Archive | December, 2012

11 best vegan things i 8 in ’12

30 Dec

Ten

Last year I did the “10 best vegan things i 8 in ’11” so this year I thought I’d bump everything up one (except I didn’t make it the 11 best things i 9 in 12 because I’m not a silly person, silly). So here they are, in a particular order. Oh, and I didn’t include anything that made last year’s list, but that doesn’t mean everything on this year’s list is better than everything on last year’s list even if I ate some of the things from last year’s list again this year. Got it? Let’s go:

Beyond Meat in Tomatillo Sauce Taco at Whole Foods

Beyond Meat in Tomatillo Sauce Taco at Whole Foods

11. The Beyond Meat Tomatillo Taco I had at the Whole Foods in West LA. If you follow me here or on Instagram you know about my frustration with Beyond Meat. I think it’s not only overhyped but also overrated. It absolutely RUINED one of my daily staples, the Vegan Curry Chicken Salad at Whole Foods, which went from great when it was made with Gardein to good when it was made with Eco-Cusine to inedible now that it’s made with Beyond Meat. Inedible! It tastes like rubber. It’s downright nasty, and I can’t believe they haven’t gone back to a non-BM version. That said, I’ve had some good things with Beyond Meat, particularly some salads from the Whole Foods in El Segundo, where Beyond Meat held it’s SoCal launch party, and so I guess the kitchen there knows how to use it. Because that seems to be a huge problem with Beyond Meat. According to Chef Jenny Bradley, a Vegansaurus blogger and the pastry chef at Source in San Francisco, it’s all in the preparation, and apparently a lot of people have no idea how to use the stuff. For example, I got a terrific Beyond Meat Sesame Chicken Salad from the Whole Foods on West 3rd & Fairfax, but when I went back a week later and got more of the exact same thing it was awful. Ditto when I gave it another chance a month later. It seems like some chefs are good with it and some are not. All of that said, the very first time I tried Beyond Meat, in a tomatillo sauce preparation from the taco bar at the Whole Foods in West LA, it was AMAZING. Really, really good. AND THEY HAVE NEVER HAD IT AGAIN. AT ANY WHOLE FOODS WHERE I’VE SEARCHED. AND I’VE SEARCHED MANY. AND I’M USING TOO MANY CAPS.

Spicy Chick pizza at Purgatory Pizza

Spicy Chick pizza at Purgatory Pizza

10. The Spicy Chick Pizza at Purgatory Pizza. Today is the six month anniversary of Vegan Pizza Day, which was on June 30. So where did I decide to go for Vegan Pizza Day? Pizzanista! I’d seen on their Twitter or on Quarrygirl or on somewhere that they were having a special for Vegan Pizza Day with their Seitan Meets Jesus pizza: a variety of  Upton’s Naturals Seitans on a Daiya pie! It sounded so good that I decided to overlook the Seitan/Satan pun which I think we can all agree WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF. So I headed down to Pizzanista on that beautiful Saturday afternoon (I don’t really remember how the weather was that day) and… they were closed! They don’t open on Saturday and Sunday till 5! What?!?! Not even on Vegan Pizza Day?! Vegan Bummer! So I quickly started thinking where else I could get pizza in Downtown L.A. and I remembered Purgatory, which I’d never been to and always wanted to try. And which was actually serving vegan pizza for lunch on Vegan Pizza Day. So I drove over and got their Spicy Chick Pizza which is Gardein chicken, green pepper, onion, garlic and El Diablo sauce. Now I know that hearing El Diablo Sauce makes you think this pie could out-firebreathe a dragon but nope, it merely had a nice kick to it. And it was great. I loved it. However… I could not get the thought of that Seitan Meats Jesus pie out of my head so for dinner, I actually drove back downtown and picked one up. And then promptly pulled my car over on some deserted downtown side street and wolfed down a slice at the wheel. And it was good. Really good. But not as good as the Purgatory. (And odd that the JESUS pie was not at the PURGATORY place but file under whatevs.) And you know what else while we’re speakin o’ pizza? A few days later I tried Cruzer for the first time and had their Hawaiian pizza, which wasn’t as good as either of the other two. But I digest. Back to the list!

"Fairy Fudge Sundae" (add raspberry!) at Leaf

“Fairy Fudge Sundae” (add raspberry!) at Leaf

9. The dessert thing I had at Leaf. What? I thought you didn’t like Leaf, Insufferable Vegan! Well, I don’t. There’s something about the place I didn’t like at all. First of all, the space is weird. Second, the staff was weird. They were non-existent. And I don’t mean non-existent in the sense that when I needed something they were nowhere to be seen. I mean that they were nowhere to be seen AT ALL. I walked in on a Saturday night and nobody was there. I saw one couple eating at a table and they were the only humans I saw. For a while. I stood there for a couple of minutes. I could hear voices in the kitchen. But it took a while for a woman to emerge and seat me. Then she disappeared. And nobody was around. For quite a while more. Until a different server emerged and approached me. And he was a very nice guy, and helpful, and he took my order and then yup, went in the back and disappeared. And I could hear a bunch of staffers in the back laughing and having a good old time. I might even think they were doing things that are legal in Colorado now. Who knows. They sure were enjoying their disappearance quite a bit though. And then my server brought my food. And it wasn’t very good. It was some kind of fake chicken wrap. Which the server had recommended because he said some of the other sandwiches were messy and hard to hold. Except that the wrap he gave me had sauce all over the top. Which he didn’t mention. And which prevented anyone from holding it. So I fork and knived it but eh, nothing special. And then for some reason I decided to try a dessert. I think it’s because while I was eating my wrap someone came in just to get some ice cream to go (which they got only after waiting a few minutes for a human to emerge to serve it to them). There were three kinds of sundaes on the menu and I wanted one. Well, I wanted all three but I was only going to get one. And so I asked the server for a recommendation and he suggested the Righteously Raspberry Sundae. Now I like raspberry stuff. A lot. But I was in the mood for something chocolatey and the raspberry sundae only came with vanilla ice cream. So I got the Fairy Fudge Sundae, which has both chocolate and vanilla soft serve, and I asked if he could throw some raspberry sauce in there too, and he obliged. And since I didn’t like the place, and didn’t like my food, I didn’t want to like the dessert either. And I didn’t like it all the way to the bottom of the giant glass in about eight seconds. It was sooooooo good. I mean soooooooooooooo good. Just go there and get the damn thing already!

THE PRETZEL at Golden Road Brewing

THE PRETZEL at Golden Road Brewing

8. The pretzel at Golden Road. Yes, that one. THEEE PRETZEL. I know you already know about the pretzel. I know you’ve already eaten the pretzel. And if you haven’t I know you think shut up it’s only a pretzel, but that only means you haven’t had THE PRETZEL. What can I say. I never thought I’d be purchasing yet alone recommending yet alone raving about a seven dollar pretzel. But believe me, you spend worse seven dollarses all the time. If you’ve never had it, go and get it. If you’ve already had it, stop nodding.

Meatball Sub at Cruzer Pizza

Meatball Sub at Cruzer Pizza

7. The Meatball Sub at Cruzer Pizza. Hey, look at that — I mentioned Cruzer earlier and kinda dissed or at least meh’d their pizza, and I didn’t tip my hand that I loved their meatball sub so much that it was going to make my list. But here it is cuz it was goooooood. Man did I like this. I know — meatless meatballs and fake cheese on a roll. How tough is that to do. We could make it at home no problem. But nope. There was something about the stuff they used and the way it came together that made me think if I lived on that side of town instead of the eight miles away that feel farther than San Diego I would eat this every single night. Or at least once a week. Or maybe a few times a week. And I want one right now. And they need to move near me. Or open a second store in the Winchell’s Donuts with the This Space Available sign on it for three weeks even though it’s still serving donuts.

