Wednesday, March 30, 2011

revisited: local harvest cafe

ever had a "slinger"?  ever heard of a "slinger"?  we hadn't, but as soon as we read the description of it on local harvest cafe's menu, we knew we had to have one.  ever heard the expression "life changing"? 

mission
tower grove
(peep our original local harvest post here.)

rations
a slinger, as it turns out, is a st. louis original, surely originating at some st. louis dive in the wee hours of a blustery winter's morn.  by definition, slingers are supposed to come with eggs, hashbrowns, and a hamburger patty, all smothered in chili.  by all accounts, it is the zenith of comfort foods.  at local harvest, however, vegetarians and vegans alike can help themselves to a slinger.  for vegetarians, the hamburger gets nixed in favor of extra roasted potatoes and red onions; for vegans, eggs, cheese, and hamburger are replaced with a veggie burger.  in both cases, the chili is vegan, easily hearty and tasty enough to satisfy herbivores and omnivores alike.  we opted for the vegetarian version because we were in the mood for some eggyweggies, and boy were we impressed.  everything--everything--was cooked to perfection.  nothing was underdone or overcooked, and each ingredient maintained (miraculously) a distinct flavor.  you might think the eggs or potatoes would get lost under the chili, but not so.  quite literally, we moaned after each bite.  the bread, too, was excellent, providing the perfect accompaniment for sopping on the remaining goodness.  next time, instead of sharing, we've agreed that we'll each need our own plate.  pretty sure we'll be trying the vegan option next time, too, and we'll be sure to provide a full report.

because breakfast food and sweets are lois's favorite things, we opted for the vegan stuffed french toast.  plump, beautifully browned companion bread gets stuffed with vegan cream cheese, and then it all gets topped with fresh fruit and organic (!) maple syrup. to clark's palate, this french toast doesn't outshine sweetart's, but lois insists that they're equally good but for different reasons, and clark always defers to wifey in matters of taste.

the final component of our brunch was the egg sandwich.  we're big fans of st. louis bread company's "egg and cheese on ciabatta" breakfast sandwich, and we wanted to see how local harvest stacked up.  not surprisingly, local harvest is the winner, not only because of flavor but because you can build your own sandwich.  one chooses from different breads (5-grain for us, please), different cheeses (cheddar this time), and different spreads (hummus, obviously).  the egg was cooked sort of omelet-style, managing to be both fluffy and firm, and it had some herbs mixed in, too.  the result: the best daggone breakfast sandwich we've had at a restaurant.  still, it could've been even better if we'd had the option to add some sauteed spinach or greens.

all things considered, this is probably the finest vegetarian-friendly brunch you'll find outside of sweetart.  there's a vegan chorizo pot pie we'd like to try at local harvest, and we're dying to create some far out sandwiches (everything bagel, goat cheese spread, and cherry preserves, anyone?).  next, though, we have to try dinner at local harvest.  we'll let you know how it goes.  we're guessing it's gonna be frickin' awesome.

assessment
a

vegetarian-friendly score:
a-
Local Harvest Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

boogaloo

one of mike johnson's many st. louis restaurants, boogaloo sits just a couple doors down from his now defunct restaurant, el scorcho.  we've eaten at both restaurants twice, and we were relatively pleased each visit.  though el scorcho didn't survive, we haven't lost faith in the mike johnson brand, and we hope this review of boogaloo will inspire you to try at least one of mike's endeavors.

mission:
maplewood

terrain:
we absolutely love boogaloo's interior.  lighting is never abrasive, colors are vibrant, and paintings are big and bold.  the coolest element: boogaloo's swing-chairs at the bar.  we've not had the chance to sit at the bar, though, because it's been full both times.  one of these days... we're gonna swing, baby.  there's outdoor seating, too, in the back, and when the weather is nice (as it was on our recent visit), they open up the front window/door to let in the fresh air.  again, we just love this space.

personnel:
we can't say that we're as excited about the service as we are about the decor, but service hasn't been a nightmare, either.  on this occasion, our server was courteous and helpful at the start, but then she seemed to get annoyed by our vegetarian inquiries.  for the last third of the meal, we hardly even saw her.  oh, well.  on to the food.

rations:
we're nothing if not hummus fanatics, so of course we started with boogaloo's version: curried chickpea hummus.  it's a slightly odd interpretation not because of the curry but because of the accoutrements.  we rarely see tomatoes with hummus, but it was the golden raisins that stood out as most peculiar.  the thing is, when combined with the curry, the raisins made perfect sense.  it reminded us of a firmer korma, and we love us some korma, yo.  needless to say, we devoured the hummus.  the downer: tepid "jamaican" flatbread.  this flatbread didn't contribute anything to the dish, so we ended up just using our forks as the method of transport from plate to mouth.

next up was the cuban black bean soup.  one word: brackish.  each of us took one bite and could go no further.  the salt ratio was off the charts, so we had to send it back.  of course, we can't comment on the soup beyond what our experience was on this night;  for now, we'll just chalk it up to an unfortunate accident.  still, we were bummed, as we were both looking forward to one of our favorite flavors of soup.  we'll try again next time.  (note: as a replacement, we were offered a mediocre salad.  not bad; just ordinary.)

