Sunday, October 18, 2015

DC Spotlight: Three Very Different Asian Restaurants in Three Different Neighborhoods

Today's spotlight shines on three very different Asian restaurants in three different DC neighborhoods, where vegetarians and others with dietary restrictions can dine without stress.  

The first restaurant is Izakaya Seki, a small neighborhood Japanese restaurant near U Street.  A number of items are vegetarian or can be made vegetarian upon request.  I loved my assorted mushrooms, cucumber salad, and fried tofu.  The restaurant also has an extensive sake list.

Assorted mushrooms, cucumber salad, and fried tofu

The second restaurant is Rice, an elegant Thai restaurant on the 14th Street corridor.  The "Healthy Green" section of Rice's menu is entirely vegetarian, "meaning no fish sauce nor oyster sauce," according to the website.  I've eaten at Rice several times and always have left satisfied.  This (very spicy) sauteed basil tofu and mixed vegetables dish is one of my favorites (during the holidays, I also love to indulge in the pumpkin empanadas).
Sauteed basil tofu with mixed vegetables

The third restaurant is Mandu, a traditional yet modern Korean restaurant near Dupont Circle (with a second location near Mount Vernon Square).  A number of items on the menu are vegetarian or can be made vegetarian.  I loved my vegetarian bibim bap served in a hot stone bowl.

Bimbim bap, served in a host stone bowl with egg, veggies, tofu, and gochujang (spice chili and bean paste)

All three of these restaurants take dietary restrictions seriously.  In addition to the numerous, clearly marked vegetarian items, they also offer gluten-free items and are happy to modify dishes to accommodate food allergies and preferences. 

Izakaya Seki Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hawaii -- Lahaina, Maui and Honolulu, Oahu

Vegetarians traveling to Hawaii won't have any problem finding nice restaurants where they can eat . . . so long as they don't mind eating Japanese food almost every day!  At least that was my experience.  While Japanese restaurants predominate, you can also find a number of other Asian-themed restaurants, and of course many Hawaiian restaurants, or fusion-type restaurants that serve some combination of Hawaiian and Asian cuisine.  American, Italian, Mexican, and other restaurants exist as well, but are in the minority.  

I did plenty of research before traveling to both Lahaina (in Maui) and Honolulu (in Oahu), and I really looked forward to checking out a number of upscale vegetarian-friendly restaurants.  Unfortunately, I acquired food poisoning on my second day (word of warning:  AVOID the vegetarian lunch option on certain snorkel-sail tours -- be safe and bring your own food!), so my ability to enjoy food during my vacation in Hawaii was severely limited.  

In Maui, for example, I had high hopes for Star Noodle and Lahaina Grill, which got great reviews, but I was unable to make it to either place.  Before the food poisoning, however, I did manage to have dinner at the very touristy Hula Grill on Ka'anapali Beach, which specializes in Hawaiian cuisine and offers a hearty tofu and vegetable entree, along with a number of meat-free appetizers, salads, soups, and side dishes (gluten-free items were clearly marked; the restaurant also has a Waikiki location, but with a different menu).  I was pleased to find the tofu option, especially at a restaurant so close to my hotel.  The restaurant also has nice outdoor seating overlooking the beach.  

Organic miso tofu and local vegetables with fresh herbs, rainbow quinoa, and soy-ginger vinaigrette

Before getting sick with food poisoning, I also managed to enjoy some casual quick eats at two places that appear popular with locals.  Choice Health Bar is a vegan cafe that is known for its acai bowls, smoothies, and fresh juices.  It also serves heartier dishes for lunch and dinner.  I stopped by for a healthy snack and enjoyed an acai bowl with gluten-free granola.

Acai bowl with acai, gluten-free granola, bananas, and honey

And Maui Tacos, a local fast food chain that is now a national franchise, is popular with surfers and celebrities.  The menu includes many vegetarian options, including the specialty taco pictured below.  Customers also can help themselves to all of the hot sauce they want from the Maui Tacos salsa bar . . . but only if they can stand the heat!

Maui Vegetarian Taco with "THE WORKS":  beans, rice, potatoes, fresh mix greens, tomato, and guacamole (vegan style without cheese or sour cream)

Once I started recovering from the food poisoning, I found my way to Japengo, an upscale pan-Asian restaurant that, like Hula Grill, overlooks Ka'anapali Beach and is walking distance to many hotels.  Although I was craving the stir-fried vegetables and tofu, I decided to go easy on my poor stomach and stick with veggie sushi rolls (note that Japengo also offers a separate gluten-free menu and has a Honolulu location, but the menu there is different).   

Veggie roll with avocado, cucumber, yamagobo, kaiware, and papaya in soy wrap

Fortunately, by the time I got to Honolulu, I was feeling much better, and so that is where I found my best meal: at Nobu in Waikiki.  Although Nobu is a world-renowned restaurant with locations all over the globe, this was my first experience dining there, and I could not have been more pleased.  The service, atmosphere, and food were all first-class, and the vegetarian options were abundant.  Chef Nobu Matsuhisa serves "new style" Japanese dishes that sometimes have a South American flare.  I absolutely loved my mushroom and tofu tobanyaki and vegetable sushi rolls!
Mushroom and tofu tobanyaki

Vegetable rolls

By my last day in Hawaii, I was a little tired of eating Asian food, so on my way to the airport I stopped and had lunch at Kan Zaman, a charming Middle Eastern restaurant (located in Chinatown, ironically) that has outdoor seating in a relaxing garden setting.  After a week of tofu and veggie rolls, my Moroccan salad and falafel mezze really hit the spot!

Moroccan salad and falafel
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Sunday, May 10, 2015

DC Spotlight: Veggie Dogs at Nationals Park

I am a huge Washington Nationals baseball fan, so in celebration of today's three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves, I am including a post about vegetarian options at Nationals Park.   

While the food may not be first class, the team (in my biased opinion) certainly is, and it makes me very happy that vegetarian fans who pay good money to see a game are not treated like second-class citizens.  In fact, last year PETA ranked the Nats ballpark fifth in its list of most vegetarian-friendly ballparks!  As indicated on the Nationals website, plenty of meat-free eats are available throughout the park.  On a cold night at the beginning or end of the season (or during the playoffs, because hey, we're talking about the Nats here!), a cup of vegetarian chili from Ben's Chili Bowl really hits the spot.  

(Photo from Ben's Chili Bowl website)
But during the hot summer months, I usually stop by the Field of Greens concession stand in Section 136, which is entirely vegetarian.  

And because a baseball game just wouldn't be the same without one, I always pick up a veggie dog! 

While I am hopeful that one day veggie dogs will be available throughout the park (as I found they were at Citi Field in New York when I took in a Nats-Mets game a couple of years ago), I am content for now that I can find them at Field of Greens.  

Go Nats! 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Miami Beach, FL (Apr.-May 2015)

I just returned from another long weekend in one of my favorite cities.  Regular readers know that, among Miami Beach's many first-class restaurants, I also love the city's casual, family-owned Cuban restaurants (click here for my previous Miami Beach posts).  For years my favorite was David's Cuban Cafe, which sadly closed last year after nearly four decades in business.  This weekend I learned, however, that the family decided to reopen on Alton Road, which is a bit off the beaten path for tourists and in a much more affordable rent district for the restaurant's owners.  David's Cafe Cafecito is a smaller version of David's Cuban Cafe, but still serves all of the great vegetarian Cuban staples that I love. 

Cuban black beans, white rice, fried yuca, sweet plantains, and salad at David's Cafe Cafecito

After getting my fill of casual Cuban food, I was ready to find that perfect first-class dining experience.  I could not have been more pleased with the food and elegant atmosphere at Oolite, just off Lincoln Road.  This beautiful restaurant by Chef Kris Wessel specializes in fresh and healthy regional cuisine, which includes influences from Florida, the Caribbean, the Gulf, and the American eastern seaboard.  The restaurant is 100% gluten-free and offers a number of vegetarian options, including a separate vegan tasting menu.  The items from the tasting menu also are available a la carte, so I mixed it up a bit and ordered a vegetarian appetizer from the regular dinner menu and a vegan entree from the tasting menu.  Both dishes were delicious.

Fried green tomato arepas

White chayote stuffed with red rice and mushrooms over a black bean and grilled corn guajillo

Oolite Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

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