took to get seated with no obvious reason for delays. Once we sat down, the service was just fine, but going two for two on being left to stand around with little acknowledgement was a bit obnoxious.

Still, we were in for lots of good food:

Cashew-cheese-filled “Sweety Pepps,” which were a surprise hit.

Jud got the “Vegan Benedict,” which was easily the best version of several I’ve tried. The Hollandaise had a faint almond flavor to it, which was an interesting surprise, and the “housemade smoky seitan ham” was outstanding.

Brian got the blueberry waffle. I overload quickly on sweet dishes at breakfast and therefore don’t tend to order them, but the bite I had was delicious.

I ordered the “Wild Cascadia” omelet, which I liked but don’t know that I’d order again. In hindsight, I’m not sure they included the cashew cheese sauce it was supposed to come with, which could have made a difference. The chanterelles and slightly cooked heirloom tomatoes were a nice reflection of the shifting seasons, though.

Maren got the current incarnation of the savory waffle. The one I ordered last time, I declared–and still believe to be–one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, period. I only tried one bite of this one, so I can’t say whether it still reached that high, but it was excellent, and I’d urge you to try it if you you find it on the brunch menu. It’s gluten free, to boot!

Mushroom homefries, with lots of parsley pesto, were another big hit with all of us.

After twice trying both the mimosa and the bloody Mary on their menu, I’d encourage you to stick with the mimosa. It’s very well done, and has some nuances of flavor that don’t show up in most mimosas. The bloody Marys, somewhat surprisingly, are the opposite: the one last year was made with tasty, raw, heirloom tomato juice and came with a pickled green bean and wedge of lemon, though its spicing was really underwhelming, and some more fresh or pickled vegetables would have been welcome. Today’s drink, with standard, heat-processed tomato juice, was oddly ordinary and bland, and came with no “salad” at all–just a lone slice of lime. Given the skill and attention to detail evidenced in the rest of their menu, I’m not sure why this one drink seems to slip through the cracks, but it certainly needn’t get in the way of a great meal.

This afternoon, I squeezed in one last purchase at Stumptown, which I enjoyed on the train:

This cookie had some of the unfortunate crumbliness that’s hard to avoid in gluten-free baking, but it was very tasty and among the best gluten-free cookies I’ve tried. For those who love Skydottir cookies in Seattle, you should definitely look for these when in Portland.

All in all, another fantastic trip! The bike-train combo worked pretty much exactly as planned (be sure to reserve a bike spot well in advance if you do this, since there are only six spots available per train), and we got home to Seattle in time for dinner. Next time I hope to plan far enough in advance to get dinner reservations at Natural Selection or Portobello, which have now twice eluded me in each place.

For those of you who went to VegFest, what did I miss?

A Gluten-Free Vegan Tour of Seattle

24 Apr

Last weekend, my sister and her boyfriend came up for some vegan food tourism (inspired by Jud’s and my visit to Portland last fall). Since Maren’s been eating gluten free for the past several months, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to round up Seattle’s vegan, gluten-free dining options.

There are so many! With little more than 24 hours in their visit, there were only so many places we could cram in (despite our very best efforts!), but safe to say, a vegan avoiding gluten could last a long time in this town before needing to return to the same spot. I should note, though, that only a few places are gluten-free establishments. If you’re sensitive enough to gluten that cross-contamination is an issue you should (as you surely already know) ask the staff at other places about how well they’re able to manage contact with gluten ingredients.

We started at Pizza Pi, source of many delicious vegan pizzas over the years. Sure enough, they offer a gluten-free crust, and since their sauces and cheese are already gluten free, there are lots of options on the pizza menu. We started with a “Saucy Sampler,” with one order of regular bread and one order of gluten free, both smothered in Teese.

Four sauces to go with gluten-free or conventional breadsticks

We all found the gluten-free crust (used both for breadsticks and for the 9″ personal size pizzas) to be quite respectable, even to those of us still used to eating gluten, and the sauces were all the same delicious ones I knew from the regular menu.

Maren tried the St. Patrick’s Revenge pizza (spinach and artichoke sauce, green peppers, broccoli, spinach and fresh basil), and I had a sample of it (the rest of us ordered gluten-containing items):

For some reason, it didn’t taste as good as usual (that pizza is one of my favorites), but I don’t think the different crust was the reason–maybe just an off day. I wouldn’t hesitate to order a gluten-free pizza there, or a St. Patrick’s Revenge, again, though just in case I might try a different combo next time.

We were all stuffed by the time we left, but of course we had to stop at Sidecar for the World Wide Vegan Bake Sale. In addition to the many gluten-free items the store carries regularly, the bake sale had an entire section of gluten-free treats. We picked up an assortment of goodies for later and headed off on a walk–mostly to make room in our bellies for the next stop: Jodee’s Desserts.

I’ve written about Jodee’s before, so I’ll just say that it once again delivered the goods–this time in the form of a slice of Key Lime Pie that we shared, along with some samples of other flavors. I’ll also point out that the menu is entirely gluten free (and vegan), so sample and order anything you want!

After some visits to Pike Place Market and the Olympic Sculpture Park, we were (eventually) ready for dinner. Maren and Brian hadn’t yet been to Travelers Thali House, which I’d recently discovered to be very friendly to GF/V diners.

My first meal at Travelers, with different dishes but the same format each month.

Sure enough, we had another great meal from the April menu, different from the one featured in my post, but in the same thali format. We made sure to order extra papadams to avoid having to fight over the two that came with our order.

For breakfast we hit Wayward. I wouldn’t have thought they’d have so many gluten-free options, but they really came through! As you can see from their gluten-free menu, many of their regular items are already gluten free or can be made so pretty easily.

I’ve been wanting to try their Club sandwich for ages, and I decided this was the time since a gluten-free version was available:

Gluten-free Club at Wayward. Be sure to specify, since there’s also a Club with gluten.

Normally, this comes with vegan turkey and ham along with the tempeh bacon, but the first two things must contain gluten since they’re excluded here. Thus, the Club really turns into a BLT, but it’s quite a tasty sandwich, even on rice bread. The French fries that came with it were excellent, and getting a pickle on the side (hidden behind the sandwich) always wins me over.

Brian tried the Gluten-Free Sampler (scrambled tofu, hashbrowns, greens, and tempeh bacon):

He enjoyed it, and having tried each of those things via their regular menu, I can vouch for them all being good.

Maren got one of my favorite items from the standard menu, which happens to be gluten free: the Very Veggie Omelet, served with home fries:

Vegetable-rich, filling and very tasty!

Of course as long as we were in the U-District we couldn’t miss Chaco Canyon, so we headed there to get some baked goods to eat later.

With a case like this right up front, you know you’re in good hands:

…and when you realize that the much-larger case below it contains a majority of gluten-free items as well (clearly labeled along with indications of raw items and those without soy ingredients), you start to feel the panic of very difficult choices:

Of course, writing a food blog gives you license (right??) to make all kinds of choices that would otherwise be ridiculous, so I got a chocolate-hazelnut cookie, a piece of rhubarb upside-down cake, AND a piece of that vanilla-lemon cake. The cookie was tasty, if a little dry and crumbly, as gluten-free cookies nearly always are. The cakes, though, were outstanding. Chaco has really mastered the art of making gluten-free cakes (and muffins) that you wouldn’t guess were gluten free. You taste rhubarb (and maybe a hint of fennel?), not garbanzo bean flour, and the texture is moist and only slightly more dense than a comparable counterpart would be with gluten.

This time I reluctantly skipped one of my very favorite desserts that they carry–raw chocolate brownies with hazelnuts. More like a truffle in bar form than a brownie, these things are so decadent, smooth and rich I would put them high on the list of things to feed skeptics who think that vegans eat unsweetened tree bark for dessert.

Chaco also serves “real food” if you want breakfast, lunch or dinner, and there are lots of gluten-free options (raw and cooked) on those menus also.

Finally (after a long walk around Discovery Park), no gluten-free tour of Seattle would be complete without a stop at Flying Apron in Fremont. This all-vegan, all-gluten-free establishment has been around for years, and I’ve heard many times how beloved it is by locals who avoid gluten. I confess that my experiences with their baked goods have been pretty hit or miss, so I hadn’t been by since they opened their storefront in Fremont. A couple weeks ago, I decided I needed to give them another try, and I’m so glad I did.

The new (not so new anymore, but new to me!) storefront in the middle of Fremont is adorable and welcoming–a huge improvement over the tiny, basement-level counter they used to occupy in the U-District.

There’s even a bit of sidewalk seating for nice days.

When I visited recently with Jud, I tried a couple baked items and a few things out of the savory case.

A hit and a miss: LOVED the lasagna; was disappointed in the Ginger Wheel cookie.

I must say, that experience reinforced my earlier experience with their baked items: dry and gritty. I will add that the cookie and the pecan cinnamon roll we also tried had really good flavor–they just fell far short of my hopes for texture. The cookie was quite hard, which would have been less annoying if it hadn’t also been quite thick. I think the cinnamon roll would have been much more enjoyable if it had been called something else. “Cinnamon Spiral,” maybe? For me, a cinnamon roll is soft and pillowy. This was crisp and brittle, much more like a scone. Again, the flavor was very good, but I had a hard time getting past the texture based on my associations with that particular baked good.

The Pecan Cinnamon Roll that should perhaps be called something else.

But. The stuff we got out of the savory case knocked my socks off. That lasagna you see up there? It’s one of the best lasagnas I’ve ever had, bar none. Complex flavor, plenty of veggies, and I would never guess that the noodles are made of rice and gluten free. Jud’s shepherd’s pie was not quite at that level, but it was very enjoyable, and I’d definitely order it again if I wasn’t in the mood for lasagna.

Shepherd’s pie at Flying Apron: rich and savory.

Jud also ordered a broccoli salad, with which I am now officially obsessed, so he ordered a large when we returned with Maren and Brian:

I could eat this daily for a good long time.

Raw broccoli (of which I’m not usually a fan, but gladly make an exception here), cabbage, and carrots with plenty of cashews and raisins in a lightly sweet, creamy dressing. Holy cow. Don’t miss this if you go.

On this most recent visit I also tried the Mac and Cheese, which is mixed with spinach:

Again, the rice-based pasta did not betray its gluten-free nature, and this was a very well-made mac and cheese. I appreciated the added spinach, both for nutrition and for flavor and visual interest, and the garlicky sauce was nicely creamy without being over-the-top greasy like some versions are.

I also tried a few other baked goods:

Russian Tea Cake (Have you ever seen one that big?! It’s easily 3″ across.) and Chocolate Chip Cookie

Chocolate Shortbread Cookie (and blue sugar cookies I didn’t try)

Finally, we had some winners. I actually liked all three of these quite a bit. The Russian Tea Cake was my favorite, with nice walnut flavor and subtle sweetness that didn’t take over the cookie. Because these cookies tend to be crumbly anyway, the texture achieved with gluten-free flours wasn’t far at all from the traditional results. I was pleasantly surprised to find the chocolate-chip cookie to be soft and even a little chewy, and the shortbread had a pronounced chocolate flavor while maintaining the just-crumbly-enough texture of a shortbread–with an unusually attractive presentation.

Fortunately, Flying Apron has a wonderful policy of a 100% guarantee: if you try something you don’t like, they’ll give you a refund. I didn’t take them up on this, but I hope it takes out enough of the risk factor for you to try some of their wares. You may not like all of them, but I bet you’ll find some that you do. And in any case, don’t miss the savory items! The only thing I haven’t liked so far was the vegetable-topped flatbread that features more peppers than I prefer (and many would consider that a plus).

There are lots of other places that would be high on my list for gluten-free, vegan dining in Seattle. We only skipped Bouteloua Bakery because it was closed for the weekend, but they do an excellent job with gluten-free cupcakes and cakes by the slice. Thrive on 65th is another place that’s entirely vegan and gluten free, serving mostly raw food with a few cooked items. Sutra, which I’ve also raved about before, is so focused on vegetable-centered dishes and local ingredients that many of its menus are already gluten free, but if you alert them ahead of time they can assure you of a gluten-free meal. St. Dames, in Columbia City, is an ovo-lacto place with a good assortment of vegan, gluten-free, and GF/V options for brunch/lunch/dinner. Finally, Plum Bistro and Sage Bakery and Cafe are well-loved vegan restaurants that cater easily to those avoiding gluten.

You want a map? Of course you do.

This is still just the tip of the iceberg. Where have you found good gluten-free vegan food in or around Seattle?

Cafe Munir brings Lebanese delights to Ballard

7 Apr

Last November I saw a tweet that led me to this Seattle Met blog post about a Lebanese bistro opening soon in Ballard.

And I got really excited. I love Lebanese food and try to take advantage of Portland’s many wonderful offerings every time I go. And this lede on the blog item echoed a complaint I’ve had about my beloved Seattle for years:

Rajah Gargour grew up in Lebanon (and Jordan), and has a singular but rather significant complaint about the state of his native cuisine in Seattle: “This food isn’t represented at all,” he says. “It doesn’t exist.”