to conclude the meal, we shared boogaloo's housemade veggie burger.  there are a number of things to like about this burger, not the least of which is the exceptional consistency: tender in the center, slightly crunchy on the outside, and chock-full of veggies.  we also love that they serve the burger with sprouts, which is an ingredient we rarely see in this area.  we understand that some folks are creeped out by them, but we quite like sprouts.  if nothing else, they pack a nutritional wallop in a small package.  the burger also comes with avocado, plump tomatoes, and your choice of cheese.  the thing that got us most excited was the housemade "volcano sauce," but we were left wondering where the heat was.  in truth, it's really more like dormant volcano.  we understand that a lot of folks don't care much for excessive heat, so we get why boogaloo erred on the side of tame.  but considering this is a creole/cuban/caribbean restaurant, we were a bit disappointed in the lack of complexity in the heat and spices.  why not go bold?  still, we enjoyed the burger quite a bit, and we'd happily order it again.  we're just sure a better sauce would make this sandwich much more memorable.




despite a few miscalculations, boogaloo offers up some pretty good grub.  vegetarians should understand, though, that the focus of this restaurant is meat and fish, and there aren't many veg options to be had.

assessment:
b

vegetarian-friendly score:
b (vegetables are fried in the same oil as meat, but the kitchen says they'll fry veggies separately if requested.)
Boogaloo on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 28, 2011

modesto

this was actually the first tapas restaurant we visited in st. louis, and although we always suspected that it was our favorite, we never made it back after we reluctantly decided tapas isn't our thing.  turns out that's not quite accurate: tapas isn't our thing at pretty much anywhere besides modesto.  in fact, we have an interested reader to thank for prompting us to go back there; had andy not suggested it, we would have missed out... and maybe you are, too. 

mission
the hill

terrain
modesto sports a modern rustic style featuring painted i-beams, steel and glass light fixtures, and floors resembling heavily varnished supercompressed wood chips--we imagine the hoof-beaten terrain of la mancha looks similar.  surely it's no coincidence: you'll notice don quixote's likeness around the restaurant.  otherwise, the decor is limited, which is wise--the floor-to-ceiling windows lining one side of the restaurant and the busy kitchen on the other side provide more than enough to look at.  keeping it simple makes it all the more easy to really unwind here, and then, of course, to fully focus on your food when it arrives. 

personnel
on both visits, our servers have been stellar.  accommodating and friendly, knowledgeable and eager to please, they have done everything to make sure our vegetarian needs were met.  on our most recent visit, our server made sure we understood all the options at our disposal, and she was frank in her analysis of both food and wine.  though our tastes didn't align with hers, she at least did all she could to give us guidance.  we appreciate this.  always. 

rations:
we started, of course, with the pure de garbanzos, served with crostini and topped with some olive oil and garlic.  it's a delicious take on a more traditional hummus, and the portion was just right, too.  but what really made it moan-worthy was mixing in some of their housemade tapenade--if you can bear to save some of it from your bread board.

this salad = bff
new to the spring menu, the ensalada de verduras features chopped zucchini, squash, artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, and onions in a chimichurri rojo sauce.  we only wish we ordered two of these!  the sauce is really delightful, light enough not to mask the vegetables, but still so flavorful--so flavorful you'll want to lick the plate clean.  the variety and freshness of the perfectly cooked veg really made this unassuming little plate memorable.  we want many more of these before the menu changes again.

also new to the spring menu are the croquetas de setas and the paquetes de berenjena.  the croquetas are lightly breaded and fried mushrooms, served atop little dollops of garlic aioli.  the mushroom mouthfuls don't look like much, but they deliver a warm, creamy and woodsy savoriness.  the texture of the breading helps to balance the creaminess and the cleaving sponginess of the mushroom.  it wasn't our favorite tapas plate, but it was quite good.
 
the eggplant paquetes, on the other hand, are not something we'd order again.  slices of eggplant rolled around slices of iberico cheese, grilled, and topped with an herb picada--we like the sound of all those things, but somehow this was not what we were hoping for.  the melted cheese oozed an unappetizing pool of oil onto the plate, and the eggplant flavor was somehow almost undetectable, but the real disappointment of this dish was the picada.  salt is an important ingredient in many picadas, but this was overpowering.  clark popped one of these babies into his mouth and it was instant puckerface.  we wouldn't be surprised if this was an error, but next time we'll still pass. 

and although we didn't need it, we ordered a flatbread out of curiosity.  we chose the cebolla, which comes with caramelized onions, manchego, onions, olives, and garlic.  to be honest, we didn't much care for this either.  it isn't that it was bad, but we would have preferred more manchego to balance the sweetness of the onions, and we found the dough too...doughy.  we do love a thick crust; we just would have preferred a thin, crispy crust on this one (especially with the toppings as light as they were).  still a competent flatbread, just not to our taste.  see that delicious char?  we think it would be killer on a thin crust!

that brings us to el gran final: paella huertana. served in a cast iron pan, the saffron rice was beautifully cooked, and the addition of peas, peppers, asparagus, onion, tomato, and artichokes make this dish a veritable pan-copia (get it, because it's served in a pan and it seems to come with everything?).  this is something we could see ourselves craving... and in fact, we do, right now.  once again, the vegetables were all cooked to perfection.  it may be simple, but this satisfying and comforting dish is the perfect example of how uncomplicated ingredients prepared with thought and care can really turn into something special.  not to mention that it's not exactly the easiest task to find a vegetarian paella!

not everything was a win, but we're excited about modesto and are really happy to have re-discovered it.  there is plenty of interesting vegetarian fare on the menu to keep us trying new items for a while, but that paella will always be a staple of our meals to come at modesto.