Craig's

Craig’s

6. Craig’s. Wait, that’s not a thing that’s a place. Yeah, I know. I’m cheating. Because I had such a good meal at Craig’s but can’t point to any one thing as the thing for the thing list. I went with my vegan friend who’s the vegan managing editor at the vegan website SuperVegan. (I’m vegan name-dropping.) And we did the thing we sometimes do which is ordertoomuchfood. That’s a verb, btw, and it’s also a misnomer, because it always works out to be just the right amount of food. Even if afterwards we’re ancient Romans in need of a feather. And so we got four things for two people. The Vegan Sausage Pizza, the Stuffed Peppers, the Vegan Meldman’s Honey Truffle Chicken (which they said is made with agave not honey for the vegan version) and the Vegan Chicken Parmigiana. And they were ALL really good. Like so good I’m remembering how good they were as I sit here and type they were good. It was impressive to see what this kitchen could do with some Gardein and Follow Your Heart cheese. And btw, this is a nice jernt. It’s not a vegan place by any means. It’s a place to bring your steak-eatin’ family or business colleague or date. While you get to feel like you’re out at a nice place for a nice dinner and ordering from the menu with ease and not having to ask a million questions and beg for a million modifications. Yup, a fancy place with a vegan section on the menu. Progress! And oh, we got dessert too.

Amy E's Peanut Brittle

Amy E’s Peanut Brittle

5.The Peanut Brittle from Amy E’s Bakery. Do you like peanut brittle? Doesn’t matter, listen up. Amy E’s is a bakery in Moscow, Idaho. That’s far away from anybody reading this blog. Or using the Internet even. But the peanut brittle that Amy E makes in Moscow I is not to be believed. Now that’s a stupid expression to use about peanut brittle. And I’m just going to say it’s not true. It is to be believed. It’s not like I told you I ran a two-minute mile. It’s just peanut brittle. But most peanut brittle has dairy in it. But Amy’s does not. It’s vegan. And it’s more than vegan, it’s vegan crack. I had to stop buying it, really, because I couldn’t stop putting pieces of it in my mouth and crunching them up with my teeth. It is crazy, crazy good. And now some help: You can find it in L.A. at the Co-opportunity in Santa Monica, at Erewhon, and at Lassen’s markets. There is no chance you buy this and don’t name your kid Insufferable in appreciation.

Vegan Red Velvet Cake at Jamaica's Cakes

Vegan Red Velvet Cake at Jamaica’s Cakes

4. The Vegan Red Velvet Cake at Jamaica’s Cakes. I stick vegan in the title because they also have a non-vegan Velvet Cake. Which they tell me isn’t as good. Which I wouldn’t know yet completely believe because this is the best vegan cake I have ever had. And it’s so good that I don’t even need to include vegan in that sentence — it is one of the best cakes I have ever had. AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE RED VELVET CAKE. Now they don’t have this every day at Jamaica’s. But sometimes they do. Or you could order it. Or if you get lucky, they’re selling single slices of it the day you arrive. Which has happened to me a few times. But if you arrive and they’ve got other flavors of vegan cake by the slice but not the red velvet, then by all means try one of the others, they’re all good. And some are very good. And some are excellent. But the red velvet is better than excellent. Oh, and those sprinkles on top? Vegan. I asked.

SAGE BISTRO! Top Row: Bistro Po' Boy with German Potato Salad, Close up of the Po' Boy, Close up of the Potato Salad. Middle Row: Root Vegetable Tacos, Mac and Cheese Ball, Quinoa Corn Cake. Bottom Row: Pesto Croissant Club Sandwich, Close up of the sandwich, Mashed Potatoes.  Photo credit: SuperVegan. Photo by: Andrea Wachner.

SAGE BISTRO! Top Row: Bistro Po’ Boy with German Potato Salad, Close up of the Po’ Boy, Close up of the Potato Salad. Middle Row: Root Vegetable Tacos, Mac and Cheese Ball, Quinoa Corn Cake. Bottom Row: Pesto Croissant Club Sandwich, Close up of the sandwich, Mashed Potatoes. Photo credit: SuperVegan. Photo by: Andrea Wachner.

3. Sage Bistro. Yup, I’m cheating again. I’m doing a meal instead of a thing. But with this one I could do a thing. And the thing would be their Bistro Po’Boy, a seitany stack that I loved. But it was a close call over their Pesto Croissant Club Sandwich which I also loved. And it’s possible I liked the Po’Boy better because it was the first thing I put in my mouth of the again too many things that I had with my MEVF. (Managing Editor Vegan Friend.) We got so many things and they were so many good. You can read her post about it. I’m getting too full just remembering.

"The Vegan Chili" from Hot Knives

“The Vegan Chili” from Hot Knives

2. The chili from Hot Knives at Tony’s Darts Away‘s Vegan Chili Cook-off. Now before I go any further I want to say that this could have easily been number one. It was a close call. And so its second place finish takes nothing away from this being the best chili I have ever had. That’s right. Ever. Like as in those almost half a hundred non-vegan years too. This was insanely good food. In fact, it’s so good, I’m going to abandon the stupid writing for a moment and try to actually describe what was so good about it:  It was complex. Like the way an amazing piece of art or an amazing piece of writing or an amazing piece of music or an amazing wine is complex. It makes all kinds of parts of your brain work at once and the work they all do occurs in a synchronized reaction that sets off neurons or other brain-part-things that create a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction that might as well be some kind of crazy drug you shoot in your arm but instead is just chili. And thank god, cuz I’m afraid of needles.

Pho Ga at Au Lac

Pho Ga at Au Lac

1. The Pho Ga at Au Lac. Okay, can you imagine how good this fake chicken pho must have been to surpass that chili description above? And like I said, it was close. This could have been two and two could have been one. And I had to really concentrate to remember my remembrance, and think about the reactions I had and think which was better if one could even be said to be better. And somehow, the pho edged it out. It wasn’t about the stuff that was in the pho, like the fake chicken or the other stuff they give you to add to your bowl, it was about the soup itself. It had a stunning perfection to it that floored me. A completeness. That rare feeling you get with anything that this is as good as this could be. That to imagine this being any better might as well be trying to imagine another color that you have never seen. Oh, and I don’t even really like soup.

And that’s my list. Did you have some vegan food this year that was so good you had to shake your head in amazement? I’d love to hear about it, especially if it’s within driving distance of my driveway.

Chego’s attitude toward vegans: Why won’t Chego away

1 Dec

Chego
3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles CA 90034
310.287.0337

Chego

Sometimes it’s hard to have a conversation in 140 character segments. So rather than keep tweeting back and forth with Chef Roy Choi, founder of the Kogi food trucks that started a craze in, well, food trucks, I decided to write a longer post.

I’ve been vegan for over two years now, and my experience this week at Chego was one of if not my worst vegan restaurant experience. And it was particularly frustrating for a number of reasons. First off, back in May, Chef Choi tweeted that he quit eating meat. Oh, and by the way, that link I just provided about Chef Choi not eating meat anymore? It’s from The New Yorker. Seriously, this was deemed such a momentous event that the New Yorker covered it. Then a couple of weeks later he was saying that just because he might give up meat for a while doesn’t mean he’s a vegetarian or vegan, but that he feels for us.

So about a month ago I tweeted him asking if there was anything for vegans to eat at his restaurant Chego on Overland at Palms. My tweet: “Hi chef! Is anything @EatChego vegan or easily veganizable? Thnx!” His reply: “Many things for you to eat. We got you.”

Great, right? Sure, it was all great until I actually decided to try to go and eat there. Then it was a completely different story. I went in for lunch and the woman taking orders couldn’t have been more friendly. I told her about my exchange with Chef Roy and she seemed to want to help. However, she didn’t have a very good grasp of the ingredients that were in each item.