Lucky for all of us, owner/chef Gargour has changed that with the lovely Cafe Munir in the Loyal Heights area of Ballard, which has been open since January at 2408 NW 80th Street.

My employer just published a nice review of the place, but much of the write-up covered the meaty and dairy-rich offerings. Rest assured, vegans can get stuffed on all kinds of delicious options at Cafe Munir, and our server was helpful in identifying appropriate choices.

We went on a Saturday evening at prime dinner time, and the place was busy enough that we waited about ten minutes for a table. Seated with a view of the dining room with a couple glasses of Lebanese red wine, the time went by quickly.

Cafe Munir at dinner

The space is not super fancy, but it’s got nice touches, like the clean white arches and beautiful decorative light fixtures, mirrored in the style of the candle holders at each table.

After a long walk that afternoon, we were ready to make a solid dent in the menu, though we still had to save several options for next time. There are all the basics you’d expect to be available on hot and cold mezze menus–hommos, baba ganoush, falafel, fattoush (Lebanese green salad tossed with toasted pita)–as well as some less-common items like muhammara (a dip made of roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses) and two that were new to me: Ta’miyeh, a cousin to falafel made with fava beans instead of garbanzos, and mukhaddara, a variant on muhammara made with roasted green peppers, pistachios and mint. We went for a mix of familiar and new:

Clockwise from top left: baba ganoush (in striped dish), pita, Ta’miyeh with tahini and spicy tomato sauces, hommus, mukhaddara, fattoush.

Here’s a closer look at some of those items:

Lebanese Bread Salad (Fattoush), Ta’miyeh, Mukhaddara

Baba Ganoush, with a lovely garnish of fresh pomegranate seeds

The old favorites did not disappoint. The baba was smoky and smooth, and the hommus was substantial and well balanced in flavor. The Ta’miyeh was very similar to falafel (and good), but having two sauces to pair it with instead of just tahini sauce made for some added interest. The mukhaddara was a completely new blend of flavors to me. I’m not a huge fan of green peppers, so next time I will try the muhammara, but I would happily eat the mukhaddara again as well. At once rich and fresh-tasting, the flavor of the roasted poblanos really came through in the finished dish.

We enjoyed the fattoush, and it did add some much-appreciated fresh, raw produce to the table. It wasn’t as interesting as the other dishes we tried, and since we had more than enough otherwise to keep us busy and full, we agreed that we might skip it next time.

Of course, we couldn’t just leave it at small plates, so we ordered a couple larger ones as well. The kosheri we ordered (a rice-lentil-caramelized onion dish billed as “the Egyptian national dish,” and clearly a variant of mujaddara) was delicious, but sadly did not photograph well at all. It came with the same roasted, spicy tomato sauce that we’d had with the falafel, which was a fantastic accompaniment. Ask to skip the yogurt that normally comes with it also.

We also got some vegetable skewers, which came dusted in sumac and served with a side of tahini sauce.

All that (which was absolutely too much food for two people, even hungry ones), plus three glasses of wine, at $9 each, came to $75 with tax, which seemed very reasonable for the amount and quality of food, the very good service, and the pleasant atmosphere. My only wish for the business is that they improve their Web presence. The blog that serves as their website makes it very difficult to find basic information such as address, business hours or phone number, so honestly you’re better off with Yelp if need a quick answer on those details.

By all means, though, go visit! I’m eager to go back.

Travelers Thali House: No dairy, no gluten, no soy? No problem.

26 Feb

About a month ago, I got an email from my friend Bernie, asking for Indian food recommendations in Seattle. A long-time vegan newly directed to avoid both gluten and soy, Bernie saw an opportunity in focusing more on Indian food, which has a lot of options that don’t include those ingredients.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of recommendations up my sleeve, but that very same day I saw a tweet from Michael Natkin, a local ovo-lacto food blogger (and soon to be cookbook author) you should follow. The food in that thali looked awfully tasty, and both Michael and the Travelers website offered good reason to believe that this vegetarian restaurant could do right by vegans. Bernie, Jud and I resolved to check it out.

Travelers has a tea room on Capitol Hill, which also sells snacks and a nice assortment of spices and kitchen implements suitable for Indian cooking. For a weeknight dinner, though, we headed to their Beacon Hill location: Travelers Thali House.

The space is in fact a converted house, and it’s both casual and inviting. The menu didn’t make clear what was vegan or gluten-free, but invited us to ask. When we did, we learned that most of the menu was or could be made vegan, and that nearly everything but the breads were gluten free. Avoiding soy was also no problem. For the three of us, we split a Deluxe Thali ($20), a Full Thali ($15) and a plate of samosas ($5), which was a good amount of food to fill us up.

Full and Deluxe Thalis, free of gluten, soy, or any animal ingredients (except the chapatis, which contain wheat).

The difference between the Full and the Deluxe is that the latter adds an order of bread (all contain gluten; only the chapatis are vegan), a beverage (tea, chai, coffee or soft drink), and dessert. Each one came with a large papadam; if you wanted a gluten-free deluxe you might ask if they’d give you a second papadam for the bread. If you want less food, there are smaller options (with fewer dishes) for $8 or $6. There’s also a “light fare” menu that breaks out of the thali format, offering dal, rice, salaad and a couple condiments for around $5. Safe to say, the menu can easily accommodate any size of appetite, and the prices seem very reasonable for what you get.

A closer look at a Full Thali

What you see here (clockwise from front center; italicized descriptions are quoted from the menu):

  • Masoor Dal (red lentils, cooked with ginger, garlic and chilies, topped with fried onions and roasted black cumin seeds)
  • A chickpea curry not listed on the menu
  • Nepali Lauki Ki Sabzi (lauki is a gourd that grows on lush vines that cover houses and haystacks throughout India. This authentic recipe – with potatoes, tomatoes and onions, lightly seasoned – comes from our Bhutanese-Nepali chef)
  • Papadam (poking up from center of tray)
  • Sesame Potato & Cucumber Salaad (nearly hidden behind the papadam: a Nepali salaad of potatoes and cucumbers, coated in a dressing of toasted sesame seeds with ginger, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and fried fenugreek seeds)
  • Steamed basmati rice
  • A simple fruit salad with orange, fresh pineapple and pomegranate seeds
  • Kadhi Pakore (fried chickpea dumplings that would have been smothered in dairy products if we hadn’t ordered vegan)
  • Achaar Pachranga (the famous mixed pickle of Haryana – sour, salty, spicy – stimulates the digestive fire)
  • Mango Chutney (sweet chutney from the mango fields of northern India, preserved with vinegar, sugar and salt)

All of the elements were well prepared. The curries had a nice balance of flavors and weren’t overly spicy, and the potato/cucumber salad was an interesting combination of familiar flavors I would never have thought to put together. I wouldn’t say that any one thing jumped out at me as outstanding, but the generous variety of textures, flavors and visuals made for a very enjoyable meal. We also appreciated the fact that, unlike most Indian restaurant food, this seemed to be prepared with a reasonable amount of oil. The thali format also meant not having to coordinate our ordering to get a nice balance of food groups on the table.

