Saturday, March 27, 2010

Local to Me Edition: Souk and a word on the Atlas District

Souk - A Pan-Mediterranean Tapas Bar
1208 H St NE At 12th St NE
Washington DC
(202) 658-4224
Souk is a new restaurant in the Atlas District of DC.
The Atlas District is on H Street in a region that was burned in the 1968 riots, and many of the buildings sat vacant for the better part of 40 years.
In walks a developer who decides to redevelop the whole area with reataurants, pubs, and a performing arts center. Perfect!
A friend of ours frequently performs in the Capital City Symphony at the performing arts center, so we're often in this area.
To get to the Atlas District via public transportation, hop on the X2 Metrobus or H Street Connector shuttlebus from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station, interdection of 7th and H Streets. The H St. shuttlebus is free, but with limited hours and is less frequent/reliable than the X2.
Among the pubs in this area are: a miniature golf themed barn a pirate themed bar, a carny/burlesque show/bar, Belgian beer/mussel, a boxing themed bar, a coffee/wine bar, Cajun pub, whiskey bar,and opening soon, a German Beer Garden and an Irish Pub. I you want it, it's probably here.
Souk is one of the few restaurants presently open on H, and among the three that has viable vegan options. Profiles ofthe other two forthcoming.

It's a cozy little place with dim incandescent lighting, much to my liking. The waitress was gracious with our questions and our food came out abnormally fast.
Pictured here is the falafal, hummus, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), zaalouk (moroccan style roasted eggplant, tomatoes and olive oil), tabouleh, and a Lebanese Salad.

When we went here a few weeks ago after our friend's performance, it was a few days before Souk was to have their alcoholic beverage license hearing. By this point they've had it, and I hope it went well. I look forward to eating this yummy food with a glass of red wine.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fun Home Stuff: Haggis, Brunch, and Mushroom/Spinach Crepes

Spring is...sort of here in the Washington DC area. We've been able to eat on either our front porch or back patio a few times recently. We've heard that in the coming days it'll be back to near-freezing temperatures. Fizzer.

Anyway, here's some fun stuff we've made at home recently.

I ordered several cans of this Vegetarian Haggis as gag gifts for Christmas. You can find it at Food Fight! Vegan Grocery Store online. Now, haggis is something that would (or should) turn the stomachs of the most staunchest of omnivores. It is made from sheep's lungs, liver, heart, plus suet.
Thankfully the worst thing this vegan version has is hydrogenated fat. You wouldn't believe just how little Scotch was left in that bottle by the end of the evening.

The back of the haggis can recommends serving it with turnips, mustard sauce, and Scotch. Marya prepared this meal, adding mashed potatoes, finding and veganizing recipes for the mustard sauce, and made Roasted Turnips and Shallots with Turnip Greens Soup from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen cookbook.

I was pleasantly surprised at how good the (vegan) haggis was. Fantastic meal all 'round.

Next morning, bloody marys were necessary. Thankfully Marya makes the best bloody marys this side of the troposphere. I made tofu scramble with mushrooms and greens, roasted root vegetables (potatoes, beets turnips, and parsnips) with rosemary, tomatoes and parsley with zatar and olive oil, and sausage rounds. All the vegetables came from the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market.

And on what is likely to be the last day of our brief Indian Spring, I made these wild rice crepes - one with shitake mushrooms and the other with spinach and pine nuts. The recipe came from The Perennial Palate - The Third Feminist Vegetarian Cookbook" (1993). Slow cook that I am, this took over three hours for me to prepare.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Local to Me Edition: Bread and Brew

Bread and Brew
1247 20th St. NW (South of Dupont Circle)
Washington DC 20036

We recently attended the monthly DC Vegan Drinks at Bread and Brew. DC Vegan Drinks is a monthly get-together where local vegan folk can mingle, network, share ideas and suggestions, and drink.

Bread and Brew is not strictly a vegetarian place, but they do offer plenty of vegetarian/vegan options. Every year on Earth Day they do go completely vegan. Their weekend vegan brunch is fantastic.