So she went in the back and brought out a gentleman who I presume to be the manager. He sure acted like a manager. And I explained to him about the tweets I exchanged with Chef Roy. And… he could not have cared less. Seriously, if I had an employee who didn’t seem to care about what I, the owner, had told a customer, that employee would not be around much longer.

But when I tweeted Chef Roy about his manager’s bizarre behavior, which pretty much included a refusal to speak to me directly even though he was standing right in front of me, instead choosing to relay all messages through the woman who was taking orders as if some scene from a sitcom where the parents or siblings are fighting, Chef Roy wrote back pretty quickly to tell me this manager “did what he could.” What?! Did Chef Roy really check with his manager that quickly and not only take the manager at his word but then just turn around and tell me his manager’s response? Or, as I suspect, did Chef Roy just automatically decide to stand by his manager’s completely unacceptable and customer-unfriendly behavior without even asking the manager about it.

And let me tell you, I could not have been more nice about the whole thing. I never go to a non-vegan restaurant and expect to be fed as if it’s my right. Sometimes if I’m in a pinch somewhere, or wind up at a place where a group of friends are meeting, I will explain myself to the server and ask if they’re able to help. And they’re often as nice as can be.

But this was the opposite situation. Here I was, going to a restaurant where the owner himself had told me “Many things for you to eat. We got you” and yet the manager couldn’t give a rat’s ass and was not in the least bit interested in making this work for me. And not only that, the menu has been updated at Chego recently as reflected on the website. However, the restaurant itself has made the decision not to print new menus, instead sticking with outdated laminated sheets and instead using white stickers to cover up and block out the items that are no longer on the menu like you’d see at some down-on-its-luck hardscrabble coffee shop. I kid you not, these are the menus that customers are left to use.

Making matters worse, I was told that some of the items contained things like fish sauce that weren’t in the ingredients listed for each item on the menu. So how am I supposed to know what to order without help from the people who work there? Again, after I was told by the owner “Many things for you to eat. We got you” and after I told the manager that the owner had told me this. I know I’m repeating myself but I still find it shocking.

None of the items on the menu are labeled vegetarian, yet alone vegan, so it wasn’t like I had that going for me to provide some assistance. I was completely at the mercy of the staff and they were of no help whatsoever.

So what finally wound up happening? Well, the manager deigned to tell the woman taking orders that I could get the “Sour Cream Hen House: marinated grilled chicken rice bowl w/fried egg, Chinese broccoli, sour cream sambal, Thai basil, sesame and red jalapeño” and hold the sour cream, chicken, and fried egg. So I said sure. Like a friend of mine always says, “I’m not picky, just vegan.”

Then the woman told me that if I ordered the “Beehive Brussels Sprouts: caramelized and deglazed w/ soy vinaigrette over yogurt curd and honeycomb, crowned w/ salsa ensalada, fried shallots and sesame” without the honeycomb I’d be fine, so I said great to this, too. Now I know you’re saying, “But it has yogurt.” However, this was apparently one of their new items and it is not on the old weatherbeaten menus they have at the restaurant, so I had no idea what the ingredients were other than the honeycomb, which I guessed at given the “Beehive” in the name. And even though I’d already explained a few times to the woman taking orders that vegan meant no meat, no fish, no dairy, no eggs — she still told me I’d be fine with an item that came on a bed of yogurt. So when the item arrived, yup, it was on a bed of yogurt. AND, the sour cream bowl hold the sour cream came with, you guessed it, a big dollop of sour cream on it.

Beehive Brussels sprouts hold the honeycomb but oops, they gave it to me on a bed of yogurt.

Beehive Brussels sprouts hold the honeycomb but oops, it’s on a bed of yogurt!

And yet when I tweeted to Chef Roy that my experience at Chego had been rough, he replied “Don’t know why it was rough.” Really?!

I have to wonder just how detached Chef Roy is at this point from his restaurants. Why would he tell me there were many things to eat there without getting specific, leaving me with the impression that, well, there’d be many things for me to eat there, when that couldn’t have been further from the situation, at least not with the help of his staff, which was either unable or, remarkably, UNWILLING to help me.