The two tasty, piping-hot samosas (not gluten free) came with both a tamarind and a mint chutney:

Not pictured is the delicious chai I enjoyed as part of the Deluxe Thali. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better chai, with a nice mix of fresh-tasting spices and tea, both peppery and slightly sweet. If you don’t have time for a meal, I’d urge you to stop in to either location just for that. They also sell packages of the spice blend and tea to make the chai at home yourself. This would give you nice control over the sweetness level, in addition to being very cost effective. There’s even a rooibos version if you’d prefer to avoid caffeine.

Jud had a glass of wine, which came amid apologies from the server that recent changes in Washington State liquor laws have limited the variety of wines they have access to. Sure enough, the wine was drinkable but probably not anything we’d order again. They do offer a short list of beers also, which I would guess to be less affected by availability issues.

The Deluxe came with a little plate of dessert, also:

Dessert, plus two polished-off thalis

The rectangles were Besan Burfi (“chickpea flour fudge”); the balls were Ganesh Ladoo (“sweet balls of chickpea boondis”). I had had besan burfi before, but never ganesh ladoo. Like many desserts in Asian cuisines, the primary flavor is “sweet,” which is not generally what I enjoy in a dessert, preferring less sweetness and more complexity of flavor. Given that, I’m probably not the person to ask whether these were good examples of those dishes.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the experience. The thali menu changes monthly, so unless you go very soon you’ll have some different dishes in the rotation. If you’re working around dietary restrictions beyond veganism like we were, this place is a great, no-fuss way for everyone to get a nicely varied meal. One more bonus is that the restaurant is just a couple minutes’ walk from the Beacon Hill light rail station, making for very easy access if you don’t already frequent that neighborhood.

Thali House Restaurant
(206) 329-1465
Open noon to 9pm, Wednesday – Sunday
Happy Hour 4:00 – 6:30
Closed Monday & Tuesday
2524 Beacon Avenue S
Seattle, WA 98144

Where do you go for vegan Indian food in the PNW?

Soak up the atmosphere at Tacoma’s delicious 1022 South

12 Feb

Several months ago, in researching spots to check out for this blog, I stumbled upon the website of 1022 South, a craft cocktail lounge in the Hilltop area of Tacoma. I don’t often get down that way, so it wasn’t until last weekend that I visited–a result of a last-minute decision to get food and a drink before returning to Seattle from a day of snowshoeing near Rainier with Jud. 

First off, now that I’ve been there I need to give props to whoever designed their website. It’s clean, attractive, easy to navigate even on a phone (hurray for no PDF menus!), tells you what you need to know and gives a nicely visual first taste of what you’ll experience if you go. If only all businesses had such good websites!

Secondly, I’ll note that 1022 South is primarily a bar (or lounge, if you prefer), and there’s an excellent write-up in Tacoma Weekly about the business and its unique cocktail menu by an author who might be quite familiar to South Sound vegans.

I like a good drink, but since I’m no expert on cocktails I’m going to focus here on the food and the experience of going there.

Cozy and elegant, there’s seating at the bar and at a few small tables.

With its small, narrow space, 1022 South is not the place to take a crowd–but it’s a great place to take a date or a good friend with whom to relax and catch up. We waited just a few minutes for a table for two to open on a Saturday night, though we could have sat at the bar without a wait.

Vintage-styled lights are kept at a sultry dimness, but candles throw plenty of light on the tables.

The cocktail menu is extensive, creative and uses lots of house-infused liquors for complex flavors. Jud had a Sazerac, and I had a “Red Over White,” (Aquavit, beet-infused dry vermouth, Benedictine, celery bitters, sage and salt, which came together into an interestingly astringent dryness and a glowing red color).

The food menu had been updated somewhat since this one from the website, but the online version gives a good idea of their offerings, which are remarkably vegan-friendly and also remarkably rich in fresh produce. That sounded like just the thing after a day out enjoying the snowy sunshine in the mountains. We decided to get a number of small plates, plus a sandwich to share.

Grilled green beans with balsamic vinegar, sea salt and lemon zest

The green beans were deliciously crisp and complemented in both taste and presentation by the vinegar and trace of salt. We didn’t taste the lemon zest, but the beans were quite good anyway.

White-bean-and-fennel spread with baguette and green apple

We both really enjoyed this light but flavorful spread, which got even better when paired with the apple.

Spiced Marcona almonds and pistachios (left, background) and pickled vegetables

The nuts were a satisfying addition to the rest of the food we had, though again, the promised spicing (with coriander) was not detectable: they just tasted like good, salty nuts.

The pickles more than made up for that, though. The mason jar held a mix of pickled beets, cucumber and fennel. All of them were perfectly fresh-tasting and crunchy, with an excellent balance of tart-salty-spicy flavor that didn’t overwhelm the taste of the underlying vegetable. The beets were gorgeously red in the candlelight, and the others looked pearly white. The mixture varies according to what they’ve got at the time, but I will absolutely be ordering this again next time I go.

The “Winter Flora” sandwich, with beets, apples and tomato jam. Unexpected and lovely.

This was the one vegan sandwich offering available, so we went right for it. Neither of us would have dreamed to put these things together, let alone in this way, but it was wonderful. The thinly sliced beets brought a firm, chewy bite to the sandwich, and the fresh apples offered juicy, tangy crunch. I’m not sure what, other than vegan mayo, was in the top layer, but it worked very well to bring the other flavors together. The crusty potato roll it was served on was substantial without being a chore to get your mouth around, and the green side salad added even more welcome fresh veggies to the meal. Seriously, since when do you get this many vegetables–good ones! seasonal ones!–in a bar?

Our server was friendly and efficient, and when Jud peppered her with questions to figure out which wine he wanted to try after his cocktail, she led him to exactly what he was looking for.