(we also want to note that we contacted chef grace to inquire whether the fryer is vegetarian-friendly, and we're happy to report that it is!  she said that it's important to her as a chef to honor vegetarians and be strict about it.  we love to see a female chef kicking ass, and we love even more that we can feel safe about going to her restaurant.)

assessment:
b+

vegetarian-friendly score:
b+
Modesto on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 26, 2011

firefly

for the last 18 months, we spent nearly every weekend traveling back and forth between st. louis and bloomington, indiana.  in a word: brutal.  the drive one way is almost exactly four hours, and if we timed it just right, and we were willing to suffer near-to-bursting bladders, we could make the drive without stopping.  countless times we considered stopping in effingham (about the half-way point) to eat at firefly, but our desire to get through that awful stretch of interstate 70 always trumped our desire to make a pitstop.  now that we don't have to make that drive as frequently, though, scheduling a little layover at firefly is much more reasonable.  so, on our last visit to bloomington, we made our first stop at firefly in over two years.  we're just sorry we waited so long to return.

mission
effingham, il

terrain
on just about any other restaurant, we'd consider the gigantic lettering on the roof to be a bit tacky, but at firefly it just feels right.  (too, since they're tucked away from the interstate, the letter size is actually a necessity if folks are going to notice it.)  in any case, the facade is gorgeous, and we're nothing if not suckers for weather-worn 2 x 4s.  the interior is equally stunning, with vaulted ceilings, wide open windows, and gorgeously faded wood everywhere.  the splashes of color scattered about the huge room provide just enough warmth and taste, too.  we know most folks won't care, but we have to mention the bathrooms: their modern, sleek, clean lines make these washrooms more than layovers for handwashing.  they're more like sanctuaries.  clark likey.

personnel
we understand most people will be skeptical of fine dining in the middle of illinois, but we assure you that firefly is no joke (just peep the reviews from the chicago tribune and bon appetit).  and, as one expects at a higher end restaurant, the service is an important element of the experience.  firefly's waitstaff is attentive and never fussy, and the few servers we interacted with all had personalities.  nothing felt robotic or rehearsed, which we were thankful for. our main server was more than willing to find out about vegetarian options, directly communicating more than once with the kitchen to see what they could arrange.  the best part: chef niall came to our table to discuss vegetarian options with us.  he never made us feel like we were inconveniencing him, and he actually seemed enthusiastic to invent something for us.  as most of you know, these little things are what make all the difference when dining out.  what a relief to not have to worry about something meaty finding its way into our food.  thanks, chef niall!

rations
even though the hummus platter is no longer featured on their menu, neither the server nor the chef hesitated when we ordered it.  it may seem a bit much to pay $10.50 for an appetizer, but we'd argue that you can't find a hummus platter this big in the entire midwest.  the thing is, it's not just quantity here; it's quality.  the hummus is creamy yet firm, mild yet robust (thanks to the pockets of garlic).  the grilled pita is nice, too, though we'd like to see less oil.  we're sure the chef would provide an oil-free version if asked, and next time we certainly will.  the inclusion of broad, fresh, plump leaves of green and red lettuce was much appreciated, as were the grape tomatoes and pitted black olives (though we'd prefer kalamatas).  we felt we were eating healthfully, which is rare for an appetizer, and we were thankful for the care the chef put into the dish.  nothing felt like an afterthought.

next up was the spinach salad, which came topped with almonds, green apples, a goat cheese croquette, and a strawberry balsamic vinaigrette.  the spinach was ultra fresh, the apples tart, and the goat cheese herby without being grassy.  the vinaigrette was interesting, refreshing, and we didn't mind that the salad was a bit overdressed.  we'd gladly order this salad again.  


since we were gearing up for our meal at northstar in the evening, we tried not to order too much food at firefly, so all we had left was a side of fries and uma's wild mushroom pizza.  the side of hand-cut fire-fries turned out to be a heaping bowlful, surpassing even the serving at terrene.  what makes these fries worthy of mention is the type of potato the chef is using these days: kennebec.  kennebecs are the bentleys of potatoes, and most chefs consider them the most well-balanced of the potato varieties.  while chef niall was at the table with us, he told us he'd be serving kennebecs to us, and you could see the excitement in his eyes.  needless to say, it's an awesome thing to see a chef fired up about his ingredients.  the problem, though, is that the fries came out too salty--a disappointment, to say the least.  we'd much prefer a non-salted kennebec to an over-salted one, and we're sure the chef would agree.  we just chalked this up to an accidental oversight, but we'll still be ordering the fries next time with light salt.

