Thursday, July 29, 2010

New York City Visit, July 2010: Part I

(please click on an image if you'd like to see the larger version)

We live in Washington, DC, and we love it. And, thanks to the amazing outreach program of Compassion Over Killing, more and more vegan options are popping up around the city all the time. But when we found out DC was voted Most Veg-Friendly City by PETA, we were at once befuddled, skeptical, and amused. The number of pure vegetarian restaurants in DC proper can be counted on one hand.

We were also appalled to learn that one of our favorite veg-friendly cities, New York, where there are more vegetarian restaurants in a 3 block radius than in all of DC, was ranked all the way down at #9.

We recently spent 4 days here, and as we consider ourselves food tourists and me a rabid camera toting blogger, I'm having to split our many experiences up into four separate blog posts. Stay tuned!

We go to New York as often as we can, which sadly isn't as often as we'd like. This particular trip was to celebrate our 5 year anniversary and to see Steve Earle and family perform at City Winery, a wine bar, restaurant, concert venue, and winery. It was the only restaurant we visited in our 4 day trip that served meat.

City Winery
155 Varick Street
New York, New York 10013

Phone: (212) 608-0555

City Winery is an amazing place. They make wine on premises and serve other wines from around the globe. You can take wine-making classes here and make your own barrel of wine. You can have them host functions for wine/food pairings - one depressing thing for me to see was a large group sitting around a table in a function room pairing a wine with a rack of lamb.

But they do have vegan options!

We began with this charred green tomato and olive tapenade on crostini*:

I had this Strazzopretti Pasta with zucchini, dandelion greens,tomatoes, white wine, and garlic:

Only problem was - it disappeared too quickly.

Marya had the seared marinated tofu with zaalouk sauce, quinoa tabouli, with fried chickpeas:

I got to sample a bit of this dish and really liked it. Fantastic job for a place where the menu is very meat and cheese heavy.

For a snack during the concert we got the red and white pretzels - so named because they are made from the wine lees (residual yeast in the wine cask after filtering) from their red and white wines.

Lees are what's leftover when a wine has been "fined" or clarified - a step in which the method determines whether a wine is vegan. In restrospect we probably should have asked if they use vegan clarifying agents.

The next day we went to Quintessence - a raw food restaurant.

263 East 10th Street
New York, New York 10009
(646) 654-1823

Raw food can be expensive, and I'm coming to really appreciate just why. Raw food chefs really need to know what the hell they're doing. They've got to come up with the right combinations and time-consuming preparations if they're going to impress a world obsessed with cooked food. I used to be one of those hot-food obsessed types but I'm really coming 'round to enjoy more raw food these days.

Quintessence is a tiny and understated place that probably seats no more than 20. That is to say it's a hidden gem.

Marya got the Buddha Bowl salad with pesto dressing and, if memory serves me correctly, corn bread and pesto. Also, she got Peter's Pot - a tomato/pepper/cucumber soup.

There was no redundancy on the part of Quintessence - she chose to have two pestos with her meal. Can you ever have too much pesto?

And I chose the basil and cheese ravioli wrapped in paper-thin turnip slices plus squash spaghetti, topped with pesto.

Also, a side salad with pesto dressing. Again with the pesto. I didn't know what to expect with this dish (turnip wrappers?), but I ended up being very impressed. Floored, really.

Word of caution - Quintessence doesn't serve any alcohol here, but thankfully there are plenty of surrounding places that do. Yes, it'd be nice to have a Pinot Grigio to accompany so much pesto, so you'll just have to stop elsewhere afterward for a nip. Not sure if they allow you to bring your own in - they might!

Right next to Quintessence is Live Live.

Live Live
261 East 10th Street
New York, New York 10009

Phone: (212) 505-5504

Live Live is a completely raw food, supplement, and body care store. Although they aren't completely vegan (they are beegan - they sell bee pollen), the place is worth mentioning. How often do you come across a completely raw food store? Once. That's when.

In Washington DC, we love to rave about our vegan bakery Sticky Fingers. To my knowledge it's the only vegan bakery in all of DC, and certainly worthy of raving about.

But how often have you found yourself just walking down the street and happen upon a vegan bakery you've not heard of before? Once, if you're lucky. This is how we found The Whole Earth Bakery. We [heart] New York.
(see if you can spot the mushroomhead in this pic)

The Whole Earth Bakery
130 St. Marks Place
New York, New York 10009

Phone: (212) 677-7597

The Whole Earth Bakery, in business since 1978, is completely vegan. You would think that with the sign out front that reads Vegan Bakery they wouldn't need to label everything in their counter as vegan.

But they do.

The folks here were quite nice. The gentleman on the right in this photo insisted we snap their picture when they saw me taking pictures around the place.

I'm not 100% positive, but I'm guessing the guy on the left is Peter, proprietor of the place.

Marya got the Peach Upside Down Cake and I got the Tofu Cupcake.

Very tasty!

So, there you have it - a small sampling of why I feel New York doesn't deserve to be 9th on a list of veg-friendly cities in North America. Perhaps in the top or second slot. Watch for more posts on New York City in the coming days.

And now for some other things we did to kill time between meals:

Museum of Sex
233 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10016

Phone: (212) 689-6337

We spent two or more hours here, but easily could have spent more. We were impressed at how tasteful the place was - it could have easily been sleazy. When we visited, there was an exhibit called "RUBBERS: the Life, History & Struggle of the Condom", sponsored by Trojan Condoms. It quite informative. My favorite part was a video showing Trojan's factory floor and the start to finish production of condoms. It was hilarious watching the elderly women employees of Trojan handling and testing each condom.

And on our way back to our hotel from the Museum of Sex was Gothic Renaissance.

Gothic Renaissance
108 4th Avenue
New York, New York 10003

Phone: (212) 780-9558

A fun store with gothic clothing (some even made in the US), music, and other dark brick a brack. New York also has more goth stores in a 10 block radius than anywhere, I'm guessing (see my post from our last trip to NYC).

* - emphasis on the crostini is an inside joke

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Colorado Rocky Mountain: Yo: Part IV - Aspen

July 4th is apparently the single biggest day of the year for Aspen, which is odd considering the city's main money-making industry is skiing. On the 4th the streets were packed, everyone waiting for the parade to start. We landed at Aspen Airport on the morning of the 4th, and our first order of business was to find breakfast.

Main Street Bakery
201 E. Main St.
Aspen, CO 81611

Phone:(970) 925-6446

The Main Street Bakery was packed, as well, but after a short 20 minute wait we managed to get seated. Not sure how it normally is, but the 4th clearly had loads to do with how busy the place was - it was near the parade route start and many folks seated eating their meals were in their parade. We decided to have breakfast here because we knew they had tofu scramble.

This is their Mexican Tofu Scramble, with the addition of veggies (for an extra $1.75). The menu refers to the rice as being "vegetarian". I forgot about this, and asked the waitress if it had beef broth in it. She went to talk to the chef who told her "no", but that everything served in the restaurant has butter in it. The manager tried to tell us that it didn't have butter in it. So, never got a straight answer. Just had to throw that warning in.
The tofu was...okay - I wish folks would be more creative with their scrambles.

La Cantina (<-click here to hear some annoying Mariachi music)
411 East Main Street
Aspen, Colorado 81611

Phone: (970) 925-3663

For lunch we headed to La Cantina Mexican Restaurant, knowing they had at least one entree we could eat: the "Vegan Tower".

Marya's mother had this lovely gazpacho.

And here's the Vegan Tower:

Here's the restaurant's description of the thing: "Grilled Portobello mushrooms, sweet potatoes, spinach and roasted red peppers stacked and drizzled with a roasted pepper balsamic vinaigrette, set on a bed of vegan brown rice and sautéed veggies".
It was an ill-fitting mixture that seemed not at all Mexican. The weirdest part had to be the thick slice of sweet potato in the center. At $18 it was rather steep, too.
Uninspired as we were with this, we still love La Cantina, if only as a watering hole and excellent (free) chips and salsa.

Bad Billy's

508 E. Cooper St.
Aspen, CO 81611

Phone: (970) 925-9225

We went to Bad Billy's for happy hour meetup of Marya's Aspen High School alumni. Though it has regular pub fare, it's also tied somehow to an Asian restaurant, so they've got some noodle dishes and edamame. Both regular and spicy edamame was on the menu, so we went for the spicy, and it came bathed in some sort of sauce. About half way through, it occurred to me: "Hey, is this oyster sauce?". I never did ask.

For an entree, I got this pineapple coconut red curry noodle bowl with tofu.

It was okay, but not terribly flavorful. Or filling. But I'm a big guy and could eat my weight in rice noodles.

Marya got the huge Vietnamese rice noodle salad with tofu.

It came with a sweet dressing. It was good, but challenging to eat with chopsticks. I don't know that a fork would have helped. Marya got full and as well frustrated eating the thing, so I got to play clean-up.

Every Saturday Aspen has a huge open air market downtown. It's partly a farmers' market, partly crafts and such. Unlike our farmers' markets in DC, Aspen allows a local winery to sell their product here. Lucky for me - I was hoping to get an opportunity to get some of Woody Creek Winery's wines.

Boden's Butter
601 E. Hopkins Ave.
Aspen, Colorado 81611
Next to the Cheese Shop

Phone: (970) 925-7779

At this open air market the local vegan bakery "Boden's Butter" had a stand. Odd that their banner said nothing of it being vegan. To be sure, I asked. "Yes, everything's vegan", the woman replied.
Ah, then, hook me up with a sticky bun.

And Mary got this muffin.

We saved these for later and ate them at a park while waiting for a bus.

We needed breakfast, so we got some coffee and tea from the Back Alley Coffee stand.

Next door to Back Alley Coffee 's cart we noticed this sign, and we couldn't turn this down.

They didn't clean off the grill for us, but I honestly wasn't expecting them to. The sausage was Field Roast's smoked apple sage. As we waited for it to cook, it started raining.

No matter - we lucked out that there was a tree where we could comfortably sit beneath. Also, as luck would have it, Aspen Brewing Company was there handing out samples. So we sat beneath the tree with our coffee and tea, beer samples, and Field Roast sausages. Is this not the breakfast of champions?

This is probably the most negative post I've written. Many of the vegan options in Aspen seemed a token gesture. Sure, places have vegan options, but they don't seem to try hard enough to make them flavorful.

Marya and I agreed that the highlight of Aspen for us was getting the baked goods from Boden's Butter and enjoying the sausages and beer under the tree.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Colorado Rocky Mountain: Hello! Part III - VG Burger in Boulder and Woody Creek Tavern

On our way between Leadville and Loveland, Colorado, we stopped in Boulder for lunch. College town that it is, Boulder is quite a vegan friendly city. We were hoping to stop in at the Scotch Corner Pub for some vegan haggis and a plate of vegan bangers and mash. As the designated drinker, I was also hoping for some scotch. But, despite the fact that the Scotch Corner Pub has a fully functional website complete with an active events calendar, they apparently have been gone for over a year. In its place, a burger joint. I was nearly in tears.

So we moved on to VG Burgers - Organic Food Fast!

VG Burgers
1650 Broadway St.
Boulder CO 80302

It says on the window "Vegetarian Food", but don't let that fool you - it's all vegan. They're electricity comes from wind power, their produce is grown locally and other ingredients are from sustainable sources (all non-GMO), their throw-away items are compostable, and their food scraps go to a local animal sanctuary. Perfect! Except no scotch or hooch of any kind!!! I'm willing to overlook this. Also, their fountain drinks are sweetened with agave nectar.

Whenever I see vegan wings on the menu I have to try them. These are the tempeh wings with sour cream. I'm sure I was caught licking the plate when the rest of our meal came.

Marya got the club sandwich, which was quite tasty. Was never a big fan of sammiches before, let alone club sammiches, but the vegan clubs I've sampled lately have turned me around.

And I got the bacon cheeseburger. By default it comes with a soy based burger, but I opted to swap for what they called a garden burger. Not the brand Gardenburger, but their home-grown version.

Served with Daiya cheese and tempeh facon, this would have fooled serious carnivores (I'd like to think). I was in hog heaven without any hogs having to go to heaven for my meal.

The place was awesome. I love it when a business model is centered around doing everything right.

On our way back to Aspen, we stopped in at the Woody Creek Tavern.

Woody Creek Tavern
002 Woody Creek Plaza
2858 Upper River Road
Woody Creek, CO 81656
I wouldn't have thought this place to be vegan friendly, but thanks to Marya's intel, we knew ahead of time that it is. Really, I just wanted to go here because it was a favorite (if only) local hangout of one of my favorite authors: Hunter S. Thompson.
In 1970, Thompson ran for the sheriff of Aspen on the "Freak Power" ticket. Here's his famous campaign poster featuring a peyote button in a clenched fist (hung in the Woody Creek Tavern):

There's only one thing on the menu that is listed as vegan: chorizo tacos.

On our visit we couldn't help but notice the 2 or more dozen bicyclists who'd come for lunch. There are apparently a lot of masochistic bikers who just love pedaling up the mountains here, and odds are that some of them have asked for vegan meals at the Woody Creek Tavern. Thank you all.
We didn't even need to ask that our plates not come with cheese or sour cream - it came with rice, beans, salsa, lettuce, guacamole, onions, and cilantro.

Also listed on their menu is free trade coffee and tea. I'm sure they really mean fair trade.
Come to honor Thompson, stay for the vegan tacos (and a beer).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Colorado, Part II: Tasty Harmony in Ft. Collins

Tasty Harmony
130 S. Mason St.
Fort Collins, CO 80524
Phone: (970) 689-3234

On our visit to Marya's sister and family, we were happy to learn that they were willing to accompany us to the the vegetarian restaurant Tasty Harmony in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Tasty Harmony is mostly vegan - it's damned near impossible to find anything on their menu that isn't. They apparently make much of their stuff on site, not relying on packaged and over-processed fake meat products containing who-knows-what. They get extra points for that. When I asked for hot sauce, they were out of it, but handed me some of the materials they were to use when they whipped up the next batch. They make their own hot sauce? Really? Obviously they seem to go the extra mile.

We started with the sprouted hummus with flax crackers. It was great - way better than my failed attempt to make sprouted raw hummus.

Marya's brother-in-law ordered the "Le Club" sandwich, that included house-made seitan. Though the menu simply says "mayo", it's a vegan version. I got to try a bite of this, and it was fantastic.

In the background you can see one of the kids' dishes: cashew cheese nachos topped with black beans. The kids loved it.

Also for the kiddies was this seitan steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. Said Marya's 4 year old nephew to the waitress: "The seitan is most excellent."

I got to taste a bit of it all and very nearly ordered this child's plate for dessert.

I ordered La Sabrosa Burrito, that had cashew cheese and vegan sour cream.
I added jackfruit, which is similar to the artichoke.

And Marya got the Jackfruit Tacos.

For dessert, we had to find out if the chocolate used was fair-trade. I hate asking the question because at best, it isn't but they're aware of fair trade, and at worse I get puzzled looks and promises to ask the chef about it. But much to our delight, the waitress responded with an immediate "Yes, it's fair trade."
So we shared this lovely coconut cream pie topped with chocolate sauce:

We also shared this banana cake:

Tasty Harmony is both child friendly and a place I'd see myself frequenting for a quiet night of vegan comfort and local beer at their bar - as often as possible. We all loved this place. Even Marya's sister and brother-in-law who are far from vegetarian (their hobby is making sausage) gave the place high praises.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Colorado Rocky Mountain: Hi! Part I - Vegan Friendly Family Visits

click for larger picture

We spent the first full week of July in Colorado, enjoying the 4th in Aspen, attending Marya's high school reunion, and visiting her family.

Ahhh, the family - you either love them or...tolerate them from a distance. They treat your dietary restrictions like an affliction from which they pray you will soon be free. In the meantime they claim a dish is mostly vegan (with only a teaspoon or two of hog grease), sprinkle bacon on the salad, and make you sit at the kids' table.

But not Marya's family. They look at our veganism as an opportunity to learn and try something new. When we go out with them to restaurants they don't normally eat vegan as we do, but they do prepare vegan-only meals at home when we're visiting.

In Loveland, Colorado, Marya's sister made us the amazing tofu paella.
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Her whole family enjoyed this dish, including her two children at 2 and 4.

Then came this lovely peach cobbler with rice-based vanilla ice cream.
click for larger picture

Next we visited Marya's father's place outside of Aspen. For Christmas Marya sent her father a basil plant kit. When we arrived we learned that the plant had fully grown, and her father had been saving it for us to make vegan pesto. He even bought a big tin of nutritional yeast for the occasion. I forgot to take pictures of the meal, but here's the preparation:
click for larger picture

Lacking a food processor or a traditional mortar and pestle, Marya's father fetched this gardening implement from the garage - a "dibble". Normally the pointy end is used to pierce holes in the soil to plant seeds, but the rounded end worked in a pinch as a pestle.
click for larger picture
After most of the mashing we added the nutritional yeast for a cheesier flavor.

We also visited Marya's mother in Leadville, but I didn't take any pictures of the food there. Unforeseen circumstances changed the mood of our visit completely (we came home to discover the house had been broken into and had to deal with police and locksmiths, etc). But Marya's mother is headed towards veganism, due in part to us sending her Erik Marcus's book "Vegan: the New Ethics of Eating". The book is out of print, but if you'd like to turn a family member around, you can either order it from Action for Animals or view a fat PDF file of the entire book from the same site here (assuming it's reprinted with permission).