Saturday, February 20, 2010

DC Vegan Drinks, Feb. 16th, 2010

DC Vegan Drinks: DCVeganDrinks.Org is a monthly social gathering and networking event of vegans and the vegan-curious. For anyone who'd like to get together with fellow vegans or those who aren't (yet) vegan and just want to come and hang and check out vegan food and peeps, you're always welcome to come join. Click the above website for details on the latest meetup.
I see these events as fitting for two reasons:
a.) It seeks to fight the stereotype that vegans are completely health obsessed and don't like to party
2.) DC is a party town, and who better to party with than those who share many of your own values.
Oh, yeah, there's:
III.) It's one party we can go to where we're guaranteed to find food we can eat.

Most often the monthly meetup is held at Bread and Brew, a place I've yet to report on. This month it was at my fave place, Asylum in Adams Morgan, conveniently on a Tuesday when it's buy-one-get-one-half-off-vegan-items night. Plus, they had special $5 vegan White Russians.

Also, being Mardi Gras, bartender Shane had some great Mardi Gras drinks worked up.

Here is one of his mixes, apparently a neo-traditional Mardi Gras drink appropriately named "Hand Grenade". If I recall correctly, he mentioned it has mellon liquor, gin, vodka, and rum. He did caution it'd make me do weird things.

And weird things I did - I stumbled out of the place and kicked this ice chunk the 10 or so blocks home. I even felt the need to document the thing's journey, photographing it in the center of the street on each block. Here's just one of the many photos of the ice chunk I found on my camera the next day.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Local to Me Edition: DC Noodles on U Street NW

DC Noodles
1410 U Street NW
Washington DC 20009
(202) 232-8424
Click here for the menu

Note: You can click on the images to expand them.

First off, they had me at noodles. I can never seem to get my fill of them. One evening recently I looked back at the meals I had earlier in the day and realized I had three different kinds of noodles that day: soba, rice, and spaghetti.

DC Noodles has been open for at least a year, so it's a crime we haven't checked them out before now. Their Pan Asian menu includes Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese influences in their dishes. They have noodle salads, noodle soups, and noodle entrees. There are a few menu items that do not include noodles, such as the seaweed salad.

The numerous vegetarian items are clearly marked, and it was nice to see on their specials menu that their vegetarian items do not have fish or oyster sauce. This should go without saying, but it's comforting to have that extra bit of clarification. Still, we peppered our waitress with questions. She understood our concerns.

We started off with the garden roll. I'd say that there was nothing spectacular about it, but I've never had a bad garden roll. These always make me happy.

Marya tried the Tofu Drunken Noodle. I sampled a bit of it, and it was quite nice. There's something magical about this dish, wherever it is prepared, and I can't quite place it. The noodles and tofu seemed almost smoked or grilled. Just a subtle hint of it.

I got the Tofu Spicy Ginger Soup - one of their specials. It came with thin rice noodles and a lovely red broth that was indeed spicy but not in the least painful.

Most of the vegetarian dishes are $12, which to me seems a bit steep, considering it's usually a bit less everywhere else. They are in the high rent district, which might explain that. My dish was a bit fancier but Drunken Noodles is a common dish at Thai restaurants, and $12 seemed a bit much for it. But the cost is my only minor complaint. Friendly staff and great food. And you can't go wrong with noodles.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Central America: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize

Looking out my window today in Washington DC, I can see that we've already gotten more than 3 inches of snow...on top of the 28 or so we'd already received over the weekend. And we're expecting 8+ more inches.

A year ago today my girlfriend Marya and I were in Tulum, Mexico. When we returned from that trip Marya suggested I start a blog on vegan travel. Ten months later I started it, and now I'm just getting 'round to writing about our brief backpacking trip through a small part of Central America.

Note: on all pictures you can click on them to expand them.


