Sunday, April 5, 2015

DC Spotlight: Dinner at Doi Moi (redux)

About a year ago I visited Doi Moi shortly after it opened.  At that time the restaurant still was working out the kinks, and the menu changed before I even had a chance to post my write-up.  I recently returned to Doi Moi and was very pleased that the restaurant continues to offer a separate (and somewhat improved) gluten-free/vegan/vegetarian menu.

The restaurant is first-class all around -- from its elegant atmosphere and exceptional service to its extensive wine list.  That it caters to vegetarians and others with dietary restrictions without compromising the quality gives it a high rank in my book.  The food is beautifully presented and, if you can stand the heat, quite delicious.  Both the dishes I ordered (pictured below) were very spicy. 

Crispy radish cakes made with wild mushrooms and peanuts and served with a mushroom-soy dipping sauce

Fried tofu salad with mixed greens and fresh cilantro, spearmint leaves, red onion, and red pepper

TIP:  Doi Moi does not accept reservations after 6pm, so go early or plan to wait for a table, especially on weekends.

Doi Moi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 5, 2015

DC Spotlight: Lunch at China Chilcano

Regular readers of this blog know that very few things excite me more than a new Jose Andres restaurant.  China Chilcano recently opened in Penn Quarter, and by my count is Chef Andres's fifth restaurant in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, I was not able to score a dinner reservation until next month, but finding a table for lunch was no problem.  The restaurant's warm and colorful dining room could not have been more inviting on a cold winter day.
China Chilcano dining room (photo from restaurant's website)
China Chilcano features contemporary Peruvian cuisine, which reflects a fusion of native Peruvian and Chinese and Japanese ingredients.  Like Chef Andres's other restaurants, the menu includes numerous vegetarian options.  The choices were overwhelming, but fortunately a couple of work colleagues were willing to help me sample some of these delicious small plates.

Yuquitas rellenas (yuca fritters with dried potato, yellow pepper, and wood ear mushroom)

Jiaozi de la chacra (dumplings stuffed with yellow potato, rocoto pepper, yellow squash, cilantro, and black vinegar-yellow pepper sauce)

Ajonjoli (cold wheat noodles with sesame seed sauce, carrot, cucumber, creole sauce, peanut, and star anise)

Tallarin zhen fe (Hong-Kong style rice flour noodles with cilantro, tomato stew, black garlic, egg, and five spice)

The food is light but very satisfying with many complex flavors.  I cannot wait to return for dinner next month to try the rest! 

UPDATE:  I returned to China Chilcano for dinner in April 2015 and had an equally pleasant dining experience.  I also was excited to learn that the restaurant now offers a separate "makeshift" vegetarian menu (the regular menu with vegetarian options highlighted) as well as separate gluten-free and food allergy menus.

China Chilcano on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 21, 2015

New Orleans, Louisiana (Feb. 2015)

I just returned from my second Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and I am happy to report that the city continues to be surprisingly vegetarian friendly.  While I revisited old favorites such as Carmo (cheery tropical cafe in the Warehouse District), Gumbo Shop (authentic New Orleans cuisine in the French Quarter), and Bennachin (home-cooked West African food in the French Quarter), I also discovered two new spots where vegetarians can dine in style (and without having to call ahead to warn the kitchen).  

For a true first-class experience, check out the vegetarian tasting menu at the very upscale August (in the Central Business District), a restaurant by chef John Besh.  I felt like a movie star sitting in the 19th century French-Creole building's gorgeous dining room, dressed in my formal wear along with other Mardi Gras ball-goers.  The impeccable service, beautifully presented dishes, and extensive wine list made for a perfect evening.  The tasting menu features five courses of farmers market vegetables, three of which are pictured below, along with a screen shot of the complete menu.

Salad of charred broccoli and romanesco

Parsley root ravioli

Smoked hen of the wood mushrooms

I had another lovely meal at Latitude 29 (near the river in the French Quarter), an elegant Polynesian-themed restaurant, which boasts its "beautifully composed, modern, playful Tiki Cuisine that includes options for our gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan guests" (not to mention an extensive selection of strong and tasty cocktails!).  I was pretty excited to see tofu bahn mi on the menu, but at my server's suggestion, I opted instead for the noodle bowl and an order of taro chips (served with two highly addictive spicy dips).   

