Sunday, November 21, 2010

vegadeli

we tried vegadeli when it first opened, but we were too underwhelmed to make the long drive back (all the way in chesterfield, yo) for a second chance. we were both craving food from a 100% vegan (!) restaurant this past weekend, though, so we put pedal to metal, waving our skinny middle fingers at gas prices.

mission:
chesterfield, mo

terrain:
did we mention that vegadeli is located in chesterfield? eesh. we still can't figure out why the owner chose that location, but it is what it is. the interior of vegadeli is relatively no frills, sporting a few basic tables and some "folk" art on the walls. the menu is posted on the wall next to the front door. the menu is posted by the door, and it has pictures next to some of the items, which struck us as a tad too chinese buffet. we're guessing they do this because many new customers may not be familiar with some of the ingredients.  one orders at the cash register, which is adjacent to a sparsely populated dessert cabinet. to its credit, vegadeli was clean.

personnel:
the cash register operator was soft spoken and friendly. when i requested an off-menu item (hummus with bread), she didn't make a fuss, and when we ordered the kale wrap (more on this later), she couldn't suppress her delight in the quality of our selection. we love it when restaurant staff are excited about the food.

rations:
we started with a hummus appetizer. yes, that's a plastic container you see there. why they didn't serve the hummus in a washable dish is beyond us. in any case, the hummus was strange but tasty. it almost tasted cheesy, which made us think they may have added some parma to it. either way, it was good enough to finish off but not good enough to order again. the pita was served cold with no seasoning. too bad. from the hummus, things picked up a bit, beginning with the delicious yellow lentil soup and veggie-stuffed cornbread. the lentil soup was not overly salty, but it still managed to pack plenty of flavor. the cornbread was fantastic, combining chunks of veggies and just the right amount of sweetness from the corn. when we combined the cornbread with the soup, the result was magical. still, the serving size of the soup was laughable. we paid for a bowl, but there couldn't possibly have been more than 5 ounces. did the server just mess up our order?  we sure hope that's the case.

after the soup, we moved on to the kale wrap. it was quite nice, really, and had a delightful taste of sesame, but again the serving left much to be desired. we understand serving controlled portions, but it is simply unacceptable to charge nearly ten dollars for what amounted to a few leaves of kale, a slice of tomato, and some sauce. they did throw in some chips (kettle brand?).

despite the shortcomings, vegadeli should still be commended for offering a 100% vegan menu. clearly, they know how to make their food taste yummy; they just need to work on presentation and value.  no doubt, though, we'll be paying them more visits in the future.

assessment:
b- (primarily because of the inconsistencies)

vegetarian-friendly score:
a+

Vegadeli -

Saturday, November 13, 2010

lucas park grille

we don't get downtown very often (what's that you say, "aren't rooster and sen thai reason enough?" puh-lease.), but the food at lucas park grille is good enough to bring us back sooner rather than later.

mission:
downtown

terrain:
when you first walk through lucas park grille's door, you find yourself in the midst of a dimly-lit bar area. the vibe is a bit strange, straddling the world's of suits and urban hipsters (what i call "yupservatives"). we opted not to sit in the bar area, as smoking is still fair game, and we made our way to the back room, where we found ourselves seated in front of a lovely, fully functional fireplace. the table settings are conservatively adorned, with white linens and blase glasses. the chairs only enhance the feeling of 1980's wall street power lunches, as they're plushy and fabricky in all the ways that, for some reason, make me feel claustrophobic. and there was an exposed outlet near the fireplace. eek!

personnel:
our head waiter was a helluva guy, who seemed to want nothing more than to cater to us exclusively. once we explained that we were only interested in vegetarian options, he perked up and looked damn near excited to let us know what lucas park had to offer. we tested him, too, by inquiring about the stock used for the risotto, and he promptly got word from the kitchen that the dish was safe for vegetarians. jackpot. he also recommended a wine tasting for us that would go best with our vegetarian dishes, and his suggestion was spot on.

rations:
we started the evening with a bread basket and a ramekin of too-cold-to-spread butter. still, the bread was good enough and just the right amount to sate our appetites before the roasted red pepper hummus arrived. as is typical of most restaurants serving hummus, pita was the platform we were forced to use for shoveling, but the point here is that the hummus was so good that we wanted to shovel it in. it's so good, in fact, that it nearly matches schlafly's. we were so happy with the hummus that we both said it didn't matter if the rest of the food were garbage. that there's some good hummus, y'all. from there, we moved onto the vegetarian meatballs and the missouri forest mushrooms risotto. both entrees were worthy of praise, but it was the meatballs that had us fighting each other for more and bigger bites. the ratatouille was divine, the house-made mozzarella was sinfully rich and smooth, and the match meatballs were of the highest quality (thank you, match!). (by the way, if you haven't tried match products, you need to do so immediately.) we sopped up the last traces of sauce with our bread, and we lay back into the plushy chairs to wait for our dessert: bread pudding. awww, yeah. obviously, we didn't need the sugary send-off, but we rarely have the strength to pass up bread pudding. fortunately, lucas park's bread pudding was every bit as good as the rest of the meal. sticky and warm, caramel-ly, and not too dense, the bread pudding put us in the trees, people. hello, bliss; hello, food coma. what a meal!

assessment:
b+
Lucas Park Grille on Urbanspoon

vegetarian-friendly score:
a-

Sunday, November 7, 2010

harvest

we've been interested in harvest for a couple of years now, as they consistently garner rave reviews from both local and national media. harvest has made a name for itself by serving local and/or organic produce. according to their website, harvest "takes American cuisine to a new level, transforming seafood, steaks, chicken, game, and vegetables into multi-tiered presentations of flavors and textures." with the help of an opentable.com kickback check, we finally pulled the trigger last night.

mission:
harvest
richmond heights

terrain:
harvest is a strange fusion of modern furnishings and southwestern colors and patterns. it's difficult to say whether or not it works, but enough of the decor was confusing enough for us to comment on it numerous times. the lighting was exceedingly dim (what harvest calls "warm"), and the noise was not an issue, despite eating at the peak of a dinner rush. we really dug the wine racks, which conveniently serve as a partition between the dining space and the kitchen doors. the table settings did nothing to interest us, aside from the harvesty-autumn brass napkin rings. one thing we like about the setting is the different levels that help make the space more dynamic.

personnel:
our primary waiter was quite good, and from the minute we exchanged words with him, we felt comfortable. he responded with a brief hesitation when we told him we only needed to hear about vegetarian specials, but he rebounded quickly by showing us his willingness to discuss options with the chef. in fact, he made two separate trips to the kitchen to inquire about veg-friendly menu items. the staff assisting our waiter were competent and very friendly.

rations:
we were excited to eat at harvest because we've read numerous reviews that celebrated harvest's commitment to the locavore movement (see quote above). we started off with an organic greens salad. organic = good. harvest salad = underwhelming. not only was the salad a touch limp, it was also quite uninteresting in terms of flavor and presentation. it came with an herbed cheese toast, and this was actually the highlight. still, organic does equal good, and we really appreciate when a restaurant makes the extra effort to serve organic produce.
moving onto the next course, we received a bowl of onion rings with maytag blue cheese dip. the onion rings were nicely breaded and the dip was yummy, but we were stunned by the enormity of the serving. so. much. greasy. onion. we conceded at mid-stack and moved on to the final course: a side of kennebec potato "frites" (we're still not sure why frites is in quotation marks) and our entree, ricotta gnudi. we ordered the former because, well, we're suckers for frites; we ordered the latter because the main ingredient was chanterelles. the frites were quite good, as was the truffle mayonnaise. nuff said. the ricotta with gnudi was soft and flavorful (unlike most ricotta) and the spaghetti squash was a great touch, but the dish was ultimately a failure because of one fatal flaw: fried chanterelles. ordinarily, we don't like to question a chef's decisions, and we understand that he probably chose to fry these beautiful mushrooms in order to add texture, but it was absolutely the wrong decision. instead of tasting the mushroom, we tasted the batter coating the mushroom. what a shame. beyond this flaw, the dish was swimming in butter. ick. perhaps this is why they started their spa menu? still, we were expecting the butter sauce to be a seasoning, not a soup.

we went to harvest expecting a fresh, vibrant, veg-friendly meal. instead, we left feeling greasy and unwell. to be fair, it was our fault that we ordered onion rings and frites, but it was the treatment of the food that let us down. there just didn't seem to be a commitment to "letting the food speak for itself," which is a mantra nearly all locavores chant. why is a restaurant like harvest even offering onion rings and frites? why drench vegetables in either butter or oil? sad, really, but still we applaud them for committing to local produce. next time, though, we'll stay away from the fried foods.

assessment:
c+

vegetarian-friendly score:
b


Harvest on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 5, 2010

sqwires

last night, we visited sqwires for the first time (thank you, restaurant.com!). some backstory: pretty much whenever we see hummus on an online menu, we consider the restaurant worthy of a visit. we are nothing if not fiends for hummus. well, when a restaurant touts a menu consisting of veg-friendly items like hummus and vegetable lasagna, it moves to the top of the list of places to visit.