while lois was still working on some of the neverendingplatterofhummus, clark started on the uma's wild mushroom pizza.  the mushrooms delivered a wonderfully earthy flavor to the pizza; without them, the pizza would have been dominated by the savory cheeses (provolone and parmesan).  the crust was just the right firmness and proved to be more than just the support for the ingredients, as it had a pleasantly buttery and nutty flavor.  all in all, it was a good pizza; it's just not necessarily a pizza we'd crave more of.

we understand that effingham seems a bit out of the way, and we admit that it's perhaps a bit beyond the limit to what we'd consider the "st. louis area," but if you're up for a day trip to see part of illinois or just on your way east to, say, dragonfly and northstar in columbus, ohio, then firefly is easily worth your time.  we're already looking forward to our next visit.  what better way to break up the monotony of interstate 70 than some delicious, locally-sourced, vegetarian-friendly eats?

assessment
a-

vegetarian-friendly score:
a- (high marks for their willingness to work with vegetarians, but the menu nevertheless remains primarily omnivore-centric)
Firefly Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 25, 2011

search and devour: lucas park grille's hummus platter

our faithful readers know that we love us some frickin hummus, and we've commented on lucas park grille's hummus before, but we recently discovered that they've upped their game even more.  during our last visit, we ordered the hummus duo platter, which featured their already-stellar roasted red pepper hummus.  now, though, they're also including a roasted garlic hummus and a lentil and couscous salad.  the roasted garlic hummus has just the right amount of garlic and cumin; the lentil salad was equally good and in no way played the roll of third fiddle.  it doesn't hurt that lucas park used some really good olive oil, but it was the peppery lentils and feta that kept us interested.  combine all of this with warm, seasoned pita, and you have yourself one of the best mezze plates in the city.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

revisited: vegadeli

having tested the vegadeli waters a few times before, we know pretty much what we're going to get.  we like the food well enough, but it's vegadeli's commitment to 100% vegan fare that brings us back.  it's a truly comforting experience when you know you can trust the kitchen to deliver veg-friendly food 100% of the time.  so, thank you for that, vegadeli!  and thank you for offering up food that still has the ability to surprise us every now and then. (peep our original vegadeli entry here.)

mission:
chesterfield

rations
we're suckers for nachos, but we almost always pass them up at restaurants because guilt trips generally trump cheese.  well, this time we figured the dose of guilt would be lessened considerably thanks to the all-vegan nacho components, so we dove headfirst into the molten soy deliciousness.  vegadeli's nachos come with red onions, cajun rice and beans, salsa, and the aforementioned soy cheese.  clark wasn't completely enamored by the soy cheese at first, as it tends to leave an odd aftertaste, but the more you eat it, the more you warm to it.  and anyway, the salsa, chips, rice and beans, and red onions were more than enough to compensate for any distaste for the soy.

a quick note: we went with the lentil soup and stuffed veggie cornbread again, and, again, it was sublime.  this is surely the one thing we will always order.

we tried the raw pad thai next, which is made with zucchini "pasta" and a whole slew of fresh veggies.  delightful in both flavor and consistency, the pad thai is a solid raw offering for any restaurant, though it doesn't compare with scape's raw lasagna.  then again, vegadeli's raw noodles are 16 bucks cheaper.  the thing about this pad thai is that it doesn't really taste like pad thai, at least not in the traditional sense.  we're fine with reinterpreting classic dishes and making them unique to a restaurant, but we both would've liked more peanut flavor and more ginger.  we had fun eating their pad thai; we're just not sure we'd get it again.

as part of our research of st. louis veggie burgers, we ordered up one of vegadeli's three options: the teriyaki burger.  dubbed one of the "healthiest burgers in town," vegadeli's veggie burger patty is soy-, gluten-, salt-, nut-, and oil-free.  this is definitely the burger you want if you have issues with food allergens; it's just not necessarily the burger you want if flavor is your top priority.  made with hummus, grains, and veggies, the patty manages to hold together well, and it certainly delivers the flavor it promises.  the problem is that the flavor profiles of the patty's ingredients are all a bit tepid.  we suppose the teriyaki (or bbq cheddar or original with vegan mayo and ketchup) is supposed to compensate for the mild flavors of the patty, but there just didn't seem to be enough flavor anywhere for the burger to assert itself as crave-worthy.  still, the burgers at vegadeli aren't bad at all, and they're noteworthy if for no other reason than they're as healthy as a burger gets.  we're definitely not giving up on these burgers, either.  next time, we'll try the bbq cheddar to see if it has a bolder flavor.

now, our one serious complaint: you'll notice that there are some potatoes next to the veggie burger.  we're not sure what was wrong with them, but they were covered in blemishes/discolorations.  they tasted strange, expired, and we didn't dare risk more than a bite each.  we'll chalk this up as a fluke, but it's another example of the inconsistencies one is likely to encounter at vegadeli.  occasionally, the kitchen just isn't as attentive to detail as we'd like them to be, which is one of the main reasons our assessment of vegadeli's food continues to hover in the high "b"s.  nevertheless, as clark always reminds his students, a b+ is still way above average.  we definitely recommend vegadeli with confidence.  one thing's for sure: you'll always eat healthfully.

