Sunday, April 13, 2014

DC Spotlight: Dinner at Le Diplomate

Following up on last month's post about new restaurants along 14th Street, this month I review dinner at DC's most popular hotspot, Le Diplomate.

Although I previously had brunch at Le Diplomate (and LOVED it), I was reluctant to try it for dinner because the menu (all French, of course) offers very few vegetarian options and almost no vegan options.  Of those, I tried the green salad and mushroom tart -- both delicious.  The potatoes au gratin (not pictured here) also were delicious.

Green salad

Mushroom tart

But my dining partner, who not only is vegetarian, but also is allergic to nuts and cheese, had a more difficult time finding menu items to enjoy.  Not to worry!  Le Diplomate is a true first-class restaurant, and like so many first-class restaurants (such as those in New Orleans, for example), the outstanding service includes special accommodations for vegetarians and others with dietary restrictions.  Our server spoke to the chef, who happily cooked up this beautiful vegan entree of roasted mushrooms and cauliflower, sauteed spinach, and mashed potatoes.  

Specially made vegan entree of roasted mushrooms and cauliflower, sauteed spinach, and mashed potatoes

From the service to the food, and from the wine list to the cute French decor, this place lives up to the hype, and vegetarians are not left out! 

Le Diplomate on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 2, 2014

DC Spotlight: 14th Street Update - Barcelona, Doi Moi, and Masa 14

It seems like a new restaurant opens up every week along the 14th Street corridor that stretches between the Logan Circle and U Street neighborhoods, and it elates me that so many of them are vegetarian friendly.  I previously reviewed Estadio, Masa 14 (rooftop bar), El Centro D.F., Eatonville, and Kapnos.  Today I add two more to the Washington, DC Restaurants page, and also revisit an older one.

Barcelona is yet another Spanish tapas place, which is fine by me because I love Spanish tapas!  Although it is a chain -- with locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Georgia -- Barcelona offers a unique first-class dining experience.  The cozy atmosphere is reminiscent of the Spanish city's Gothic Quarter (click here for my write-up of the real Barcelona), and the menu includes Spanish tortilla and all of the usual meat-free small plates that are so common in Spanish tapas restaurants.  Although the menu does not clearly identify the vegetarian items, my server was extremely knowledgeable about the menu and sensitive to my dietary restrictions.  I enjoyed everything I ordered, especially the spinach-chickpea cazuela and Manchego cheese plate.

Barcelona's spinach-chickpea cazuela with cumin and roasted garlic

Barcelona's Manchego cheese plate

Doi Moi was opened by the owner of two of my favorite restaurants, Proof and Estadio (click here for write-up of the latter).  Like those two restaurants, Doi Moi offers an elegant and romantic atmosphere with an extensive wine list, and like Estadio, it offers, upon request, a separate gluten-free/vegan/vegetarian menu.  But Doi Moi differs from those two restaurants by specializing in Southeast Asian "street food."  The menu already has changed since I first dined there, but it looks like the delicious mushroom dumplings pictured below are still available.

Doi Moi's pan fried garlic chive and mushroom dumplings with sweet soy-black vinegar dipping sauce
Finally, Masa 14 is an old 14th Street favorite with a lively atmosphere and energetic bar scene.  I previously wrote about its tasty rooftop menu here (note that the rooftop menu has changed a bit since then but still offers tasty veg-friendly marinated portobello bao buns, work-seared edamame, and vegetarian handrolls), and like its two sister restaurants by Chef Richard Sandoval (click here for my write-up of El Centro D.F. and here for my write up of Zengo, one of my favorite DC restaurants), Masa 14's regular dinner menu also offers a number of vegetarian items, as well as other items that can be made vegetarian upon request. 

Masa 14's fried tofu with sauteed spinach and sweet and spicy chili sauce

Masa 14's pan-roasted cauliflower with ginger, garlic, and chili

UPDATE:  Click here for my write-up of Le Diplomate, another 14th Street hotspot.

Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Doi Moi on Urbanspoon

Masa 14 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Jan. 2014)

Brazil may be known for its churrascarias and other meat feasts, but I never went hungry in Rio de Janeiro.  From its juice bars to first-class restaurants, Rio is an excellent destination for vegetarian travelers.

For authentic Brazilian cuisine, check out one of the city's many por quilo restaurants, where you can serve yourself and pay for only what you put on your plate.  Cost is based on weight, so this is a really affordable option for vegetarians (none of my meals cost more than $15.00).  Most of these places are very casual, and some are nicer (and cleaner) than others.  But they all offer countless vegetarian options, with a wide variety of salads, fruits and vegetables, meat-free beans (be sure to confirm that they are "sem carne" if you're unsure), rice, farofa (toasted maniac flour, but make sure you get the kind without bacon bits), and plantains, among other items.  Check out this article from The Rio Times for more information about por quilo dining. 

The nicest por quilo restaurant I found was Broth, which is housed in a charming 1939 Ipanema chalet and is open only for lunch.  The food was fresh and the vegetarian selections were hearty.  See below for a picture of my self-assembled meal.

My por quilo meal at Broth included meat-free black and brown beans, farofa, white rice, tomato salad, garbanzo salad, and green salad.

For cuisine from Brazil's northeast region, check out the cheery, vegetarian-friendly Cafe do Alto in Santa Teresa, Rio's historic downtown neighborhood.  The restaurant has an extensive menu (available in English) with vegetarian markers identifying which dishes are meat-free (vegans may have trouble here, however, as most of the vegetarian dishes seem to contain cheese).  I was excited to try a tapioca crepe (popular Brazilian snack and street food) with queijo coalho (typical Brazilian cheese).  

Cafe de Alto offers an English-language menu that clearly identifies vegetarian dishes.
Tapioca crepe with coahlo cheese and roasted tomato at Cafe do Alto
Like most large cities, Rio de Janeiro also has a number of restaurants that are exclusively vegetarian or vegan.  Biocarioca in Copacabana was so close to my hotel that I couldn't resist eating there several times during my one-week stay.  The restaurant offers an extensive regular menu as well as a lengthy daily menu of specials, making the choices overwhelming.  The cuisine is casual and healthy (soups, salads, sandwiches, omelets, etc.), so it is a perfect place to stop after a day at the beach.  Both menus also clearly identify which items are vegan and gluten-free (a limited number of menus in English also are available upon request).  I became addicted to their tofu quiches (all vegan) and freshly squeezed juices.

Green and black olive tofu quiche, green salad, and carrot ginger soup at Biocarioca
Homemade veggie burger patty (made with brown rice, grains, and nuts) served with a spicy mango chutney at Biocarioca

Finally, Rio has no shortage of international cuisine.  It seems like there is a Japanese sushi restaurant on every block, where you can get typical Asian dishes like edamame, vegetable spring rolls, and noodle dishes.  Manekineko, which has several locations around the city, uses vegetarian markers on its menu to help diners identify meat-free items.  I enjoyed the shitake mushrooms and vegetable yakisoba at the Leblon location.  

But one of my favorite meals was at Arab, an upscale Middle Eastern restaurant right on Avenida Atlantica in Copacabana, where you can dine outdoors while staring at the ocean.  The hummus and falafel were some of the best I've ever had, and the freshly baked pita was heavenly.

Freshly baked pita, hummus, and tabboule at Arab
Perfectly prepared falafel at Arab
Another first-class restaurant in Copacabana is the Barcelona-style Spanish tapas restaurant El Born (the link will take you to the restaurant's Yelp page, since it does not seem to have a website), named after the Barcelona neighborhood of the same name (click here to read my post about the real Barcelona).  There are a number of meat-free tapas on the menu.  My favorite was this bocadillo (sandwich) of Spanish tortilla and fresh tomato.

Spanish tortilla sandwich with tomato at El Born

TIP:  Following my own advice on the Travel Tips page of this website, I booked a hotel based on rave reviews it received for the included breakfast buffet (and excellent service, among other things).  Each day I began my meal with scrambled eggs or a made-to-order omelet, accompanied by an endless selection of fresh fruit, cheese, pastries, and juices.  If you're looking for a nice place to stay with a wonderful breakfast, Hotel Miramar by Windsor will not disappoint.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Chicago, Illinois (Dec. 2013)

Just returned from another long weekend in downtown Chicago, where I enjoyed three great meals (click here for my previous Chicago post).  

For a first-class dining experience with meat-loving companions, try the London-based Japanese steakhouse Roka Akor.  I started my meal with an order of steamed edamame with sea salt, and then moved on to two grilled vegetable side dishes -- sweet potato with ginger teriyaki and asparagus with sweet soy and sesame.  The highlight, however, was the wild mushroom rice hot pot, which included tofu and, for double the price, black truffles.  The dish tasted like a rich mushroom risotto, but more aromatic and completely vegan.  The waiter will combine the ingredients right at your table. 

Grilled sweet potato with ginger teriyaki and grilled asparagus with sweet soy and sesame

Japanese wild mushroom and rice hot pot with tofu and black truffles

For a fun experience where you can combine shopping and eating, check out Mario Batali's high-end Italian food market Eataly, which is even bigger than the one in New York City.  While you can find meat-free dishes (and wine!) at most of the market's restaurants, I recommend the all vegetable-based Le Verdure, where I thoroughly enjoyed my mile-high tricolor salad and polenta.

Insalata tricolore with radicchio, endive, arugula, and balsamic vinegarette

Wild hive polenta with spicy tomato sauce and fried egg

Finally, for a more low-key and cozy dining experience, check out Friends Sushi, which has extensive vegetable maki list.  The sweet potato tempura and shitake rolls were outstanding!

Roka Akor on Urbanspoon

Eataly on Urbanspoon

Friends Sushi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 28, 2013

DC Spotlight: Lunch at Kafe Leopold (Black Friday Edition)

Last month I recommended Peacock Cafe as a great spot in Georgetown for brunch, lunch, or an afternoon snack.  In celebration of Black Friday and the thousands of people (including many vegetarians) who may be heading to Georgetown tomorrow to do some holiday shopping, today I recommend another, equally excellent option -- Kafe Leopold.

Kafe Leopold is located in Cady's Alley, the Georgetown design district tucked between M Street and the C&O Canal.  When you walk into this Austrian cafe, you may think you're in a cosmopolitan European city rather than the United States.  The restaurant has a very international clientele, and on any given day you may hear more than a dozen different languages spoken, particularly in the summertime when patrons tend to linger on the outdoor patio while sipping coffee and wine.

The sweet-and-savory menu, which has an exciting selection of salads, also has several other, clearly identified vegetarian items to choose from.  I tried the potato-artichoke soup, followed by the olive and sweet onion tart.  Both were delicious.

Tiroler Weinsuppe (puree of potato, artichoke and white wine with buttered croutons & pumpkin seed oil)
Olivenpissaladiere (olive and sweet onion tart with roasted tomato and manchego cheese)
Like Peacock Cafe, Kafe Leopold also is known for its brunch (especially its delicious European coffee), but its real claim to fame is its endless array of desserts, which your server will encourage you to select only after you have carefully examined everything in the cafe's display case (as you can see, chocolate lovers won't be disappointed).

Assorted pastries and desserts
After a full day of shopping, don't you deserve it?

Kafè Leopold on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

DC Spotlight: Lunch at Peacock Cafe

Peacock Cafe in Georgetown is known for its tasty brunch, but it also should be known as one of DC's most veg-friendly restaurants.  It undoubtedly earns its place on the Washington, DC Restaurants page of this website, and it is a great place to start your day or stop for a light lunch or snack while shopping in Georgetown.  

The restaurant's atmosphere --  elegant, airy, and busy -- and practical yet healthy menu remind me of a chic country club (the outdoor patio seating is especially nice in the summer).  The service is excellent and personable, and the menu offers numerous vegetarian options.  

From smoothies to organic egg dishes to salads and wraps and sandwiches and vegetable side dishes, Peacock Cafe has something for everyone.  The veggie burger -- reportedly a favorite of President Bill Clinton (a recently converted vegan) is not to be missed.  It is made with rice and vegetables, held together by soy cheese, and served with a side of quinoa salad.  The vegetarian chili, also pictured below, is equally satisfying.

Peacock Cafe's homemade veggie burger is served with red quinoa salad on the side.  Be sure to specify no cheese on top of the veggie burger if you're vegan like President Clinton!
Peacock Cafe's vegetarian chili is served with fresh tortilla chips.  Sour cream and grated cheese are optional.

Peacock Cafe's healthy menu also includes a number of tasty side dishes, such as this dish of grilled sweet potato that Hillary Clinton reportedly enjoyed on her birthday.

Peacock Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 15, 2013

DC Spotlight: Greek Mezze at Kapnos

I recently dined at Kapnos, one of DC's newest and hottest restaurants.  Kapnos was opened by local celebrity chef Mike Isabella, and if my next meal is as good as my first, it's soon likely to become one of my favorite DC restaurants (competing with Zengo and Estadio).  I am excited to add it to the Washington, DC Restaurants page of this website.

Kapnos is located in the U Street neighborhood, and its menu draws inspiration from northern Greece.  According to its general manager, sixty percent of the menu is vegetarian and, according to our server, many of those dishes also can be made vegan.  Although the restaurant does not (yet?  I am hopeful!) offer a separate vegetarian menu, it seems (based on my experience and that of my dining partner, who is mostly vegan and also suffers from food allergies) to take dietary restrictions very seriously.  I was impressed by the first-class ambiance and attentiveness of our server.

Everything was absolutely delicious, and I had a hard time narrowing down what to order.  Vegetarian options include tasty spreads and protein-rich garden mezze.  I loved every bite of the dishes pictured below!

Stone baked flatbread with garlic oil and revithosalata spread (chickpea, tahini, sultan chutney)
Spicy watermelon salad
Dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice and pinenuts)

Fava with yellow lentils, corn, spinach, and pearl onions

Braised cauliflower with tomato, chickpeas, and fenugreek
Smokey hen of the woods mushroom with kolrabi, graviera cheese, and oregano

TIP:  A word of warning -- while sitting at the chef's counter may be tempting, especially if you're dining alone, those seats will put you in direct view of the whole animals roasting on the rotisserie.  On the other hand, your omnivore friends might love it, and this really is a great place where vegetarians and non-vegetarians can dine together and be treated equally!

Kapnos on Urbanspoon