We landed in Cancun and made a quick exeunt to the town of Tulum, site of the ancient Mayan ruins by the sea. We stayed in a rustic "hotel" called Papaya Playa, 1.5 hours SouthWest of Cancun and 2 miles South of the Tulum Ruins. It doesn't have the usual niceties of the typical Cancun resort, such as windows or indoor plumbing, but we loved it here. This is where the locals come for vacation, that was obvious. In places like Cancun, the locals cannot enjoy the same resort areas sectioned off for the tourists. I would hate vacationing somewhere where there is such a cultural barrier.

Cabaña #38 came with all we needed: a bed, shutters, and mosquito netting.

The restaurant on the Papaya Playa premisis provided us with fresh fruit for breakfast:

And veggie fajitas for lunch:

Papaya Playa is about 2 miles from the town of Tulum, and it was easy to flag down cabs from the road.
At the restaurant called either "The Captain" or "El Capitan" we got this lovely dish - vegetables and mole (pronounced "mo-lay") sauce - an odd yet tasty chocolate concoction that is not a dessert item.

A word of caution: it is important to ask if a dish contains cheese, even if the dish would not normally come with it. When options were few we lived off of guacamole and beans, and learned quickly that they would come sprinkled with cheese unless we asked that the dish be served without it.

Next, we took an overnight bus to Palenque in the Chiapas region of Mexico. The picture below is the Temple of the Inscriptions and contained the far-below-ground tomb of Pakal. The sarcophagus from the tomb is in the museum near the entrance of the ruins, where they quite nicely attempt to recreate what it was like for the archaeologists to discover Pakal's tomb.

Palenque was in its heyday in the seventh century. I do wonder if the mansard style roof of the palace tower was the inspiration for the design of McDonald's iconic buildings.

Exiting the gate to the ruins on the right is a hostel called El Panchan with a restaurant called Don Muchos. They did not offer much in the way of vegan food, but thankfully a very patient waiter had the chef prepare us rice-wrapped tortillas covered in mole sauce. We were overjoyed that they were so accommodating, and the dish was fantastic.

Next stop was the island of Flores on Lake Petén Itza, in the Petén department of Guatemala. Our hostel was Los Amigos, which had at the time the only vegetarian restaurant in Northern Guatemala. It doesn't appear from their website if they still strictly vegetarian, but I'm checking on that.

The interior had a nice jungle feel to it. A lot of work went into making this place the urban paradise it is. If you go here, just be aware of their "natural showers" - no hot water.

I got some lovely brochette with rice, black beans, and avocado slices.

Marya got a coconut curry dish with mixed vegetables.

And perhaps the most amazing discovery of the whole trip: for 10 quetzals, (about $1.20) Los Amigos will open a fresh chilled coconut for you and hand you a straw. For an additional 10, they will give you a shot of rum to pour into the coconut. So simple yet so fantastic: coconut water and rum.

We had a bad experience when we saw on a restaurant menu something called "Carne de Soya" - literally translating to "Beef of Soy". We couldn't believe our luck, so we had to try it. The dish took forever to prepare. Once we got it, we discovered that "Carne de Soya" was intended to mean "Beef maranated in soy sauce". We were totally fizzed over this.

The point of us stopping in Flores was to visit the nearby Tikal ruins, one of the largest Mayan sites. The image below is of Temple V, at 190' tall.

This next image is from atop Temple IV, the tallest of the temples at Tikal at 230'. It is dizzying up there, but worth the rickety wooden staircase climb to get to the top. This scene was featured in the original Star Wars, where the Millenium Falcon landed after it had escaped the Death Star.

Caye Caulker:
Next, we took two buses and a boat to get from Flores to the island of Caye Caulker off the coast of Belize. Caye Caulker among the smaller and less touristy of the Belizean islands. The place was amazing - no paved roads, and we saw only one truck on the island. Most get around with either bipedal transportation or the use of a golf cart. The water was clear blue and warm.

The food options here looked great, if you eat seafood. Of course we don't, so once again we relied on our stand-by items of guacamole, beans, fruit, and beer.

We did get some good meals in a few places, including this sauteed veggie wrap thingy with a side of beans. I can't recall the names of any of the places we went (this was well before the idea of starting this blog), but I'll say that it seemed possible to negotiate with all of them for animal product free meals.

And then there's the rum. There's a full line of rums from Belize, including light, dark, coconut, and this strong stuff. We brought this stuff home. At 190 proof it's barely potable.

Playa del Carmen:
Next and final stop before the airport was Playa del Carmen. We didn't want to stay in Cancun, fearing the tourist hell it'd be. So we stayed in the second closest town to the airport, as we had to catch a flight early the next day. What we got was tourist hell light. In Playa, there were only two types of people: fat white American tourists and the Mexican folks who served them. Everyone spoke English; it seemed like an extension of Miami. There were few food options here for us - so we resorted to an Italian restaurant where we knew we could at least get marinara sauce on pasta. Of course when we travel to a different country we want to sample the (vegan) local fare, but when the options are along the lines of Bubba Gump Shrimp, TGIFriday's, and a Japanese steakhouse, we took what we could get.
I didn't get a picture of the food, but I did get a shot of one of the most absurd gift shop items ever: a San Francisco 49ers poncho. In Frank Zappa's honor, I will not quote him here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Amtrak to Chicago

At 18 hours one way, taking an Amtrak to Chicago for a long weekend was probably the second craziest trip we've taken (I'd put going to London for a weekend at the top).
The above picture was taken just 3 days before. I had a very brief business trip to Hawaii, with outbound and inbound layovers in Chicago, arriving back home in DC just in time to catch the train back to Chicago.

Our journey began at Union Station, Washington DC. After several hours on the train, we went to the dining car for our meal. Thankfully Marya thought to request vegan meals for us.
I can't recall who got what, but here's what we were served.
A vegan chicken cutlet with mushrooms:

And, seriously, vegan veal. I'm surely the last vegan to knock fake meat products, but really - vegan veal? I mean, it's not like it would be indistinguishable from a vegan pork chop or vegan chicken breast. Why would they pick the one meat product that is among the most offensive to vegans?

We stayed in the Chicago Parthenon Hotel, which is actually a hostel. It's a few blocks away from Chicago's Union Station and in the center of the Greek section of town. We loved this place, for among other reasons, the fact that there was a restaurant/bar attached that was open late.
After loading in, we took a bus North for brunch at the Chicago Diner.

The Chicago Diner
3411 N. Halsted, Chicago IL 60657

The Diner is world famous. They serve breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner, and baked goods, and organic beer and wine. And fantastic bloody marys. The place in itself is almost enough to make us want to move to Chicago. Then we remember that we're wearing jackets there in August. Didn't take pictures of the food - this trip was well before I started writing this blog. We bought their cookbook.

Our next stop was to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field. This was exciting to me as everything I'd known about Wrigley I learned from Bugs Bunny cartoons and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off".
On our way to the ball park, we saw this sign:

The Cancer Project is a part of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an organization of doctors who, among other things, promote a vegan diet.
In their words, they are "Doctors and laypersons working together for compassionate and effective medical practice, research, and health promotion." I love PCRM.

At Wrigley Field, representatives for the animal rights organization Mercy for Animals were there handing out veggie hamburgers and hotdogs. We stopped by to say hello, but declined their offer for food as we were stuffed from brunch.
After the game, we tried going to several vegan friendly restaurants, but one was closed for the evening, and the other was hosting a private party, so things didn't work out that well for us. We know it's a vegan friendly town, but it just wasn't our night. We ended up going to a Chinese restaurant.
Then we headed back to the bar at the Parthenon for some black sambuca.

The next day we headed back to the Chicago Diner once again for brunch, then did the tourist thing. I tried my best to hide the embarrassing fact that I was, indeed, trying to do the Ferris Bueller Tour.
We went to the Chicago Art Institute where we saw Seurat's La Grande Jatte.

Then tried to go to the top of The Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower. There was a 2 hour wait, and we had to catch our train in 2.5.

Back on the street in front of the Parthenon Hotel, the Greek Festival was going on, so we got some dolmas for the return trip. I should point out that we asked around to make sure the dolmas we got were vegan. Some contained sausage - the first I've heard of such a thing.
On the homeward trip we had a lovely picnic of dolmas, almonds, and wine.