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.

Brookland Cafe, Washington DC - Things Battered and Deep Fried

Note: You can click on an image to see it full size.
Brookland Cafe
3740 12th St. NE
Washington, DC 20017

This little and little known cafe in the upper North East quadrant of Washington, DC does serve meat, but the menu is heavy with vegan options. Also worth a note: they have a full bar.
I went for the Vegan Platter that included their carrot/beet/potato burger, battered chicken strips, battered shrimp, and a side of purple cabbage slaw.

Marya got the Vegan Seafood Platter, with battered fish slices, chicken strips, and shrimp. Not a lot different from mine.
Not pictured are the sauces that came with it: catsup, cocktail sauce, and vegan tartar sauce.

I was most impressed with the shrimp, and that might be enough to have me go back for more. I'll say though, with everything battered and deep fried, it surely wouldn't fall into the category of health food.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Orleans - Vegan Friendly Places in the Quarter

Here's a quick snapshot of places that are vegan friendly around the French Quarter, Nawlins.
I'll say, we were most impressed with everyone's knowledge of veganism in town. I would ask "Does this vegetarian dish have any butter, milk, cream, egg...?", to which I'd usually get cut off with a "It's vegan."
Note:You can click on most pictures to see it full size
Flanagan's Pub
625 St. Phillip St.
New Orleans, LA 70116

Limited vegan options, but first thing our first morning, we needed something fast. And bloody marys.

This was a hummus and fresh veggie wrap.

Gumbo Shop
630 Saint Peter St.
New Orleans, LA 70116

Try some vegan gumbo at the very touristy Gumbo Shop.

Gumbo is the African word for "okra", the primary component of the dish.
And speaking of Africa...

1212 Royal St.
New Orleans, LA 70116

I thought it'd be cool to check out an African restaurant, considering that African food was a huge influence in the local cuisine.
Here's Kone ni Makoondo - Black eyed peas in onion and tomato stew, served on coco rice with a side of plantains.

And here's Soup-ah-Kanja - Okra soup (ordered without the beef).

Cajun Cafe at the Market
1100 North Peters, Bay #23
New Orleans, LA 70116

Located in the French Market, the Cajun Cafe has some vegan options.
Yes, they have some rather unsavory things such as the alligator sausage kabob, but the jambalaya and red beans and rice (sans sausage) were vegan.
The jambalaya was good, but the red beans and rice had us making a second trip there.

Note: They don't serve bloody marys, but a stall 2 doors down does, along with several other cocktail and beer options. Being New Orleans, you can order drinks from one stall and carry them over to the Cajun Cafe.

Munch @ Molly's at the Market
1107 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA 70116

Munch is a pop-up restaurant at Molly's, a short trip across the street from Cajun Cafe, serving comfort/pub food.

The VF on their menu means "Vegan Friendly". In some cases that makes sense, as with the veggie burger where you can substitute mayonnaise with Veganaise. But it's a bit odd to see "Vegan Friendly" on things that are vegan by default.

We were there on a Thursday and took advantage of their taco special. They had three vegan taco options, refried beans being one, another with veggies. Can't remember the third.

The next day we went to see the start of the St. Paddy's Day Parade Molly's hosted. We got the corned beef and cabbage, minus the corned beef. As well, we got their mac-n-cheese, which I'm still dreaming about.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fancy Vegan-Friendly Options in New Orleans

Note:You can click on most pictures to see it full size

On our recent New Orleans trip we found a couple of fancy places that had separate vegan menus, both off the French Quarter.

Feelings Cafe (click for their website)
2600 Chartres Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70117 (click for the map)

Phone: (504) 945-2222
This place wouldn't drag me in by name alone, but thanks to some research and purchase of a Groupon, my girlfriend found Feelings Cafe.
The place is quite lovely, I'll say, with a nice dining room, beautiful courtyard, and a pretty hip looking bar. We spoke to the owner a bit, and that he's mostly vegan (or maybe completely vegan - can't remember much of the conversation) is reason Feelings is so vegan friendly.
Here was their vegan menu for the middle of March, 2012:
It's like they read my mind, knowing that I'd want to try everything. With the option of being able to choose three out of the four appetizers and combining smaller portions of the entrees, we were able to taste all but one dish on the menu.
Pictured here are (clockwise from the top): The Emerald City Salad (with curly kale and quinoa), the Mushroom Boudin, and the Quinoa and Shiitake Mushroom Cakes.

And here are the Roasted Eggplant and Creole Tomato Napoleon smothered in an arugula pesto(left), and the Potato and and Tempeh Patties with butternut squash pasta with a light tomato and kalamata olive sauce.

I've never had tempeh prepared quite like that. Rather than just carving up a slab of the stuff and serving as a cutlet, they mashed it, combined with potatoes, and formed into a patty. It gave it a totally different and very pleasing texture.
Overall, quite a good deal. Relaxed atmosphere, lovely fresh vegan cuisine. Just be sure to make reservations ahead of time.

Next, on the far side of the French Quarter from Feelings, we stopped in the Santa Fe Cafe on our way to the St. Patrick's Day Parade for brunch.
Santa Fe Tapas Restaurant and Bar (click for their site)
Click here for their more informative Facebook page
1327 St Charles Ave New Orleans, LA 70130 (click for map)
Phone: (540) 304-9915

We heard that Santa Fe Tapas was supposed to have a jazz brunch, and were a bit surprised that a solo classical guitarist was providing the music. A bit befuddled at first, I was soon impressed with his performances of what I thought were famous Rodrigo tunes. He explained that he was playing the traditional Spanish music that Rodrigo later borrowed and fully orchestrated, such as Fantasia para un Gentlhombre performed here by Segovia and later to be performed by Emerson Lake and Palmer.
But back to issue at hand (sorry for that digression).

Santa Fe was among the many places about town were featuring St. Patty's Day specials along with their regular fare.

We both ended up doing the Prix Fixe deal. For my entree choice, I was torn between the Corned "Beef" with braised cabbage and mushy peas dish and the Traditional Irish Breakfast. I went for, or was talked into the Traditional Irish Breaky.

It's worth noting that, though our waiter was wonderful, our food took for bloody ever to come. The waiter continuously apologized and noted that several tables had filled up and emptied several times during our wait. He said something along the lines of not being able to convince the kitchen to cook our food.

First up was the all important bloody mary.

Not quite the work of art that the bloody marys at the St. Roche Tavern were, but the pickled okra and green bean gave us a grin.

I had the asparagus vichyssios:

Maybe not a traditional breakfast food to many, but in my world everything (vegan) is breakfast food.
And Marya had the mini pancakes with sausage:

My Traditional Irish Breakfast was great except perhaps for the scramble, which was as many tend to be, uninspired. Last in the list on the menu, it was a small part of the breakfast, anyway.

Marya got the Roasted Vegetable Tamale:
More of an open face tamale, really. For dessert we had the strudel and the Irish Car Bomb Parfait:
I thought the strudel was good, but the whipped cream on both the strudel and parfait tasted a bit too processed and chemically.

If you go to Santa Fe Tapas, seek out the Avenue Pub nearby. A locals dive bar with an amazing beer selection.

There are very few places in the French Quarter to find live jazz performances, and I think we found both of them.

Maison Bourbon
641 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, LA 70112

It says right on the bass drum "New Orleans Finest Jazz", and they mean it. Forget Preservation Hall and camp out here for a few hours. Unlike Preservation Hall, you can (and have to) drink, stay as long as you want, take pictures, and there's no cover. I personally enjoyed it much more than Preservation Hall. I really liked seeing the house band played Louis Armstrong's "Struttin' with some (vegan) Barbeque".

Then there was Fritzel's just up the street.

Fritzel's European Jazz Pub
733 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, LA 70112

We saw some great Dixieland bands here, including this band, the Perdido Five: