Friday, December 16, 2011

foundation grounds

we’ve liked foundation grounds for a long time. who wouldn’t, with their selection of fresh-baked goodies, with a number of them being vegan, and many of them featuring local, seasonal ingredients. the rest of their menu we remained (ignorant) of for too long. this is how we came to full-on crush on foundation grounds.


from the outside, it’s immediately obvious that foundation grounds is a friendly, neighborhood gathering place. the potted plants, fenced seating area, and corner perch are almost mayberry cute. inside, it's even better: it's personal, warm, and completely disarming.

all the staff are good-natured and patient while we point and gawk at the bakery case and take what must seem like an eternity to decide what—and how many—to get. they’re helpful with suggestions and knowledgeable about ingredients and prep. unlike so many coffeeshops, the people who work here seem to enjoy being here, which makes the experience so much more positive.

in a gluttonous effort to make up for lost time, we ordered three sandwiches, side salads and soup, and some desserts. the first thing we knew we wanted was the goddess sandwich, which comes with hummus, kalamatas, marinated red onions, spinach, and a sprinkling of feta. it’s not incredibly original, but what separates this one from the others is the hummus: you might think the olives would overpower it, but, incredibly, they balance each other nicely. and we couldn't get enough of the marinated red onions! all the bread is companion, by the way, and we were happy to hear it, because it toasts beautifully—just enough softness not to shred your mouth, but also enough sturdiness to hold it all together. 

the vegan tempeh salad sandwich offers a bright blend of flavors, including dried cranberries, slivered almonds, onion, celery, and vegenaise. it's an updated, vegan twist on the chicken salad you might remember your mom making from chicken dinner leftovers. obviously fogro’s is not made from tempeh dinner scraps, but if it were, we’ve no doubt that the salad would outshine the original dish.

finally, to try something out of our norm, we opted for the perfect pear: sliced pear matched with red onion, lettuce, tomato, parmesan, and brie. usually we don’t much care for the texture or aroma of brie, but it turns into something magical when melted in a sandwich like this. pungent onions, sweet apples and pears, and creamy, mushroomy brie combine sublimely.

foundation grounds makes us wish we worked in the area so we could pop by for lunch every day. the good news is that they’re open late enough for dinner, after-dinner coffee, or any occasion you can think of as a reason to get here. we’re thinking with holiday shopping in full swing, while you’re making your way through all the shops in maplewood, this will be the perfect respite.


vegetarian-friendly score:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

new things!

we've added a table of contents for your browsing convenience. we know it's a little tough to navigate just by date, plus it provides a quick glance at everything we've covered.

we've also updated the veggie burger list--a little while ago, we slipped in the veggie burger from bailey's range, and yesterday we added grace manor's two very deserving creations. so, read up, eat up...and then let us know what you think!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

search and devour: everything at the cup

true, it has taken us entirely too long to give in to the temptation of the cup. not only was the wait so, so worth it, but we also learned that the real sin here was depriving ourselves of this joy for so long.

pictured here are two of our favorites: their classic red velvet, and a seasonal specialty, the pumpkin harvest. the red velvet is definitely decadent, but not sickeningly sweet--always a plus. the cake somehow manages to be pillowy, soft, perfectly moist (even a day later, no small feat!), and not at all oily. the cream cheese frosting is exactly what you'd expect, but better.

the pumpkin harvest is really pretty special. the cake makes this one almost more like a muffin, in case you need to give yourself an excuse to eat it: muffins are breakfast food, so this is, like, almost good for you. the spice is maybe a tad overwhelming for the light pumpkin taste to show through as much as we would have liked, but the cinnamon buttercream frosting helps tame and balance the spice. playfully topped with a piece of chocolate pumpkin bark, this cupcake has enough happy in it to rally your holiday spirit, enough to brave those crowds of consumers already starting to descend upon the malls.

now if only they'd make some vegan cupcakes...

The Cup on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

blood and sand

blood and sand is one of the newest and most innovative restaurants to open in st. louis this season. what you find here is totally fresh, from the concept to the menu. co-owners adam frager and tj vytlacil (whose cocktail handiwork you may have enjoyed at demun oyster bar) established their restaurant as a members-only endeavor in order to offer their customers a more customized, personal experience, and under their care and focus, blood and sand has been enjoying a lot of positive coverage. basically, blood and sand offers bespoke dining, and we love being catered to.

blood and sand

as is appropriate for a members-only spot, there's nothing outside to identify blood and sand by, unless you recognize their logo on the windows. once you're swung in through the revolving door, you're greeted by a sleek but comfortable interior. it's not gilded and draped in fur and tapestries, nor is it a shadowy, candlelit hideout. it's very unpretentious: cozy but modern, open yet somehow intimate. the exposed kitchen emits a warm glow and fills the space with the positive buzz of anticipation. in contrast, the light by the bar seems almost a shroud, the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a cocktail after a long day. 


everyone we’ve interacted with has been very warm and helpful but never heavy-handed with recommendations. adam is very cordial and easy to talk to. he’s knowledgeable without making you feel like he’s talking down to you, but telling a story. that’s sort of the spirit of the place, after all: the cocktail “blood and sand” has a great story behind it, both in the origination of the drink, and how tj and adam were so inspired by it they built a restaurant around it.


at the risk of sounding hyperbolic and inspiring some skepticism in our readers, we would like to confidently declare that this was the best meal we’ve had in st. louis to date. oh, and if you haven’t applied for a membership yet, you should.

we started off with an order of the truffled tater tots and the hush puppies (the fryer is vegetarian, at least for now). the tots are not what you remember from your school cafeteria days--delicious and addictive as those were--they’re actually better. with a mash-like consistency on the inside that’s so smooth it's almost creamy, and a delicate shell on the outside, they’re an elevated tribute to a classic kids’ favorite. and the truffle oil doesn't overwhelm, as often is the case with anything truffled. hush puppies are another really nostalgic treat for lois and clark, and chef chris bork’s are made with noticeable care. pickled red onions add a welcome hint of tart pungency to the mild sweetness of the pups. they strike the perfect balance of crunch with cake-like softness, sprinkled with just enough salt to get your tongue tingling. and it’s a good thing they’re so awesome on their own, because vegetarians should stay away from the chicken stock-based mole sauce.  

on special this night was the spanish omelet, generously drizzled with a vibrant red pepper sauce.  we love the comfort-foodiness of the spanish omelet, and we love even more that they left the potato skins on to add a little rusticity.   

next we shared the pecan agnolotti. the pasta was hearty, delicate, more delicious than any we’ve had since we can remember: they were smooth with a subtle sweetness from the squash, and tender but with a satisfying thickness. the broccoli puree, pecan and goat cheese toppings were the perfect complement to add some decadence while retaining the “clean” feeling of the whole dish. 

as a surprise addition to our table this evening, we also enjoyed a verbena chickpea dish that defies explanation. it can’t be found on the menu because of the limited availability of the hand-shucked, fresh chickpeas, but keep your eyes peeled, because you seriously don’t want to miss out on this when they can make it happen again. it was, quite simply, one of the best dishes we've ever had.


vegetarian-friendly score:

Blood & Sand on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 16, 2011

search and devour: veggie burgers at bailey's range

when david bailey gets involved with a new restaurant, we pay attention. pretty much everything this guy touches turns to gold, and each new restaurant garners even more accolades. so, when a couple of months ago we read about his newest project, we shot him an email to let us know if he'd make sure we were there for the "soft" opening. well, that opening was last night, and we were lucky enough to be in the neighborhood.

what we found in bailey's range was a massive space. we're not sure how many it can seat, but it must be in the hundreds. the biggest surprise, though, was the discovery of mikey warhover manning the kitchen. formerly head chef at terrene, warhover has serious skills, and it's his job at bailey's range to design the menu and make sure bailey's new restaurant is one to remember.

the veggie patty at bailey's range is different than all the others in town, as it's made of pinto beans and hominy. warhover spent many moons perfecting the veggie burger at terrene, and he's using the exact same toppings on his bailey's range version: avocado mousse, jicama, and queso fresco. this new burger is quite good, but it becomes truly memorable when you add the chipotle ketchup to it. in any case, if these toppings don't appeal to you, bailey's range has countless others to sate you, from the exotic to straight up pickles and mustard.

search and devour: food for lovers' vegan queso

many months ago, a friend of ours in "the business" passed along a tip about vegan queso coming to st. louis. this friend didn't know where or when we'd be able to get our hands on it, but we were told it would be worth the wait. well, it's here (whole foods - galleria, to be exact), and it's spectacular. a company called food for lovers produces the queso in austin, texas, and from what we can tell, it's the only thing they make (!).

the queso is entirely vegan and contains no soy, either. the primary ingredient is nutritional yeast, so the flavor is plenty cheesy enough. (and if you don't know about the magic of nutritional yeast, yet, get yerself over to the whole foods bulk section and buy about a pound of it. it makes almost everything taste better.) the best compliment we can pay this queso, though, is that it doesn't come up short in the spice department. each bite brings the heat, but there's never too much spice standing in the way of all the other flavors. 

tl;dr - this queso is daggone good. go buy some and eat it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

best of st. louis: the veggie burger

we've been compiling notes for months on veggie burgers in the lou, in all their glory or unfortunate lack thereof. we've always been very thankful to be in a city that is so accommodating to vegetarians' needs, so we've been doing our best to take full advantage of it. it seems like almost everybody has a veggie burger, and some places have really surprised us. this may not be as harrowing or historical a survey as lewis and clark's, but we tried to document every discovery with just as much diligence. it's been hard work. grueling at times. but you know us: anything for science. 

the burgers are listed in alphabetical order, in three categories: the one you can't live in st. louis without having eaten, the ones we think are pretty damn good, and the ones we've enjoyed even though we might change a thing or two. our aim is briefly to mention anything noteworthy while keeping the reading to a minimum.

do not miss:
sweetart: the most interesting housemade patty in the city. reine bayoc has crafted a burger with the most delightful texture and flavor, striking a delicate balance between smooth and sturdy, sweet and savory. the blend of lentils and carrots with a hint of cinnamon and a kiss of their secret sauce is something you'll crave every day you don't get to have one. 

highly recommended:
bailey's range: the basic veggie burger here is essentially the same as the one at the now-defunct terrene, with the chief exception being that the match meat is replaced by pinto beans and hominy. deee-licious.
fozzie's sandwich emporium: both the veggie and the black bean burgers are delicious. while somewhat soft, the boldness and distinction between their flavors is pretty awesome. they even have a vegan menu you can ask to see.
grace manor: chef debra grace boasts two of the most creative burgers in the area and we still have yet to see anyone else make mention of them. the black eyed pea burger, with its bell peppers, jalapeno, carrot, cilantro lime dressing, and sriracha mayo is the banh mi's burger reincarnate--a perfect hybrid sandwich when you can't decide if you want comfort food or ethnic. there's also the ozark forest mushroom burger, made of organic shiitake, oyster, and cremini mushrooms, with some onion, garlic, and rosemary to round out the intense earthiness of the fungi. amazingly, the patty is really sturdy and the awesome flavor and unique texture will put to shame anything out there masquerading a portobello steak as a most other ones, too.
local harvest: their pinto bean patty is smooth and subtle, and the hummus, red onions, pickles, and garlic aioli complement it harmoniously. a lovely brioche bun brings it all together.
lucas park grille: a savory, earthy "match" patty accompanied by grilled tomato, rich parmesan aioli, and their delicious housemade mozz makes this healthful lunch only feel decadent.
mokabe's: we really love this throwback burger. a "match" patty is the only thing that makes this different from the burgers you ate as a kid. dressed old-school style with pickle, onion, ketchup, and mustard. the only thing missing is a plastic-wrapped promotional toy.
puravegan: probably the most unconventional burger on here, this one is totally raw and boasts a uniquely smooth, almost creamy texture. we recommend it with their cheddar sauce.
rooster: we recommend going vegan and ordering yours on their housemade focaccia. dressed simply with tomato, greens, and guac, the patty is really allowed to shine. 
the royale: since terrene closed, the royale's "match" patties are the best in town. with an interesting toppings list and seasonal, local ingredients to choose from, you just can't go wrong here.
sacred grounds: this unassuming coffee shop offers up a great housemade burger, served up panini-style. try some of their other sandwiches, too, and wash 'em down with an artful, lovingly crafted latte. 
schlafly bottleworks: these folks have been perfecting the black bean patty for a while. it's soft inside, crusty on the edges, and seasoned perfectly with chipotle. the toppings add well-balanced flavor, and finishing with the companion wheat bun leaves nothing to be desired. except more more more.
square one: we are huge fans of their build-a-burger menu tuesday nights. they grill up some "match" patties to add flavorful char, and there's a great variety of toppings and housemade aiolis to have fun dressing up your patty.
three kings: this is yet another match meat patty, and it's a very good offering. the burger is definitely a generous portion, and the chipotle mayo is quite nice (though we'd prefer a little more kick). 

atomic cowboy: saucy, maybe too saucy, but the patty is homemade. soft but not crumbly, and the brioche bun adds a nice sweetness. but we need more heat in the chipotle mayo!
barrister's: the "match" patty is a touch too dry. addition of sprouts and avocado is nice, though there needs to be more of the latter for it to really come through. the housemade hummus is a nice, needed flavor kick.
the bleeding deacon: a vegetarian boudin-style burger. very clever, but somehow slightly bland. we're rooting for improvements, as this is a well-loved place with a lot of veg options.
boogaloo: awesome texture and veg accompaniments, but lacking in spices and too reliant on a dormant "volcano sauce."
cyrano's: lettuce, onion, tomato, and remoulade make this a nice, uncomplicated burger. patty is also nice. but nice burgers don't really stand out, you know?
OR juice & smoothie: technically not a burger since they crumbled their "meatballs," this one is actually more reminiscent of a banh mi. it features daikon, carrot, cilantro, and mayo on baguette. it's a tad dry, but a little drizzle of bragg's can fix that.
schlafly taproom: the grilled veg and black bean patty is made in-house. topped with marinated jicama and sweet corn puree, it's a delightful blend of complementary flavors.
sub zero: you can choose either the falafel patty (but be sure to request a pan-fry to avoid a shared fryer) or the black bean. with a gourmet list of ingredients, you can design a burger uniquely to your taste. we love ours with avocado, fried egg, jalapeno, and pepper jack.
vegadeli: they've got two: the soy patty humburger, and the black bean patty. we've had the BBQ humburger and were disappointed by the lack of sauce and the bun straight from the bag. the bean burger is paired with a mango sauce that isn't for us, but overall, ain't bad.

let us know if your favorite patty's not on here, or tell us what you thought of ours!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

city review: northampton, ma

if you're lucky enough to have reason to be in the pioneer valley, or if you find yourself in boston with time for a daytrip, make a visit to northampton. it's the quintessential college town with five schools in the area; amherst and south hadley are worth seeing, too, but northampton's the best destination for hungry foodies and anyone in the mood to go thrifting, antiquing, and museuming. be sure to see smith college's art collection and the mortimer rare book room.

a favorite breakfast/lunch spot, the green bean serves up wholesome, local, organic eats. they even make their own tempeh, and it's totally unlike anyone else's... which is to say, effing delicious. the vblat--vegan blt--is a divine blend of avocado, vegenaise, their special marinated tempeh, and fresh greens on perfectly toasted local artisan bread. absolutely stunning in its simplicity.

The Green Bean on Urbanspoon

a family business and northampton mainstay, they've been dishing out inspired, all natural, health-conscious food for over three decades. the sea vegetable salad is excellent and, to our experience, unique. all the salads are hearty and incredibly diverse in flavor and texture. the broccoli seitan is outstanding and made a confirmed vegetarian out of lois after her first dinner with clark (which happened to be at p&e's). the standout item, however, is the veggie burger: served on housemade foccacia and accompanied by their always-perfect sweet potato fries, it is the best veggie burger on the east coast. once you've had it, you'll truly understand what "crave-worthy" means.

Paul & Elizabeth's on Urbanspoon

this cafe is the sistine chapel of indie coffeehouses. fresh smoothies and juice cocktails concocted on the spot; an all-vegetarian breakfast/lunch menu; fair trade, house-roasted coffee beans; a selection of baked decadences that cater even to vegan and gluten-free diets--this is a holy place for anyone needing a respite. may we suggest the grilled cheese, featuring gruyere, avocado, tomato, dijon, and basil mayo. wash it down with a captain crunch cocktail (pineapple, mint, banana, apple, spirulina). is your mouth watering? it's because your tastebuds are crying with happiness.

Haymarket Juice Bar and Café on Urbanspoon

award-winning iced cream by a trailblazer in the industry. they always have vegan options available: usually there are a couple sorbets and a non-dairy iced cream choice, too. with a flavor list of over 200, it's no wonder they keep a phone list to alert customers when their favorites are back. but even if yours isn't currently on, you'll find at least three new faves each time you go. you might even run into ben and jerry here while they stop by to pay homage to the man who inspired them.

Herrell's Ice Cream Corporation on Urbanspoon

a local chain, this fast food mexican joint offers seitan and tofu as protein alternatives. obviously, it's not fast food like your parents are used to, but once you introduce them, they'll be converted. it's cooked right in front of you, and the sauces and all the fix-ins are made fresh daily. good and healthy, just as advertised, though they forgot to mention how delicioso, tambien.

Bueno Y Sano on Urbanspoon

when we crave indian, this is the first place we think of. it's an intimately run family operation, and all of them are super-friendly, warm personalities. the menu features the most sumptuous and enticing vegetarian dishes we've seen, not to mention the most numerous! written with an almost poetic flair, you'll have a tough time choosing just a couple dishes. let us help: makai palak malai is a must. check out this description: "an affectionate pairing of sweet corn and tender spinach seduced in a creamy coconut milk and a slight aroma of cardamom." swoon.

India House on Urbanspoon

without exaggeration, this local, organic artisan bread is the best ever. everything we've had before and since pales in comparison. certainly nothing in st. louis even comes close. they were just nominated by the james beard foundation, if that gives you an idea of the quality this tiny operation produces. they're just now expanding, and we can't wait to see what they do in the future. if you're lucky enough to be in the area, go here first, as they tend to run out. our favorites are the rosemary loaf and the olive fougasse. we've had more than one "bread dinner" just to savor these without distraction.

Hungry Ghost Bread on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


even though it's our favorite mexican in town, we've somehow not yet written about chava's. they've got the freshest, most delicious homemade salsa, the guacamole can't be beat (those of you chanting "nachomama's" might as well be asking "what's guac?"), and how can you go wrong with a selection of fresh fruit margaritas? you can't. duh.


the rustic ceiling tiles, bright glass mosaic lamps, swiveling twin fans, and terracotta tiles really make this place feel authentic without trying too hard. you may think sombreros and faux greenery are borderline hokey, but they've really struck a comfortable balance here: it's just festive enough without being cheesy. the building itself is quite beautiful and inviting from the outside, and its proximity to other soulard attractions like the market really make it a prime location. sitting outside really makes you feel like part of the neighborhood, and they even welcome your canine amigos, too.
we've had some great servers here, and although a large staff can sometimes mean that tables get overlooked in the chaos, chava's staff are very friendly, observant, and efficient. it's not unusual to have three different people bring us our food. we've found that besides signifying a less personal experience, it just means that when we're out of chips and salsa, they're on it. we may not feel lavished by anyone's attention, but we're there for the food, after all. 

we have usuals when we come here. we almost always get an order of the guacamole to start, because the housemade chips (cooked in a veg-friendly fryer, hooray!) and salsa are delicious, but without their guac, it's a little like having apple pie without the a la mode.

then, we order a vegetarian quesadilla for clark and the vegetarian fajitas for lois. the quesadilla is unique in its vegetable quotient, including not-often- seen ingredients like squash, zucchini, baby carrots, and baby corn. we were skeptical the first time, but it only took a couple bites for it to change how we looked at everyone else's vegetarian quesadillas. we actually feel satisfied and relatively guiltless after eating here--no small thing, as we usually just see bell peppers and handfuls of cheese at other mexican joints. and don't get us wrong, you'll get handfuls of cheese here, too, but chava's just makes sure that there's some actual substance in these quesadillas for the cheese to melt over. who would have thought you could have all the gobs of cheese you crave and feel pretty healthy at the same time?

the serving size of the fajitas is pretty generous, so be prepared to take some home. the vegetables are seasoned lightly enough to be just that much more tasty without overpowering the natural flavors there, and we've never seen them overcooked. the tortillas served on the side are soft and warm, but lois usually finds that the veg medley, guac, and cheese on this happy platter don't require actually being made into fajitas to be satisfying. maybe that's just her impatience--who could wait two more minutes to assemble the food when it's just as good as it is? however you like your fajitas, your tastebuds and your belly will be completely satisfecho.

we do also recommend building your own burrito (the guajillo salsa is great with the veg medley). while these are pretty much the only vegetarian options here, we don't find ourselves missing anything else. with the historic soulard market just a half mile away, this is the perfect spot to fill up for lunch after you've whetted your appetite browsing produce and spices. 


vegetarian-friendly score:
b (because the rice and beans aren't always vegetarian--we've heard conflicting things from different staff, so we just avoid them)

Chava's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

reopened: nosh

as many of you know, nosh has reopened.  their new location is on south big bend, and we'll be visiting very soon.  peep our original review here.  

update on the new location coming soon...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


there has been a dire lack of sweets reviews on here. lois is a dessert-hound and she's slowly but surely converting clark; still, the reason for the lack is probably just because we so rarely have room for sweets after stuffing ourselves at dinner. lois has made a solemn resolution to right this sin. (and you can flog her with delicious ropes of gelatin-free sour straws if she lets you down.)


the walls feature bright and playful cacao trees. it's a large, open space with well-loved wood floors, and lots of shiny stainless equipment. the work area is totally open to viewing, which makes it feel like a really intimate, welcoming operation. in front of the register is a long rustic table and benches, the perfect spot to savor your truffles, which you may choose from the case right in front of your seat. other goodie stations are set up on tables nearby, baskets overflowing with delectables so difficult to choose from you'll find yourself walking in circles until you're dizzy. we hear chocolate cures that, though.

we can't say enough good things about the staff here! they're always so friendly and excited to tell you more. we always feel like they're excited for us. we get the impression that they love their jobs. no shady wonka business going on here.

we started with the pink peppercorn lemon thyme truffle. read that a couple times. let it sink in. yummm. the brightness of the thyme paired with the zesty lemon obviously complement each other beautifully, and the mild peppercorn with the dark chocolate add a lovely balancing base. the elderflower truffle, with its delicate little flourish on top was too enticing to pass up. we love edible flowers, and we love floral scents in our chocolate. this one is delicate but not shy, and light yet rich all at once. one of lois's favorite childhood treats were molasses puffs, which kakao calls their "cinder toffee." rich, sweet, crunchy, but with the melt-in-your-mouth magic of cotton candy. perfection.
kakao did some cheese and chocolate pairings a little while back, and we were able to get our hands on a gouda truffle. while the texture was, at first, slightly curious, we let our tastebuds guide us and there are no doubts that that was one of the most fascinating things we've eaten this year. who knew? lastly, we had the smoke truffle. the woman who helped us said that a co-worker likened the taste to "a burning house." the drama is totally appropriate because this little guy really packs a punch. its smoldery flavor comes from lapsang souchong tea, which is made by smoke-drying tea leaves over pinewood fires. you've really never had a chocolate quite like this before; if you see them, buy a dozen.
it's not just that there are interesting and complex flavors at work here. the smoothness and consistency of the chocolate is divine, and the freshness and quality of the ingredients really comes through. if you're not convinced yet, just sample some of the plain dark chocolate bark, maybe with a little sea salt--you can't hide anything there.
we're really proud to have kakao in our city. it's not every place where you can say you have one of the best chocolatiers around, and oh, by the way, he's just a guy who tired of his corporate job and decided to follow his passion. we've heard lots of chefs and restaurateurs say that one of the best things about st. louis is that you can have an ambition here and just go for it, and there's a community of interested people who will support you just for doing what you love and doing it well. we think brian pelletier is one of the best examples of this. 

also check out their blog! they have lots of fun recipes and news about how they're giving back to the community. even if you do nothing more than stop by for some truffles, just make sure that you become familiar with kakao... really, they'd be doing you a favor.


vegetarian-friendly score:
a (anything but the marshmallows and perhaps a thing or two with bacon are safe... vegans, just be sure to ask)

Kakao Chocolate on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

city review: san francisco

though lois has yet to make the trek to san francisco, it's one of clark's favorite cities.  you can get vegetarian food on virtually every block and in every neighborhood, from chinatown to mission to fort mason.  as soon as we can, we're heading to san francisco for a vegan tour.  it may not match l.a., but i think we'll manage just fine with restaurants like these.

having won numerous awards, receiving multiple nominations for best veg restaurant in the united states, millenneum stands tall as the beacon of vegetarian fine dining.  make sure you bring a friend or two so you can sample as many dishes as possible.  and don't make the mistake of missing out on dessert.

Millennium on Urbanspoon

as good as millenneum is, clark actually prefers going to greens.  much of it has to do with the location of greens, which is nestled up against the marina.  if you get the right table, you might even be able to see golden gate!  the food is no slouch, either.  as is the case with millenneum, everything on the menu at greens must be sampled.  you can order simple or complex dishes, and the food here lacks some of the pretense you find at millenneum.  clark recommends going to greens for brunch.

Greens on Urbanspoon

cafe gratitude (mission district location):
this is the first place clark visited in san francisco, and he'll forever be loyal to it.  no, the food isn't exceptional or even particularly polished, but there's much to like about no-nonsense food delivered in unpretentious surroundings.  the people at cafe gratitude--like most of the people in the mission district--seem genuinely good, and they're committed to providing customers with quality ingredients and friendly service.  it's not clear to us why their ratings are so mediocre, but we're not deterred.  this is the first place we'll visit when we get back to san fran.

Cafe Gratitude on Urbanspoon

this is another place with no frills food and big flavors.  and it's all vegan!  try the spring rolls first.  then go with anything from the claypot/sizzling category.  you won't be disappointed.

Golden Era on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 11, 2011

search and devour: drunken noodles at drunken noodles

when we first visited drunken noodles taste of thai back in june, we were stunned by the quality of food and service, and we vowed to return as soon as possible.  turns out two months later was as soon as we could get back, and boy did we miss it.  this time we tried two new dishes: cashew curry and drunken noodles.  the former exhibited some of the inconsistencies we noticed in our first visit, but the latter was spot on.  there's not a whole lot of veg in this dish, but that's what we want from drunken noodles.  in other words, carrots and green peppers, stay the hell outta the way!  we want noodles upon noodles, and we want them to be savory, plump, and covered in spicy goodness.  few things comfort as well as thai food, and drunken noodles's drunken noodles made us want to immediately settle in for another plate.  (just be sure you insist that the dish be made vegetarian, and they'll do everything they can to accommodate.)

Drunken Noodles Taste of Thai on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 8, 2011

future projects: pi's new chef

wow.  this came out of nowhere.  as first reported in st. louis magazine and then sauce, steven caravelli is taking over executive chef duties at all pi restaurants (including d.c. and the food trucks).  caravelli is known for his contributions to some of the finest restaurants in town, so his move to the world of pizza is a bit... curious.  still, everything pi has touched has turned to gold, so we're not too concerned.  

there are two things here that particularly piqued our interest: 

1) a few months ago we asked departing chef marc baltes if he'd sit down for a rap session, and he enthusiastically agreed (once the d.c. pi opened up).  looks like we aint gettin that interview, and baltes aint keepin his job (turns out baltes split for san francisco).

2) caravelli speaks of moving pi closer to the green/sustainable movement.  that's awesome, but it concerns us that he's talking about multiple pig farmers rather than multiple kale farmers.

in any case, pi is hoping caravelli will keep them ahead of the cuisine-trend curve, and we're anxious to see just how significantly he alters the menu.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

city review: columbus, ohio

this is probably the most underrated food city in the midwest, if not the whole country.  literally, we have packed up our car and driven to columbus just so we could eat veggie burgers at northstar cafe.  that's 14 total hours for veggie burgers.  extra incentive, of course, came from the promise of jeni's ice cream for dessert.  point is, if you get a chance to visit columbus, don't turn it down.  you will not be disappointed by the veggie options, and chances are that your life will be changed once you sit down for northstar's veggie burger.

the menu at northstar is not extensive, and it's clear that this is intentional so that they can focus on perfecting the few dishes they do offer.  the veggie burrito is exceptional, the vegetarian options at breakfast/brunch are sublime, but nothing comes close to matching northstar's veggie burger.  we've eaten veggie burgers in virtually every major city in the country, and northstar's is unequivocally the best.  and every time we go back--every time--we're struck dumb by the veggie burger's flavor.  after each bite, we have to sit back, eyes closed, smiles plastered to our dumbass faces, audible gibberish pouring forth from our dumbass brains through our dumbass vocal folds.  after the meal, we talk incessantly about the burger for hours: "remember that veggie burger we ate this afternoon?" "oh, totally, it was derp derp derp!"  yeah, i know, derpy derp the derpiest!"  seriously, folks, you have to put a visit to northstar on your vegetarian bucket lists.  right after shojin in los angeles.

Northstar Cafe (Short North) on Urbanspoon

a few years back, vegnews ranked dragonfly as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the united states, and there's no doubt that it offers one of the truly unique dining experiences you'll find in the middle america.  we often have to ask for help interpreting the menu, as the chef utilizes some of the rarest ingredients available, and the food is as refined as you'll find outside of san francisco's millennium or new york's candle 79.

Dragonfly Neo V on Urbanspoon

at whole world, vegetarian cuisine can be found for much less coin than dragonfly, but you're still sure to find quality food with interesting ingredients.  columbus's oldest vegetarian restaurant, whole world specializes in sandwiches and homemade bread, and we recommend you start with "debs on black" and the "broccoli burger."  a plus: virtually everything can be made vegan by substituting vegan cheese.

Whole World Natural Restaurant & Bakery on Urbanspoon

search and devour: tempeh bites at araka

there's a new chef taking the reins at araka.  michael burnau is now in charge of clayton's chicest restaurant, and he's doing his best to represent for the vegetarians (at least for the vegetarians with disposable income).  the new menu features multiple veggie options, and you can substitute tofu for most of the proteins in the meatier entrees.  the highlight, though, of our first visit to araka was the tempeh bites.  the tempeh doesn't taste sour at all, leaning instead on its best attribute: nuttiness.  the breading isn't heavy, either, and for a fried item, it's surprisingly light, impressively delicate.  we can't necessarily recommend dining at araka for a full dinner, but we have no reservations sending you there for this lovely tempeh and a cocktail.

Araka on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 31, 2011

city review: chicago

the left and right coasts get all the media love regarding vegetarian cuisine, but chicago can hang with the best of veg-friendly cities. combine great food with less pretense and you've got a recipe for a truly exceptional city. in short: we frickin love chicago!

this place is legendary. the one absolute "must" vegetarian restaurant to visit in chicago. eat the veggie reuben. you won't find a better one anywhere.

Chicago Diner on Urbanspoon

native foods:
one of our top-five places in the country. we could eat here every day for a month and never get the same thing. and it would be delicious every time. completely vegan, completely divine. and don't forget to order the lavender lemonade!

Native Foods Cafe on Urbanspoon

karyn was recently featured in vegnews, so you know this restaurateur is legit.  if you can't find something you like at one of these karyn's locations, you probably need to see a doctor.  if forced to choose, we'd probably opt for karyn's cooked simply because of price point, but we've been awfully impressed with everything we've tried at all locations.  we're particularly fond of the lightly dusted and fried veggie baskets.

Karyn's Cooked on Urbanspoon

yeah, this place is a far cry from chicago diner in terms of aesthetics, but their commitment to local, seasonal veg food will make you comfortable enough to look past the pretense.  and, anyway, dealing with pretense is hardly an annoyance when you get to sample ingredients as unique as those found at green zebra.  this is truly elevated vegetarian cuisine, and you're always going to find something surprising.

Green Zebra on Urbanspoon

yes, we know this is an institution of meatiness, but trotter's flagship is one of the best restaurants in the world, and his kitchen takes pride in using the finest local produce available.  they offer a vegetarian tasting menu for about 150 bucks a person, but it's sure to be the singular dining experience of your life.  or at least it better be.

coming soon: native foods
chicagoans are in for a real treat when california's best vegan chain comes to town this year.  native foods serves up incredible food, huge portions, and the freshest ingredients, and everything is priced reasonably.  we can't wait to see what they serve up in chicago!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

city review: new york

many publications rank nyc near the top of "best veg-friendly city" lists (another list here), and there are certainly plenty of vegetarian options on nearly every corner of manhattan and brooklyn, but none of our favorite meals have occurred during a nyc visit.  this is not to say that you can't find good food; chances are, though, that you won't be overwhelmed.  (full disclosure: we're hardly authorities on food in nyc, as we're often more likely to choose a slice of pie than we are to sit down in a restaurant.)

we had a nice lunch here, for sure, but everything seemed just a bit too tame.  we'd have liked more spice on everything.  still, the space is tranquil and the food is healthful.  combine that with some delicious tea, and you have yourself a nice retreat from the manhattan streets.

Zen Palate on Urbanspoon

prices are fairly reasonable for an upscale manhattan restaurant, and the all-vegan menu is as diverse as you'll find in this area.  it's awesome that all of their ingredients are local and organic.  we recommend the grilled seitan burger.

Candle 79 on Urbanspoon

city review: san diego

a lot of people talk about the great vegetarian food in southern california, and though we certainly had some good food, we found san diego a bit underwhelming.  still, there are some highlights...

technically, this isn't in san diego, but it's close enough (escondido) and daggone good enough to easily justify the drive north.  we had one of the finest tempeh burgers we've ever had.  and although we love schlafly for all the ingredients they source locally, not even they can match stone's commitment seasonal and local produce.  it's difficult to exaggerate how impressed we were with everything stone showed us.  oh, and by the way, their beer is off the charts!

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens on Urbanspoon

this place is hardcore.  pretty much anyone you talk to about vegetarian food recommendations in san diego will tell you to go here.  of the veg shops in san diego, it's been around the longest, and it's the most philosophically radicalcommitted. whether you're interested in the teachings of sri chinmoy or just want a wicked good vegetarian meatloaf, jyoti-bihanga is the place for you.

Jyoti Bihanga on Urbanspoon

this is the first place clark ate when he visited san diego for the first time as an adult, and it's always on his list of places to visit.  the owners have been the same from day one, and they're in the cafe every single day serving local, fresh produce.  the food isn't extraordinary, but it's always comforting to know that every aspect of the food preparation is centered on healthful food.  try any of the "specialty burgers."

Veg n Out on Urbanspoon

other possible options:
a lot of folks swear by pokez, but we weren't impressed at all.  besides, it's not 100% vegetarian, and the care put into the food seems negligible.  at ranchos, there seems to be a more attentive chef/kitchen, but the food is just so-so.  again, the it's not at all 100% vegetarian, but you can find some decent options here.

Friday, July 29, 2011

ginger bistro

u city

it's a terribly confusing restaurant, for sure. garlands, tall vases of plastic granny smiths, landscapes hung seven feet up, geometric "modern" art in the group seating area... trying to make sense of it all, we sort of wincedstared from our booth, seated at a darkly varnished and "lacquered" table like you'd find in a chinese buffet. despite our head-scratching, we actually found it kind of kitschy. darnit, they tried.

the hostess was very friendly and warm, and our server was endlessly attentive and careful--almost personally concerned. even the sushi chef was chatting up customers and keeping everyone good company in the front end. the most striking part to us was that none of the staff's behavior seemed forced or insincere at all. we started to feel a little bad about judging their flower baskets dressed in prim bows.

as is our m.o., we had a certificate to spend so we went to town on ginger bistro. for sanakuu (starters... get it? :] ), we ordered the spring rolls, which were filled with deliciously crunchy lettuce, carrots, and piquant mint sprigs, folded in a tender but sturdy rice wrapper. the dipping sauce, while not as spicy as we'd hoped, was also quite nice--we even used the rest of it on a later dish. 

for entrees, we shared the curry noodles and the house fried rice. we were a little disappointed by the noodles. "curry" promises fragrance, warmth, and complexity, but we found this dish to be pretty flat. not only were there very few actual vegetables in there, but the noodles just didn't seem coated enough and the curry flavor wasn't fully developed. we're not sure what it is, but we've noticed a similar problem at other establishments in the city--that curry powder isn't being cooked or paired with other spices properly to really maximize its full flavor potential. we had much the same complaint with the fried rice: too few veg, unevenly seasoned rice, and a little light on flavor (what they call "delicately seasoned" is somewhat of an understatement). we did opt to add some fried tofu (which our diligent server assured was prepared vegetarian-friendlily), which made a big improvement to the rice. otherwise, the texture would have been too one-note: all a little soft, no chewiness, no crunch. but the tofu had a nice sponginess and crisp outer layer--just enough variation to save the dish, along with the hot sauce from the rolls. somehow, despite our pleading to kitchens across the city to make us sweat, the food still never comes out quite as hot as we'd like.

finally, just to taste, we ordered a side of szechwan green beans and a banh mi with tofu. the portion of the beans was quite generous, and we actually ate all of them smothered over our noodles and rice. perhaps a little salty and coated with that sort of off-putting gelatinous sauce, they definitely weren't flawless, but the beans themselves were fresh and crunchy and actually packed a little heat. the banh mi, on the other hand, was the blandest offering of the night--fried tofu on a loaf with a few greens (albeit fresh and yummy in their own right) just don't offer a whole lot of flavor or texture variety. more hot sauce and mayo should help, though.

we really didn't know what awaited us at ginger bistro before we went; overall, though, we were more satisfied than we expected to be. their menu is crazy extensive and the kitchen seems willing and able to improvise for the needs of vegetarians if you only just ask. if you're looking for great service, some bang for your buck, and a plate of fried rice in the loop... then this is your place.


vegetarian-friendly score: