Monday, September 17, 2012

Vegan Options/Champagne Tasting in Reims, France

Note: You can click on each image to see it full size
After seeing a positive comment on my post regarding vegan wine touring in Bordeaux, my girlfriend Marya encouraged me to do a piece on Reims. Reims was on our itinerary because we wanted to do some champagne tasting. More on that in a bit.
When researching vegan options in Reims, practically the only thing that turned up in searches was a complaint about a vegetarian being angrily refused service by the chef of an upscale restaurant. But we had loads of luck getting plenty of food to eat. Granted, not a great deal of variety, but we did fine for the few days we were there.
Above is Notre Dame Cathedral, Reims. Practically identical to the one in Paris, it is where all of France's kings had been coronated.
Fascinating that they chose to have farm animals as gargoyles. Not quite sure what that meant.
Our first stop for food was at Sushi Shop.
Sushi Shop
Rue de l'Arbalète, 51100 Reims, France

We started off with this edamame and wild rice salad and miso.

Then had a huge plate of veggie sushi, finishing it off with a bowl of mango.
Awesome sushi plate Mango

Marya used her chopstick wrapper to show off her awesome origami skills. Behold, the incredibly life-like origami duck and turtle.
Origami duck

After a hard day of champagne touring, we stopped at Le Gaulois (2 Place Drouet d'Erlon, 51100 Reims, France ), for more champagne. I can't recall precisely what they offered free at the table, but I'm guessing it wasn't vegan. We opted for a plate of pomme frites.
To our pleasant surprise, the fries were provided gratis. The frites were probably the only thing we could eat there, but worth a mention for their kindness.

Several places along Drouet d'Erlon close to our hotel offered Italian dishes, such as this Pizza Pino(82 place Drouet d'Erlon, Reims, France:

A fan of the carbs, I was happy to get a plate of spaghetti with marinara and a mushroom or two.
Spaghetti marinara
And Marya got this beautiful veggie pizza sans fromage:
Veggie pizza sans fromage

Some helpful hints for Reims:

  • Bristol Hotel was where we stayed at 76 place Drouet d'Erlon, booked through Yahoo! Travel for fairly inexpensively. It's walking distance from the train station, and right in the middle of Reims' pedestrian walkway where there are many restaurants and bars. Also relatively close to the Notre Dame Cathedral. It wasn't a 5 Star hotel, but it worked well for us. And, I'm sure this is the case everywhere in Reims, but the water out of the bathroom faucet was like Evian. All the natural lime in the water table, I'm guessing.
  • Champagne touring: The Reims Tourism website was invaluable for planning our tours of the champagne chalk caves and tastings. There is a full list of the champagne houses in town, and links to their websites.
  • For champagne tastings, you'll need to reserve them weeks in advance. Some require payment when booking. We were only be able to do two each day, as we needed to time them with the hours the houses are open and when they do tours in English. Happy note: most of them are within walking distance from each other.
Some pics of the champagne tours:
Ruinart, the oldest champagne house in the world:
Take one down, pass it around...
The outside of Veuve Clicquot:

Steal this wallpaper: 10,000 bottles of champagne, in Ruinart's chalk cave.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Vegan Vote on Bordeaux Wine Tour and Lunch

Note: You can click on each image to expand it to full size
In 2007 I attended an organic wine tasting in Adams Morgan, Washington DC. The distributor invited to discuss the wine said "Five years ago, you couldn't give organic wine away. Now it's really come a long way, and it's finally marketable." Then he proceeded to taste, for the first time, the wine he brought. I was standing close by as he mumbled under his breath "Wow, I guess it's still got a ways to go."

Fast forward five more years later, and I'm planning a wine tour in Bordeaux, France, for my girlfriend Marya's 40th birthday present, having saved my pennies for the last 3 years. I finally settled on French Wine Adventures where we'd do a walking tour to organic vineyards. I was really hoping this would not be a mistake.

The tour was to include a wine pairing lunch, so I contacted the tour director Caro Feely to ask if we could get a vegan lunch. She assured me we could. Skeptical, I contacted her a few days in advance to make sure we were good to go for the vegan lunch. "It's all set", she replied. Still skeptical, we packed snacks just in case.

We took the train down from Paris to the city of Bordeaux and stayed at the Aquitain Hotel, booked through HostelWorld.Com very close to the train station. This was important as we had to catch a local commuter train at stupid:30 the next day to catch the tour. In addition to the benefit of it's proximity to the train station, the hotel was relatively inexpensive, nicely decorated, had a wonderful staff, a nice patio (more on that in a bit), and was within reasonable walking distance to the town's center.

On the morning of our tour we took the train to Gardonne Station where our guide Caro was waiting to pick us up to join the rest of those walking with us. We walked and walked and walked along the road, through fields, and along a trail through the forest. Along the way, Caro was able to point out which vineyards were organic.

It hit me early on that, unlike other tours we'd been on, one of the benefits of this one was that I could pepper Caro with every possible question regarding wine I could think of. She's also co-owner of Chateau Haut Garrigue Organic Vineyards.
Finally we got to The Naked Vigneron
To our disappointment, our hosts were not naked.
They started at once serving us red and white wine with tapenade and bruschetta on crostini.
Having recently discovered that most French tapenade is made with anchovies, we felt compelled to ensure it was vegan.
We were assured everything Marya and I was to be served would be vegan.

Next was this tasty caramelized onion tart and salad.

Then came the pièce de résistance of the meal, possibly of the entire trip. This amazing asparagus and shaved pepper risotto.
Marya talked about this for the rest of the trip. Ours was vegan and all others had Parmesan cheese grated on theirs.

After the risotto came, in classic French dessert style, a cheese plate. Oddly, the French don't eat nearly as much cheese as us North Americans. They eat just a tiny bit after dinner. In my former life, I'll admit that I could have finished the cheese plate myself.

Then came this lovely strawberry tart.

The non-vegans got something similar, but theirs was not nearly as pretty. They were jealous.

After our meal and loads more wine (our hosts were not shy about opening more wine at the slightest hint of an empty bottle), we got a short tour of the their winery, then began our walk back to our point of origin.

During our walk back, Caro graciously phoned her husband Sean (and the other owner of Haut Garrigue) to bring us some wine from their winery to purchase. After talking to Caro so much about the production of wine, I needed to try their creation. They then gave us a ride back to the train station just in time to catch an hourly train back to the city of Bordeaux.

Note on traveling to Bordeaux: Don't on a Sunday or Monday - the vegan places are closed
Close to our hotel (two blocks East) we found a Lebanese place that serves a platter of falafal, salad, and fries with a tahini dressing. We enjoyed our dinner on our hotel's back patio.
Wouldn't be my first choice, but options were limited and it turned out to go nicely with the the white.

I'll add that I was blown away by the wine. You've heard of a wine's bouquet? When sipping this white, I could visualize the bouquet.

After the tour, I went back and looked at the French Wine Adventures page to ensure I wasn't crazy. The website does indicate that there would be two stops at two vineyards along the tour, vs. the one on ours. I chalked this up to the fact that they wanted to ensure we got a good meal, and that our chef/co-owner of The Naked Vigneron was, due to some serious allergies, basically vegan. There was little time for anything else. At the end of the day, we had the most amazing meal and more than our fill of wine. And, we had unwittingly used our vegan vote to steer the other 6 people on our tour towards a mostly vegan multi-course lunch.

I'll say that at $149Euros/person, the walking tour might be a bit steep. But I'd been planning this for a while, and we left having had the most enjoyable experience we wouldn't trade for anything.

So, to recap:
French Wine Adventures - Where I booked the tour
The Aquitain Hotel near the train station, booked online at HostelWorld.Com
The Naked Vigneron - where our walking tour took us for an unforgettable organic wine pairing lunch
Chateau Haut Garrigue - our guide's vineyard

Both Haut Garrigue and The Naked Vigneron produce vegan wine. No use of isinglass or egg whites to clarify the wine.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Coffy Cafe, Columbia Heights, DC

Coffy Cafe
3310 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20010

Coffy Cafe has been open for a about a month and a half at this point. Getting prepped for our upcoming trip to France, I thought it'd be need to stop in and have some crepes. Their vegan crepe batter is 100% buckwheat, which would make it gluten free, too. They charge an additional $2.00 for vegan crepes. As you can see from the menu, there's not much in the way of savory crepes that can be made vegan. We went for the Cleopatra Jones and the crepe chef graciously replaced the pesto with basil for us.

The place looks like they raided every retro furniture shop within a 50 mile radius. As well, there are Easy Bake Ovens everywhere. As you can tell by the names of many of the crepe combinations, the place is definitely inspired by the 60s and 70s. All of their teapots seemed to come from thrift or antique stores, as they were all mismatched. I like that.
Also, though I'm not sure about their coffee, their tea selection is fair trade, which wins points in my book.
Here's the crepe, beautifully presented:
I'll say that the buckwheat had a bit of a tart flavor I wasn't quite expecting.

It's early days for these folks, and I hope they'll make adjustments to be more vegan friendly. We get excited just to see the word "Vegan" on the menu, but there's always room for improvement. I hope Coffy Cafe succeeds because the place is neat and the folks working there were very nice and very attentive.