Sunday, August 21, 2016

Chicago (May 2016)

This is a belated post about a restaurant that I visited in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend that had me really excited.  Doc B's Fresh Kitchen specializes in fresh, local ingredients.  There are two locations in Chicago (I visited the River North restaurant) and to my surprise, they are part of small chain that also includes several locations in Florida (and one coming soon to Texas).   

Doc B's food is healthy and casual, and the menu includes a number of interesting vegetarian options.  Although the veggie burger looked really tasty, I opted instead for one of the "Wok Out Bowls," which I ordered with tofu, sesame teriyaki sauce, and brown rice (it also came with market veggies -- kale, mushrooms, and carrots -- and cashews).  It was delicious!

Wok Out Bowl with tofu, sesame teriyaki sauce, brown rice, market veggies (kale, mushrooms, and carrots) and cashews

For my other Chicago posts, click here.

Doc B's Fresh Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, July 4, 2016

DC Spotlight: MXDC and Mission

As a follow-up to my Mexico City post, I thought I'd mention two new(ish) (in the last couple years) vegetarian-friendly Mexican restaurants that I'm adding to my Washington, DC, Restaurants page.  

MXDC in downtown DC is an upscale restaurant by Chef Todd English.  The name is a play on the abbreviation for Mexico City (MXCD).  The menu clearly marks vegan and vegetarian (and gluten-free) items, and offers fresh, modern cuisine.  I enjoyed traditional guacamole and mushroom tacos.

Traditional guacamole with tomato, onion cilantro, and jalapeno

Mushroom tacos with truffled corn salsa and tomatillo
Mission in Dupont Circle is much more casual, but it's large outdoor patio makes it the perfect place for people watching.  The extensive menu offers lots of comfort food, and vegan, vegetarian, and items containing common allergens are all clearly marked.  I stuffed myself on these portobello fajitas, which were served with rice and beans.

Portobello fajitas served with rice and beans

MXDC Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Mission Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Mexico City, Mexico (April 2016)

Mexico City has become known internationally as a true foodie destination.  It should be known also as a fine place for vegetarian travelers, particularly those who enjoy first-class dining experiences.  

Three of The World's 50 Best Restaurants are located there, and I was lucky enough to score a reservation at one of them.  Quintonil, ranked #35 on the list and the second highest of Mexico City's three, was opened in the ritzy Polanco neighborhood in 2012 by Chef Jorge Vallejo.  After researching the other two top-rated restaurants (Biko and Pujol), I had a good feeling about Quintonil.  As described by the write-up on the aforementioned list, Quintonil "focuses on fresh seasonal ingredients, forgotten herbs and grains, and indigenous produce.  Though meat is a feature on the tasting menu, Vallejo aims to highlight the value of fruit and vegetables, as much for their flavour as for their nutritional value.  Dishes on the tasting menu include huazontles, a green vegetable that vaguely resembles broccoli, with chiapas cheese and red tomato, and nopal cactus snow."  

Following the advice at the bottom of the online menu, I contacted the restaurant ahead of time to let them know that I am a vegetarian and that my regular dining partner has a number of food allergies.  The restaurant couldn't have been more accommodating -- within minutes of sending the email, I received a reply message, inquiring further about our dietary restrictions and promising to ensure a special night for us.  The chef customized the regular 10-course tasting menu especially for us, and everything was fresh, delicious, and artistically presented.  Some of the dishes are pictured below (without captions or descriptions, unfortunately, as the customized menu was never presented to me, and I did not take notes of the server's descriptions).

Mar del Zur, also in Polanco and not quite as acclaimed, is an elegant, park-side restaurant that is extremely accommodating of vegetarians and others with dietary restrictions.  As one might discern from the name, this place specializes in seafood, but with a Mexican-Thai fusion twist.  The menu includes a number of vegetarian options, which are clearly marked on the hard copy provided in the restaurant (the green markers are missing from the truncated online version).  Menus in English also are available upon request.  I enjoyed vegetarian summer rolls and vegetarian pad thai with tamarind sauce.

Vegetarian summer rolls at Mar del Zur

Vegetarian pad thai with tofu and tamarind sauce at Mar del Zur

La Capital in the Condesa neighborhood is a hot spot, and vegetarians will have plenty to choose from.  One of my favorite Mexican chefs in the United States, Richard Sandoval, describes La Capital as a modernized cantina.  I enjoyed guacamole with pomegranate seeds, served with plantain and exotic root chips, and penne pasta with chipotle cream sauce (although I wish I had tried the more traditional fideo seco, which I only learned about after ordering).

Guacamole with pomegranate seeds and a variety of exotic chips for dipping at La Capital
Penne pasta with chipotle cream sauce, fresh cheese and basil at La Capital

Vegetarians visiting Mexico City must visit Mercado Roma, an international gourmet food court (reminiscent of Mercado San Ildefonso in Madrid, Spain), located in the hipster Roma neighborhood.  At Mercado Roma, everyone in your party can get exactly what they want.  The options are endless -- with nearly 50 different food stands, you can find pretty much anything and everything, from different kinds of Mexican food to pizza, from Chinese food to cheese, from salads to fancy chocolates and popsicles!  The space is clean and modern, and you can grab a bottle of wine or a beer and join friends at a communal table.  I loved this place!  Although I did not have nearly enough time (not to mention the appetite) to try all of the vegetarian options, I enjoyed a mushroom tostada from Jose Guadalupe, a portobello and vegetable sushi burrito from Umami Burrito, and hummus with warm pita bread from Arbanus.  