mission:
sqwires
lafayette square

terrain:
nestled in the heart of lafayette square, this converted warehouse is just a block from the park. inside, the layout is cozy and modern, intermingling old butcher blocks, quirky light fixtures, exposed wood ceilings, and (what appear to be) recycled particle board tables. being an old warehouse, you may not expect it to be that 'cozy' but the mood lighting, long benches ornamented by a few pillows, and seasonal dressings really gave the place a warm and comfortable feel. there's a collection of vintage radios, too, which serves as the backdrop to a small stage for local bands. all things considered, it's really a delight for the senses.

personnel:
the waitstaff was attentive and unobtrusive (a quality we're quite fond of). food came out in reasonable intervals, water was refilled regularly, and dishes and silverware were cleared after each course. one woman who tended to our table we thought could be an owner, judging by her dress, manner, and how casually she moved between all areas of the restaurant. something definitely told us that she felt some ownership about the place, which was nice to see-- we like seeing owners pitching in, especially if they look happy doing so.
our order was carried out without error, and there were plenty of genuine smiles from all who stopped by the table. questions about vegetarian issues ("is there chicken stock in the butternut squash soup?") were handled without reluctance, and it felt like the staff were committed to making vegetarians feel welcome.

rations:
we started off the night with a trio of spreads, which included black bean hummus, spinach and artichoke, and eggplant caponata (which contains no fish, according to the waiter). all three spreads were competent and made us optimistic about the rest of the meal. the only thing we would have liked to see is maybe an alternative to pita. we are a little pita-ed out, but at least these were served warm and toasted. our second course was the broiled goat cheese with ozark forest wild mushrooms. no doubt, the dish was delicious, but it was exceedingly rich because of the cream sauce (an unnecessary addition, considering the goat cheese was already strong enough). nevertheless, the mushrooms were insanely good, and we had a helluva fun time eating it. it's just not something we would consider ordering again for at least the next decade-- our consciences couldn't handle that much decadence. to conclude the savory portion of our meal (yes, there's dessert a-comin), we moved onto the vegetable lasagna, which is noteworthy because of its construction if not its flavor. instead of pasta, the dish is composed of vegetable "noodles"--a touch that noticeably reduces the heaviness normally associated with lasagna. beyond this noticeably progressive nose-thumbing at italian traditions, the dish was overpowered by a goat cheese-marinara concoction that wins points for tasting homemade but not for tasting good. to be fair, the dish is not necessarily bad; it just needs some improvement. to wrap up the evening, we decided to splurge and have the pumpkin bread pudding. we're both big fans of bread pudding, and lois gets particularly giddy about all things "pumpkin." simply put: this was top-of-the-line bread pudding. soft (i'm not allowed to use "moist." ever.) when it needed to be, crunchy in all the right places, just the right amount of burn on the bottom, the bread component was perfection. the simple vanilla ice cream blended beautifully with the caramel sauce, too. the only thing we would have changed was to make it more pumpkiny since that flavor was conspicuously absent, but it was easily good enough to justify the inevitable guilt that we both experienced the rest of the night.

 




assessment:
b

vegetarian-friendly score:
b+


Sqwires Restaurant & Market on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 1, 2010

best of st. louis: hummus

hummus
hummus has become ubiquitous in st. louis. basically, if a restaurant wants to cater at all to vegetarians, the hummus light bulb goes off. unfortunately, many restaurants have missed the mark, pawning off on us crumbly-dry or oily-wet hummuses (aka, dog's dinner).

the five restaurants below, however, have done more than enough to make us come back for more.

1) schlafly bottleworks's hummus with curry crackers
without question, this is the hummus we love the most. it's not as creamy as a hummus you might find at ranoush's, but we tend to prefer a little less oil in our hummus. the kalamata olives, feta, and red onion combine brilliantly with the spiced chick peas, but it's the curry crackers
(not safe for vegans, though, as there's cheddar in these bad boys) that make this meze transcendent. you will not find these crackers in stores, as schlafly cooks 'em up on site. they are occasionally lackluster, but when the chef is on point, they have the potential to change your life.

2) lucas park grille's roasted red pepper hummus

3) triumph grill's chipotle red pepper hummus

4) pi's hummus
at the euclid location deserves mention as an exceptional offering. if they would just add a little spice (we're thinking rosemary) to their flatbread, they'd easily jump into the #2 spot.

5) square one brewery's traditional hummus with roasted garlic