It's a certified green restaurant and catering business. Their ceramic bowls and plates are hand-crafted locally, and when you get food to go or order catering from them, the packaging, plates, and utensils are compostable.

Also very cool: they serve some organic and some Fair Trade certified wines. Their beer selection is vegan, with the exception of one that has honey in it. The beer choices are excellent.

When we go here, we spend most of our time either outside on the patio or downstairs at the bar. Truth be told, the bar doesn't have a great deal of character. Almost none. It's the people who work here that makes the place so inviting.

The menu changes daily and will include 2-3 vegan options. I'm told that recently they had a vegan beef stew, which I'm very bummed I had missed.
When we hold our DC Vegan Drinks gatherings here they provide us with an entire vegan menu.

I got the soy chicken curry with coconut rice.

The chicken curry was good, but after sampling the vegan steak sandwich with soy cheese, peppers, onions & mushrooms that Marya ordered, I was wishing I'd gotten that instead. I've become quite the sucker for a good vegan steak and cheese sammich lately.

I'm happy to know that vegan cupcakes are a regular thing here. Pictured below are Red Velvet.

This was a special edition of DC Vegan Drinks - Gene Baur, co-founder of The Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York, came to speak and read some exerpts from his book. After a brief Q&A, we bought his book and had him autograph it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Puerto Morelos, Mexico, March 2010

(Note: please click on the pictures if you'd like to see them in larger format.)

Puerto Morelos, Mexico is on the Yucatán Peninsula about 20 miles South of Cancun. It is a small fishing village that is not without its tourism, but a far cry from the decadance and excess of Cancun. With a gun to my head I would not stay in Cancun.
In the days before traveling to Puerto Morelos I had mentioned to family members and friends that I was soon traveling to Mexico. Many had quite the different response from I was expecting. Instead of envy and excitement I got reactions of shock and concern. It was as if I told them I was being airdropped to the front lines of a war zone with faulty parachute and armed with a nothing but Pixie Stix™ and a rabid chihuahua instead of going on vacation in a tropical paradise. To many who never venture outside of the US border, anywhere in the United States is safer than anywhere outside the US. This is sad to me.
Funny thing is, in this little town apparently it's so safe many don't bother to lock their doors.

I'm not covering every restaurant we went to as there were so many. I just want to highlight a few that had exceptional food, particularly the ones that had vegetarian or vegan items on the menu, plus some other fun things.

We rented a house that came with a kitchen. To save a bit of money we had breakfast every morning at the house. We bought some produce...

and locally made tortillas from a corner market.

So we had raw-ish veggie tacos every morning for breakfast, along with some fruit. A time or two we also threw black beans into the mix. I didn't get sick of this. The dish was so simple yet tasty.

A very vegetarian/vegan friendly restaurant right in the town square is La Terraza. We took the slightly dangerous trip up a creaky spiral staircase to dine in a very nice rustic setting that overlooked the square. There is obviously some Indian influence here, but it is mostly Mexican food, and mostly vegetarian. The place is fantastic.

Below are soy chorizo and potato mini-tacos.

My girlfriend go these lovey tropical fruit, veggie, tofu, and falafal skewers.

One of my favorite meals of the entire trip was this soy beef burrito.

We took a private tour to visit the Cobá ruins. This pyramid is, at 138', the tallest on the Yucatán Peninsula. It is not, however, the tallest in the Mayan world.

We had some tremendous luck in getting the guide we did. He lives in Puerto Morelos and used to own a seafood restaurant there. When he began his guide business, he collaborated with some family members of his former employees who are Mayan and welcomed us into their home for home-cooked lunch. We alerted Eric, our guide that my girlfriend and I are vegan, so he made some special arrangements for our lunch. Otherwise we would have gotten chicken.
He picked up some nopales (cactus or prickly pear) for us. They grilled them on an open fire right there for us in the house. The ceiling was blackened from the heat.

The home visit also included a mini class in making tortillas. The woman teaching us could, of course, make one in seconds.

And here was the finished product: our tortillas, nopales, black beans, rice, and a lovely and spicy sauce to top with. To drink they gave us a very sweet hibiscus flower drink. No, that sippy cup is not mine.

Back at home, we got some rum, pineapple, and coconut cream and Marya made some very delicious (and vegan!) piña coladas.

La Aldea is across the boardwalk from the pier, across from the old lighthouse.

We couldn't believe our luck in finding this place. Not only was the food among the cheapest, it was among the most unique.
For 45 pesos (around $4US), Marya got these hibiscus flower tacos. Surprisingly, they had a very meaty taste and texture.

My dish here was this pozole, their vegan version of this traditional pre-Columbian soup. It is made of hominy and topped with many vegetables.

While sitting at this restaurant I decided to go over to the pier to snap some pictures of a pelican. A fisherman there was holding up a barracuda by its eye holes. Also on the pier was a bloody dead baby shark that lay dying. It was saddening.

On our final night we went to Doña Triny's Word had it, or if the local tourist leaflets were to be believed, this place had among the most authentic Mexican food in town. It is on the Southern end of the town square.
As you'll see, the dishes we ordered were likely far from authentic, but they were great and the service here was very friendly. Actually, every place in town had very friendly staff.

First thing we had was this tomato ceviche that I'd guess isn't exactly traditional, but it was nice they had such an appetizer in the vegetarian column. It was tasty but reminded me a little too much of ketchup (or mayhaps catsup?).

I got the stuffed portobello mushrooms with grilled calabasitas.

Marya got the stuffed nopales and beans. They came stuffed with the same thing my mushroom was stuffed with.

Afterwards we went to Los Pelicanos for some drinks. This picture may not adequately show it, but this margarita was about the size of my head. Oddly, as you can see in the picture, it came topped with an olive. Whatevs. The following day I was not much fun to be around.

Puerto Morelos was a very vegan friendly town. They're obviously used to tourists and are willing to work with you to make something you can eat. If you don't see anything on the menu that's vegan, it helps to make a suggestion to the waiter, rather having him try to read your mind. Our fallback was always veggie fajitas.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Update, and WFT is up with McDonalds?

I haven't written in a while. I've been meaning to! I've got about 1/2 a dozen or so things lined up to write about, including some Washington DC restaurant profiles, a recent trip to Mexico, the latest DC Vegan Drinks at which Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary spoke, a trip last year to London. As Frank Zappa put it: "Great Googleymoogley!"

This is a bit of a departure, I know, but I've got this to ask: WTF is up with these McDonalds ads? I've been seeing them all over Washington DC. To me they are so absurd and offensive it's almost comical. Almost. It's hard to believe this is a for-real advertising campaign. A stuffed and mounted fish asking to have its flesh returned to it? The fish is named "Frankie the Fish", the Disneyesque alliterative name is clearly intended to add to the cuteness factor.

It gets worse. I don't watch TV so I only recently found out via search on the internets that this is part of a television ad campaign that began in early 2009. The mounted fish sings to someone sitting in his garage eating a Filet O' Fish sandwich. The guy grooves to the song as he's stuffing his face. It became such a viral video on YouTube that apparently everyone but me and my closest 100 or so friends couldn't stop singing. Apparently people even have the song as their ringtone. I decided not to post it here as I don't want to add to its hit-count, but here are the lyrics to the song:

Give me back that filet o fish
Give me that fish
Give me back that filet o fish
Give me that fish

What if it were you
Hanging up on this wall?
If it were you in that sandwich
You wouldn’t be laughing at all!

So McDonalds appears to be gambling on this - either you will be seriously appalled by this or the ad will appeal to your baser instincts and you will find animal suffering funny. Sadly, they seem to have won the wager.

In a way, maybe this is a good thing. Maybe this actually will make people begin to think about the fact that Filet O' Fish comes from a living feeling creature. That fish...comes from fish. In addition to that, they should also be thinking about all the shit that goes into a Filet O' Fish to allow them to sell them for the low price of $.99.
As Michael Pollan once said, "Never eat anything food that is advertised."