Mushroom tostada from the Jose Gudalupe stand at Roma Mercado

Portobello mushroom and vegetable sushi burrito from the Umami Burrito stand at Roma Mercado

Hummus and warm pita from from the Arbanus stand at Roma Mercado
Roma Mercado (photo courtesy of Roma Mercado website)

Roma Mercado communal seating area (photo courtesy of Roma Mercado website)

Also in Roma (with another location in Polanco) is Forever Vegano, a casual vegan cafe (gluten-free items are available too and clearly marked on the menu, which can be requested in English).  After days of heavy eating, I was grateful to find a healthy salad!

Khaleesi salad with kale, apples, marinated tofu, quinoa, walnuts, and special dressing at Forever Vegano

If you make the day trip to Coyoacan, Ave Maria is an Italian-Mexican restaurant in the town's main square, which is great for people watching.  I enjoyed a salad and this traditional tomato-based Mexican tortilla soup for lunch.

Tortilla soup at Ave Maria

Finally, vegetarian tourists who make the obligatory trip to Cafe de Tacuba (est. 1912) in Mexico City's historic district will find that there is plenty to choose from.  The food is pretty standard, but people go for the art, the mariachis, and the overall experience.  The restaurant is beautiful and definitely worth a visit, even if it's just for breakfast or coffee.  I indulged with these cheese quesadillas (which look and tasted more like empanadas) and guacamole.

Cheese quesadillas with guacamole at the historic Cafe de Tacuba

Cafe de Tacuba (photo courtesy of restaurant's website)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cocoa Beach, Florida (March 2016)

I recently returned from a few days in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where I stayed while visiting the Kennedy Space Center and attending a couple of spring training baseball games.  I did not have high expectations with respect to dining in Cocoa Beach, but fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

The most highly rated restaurant in the area is a seafood restaurant called Florida Fresh Grill.  From the outside, it does not look like much (it is located in a strip mall), but it is a true first-class restaurant.  The interior is warm and inviting, with a friendly staff, a superb wine list, and amazing desserts.  Although somewhat limited, the vegetarian offerings were more than enough to satisfy me, and my seafood-loving family members were ecstatic about the rest.  I started my meal with a bowl of perfectly prepared steamed edamame.  For my entree, I ordered a plate of three side dishes (all of the menu's sides are vegetarian, which is great):  garlic mashed potatoes, haricot verts (french green beans), and the fresh seasonal vegetable dish of the day.  To my surprise, this side dish included a mixture of hearty garbanzo beans, zucchini, squash, and tomatoes, and was seasoned with Indian spices like coriander and cumin.  Everything was fresh, cooked to perfection, and delicious!

A trio of vegetable sides at Florida Fresh Grill

Vegetarians visiting Cocoa Beach also will want to acquaint themselves with two very veg-friendly casual cafes, just off the beach -- the Green Room Cafe and The Surfinista.  Both of these hip, surfer-themed places specialize in smoothies, acai bowls, and healthy food, although the Green Room Cafe has a much more extensive selection of hearty meal options.  I loved "The Golden Fold," a wrap filled with an intriguing combination of brown rice, carrots, pineapple, sesame seeds, spinach, cabbage, tofu, and special seasoning.  The homemade salsa that came with the chips also was really, really good.

"The Golden Fold" wrap served with a side of chips and homemade salsa

The smoothies and acai bowls at The Surfinista were a real treat too!

Acai bowl

A third cafe called Juice n' Java Cafe is located across the street from The Surfinista (which, in turn, is located around the corner from The Green Room).  I regret that I did not have time to eat there, especially because it appears to have not only a nice selection of vegetarian fare, but also an extensive wine list.

All three places I visited -- Florida Fresh Grill, The Green Room, and The Surfinista -- could easily accommodate those who need to avoid gluten (including my regular dining partner).
Florida's Fresh Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

Green Room Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Cafe Surfinista Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, March 12, 2016

DC Spotlight: Vegan Tasting Menu at Cedar

Cedar in Penn Quarter is literally a hidden gem.  It is located in a windowless basement about one block away from the neighborhood's major commercial strip.  For years I walked past this place without giving it a second look.  And then one day a colleague of mine who used to be a vegan tipped me off.  I eventually made a dinner reservation, and could not have been more surprised!  

In addition to the $35 three-course vegan tasting menu and the numerous vegetarian options on the regular dinner menu (both menus feature fresh, local ingredients), the restaurant has a superb wine list and a staff that always makes you feel welcome.  While the rustic interior design is not usually my style (it sort of feels like a very dated log cabin ... sort of), I don't mind it, especially on a cold winter night.  And once you start eating and drinking and chatting with the friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff, it doesn't really matter -- Cedar quickly has become one of my favorite special occasion restaurants. 

My most recent visit was on Valentine's Day, which featured a slightly heartier version of the regular vegan tasting menu. 

Cedar's Valentine's Day Vegan Tasting Menu

For my first course I had the delicious potato and leek soup, which was served with warm homemade bread and extra virgin olive oil.

Potato & leek soup, homemade bread with olive oil, and of course wine!!!

I ordered the hearty lentils and and wild mushrooms for my entree.  Outstanding!

Yellow lentils, yellow foot chanterelle, hon shimeji, grilled trumpet, crispy mushroom roll, and truffle oil vinaigrette 

Finally, although I already was full, I tried the chocolate peanut butter mousse for dessert.

Vegan chocolate peanut butter mousse

I should note that the tasting menu items also can be ordered a la carte, and individuals with food allergies and other dietary restrictions need not worry - this place takes it all seriously, and does so with a smile and without cutting corners.  I cannot recommend it more!

Cedar Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

DC Spotlight: Dinner at Thip Khao

DC has so many new, hot restaurants that I can no longer keep up.  But I did manage to make it to Thip Khao, recently ranked one of the area's 100 Very Best Restaurants by Washingtonian Magazine.  

Thip Khao is located in Columbia Heights and serves Laotian food.  According to its website, Thip Khao is "the home of the Lao food movement in DC" (I didn't know there was such a movement!), and the cuisine is characterized by a "variety of spices, herbs, and vegetables ranging from lemongrass, to dill, and spicy hot peppers."  The website claims, correctly, that it's "deliciously funky in all the right ways."  In other words, your taste buds definitely will not be bored at this restaurant (it's like Thai food on steroids). 

The best thing about Thip Khao (besides the very reasonable prices) is the abundance of vegetarian options on the regular menu (vegetarians should avoid the special "jungle menu," which includes items like fried pig ears and alligator).  The regular menu clearly marks everything that is or can be made vegetarian (items without gluten and soy are also marked, for those with food sensitivities).  It was difficult to choose, so I settled on a little of everything.  

First up -- and perhaps my favorite dish -- was the crispy tofu appetizer (called chuenh tofu), which was served with a spicy house sauce and scallions.  The tofu was light and fluffy, and the flavors exploded on the tongue.

Chuenh Tofu (crispy tofu)

Next up was thomp sua, or spicy lemongrass soup -- and spicy it was!  The vegetarian version comes with tofu, chili paste, tamarind, lime, dried chili, red onion, and cilantro.  If you need to clear your sinuses, this dish is for you!

Thomp Sua (spicy lemongrass soup)

Finally, for my entree, I couldn't resist the mieng viengchanh, or DIY lettuce wraps.  Again I chose the tofu option, which came with rice noodles, peanuts, ginger, cucumber, pickled jicama, cherry tomatoes, radishes, and a side of pineapple-chili sauce (along with a basket of large leafed romaine lettuce to wrap it all up in).  Although it was a little messy to assemble, the combination of flavors was perfect.

Mieng Viengchanh (DIY tofu lettuce wraps)

I cannot wait to return to Thip Khao to try more dishes.  It is exciting to see such a delicious and unique restaurant thrive in Columbia Heights.  

TIP:  Call for reservations at least one week in advance.

Thip Khao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New York , New York (Dec. 2015)

I just returned from my annual trip to New York City, and can happily report that I enjoyed two very delicious vegetarian meals at two very different Latin American restaurants. 

My first meal was at Toloache, a bustling Mexican restaurant in the Theater District that also has locations in the West Village and the Upper East Side.  I was excited to try this restaurant because it offered a separate vegetarian menu.  And the food and service did not disappoint!  The traditional guacamole, served with chips and a tangy salsa, was addictive.  And my entree -- mushroom and cactus tacos -- was spicy and flavorful.  I ordered vegetarian black beans and rice on the side.

Toloache's tortilla chips, guacamole, and salsa

Toloache's mushroom and cactus tacos

According to Toloache's website, the owner and chef is a protege of Richard Sandoval, who owns many of my favorite restaurants in Washington, DC, so I should not have been surprised that the place was so accommodating of dietary restrictions (both the regular menu and the vegetarian menu also clearly identify gluten-free items).

My second meal was at Cuba, an aptly named Cuban restaurant in the Village.  Although not evident on the version posted on the restaurant's website, the menu clearly shows which items are vegetarian (and there are several options to choose from).  As usual when eating Cuban food, I opted to make a meal out of the traditional side dishes, filling up on black bean soup, white rice, yuca con mojo, sweet plantains, and salad.  I could not have been more satisfied, as the food rivaled that of Miami Beach and even Havana.  I did not bother to take a picture of these dishes, because this blog already displays several versions of this exact meal (see here and here, for example).  But in addition to the food, I really loved the atmosphere which apparently includes live music on weekends. 

Cuba restaurant in the Village (photo courtesy of the restaurant's website)

Toloache 50 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato   

Cuba Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato