Sunday, December 23, 2012

DC Spotlight: Zengo

Today's post is long overdue. 

Zengo, located in the heart of Chinatown, serves Latin-Asian fusion cusine, and offers (upon request) a separate vegetarian menu.  Zengo is the first of three Richard Sandoval restaurants in DC (check out my previous posts about Masa 14 and El Centro).

Zengo is not only my favorite Richard Sandoval restaurant, but it is one of my favorite restaurants in all of DC.  In my view, it has all the elements of a first-class restaurant: elegant and festive atmosphere, delicious food and drinks, and, most importantly, outstanding service, which includes thoughtful accommodation of various dietary restrictions (vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free). 

But the service surpasses even that standard; it is one of few restaurants in DC that actually knows the importance of making regular customers feel special, often treating them to complimentary dishes and desserts that they know the customers have previously enjoyed.  On top of that, Zengo won't break the bank, as it is one of the more reasonably priced upscale restaurants in the area.

But back to the vegetarian menu, which is what I value most about Zengo.  The selections are not simply meat-free versions of items found on the regular menu.  Instead, they have been carefully thought out to ensure that vegetarians are getting the same experience as other diners.  Each dish is packed with the right amount of innovation, flavor, and protein. 

In addition, Zengo isn't afraid to experiment with new dishes, often adding and subtracting items from the menu depending on the season or in response to customer feedback.  The dishes pictured below are, for the most, staples that generally do not change.  Despite modest variations in the offerings, Zengo remains consistent in that everything they serve is delicious.  After many years of eating there, I can honestly say that I have never had a bad meal.  The pictures do not do the food justice.

Edamame (grilled and salted)

Vegetarian sushi roll (asparagus-scallion tempura, avocado, aioli, and soy paper)

Shitake arepas (shitake mushrooms, cornmeal cake, avocado, green onion,
and jalapeno - vegan version without cream)

Vegetable fried rice (with asparagus, egg, corn, mushroom, green onion, cilantro, and bean sprouts)

Crispy tofu (with bok choy, ginger, cilantro, sesame-chile sauce, bean sprouts, green onion, and aioli)

TIP:  Zengo is also open for lunch and brunch, and is an excellent place to celebrate special occasions.  The restaurant often offers special prix fixe menus for holidays that are very reasonably priced and include vegetarian options.  In addition, the restaurant has a spectacular private event space that is separated from the main dining room by a glass wall, so it does not feel isolated. 

Zengo's private event space

Zengo on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 22, 2012

DC Spotlight: Friday Nights at Elizabeth's Gone Raw

While many people apparently spent the Mayan apocalypse gorging on junk food, I am proud to say that I chose a much healthier way to celebrate December 21, 2012, which did not, thank goodness, turn out to be the end of the world. 

Instead, I had dinner at DC's only raw-vegan restaurant (a much more upscale place than my last raw food dining experience in Saint Augustine, Florida). 

Elizabeth's Gone Raw is the brainchild of Elizabeth Perry, the owner of a local catering company, who (according to the website) committed herself to a raw-vegan diet after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  The restaurant, which doubles as a private event space for the catering company, is open only on Friday nights and is located in an ornate townhome-style building in downtown DC.  Each week the $75.00 prix fixe tasting menu (with optional wine pairings for $50.00) is published on the restaurant's website. 

I began what could have been my last evening on Earth at the elegant bar located on the first floor, where I sipped on a creative craft cocktail made with organic juices and snacked on the restaurant's signature spicy kale chips.  The chips, which are highly addictive, are also brought to the table during the meal and available for purchase to take home.

Spicy kale chips

The (unapocalyptic) tasting menu for December 21, 2012, and pictures of each course can be found below.  The hen of the woods mushroom soup was my favorite dish, followed by the "bacon" wrapped dates.  Most of the dishes substitute nuts and seeds for animal products, which probably explains why everything was surprising filling.  By the time the tagliatelle entree arrived, I was full!

Elizabeth's Gone Raw tasting menu for December 12, 2012

"Bacon" wrapped date

Warm corn & hen of the woods soup

Beet & apple ravioli

Lemon chamomile sorbet (an excellent palate cleanser)

Banana squash tagliatelle

Chocolate espresso "cheese" cake
TIP:  Because the restaurant is small and open only on Friday nights, reservations are required.  

Elizabeth's Gone Raw on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 26, 2012

DC Spotlight: Vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast at Rasika

I had a perfect (albeit very nontraditional) Thanksgiving meal this year at one of DC's most popular restaurants.  Rasika is a true first-class restaurant that consistently ranks among the city's top ten (right behind CityZen, which I wrote about here).

Rasika serves modern Indian cuisine in two beautiful spaces.  I spent Thanksgiving with friends at the newer and slightly more upscale West End location (I usually dine at the Penn Quarter location, which is great for lunch).  My holiday feast is pictured below, although everything on the menu is delicious.

Palak chaat (crispy baby spinach, yogurt, tamarind, and date)
TIP:  This is Rasika's most famous dish (and it's vegetarian!)

Butternut squash samosas (with ginger, green chilies, and cranberry chutney)

Wild mushroom uttapam (on top of a rice and lentil pancake and served with beetroot chutney)
Vegetable biryani (aromatic seasonal vegetables, basmati rice, and raita)
Dal dhungaree (smoked lentils, garlic, tomatoes, and fenugreek)

Gobhi mattar (cauliflower, green peas, cumin, and ginger)

Paneer tamatar ka kofta (cottage cheese, cashews, and tomato)
Assorted naan (leavened bread)
TIP:  Try the garlic!
TIP:  For dinner at either location, make reservations far in advance.

Rasika West End on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 12, 2012

DC Spotlight: Mexican Small Plates at Bandolero

I've previously written about two local Mexican restaurants, Oyamel and El Centro D.F., that have separate vegetarian menus (available upon request).  A third restaurant does not have a separate vegetarian menu (yet), but its regular menu does offer a number of meat-free options, so it has now earned a spot on my static list of recommended Washington, DC Restaurants.

Bandolero, which opened in May by local celebrity chef Mike Isabella, is located in the heart of Georgetown in a large, two-level, energetic space, and specializes in modern Mexican cuisine.  The menu consists of small plates, many of which are vegetarian or can be made vegetarian or vegan (be sure to ask your server, however, as the veg-friendly menu items are not clearly marked).  Everything I tried, which is pictured below (minus the tequila), was absolutely delicious.

Homemade guacamole with masa crisps
NOTE: this dish also comes with chicarrones (pork rinds), but you can ask for it without them

Wild mushroom tacos with butternut squash, pickled onion, and crispy pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Empanada stuffed with spinach, leeks, manchego cheese, and plantains

Sweet plantains (without the cream and cheese that normally come with it) and black beans and rice (with chives)

UPDATE:  As of July 2013, according to the Washington Post, Mike Isabella formally separated from Bandolero after the restaurant failed to pass a health inspection.  Sadly, I must remove it from the Washington, DC Restaurants page of this website.  For a much nicer Mike Isabella dining experience, check out Kapnos, which I wrote about here.

 Bandolero on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 14, 2012

DC Spotlight: Turkish Mezze at Ezme and Zaytinya

Most vegetarians know that Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants are a great source for healthy, meat-free meals that are also rich in protein.  Today's post spotlights two of my favorite local restaurants specializing in Turkish mezze (small plates).

Ezme is located in Dupont Circle in a small, intimate, and elegant space.  Its menu clearly identifies vegan items and also includes a vegetarian tasting menu with wine pairings.

Ezme's red lentil soup

Ezme's yesil salad (mixed green salad with sweet basil dressing)

Ezme's hummus, coban salatasi (tomato, cucumber, pepper, and onion salad), 
dolma (grape leaves), mercimek kofte (lentil cakes), and homemade bread

Zaytinya is one of several popular Penn Quarter restaurants owned by local celebrity chef Jose Andres (I previously wrote about his nearby Mexican restaurant, Oyamel, here).  Zaytinya is larger and more upscale than Ezme and usually requires advance reservations.  The menu includes an entire page of vegetable mezze and also offers a number of meat-free salads, spreads, and pides (flat breads).

Zaytinya's htipiti (roasted red pepper and feta spread) and hummus

Zaytinya's tabouleh (parsley salad) and homemade pita bread

Zaytinya's falafel
Both Ezme and Zaytinya are included on the Washington, DC Restaurants page of this website and are equally delicious.

Ezme on Urbanspoon

Zaytinya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

San Francisco, California (Sept. 2012)

I chose not to follow my own travel tips on a recent visit to San Francisco when I limited my dining experiences to restaurants that are strictly vegetarian.  I was there to attend the wedding of a vegan couple, and they insisted that I try two of their favorite spots. 

They recommended Millenium, an upscale, romantic place near Union Square, and Gracias Madre, a casual, lively Mexican restaurant in the Mission District (and definitely not the place you want to go for a romantic evening, given that most of the tables are communal).  Both restaurants serve organic, vegan cuisine, and I was pleased (and a bit surprised) to see how popular they were (we had to make reservations at Millenium weeks in advance and put our name on a waiting list at Gracias Madre before getting seated).  Both places were packed.

The menu at Millenium changes regularly, depending on the season.  I regret that I was not hungry enough to try some of the appetizers, because my entree was really quite delicious.  I ordered the sweet soy, peanut, and chile-glazed tempeh, which was served with coconut and anise rice, seared bok choy, snap peas, baby carrots, Asian aromatics, and Asian pear sambal.  My dining partner had the red beet risotto cake, which was served with roasted chanterelle mushrooms, sage and fennel seed smoked tofu, red corn, roasted padron peppers, seared rapini, sherry corn-cashew puree, herb oil, and crisp beet chip.  Clearly, both dishes were quite complex and boasted a lot of different flavors.  

Sweet soy, chili, and peanut-glazed tempeh at Millenium

Red beet risotto cake at Millenium

The food at Gracias Madre was less fancy, but just as creative.  I tried the grilled plantain empanada, which was my favorite, and the sweet potato "quesadilla," which was unexpectedly spicy and extremely filling.  My dining partner enjoyed the mole enchiladas.  All dishes (except the guacamole and chips that were immediately devoured after a long wait for a table) are pictured below.

Gracias Madre's homemade empanada is stuff with grilled plantains and
served with spicy mole sauce and cashew cream.

Gracias Madre's "quesadilla de camote" is filled with sweet potato and carmelized onions
and topped with cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seed salsa.

Gracias Madre's enchiladas are served on a bed of spicy mole sauce and topped with mushrooms
and cashew cheese and served with sauteed greens and refried black beans.

I am glad that I tried Millenium and Gracias Madre, but I also look forward to returning to San Francisco one day soon so that I can see how some of the best, mainstream restaurants in this vegetarian-friendly city accommodate non-meat eaters.

Millennium on Urbanspoon

Gracias Madre on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Aug. 2012)

As previously mentioned, Philadelphia has a lot of great restaurants, and I was excited to learn that one of the city's most popular eateries offers a separate vegetarian menu upon request.  Sampan by chef Michael Schulson serves pan-Asian cuisine (large and small plates) in a lively atmosphere.  I really enjoyed my meal, which is pictured below along with the menu.

Tofu tacos with avocado, cilantro, pickled shallot, and lots of sweet and sour sauce

Pad thai with tofu (this is the peanut-free, vegan version without egg)

Mushroom dumplings

Edamame dumplings

Sampan on Urbanspoon