assessment
b+

vegetarian-friendly score:
a+
Vegadeli -

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

mokabe's coffeehouse

back in the old days when we were smokers and it was legal to light up indoors, we would stop by mokabe's for a little afternoon tea and a smoky treat.  these days, of course, the coffeehouse is smoke-free (although if you're so inclined, they have a little deck space set aside for you).  we've been eyeing their vegetarian menu for a while, and a lunch date with mokabe's has been long overdue. 

mission:
tower grove

terrain:
mokabe's has a certain unfussy cuteness to it.  nothing feels very self-conscious here, and unlike other coffeeshops, it keeps the clutter to a minimum.  some mismatched furniture, a political-bumper-sticker-dressed fridge, a checkered floor and bright red walls give the place some character, but the real personality comes from the clientele.  this feels like a place where you can be a regular but still have some anonymity, and this is clearly a neighborhood gathering place.  mokabe's has a wide audience, and we think that reflects really well on them: just about anyone seems comfortable here.

personnel:
our interaction with staff has always been minimal and, to be honest, we've never been too impressed by their... hospitality.  at times, we have been made to feel like we were an inconvenience.  we're not sure what it is, but we just shrug off the icy indifference and remember that we're supporting a local business.  we just chalk it up to indie coffeehouse protocol.

rations:
we started with the hummus plate, served with warm pita and scallions and feta.  our first few bites were good enough, but this little dish really grew on us.  it's deceptively simple, but that's what makes it work.  scallions were a nice change of pace, primarily because the substitution of onion for sodium kept it feeling pretty clean.  the portion size is just right, too, so don't be fooled by the photo.

the veggie reuben came next, and this one was definitely a letdown.  we sillily assumed that although the menu made no mention of a protein, it must come with something.  it didn't, so it's basically a reuben without the beef.  it isn't bad; it's just that we've had so much better--chicago diner's is better than the real thing, and the brentwood whole foods makes a pretty bangin' version, too.  the biggest problem is that the protein balances the tart sweetness of the sauerkraut and the 1000 island, so without it, it's just too tangy.  and although the bread was delicious, it was too buttery.  next time we'll order it dry.

finally, we concluded with the blue mac veggie burger, a housemade match meat patty served with blue's special sauce.  it's an old-school burger: onion, pickle, lettuce, ketchup, mustard, kaiser roll.  like the hummus, our first few bites were satisfactory but then it really started to grow on us.  it was as if the more bites we took, the more we felt ourselves transported back to poolside birthday parties (except the burgers of our childhood were never this yummy).  patties composed of match are always consistent in texture and moisture, and flavor soaks into them like the dye from a pair of rogue red underpants in a load of your husband's white undershirts: you can't miss it.  we couldn't even begin to guess at what's in blue's special sauce, but we like it.  it's a fun burger, and all the more delicious for its simplicity.

like the establishment itself, the food was no-frills, straightforward.  this isn't a slight--we dig the diner menu, and it fits mokabe's attitude.  the food is satiating, but won't bog you down.  we're not sure when we'll be back with places like sweetart and local harvest just around the corner, but mokabe's is worth a visit if you have a hankering for a coffee, a low-key meeting place, and some good eats.

assessment:
b

vegetarian-friendly score:
a-

Mokabe's Coffeehouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 17, 2011

the bleeding deacon

if you said "bar food" and asked us what we would expect, as vegetarians, we would expect beer for dinner.  some nights that doesn't sound like such a bad idea, but if you're looking for some bites to go with that brew, you might want to give the bleeding deacon a try.

mission:
tower grove

terrain:
it's got all the charm you would expect from a hole-in-the-wall pub, decked out in posters, twinkle lights, and various tchotchkes undoubtedly rescued from secondhand stores around the city.  the deacon's faithful laymen are a varied group, which is part of this place's appeal.  on both occasions we've visited, it was a full, lively house.  we like how lived-in the deacon feels; it's the right kind of dingy that reminds you of being in your old college friend's apartment, but unlike his place, you feel relatively safe about eating here.

personnel:
hipster PYTs in vintagey dresses, taking your orders and carefully not caring too much (but still making sure you're fed, which is all we ask).

rations:
the bleeding deacon is known for serving up familiar favorites with a twist and for offering an interesting yet unfussy menu.  we can attest to this: it looks like they've put some thought into these dishes. however, on both occasions, the execution left something to be desired.

naturally, we began our meal with the lemon-thyme hummus.  the pita was warm, grilled, all we ask for if we have to eat pita--no complaints there.  the consistency had a creamy loveliness that would have been totally killer if not for the fact that the flavor flatlined.  where was the thyme?  what a shame.  at least the chickpeas were delicious.  the diced tomato and spring onion slices were a pleasant addition, but the paprika tasted stale.  looks good, anyway.

as you know by now, we're suckers for frites, so we jumped on an order of the truffle frites [edit: (though we originally reported that the frites were called "parmesan truffle frites" because ours came with a generous topping of parmesan, according to a message we received from the owner, these frites were not supposed to come with cheese and should just be called "truffle frites")].  nevertheless, we do like fries, so they were consumed.  still, why one would choose to season with truffle oil and then shy away from it is baffling to us.  we were a little disappointed.  the paleness of these fries is unfortunately not just a result of poor lighting: they were slightly undercooked and therefore a bit colorless.  but again, they were still good enough to eat.

for entrees, we started with a...sandwich.  kind of.  we can't find a menu online, the site is down, and there is no mention of this thing anywhere.  it was described as a sort of veggie philly cheesesteak with portobello mushrooms, red peppers, and onions. [edit: again, though we received what our waitress referred to as "vegan cheese," the owner informed us that the sandwich was not supposed to come with any kind of cheese.] it was impossible to eat as a sandwich, the vegan cheese was nearly undetectable, and there were about ten slices of actual vegetables stuffed into a shallow well dug in the end of a rock-hard baguette.  we were honestly confused when the server brought it to us, and it makes just as little sense to us now.  it pains us to say it, but it was the worst "sandwich" we've ever seen.

creole cuisine anywhere is rarely veg-friendly, so we were really curious to try the housemade boudin veggie burger.  we love to see housemade burgers and we make a point to try them whenever restaurants are good enough to offer them.  what makes this one "boudin" is, apparently, just the spices and the rice.  since cajun-style boudin sausage is usually white, the use of white beans here is particularly clever.  we really want to love this burger--and maybe this happened to be an "off" night--but we just don't.  the only discernible spice we could taste was sage, and the one-inch-thick onion slice overpowered anything else there might have been in the patty.  the texture was nice, and it's a surprisingly sturdy burger, but served on a chalky kaiser roll with more stale spices, this just isn't something we'll crave.  to be sure, though, this burger is a brilliant idea, and there's a lot of potential here.

we weren't unhappy when we left the bleeding deacon, just unsatisfied--you know about what to expect at a pub, and we never lost sight of that.  this may be bar food by definition, but that doesn't mean it has to be sub-par, and we definitely didn't expect that they wouldn't deliver what they advertised.  we give the bleeding deacon major props for keeping things interesting for vegetarians, but the inconsistencies in flavor prevent us from truly endorsing them.

assessment:
c+

vegetarian-friendly score:
b (it's definitely cool that they have a vegetarian section, but it isn't exactly accurate.  as we reported earlier, the bleeding deacon doesn't have a vegetarian fryer, yet they announce on their menu that the frites are vegetarian.  we wish restaurants would understand that food cannot be labeled "vegetarian" if it shares the same fryer as meat.)

Bleeding Deacon on Urbanspoon

search & devour: dijon truffle mustard

like dijon?  like truffles?  now, imagine an unholy union of the two, and you've got kl keller's dijon truffle mustard.  why "unholy"?  cuz this stuff is mustardcrack.  you simply cannot stop eating it.  it's a high-quality, silky-smooth dijon, made with the finest european vinegar, but it's the addition of black truffle essence and black truffle bits that separate this mustard from its competitors.  ok, yeah, it's 20 bucks for 7 ounces, but you'll never eat a better mustard.  ask for it for xmas, spread it on anything you'd put your mouth on, commence food coma.

we found our bottle at extra virgin, an olive ovation, which is a cool little boutique tucked away in clayton.  pay them a visit whenever you're in the market for a good olive oil or balsamic.  if you ask nicely, they'll pull out a sample of kl keller's magical dijon.  you won't regret it.  then again, you might, if being addicted to awesome things turns you off.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

scape

we've avoided scape for a couple of years now, though not for lack of interest.  for some reason, we rarely find ourselves in maryland plaza or on euclid ave.  again, though, it's not because we're averse to the area.  in a nutshell: we just don't roll deep enough to afford the many offerings found in this diverse neighborhood.  sure, we'd love to buy up half of design within reach, and we'd like nothing more than to snatch up every last one of the chihuly paintings from duane reed gallery, but this, faithful readers, is not how we roll.  to be clear, we aint complainin'; then again, maybe we are.  whaaa.  nevertheless, we can afford a dinner out every now and then, particularly when a generous friend offers to foot the bill.  on this night, said friend offered, so to scape we went.

mission
central west end

terrain
as we imagined, scape is a very handsome restaurant.  like most fine dining establishments, scape sets the mood with dimmed, warm lighting.  scape is unique, though, because of its light sculpture in the center of the dining room.  designed by third degree glass factory, the glass sculpture is modern without being ironic, and it's not the least bit ostentatious.  there are other interesting light fixtures scattered throughout the dining room, each one resembling a de-crowned christmas ornament.  very cool.  apart from the lighting, the rest of the decor is fairly straightforward--neither noteworthy nor annoying.

personnel
from the minute we were greeted at the valet stand (you ever tried finding parking in the cwe on a friday night???  fuggitaboutit.) to the moment we returned to the valet stand, service was impeccable.  the hostess knew we were vegetarians and made a point of addressing us as "unique" diners; the server did everything she could to make us comfortable with our dinner selections, even offering a rather candid assessment of the carrot soup; and every other table assistant that approached us with water or bread or new flatware was friendly and professional.  to say the least, we were pampered on this night, which is exactly the type of service you should receive when you're dropping coin like this.  still, we've been to fine dining restaurants before where we were treated poorly, so we always take special note when service is exceptional. it was at scape.

rations
as is our m.o., we kicked things off with something fried: in this case, it was the avocado egg rolls, which were served with a poblano-tamarind dipping sauce.  the closest thing in texture we could think of was a totino's pizza roll, which isn't necessarily a negative comparison.  all at the table had fond memories of these cheap treats, so we all shared in a bit of nostalgia as we devoured the avocado egg rolls.  of course, the ingredients of scape's rolls are of a much higher quality than that of totino's, so we took extra comfort in knowing that this food was more than worth our time.  our only quibble was with the dipping sauce, which lacked the kick we'd hoped for from the poblanos.  (note: later we find out via email that the fryer is not vegetarian-friendly.)

next up were the parmesan-truffle fries.  once we confirmed that they weren't fried in duck fat, there was no way we were going to pass these up.  in consistency, scape's fries resemble frites, and we wonder if it's just a typo on the menu.  regardless, these fries were delicious, even if the truffle presence was a bit too understated.  the portion was perfect, too, leaving us satisfied but not heavy with guilt.  for comparison's sake, these fries aren't as good as terrene's, but they're far better than, say, the bleeding deacon's.

at this point, we'd spoken with our head server and made her aware that we were writers of a vegetarian food blog.  without being prompted, she apparently shared this information with the chef, and he sent out two bowls of complimentary carrot soup.  initially, we passed up the soup because our server made it clear that it wasn't her favorite, and we just figured we'd save the dough.  in the end, though, we were thankful for the chef's generosity, and the soup was actually quite nice.  it's one of three vegetarian offerings on scape's "raw" menu, which is the menu that got us interested in scape to begin with.  the soup is blended with avocado and young thai coconut meat, and it's garnished with sesame seeds.  it is quite carroty, of course, which is the reason our server wasn't terribly fond of it, but we both love carrots and love juicing, and this cold soup was a nice middle ground.  to be sure, neither of us liked it well enough to finish more than half a bowl, but it was a nice dish that made us feel healthy.

following our server's recommendation, next up were the cucumber spring rolls.  these are also on the "raw" menu and come with a ginger-chile dipping sauce.  they're stuffed with a bunch of delicious raw vegetables and garnished with some fresh micro-greens.  the marinade is what really made the dish shine, though.  clark wasn't messing around, either, stuffing whole rolls into his too-eager mouth, little glutton that he is.  as with the avocado egg rolls, though, the lack of heat in the dipping sauce disappointed. (this inability to deliver heat is endemic in fine dining, by the way.  if you've ever seen gordon ramsay react to "spice," you get an idea of how much of the industry responds to peppers.  we wish more restaurants would subscribe to the anthony bourdain school of thought: if you're gonna promise heat, you better deliver.)

here's the thing, though: the lone caveat we offer for scape is that it is absurdly expensive.  as we've mentioned elsewhere, we understand that fine dining comes with a lofty price tag, but we also understand that most folks are reluctant to drop serious coin on what amounts to little in the way of sustenance.  for example, as delicious as their raw lasagna may be, there's simply not much food on the plate, and scape charges 26 dollars for this one dish.  to repeat: 26 dollars for this ONE dish.  for those who can afford it, by all means, go get some raw lasagna.

we commend scape for offering so many vegetarian options, and there's no doubt that we had a great time.  if we do end up going back, we'll just have to be ready to eat larabars for lunch for the next week.

assessment
a-

vegetarian-friendly score:
a-
Scape on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 14, 2011

sweetart: early eats

perfection.
we've been sweetart devotees for a while now but somehow have never made it there for breakfast.  folks say it's the most important meal of the day.  this weekend we learned what that means.

mission:
shaw
(see our first sweetart entry here.)

rations:
we ordered the jewel, and got it upgraded.  it's a delicious vegan french toast--that's right, vegan, as in "not missing a single thing."  it comes with real maple syrup, and the upgrade gets you some amaretto sauce poured over the toast, sliced fresh strawberries, and slivered almonds.  clark's never really been into the breakfast thing, but lois has had french toast every which way and really has to say this is some of the best anywhere.  clark thought he'd just take one bite to say he tried it but ended up eating half of it, it was so darn yummy. sweetart's taste is always spot on: they know how much is just right, and that's so important with sweet breakfast dishes.  the addition of amaretto was delightful, surprisingly not too decadent, and perfectly complemented by the strawberries and almonds.  crunchy and crumbly on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside, the toast was perfection.  and you can tell them to hold the maple; you won't miss it.

we were glad to see the return of the flad, and we ordered a bowl--with dairy cheese, though next time we'll definitely try the vegan.  the flavor is somehow unlike other veg chili we've had.  it is the definition of hale and hearty, with a bold serrano presence.  it tempers any acidity from the tomato, and the combination of spices make it at once invigorating, soothing, impossible to push away.  at first glance it may look unimpressive, just a monochrome heap of beans in dark red sauce, but the complexity of the flavor and the simplicity of the ingredients will catch you unawares.

finally, we ordered the edna.  if this is named after someone, it's quite a tribute.  even lois's sweet tooth couldn't argue that this was the way to finish the meal.  it's a breakfast burrito filled with scrambled tofu, vegan sausage, and seasoned potatoes.  the scrambled tofu bursted with flavor, and we're not even sure what it was exactly.  neither too dry nor too wet, they somehow managed to do what almost no one else can: coax firm tofu into the loud, loveable star of the dish.  the potatoes, cheese, and sausage were brilliantly blended with the tofu; every bite was balanced and better than the last.  we bemoan the sad reality that, alas, we can't have one every day.  we also discussed plans for our next breakfast at sweetart: one edna for clark, one for lois, one to split (just because). 

assessment:
a

vegetarian-friendly score:
a+

pi bogo!!!

we're heading to pi in a couple of hours to take advantage of their "buy one, get one" offer.  happy anniversary to the greatest pizza in the world!

Friday, March 11, 2011

monarch

forgive them for their bad sign; forgive them for their bad website. it's the food that matters, and monarch knows a thing or two about food.  believe that.

mission:
maplewood

terrain:
monarch recently redesigned its dining room, and there's no doubt that it's a good looking place, but we prefer to sit in the booths in the lounge.  sure, the fabric is a bit worn down, but the intimacy provided by the tall, scalloped booths makes it easy to overlook any imperfections.  we can't emphasize enough how wonderful it is to unwind in these booths, block out the noise and ugliness of the day, and focus on good wine and great food.  seriously, book a reservation and make sure you secure one of these cozy nooks.

personnel:
the service at monarch is impeccable.  clark has been coming here for three years, and not once has the service been less than stellar.  attentive, welcoming, and sharp, these servers are never intrusive or dull-witted.  and they're always accommodating when we ask for vegetarian options.  the kitchen, too, is always ready to cook up something interesting for the vegheads.  this is no small point, either, because monarch recently experienced a philosophical sea change: they've become "southern."  now, clark and his peoples come from the south, so we're not hating on the south, but all vegetarians know just how treacherous the culinary terrain can be south of the mason/dixon.  but monarch's kitchen continues to churn out delicious southern-inspired vegetarian cuisine, and we're thankful.  very thankful.

rations:
cheese.  glorious cheese.  more often than not, we avoid the "cheese plate" at restaurants, but it's not for lack of interest.  on this night--and, really, on any night when we visit monarch, which happens about twice a year--we decided to be gluttons, so we started with a cheese appetizer.  we figured, "hey, we're doin' it for the readers, right?"  it's all for you, our faithful few.  the offering was both generous and diverse, with the highlight coming from the ash-rind cheddar.  the apple butter, too, was divine, but we have to say the nuts were lackluster.  we suppose the inclusion of peanuts was an homage to the south, but they just didn't belong.

next up was the lima bean hummus.  we've had all kinds of hummus across the country--from white bean to avocado--but this was our first with lima beans.  as we expected, monarch's unique interpretation struck the perfect balance between the south and the mediterranean.  the pita, too, was beautifully spiced and served warm (!).  just take a look at that awesome char!

salads were up next, and they didn't disappoint.  in fact, these two salads were the highlights of the evening.  clark dug in to the bibb lettuce salad, which is garnished with shaved radishes, cucumbers, and spiced nuts.  it's the chive-buttermilk dressing, though, that sends this salad through the roof.  the buttermilk doesn't dominate, as one might expect, and the chives provide just the right "green" note to keep the dressing from feeling too heavy.  

lois's salad of mixed greens came topped with missouri black walnuts, pecorino, roasted beets, and sugarcane vinaigrette.  as with the first salad, it was the dressing that made this salad exceptional.  again, the kitchen worked some kind of louisiana black magic, creating an interesting harmony of sweet, tang, and savory.  monarch, please bottle this stuff.  the world would be a better place.  most important of all, though, is that the salads are loaded with fresh veggies.  mother earth is frickin' awesome, y'all.

by this point, we were buzzing from the wine and the yummyfoodgoodness, but we still had the entrees to deal with.  again, it's all for you, readers.  our server arranged for the kitchen to prepare us an off-the-menu veggie risotto, which came chock full of red peppers, red onions, and mustard greens.  the risotto just oozed "comfort food" as it slowly spread across the plate.  it was rich without being obscene.  scrumptious.

the mushrooms and dumplings was the final dish of the night, and by now we were full to the gills.  the dumplings are actually scallion and ricotta gnocchi, which are unusual in that they're made with flour rather than potato.  clark wasn't terribly fond of the texture of these gnocchi and would've preferred a traditional texture with a nontraditional ingredient, but the dish was still more than competent.  this was due in large part to the seasonal, local mushrooms and herb veloute.  despite not being our favorite gnocchi ever, we still appreciated chef galliano's inventiveness.

it's an extraordinary thing when the lowlight of a meal is still better than the majority of food you get anywhere else.  no, it aint cheap, and the menu doesn't exactly cater to vegetarians.  and the fryer isn't vegetarian-friendly, either.  but we continue to be impressed by monarch's consistency, interesting menu/philosophy, and commitment to "ingredient-driven" food.  and we'd like to reiterate that the kitchen has always made an effort to make us happy.  chef galliano has something good going on here.  we venture to say, even, that this is truly inspired cuisine.  no matter what adjective you use, though, it's time to recognize monarch as a permanent fixture on the vegetarian circuit.

assessment:
a-

vegetarian-friendly score:
b+
Monarch on Urbanspoon