So after my lunch I asked him what were these “many things” he’d told me awaited me. And he replies: “Leafy T.” Okay, well, they did not tell me about this option at the restaurant. Perhaps because the item as listed on the menu contains a “fried egg” — though they did not offer me the option of getting the Leafy T and holding the egg. I then asked him whether the “Smashed Kabocha Cup: roasted kabocha and sweet potato puree w/ soy glaze, bread crumbs, herbs and seasonal veggies” or the “Fancy Guac Salad: w/ fresh orange slices, fennel, pickled red onion and a chipotle dressing” contained any egg or dairy, and he never answered my question. Instead he simply sent me another tweet saying “You live up to your name.”

Now granted, I CAN be insufferable, as any of you who are regular readers (love ya!) know. And that’s partly the whole point. BUT I can also be friendly, polite, understanding, and VERY appreciative of any non-vegan place that’s trying to accommodate me. AND I can totally get it when a clearly non-vegan place can’t or won’t accommodate me. But when the owner of a restaurant tells me “Many things for you to eat. We got you” and then acts like I’m the one who’s being unreasonable for complaining that they didn’t got me even a little, then I think it’s the other party who’s clearly insufferable. And if you say it sounds more like he’s being Too Cool for School than insufferable, then I’m standing here touching the tip of my nose with my finger. And did I mention that this owner’s manager didn’t want to help at all to the point of rudeness, and that this owner talked earlier this year about not eating meat himself?

So what did I do after my twitter exchange with THE GREAT CHEF ROY ‘PAPI’ CHOI? I went back to Chego that very same night for dinner. That’s right. I went back and ordered the Leafy T bowl hold the fried egg. And at night, the guy taking the orders was much more knowledgable about ingredients than the woman at lunch, and seemed very certain that the Fancy Guac Salad did not contain any egg or dairy, so I got that too.

"Fancy Guac Salad" This was very good.

“Fancy Guac Salad”
This was very good.

And? Well, the Fancy Guac Salad was very good, although one of the two big chips they gave me with it was soggy. But I did not like the Leafy T at all. Maybe the fried egg brings the whole thing together, I don’t know. But I can tell you that it wasn’t nearly as good as the parts of the Brussels sprouts or the Sour Cream, Chicken and Egg Bowl hold the Sour Cream, Chicken and Egg that I picked at where they seemed not to touch the dairy that I’d asked them unsuccessfully to leave out.

And there, that’s my Chego story. I’m not sure what to make of it. Maybe you’ll have a better sense than I will. It sounds like an owner who really doesn’t have much of a clue what’s going on at his own restaurant, but maybe that’s not the case at all. Maybe he just wants to sound accommodating to everyone, or progressive, without really giving any thought to what that actually entails for someone who takes him at his word and shows up to eat the things he tells them they’ll be able to eat.

I hope THE GREAT CHEF ROY ‘PAPI’ CHOI will see that he’s the one who was being insufferable here, or at least that we both were, although I will only admit to being insufferable in this instance AFTER my visit, not before or during. And I hope this opens his eyes to the problem, and that when he finally decides to spend a little money and print new menus instead of covering up old items with white stickers (seriously, how much could some new menus cost, we’re not talking fancy menus here, we’re talking one 8.5″ X 11″ page) that maybe he’ll even think about putting some kind of symbol for vegetarian or vegan or can-be-made-vegan-on-request on the menu, like MANY restaurants in Los Angeles do these days. You know, the kind who really ARE trying to accommodate people who are doing the thing that Chef Roy mused to The New Yorker that he was thinking about doing.

I will end by saying one thing: Chef Roy is really talented. Some of the food I picked at around the edges was really, really good. If he would make more of an effort for us — and it would only take a little bit of effort — he could easily come up with a way for almost all diners to enjoy his talent. I really hope he will read this and do that, so that I’m not the only one in this back and forth who’s living up to their tweets.

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