Chilled rice noodles, grilled shitake mushrooms, young coconut, and basil
Taro "chips" seasoned with curry and served with sriracha mayo and kimchi ketchup

TIP:  As I've previously written, vegetarians need not worry about going hungry in New Orleans.  Most nice restaurants are extremely accommodating, even if their menus do not include meat-free options.

August on Urbanspoon

Latitude 29 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 10, 2015

New York, New York (Dec. 2014)

As I've previously written, I am very content eating at restaurants in New York City that are exclusively vegetarian because so many of them are first class.   

V-Note (Upper East Side) is no exception.  I dined there over Christmas weekend and could not have been more pleased with the elegant atmosphere, personable service, and extensive wine selection.  The food was delicious and beautifully presented.  Everything is vegan, organic, and mostly kosher.  V-note also offers a separate gluten-free and nut allergy menu.  My dining partner and I both enjoyed our tofu entrees, as well as the carrot-ginger soup du jour.  It was a perfect evening.

The soup du jour was carrot-ginger.

Pistachio and pepper dusted tofu with lemon-truffle emulsion and frisee salad with beet vinaigrette

Tofu "salmon" and mushroom scallops with dill leek sauce, black rice, fennel and broccollini in white wine mushroom reduction

On Christmas Day I returned to an old favorite, Hangawi (Koreatown), a vegetarian (mostly vegan) Korean restaurant, which also offers a separate gluten-free menu.  Fortunately we made reservations well in advance because the place was booked all night long.  Hangawi's hot stone bowls are perfect on a cold night!

Avocado stone bowl with rice, vegetables, tofu, and miso sauce

Finally, for a delicious casual meal in a place that your omnivore friends will surely love, check at the Caracas Arepa Bar (East Village), where you can try an authentic Venezuelan corn meal cake stuffed with your favorite ingredients (TIP: go early or be prepared to wait in line, as the Manhattan location is quite small).  The menu includes many clearly-marked vegetarian items, and baked tofu can be substituted for meat in most of the the non-vegetarian arepas.  I loved "La Mulata," which came with grilled white cheese, jalapenos, black beans, sauteed red peppers, and fried sweet plantains.

"La Mulata" arepa stuffed with grilled white cheese, jalapenos, black beans, and sauteed red peppers

V-Note on Urbanspoon

Hangawi on Urbanspoon

Caracas Arepa Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 29, 2014

DC Spotlight: Sundays at Thai X-ing on 9th Street

For years, friends would tell me that I just had to try the delicious home-cooked vegetarian Thai food at Thai X-ing (pronounced "Thai Crossing").  And for years, I declined -- for one reason only:  the "restaurant" reportedly was the chef's living room, and the living room reportedly was a favorite hangout of the chef's cats.  No thanks.  But my years of waiting are over, because Thai X-ing recently opened a new location near the corner of the 9th and U Streets in a bona fide, first-class restaurant space.

Sunday nights are 100% vegetarian (no fish sauce!), and for only $30.00, you get an unbelievable nine-course meal.  Although the new space has a full bar, everybody brings their own bottle(s) of wine, because a $5.00 corkage fee in DC simply can't be beat.  The menu if prix fixe (chef's choice, although I'm told the menu does not vary much from week to week, and the famous pumpkin curry is a staple), and most dishes are naturally vegan and gluten-free.  Everything is fresh, spicy, and delicious.  The only challenge may be getting a reservation, which should be done in advance on the restaurant's website.  See below for some pictures of my unforgettable vegetarian Thai feast.

Papaya salad and vegetable soup

Starting at the bottom and going clockwise: noodle salad, pineapple curry tofu, pumpkin curry, mushroom string bean tofu, and a side of brown rice with beans (not pictured:  vegetable stir fry)

Drunken rice noodles
For dessert, sticky coconut rice with mango

Thai X-Ing on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Madrid, Spain (Sept. 2014)

A couple of months ago, following my short trip to Lisbon, Portugal, I spent a few days in Madrid, Spain.  I've written a lot about Spanish tapas, many of which are naturally meat-free and great for vegetarians (click here, here, here, here, and here for some of my prior posts).  

But I always find Madrid a little bit more challenging.  For starters, the traditional method of enjoying tapas in Madrid does not provide the consumer with much choice.  Rather, you order a drink, and the tapas are simply served, not ordered (of course, they are basically free, so as my mother used to say, "beggars can't be choosers").  This custom can be a little awkward for vegetarians and others with dietary restrictions.  And in sit-down restaurants, where larger sized tapas (usually called raciones) can be ordered from a menu, many typical vegetable-based dishes (like sauteed mushrooms and garlic), often contain pieces of ham or sausage.  The experience can be frustrating.  Although Madrid -- like most big cities these days -- has a lot of vegetarian restaurants to choose from, such restaurants, in my opinion, often are frequented by other tourists and do not provide the traveler with a very authentic Spanish experience.  

I am happy to report, however, that I found one place where vegetarians can enjoy authentic Spanish cuisine in a place that is popular with madrilenos.  The Mercado San Ildefonso is essentially an upscale food court, and it literally has something for everyone.  Whether you are a vegetarian, meat lover, wine drinker, or have a sweet tooth -- you can find what you want here.  At the same time, the festive atmosphere (I counted at least three bars, not including several specialty wine and beer stands) and shared tables make it easy to socialize with locals.  

The Mercado San Ildefonso is located on Fuencarral Street, near the center of Madrid.

The market has three levels of food and drinks!

On the first floor, you can get a selection of cheeses at the Cheese Tavern or some fresh fruit and juice at Street Fruit.  

First-floor food stands, including Cheese Tavern and Street Fruit (near the back)

Here is a birds-eye of the second floor.

But I started my visit at the MyVeg food stand on the second floor, where I picked up a made-to-order salad consisting of exceptionally fresh ingredients.

MyVeg offers fresh made-to-order salads.

This green salad with fresh tomatoes and warm mushrooms was delicious.

I then moved next door to the Granja Malasana, where I ordered a half Spanish tortilla covered with asparagus.

Spanish tortilla with asparagus
And at the next stand over, DP Tapas, I grabbed an order of Andalusian gazpacho. 

Andalusian gazpacho topped with drizzled olive oil and crispy garlic

It's possible to spend hours eating and drinking at Mercado San Ildefonso, but in my opinion, no visit would be complete without tasting the wines at Taninos.

Taninos Vinoteca

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Lisbon, Portugal (Sept. 2014)

A couple of months ago I spent two very short days in Lisbon, Portugal.  While that certainly was not enough time to explore fully the city's vegetarian options, I did have a few good experiences that I'd like to share.  

Having done my research ahead of time, I understood that traditional Portuguese cuisine consisted heavily of meat and seafood.  Vegetarian travelers will not go hungry, however.  Most restaurants, I found, offer some sort of egg omelet, and a number of traditional Portuguese soups are naturally vegetarian.  I had the traditional pumpkin soup twice, including a small appetizer-size version (pictured below) at Open Brasserie Mediterranica, the restaurant at my eco-friendly hotel, Inspira Santa Marta.  This restaurant was very sensitive to diners' dietary restrictions and offered several other vegetarian and vegan items, which were clearly identified on the menu.

Traditional Portuguese pumpkin soup
Open Brasserie Mediterranica's menu clearly identifies vegetarian and vegan items

Portuguese wine bars also are a great way to experience traditional cuisine.  Although these places don't usually serve hot meals, they offer enough meat-free wine pairing snacks to fill you up.  My feast at Winebar do Castelo is pictured below.  It included various cheeses, olives, jams, olive oils, bread, and even gluten-free crackers for my travel partner with the wheat allergy.  The atmosphere, service, location (next to the castle), and, of course, the wine were all fabulous!

Wine, olive oils, jams, cheese, olives, bread, and gluten-free crackers at Winebar do Castelo

And no visit to Lisbon is complete without trying the city's signature pasteis de nata, which are vanilla-flavored egg custard pastry tarts.  The original and most famous version of these is served at Pasteis de Belem in charming Belem (be prepared to wait in line), but I also found equally delicious ones closer to downtown at Manteigaria in Chiado. 

Lisbon's famous are pasteis de nata (vanilla-flavored egg custard pastry tarts) are vegetarian but not vegan, and are not to be missed if you can eat them.  TIP: sprinkle some cinnamon on them to make them extra delicious!

Finally, like most big cities, Lisbon has a number of vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants.  Although these restaurants may not provide the same traditional Portuguese experience as some other places, they are a good option for travelers who plan to spend more than a few days in Lisbon and tire of eggs, soup, cheese, bread, and pastries.  I really enjoyed my tropical salad, chock full of protein-rich beans and fresh fruit, at the international-themed, veg-friendly (and somewhat divey) The Green Room.  The chef also was very accommodating of my travel partner's food allergies.

This tropical salad at The Green Room was very satisfying, as it was full of chickpeas, black beans, and fresh fruit and greens.