If you’re looking for a place to get gussied up a bit and enjoy some cocktails in beautiful surroundings that let you pretend you’re visiting another era, this is it. If you’re “gussied up” in REI’s finest with hat head and find yourself looking for good food and a drink or two to complement it, they’ll still be really nice to you.

Two cocktails, a glass of wine, one sandwich and four small plates came to an even $50 before tip, and it was a perfect amount of food for two.

Dining Vegan in Portland: Portobello’s new brunch, and getting down to Brass Tacks

29 Oct

My recent whirlwind 24-hour trip to Portland with Jud left precious little time to do all the eating we wanted to do, but in addition to lots of snacking, we managed to hit two restaurants that were new to me and a third that I’ve enjoyed before.

Jud and I rolled into town just in time to pick up my sister and her boyfriend to get lunch at Brass Tacks, which I’d actually learned about by cruising the Merc Perks site to see what vegan delights I was missing out on down south.

Storefront of Brass Tacks, a casual sandwich shop with tasty vegan options

Brass Tacks has only been open a matter of months, so even my vegan, food-loving sister hadn’t made it there yet. It’s within an easy walk of the vegan strip of Alberta if you want to hit one and then the other. The menu includes both meat and vegan options, very clearly laid out:

You can also build your own sandwich by marking up those handy menu cards, which I find much more pleasant than staring at a wall menu and trying to articulate what I do and don’t want.

Conveniently, there were four of us and four menu items, so we divided, conquered, and shared. Each sandwich comes with a generous pile of potato chips; you can order sides like their house-made garlic pickles.

The “Salome,” with spicy, sun-dried tomato vegan salami on a French roll.

The “Captain Nemo” meatball sub, the favorite in our group.

We all liked all four vegan combinations, but the meatball sub came out on top. The house-made meatballs are moist, tender, flavorful and also hold together well, which I’ve found to be a rare convergence of virtues in vegan meatballs. Then again, with Portland’s plethora of vegan meatball sub offerings, maybe there are more good ones to be had. But the one at Brass Tacks is really very good, and I’d love to have one all to myself.

We enjoyed the other three sandwiches (second favorite seemed to be the Velveeta Underground, with a nice, smoky cheez sauce) and the casual, bright space with friendly staff. Earning more props, the restaurant does not offer a garbage can, instead providing places for recycling, compost and reusables. The sandwiches seemed a tad small for their price of $7.99 each, though given our eating plans we were glad not to be stuffed when we left. If you want to fill up you’ll probably want to add a side (all soups, salads and condiments are vegan).

In order to hit as many places as we could, we visited some bakeries (see Alberta post plus one yet to come about the Cravin’ Raven) and took a very nice walk in Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge before tackling dinner. My original goal of trying Natural Selection was foiled by my not making reservations early enough, and Portobello was also warning us of a multi-hour wait, so we went instead to an old favorite: Van Hanh on Division and 82nd.

Van Hanh isn’t exactly known for stellar service. Some reviewers on Yelp report good results from investing a little effort to push past the language barrier and reserved demeanor of the main server, a Buddhist nun who has worked there for a long time. Others on Yelp, however, echo the experiences my sister and I have typically had, of slow and rather terse service. No matter: we go back without hesitation because the food’s excellent, the prices are very reasonable, and speaking for myself, I don’t need to be best friends with a server anyway. For what it’s worth, this time we had a different server, who was friendly though did bring one wrong dish based on mis-hearing what we’d ordered. It was promptly replaced with the right one, with no fuss.

Of the whole menu, the thing you want to make sure you order at Van Hanh is the lemongrass tofu sticks.

Tofu and thin, clear noodles wrapped around stalks of lemongrass. Sounds and looks a little odd; tastes fantastic! Tender, moist and flavorful.

We also got the Green Beans Combo (green beans with a mixture of all of their mock meats and tofu, in a delicious sauce), the Broccoli Combo (same thing with a different vegetable, and different spices in the sauce), and the Curry Vegetables Combo (shown below, with a light yellow curry sauce infused with fresh lemongrass flavor). I would enthusiastically recommend every one of those dishes. The vegetables are cooked just right, and their mock meats and tofu are all quite good.

Curry Vegetables Combo at Van Hanh

The next morning we hit Portobello right when they opened to make sure we got into their second week of offering brunch (they accept reservations for dinner, but not for brunch). Unexpectedly, we hit some hiccups in service there, too. Although the line of people who had showed up before they opened only filled about half the restaurant, we had to wait for seating because, oddly, there weren’t enough menus to go around. There was complimentary coffee available to sip while we waited, but all of us would have much preferred water to be available, which was not offered. This proved to be a theme for our meal, as our four-top table received only a little half-liter carafe of water to split, even though there were larger bottles sitting on nearby two-top tables. Our request to the server to keep the water coming met with limited success as well.

All of that said, we were all overwhelmingly happy with the brunch. Here’s what we got:

Roasted sweet potato, rootbeer, rum waffle with soy-free earth balance, Kraken rum & maple syrup macerated orchard fruits

Jud never misses a chance to try a Bloody Mary. This one used heirloom tomatoes that appeared to have been juiced raw (thus the unusual color, and a nice, fresh flavor), but the spicing was underwhelming. The mimosa I had was delicous, though!

Foreground: Spicy squash homefries with summer squash, roasted corn, and hot pepper homefries, cilantro-pistachio pesto & smoked paprika cashew crema; Middle: Farmer Mel’s autumnal green salad, a mix of brassicas, purslane, and calendula with vinaigrette; Background: Ota tofu frittata, an Italian-style baked vegan vegetable omelet with tomato sauce

Savory cornmeal waffle with spicy red beans, cashew ricotta, red onion agrodolce, roasted corn, and tomato sauce

The savory waffle was what I ordered, and as much as I really enjoyed all of the other things on the table, I must say that this was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. The variety and balance of textures and flavors was truly impressive, and each ingredient was prepared in such a way to maximize its flavor contribution to the dish. If this is on the menu when you go (since Portobello uses fresh, locally sourced ingredients, they do change their offerings frequently), I urge you to make sure someone at your table orders it. Both the savory waffle and the spicy squash homefries were gluten free.

As you can see, the presentation of the dishes is gorgeous, and the space is very pleasant as well, with plenty of reclaimed wood, high ceilings, and a wall of windows in the front to maximize natural light. I’m glad we got in while people were still discovering the brunch since I’m sure this will soon draw the long lines that afflict nearly every Portland brunch venue. Still, I’ll go back even if I have to take a book for the wait.

Portland’s Vegan Street of Dreams: Alberta

14 Oct

Last weekend Jud and I visited my sister and her boyfriend (both vegan) for some serious vegan food tourism in Portland. Even though I get down there a couple times a year and try to hit new places each time, Portland’s got so darn much going on in the vegan realm that I’d gotten behind. Trying to catch up, we hit well over a dozen businesses in a visit that was barely over 24 hours, and bought home so many treats that I’ve had to keep eating this week just to get through them all. The things I do for you!

Of course, we had a blast and discovered all kinds of wonderful things, which I will share with you in a series of posts. For starters, I’ll take you to a mile-long stretch of NE Alberta Street, which is so chock-full of vegan and vegan-friendly businesses that you could spend a long weekend there and not hit them all, assuming you’re eating like a sane person and not a manic blogger on a short timetable. And probably even then.

Want to patronize only veg*n businesses? No problem:

Dovetail Bakery
Dovetail is a cute, cozy little shop with lots of tempting choices in the case. Their scones are buttery, flaky without being dry, and not too sweet. Their cookies are large and soft, with just a bit of crispness. The Molasses-Ginger cookie was my favorite, though the sweet-salty cookie Jud tried, and the Double Dutch chocolate cookie I also got were plenty good as well. There’s a bit of sidewalk seating if the weather’s nice and tables inside if it’s not. Dovetail also wholesales extensively throughout Portland, so watch for their cakes at places like New Seasons.

A case full of vegan cookies, scones, muffins and more at Dovetail

Blackberry jam scone with vanilla glaze

Large, delicious cookies: Double Dutch on top, and still-warm Molasses-Ginger underneath

A Dovetail cake in the bakery case at New Seasons (this was in the Sellwood neighborhood of SE Portland). I was so sad I didn’t have room to try a piece of this!

Natural Selection
I learned the hard way that you should not take for granted seating at Natural Selection on a weekend. Even trying a few days in advance for a Saturday reservation, I was out of luck. So I can’t tell you much about this place except that I’m still dying to go there. The menu consists of two groups of four courses each, which you may mix and match. Everything is vegetarian. One group is all vegan; the other is mostly not, but tends to be gluten free. The space is elegant and tucked right between Vita Cafe and Dovetail Bakery. You can see pictures of the restaurant and some of their incredibly tempting food here. Next time, next time!

Sip Juice Cart
I’m still wishing I’d gotten a juice here, but alas, I did not. This cart, tucked into a lot on the south side of the street, sells juices, milkshakes, all manner of smoothies, and a lone granola bowl if you’re determined to chew something. Everything is vegan, and if I had tried something from their menu, I would have had a hard time picking just one.

Back to Eden Bakery
I’m starting to feel that a trip to Portland isn’t complete without a visit to Back to Eden. The space is bright, airy, comfortable and full of interesting (and delicious) things to look at.

A room full of treats at Back to Eden, where everything’s vegan.

In addition to soft serve, scooped ice cream from Luna and Larry’s, locally made truffles, cookbooks and a few dry goods, there is this spectacular case full of things you will want:

Savory and sweet on offer at Back to Eden. The Pumpkin Whoopie Pies (far left) were damn near perfection, and the Chocolate Rosemary Sea Salt Tart (far right), odd as it may sound, is also amazing.

See that empty spot in the case above? We got the last Boston Creme Pie. Rich and delicious, with balanced vanilla and chocolate flavors.

I also picked up a lip balm here from Crazy Rumors, which was one of my favorites of the seven vegan lip balms I recently tried.

The Bye and Bye
The Bye and Bye apparently believes in minimalism for its website, so I’m sorry I didn’t grab a photo of their menu. Fortunately, the Stumptown Vegans did a nice write-up a few years ago, with descriptions of much of their food and some good photos. It’s been more than a year since I was there, but I thoroughly enjoyed the food I had then and would gladly go back for a meal, a drink or both.

Vegan options at omni places

If you’re not wedded to going only to veg*n businesses, you’ll find even more places to enjoy on Alberta since it seems nearly everyone there caters to vegans, even if not exclusively. Here are just some of the places I spotted:

Vita Cafe
Vita Cafe is so vegan-friendly I often forget that they also serve meat. But with an extensive menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you could eat many, many meals here and never have the same thing twice. I’ve especially enjoyed the Thai Corn Cakes, the Fishwich and the Vegan Club Sandwich. They also have a large case of mouthwatering cakes right up front, many of which are vegan.

Suzette is, as you might guess, a creperie, with a few vegan options. I haven’t been there, but the offerings for both sweet and savory crepes sound great. Suzette also serves wine, beer, hard cider and assorted hot and cold nonalcoholic beverages.

El Nutri-Taco Truck
A taco truck with the entire hood painted brightly with the word “Vegan” tends to catch my eye. And so it did on the south side of Alberta, near 19th Ave. NE. Sure enough, this omnivorous taco truck has an extensive vegan menu. If you’re looking for something quick, inexpensive and filling, this might just be the answer.


What’s this? Made to order mac and cheese with an option to veganize? Sure enough, at Baked!

Not to be outdone, the Grilled Cheese Grill just down the street, a converted school bus selling more grilled cheese than you can shake a stick at, also offers an option to veganize their sandwiches.

Looking for something other than a restaurant or food cart?

You might stop in at the Alberta Co-op Grocery or shop for vegan shoes at Pie Footwear, which carries a nice selection of men’s and women’s shoes and clearly labels those that are vegan. There are also plenty of little boutiques to browse through as you wander. Or if a mile isn’t enough walking to work off all the food you eat, you could head a couple blocks north to Alberta Park, which has lots of trees and an off-leash dog area.

In short, if you just have a limited time in Portland I’d strongly recommend focusing on Alberta. For a super short visit, you’ll probably want to hit the four-business vegan mini-mall in Southeast, but for a pleasant area to stroll and explore and enjoy a wide range of eating, drinking and shopping, I don’t know of anywhere on the planet you can go for more places that cater to vegans.

Sutra: When local foods get put to their highest use

7 Oct

When Sutra opened in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood in 2008, it was clear I needed to get myself there to check it out. Creative, gourmet, vegan food with a strong emphasis on local ingredients, sourced directly from farmers and foragers? Could there be a restaurant more suited to lure me in?

This week’s menu at Sutra, packed with fresh, seasonal delights.

I finally got myself there and immediately and unsurprisingly fell in love. The gushing colleague referenced in the lede of this Seattle Times review? That would be me.

At $35 a pop (which quickly turns into $55 with a glass of wine, tax and tip, or more if you go for the excellently chosen wine pairing menu, which splits just fine with your date) it’s not somewhere I can afford to go as often as I’d like, but still, I’ve been there about a half-dozen times and jump at any suggestion to go. It’s just that good, and it’s a chance to truly savor food and its origins that few restaurants can match.

Last night another coworker and I joined a roomful of other people who had waited until the last day to use their Groupon deals for the place, and we got treated, once again, to an extraordinary journey of food.

We sat at the bar, which offered a great view as each course of wonderful food was plated for the full house of 30 diners.

Course one: Habanero-Cinnamon-Cinderella Pumpkin Soup with an Arugula-Shaved Baby Fennel-Honey Crisp Apple-Arame Salad served with a Lemongrass-Miso dressing and Toasted Sesame Seeds

The salad was crisp, juicy, tart/sweet/salty. The arame seaweed had been rehydrated in a house-made ponzu sauce and was savory without being overpowering, as seaweed sometimes can. As one of the cooks explained, the soup got spicier overnight, so they added a drizzle of coconut milk to help cool it down. Alternating bites of soup and salad yielded a wonderful balance of heat and cool, refreshing flavor.

Course two: Lobster Mushroom-Parsley Root-Saffron-Hempseed Broth Gratin with a French Green Lentil-Grilled Eggplant-Nigella Dahl finished with Parsnip Chips.

This beautifully plated course had more muted flavors, but plenty of complexity and a nice variation in textures. I actually don’t like the flavor of saffron, which took a slight edge off this dish for me, but the preparation and presentation were excellent. The flower garnish added a surprising and perfectly suited burst of flavor, slightly orangey and pleasantly bitter. It should also be said that in my book, one can never go wrong with a mound of parsnip chips.

Course three: North Indian-Northwest Cauliflower-Beet-Fermented Cashew Cream Curry served with Toasted Fennel Seed-Basmati Rice. Sauteed Tatsoi and a Pluot-Clove-Urfa Biber Chutney finished with a Plum Wine-Black Lemon Gastrique.

The curry and the tatsoi were delicious, but I thought the most interesting part of this course was the chutney, with nice color and plenty of fresh-fruit flavor sparkling with moments of intensity from the coarsely ground spices.

Plating dessert. The flans were a little reluctant to leave their molds, but the warm sipping chocolate slid right into those cups.

Course four: Wild Blackberry-Cardamom-Coconut Flan served with Madagascar (Theo’s) Sipping Chocolate and Cacao Nib Brittle.

Dessert knocked our socks off. The intense-but-smooth blackberry flavor (not to mention color) of the flan, and the rich, velvety drinking chocolate were served in just the right amounts to pair perfectly with each other. And while the brittle tasted to us a little burnt, I discovered that eating it brought out much more of the coconut flavor in the flan, transforming it into a different experience.

One of the things I love about Sutra is how much they maximize the flavor and texture of each ingredient, never resorting to bland, starchy fillers the way so many restaurants do. The tiny pillar of rice in the third course was the only element in the whole meal that I would describe as neutral; everything else was flavor balanced against flavor, in just the right quantities and preparation to highlight the best things about each component. Overwhelmingly, I would consider the food to be whole food, with very limited reliance on refined products, yet the coarse textures and simplified flavors that I often associate with whole-foods diets are nowhere to be found. This is elegant, refined food, which happens to be minimally altered from the way it came out of the ground.

Beautiful, wonderful, and worth every penny.

New Westminster does vegan right

20 Sep

You just never know where vegan tourism will take you. For most of my life, all I knew of New Westminster was the BC ferry named after the place, which I’d often ridden to or from Vancouver Island. Come to find out, New West–as many locals call it–was not only the first capital of British Columbia, but it’s also a remarkably hospitable place for vegans.

I learned this last bit due to the efforts of one of New Westminster’s biggest fans, Melissa Balfour (aka The Hungry Taurus). Melissa had the brilliant idea to compile her favorite vegan spots in town into a little bike tour, and then invite the vegans and veg-curious. The ten spots on the tour (at $24 per person, which must have just covered costs for the things we got at each stop) were snapped up in two days, and on Saturday the rain clouds held off during just the right time for those of us lucky enough to participate. For those who didn’t make it, here’s a recap:

Melissa looked after the bikes on our first stop, since racks weren’t close by.

We started at Shine, an elegantly comfortable space filled with daylight, vintage furniture, and a mix of teas, sweets and skin care products. The business also hosts a yoga studio and a handful of independent massage practitioners. Predicting (correctly!) food-and-sweet overload on the rest of the tour, I did not try any of their food items, though the chocolates and the cupcakes looked really good. However, included in the price of the tour was a trial pack of three of their products. The scents on all three products are really nice blends of essential oils that don’t hit you over the head, and they all feel good on your skin. At only $5 for all three trial products (which would fit easily in a purse; larger containers are also priced very reasonably for the type of products they are), I’d definitely recommend picking some up for yourself or a nicely packaged gift.

The one thing that hit a bit of a sour note for me on this stop was lots of proselytizing about health benefits of various products they sold, which often seemed more opinion than fact. I want my health information from medical professionals, and not from laypeople who are trying to sell me things. Still, Shine had many other lovely things to offer, and I’m already trying to figure out how long I can make that Luminance sample last.

Moving on from Shine, it was time for lunch at Ziada, an Eritrean and Ethiopian restaurant with a vegan veggie combo: a couple of nice lentil stews, sautéed spinach, yellow split peas, and a couple other vegetable combinations, all neatly arranged on huge platters of injera. The food was all good, the service was friendly and informative (with a little prodding to let the server know that we really were interested in knowing more about the food), and the large table gave us participants a chance to get to know each other a bit. Ziada clearly needs to be better known, as later that day I ran into two local vegans who had never tried Ethiopian food and were excited to learn of a nearby opportunity to do so.

The food also provided a nice base in our bellies for the wine we tasted at Pacific Breeze Winery, a garage winery tucked away in a little industrial area. Despite the utilitarian surroundings, the tasting room was pleasant, and the wines–all of theirs are vegan–were quite good.

They opened up the garage so we could stash our bikes amid the tanks where they make the wine. Here Jennifer is talking to Ashley (right), the force behind Sprout Vegan Bakery.

The first pour was a Sauvignon Blanc, and also my favorite although I usually prefer reds. It was dry, crisp and refreshing.

Most bottles we tasted were in the $20-$25 range, but they also make pricier bottles and have a wine club and various events for those who like to keep tabs on new and small-batch offerings.

I could have hung out sampling wine for a while yet, but we had more food to eat! Our next stop was at the quay, at Crepe des Amis:

This place was on the tour specifically because of Melissa’s prior efforts to make the business vegan friendly, and boy had they come through! We sampled seven items from their savory and sweet vegan menu (plus one not yet on the menu) and only got through half of their offerings. The crepes themselves impressed even omnivores in the group, and the fillings were varied and creative, like the peanutty Malaysian Spicy Salad filling, courtesy of one of the owners, who is Malaysian. The hands-down winner, though, was the one not yet on the menu: chocolate with soy-nut butter:

The coveted last bite of the favorite crêpe at our table: chocolate and soy-nut butter.

I hope it’s made official soon so everyone can try it! If we hadn’t been completely desserted-out by that point, several of us would have liked to try the two flavors of vegan “Tofulati,” their soy-based frozen dessert.

Seattle, are you gonna keep letting New Westminster be the closest place to get vegan crepes? Hmmm?

We were pretty darn full by that point, but Melissa’s well-planned route had us going either downhill or flat almost the whole time, so getting to our final stop of Karmavore was no trouble. Karmavore is kind of like a mixture of Portland’s and Seattle’s vegan retail stores, rolled into one. In addition to clothing, shoes, cosmetics and a grocery section they have a small deli that offers goodies from Sprout, a variety of savouries from Field Roast (including their hard-to-find chao cheese balls), and some items like sandwiches that seemed to be house-made. They had chocolate croissants, which I must say were right up there with the pain au chocolat from Seattle’s Bouteloua Bakery. At Karmavore we got a little sample pack of bite-size desserts from Sprout, all of which I can enthusiastically recommend. Perfectly seasoned pumpkin cheesecake? Check. Gorgeous little mini-cupcakes, in vanilla-lime and maple-walnut? Check. Something for the peanut lover and the carob lover? Got those, too. Expertly prepared and beautifully finished, all of them. You can find Sprout goodies in lots of places around the Vancouver area, and you should not pass them by if you find them.

It was an afternoon well spent, and a great chance to meet some cool people and discover some hidden gems in a place I honestly probably wouldn’t have made it to any time soon. The little historic downtown area where Karmavore is located is really pretty and would be nice to walk around if you weren’t on wheels. We also covered much of the waterfront on the boardwalk, lined with beautiful flowers and views of a picturesque, working waterfront (sorry, no pictures since we were on the move). Northwestern vegans would be well advised to follow Melissa on Twitter for any future events she puts together, as she clearly has both excellent taste and a knack for organization. And meanwhile, include a stop in New West next time you’re in the Vancouver area!

Biking glorious Lopez Island–and eating vegan there

7 Sep

On Monday Jud and I headed to Lopez Island, one of the beautiful San Juans, to take advantage of the wonderful weather and try out the bike I’ve borrowed for a couple weeks (for the Hungry Taurus’ vegan bike tour of New Westminster, which I’m super excited about).

Lopez has a reputation for bike-friendliness, and it’s well earned. Unlike other islands in the San Juans, Lopez is relatively flat, and the few cars you’ll encounter are easily outnumbered by the bicyclists enjoying rolling farmland, stunning water views and even peeks at Mount Baker. Another reason to leave the car in Anacortes is to guarantee a spot on the ferry both coming and going, which can be very iffy in a car (ferry tickets are much cheaper without a vehicle, also–$31 for two adults with bikes vs. $49.25 for two in a car). Roughly following a loop mapped out in Biking Puget Sound: 50 Rides from Olympia to the San Juans, we spent the day developing a huge crush on Lopez.

Not knowing what kind of food offerings to expect, we packed along plenty of food. I whipped up a bean spread (1 Tbsp. garlic; 2 Tbsp. EVOO; 1 medium red pepper, roasted, seeded and diced; 1 chipotle in adobo, deseeded because I’m a spice wuss; 3 cups cooked cannellini beans; 2 tsp. cider vinegar; 1 tsp. ground cumin; 1/2 tsp. salt. Saute garlic and peppers; add remaining ingredients; process in food processor until spreadable, and check seasonings) and made sandwiches:

Other than the spread, I used zucchini marinated in garlicky vinaigrette before roasting, fresh basil leaves, romaine lettuce, and a schmear of garlic sauce instead of mayo.

I also grabbed a bunch of peaches on sale at Whole Foods, sliced them up and dehydrated them:

With some Trader Joe’s chocolate-chip cookies, our latest chocolate-bar obsession, and assorted nuts we were ready for an absolute food desert.

Instead, we found plenty of food in “the village” (the main commercial area on the island) and saved those sandwiches for later.

The Love Dog Cafe beckoned us with a large banner advertising vegetarian and vegan options. In we went. The prices on the menu were a little eyebrow-raising, but we reminded ourselves that island living ain’t cheap, and we were excited at the many options that were listed. The Old Bay Tofu Cakes immediately grabbed my eye, and Jud went straight for the Portabello burger (the menu online looks a little different from what we saw).

The tofu cakes were nicely presented with a delicious house-made sauce that mostly tasted of fresh red pepper, with a little sweetness and creaminess. The cakes themselves struck me as a little bland, but Jud liked them, and found the inclusion of nori to give them an authentic nod toward traditional crab cakes. For $14, though, they were really not much food. In most places, I would expect that serving as an appetizer rather than an entree.

Jud fared better with his burger (“A Portobello mushroom stuffed with soy based cream cheese, shallots, garlic, herbs and spices, drizzled with olive oil, and baked.”):

The sandwich was juicy, flavorful and satisfying, and the house-made ketchup was interesting and a good complement to the rest of the plate. Again, the $18 price seemed pretty hefty for a modest-sized plate of food, but we agreed we’d both go for it again.

After leaving the Love Dog we found two other spots of interest to vegans: Vortex Juice Bar and Cafe is just down the street and offers a variety of wraps and bowls in addition to juices. Food prices top out around $10 (unless you go crazy with add-ons), and my Lopez-native coworker attests that the food is good.

Right next to Vortex is Blossom Grocery, which is exactly the kind of cozy, co-op-style market you’d expect to find in a place like Lopez. It’s small and of course subject to island economics, but they make good use of their space, and this would be a great place to pick up things to fill out any gaps in your provisions for your time on the island.

Still not sold? Take a look at just a handful of scenes we rode through:

Views of Mount Baker along with the farmland

Miles of peaceful roads like this, plus some through shady woods and right along the coast.

Stunning coastline at Shark Reef Sanctuary

Mount Baker beckons you back to the mainland from the ferry.


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