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