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. 

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 a ton of vegetarian dishes, including an extensive vegetable maki list.  The sweet potato tempura and shitake rolls were outstanding, and I love this crispy tofu salad!

Crispy tofu salad, with baby spinach, fresh pear, and balsamic reduction

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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Providence, Rhode Island (Aug. 2013)

I recently spent the night in Providence, on my way to a wedding in rural Rhode Island, and couldn't resist treating myself to two nice meals.  After all, the first billboard I saw after leaving the airport boasted that Providence in 2012 was voted America's #1 Food City.  So, wanting only the best of the best, I headed to Pane e Vino, which, according to its website, that same year was named Providence's Best Italian Restaurant.  

Pane e Vino is located in Providence's historic (mostly Italian) Federal Hill neighborhood, so it was a great choice both for a meal and for seeing a bit of historic Providence.  The restaurant has a very cozy, romantic atmosphere and an extensive wine list.  And, as every good meal should begin, a meal at Pane e Vino begins with freshly baked bread, extra virgin olive oil, and olives.

Freshly baked bread, extra virgin olive oil, and olives

Like most first-class restaurants, Pane e Vino was more than willing to prepare a special vegetarian meal for me, despite the lack of meat-free options on its menu.  The server told me to look at the menu and let her know what combinations of ingredients looked good to me, and that the chef would whip something up.  I told her that the "Funghi" dish, served with seasonal mushrooms, marsala wine demi glace, asparagus, and a side of herb roasted fingering potatoes looked great, but without my choice of veal or chicken.  That turned out to be no problem, as the chef substituted a layer of perfectly prepared pasta and another layer of cannellini beans (protein!), for a dish that was so delicious and satisfying, that I didn't have room for the side of potatoes.

Spaghetti topped with cannellini beans, seasonal mushrooms, asparagus, and marsala wine demi glace

The next day I had time for a quick lunch, so I stopped by one of Providence's only vegetarian restaurants, The Grange.  The place had a fun and funky vibe, and the food was really tasty.  I opted for the ramen noodle bowl, served with shaved veggies, smoked miso sauce, sesame, and herbs.  It was supposed to come with grilled chili-lime tofu on top, but the server forgot to bring it so it came later on the side.

Ramen noodle bowl with shaved veggies, smoked miso sauce, sesame, and herbs

Grilled chili-lime tofu

The Grange, a "vegetable restaurant' in Providence, Rhode Island

Pane E Vino on Urbanspoon

Grange on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 4, 2013

New York, New York (June 2013)

New York is one of those places where I have no problem eating at restaurants that are exclusively vegetarian or even vegan because, unlike in many cities, such restaurants in New York are not second class.  On past trips, I have had excellent meals at upscale places like Blossom (Chelsea), Hangawi (Koreatown), and Gobo (West Village).

On my trip this month, I continued to enjoy delicious meals at two other first-class restaurants, both vegan.  At Candle 79 (Upper East Side), I celebrated a special occasion, and received superb service, including the complimentary black rice and vegetable amuse-bouche pictured below to get the taste buds going, and a homemade raspberry sorbet for dessert.

Complimentary amuse-bouche with black rice and vegetables

Fried dumplings with seitan, baby bok choy, and sesame-ginger soy sauce

Chili-grilled tofu with quinoa pilaf, sauteed chard and zucchini, avocado-radish salad, and corn sauce

Caribbean jerk-grilled seitan with collard greens and carmelized onions, plantains, black-bean rum sauce, pineapple-mango salsa, habanero-chili coulis

I also enjoyed my meal at Franchia (Midtown East), a Pan-Asian eatery with an extensive menu, and the sister restaurant of Hangawi in nearby Koreatown.

Crispy scallion pancakes

Tapas trio - spicy vegan "crab" cakes, vegetable dim sum buns, and crispy seaweed rolls

Kale and brown rice noodles with black bean sauce and fried tofu balls

I also had tasty meals at two more casual restaurants that are not exclusively vegetarian, but offer plenty of veg-friendly dishes.  Brick Lane Curry House (East Village), serves English-Indian cuisine.  Like most Indian restaurants, the menu includes a section listing several, protein-rich vegetarian entrees.  I stuck with the basics - lentils and garbanzo beans!

Complimentary papadam with three chutneys

Peeli dal (yellow lentils flavored with garlic and herbs)

Chana masala (garbanzo beans with tomatoes, onions, and spices)

Finally, Ladino Tapas Bar and Grill (Columbus Circle) is one of those places that you will find only in New York -- a kosher Latin-fusion restaurant.  The food at this festive place is quite tasty, and a bit pricey -- but you are paying for peace of mind in knowing that everything is "Glatt Kosher" certified.  This is great not only for the observant Jews, but also for vegans.  As explained on the website:

The tapas were quite good.  Unfortunately, they were out of the mushroom empanadas, which was the main item on the menu that I wanted to try, but I left quite satisfied with the other dishes, especially the black bean soup with "tofu sour cream." 

Black bean soup topped with tofu sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole

Candle 79 on Urbanspoon

Franchia on Urbanspoon

Brick Lane Curry House on Urbanspoon

Ladino Tapas Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 16, 2013

DC Spotlight: Dinner at Taberna del Alabardero

A few months ago when I wrote about DC's plethora of Spanish tapas restaurants I promised to publish a separate post about the most upscale of them all, Taberna del Alabardero, which also happens to offer a separate (and rather extensive) vegetarian menu

My most recent meal is pictured below.  These dishes were so satisfying that I unfortunately did not have room to try the vegetarian paella, but will do so next time! 

Spanish potato and egg omelet with fried bell peppers

Scrambled eggs with scallions and mushrooms

Grilled asparagus with wild mushrooms and red potatoes

Taberna del Alabardero also may be the most authentic Spanish restaurant in DC.  It's part of Grupo Lezama, which operates a number of restaurants throughout Spain.  The group's only U.S. restaurant is right here in DC, and it is quite popular among Spanish embassy staff and other Spaniards living in or visiting the area.  It's a perfect spot to celebrate a special occasion or to bask in a little bit of "Old World" charm!

Taberna Del Alabardero on Urbanspoon 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Grand Cayman has no shortage of first-class restaurants, and, probably because the island is so international, many of them cater to vegetarians.  It's not hard to find them, either.  Just check out the Good Taste dining guide for a comprehensive list.  The website is terrific -- you can search for restaurants using a variety of different criteria, check out the menus (which clearly identify which items are vegetarian), and make reservations all in one place.  The magazine version is also widely available around the island (look for it at the airport or at your hotel), and it includes maps and sample menus to get you started (but without the vegetarian markers, unfortunately).  

Four nights in Grand Cayman was not nearly enough time to explore all of the restaurants I wanted to visit.  But I did have four fantastic dinners.  Twice I dined at the hip Camana Bay development, where some of the island's newer and more popular restaurants are located.  

My favorite meal was at Ortanique, which is a Cindy Huston restaurant, just like the original in Miami.  Ortanique serves modern Caribbean cuisine in a romantic and elegant setting.  My callaloo and shitake wonton soup, made with the freshest ingredients, was absolutely delicious!

Callaloo and shitake wontons, served with tofu, baby bok choy, and carrots in a hot-and-sour broth

Also at Camana Bay is the recently opened Mizu, which serves typical pan-Asian cuisine, including typical pan-Asian vegetarian dishes (edamame, spring rolls, noodles, etc.) in a more urban, energetic environment.  I was particularly impressed by the wide variety of vegetarian sushi options.

Futo maki, avocado nigiri, shitake maki, and spicy vegetable maki

I had a more casual yet lively (and slightly off-the-beaten track) experience at Agave Grill, which serves great Mexican food and is very accommodating of dietary restrictions.  The side dishes, most of which are vegetarian, are really tasty -- the roasted pumpkin with cumin is not to be missed!

Veggie tostadas (one is vegan, without cheese, and the other is just vegetarian), with white rice, vegetarian black beans, and pico de gallo

Fried plantains (left) and roasted pumpkin with cumin (right)

Finally, although I recently discovered the best vegetarian Thai food in the world right here in DC, I could not resist checking out Thai Orchid, which devotes an entire page of its website to showcase its vegetarian Thai selections and, like Mizu, also offers an extensive array of vegetarian sushi options.

TIP:  If you plan on dining outdoors anywhere on the island at sundown or shortly thereafter, bring bug spray to shield off the mosquitoes!