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Veggie Grill menu fiasco

27 Mar

Veggie Grill doesn’t get it. Or sadly and more precisely, they do get it but have no shame. They are a disgraceful, pathetic company, and here’s why.

I have had to fight a one-man fight to get them to stop misleading their customers. It has been ugly and they have refused to publicly acknowledge what they’ve done, but in a classic “actions speak louder than words” way they’ve – kicking and screaming — made the changes I demanded, EXCEPT for my demand that they explain to their customers what happened. Their latest stealth move — and they are all stealth moves because there has not been one public statement on the matter in the last two months — was to alter their regular menu yesterday in a way that will shock you.

Menu change

On top is what the menu used to say, the bottom is the new version

Did you spot the difference? Sneaky, right? Does this look like they’re moving in a positive direction to a more open form of communication between a company and its customers? I think not. Because instead of simply removing the misleading statement that “Our specially seasoned and marinated proteins, Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, are made from organic and non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas” they’re now saying they’re “made from organic or non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas.” (Emphasis added emphatically.) So what the hell does that mean? It means nothing! Our specially seasoned and marinated proteins, Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, are made from Academy Award winning or non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas. That’s just as accurate as what their menu now says. Have you ever seen such disdain toward customers? Such cynicism?

And gardein, the company that makes the Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak for Veggie Grill, isn’t willing to say that these items are made with organic soybeans, wheat and peas. When I asked them earlier this week to confirm the accuracy of Veggie Grill’s February 4th tweet which stated “Gardein says that the soy, wheat and peas used in their product to us is organic & non-GMO” this is how gardein replied:

Tweets

“Wherever possible”?! Really?! What kind of phrasing is that? That seems like slippery, lawyered wiggle room if ever I heard it! Not only does gardein also use the “or” construction, which Veggie Grill finally adopted yesterday, but they further protect themselves by saying “wherever possible” — a phrase that Veggie Grill has not yet added to their slippery statement, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

So the question is: why does Veggie Grill insist on throwing around the word “organic”? Did Veggie Grill make a simple mistake here? Did they not understand that gardein very carefully chooses its words since not a single one of the 22 items on the gardein products page lists organic soybeans, organic wheat or organic peas in its ingredients? That’s right, I went through the ingredients lists of all 22 gardein items on their website and the only organic ingredients listed were “organic cane sugar,”  “organic ancient grain flour,” “organic beetroot fiber” and “organic rice flour.” That’s it.

But Veggie Grill has been saying on its menus for at least two years that its veggie proteins are “made with soy and wheat that are organic and non-GMO.” Meanwhile, anyone who wanted to could simply take a look at the “Veggie Proteins” page on Veggie Grill’s own website and see a list of ingredients for their Chickin’, Veggie-Steak, and Veggie-Steak burger, which listed no organic soy, wheat or peas, merely organic evaporated cane juice and organic beet root fiber. That is, anyone could take a look at that Veggie Proteins page on their website until yesterday, when it vanished. Now when you click that link, you get this:

wrong place

But don’t worry, I took a screen shot of the entire page for my original post because I knew Veggie Grill wouldn’t want anyone to see that ingredients page once I drew attention to it (though I have to admit it took them way longer that I thought it would to realize how bad it made them look and remove it).

In my experience, when a company makes a mistake, even a series of huge mistakes as Veggie Grill has done here, they cop to it, apologize to their customers, make things right with everyone, and move on. Not Veggie Grill. They have said nothing in two months. Not a word. Well, not a word unless you count favoriting and retweeting attacks on me and sending a private DM via twitter whenever a prominent critic comes along asking for an explanation.  I’m not kidding. Take a look at the response to these two food and public health experts. This is a company bathed in secrecy.

DM tweets

How come those people get an explanation but their loyal everyday customers get NOTHING? And how laughable for Veggie Grill to use the word “confusion” here. I think Veggie Grill is the only one who’s confused. And I’m curious, do you think a word like “confusion” could cover a situation where, let’s say, hypothetically, someone was trying to confuse people?

And for what? Why does Veggie Grill keep insisting on using the word “organic” when describing its chickin’ and steak and burgers? Is Veggie Grill desperate to attach a veneer of health to their enterprise in the same way that Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympics in the hope you will associate the company with fitness and athleticism? Is it all about throwing around the word “organic” in the hope that the customer won’t notice the items that are processed and fried?

Because at this point, it’s not clear why Veggie Grill is doing what it’s doing, since they flat out refuse to say, but one thing that’s clear is that it’s NOT a mistake. Not after changing the menu under pressure, and deciding to keep the word “organic” in there anyway, just in a new even more “confusing” usage. Call it what you want, but at this point in time it is anything but a mistake.

The only mistake Veggie Grill has made is in handling this matter like amateurs, and often like children. And by doing this, I fear they have damaged the prospects of vegan businesses in general. I have taken a lot of heat on this topic from vegans who say this has nothing to do with veganism, and that organic is not our fight so why am I criticizing a vegan business, but aside from the question that has been raised as to if they’ve been misleading people about their organic claims, what else might they have been misleading people about, there is the issue of showing the larger marketplace that a vegan business can conduct itself professionally, and can have what it takes to succeed.

Is this really how you want a vegan business to behave? Should they really get a pass for being vegan? I think just the opposite. And I’m not the only one:

Simon tweets

Come on, Veggie Grill, enough is enough. It’s time to give your customers an explanation. You owe them at least that. At least. Get your act together. Finally. Don’t you want to move on? I know that I do.

Veggie Grill can listen, but apparently they can’t speak

21 Mar

Hey, where'd the "mindful living" menus go?

Hey, where’d the “mindful living” menus go?

It’s been ten days now since my post asking,”Is Veggie Grill’s gardein organic, like Veggie Grill claims it is, or is it not?” and a lot has happened so I figured I’d update you.

The main thing that happened is that immediately after I published my post, Veggie Grill finally removed the claim on its website that “All of our veggie proteins and tempeh are organic and non-GMO.” And this past weekend, more than six weeks after I first brought the matter to Veggie Grill’s attention, all stores were told to pull all copies of the menu containing that claim, according to a manager I spoke to at one of their locations.

And yet despite these actions, there hasn’t been a single word from Veggie Grill about any of this. Given that they deleted the language from their website that I challenged, and ordered their store managers to remove all those menus, obviously they realized I was right. These actions seem to be a pretty clear admission that they had misled thousands of customers about the organic nature of their product.

But did Veggie Grill make any kind of public admission? Did they apologize for challenging me initially on this? More important, did they apologize to their customers about this? No, not a word.

But they weren’t *entirely* without response. They did favorite a mysterious tweet that attacked me. A tweet from @vegan, the same person who owns vegan.com, a person whom I can’t remember ever having a conversation with before, and who doesn’t even follow me on Twitter, and who out of nowhere tweeted one morning:

favorited tweet

And Veggie Grill favorited that tweet, a tweet from someone with 54,000 followers, a tweet that occurred not long after my blog post went up. And not only that, Veggie Grill later retweeted a tweet from, yup, that same person:

2nd tweet

I don’t know what the connection is between @vegan and VeggieGrill, but Veggie Grill sure must have appreciated the support because since then they’ve retweeted a number of random tweets from @vegan to their 74,000 followers, even though I went back months prior to my post and didn’t see a single retweet of @vegan by VeggieGrill. I guess one hand washes the other and all.

And that favorite of the attack on me, and the retweet above, have been the entirety of Veggie Grill’s response. Unbelievable, I know, and it’s both pathetic and shocking at the same time. Up until this, I thought Veggie Grill was a well-run company. I thought they had what it takes to grow the company. I thought the leadership was in place to actually turn this into a vegan giant that could divert people from meaty fast food all across America. But now my confidence in them is shattered.

It turns out that it’s amateur hour over there at Veggie Grill, which makes me sad. Any well-run company would have apologized to their customers, issued some type of statement about the matter, tried to make right with those who were misled, and begun to move on. But not Veggie Grill. Instead they have shown disdain for their customers, which is awful, considering how loyal their customers can be.

So loyal that many have attacked me on various social media platforms, and not just @vegan. The general opinion of the attackers seems to be: This is a vegan company spreading veganism so if the thing they’ve been misleading people about doesn’t pertain to the vegan nature of their products it’s okay. Then there have been some people on the other side who have basically said: If they misled customers about the organic nature of their products, what else might they be misleading people about?

Personally, I trust that they are indeed 100 percent vegan and committed to that. And I should add that I have never questioned their non-GMO claims, nor their claims that their tempeh, which is not from gardein, is organic.

But it’s important to note that Veggie Grill still has not addressed the claim on their regular menu, which is still online and in stores, that “Our specially seasoned and marinated proteins, Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, are made from organic and non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas. Produced by GARDEIN™, these hearty proteins are deliciously satisfying, easily digested and packed with nutrients and fiber.” This despite the fact that Veggie Grill’s own list of ingredients for these gardein items on Veggie Grill’s own website shows only the beet root fiber and the evaporated cane juice as being organic. On their own website! And Veggie Grill has been claiming on menus for at least two years that the wheat and soy in their gardein products are organic, even though the ingredients list that’s still up on their website today says otherwise!

Where are the answers from Veggie Grill? Is anyone in charge there? Is this what they think of their customers?

Oh, and I almost forgot that they also unfollowed me on Twitter. That’s the way the adults there decided to deal with this issue: they covered their eyes.

12 best things i 8 in ’13

5 Jan

Ten

Wait, did the year end? Crap, I gotta get this list out! Following a yearslong (two) tradition, here are the y-1 best things i 8 in y = past year – 2000.

Chardonnay cheese by Chef Dave Anderson

Chardonnay cheese by Chef Dave Anderson

12. I don’t want to start off on a sad note but I’m starting off on a sad note. Because my #12 best thing i 8 in ’13 was the Chardonnay cheese from Maddy’s in West LA which has closed. (Insert frowneyface emoticon.) Maddy’s was the creation of Chef Dave Anderson who comes up with some amazing vegan creations. Chef Dave is one of those rare chefs who is equally amazing as a pastry chef and a regala chef. PLUS HE MAKES GREAT CHEESE. When I bought a jar of his Chardonnay cheese on the very first day Maddy’s opened and took it home and eated it I was floored. It was the best vegan cheese I’d ever had. How he made cashews taste like this I have no idea but it was remarkable. But then two things happened veese-a-veese the cheese: as Chef Dave’s employees took over making it, the quality declined, to the point where after a few months it went from the best vegan cheese ever to not even worth buying anymore, and… Maddy’s went out of business. But there’s some good cheews (cheese news) ahead, so read on.

Chocolate Almond Midnight at Millennium in San Francisco

Chocolate Almond Midnight at Millennium in San Francisco

11. The Chocolate Almond Midnight Cake from Millennium in San Francisco. If you follow me on Instagram (and if you don’t oh my goodness now I like you a little bit less) then you know I recently made my first trip to San Francisco as a vegan. And I ate at Millennium, an elegant all-vegan restaurant that is 19 years old, which is about a Millennium in the all-vegan elegant restaurant business. And I enjoyed their two-billion-ingredients food very much but the thing I remember most was this cake. It was so good. And that’s real praise from me. It was so good! I want it now, and every day, but my world is otherwise so I’ll just have to accept it. But go eat that cake!

buffalo sub

Buffalo Sub at Sweet Hereafter, a vegan bar in Portland, Ore. Photo © Vegtastic Voyage. Used by permission.

10. The Buffalo Sub at the Sweet Hereafter vegan bar in Portland Oregon while I was in town to attend Vida Vegan Con 2013. You can read my giant Portland blogpost if you want to learn about the conference and vegan Portland and while I had lots of really good food that weekend I think the best thing I ate was this soy curls sandwich. I’d never had soy curls before and I knew it was kinda a Portland thing since it’s made by Butler Foods in Grand Ronde Oregon (63.2 miles from Portland via OR-99W S and OR-18 W) and this sub was almost as great as the concept of a vegan bar! The only problem is that I have no photo of it. Because my phone died. And because specialneedseater, who was sharing said sandwich with me, refused to take a photo of it with her living phone. So I had to grab this photo from VVC’s own Vegtastic Voyage, who was nice enough to let me use it. (Can’t wait for VVCIII!)  And speaking of vegan bars, I just want to say that the Charlie Brown chocolate peanut butter brownie bar from Sweetpea Baking Co. in Portland was the runner up from my Vida Vegan Con weekend veganing. Check out this beautiful bad boy!

Potato Harra (aka the best French fries you will ever eat) at Hayat's Kitchen

Potato Harra (aka the best French fries you will ever eat) at Hayat’s Kitchen in North Hollywood

9. Potato Harra (French fries with garlic and cilantro) at Hayat’s Kitchen in North Hollywood. Yes, I’m putting French fries on my list. And no, I’m not putting them on my list because they’re “loaded” or “discoed” or anything where a ton of delicious stuff is dumped on them. I’m putting them on because it’s all very delicate and maybe even art. Oh, and spicy. Sneak up on you kick the crap out of you spicy. (Though I suppose you could ask for no red pepper flakes.) I found out about Hayat’s Kitchen from an entry on Eater LA that was about the great, secret, and  yup, “Loaded” vegan burger at M Cafe (which I had and which, sorry, isn’t all that special). But the article also mentioned Hayat’s. And what a find. I’ve been there twice now and it’s not just French fries, it’s lots of great Lebanese food for people like us. Including stuff like vegetarian kibbie (which spellcheck wants to change to vegetarian cabbie) that was also really good.

Not sure what V-RV stands for but these vegan red velvet cookies are great!

Not sure what V-RV stands for but these vegan red velvet cookies are great!

8. The V-RV cookies from Isabella’s Cookie Company. V-RV stands for Vegan Red Velvet. And stop rolling your eyes, I don’t love Red Velvet either. (Though come to think of it, the vegan red velvet cake from Jamaica’s Cakes might be the best vegan cake I’ve ever had, but I put it on a previous year’s list, and I don’t like to repeat myself.) I found these vegan recreational vehicles at the Co-Opportunity in Santa Monica, but lately they haven’t had any. (Insert another frowneyface.) But you can order them directly from Isabella’s. And if you do, I’ll just share my point of view that the V-Coco ones are also terrific and that the V-Breakfast ones are some of the most disgusting cookies I’ve ever put in my mouth. (There’s also a V-Ginger that I want to try but haven’t found in any stores yet.)

Pure Luck Pop Up Pulled Pork

Can you say Pure Luck Pop Up Pulled Pork three times fast?

7. The BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich from the Pure Luck pop-up. The beloved vegan restaurant Pure Luck closed not long after I went vegan, though I did get to eat there once before it shuttered. (I said “shuttered” because I didn’t want to say “closed” twice in the same sentence but I should have just said “closed” again because “shuttered” sounds so douchey.) But what I ate at the Pure Luck restaurant didn’t prepare me for how good this jackfruit Pulled Pork Sandwich from a hot plate outside a clothing store on Melrose was going to be. An incredible combination of flavors finished off with the perfect amount AND TYPE of pickles. I want one of these right now!

Mushroom Shu Mai at Street

Mushroom Shu Mai at Street

6. The Mushroom Shu Mai at the kinda gone Street. I say kinda gone because Street closed for a few weeks and emerged from its chrysalis as Mud Hen Tavern. Which I haven’t been to yet. Even though Chef Kajsa does some amazing vegan things. Like the Chinese New Year dim sum brunch last February  where I had these Mushroom Shu Mai and a lot of other amazing food. What am I waiting for?!

Punk Rawk Labs' delicious misnamed cheese

Punk Rawk Labs’ delicious yet poorly named cheese

5. The Smoked Cashew Cheese from Punk Rawk Labs. I know, I just told you how great that Chardonnay cheese from Maddy’s was. But that was before I had this. And after having this, I think this is the best vegan cheese I have ever had. And I don’t much like smoky things. And this isn’t really smoky at all. What it is is pepper coated, and that’s the dominant taste, and it’s an amazing dominant taste. And I’m content to let it dominate me. If it would only come back in stock at Viva La Vegan which is where I got it.

Peppermint Patty Brownie from Bramble Bake Shop

Peppermint Patty Brownie from Bramble Bake Shop

4. The Peppermint Patty Brownie from Bramble Bake Shop. According to the Bramble Bake Shop website they are opening on January 15th, but they did a holiday preview box and the peppermint patty brownie was one of the items in it, and item is a strange word to use for a piece of art, because that’s what this thing was. A creation that takes your brain in new directions. The complexity of a great wine. And not all that surprising, given that the owner of Bramble is Miel Bredouw, who was the sous chef at Mohawk Bend and also in charge of all their pastries, including the delicious horchata spice cake that Mohawk sold at the LA Vegan Beerfest, not to mention the amazing Cadbury eggs she made last Easter. If the preview box is a preview of what she’s going to be doing, I can’t wait for the actual view.

Vegan Drunken Noodles with gardein chick'n at Wazuzu in the Encore Hotel in Las Vegas

Noodles up the Wazuzu

3. Vegan Drunken Noodles at Wazuzu in the Encore at the Wynn in Las Vegas. I was vegan more than three years before I made it to Las Vegas. Before I made it to the Wynn. Which I ‘d heard for three years was a mecca of vegan fine dining. And I wasn’t disappointed. In four days I managed to eat a lot of their food and try a lot of their restaurants, though I need to go back soon and try all the rest. And though much of it was good, and some very good, I think my favorite thing was these Vegan Drunken Noodles, which were incredibly good. The serving was tremendous, enough for me to bring home three-quarters of it in a doggie bag and still be full, except that there was no doggie bag, and the bowl was empty when I was done, although there might have still been a drop of sauce. My bad.

California Cone at The Bazaar by José Andrés

California Cone at The Bazaar by José Andrés

2. The Bazaar by José Andrés. Okay, this is a place, not a dish. Because if I went by dishes then The Bazaar might have taken three or four spots on this list. I found out about this place from my partner in vegan crime, specialneedseater. Who told me this place had A SEPARATE VEGAN MENU. And it’s true. And she also told me I needed to go because the food on that svm is amazing. And it is. So if you have a special occasion to celebrate, go splurge here and try it. Oh, what were the things that would have taken up three or four spots on the list? The California Cones are pretty spectacular. The pisto is outrageous. (Is “outrageous” as douchey a word as “shuttered”?) The gazpacho is delicious. But I think my favorite might have been the jicama-wrapped guacamole. You get five to a serving. I could have eaten a hundred.

Blackened Tomatoes at the Plum Bistro pop up in Hollywood

Blackened Tomatoes at the Plum Bistro pop up in Hollywood

1. The Plum Bistro pop-up in Hollywood. Yup, I’m cheating again with a meal not a thing. Because this might be the best vegan meal I’ve ever had. Might be the best any meal I’ve ever had. Chef Makini Howell of Seattle’s Plum Bistro was the conductor of this symphony with contributions from Chef Shawain Jay of Cafe Blossom in New York and also from Chef Roberto Martin whose blackened tomatoes were one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth. specialneedseater and I kept looking at each other in amazement over how good this food was. And after dinner we got a chance to chat with Chef Makini who said she was thinking about opening a permanent place in LA. I haven’t heard anything about that since but it would certainly be a lot easier than me moving to Seattle.

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.

Livin’ La Pura Vida Loca

9 Dec

Pura Vida Bakery & Bystro
1236 Western Ave
Las Vegas NV 89102
702.722.0108

Pura Vida

Holy shit.

I have been to a lot of restaurants in my half a hundred years on Earth. I have seen a lot of weird things and experienced a lot of odd situations. But I have never walked into the middle of a Dali painting quite like this one.

I was in Vegas for business. If you look up Las Vegas on Happy Cow, there is only one all-vegan restaurant in the city (besides a few raw places) so I had to go. I also had to go because writing for the late great SuperVegan, my vegan pal specialneedseater raved about this place. I’ll settle that score separately.

So I drove my rental car into the near-the-railroad-tracks industrial wasteland a little north and west of the Strip and found Pura Vida. I was so excited.

The time: appx 11:30 on a Saturday. Are you ready? Let’s go.

I walked in and was greeted by a friendly server. He directed me to a nice two-top near the door. I sat down.

Before long, the owner, the famous (at least to Las Vegas vegans) Chef Mayra emerged from the kitchen and I saw her point at me and then have a conversation with the server. What did I do?!

The server came back to my table and told me that I had to move. Huh? Chef Mayra must have seen my look of puzzlement — you know, the look that any human would have in this situation — and said I couldn’t sit at the two-top because I was eating by myself and that I needed to move to a table in the back. I decided not to say anything and just comply.

But I have to say it was a bizarre request. The place wasn’t full. In fact, there was an entire section to the left of the entrance that wasn’t being used. And next to my two-top was another solo diner enjoying his lunch at a two-top. But I let it go and changed tables. To a table that not only left me facing the dirty spot where they threw table scraps into a bucket, BUT TO A TABLE THAT WAS ANOTHER TWO -TOP!

IMG_8255

Photo taken by me, sitting in my seat, of the other chair at my table, and beyond.

Why couldn’t the still-theoretical party of two get this crappy table instead of me? But again I didn’t say anything. I was there for the food and decided to go with the flow. So I sat down to look at my menu. Except I realized that when the server sat me there he never gave me a menu. That was odd. And now he was helping someone else. And not looking my way. And the other server wasn’t either. So I was left just sitting there. For quite a while. And then my server helped another party. And still I didn’t have a menu. And neither server was either within earshot of me nor in a position to catch my glance, so I sat there for quite a while menuless. Five minutes maybe? Wow, this was odd.

But then when my server finally grabbed a menu and came over to me, I realized why he hadn’t just given me a menu to start. It’s because the menus require a presentation. Or at least someone has decided they do. But first let me tell you that the very first thing the server said to me when he gave me the menu was: “Do you have a Groupon today?” And when I said no, he said, “Good.”

Now I’m not a big Yelper. I find it to be minimally helpful. So I didn’t check it before going to Pura Vida. But if you take a look at the Yelp reviews and search Groupon you will see a lot of stories. A LOT. And they are not good.

But I didn’t have a coupon, and so I was apparently allowed to order anything I wanted. So nice of them!

My server did his little presentation of the menu and I settled on the “WOW Pastry Puffs” that specialneedseater had raved about. The server then told me they would take about thirty minutes and that I should consider ordering an appetizer while I waited. Hmm, well, I do always like to try a few things at a place, especially when I won’t have the chance to get back for a while, so I said okay. He suggested the Chili Cheese Potatoes or the Salsa & Chips. I went with the potatoes. I then ordered a smoothie. “Sorry, we’re not doing smoothies right now.” Oh. Why, I asked. “Because Chef Mayra is the only one who can make the smoothies and she’s busy cooking right now.”

That seemed odd. Really? Nobody else is trained to make smoothies? No other human is capable of making one of their smoothies quite as well as Chef Mayra? But I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it and shrugged and asked for a glass of water instead.

Chile Cheese Potatoes. $9 worth of potatoes with a little vegan cheese and chili.

Chile Cheese Potatoes. $9 worth of potatoes with a little vegan cheese and chili.

Maybe ten minutes later my chili cheese potatoes came out and they looked terrific. Don’t they look amazing? Well, they weren’t amazing. They weren’t bad but they weren’t good either. They were mediocre. Solidly mediocre. I ate a little more than half of them, due to their mediocrity and to me not wanting to fill up on potatoes with my main course coming, and I settled in to wait. And I have to say, contrary to what other people on Yelp have endured, it wasn’t bad. I’d say that the puff pastries arrived maybe 25 minutes after I ordered them, which was fine. It wasn’t a problem to me.

WOW Puff Pastry. The only thing WOW about these was the $16 price tag.

And don’t they look terrific? I was pretty excited. And then they were mediocre. Not bad. Not good. Mediocre. Okay, I thought. I know what’s going on here. This is the only all-vegan restaurant in the city, and the Vegas Vegans defend it. They didn’t have any vegan restaurants for a long time and so they embraced this one. And maybe they find all the strange behavior to be charming, or at worst eccentric. Not annoying. The way someone like me, who lives in a city which has so many vegan options that I don’t have to tolerate let alone defend mediocre food and odd behavior, would see this place.

Dessert Menu

So I ate my puff pastry and then asked about dessert. There were three desserts on the dessert menu that day. Two contained banana and I don’t like banana. And they were sold out of the non-banana one. So I asked my server about the Peanut Butter & Banana Silk Pie since that one said it had “bananas on top” and I thought maybe they could be left off, but it turned out that one was also sold out. Two of the three desserts were sold out long before closing. And keep in mind, this is a place with the word “bakery” in its name, and which places the word “bakery” before the word “bystro” in its name. And yes, they spell “bistro” with a “y” — an affectation that should have tipped me off to to how byzarre thys joynt ys.

Anyway, I skipped dessert and asked for the check and was paying when Chef Mayra came out of the kitchen and asked how everything was. And although I wasn’t going to say anything, since she wanted to know, I said, “Well, I still don’t understand why you moved me.” And I’m not a mental health expert, so I won’t attempt to characterize the condition of the human who responded, but rather I’ll just share the response.

“I moved you because the server should never have sat you there. One person is supposed to be sat in the back and I have told them that repeatedly. I guess they need even more training.” Me: But I was already seated, and the gentleman next to me was by himself at a two-top, and there were other open tables in the restaurant, and the table that you moved me to was also a two-top. “But I can’t take a chance that I leave you sitting there, and then a party of two comes in and they have to be sat in the back and I’m not going to do this.” But why should they get priority over me for the better table? “Because this is a destination restaurant. I have people come from out of town and go out of their way to eat here. I have people who take cabs from the Strip to eat here!” I did not point out to her that she never asked me if I was from out of town, or if her restaurant was a destination for me. Because at that point I saw the look in the eyes. You know the look. The look that makes you say to yourself, “Whoa!” And like I said, I’m not a mental health expert, so I will not venture to characterize what was staring back at me from those eyes,  but if you my dear reader happen to be an expert in this field, or at least a trained professional, and have visited Pura Vida and spoken to Chef Mayra, I would love to get your official take on what we are dealing with here.

And by the way, I don’t blame you if you don’t want to trust my take on the situation. All you need to do is go to Yelp. Look up Pura Vida and then click “rating” and then click it again so it gives you all the one-star reviews first. Then read through all the one-star reviews and two-star reviews and even most of the three-star reviews and after reading dozens of these you’ll start to see that everyone felt the exact same way.

Another thing I should mention is that if you look on Yelp, there are a lot of complaints about people still waiting for their food long after the rest of their party had been served, and that when they asked their server about it they were told: your entrée was given to someone else by mistake. And this happened to a nearby table while I was there! I heard a gentleman ask where his food was – the woman he was with had her food for a while – and he was told it was given to someone else by mistake. What was strange was that looking around, there was no other table that seemed like it could have received his meal. The other tables were all finishing up, so I was confused. But now after reading Yelp, I know that this is just an excuse the servers are told to say to cover up for ridiculous wait times. And there are also people on Yelp complaining about being asked to change tables for no reason after having already been seated.

But I saved the best part for last. While I was eating, I heard one of the customers at another table tell a server that she heard Pura Vida was closing. And the server said it was true, but that they would be re-opening elsewhere and that she couldn’t say anything else about it. So after getting Chef Mayra’s “explanation” as to why she moved me to a table with a view of the dirtiest, most disgusting part of the restaurant, I told her I heard that Pura Vida was closing. Her eyes sprang from her head in pure Captain Queeg style and she said, or rather insisted,  in a loud voice, “Who told you that?!” I was vague and just said I’d heard it. She then said it was true, and that they had to move because the area was being taken for a freeway expansion project, but that she already found a new location which she couldn’t tell me about, but she proudly said that it was going to be a “148-seat location.”

Well, it’s a good thing my food was pretty far down in my belly by then or I’d have spit it out laughing. The current restaurant has 14 seats on the side that I was on, and another 12 to 16 seats on the other side of the restaurant, which was closed. So let’s take this in:  this woman can not run her already tiny restaurant effectively unless she further cuts the seating in half, and she’s planning on opening a space that’s ten times the size of what it was today? My prediction is that she’s going to go out of business pretty fast. And you know what? She deserves to. She’s a gigantic asshole serving mediocre food at ridiculously expensive prices and who seems to think she’s the vegan Alice Waters.

Maybe if you’re a vegan who lives in Las Vegas you don’t want to head down to the Strip for lunch any more than a New Yorker would have wanted to head to Times Square for lunch in 1985 but trust me, there is much better food to be had at the Wynn and elsewhere for similar or not much higher prices. Pura Vida is what vegan food USED TO BE. Mediocre, expensive and served by a weirdo. We don’t have to live like this any more, folks. We are everywhere now. But if you’re a defender, and I’m sure I will hear from many of them, then my suggestion is to go now and go often because with a 148-seat establishment, you’re going to have to wait about seven hours for your $9 pile of diced potatoes and that might be about as long as that spot will stay in business.

Part three: The Green Truck has egg on its face

21 Nov
So now it's a "Veggie Burger" with a "Veggie Patty." Yup.

So now it’s a “Veggie Burger” with a “Veggie Patty.” That other stuff they said? Never mind.

This is just a quick post because I realized that although I instagrammed the denouement I never posted it on the blog. So for completion’s sake here’s what happened, as told on Instagram earlier this month:

Not sure what to say about the Green Truck at this point. Almost decided to just let this go and not report back to y’all about what happened. As you probably remember, not that long ago I went to the Green Truck in LA when it was over on Wilshire near LACMA. I ordered their signature item: the “Mother Trucker Vegan Burger” and it was served to me on an obviously eggy bun. I asked and they said they thought the bun indeed had egg and they called the owner who instantly confirmed it had egg. So the owner knew the bun contained egg but was still presenting it to the public as a vegan burger. Went back the next day in a hat and dark glasses with a different name and ordered the “Mother Trucker Vegan Burger” and the same workers in the truck sold it to me again without tipping me to any non-vegan issues and again it was served to me on an eggy bun. When someone tweeted the owner to ask about my reporting, he said it was just a “rumor” and also someone named Sara from Green Truck left a comment on my blog claiming it’s usually served on a vegan bun (even though the workers in the truck told me it’s “always” served on the eggy bun) and also claiming that whenever they run out of these alleged-to-exist vegan buns they note that on their menu board (which the pix I posted that day last month showed not to be so).

After my tweets and blog posts set records for hits and retweets and were seen by over 100,000 people, the Green Truck changed its menu board the next week to say “Mother Trucker Veggie Burger. Go full vegan! Have Mother Trucker Vegan Patty on greens or kale.” So much for it being a “rumor.” But I did not trust the lowlifes who own the Green Truck to police themselves so I filed a number of complaints with local authorities about what happened and now this week when I paid another visit to the Green Truck the menu board, as you can see, had been changed yet again to read: “Mother Trucker Veggie Burger. Mixed greens, tomato, veggie patty, trucker sauce.” So I have to wonder if this is the result of the proper authorities coming down on them, and I have to wonder if the patty itself was ever vegan since they’re now saying it’s “veggie” not “vegan” and I have to wonder if the patties they were selling at the LA Vegan Beerfest were merely vegetarian and not vegan. It’s a sad state of affairs, really, and makes me wonder about all their other claims of greenness and sustainability and whether or not the “Green” in “Green Truck” is referring to an altogether different kind of green, which really makes me blue.

Part two: The Green Trucks give me the blues

4 Oct

I suppose I could feel angry, hurt, cheated, or any other number of feelings about what has transpired with the Green Trucks over the past couple of days, but the profound feeling that I have is sadness. I am sad that these people are such profound assholes.

This morning I received a comment on my blog post from someone named Sara at Green Truck. I’m going to re-post it here because it is one of the most astounding things you will ever read, and it confirms for me that the Green Truck people are vermin.

Green Truck comment

Rarely have I come across a piece of writing that reeked this badly. Let’s go through it. She starts by defending the patty. “Our Mother Trucker Vegan Patties have been made in house with locally sourced ingredients since 2007. ” Classic straw man maneuver, since I never questioned whether the patty was vegan. “We do offer our patty on vegan bread, a bed of kale”… let me stop right there. Um, no, you don’t. There was no vegan bread offered to me, nor was I offered the choice to have it on kale. I was not offered ANY choice. It was served to me on an eggy bun. And when I spoke with the two people in the truck, and they called the owner who immediately confirmed there was egg in the bun, the only thing I was offered as a result was a tortilla. But no choices were offered to me beforehand. “This is up to the customer”… um, no, it is not. And then she pathetically hides behind the non-sequitor of some people like their vegan patties on eggy buns with bacon and cheese! Well, good for them and, for the record, vegans DO NOT LIKE THEIR BURGERS ON EGGY BUNS WITH BACON AND CHEESE YOU SHITHEAD. And a burger called vegan that contains these items IS NOT VEGAN.

“Our menu supports vegans and non-vegans alike” — well, your vegan burger doesn’t support vegans because it contains egg, and your beef burger and chicken pesto sandwich kinda tipped me off that your truck supports non-vegans, even though “supports” is a terrible word choice that shows what a terrible writer you are. But I digress.

“Our Mother Trucker patty is 100% vegan” — here’s the straw man again “and it is the customer’s choice as to how they wish to accompany it.” This is the kind of sentence that really let’s the entire world know what lowlifes these people are. It was not the customer’s choice at all. There was no choice offered. The burger is called the Mother Trucker Vegan Burger, and as served it is not vegan. Nor is the customer notified that oh by the way, if you want your vegan burger to be vegan, you have to speak up and tell us that, even though of course how could you know that, since we tell you on our menu board and our website that it’s vegan, it just isn’t. But hey, it’s your choice. But if you don’t know, and thus don’t speak up, your “vegan” burger will be accompanied by animal products that by definition are not vegan.

And then comes the killer comment: “No deception here.” Are you old enough, or well-enough versed in history, to remember Nixon’s “I am not a crook”? Well, here’s the newest iteration: “No deception here.” Are you realizing at this point what kind of scum these people are? It’s truly shocking.

“On days where we have run out of the vegan bun it is served on an artisanal bun which is listed on printed menus on the truck and it is the customer’s choice if they wish to sans the bun and go with the bed of kale to ensure their meal is vegan.” First of all, sans is not a verb. I think she sansed an education. Second of all, why should I have to change anything to make an item called “vegan burger” vegan? And third, the menu board on the truck describes it only as “Mother Trucker Vegan Burger” and doesn’t say anything about the bun, and neither does the printed menu description from the website:

Green Truck menu

Your description doesn’t say a damn thing about the bun. But you call it a BURGER and you DO serve it on a bun and you say it’s a VEGAN BURGER so why would any customer ever think that they had to speak up and tell you they don’t want the bun? More to the point, nobody said to me: “We’re out of vegan buns, is a non-vegan bun okay or do you want it on a bed of kale.” Quite the opposite, THEY DIDN’T SAY A WORD.  As if I’m supposed to know to ask whether the bun on their vegan burger is vegan or not. And do you know why nobody working there said anything about the bun? Because as I said in my previous post, when I asked the woman working in the truck, she said the Mother Trucker Vegan Burger is ALWAYS served on that eggy bun.

It doesn’t matter if she’s only worked on your truck for a year, a month or a week, it tells me all I need to know about your claim that it’s usually served on a vegan bun and that your truck usually carries both vegan and non-vegan buns. This directly contradicts not only what I experienced but also contradicts what YOUR employee told me.

And then you go on to say, “Our apologies if your experience was confusing.” Well, Samuel Johnson was wrong. Patriotism is not the last refuge of the scoundrel. The last refuge of the scoundrel is claiming that the other side is confused. She does it here, and the douchebag who handles the Green Truck in San Diego did it to me last night when he said, “I can understand your confusion.” There is nothing confusing about the situation. You people are worthless and despicable. You are boils on the ass of humanity, wrapped up in a package of alleged greenness. You think you’re clever and can explain away the obvious but what’s obvious is that you don’t realize how transparent you are. I’m not confused at all. It’s pretty simple: you are poop.

She closes with, “We love our local vegan community and proudly provide delicious, organic fare.” I don’t care if the egg in your vegan burger is delicious egg or organic egg because I’M VEGAN AND I DON’T EAT EGG. As for whether you love the vegan community, I can’t speak to that. There’s all kinds of love. There are parents who love their kids yet burn them with cigarettes. Is that the kind of love you are talking about?

Okay everyone, are you ready for the big surprise? Oh wait, there’s something else I want to talk about before the surprise. It’s that fuckface tool down in San Diego. He whined to me like a baby last night that he was separately owned from Green Truck and that I was harming his business. He also didn’t apologize, for my confusion or otherwise. If he really gave a shit about vegans he would have expressed concern about my vegan burger containing egg, but he didn’t even have it in him to pretend he cared about that. But you know what I saw today? It turns out that Mr. I’m In San Diego And The Los Angeles Green Trucks Are Separate Separate Separate has his own Twitter account for the San Diego Green Truck (@GreenTruck_SD) and this morning he tweeted about the Green Truck Los Angeles being back on Wilshire today! And a few days ago he tweeted about the LA Green Truck being in Santa Monica! Now keep in mind, there is also another twitter account for the GreenTruck (@GreenTruck) but I’m talking about a Twitter that specifically describes itself as the San Diego Green Truck twitter yet promotes the appearances of the LA Green Truck in Los Angeles. And the fact that this San Diego account was tweeting this morning about the Green Truck being on Wilshire today after his email to me last night — without ever apologizing or explaining what happened on Wilshire yesterday — tells you plenty about Mr. San Diego Green Truck Fartlips. He’s a giant, giant asshole. And… not long after I received the comment from Green Truck’s Sara, the tweet on the San Diego twitter account promoting today’s Wilshire appearance was deleted! But fear not, because I screen-shot it before it disappeared and here it is:

@greentruck_SD tweet

So I do want to thank Mr. San Diego Green Truck Crybaby because without his tweet this morning I would have never thought to go back to Green Truck today. Which I did after receiving Sara’s comment, so thank you to Sara as well. And that’s the surprise! I went back to the Green Truck, ordered the Mother Trucker Vegan Burger from the same person who sold it to me yesterday, WHO DID NOT ASK IF I WANTED IT ON KALE OR IN A TORTILLA OR ON A NON-VEGAN BUN OR WHETHER I CARED IF IT WAS EVEN REALLY VEGAN OR ANY OTHER QUESTION WHATSOEVER. She just took my name and money, and then a few minutes later I was given a box marked “vegan” that contained my Mother Trucker Vegan Burger. And here it is, with today’s LA Times to show you that I really went back today and experienced the exact same thing despite the comments and remarks from representatives of both the Los Angeles and Green Trucks defending themselves to the hilt. THE SAME THING HAPPENED AGAIN.

Non-vegan vegan burger. Two days in a row. Sad and disgraceful. Shame on them!

Non-vegan vegan burger. Two days in a row. Sad and disgraceful. Shame on them!

Like I said, it makes me sad. Yesterday was bad enough. But after everyone at Green Truck was made well aware of what happened yesterday, they pulled the same thing again. I know. There’s really only one conclusion that can be drawn. They are knowingly selling a non-vegan burger as a vegan burger. The same woman who sold it to me yesterday didn’t say a word to me when I ordered it today, even though I wore a hat and big sunglasses today and used a different name so there was no way she knew it was me. I was wrong when I said in my post yesterday that she was nice. She’s yet another piece of Green Truck Trash. Is this job really so important to her that she would do this? Are the owners so terrible that she thinks they would fire her in a second if she didn’t stick to the party line and keep her mouth shut about the eggy buns? And speaking of these Dogshit Owners, after all that happened yesterday, and after Mr. San Diego Green Truck told me last night that he spoke to them about it, they send that truck out again today with none of their supposed- vegan buns (remember, the woman on the truck said the vegan burger ALWAYS comes on the eggy buns) and with no instructions to the staff to at least warn people that, as served, the vegan burger isn’t vegan at all. I can’t tell you when I’ve encountered such pathetic, despicable people.

But we’ll see what happens. My original tweets about the story yesterday were retweeted to tens of thousands of people today. And my blog post about the incident drove record traffic to my blog. The vegan community in LA is big but it’s not that big that word won’t get around to everyone. Ditto the Green community here. Word is spreading about the kind of people involved with the Green Trucks. The proper authorities in LA are being notified about the risks to those with egg allergens, among other things. And soon everyone will know what kind of green these people really care about.

(Did I mention that the dickwad in San Diego says the buns on his vegan burgers have always been vegan? And that I believe him? He’s a dickwad for other reasons, and not nearly as big a dickwad as the Los Angeles Green Truck dickwads, but a dickwad nonetheless. But don’t worry about his vegan burgers not being vegan. Because he assures me they are. So if you want an actual vegan Green Truck Mother Trucker Vegan Burger, all you have to do is drive to San Diego! Easy Peasy, right?)

This vegan burger isn’t vegan so they can Green Truck themselves

3 Oct

Green Truck
multiple trucks and locations
(310) 204-0477

Green Truck

UPDATE: 

I received an email this evening from David Holtze who claims to be the owner/operator of the Green Truck San Diego, which he says is a “separate business LLC” — this despite a shared website and a shared fax number on that website. He asks that I remove any reference to “San Diego” in my post because it is “causing harm to my business.” It seems to me that what is causing harm to his business is an association with a Green Truck in Los Angeles that is selling non-vegan vegan burgers. My post did not say that this happened in San Diego — it explicitly stated that this happened in Los Angeles.  In fact, my only reference to San Diego was in a general sentence that began “It’s hard to operate a food truck in LA (or San Diego)” and so I will remove the words “San Diego” from that sentence as a courtesy to Mr. Holtze and I will point out that he says he has served only local vegan focaccia buns since the day he has opened. I am happy to hear this since it means there is at least one Green Truck out there whose vegan burgers are actually vegan. So if you live in San Diego, go enjoy a vegan burger from his Green Truck and write him a positive review on Yelp if you like it, since he says he received a negative one tonight.

But obviously Mr. Holtze’s (vegan) beef is not with me but with the Green Truck in Los Angeles that is serving non-vegan vegan burgers. That is what is causing any perceived damage to his business. Does Mr. Holtze not realize that he shares a website with the Green Truck in Los Angeles? Does Mr. Holtze not realize that this website lists his weekly San Diego schedule alongside the weekly Los Angeles schedule? Does Mr. Holtze not realize that there is nothing to alert a visitor to this website that the Green Trucks are separately owned? And so clearly, his concern should not be directed toward this blog, but to the owner of the Green Truck in Los Angeles that is selling non-vegan vegan burgers. It seems that Mr. Holtze wants to have his vegan burger and eat it too, associating himself with Green Truck Los Angeles when it comes to a joint website, yet separating himself from Green Truck Los Angeles when there’s a problem.

Two final things to note in this update: Mr. Holtze’s buns in San Diego don’t even contain honey, and Mr. Holtze needs to stop slanderously using the word “slanderous.” Furthermore, he must immediately apologize to me at the top of the joint Green Truck website for his reckless and actionable comment that my post is causing harm to his business, and he should insist that SEPARATELY OWNED Green Truck Los Angeles apologize to the vegan community right under his apology to me, and then for heaven’s sake he should learn not to shoot the messenger!

My Original Post:

I haven’t posted in a while but this truck drove me to it. This isn’t a typical complaint about a vegan food item not being vegan. This is bigger than that. This is what appears to be an intentional fraud perpetrated on the vegan community. And it gets worse.

Back in May I went to the LA Vegan Beer Fest. It was great. Lots of vegan beer and food. Including the Green Truck. I’d heard about their Mother Trucker Vegan Burger and really wanted to try it. And I did. And it was good.

The Mother Trucker Vegan Burger is something that’s always on the menu at the Green Truck. Along with a number of meat items. But of course at the LAVBF they could only sell vegan items, so instead of their meat sandwiches they had a few different vegan offerings. But I got the Mother Trucker since I’d never had it before. And this is what it looked like:

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger at LA Vegan Beer Fest.

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger at LA Vegan Beer Fest.

It looks good, right? Well, here’s what it looked like when it was served to me today on Wilshire near LACMA:

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger. I mean "Vegan" Burger.

Mother Trucker Vegan Burger. I mean “Vegan” Burger.

If there’s one thing I can spot after 3+ years as a vegan, it’s an eggy bun. That bricohy shine gives it away every time. So I asked the two people working in the truck if the bun contained egg. The woman taking the orders said she thought so and looked at the man making the orders who said yes, he thought it did have egg. And let me say right now that both these people were extremely friendly and seemed like they wanted to do the right thing. So much so that the man making the food immediately volunteered to call the owner and ask. As I stood there, he called, he asked, and he was IMMEDIATELY told that yes, the buns contain egg. After he ended the phone call I politely said, “Okay, well then your vegan burger isn’t vegan.” And they agreed. And the man making the food offered to re-make it in a tortilla as a wrap, so I said okay, and he did, and it was tasty.

So a lot of credit goes to the people working the truck. There was no eye-rolling, they understood the problem, and they tried to rectify it. They didn’t act like they were well aware of the problem from other people asking. But maybe I’m a sucker and they knew they were selling non-vegan vegan burgers. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, because like I said, they only seemed like they wanted to help.

It’s the owner of the Green Truck who’s the piece of shit. Here is a guy who knew immediately that the buns contain egg, who knowingly markets the burger as a vegan burger to the point that the word “vegan” is in the name of the burger, and who was a vendor at LA Vegan Beer Fest, so I KNOW it was made clear to him at that time what were and weren’t permissible ingredients. Oh, and I should mention that when I asked the people working the truck if that’s the bun that the Mother Trucker Vegan Burger is always served on they both said yes.

This is unacceptable.

My first email was to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. What if people with an egg allergy are buying this burger because they think it’s vegan, but being served egg? That’s a real problem. My next email was to the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs. This seems to me to be a situation where we are knowingly being sold something that is not the thing we are told we are being sold. The third email was to the Los Angeles County Agricultural Department’s Weights & Measures Division. They are the ones who regulate consumer overcharges, farmers market fraud, etc.

As I said, it’s one thing for someone to incorrectly market a non-vegan item as vegan. It’s another for someone to knowingly pass off a non-vegan item as vegan. But it’s a whole other thing when someone participates in the LA Vegan Beer Fest, takes advantage of the publicity afforded that event to promote themselves as vegan-friendly and ingratiate themselves with the vegan community, and then turns around and does something like this.

Oh, and did I mention the emails going to the movie studios and production companies around town, since the Green Truck does a lot of their business on a catering basis at those facilities? Whoever might be thinking of hiring them or bringing them back needs to know what is going on and what their employees are being subjected to. Because if the vegan burger isn’t vegan, how do we know if the “organic” ingredients are really organic, or if the “local” ingredients are really local?

This business needs to be fully investigated by the proper authorities. And believe me, it will be now. And every single violation that is noted — such as no conspicuous litter receptacle as required by LAMC 80.73(b)2(D — will be reported. The truck extends into a red zone? It will now be photographed and reported. Oh and guess what, they were just in Santa Monica yesterday selling their non-vegan vegan burger. Were they 35 feet from the nearest truck as required by that permit? That’s another email.

It’s hard to operate a food truck in LA (<<courtesy redaction>>) even when you’re being honest with your customers. I can only imagine how hard it must be to retain your permits if there’s a steady stream of clear violations being properly documented and reported. Hmmm. Maybe it’s impossible?

Field Roast might be the worst vegan food company ever, also known as The Mystery of the Fake Fake Meat Booth

19 May

IMG_7547

The Field Roast booth with the giant Field Roast sign.

2nd UPDATE: The person who ran this booth without Field Roast’s knowledge has responded in the comments under the name “Walter.”

UPDATE: The owner of Field Roast has responded to me with the following comment:

“Hi…this is the doofus owner of Field Roast.  It wasn’t a Field Roast booth and we had no idea that he was going to register as Field Roast.  Walter May has been selling Field Roast for years at World Fest….i’m sorry for the confusion.  We will certainly talk to Walter, we had no idea that he was registering the booth at Field Roast.  We have never met him but wish him well…as he is putting out the vegan food for all.  Peace – David.”

Frankly I find this to now be an even more shocking story. Someone registered this booth as Field Roast, it was listed on the WorldFest website as a Field Roast booth, it had a giant Field Roast sign on the booth, and they were selling stuff as Field Roast (for example: “Our corn dogs”) that weren’t actually Field Roast, and yet the owner of Field Roast wishes the mysterious Walter May well? A little research shows that this booth was also registered as Field Roast last year! Why would WorldFest allow this to happen? Could I have registered a booth as, let’s say, Odwalla, hung a giant Odwalla sign, and then sold a different company’s juices with signs that said “Our famous carrot juice” and this would have been fine with WorldFest? This is something the Attorney General’s office will need to look into, as well as the Department of Recreation and Parks. The vegan community has been scammed. I think I will find a class action lawyer to get involved.

ORIGINAL POST:

I was really excited. I looked at the website for WorldFest, which bills itself as “L.A.’s Largest Veg Festival” featuring a “Vegan Food Court” and I saw that Field Roast was going to be one of the exhibitors. I thought this might be a chance to try some of their foodservice items that aren’t available in stores. I was even hoping they might have the Field Roast burgers, which as far as I knew were only available at Safeco Field, the Mariners’ ballpark in Field Roast’s hometown of Seattle.

In fact, I was so excited about trying these items that I decided it was worth a pretty far drive, a $9 admission fee, and $5 to park. I tweeted @FieldRoast to see if they’d be selling their burgers but of course they didn’t respond since their social media is awful and they rarely respond to questions and comments. But I did see on their twitter that they were also at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago today. That’s impressive, I thought, that they could handle two events in two different cities in one weekend.

Well, it turns out they can’t, or they didn’t, I’m not sure which. You see, @VeganEvents, which if you’re not following them on Twitter and you live in Southern California what are you waiting for?!, was nice enough to see my tweet and let me know that the Field Roast booth at Worldfest was selling corn dogs. Okay, I decided, they’re there and selling Field Roast items I can’t get in stores, so I’m going.

I drove out, paid to park, paid to get in, found the Field Roast booth with the big Field Roast sign, and waited on a long line to order.

IMG_7559

When I got to the front of the line I was really excited to see a whole bunch of items I’d never seen before. Meatball subs! Corn dogs! And yes, Veggie Burgers! Score! I didn’t know what to get so I was prepared to order a whole bunch of things. “I’ll take a meatball sub,” I said, when it was my turn to order. “And a corn dog! Oh, and a veggie burger, too! And I suppose I should get some fries to go with it all!” Man, was I psyched for a feast.

Then the thought occurred to me: are these the Field Roast veggie burgers from Safeco Field or the Field Roast coconut cutlets foodservice item I’d seen on their website. So I asked that question. “Uh…” the woman replied, they’re these,” at which point she picked up a bag and handed it to me: Gardenburger Flame Grilled veggie burgers, a frozen pack like the kind you’d get at Costco, full of hydrogenated oil and other garbage. The kind of stuff that’s not even allowed to be sold at Whole Foods because of the junk ingredients they contain. And yet here was Field Roast passing them off as their own, to unsuspecting customers who didn’t think to ask what they were buying.

IMG_7571

I was stunned. So of course I didn’t order one. I just got the meatball sub and the corn dog and the fries and paid. And I was overcharged by five dollars by the way, an error I only realized because the price seemed way too high, but I think this was probably just an honest mistake, and they corrected it. Anyway, while I was waiting, the thought occurred to me: Is it possible that these meatballs aren’t a Field Roast item? Now keep in mind, the Field Roast classic meatloaf is my favorite Field Roast item as well as my favorite vegan meatloaf, so I just assumed it was made of something like that. But now I decided to ask. “Excuse me, what are the meatballs in the meatball sub?” The woman was very nice and went and got the bag to show me. “Whole Foods 365 Meatless Meatballs.”

Meatballs

Are they kidding me? Look, I knew Field Roast was not the best-run company, because I’d spoken with the owner at the Natural Products Expo and frankly, I found the guy to be a total doofus, but I had no idea he was capable of something like this. So then I had to know more: “Uh, and that corn dog I ordered, is that Field Roast?” She didn’t know and couldn’t find a bag, so she went behind the tent and asked one of the guys cooking the food. He came out and told me he’d check and then returned to tell me they were Cedar Lake brand corn dogs. Okay, I’ve eaten Cedar Lake products before. You can get them at Viva La Vegan or at some of the Seventh Day Adventist stores, like the one I sometimes go to in Glendale. They’re pretty good actually. But they’re frozen food! And they’re NOT FIELD ROAST! (And note that the sign in the photo of the menu above says they are “our” corn dogs.)

So after asking some more questions it turned out that the only thing Field Roast at the entire Field Roast booth, of the six different items they were selling, was the sausage! How the hell was this a Field Roast booth at all? Which raises the question: Was it? It sure says clearly on the WorldFest website that it was. There sure was a big sign up at the booth saying that it was. And there was even this sign taped to the inside wall of the booth saying clearly that it was, with this name, whoever the hell that might be.

Inside sign

But was someone pulling a fast one on Field Roast? Or did Field Roast, in their endless idiocy, authorize someone to falsely sell other companies’ cheap frozen products as their own gourmet items? Because while I’m not a lawyer, I have to wonder if that counts as criminal fraud. In fact, I am going to write a letter to the California Attorney General’s office, as well as the state of Washington’s Attorney General’s office and the FDA, and submit my evidence and photos, and let them decide if Field Roast was victimizing the vegan community here, or was itself perhaps the victim of a fraud.

And I didn’t even get into the customer service, which was abysmal. Now look, I get it, it was a fair, with long lines, so I’m not going to dwell on it, but even by those standards what was going on at this booth was horrific. I waited half an hour for those french fries, only to watch them finally arrive, be put onto two separate plates, and given to two other customers who supposedly were waiting even longer than I was. And that was it, that was all the french fries that were made. But I, and about five or six other people, were also waiting for fries. Sorry, we were told, the fryer also has to be used for the corn dogs, so we can’t cook too many french fries at once. Really? You can only cook enough for two orders? After I waited 30 minutes for them? Well, how long till more come out? Twenty to thirty minutes, I was told. At which point I asked for my money back and was given it. And by the way, while I was waiting, there were several people waiting for all kinds of food that they hadn’t received, including some people who’d been waiting since before I ordered. And then they announced that they were out of meatballs, prompting people who’d been waiting for their meatball subs to react with anger. Like I said, a complete and utter disaster.

But lame service is one thing. Like I said, it’s a fair. But falsely passing off cheap supermarket items as their own gourmet products is another matter altogether. One for which Field Roast owes the vegan community an explanation. We’re waiting.

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.

My love-mildannoyance relationship with Native Foods

21 Oct


I have a fondness for Native Foods. When I first went vegan a little over two years ago, and I didn’t really know what to do or what to eat, it turned out that by chance (as opposed to intention) there was a Native Foods not far me. I must have walked past the Native Foods in Westwood Village eighty-three times without ever going in or realizing it was vegan. But back then I really kinda sorta didn’t know what vegan even was.

So when I entered for the first time as a NEW VEGAN and didn’t know what I was doing, I really appreciated how friendly and helpful everyone there was. And it didn’t hurt that the food was so good.

Over time, I became a regular there, and even when Native Foods opened a bigger, nicer space in Culver City, which wasn’t all that much further from my place, I continued to go to the one in Westwood. Now part of the reason, mind you, is that the Culver City location has always been very poorly run. It’s the highest-grossing Native Foods spot, and they have a constant stream of customers, especially at lunch when the line is often out the door and onto the street, and they simply can’t handle it.

Mistakes happen frequently when you eat there, but worse, much worse, is when you try to order something to go. Every time, and I’m not exaggerating, every single time I have called in a pickup order, and I have done this well over a dozen times, something was wrong. Every time! It could range from something as small as the dressing for the salad being left out of the bag to entire entrees that were paid for not being in the bag when I got home. And often, there was more than one screw up. To the point that I gave up and would only use the Westwood spot, where I can not recall them ever making a mistake.

And then.

Well, about six months ago Native Foods finally moved out of their odd, tight space into a brand new, much bigger location next door. Way more tables, way bigger kitchen, a much more pleasant space. And at first things were great. Bosses were around, lots of managers always working, things went smoothly for the most part.

But now, six months later, I’m sorry to say, the place has been Culverized. Almost every time I go there, something goes wrong. I should have realized there were problems when they left the “We Open to the Public May 1st” sign in the front window for more than two months. How did the managers walk past this sign every day and not realize what it said and not do anything about it? It was only after I tweeted about it on July 13th that it came down.

Bone Chilling Chili Cheeseburger

This weekend I went in for the Bone Chilling Chili Cheeseburger special. And things did not go well. For starters, there was a line to the door on a Saturday night and only one register open. They have two registers at the front of this location and a third around to the side. But not since they first opened months ago have I ever seen more than one register staffed at a time. Lunch rush, dinner rush, there always seems to be only one register open. And it’s not like the place isn’t staffed. Last night for example, with a line to the door, a bunch of staffers were hanging out behind the counter joking with Adam the manager while the woman at the register struggled with a giant line. It was like the manager didn’t even notice. Then the staffers he was joking with went off to do their jobs and he pulled out his smartphone and hung out checking his email or something. It was unbelievable.

Then I tried to order the chili cheese fries and was told it was no longer available. Now you might remember, a few weeks ago, when Native Foods introduced their new menu items, they took the chili cheese fries off the menu. I watched one evening as a woman tried to order them only to be told by both the cashier and the manager that it wasn’t possible to get them, even though they said that they still had all the ingredients in house. So I tweeted about this, which led to a nice email from Native Foods in which they told me that customers would still be allowed to order the chili cheese fries, and that a memo was being sent to all Native Foods locations letting them know this, so that such a problem would never happen again. Until last night when I was told they were no longer available.

Another thing that happened last night was that I ordered a soup, the Moroccan Lentil, which is very good. However, when I order a hot bowl of soup in a restaurant, I do not want to eat it with a plastic spoon. But I had to, because I was told there were no metal spoons available, even though they did have metal forks and knives.

And one other thing I will mention about last night’s meal is that, while I’m usually very lenient with what gets called a “burger” in the vegan world, this was not something I would ever even imagine could be seen as a burger substitute.  Have you ever had, or seen, an Arby’s regular roast beef sandwich? It’s made of thin shavings of roast beef. That’s what this was like, thin shavings of seitan on a bun. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t particularly good either, but it certainly wasn’t anything I’d ever call a burger. And the garlic fries weren’t as good as they have been in the past.

I really miss the days when this Native Foods ran smoothly. Now it’s vegan roulette. I think they are expanding faster than they can handle it, and yet their new locations are bringing in so many people interested in this kind of food that if the problems cause people to walk out or never return, it doesn’t matter to them because there’s new people streaming in the next day anyway. But at some point the slow and bad service will come back to haunt them. And just to be clear, by bad service I don’t mean unfriendly service, since almost everyone there is always friendly, it’s just long lines and mistakes that I’m talking about.

Someone from Chicago needs to show up here, preferably on the sly, and take a look at the lines to the door, only one register open, the manager busy playing with his phone, and potential customers getting frustrated and leaving. Before the loyal customers decide to take a break, too.

Craig’s Lust

20 Oct

Craig’s
8826 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood CA 90069
310.276.1900

You might think it’s VeganMoFo month but more importantly, it’s Bad Headline month. And this might be my worst one yet!

However, if you eat at Craig’s, or even look at these photos, I think you will understand the lust part.

Craig’s is a high-end restaurant in Los Angeles owned by Craig Susser, who used to be a GM at nearby Dan Tana’s. And like Dan Tana’s it features steaks and Italian food and serves them to a similar crowd. However, Craig’s now has a vegan section on its menu!

How did I learn about this development in the L.A. restaurant world? From The New York Times of course. In an article I’ve already written about. So the head of Supervegan’s L.A. office and I decided we needed to investigate.

The first things I noticed when we entered is that Craig’s is a hoppin’, even on a Tuesday night. A wide mix of people, not unlike the Dan Tana’s crowd. We were seated in a great booth and quickly got to work on our investigation.

Following some questioning of our very helpful server, including the important info that the vegan version of their “Meldman’s Honey Truffle Chicken” is made with agave not honey, we decided to do what we usually do and order way too much food. Which we then ate almost all of.

What did we get? We have photographs!

Vegan Sausage Pizza

Craig’s has a Vegan Pizza on the menu as well as a Vegan Sausage Pizza. Well, the Vegan Sausage Pizza has an extra word in its name so we got that one. Good choice, us! This pizza was really good, but it clearly didn’t have Daiya. It had a melty, reflective cheesy-looking cheese. Hmm, what was it? Can you believe this, one of the servers knew without even needing to go check: “Oh, it’s Follow Your Heart,” he said.

We ate the pizza as our appetizer and then dove into the main courses. “Dove” figuratively, unless you count moving forward at rapid speed and descending toward something as diving, in which case take away those quotes. Because this is what we got:

Vegan Meldman’s Honey Truffle Chicken

Like I mentioned above, even though the Vegan Meldman’s Honey Truffle Chicken says it’s “tossed with truffle-infused honey,” our server assured us that for the vegan version they use agave instead of honey, so we got it. And it was good. Two big pieces of Gardein that looked like they had been pounded flat and then battered and fried. It was crispy and tasty. Winner!

Stuffed Peppers

We also got the stuffed peppers and I liked this a lot. One red half and one green half, stuffed with stuff. What kind of stuff? Good stuff. Maybe the picture will help. I thought there were some tofu cubes in there but I could be wrong. I often am. But it was really tasty. I could eat this again. Now. Even though I’m not the least bit hungry.

Vegan Chicken Parmigiana

And you didn’t think we were going to pass up the Vegan Chicken Parmigiana, did you? Another big round Gardein patty that looked like it had been pounded flat. We didn’t ask if this was also Follow Your Heart cheese but I’m guessing it was. This dish was also very good and my only criticism would be that the Gardein patty was almost a bit too tender considering that my memory of real chicken parmigiana is that it had a thicker texture. But hey, small complaint.

And as we ate all this great food, I was sitting there thinking: we are in a nice restaurant, having dinner like adults, and this feast we are consuming is vegan. If you’re vegan, I don’t have to tell you how rare that opportunity is.

It is great to see Craig going out of his way to make you feel like the kind of food you eat is just as valid and normal as the kind of food that anybody else eats. That there is nothing weird about it and that there is nothing unwelcoming about having you come there to eat it. He and his staff were as gracious as could be.

Chocolate Cake with Coffee Crunch Ice Cream

Okay, time for dessert. We got the vegan chocolate cake and we were offered the choice of three vegan ice creams to go with it: mint chip, vanilla or coffee crunch. Now I don’t like coffee but THOSVLAO does, so I said let’s go for it and I made the right choice! It was not too coffee-ee and it was delicious, with some kind of toffee in there providing said crunch. However… I did not like the cake. It wasn’t a slice of cake like the menu made me think it would be, but more like a little Pillsbury biscuit of chocolateyness. Oh well, the ice cream was good!

So that’s it — two humans, four dishes, one dessert, and four pounds. Worth it!

Mac and Cheese for the win!

13 Oct

Doomie dishes out his mac and cheese that would fool any omni.

Before I was vegan I never much liked mac and cheese. I still don’t.

I don’t think it’s ‘cuz when we were po I ate it a lot, of the grimy then-25¢ a box Kraft kind. I think I just don’t like it.

Doomie’s Mac and Cheese

But what I DO like is a good old-fashioned vegan food bare-knuckled throwdown. And that’s what I got today.

Sun Cafe’s mac and cheese

Chicavegan, the manger of the M Cafe De Chaya on Melrose, was a judge at this summer’s Vegan Burger Smackdown at Mohawk Bend, and today she threw her own event: L.A.’s Best Vegan Mac & Cheese Showdown. And it was great. Five restaurants showed up at Space 15 Twenty on Cahuenga and offered up their take on vegan mac and cheese. The five battlers were Doomie’s, Hugo’s, Sun Cafe, M Cafe, and Southern Fried Vegan.

Southern Fried Vegan’s version

For five bucks you got five good-sized servings. Plus, Amanda’s Bakery & Cafe  was selling some good desserts to boot.

Treats from Amanda’s Bakery

I went with the head of Supervegan’s L.A. office and she liked Doomie’s the best. And I have to say, Doomie’s was good and it did taste the most like traditional mac and cheese. But my favorite was from Hugo’s, and the judges thought so too, since they crowned it the champ.

Hugo’s Winning Recipe

I forgot to take a photo of Hugo’s mac and cheese because I was too busy woofing it down, but If you’re curious, there’s a lot more photos on Supervegan’s instagram @wearesupervegan

Promoting veganism. What’s veganism?

12 Oct

The New York Times recently ran this article about how omni restaurants in Los Angeles are now catering to vegans. I was going to say yes and no, but really, it’s still more no, don’t you think? I can find something at most places but often — very often — I still feel I’m not wanted. That I’m a nuisance and they wish I’d go away. (As opposed to the people who get to know me before thinking that.) And being made to feel a nuisance seems pretty much the opposite of being catered to.

I was so excited when I first saw this article, but I think it’s overstated. I will admit that while I’d heard that a former Dan Tana’s fixture had opened a competing joint named Craig’s down the block, I was unaware they were offering a whole vegan section on their menu. Boo-ya! (or whatever the correct sound effect for excitement is.) But the rest of the article goes a little too far.

One of the high-end restaurants they mention as catering to vegans is Hatfield’s. I was surprised to read that Hatfield’s, one of the hot restaurants in the city, was doing this. And it turns out I had reason to be skeptical. I called Hatfield’s and spoke to a very nice woman there. She told me that the vegetarian prix fixe menu was not suitable for vegans but that there were some vegan options available. Great, I said, can you tell me about them? Well, she said, You can get the arugula and roasted fig salad with jamon (ham) and manchego (cheese) without the jamon and manchego. Or, she said, You can get the watermelon, avocado and burrata salad without the burrata. Or, you can get the wild mushroom and buckwheat crepe without the crepe. And that’s about it.

Really? It’s not her fault, or the fault of Hatfield’s, but why the hell is The New York Times choosing this as one of the high-end restaurants that cater to vegans when they don’t cater to vegans at all? When the only three choices for us are three things sans the main components of the things? Is The New York Times really writing an article about vegan dining when they don’t really understand the difference between vegans and vegetarians? Yup, it seems like they are.

Another place they mention is n/naka. This is a traditional kaiseki restaurant. They have a vegetarian prix fixe menu, which costs a steep $110 per person, but some of the courses looked like they contained dairy, so I called. Again, they were very nice, and they told me that when making your reservation you can request that the vegetarian prix fixe be made vegan and they will happily do it. I thought that was great, but I still found it odd that the article did not mention this, but rather left the reader with the impression that there was a vegan prix fixe available as part of their regular offerings.

I guess I kid myself that in 2012 people understand what veganism is, even people writing articles about it for prominent publications. It’s apparently still to much to ask. But I still think any seemingly positive coverage, even if ignorant and inaccurate, is better than none. I just wish that these publications would write these vegan articles with an eye toward vegans, rather than merely trying to let omnifolk know about the supposedly changing dining world.

Lemonade, very pretty

9 Oct

Lemonade
Multiple locations throughout L.A.

I tend to make lists. Lists of vegan restaurants to try. Lists of places that have vegan options for when I need to meet up with omnifolk. Lists of places in Orange County for when I’m down that way. Lists, lists, lists.

And Lemonade was on one of my lists because I once saw something online touting its vegan options. So I tried their Venice location on Abbot Kinney near Venice Blvd.

And there are plenty of vegan options. Lemonade is cafeteria style — you grab a tray and push your way along. And the first station is a display of probably twenty or more salads, and they all look pretty good, and even more impressive, there is a key code that tells you whether a given item is vegan or not. You can buy these salads in combos, and three of them cost $11.75. But even better, you are allowed to split an item, meaning I was able to try six different vegan salads for $11.75. But did they really have six different salads that were vegan? Yes, in fact they had eight!

So you can imagine how happy I was as I picked six of these eight and watched them fill up my tray with a rainbowotic assortment of foodbeauty. No bread though, because I was told that none of the four types of bread were vegan. Boo! But hey, who needs bread with this much salad, right? So that mitigates the boo a bit.

And here are my salads. I’ll try to run them down in clockwise order starting with those beets at the top left. Those are roasted beets with pickled red onion and toasted hazelnuts. To the right of that is roasted heirloom carrots with crushed basil and herbs. The next salad is white corn, jicama, cashews, radicchio and ginger. Then comes Chinese long beans with pluots and plums. The red mass is red quinoa with cherry tomatoes, basil and sun-dried tomato dressing. And then finally, sweet potato with white peach and ancho chili vinaigrette.

So I sat down to eat my Lemonade very pretty salads and… they weren’t very good. Rarely have I experienced this big a disconnect between the appearance of food and its taste. Whoever is designing these things has an eye but no mouth. They were just one failure after another. So much so that I would not even recommend this place to you, not even given the high number of choices for us veganers, and not even given their growing number of locations around the city. Find someplace else for lunch is what I’d say. Well, not what I’d say, what I AM saying. (Except for LAX, where they have a location, and where I can’t imagine you’d find better.)

Ginger snap cookie sans snap.

However, there was one silver lining. Or actually a ginger lining. Because the one vegan dessert they have out of what seems like a billion desserts is a ginger snap cookie and… it’s really tasty! In fact, it was by far the tastiest thing I ate there. Mind you, this ginger snap is a soft cookie, so the snap is non-existent, but it’s yums, as someone other than I would say.

So there, I managed to end on a positive note, because when life brings you Lemonade…

Kung Pao Feastro

8 Oct

Kung Pao Bistro 
7853 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood CA 90046
323.848.9888

Not only are you getting 20 posts from me this month but you’re getting 20 awful headlines. But we did have a feast at Kung Pao Bistro.

I had never been there before but have heard a lot about it for a while. It’s a meat-serving place but they have a whole vegan page on their menu. Overall, I’d say it was a mixed bag but I’d certainly be willing to go back and try more things.

Vegan Chicken and Spinach Wonton Soup

My favorite item by far was the vegan chicken and spinach wonton soup. The soup was delicious and so were the dumplings. And we got it at a happy hour discount price to boot. (4pm to 7pm).

Vegan Beef and Broccoli

The beef and broccoli had what tasted like VegeUSA fake beef. It was a little too sweet for me but the broccoli was very good.

Vegan Chicken Lo Mein

The vegan chicken lo mein wasn’t that great. The fake chicken was these weird crescent-shaped slices, and the noodles weren’t that great either.

Sauteed Garlic String Beans

The sauteed garlic string beans were very good. I will definitely be back to continue working my way through their vegan menu.

Mas Only Okay

4 Oct

Mas Malo
515 W. 7th Street
Los Angeles CA 90014
213.985.4332

Mas Malo is a downtown Los Angeles outpost of Malo in Silver Lake. I saw some photos on Instagram which led me to their website where I saw they had a number of vegan and veganizable dishes, and not the usual ones you might see at a Mexican place.

Vegan Menudo

They have a vegan menudo, and a mock ground beef and pickle taco! So when a vegan friend and I were trying to find a place to have lunch I suggested it and we went.

Mock Ground Beef & Pickle Taco (no cheese)

And we were both disappointed. Not by the space, which is an old jewelry store from the 1920s, located directly below the bar Seven Grand. And not by the free chips and salsa, which were very good. But the food just didn’t kill. I’m hesitant to say this since I think it’s great that they have a bunch of vegan options. I don’t want restaurateurs to think vegans are nothing but insufferable complainers (oops!) so what’s the point of trying to make them happy.

Zucchini Blossom Taco (hold the cheese)

But the thing we were most excited about, the vegan menduo, seemed more like a bowl of Thai tofu soup than a vegan version of a Mexican version of anything. And the zucchini blossom (hold the cheese) taco wasn’t nearly as exciting as its name.

Soyrizo, Spinach, and Corn Chimichanga

I did like the Soyrizo, spinach & corn chimichanga though my friend found it a bit too spicy, and we both liked the mock ground beef and pickle hard shell taco, but we both agreed that it wasn’t anywhere we needed to go back to, although if you’re looking for a place downtown to meet omnifolk within walking distance of Staples Center it’s not a bad choice.

It’s Sage Thyme

2 Oct

Sage Organic Vegan Bistro
1700 West Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90026
213.989.1718


It’s a lame headline. I know. And what’s worse is that a great restaurant like Sage deserves something better. Oh, well. They’ll have to settle for a rave review instead. I’ve been to Sage twice now. The first time was with the head of Supervegan’s L.A. office. We went crazy and ordered way too much food. Also known as just the right amount. And we loved almost all of it and wondered how neither of us had been there before. Then I went back this week with Ms. Insufferable and she loved it, too.

This place is crazy good. Is it the best vegan restaurant I’ve ever been to? Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve been anywhere better. I’d put it right up there with Fatty’s Cafe, the Cinnamon Snail truck, and Au Lac as my favorites. I like to think it’d be the kind of place that meat eaters would try and love, but by now I know better than that. Hey, that could be its own post! And in fact, it just might be tomorrow’s! I mean, hey, if I have to do this 20 times I’m gonna need things to write about.

What I do know is that before I went vegan, back when I was eating meat, if I had been brought here I would have loved it. And I love it that they are expanding to Culver City in the spring, complete with pizza and a beer garden, and they intend to stay open till 2 a.m.!

Classic Tempeh Burger

Okay, if you don’t live in SoCal you might not care about all that, but maybe you will care about the food. So let’s get to it! Ms. Insufferable and I split two burgers, and they were both good. One was their “Classic Tempeh Burger” which as you can see comes with a HUGE block of tempeh. This seems like maybe the equivalent of five or six of the tempeh patties they give you on a Native Foods Scorpion Burger! Just massive. And it had a bright, citrusy taste to it even though the menu description of lettuce, tomato, avocado, mayo, mustard and onion didn’t lead me to expect that type of taste.

Jamaican Jerk Burger

As good as this was, we both thought the “Jamaican Jerk Burger” was better. This was a soft-to-the-point-of-flimsy black bean and walnut burger, with “jerked portabella and leeks,” sliced mango, caramelized onions, and mango saffron aioli.

Buffalo Croquettes

We also got an appetizer, the “Buffalo Croquettes” — three falafel balls tossed in buffalo sauce atop sage polenta, crispy onions, arugula and creamy horseradish sauce. Of all the big ticket items I tried in my two visits to Sage, this might have been the item I liked least. Their falafel was a bit on the dry side and wasn’t nearly as good as Sunnin or Habayit, and I didn’t love the combination of the dry falafel with the dry polenta. But hey, at a place as good as Sage, I’m determined to eventually try everything.

And as good as the burgers were, I didn’t like them as much as some of the items I got on my first visit to sage, like the “Bistro Po’Boy Sandwich” or the “Pesto Croissant Club Sandwich” which were really terrific.

All in all, if you’re a SoCal vegan and have never been, I’d say it’s a must, and if you’re a non-SoCal vegan who ever swings through L.A., it should be high on the top of your hit list.

Fatty’s & Whoa!

8 Jul

Fatty’s & Co
1627 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock CA 90041
323.254.8804

You can find full-on shots of Fatty’s on Google, or you can simply enjoy my I don’t feel like walking across the street shot.

I am very proud of this headline because it is one of my worst ones yet. The name of this establishment is Fatty’s & Co, but it’s up for sale and I fear might close one day so I thought of calling this Fatty’s & Woe, but it is actually still open for the time being and I ate there for the second time and it was still so impressive I  went with Whoa!

I didn’t write about Fatty’s the first time because I hadn’t started my blog yet (you should check out my blog sometime) but I did include Fatty’s in my 10 best things I 8 in 11 list. And I probably will again for this year if I decide to do another trite list and since I’m pretty trite (and trite pretty, too) I probably will.

Now I know I recently said I was moving most of my restauranting onto Instagram, and it’s true I have (I’m like the Mapplethorpe of vegan food, except mine are in color and not good: @insufferablevegan) but I thought Fatty’s deserved its own post. So here goes, in yes particular order:

“Flaps”

The first thing we ordered was the “Flaps,” which are described on the menu as “super thin fries shaped like dachshund puppy ears served with a parsley and scallion remoulade dip.”  The first thing you might notice is that these aren’t “fries” — they are chips. Now in England chips are fries but in Los Angeles fries are not chips. So no matter how good they were — they were okay — they weren’t fries. It’s crazy enough to spend seven dollars on fries but I certainly wouldn’t have spent it on chips, even though the dip was impressive in its dairylikeness.

“Far East Rolls”

Up next were the Far East Rolls, and from here on out the food was tough to beat, so I’ll take the seven bucks I spent on potato chips and add one dollar in my mind to the cost of each of the next seven items instead. Yup, I said seven items. The Far East Rolls are really good if a bit on the greasy side, but hey, spring rolls are like that. I don’t mean to suggest they were soggy, they weren’t, in fact they were crisperfect, but they left your fingertips with enough oil to fuel a Phish-following microbus. They’re filled with spicy ginger seitan (let’s start a pool to guess the year that seitan is welcomed into the world of spellchecks) cabbage and carrots, and are served with a mango dipping sauce. And they are equally good with the sauce or without.

“The Special”

The next item isn’t one that I ordered. At first. But as I saw it make its way to other tables I realized the error of my non-ways to mine and made it come this way. Good call by me, as people said in the previous century. Do you have the slightest idea what you are looking at in the photo above? Avocado, check. Tomatoes, check, and an extra half-point if you said heirloom tomatoes, which to be frank I’ll be very disappointed if that’s what my grandfather passes down to me, but WHAT’S IN THOSE AVOCADOS? Keep guessing. Okay, time’s up. The answer is: sorbet. Okay, resume guessing. Tomato sorbet. Tomato sorbet made from those same heirloom tomatoes. Tomato sorbet made from those same heirloom tomatoes with Campari! And it worked. The very cold tomatoey taste with the somewhat cold avocado with the aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil it sat on made for the kind of new taste you think you’re all out of in life. It might have been more interesting than good, but that’s only because of how interesting it was. (Interesting is not a very interesting word.)

“Corn Tortilla Soup”

Then came soup and salad. We ordered two entrées, which each come with either soup or salad, so we got one of each. The soup was good but I only had a spoonful before it was stolen away from me by someone at the table who pulled it close and disappeared it.

“House Salad”

The salad, described on the menu as “House Salad,” was anything but. I mean, anything but what you’d think of as a restaurant’s “house salad.” It was a Frank Lloyd Wright salad as far as I was concerned. “A slaw of raw beets and apples tossed in balsamic and red onion vinaigrette with endive and pistachio garnish.”  So. So. Good.

“Corn Risoles”

Entrée time! By now it was getting dark, which is the Kryptonite of the iPhone 3G-S cam, so just picture these last few pictures looking brighter. First was the Corn Risoles, which are kind of like empanadas to a Philistine mind like my own, and they were sitting on a bed of pesto, which I hear is rough on the back although delicious, and stuffed with a tomato and multi-colored pepper salpicon, which was the second word in one menu item that I had to look up, and which basically means stuffing, and not something you’d better not step on barefoot, which is what I was picturing when I first saw the word. (I didn’t feel all that bad about my ignorance, because my friend-blogger SuperVegan, who started me down the Veganbrick Road (73-year-old reference that was old 71 years ago), and who knows way more about food than I will ever know, and who even makes some of it by herself (!), didn’t know either of these words either.) And it was delicious!

“Tri-colored Lentils”

The other entrée we got was the Tri-colored Lentils. This was my favorite item the previous time I went to Fatty’s. This was the item that earned the number two spot on my 10 best things I 8 in 11 list. And how did it fare against the memory of itself? Not bad. Memories are hard to compete against — they’re almost as hard to compete against as things that are way better than you. And memory can be forgetful, and not very remembering at all. And this might have been one of those unremembery memories because I remembered this dish looking nothing like this. In my mind it was not stacked cake-like, but rather spread out. And the lentils earned the tri-color title much more the previous time, with a vast display of bright orange lentils spread across the bowl. But like I said I could be misremembering this memory because I didn’t remember to ask our server if it had changed. Either way, it was still very good. And still served with a delicious Meyer lemon sauce. I just don’t remember if it was the same Tri-Colored Lentil spectacular I ate last year.

“Cotton Candy”

Dessert! You didn’t think I was done, did you? The cotton candy at Fatty’s is a ten dollar sky high Matterhorn of spun-to-order pure Vermont maple sugar. I know so because it says this on the menu. And it was pretty good. And I don’t like cotton candy. Because it sticks to your fingers. But this cotton candy did not stick to the fingers!!! And so I learned that the sticking-to-the-fingers part is not the only thing I don’t like about cotton candy. But the person who disappeared the soup disappeared half the Matterhorn pretty darn fast and loved it pretty darn much.

“Top Crust Apple Pie with Soy Cream”

I have only been vegan for 22 months and I remember pie. Was pie my favoritest thing in the world? Nope, but I did enjoy it from time to time. This apple pie was good on the inside (organic Fuji apples) but the pie part just wasn’t up to snuff. It was kinda cakey. Not cakey like you’d describe a cake, but cakey like you’d describe something that caked up. But the soy ice cream was good. Really, really good. Which brings us to the final item of the night.

“Organic Peanut Butter Gelato”

This was the organic peanut butter gelato with chocolate brandy sauce, and it was my favorite item. It came with half a strawberry (as did the pie) and some fresh peanuts on top, and the chocolate brandy sauce. For my money (not yours) I could have done with some more of the chocolate brandy sauce. But either way, this was really good. Did it knock you onto the floor and make you have to stand back up and re-seat yourself? No. But it was pretty much perfect in and of itself. I can’t imagine how it could have been better. (Except for a bit more of the chocolate sauce.)

And there you have it, a meal at Fatty’s & Co, the best vegan fine-dining experience in the greater Los Angeles area. I should mention here that Fatty’s is not 100 percent vegan. Some items are vegetarian. But what’s nice is that all items are vegan unless marked vegetarian, and not the other way around. I also feel that calling it the best vegan fine-dining experience in L.A. will immediately make people think of Madeleine Bistro. And Madeleine Bistro is great. I just don’t think it’s quite this good. And you simply cannot compare Madeleine Bistro’s space, which I find to be dingy and shopworn, to the light airy wonderful space that is Fatty’s.

So if you’ve never been to Fatty’s — go! If you wait too long it might not be there anymore. But if we hope too long maybe it will stay around forever. Or at least until I die. Because then you’re on your own.

Changes Afoot at Yard House

29 May

You may remember a while back that a PR flack for Yard House made the boneheaded move of inviting Quarrygirl to come dine on some non-vegan items. The flack would up taking a lot of, um, yeah. Well, Yard House wasn’t too happy about that and is now getting the word out about some changes they’ve made to their menu resulting in a few new products that are actually vegan.

Someone I know got an email from them and forwarded it around. Maybe you’ve seen it already. Basically, they are trying out a new menu at two of their locations: Pasadena and Costa Mesa. The menu is now using a V for items that are vegetarian. There is no marking for vegan, or even use of the word. Apparently they are afraid to use the word for fear of lawsuits. How an item marked “vegan” that gets cross-contaminated with dairy or egg is any worse than an item marked “vegetarian” that gets contaminated with meat is beyond me. Maybe the truth is that Yard House is afraid to use the word vegan because they think it’ll turn off non-vegans or non-vegetarians who might try a Gardein item for a change of pace. Don’t know.

Either way, the important part is that there are now some vegan options at Yard House. The two main ones are the Gardein Chicken Rice Bowl and the Gardein Orange Peel Chicken. Previously we needed to stay away from anything battered at Yard House because all battered items had egg, but now they say they are using an eggless rice flour batter on all their Gardein items. There are also two salads that are vegan: the Summer Salad and the Citrus Soy Salad, plus two appetizers: the hummus and edamame.

It’s not a ton but it’s something, and as I’ve said to many a server: I don’t need a lot of options, I just need one.

The Vegan Pretzel Train

17 May

Golden Road Brewing
5410 West San Fernando Rd
Los Angeles, CA 90039
212.373.4677

Are you old enough to remember that show with the two sisters playing guitars and coaxing children to join them on the Vegan Pretzel Train? It’s somewhere there in the recesses of my memory. Maybe they weren’t sisters, just actresses. Maybe the train wasn’t vegan, just kind. Maybe it was all just a dream, about a dream.

And yet when I look at my smartphone there are photos. I see a big pretzel. I see vegan food. I see a veranda. I don’t see any girls barefootin along. I don’t see a train. But I know I saw a train. I still can hear the train. Where was I? What happened?

Best I can tell I went to a place that was in Los Angeles. It wasn’t exactly on San Fernando Road it was on West San Fernando Road, which ran parallel to San Fernando Road. And strange things can happen when we enter a parallel San Fernando Road. Like menus where almost half the selections are vegan. Like crowded places in the middle of nowheres that aren’t named Coachella and aren’t two hours away and aren’t muddy. Like restaurants that feel like Cancun if Cancun were 1978 and vegan was a world you could live in with a breeze blowing through. Like freshly brewed beer that tastes much much better than when those same beers come out of a can. And that train…

Someone, I don’t know who, must live walking distance from Golden Road Brewing. They might have to walk across the 5 to get there (I’m not advocating this) or they might have to live at the Gentlemen’s Club down the road (even worse) or they might be the night watchman with a company-provided apartment at the adjacent medical supply/ mechanical pencil/ granite countertop factory. And if they are able to walk there, and walk home, then I envy them, in my brain.

Golden Road is a brewery and brewpub and gastropub and other things that come from the ownership of Tony’s Darts Away and Mohawk Bend. I have been to Tony’s Darts Away. I have not been to Mohawk Bend yet. But neither is next to a train track yet alone a train track that is not trainless, so who cares?

Why do I feel like I am talking to myself because you’ve already heard as much as you needed to hear and are on your way to Golden Road?

If you are, get the pretzel. The pretzel. I never thought I would be advocating for a seven dollar pretzel. Not outside of hyperinflation and that’s a different hyperworld I hope to never be able to write about. Pretend it’s a car. Seven dollars is cheap for a car, right? You will like this pretzel as much. It’s big and warm. It comes with a mustard that to me is Chinese mustard. It’s got a small kick and it’s good with that pretzel. Since you’re already in seven dollars on a pretzel spend one more for the vegan pimento cheese to accompany it. A dollar to dip your pretzel into a goop that feels cheesey. A goop of an uncheesey color, a semi-cheesey texture, a who cares whether it’s cheesey taste. I’m dipping again, I’m eating the pretzel again, I’m watching the train go by…

There were so many choices. So many things for us to eat. I got the “Meatballs: Hold the Meat” “snack” “with tomato sauce served with spicy vegan cornbread.” That was tomato sauce? The cornbread was spicy? Those were vegan meatballs? They were round things. There was sauce. I ate cornbread. Good cornbread. I ate the round things that were firmer than any meatless meatballs I’m familiar with. I sopped them up in some kind of thick brown liquid heading toward solid.

I got the Fritter #2 too. “Wild Mushroom Risotto with Vegan Pimento Cheese” — the same vegan pimento cheese that comes with the pretzel, that I ate near the train. Maybe it’s a Southern thing. I did a little googling. I’d never heard of Pimento Cheese. I learned a bit about it. I ate a vegan version. I should have looked up “Fritter” too. I thought it was an omelette thing. But this is more a fishstick thing. Or a tater tot thing. A tater tot thumb stick thing. That I guess was made of mushrooms and risotto. That I dipped in the vegan pimento cheese. This all really happened. I’m looking back and thinking this all really happened.

I got the flight of beers. Four beers made on premises. Or at least next door. In the red building not the yellow one. They have bright buildings. They have five beers they make but one is not allowed on the flight. It is on the no-flight list. But you can have a sample. In a flight glass. It is close to flight size. It is pretty much a fifth for your flight. It is stout and good. As are the others. Two of which I’ve had in cans in words, but not in reality, not in reality with a pretzel next to a train.

Happy Family = Happy Me

28 Apr

Happy Family
500 N Atlantic Blvd
Ste 171
Monterey Park, CA 91754
626.282.8986

A week ago, the LA Weekly ran a piece about the “10 Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in L.A.” Number nine was “Happy Family Vegetarian Restaurant.” Good timing, since I had plans to go there two days later. The article says, “Eggs may pop up here and there, so it’s advisable to check with the staff before ordering.” Because of that I checked with the staff, who told me there is no egg in anything. So apparently it’s really “Happy Family Vegan Restaurant” — but why scare people even more, I suppose.

Happy Family is in a crazy mall called Atlantic Times Square that is kind of like The Grove on ginseng. It’s a mix of commercial and residential space and it’s got one of the crappier underground parking garages I’ve ever been in. Snap a pic to remember where you parked. Trust me. And I’m not a get lost in a parking garage person.

Then when you come upstairs from the parking lot you have to walk to Atlantic Boulevard because the entrance to Happy Family is on the street. I guess Atlantic Boulevard must be why they call the place Atlantic Times Square but isn’t Atlantic Times Square kind of redundant since the real Times Square IS on the Atlantic? Calling it Pacific Times Square would make more sense but not if it’s on Atlantic Blvd I guess.  But since it really isn’t anything like Times Square maybe the best thing to call it would be Westfield Times Square or China Grove.*

Happy Family offers an All You Can Eat menu. It’s $13.95 for adults and $8.95 for kids. You get one spring roll and one “Minced Squab in Lettuce” and then a crazy amount of food. The spring roll is tasty and the Minced Squab — which is pretty much a PF Changy lettuce cup — is very tasty. As for the rest of the food, I took a lot of pictures so I’ll just roll through them and tell you what I thought of these dishes.

“Vegetarian Sliced Pork with Broccoli”

The “Vegetarian Sliced Pork with Broccoli” was the best dish I had. I don’t know why this is considered pork with broccoli and not the more common beef with broccoli, especially since the soy in this dish seems more intended to mimic beef not pork, and does an impressive job of it. The fake beef, sorry pork, has a pretty similar texture to the real thing and perfectly takes on the taste of the sauce. I’m not saying I need my soy to act like it’s meat, but since that seems to be the goal of this restaurant, they succeed as far as this dish goes.

“Vegetarian Chicken with Cashew Nuts (Wheat Gluten)”

The fake chicken with cashew nuts was good, too, though not as good as the fake beef with broccoli. And now that I see the menu says the fake diced chicken here is wheat gluten, I suppose it’s possible the fake beef in the fake sliced pork with broccoli is also made of wheat gluten. But it didn’t say, so I don’t know. The fake chicken in this dish was a little bit rubbery but I liked it, and I don’t usually like rubbery food, at least not as far as I know. Maybe it’s fake rubber.

“Vegetarian Rib (Taro) with Sweet & Sour Sauce”

The “Vegetarian Rib (Taro) with Sweet & Sour Sauce” wasn’t so good. It was basically a soft, gushy mess that was more zeppole than rib.

“Vegetarian Deep Fried House Chicken with Sesame (Mushroom)”

The fake sesame chicken also suffered from zeppoleosis. In fact, I didn’t realize it was made of mushroom until I looked at the menu. It was soft and doughy inside, and when food is like that, it seems more like dessert to me than a main course.

Shredded pork with…

I’m not sure which dish this is. I asked the waitress what her favorite dish on the menu is and she said “shredded pork” and brought me this and it was good. But when I look at the menu I can’t figure out which one it is. Maybe shredded pork with bean curd? Whatever it is, it tastes better than it looks.

“House Tofu with Black Bean & Brown Sauce”

The “House Tofu with Black Bean & Brown Sauce” was one of my favorite items. Part of what I liked was that it wasn’t trying to be a fake meat, though don’t get me wrong I can enjoy fake meats with the best of ‘em. Sometimes tofu like this can be limp or soggy but this was just the right amount of softness without falling apart when you picked it up. Oh, and it was tasty.

“Stir Fry Spinach”

Not too much to say about the “Stir Fry Spinach” except that it was simple and very good.

“Fried Bread”

I saw some people at another table eating this and I asked the waitress what it was. She said, “I’ll bring you some.”

Fried Bread minus mouthful.

When it arrived, she said it was “fried bread.” Okay, those are two good words to put together, right? But when I took a bite, well, yup, it tasted like a zeppole. Which wasn’t so bad since I’m guessing it’s supposed to taste like a zeppole. In fact, zeppoles are definitely in the fried bread frylum. But there’s only so much fried bread someone needs. Especially in a Chinese restaurant.

Tiramisu cake

For dessert I had the tiramisu cake. There was a big problem with this. No, it didn’t taste like a zeppole. But when it was first served it was clear it had just come out of the freezer. It had the crystally texture that an old container of ice cream can get. Or an old container of Almond Dream. (One of the great things about going vegan is that you don’t have to give up that awful crystally freezer taste.) Once the tiramisu cake hit room temp it wasn’t bad but by then it was kinda ruined for me, like a movie after a cellphone ring. Oh well.

All in all I’d say that if you’re vegan or vegetarian and like Chinese food and ampersands,  this is the place for you. Just leave a trail of (fried) bread crumbs so you can find your car afterwards.

*Linking to a Doobie Brothers video does not imply approval.

Native Foods Westwood you try a little harder?

18 Apr

Papered-over front window in Westwood.

I love Native Foods.

Wait, I should clarify. I love their food. And the people who work in their stores. And the fact that they’ve caught on with a non-vegan and non-vegetarian crowd and are showing people that vegan food can not only taste good but great.

Now the part I don’t love: this company has perhaps the worst customer service I have ever encountered from a business. Not at the stores. There the people are, for the most part, super friendly and helpful.

But have you ever tried to email them a question or concern? Quite possibly you just answered yes. Did you ever get a response to your email? Quite likely you just answered no.

What is with a company that puts an email address for customer service questions on their website and then doesn’t reply? Bizarre.

One manager told me that the company is only willing to pay one person to handle all the emails and that it’s too much for one person. Another manager at a different store told me the owner is very controlling and all emails are routed straight to him. Who knows? All I know is that the second I mentioned the word “email” to both of these managers their eyes rolled up in a way that let me know they’re well aware of the company’s huge customer service problem and have to listen to complaints about it from customers all day long. They both told me the same thing, which was basically: If you ever have a problem at a Native Foods please don’t try to email just come into the store and ask for a manager and we’ll try to make it right for you. Good advice.

And what does all this have to do with their Westwood location? Well, first of all, I’ve found that location to be the best run, have the friendliest staff, and be super-well managed.  Wish I could say the same for Culver City. *sigh*

So yesterday, wanting a Chicago Dip sandwich because I fear it might be gone come next week when I believe the new menu is set to debut, I drove over to Westwood Village. I then did the mandatory 15 minutes of circling before finding a spot. But hey, it’s worth it, because I love that sandwich!

I get out of my car, put my coins in the meter, and then start walking down the block. Step + anticipation, step + anticipation, step + anticipation. I’m almost there. Step + salivating anticipation. I’m there! I put my hand on the door handle and pull.

The door does not move.

It’s 6pm. I look around. My brain tells me to admit it to myself: they are closed.

Now a normal business would have a sign up on the door or window telling you why they’re closed during normal business hours, right? Especially a business that has a signholder attached to the wall right next to its front door. But that’s empty. Empty as in, someone took the time to remove the large menu that’s usually in said signholder but did not replace it with a sign of explanation. This is a bad sign.

Note the empty signholder to the right. The lack of a sign is not a good sign.

I try calling. You know, since a normal business would have an outgoing message telling you what’s going on. Ring Ring Ring. Hope fades to acceptance. Ring Ring Ring ring ring…

While I’m standing out front, for about two minutes, six — that’s right — six separate parties come by, try the door, look at each other surprised, look at me, exchange shrugs, and walk off.

Now if you patronize that location, you know they’ve been going through some changes. They’ve been renovating the space next door to become their new restaurant, and during this renovation they’ve stayed open, but have forced any diners wanting to eat there to consume their meal straight from a cardboard box. You can’t imagine how awkward and unpleasant it is to eat a hot meal from a cardboard box until you try it. It basically interferes with every biological pleasure receptor designed to make you enjoy a meal. With most companies I’d assume they’re forced to do it this way because of some arcane zoning rule or something. But with Native Foods you never know. Might just be a clueless owner or something.

The last time I ate there  – a couple of weeks ago — it looked like renovations for the new location were getting toward done. I was psyched. But mind you, still no signs up announcing an opening date, and of course nothing letting you know they’re going to shut down the existing restaurant for a period of time before the new one next door opens.  Yesterday I peeked through a hole in the plastic sheeting covering the inside of the window and it looks really close to done. Signs are up and everything. I even took a photo. It looks nice. With an upstairs dining area and all. Can’t wait. Really.

Through the looking glass.

So when I got home I checked their Twitter to see if there was any information on the Westwood location closing or opening. You know, because any normal company with a Twitter would use it for exactly that purpose. To let their customers know what’s going on. I searched back a month. Nothing.

Then I went to their website’s blog. Again, searched back a month. Nothing.

Finally, I looked at their “locations” page and lo and behold there it was: Currently Closed for Expansion/Remodel Re-opening May 1st

Perfect! Because that’s exactly where customers who have been to that store a hundred times would look for information for that store: at the place that tells them where the place they’ve been to a hundred times is located.

This is also a company that, keep in mind, asks for your email address in order to give you one of their Rewards Cards. And then you use your email to log into their website and check your points and rewards totals. But does this company ever then use your address to send  you updates and information about the company, you know, the way every other company in America does? Nope. And by the way, there’s even a box on the website that says: “Sign up for the newsletter” — I’ve entered my email address into that box a number of different times, even though they already had my email address. Did I ever once get a newsletter  – or ANY piece of email from them? Nope. *sigh*

Native Foods owner: you’ve got lightning in your hands. Your chain is expanding, thriving. Loosen the reins a little bit. Delegate more. Hire additional people to help you out. Do whatever you need to do in order to keep your customer service problems from cutting against the good will generated by your food and your staffers. Because most people only put up with bad customer service for so long before they go elsewhere. And these days, there are a lot more elsewheres opening up.

Eat peace.

Native Foods Cafe: Preview or trainee view?

29 Mar

When I was at Native Foods recently I picked up a take-out menu, and when I looked at it later I saw some odd scribbling on it. At first I just thought someone had written down what they were going to order, and then dumped it back into the menu bin after their purchase. But then I started to realize that it was a little too formal for that. Someone had gone through every item making notes. And I soon began to think that I’d either found something used to train their new employees, or more likely I had stumbled onto a preview of the upcoming menu.

Take a look. Tandoor Kabobs, which were a new item in January, are crossed out. In their place at the bottom, with what looks like a “new item” symbol, are Crab Cakes. Hmm. Then under pizzas, both current pizzas are crossed out, and next to what looks like another new item symbol, is a Remo Caesar Pizza. And it also looks like the Meatball Veggie pizza is making a comeback.

Then under Entree Salads, the new Greek Goddess is gone, and replaced by a Caesar Salad.

I’m onto something here, right?

Now comes the bad news, at least for me, if I’m right about what I found and how I’m reading it. It looks like the Gandhi Bowl is gonedi! Can it be? It’s crossed out and replaced by what looks to be a Red Curry Bowl with Tofu Steak. Say it ain’t so. And under Chef’s Favorites the Chicago Dip is gone! That wasn’t just one of the Chef’s Favorites, it was one of Insufferable Vegan’s Favorites! Please tell me this was simply a menu someone gave their child to draw on and not the radical earth-changing Rosetta Stone I fear it to be!

But not all the news is bad, at least for the purists. It looks like those people who were so distraught by the banishment of the Baja Fish Tacos and the Native Deli Reuben that they set up a Facebook page in protest are about to get their way because it looks like both are coming back, at the expense of the recently added Very Veggie Wrap and Caribbean Queen Burger, neither of which I will be particularly sad to say goodbye to.

And while I didn’t even bother to take a photo of the Desserts section on the back since it wasn’t marked up, the drink section seems to be adding a Mango Salsa Fresca.

So what do you think? Am I mistaken about what I found? Or is this the Native Foods Wormhole writ large, allowing us to bend space and step a few weeks ahead with eerie precision? Or did I drop a frozen Spring Wellington on my head and imagine the whole thing, which might be the only way to explain that previous sentence.  If only I had photos. Oh wait. I do. It’s real! Isn’t it?

Bring back the Gandhi Bowl!!!  Bring back the Chicago Dip!!!

Or better yet, don’t take them away in the first place!

Love ya, NFC!

The OCV: Seabirds and Girl Scouts.

8 Mar

Sometimes I do the wrong thing and sometimes I do the right thing but I’m often not sure which and who’s to say?

A few weeks ago I gave the Seabirds Truck a hard time about their scheduled stop at Santa Anita Racetrack. They talk about cruelty-free on their website but horse racing is not cruelty-free for the horses.

But maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Maybe the Seabirds Truck is doing so much good by traveling around with their great food and showing everyone how tasty this kind of food can be that I shouldn’t have called them out over it. Turns out, at least according to how it looks on their website, that they even decided not to do the horse track event in the end.

So anyway, Seabirds has been on my mind. I’d always wanted to try them, especially after having some great vegan truck food as turned out by the amazing Cinnamon Snail truck in the New York/New Jersey area.

So, wanting to get some of those vegan Orange County Girl Scout cookies that I’ve sent way too much information out into the Internet about, I decided to try to combine the two goals and the Seabirds Truck obliged. They attended an event last week at a school in Whittier, which took me only 45 minutes to get to in weekend traffic.

And I’m glad I went. First of all, the people working the truck are as friendly as can be. Probably because I didn’t mention who I was. But anyway, what’s important is the food, and it was very good. In fact, it was so good that I went back for more. The first time I ordered two items: the Beer Battered Avocado Tacos and the Jack-ie Chan Tacos, which are jackfruit. The Seabirds Truck had a contest recently to name their jackfruit tacos and by the result we can see that contests are not the best way to name tacos.

Beer Battered Avocado Taco

The Beer Battered Avocado Tacos were great. Crunchy on the outside with warm gooey avocado inside. They were hot, fresh and ready incredibly fast. They were also gone incredibly fast. I didn’t like the jackfruit tacos as much but maybe that’s not the Seabirds Truck’s fault. The only other time I had jackfruit tacos was at Pure Luck before it closed (not after it closed) and I didn’t love them either despite the fact that the vegan world adored their tacos and cried a river of plant-based tears when they closed.

Jackie-ie Chan Tacos

I was mostly full after those three tacos (I decided to bring one of the jackfruit ones home for Ms. Insufferable — isn’t it nice of me to bring cold food I don’t want to the person I love?) but I was so impressed with the avocado tacos that I decided I needed to try some more things.

I’m a big tryer. My life is mostly trying. Trying things, I mean, not trying. I like to try everything once — every place, every item. So back I went to the truck and got some “Fried Rice W/ Tanaka Veggies” and a Kale and Pear Salad. I also got three cupcakes.

Again, it was ready fast. They seem to have really mastered their prep to the point that things can be both hot and quick. And the fried rice looked amazing. So amazing that as I walked away from the truck with it, not kidding, two Boy Scouts passed me and one said, “Whoa, where did you get that?” Then I saw him walk up to the truck, have a brief conversation, and then walk away. Maybe the Boy Scout was surprised by the $8 price tag but I thought it was well worth it.

Fried Rice W/ Tanaka Veggies

Sitting on top of the rice were some charred/seared/roasted cashews — some of the most appetizing-looking cashews I have ever seen. And mixed into the brown rice along with carrots, celery, broccoli and green pepper was just the right amount of moisture. It was an excellent dish.

The Kale and Pear Salad was also good but not as good as the fried rice or the avocado tacos. And unfortunately, the cupcakes were only so-so. They weren’t bad, but there was no wow-factor either.

Kale and Pear Salad

But the rest of the food was so good it made me wish the Seabirds Truck would clone itself or visit LA more often. Maybe (enter favorite celebrity vegan name here) can finance a second truck.

So after stuffing myself in Whittier I drove a few miles east to the Stater Bros supermarket in La Habra, which was the closet Girl Scout “booth sale” to Whittier according to the Orange County Girl Scout Cookie Finder.

Girl Scout Cookie Booth Sale. (You can see the Girl Scouts to the right of the entrance. I took the photo from far away because, well, it's creepy to put photos of kids on the Web.)

Now as you all know, the Girl Scouts of Orange County sell cruelty-free cookies whereas the Los Angeles council only sells ones made with milk. But five of the eight varieties in Orange County are vegan and I bought me all five types.

I’m not going to sit here and review the individual types of Girl Scout Cookies bu– oh what the hell, why not. The Thin Mints are great as you know. They also came in foil packs. Not sure if the milky L.A. ones also came in foil packs this year but last year they did not because certain family members of mine still have some left in the freezer. I have no idea whether the foil facilitates freezer-chillin’ but I like to believe that it does.

A case! A case I tells ya!

I also bought a box of Lemonades which are lemon cookies with a lemony icing bottom. They’re good. Then there were the “Thanks-A-Lots” which led to way too many puns from the Girl Scouts after I bought way too many boxes of cookies. I guess it’s not a pun. Is it a pun? Hmmm…   Anyway, the Thanks-A-L0ts are really good. They’re kind of a regular plain type cookie but with a fudge icing bottom. And the fridge made them even better.

Then there were the Peanut Butter Patties. These are good too, and also benefited from some fridging. The only ones I thought were dudly were the “Shout Outs” which are caramel-flavored cookies emblazoned with words like “Learn” and “Lead.” The Girl Scouts made a point of telling me that this is the last year of “Shout Outs” and that they will be replaced with a TBD flavor next year. I’m with the Girl Scout deciders on that one because as far as I’m concerned these cookies should have said “S0-So” on them.

So now I’m all stocked up on cookies and you can be, too: These Orange County cookie booth sales end on March 11th so you still have a few days to get your plant-based butts out to the OC and get some vegan cookies instead of whining for the next three months while the meat-based butts in your life feast on milky ones.

Just don’t take the 10 back.

Tub’s Chili y’all. Or pardner. Or whatever cowboys say in Culver City.

20 Feb

UPDATE: I received an email from the owners of Tub’s letting me know that they have changed bread suppliers and that the Toasted Bread Tub I ate is no longer vegan because it contains dairy. They said however that the corkscrew pasta contains no egg so you can still get your chili over pasta or brown rice. 

Tub’s Chili
4263 Overland Avenue
Culver City, CA 90230
310.559.8827

One of the great things about being vegan for the past 17 months is that it’s been a whole new source of procrastination. And one day as I was making my way through the vegosphere I came across a website called veggie101.com that had a review for a place I’d been to in my meat-eating days (daze), and they said that one of their choices was vegan. Who knew?!

So I beat it on over to Tub’s to check it out. Sure enough, it turns out that the “Cattleman’s Pass” chili is vegan. It comes over brown rice, or something they call a Toasted Bread Tub that seems an awful lot like pita. They told me that both these options are vegan. (They also offer it over “corkscrew pasta” but I forgot to ask if the pasta had egg in it because I didn’t want my chili over pasta.) They also have their own round corn chips you can buy to go with it, but I went for the bag of genuine Fritos option that was only, I think, 65 cents. (These are the traditional Fritos, not the chili scoopin’ shape, but hey, they were cheap and good.)

"Stili Life with Fritos" (Bread now has dairy!)

The way it works is that a 6 ounce portion of chili costs $4.99 and then you can add as many additional ounces as you want for 60 cents an ounce.  I wasn’t all that hungry at the time so what you see in the photo is 6 ounces over the Toasted Bread Tub aka pita. And it was good. Very good even. Certainly worth the reasonable price they were charging for it.

Tub’s is in a little strip mall and it’s not huge and it’s not fancy but that’s okay and they have plenty of seating for a small place and the staff couldn’t have been nicer or more patient about all of my questions. It’s not that far south of the Sony lot if you know where that is. (It’s also not that far south of the Sony lot if you don’t know where that is.)

Goodbye.

800 Degrees got 99 Problems (but the food ain’t one)

9 Jan

800 Degrees Pizza
10889 Lindbrook Drive
Los Angeles CA 90024
424.239.5010
Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.!

The L.A. vegan webiverse has been buzzing about a new pizzeria in Westwood Village called 800 Degrees and the fact that they offer Daiya. So how could I not try it?

Do you want the good news (the food) or the bad news (everything else) first?

I think I’ll give you the good news first in order to cut them some slack, since they’ve only been open a week: the pizza is very good. And well-priced. And it’s ready super-fast.

Pizza Marinara plus arugula, pine nuts and mushrooms.

I got two pies. One was the Pizza Marinara, a cheeseless pie with crushed tomato, garlic, oregano and olive oil. To it I added arugula, pine nuts and mushrooms. It was good. The toppings were super fresh. The only problem was… okay, I’ll save the problem for later. While the cheeseless pie was good, the Daiya pie was better. This was their Pizza Margherita, which comes with crushed tomato, olive oil and basil, and I subbed Daiya for the mozzarella and “parmigiano reggiano.”

The Daiya pie looked so much like a real cheese pie that when the guy at the counter where you pick it up slid it over to me, I thought he’d made a mistake. He double-checked and said it was definitely the Daiya one. And when I looked at the real cheese pizzas which other people were getting, which looked nothing like what I had, I realized he must be right.

Pizza Margherita with Daiya.

I’ve had plenty of Daiya pizza in my 16 vegan months but none looked like this. The cheese was so… melted. I know Daiya melts, but usually you can see its shreddiness, or at least the fact that it was once shredded, but not here. Maybe that’s a testament to how much Daiya they give you for what I think was a $2 substitution charge  (receipts are vague) or maybe it’s a testament to the heat of their oven (though my buddy with a pizza oven says his is 800 also) but this thing not only looked like a regular cheese pizza, and had the consistency of regular cheese, I swear it tasted more like regular cheese than any other vegan pizza I’ve had. That feeling of when your teeth cut into the cheese on the first bite is one that I never thought I’d experience again, which is a treat in and of itself, and then the fact that the taste is there too really makes you (or at least me) feel like I’m eating “real” pizza again.

The Daiya was also nice and warm all the way through, in contrast to an early complaint I’d seen online about the Daiya pie being warm on the edges but cold in the middle. But that does bring up one thing I should mention, which is that, perhaps due to the thinness of the crust (which I really liked) the pies do cool down faster than a typical pizza. Maybe I’d have been better off getting one pizza, having some, and then going back up for another, but there seems to be no way to get any kind of pass to cut the line for second-timers (but I’ll get to the issues with the line later).

Next Big Coke

I also want to tell you about beverages because, to my surprise and delight, they have one of the space-age Coca-Cola Freestyle machines! Okay, the Space Age was 50 years ago, we don’t even have Space Shuttles anymore, so I guess I should say they have one of the Pinterest-age Coca-Cola Freestyle machines! I’m not a big soda drinker, but I first read about these from one of my favorite food bloggers a couple of years ago and I’ve really wanted to try one since since I like me new things. New music, new restaurants, new news, I’m always hoping to find the next big thing. And there it was. And drinks comes with refills so you can try a bunch of the different flavors this thing can create. Turns out most of them were meh, and the Fanta Raspberry was so grossly medicinal I’d rate it a feh, but I did find one winning combo: Raspberry Coke.

If there’s a problem with the machine (besides Fanta Pukeberry) it’s that people haven’t seen one before and don’t know how to use it. And while by the second or third time I had the hang of it, at first it’s a big “What do I do?” which means that after waiting in a long line for pizza you now have to stand there behind a machine that turns even gadget-savvy hipsters into grandmas using checks at the supermarket. And yes, the guy in front of me did have a fedora.

But a slow soda line is the least of the bad news. And although the good news about the bad news is that it’s early and hopefully these are kinks that will be ironed out (I haven’t ironed any kinks since the Space Age, have you?) it still put a damper on this being a great experience.

Bad News Thing number one: There is nobody busing tables. The way this place works is you order, it’s ready as soon as you’re done paying, and you sit down. There’s no waiters on the floor. THERE’S NO NO ONE ON THE FLOOR. When I got there, the place had a line going already, and was pretty crowded, with three or four unoccupied tables. But all the tables still had the previous eaters’ dirty plates, cups and napkins all over them. After ten minutes of waiting in line, paying, and getting my food, still nobody had come out to clean these tables. Seriously. It was disgusting. Finally, after this was pointed out to the man in chef’s whites, he went and told someone who came out.

An unbussed table here, and there, and over there...

But did that person go to the customer the chef pointed to as having asked? Nope, he went and cleaned the table closest to him instead. *sigh* And not to pick on the guy who busses tables, the bigger problem is that to the extent there’s any of the supposedly professional owners of this place around — and you’d think they’d be around during their first weekend in business — they didn’t seem to notice or care that their dining room was a pig sty. In fact, it was so crazy I decided to take some photos of it, because by the time I finished eating there were six, seriously, six tables sitting uncleaned in the dining room. I don’t think anyone had come out to clean tables the entire time I was eating. And they use real plates, which is nice, but since they’re not set up for you to bus your own table, they need to have someone out there full time.

And while I’m on the subject of plates, that reminds me about the forks. The first two forks I took from the bin next to the cash register had food on them, as in the food of the previous person who used that fork. That is bad, bad, bad. (Or gross, gross, gross — you can decide.)

But I’m still not at the worst kink in need of an iron. You see, the way this place works is via the assembly line system. In fact, this place is more defined by lines than the Diary of a Wimpy Kid empire. In fact, I had tried to have dinner here the previous day, but the line was so far out the door and down the street that I gave up. This time I was luckier and although there was a line, it wasn’t yet out the door.

“So that’s the worst part, I.V.? The line?” Nope. The worst part is the employees working the line. Now look, I don’t want to be too harsh. And so far I’ve been generous given the number of bugs that need to be kinked out. Or ironed out. Or worked out. Whatever. And I can be very forgiving of the first guy in the line that you talk to, the one who takes your order, the one who, when I asked, “Can you get a topping on just half your pie?” said, “Uh, I don’t know, I’m usually working in the back.” After all, he was being honest, which I appreciated, and he was friendly, which goes a long way with me. He said I should ask the guy further down the line.

So I moved down the line — which is basically cafeteria-style except you don’t have a tray and they’re the ones moving your food along on the other side of the counter — and when I got to the next stop on the local, which was Toppings, the guy looked at me and was like, “Where’s your pizza? What did you order?” And not friendly either. Hostile. Very hostile. Bizarrely hostile. So I said, “I couldn’t order one because the first guy couldn’t answer my question and he told me to ask you,” and Mr. Hostile Black T-shirt gave me a look like, “Are you expletive kidding me you lying sack of expletive?” And then he looked over at the first guy behind the counter who said, “Yeah, I told him to ask you because I didn’t know.” This should have been as much of an explanation as Mr. Black Shirt needed, and I thought we’d start from scratch at this point, but nope. The hostility did not abate. And keep in mind, I hadn’t even mentioned the words “vegan” “Daiya” “fake” or “I don’t eat X” yet.

I think the problem was that their system allows for zero margin of error. Zero. So by inexplicably having the first guy who starts their process not know what he was doing, it turned the 800 Degree pizza line into the Lucy candy factory line. And whatever Mr. Black Shirt’s MBTI profile was, it was clearly the least-suited one for standing behind a counter and interacting with a long line of people. So after answering my question (yes, you can get a topping on half the pie but you still pay the full topping price) I began to order my toppings. Now I’m not a dawdling type. I knew what I wanted and I ordered it quickly. But apparently not quickly enough to satisfy this guy who maybe is like this at home too or maybe was overtaxed by the sight of the line which was almost to the door at this point.

The good part of this was that the Daiya substitution request was met with no additional disdain and no look of puzzlement (as opposed to other experiences in the restaurant’s first few days that I’d read about online). He quickly reached down and pulled out a tub of shredded Daiya and put a good amount on my pie and then sent me on my way. The bright side? The cashier I dealt with at the end of the line couldn’t have been friendlier. And just so you don’t think this guy was only like that to me, which is exactly what I thought, I actually watched him while I was eating, and he was hostile and curt with everyone!

So there. That’s my 800 degree barn burner. (Wow, that’s an even worse sentence than my hacky Lucy candy reference.) I would say go there for the food, which is already good, and hope that everything else will work itself out shortly and rise above its current level of sucks.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the prices are very good for what this is. Five bucks for the cheeseless marinara pie (or fi dolla if you’re from Bayonne) and six bucks for the margherita pizza plus whatever toppings you want, which are all a buck apiece except for some of the carcass selections. And it’s open till 2 a.m.!

10 best vegan things i 8 in ’11

29 Dec

I love being vegan and I hate 10 best lists so I’m combining the two. Actually, I like 10 best lists but they’re trite. Oh well, I’m trite, so here goes.

This was my first full year being vegan. Woo-hoo, special me! I should start a blog so I can tell the whole world how great I am!

In no particular order, except that I’m starting with the tenth best and working my way in order to my favorite, here goes:

Doomie's pulled pork sandwich. (photo: toliveandeatinla.com)

10. Doomie’s pulled pork sandwich.  I went into Doomie’s for the first time late one night and asked the woman at the counter what to get. She said, “Ask him,” and pointed to Doomie. Without hesitating he said, “The pulled pork sandwich” and smiled an evil smile. It was great.

9. Clementine’s cous cous with roasted squash, dried cranberries, pistachios, scallions and lemon vinaigrette AND their beluga lentils with flame raisins, mizuna and toasted pepitas. I’m a little reluctant to include Clementine on here given that it’s not only a meat-heavy place but also the Worldwide Grilled Cheese Headquarters. But they have a salad case with a bunch of really fresh salads that rotate on a seasonal basis. You can get a three-salad combo for $11.95 and usually there are at least three that are vegan. I recently had the two above-mentioned salads along with some roasted beets, and while the beets were good the two other salads were UNBELIEVABLY good. Eat a forkful and put your fork down and say to yourself was that just as good as I thought it was good. The current menu will be around until late January. Go.

The Bigger Mack. (photo credit: http://www.huggerfood.com)

8. The Bigger Mack at Madeleine Bistro. Sure I could go with their famous Red Beet Tartare, which is great. Or the chicken and waffles, which I enjoyed. But dammit if Chef Dave doesn’t 100 percent nail the Big Mac taste. Not that it’s the greatest taste in the world. But it’s a very specific taste. And he did it. And not that I ever needed to eat another Big Mac after consuming way too many of them for way too many years. But when you think you’ll never get to taste a specific taste again, and then you do, it’s weird and impressive and satisfying.

7. The Wasabi Bean Burger at Native Foods Café. Don’t drop your iPad on the floor and run out the door to get one because they’re gone. This is an item that was on their menu earlier in the year and then, much to my dismay, disappeared. How come the world doesn’t do exactly what I want at all times?

6. A Dillo. A DingDillo to be specific. A cold DingDillo to be specificer. What are these? They’re vegan Chocodiles from Salt Lake City, what else did you think they were? I got mine at the Viva La Vegan grocery store in Rancho Cucamonga. But you can get em other places, too. I’m all out right now. And Rancho Cucamonga’s an hour away with no traffic. But I want one! Runners up in the dessert competition would have to be the Apple-Cranberry Toastie at Babycakes and the Blueberry Pomegranate ice cream I had one day at Scoops (the flavors change daily, as if you didn’t know).

5. The stuff I ate at  Stuff I Eat. I’d been meaning to go here for so long and finally made it. And it was great. I got some kind of eggplant lasagna. I’m not a big eggplant person but they offered a sample that was so good I had to order it, and I loved it. The person suffering through lunch with me got the “Sumthin-Sumthin” plate and we also split a side of jerk grilled tofu and we both looked at each other in amazement at how good it all was. I will keep returning till I’ve tried everything.
 

Mandoline Grill's tofu banh mi. (Photo credit: veggie101.com)

4. Mandoline Grill‘s tofu banh mi. This has gotten a little confusing in the past month or so. There’s some extra charges associated with it now that I can’t quite figure out. Like an extra 50 cents for Vegenaise (the spelling of which always bugs me). There’s also some confusing new thing about a “vegan baguette.” Does that mean she now has NON-vegan baguettes on the truck, too? Were there always two kinds of baguettes on the truck? Or are vegans paying a surcharge for the same baguette that everyone else gets without paying the surcharge? Like I said, I’m confused. I tried to ask about it but the conversation went nowhere. That said, I like Mong. She’s super friendly and serves great vegan food and if she needs to charge a little extra for it I don’t mind.

3. The Gardein Steak Sandwich at Green Peas. As you might have heard, right here in fact, Green Peas is now closed for re-modeling. But the owner told me that all the menu items are returning when they re-open, plus more, hopefully within a couple of months. I eat here a lot. I’ve tried a bunch of stuff from their vegan menu. The vegan chicken picatta sandwich is pretty dang tasty and could have easily made the list. But the Gardein Steak Sandwich is my favorite. (Not the “Rolling Gardein Steak Sandwich” — the stationary one.)
 
 
2. The Tri-Colored Lentils at Fatty’s & Co in Eagle Rock.  Me and Mrs. Insufferable (actually she prefers Ms) hit up Fatty’s one Saturday evening for a date night and were floored. We ordered four items and they were all really good but the one I’m still remembering months later is the lentils. It looked beautiful and tasted even better. A perfect combination of flavors.

All must bow to the ACSB. (photo: candypenny.blogspot.com)

1. The Ancho Chili Seitan Burger from the Cinnamon Snail.  Hate to do this to you LA but the ACSB from the NYNJ food truck was incredibly, incredibly good. An even more perfecter combination of flavors than Fatty’s lentils, and believe me that’s saying something. I WANT THIS TRUCK TO LIVE NEAR ME.

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.

Green Peas pause

22 Dec

Green Peas
4437 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, 90230
310.397.9815

I never bothered to write about Green Peas, one of my favorite places, because I figured most LA vegans already knew about it and others had already written about it, and like I said when I started this blog, I think my time is better spent writing about restaurants that LAVs are less likely to be familiar with.  But while having dinner there last night the owner, Jose, was taping up a sign on the front window. When I finished eating I walked outside and took a look. It said they were closing for remodeling! I went back in and asked Jose when they were closing. He said immediately, for six to eight weeks (another exclamation point).

The idea, he said, is to keep the current menu but also add dinner items like vegan ravioli, vegan risotto and vegan meatloaf. Sounds good to me (insert yet one more). But he said to do this he needs to expand his kitchen which entails moving things around a bit. Hopefully it’ll really all be done in six to eight weeks and I can go back to my Gardein Steak Sandwich and the best split pea soup of all time. (And I don’t even like split pea soup, but trust me, theirs crushes.)

Confession: I’ve been eating at Green Peas since before my salad days, I mean, my vegan days, so I can vouch for their omni food too, and it’s a great place to know about when you’re trying to plan a good casual meal with an omni. And by the way, I think we should stop calling people who eat meat “omnis” and start calling them “carnies.” I think it might boost the conversion rate, because who wants to be called a carny? But that’s a post for another day.

Unfigedible

20 Dec

To me, this is what a fig looks like in its natural state:

I don’t really eat them any other way. And I don’t think about them much. In fact, never. Not even when I’m buying the vegan (dairy-free) Fig Newmans. And eating the whole tray in a day. Two if I’m lucky.

But yesterday I saw a tweet from my favorite 3,000-mile-away food truck, The Cinnamon Snail, that made me go: Huh?  Seems that TCS had gotten into a twitter exchange with someone who was inquiring about their use of figs in their pancakes, and whether or not figs were vegan. In the thirty years that I have been vegan (okay, 15 months) I have never seen anything calling into question the veganticity of a fig. So I clicked my way into the heart of their exchange and found this link the challenger had thrown down:

http://www.veganfitness.net/viewtopic.php?t=7052

And there, spread across four pages, fifty-nine posts, and three years, you will find a discussion of whether or not figs are vegan. I won’t get into the whole thing because you can read it for yourself, but the basics go something like this: Figs are pollinated by wasps that climb into one end of the fig, deposit their children, sperm and luggage there, then die and leave their corpses to be devoured by fig-eating humans and other animals.

So basically, the argument goes, if you eat a fig, you’ve got dead wasps, wasp parts, or wasp secretions entering your up-until-now vegan body.

Well, here’s what I think. The problem with eating dead animals is that they are raised to be killed to be food for us. Or if hunted or caught wild, they at least are killed to be food for us. These insects are apparently dead inside the figs already. And if I’m following the story right, only some figs are even pollinated this way. So sometimes when you eat a fig, depending on the type, you may be getting dosed with bug parts. Is it icky? Sure. But where’s the problem?

Is it in the exploitation of the wasps? The (natural) death of the wasps in the (natural) production of a food item? Or is it the ingestion of the wasps or wasp parts or wasp jizz? (Remember those Budweiser commercials? Waspjizzzz!)

When bees make honey from the nectar of flowers, they do so to create a storable source of food for themselves. Beekeepers get them to overproduce honey so they can take some for the species Beekeeperus. (Okay, I might have misquoted Wikipedia here, but I can only stay on the page for so long without being overcome by guilt from those fundraising pleas.)

So with bees and honey, I can understand the exploitation. They get the bees to do extra work to make food for humans. Does this affect the bees? Are they aware of it? Do they mind? Does it lead to injuries and deaths and pain? I don’t eat honey for this and other reasons, but I don’t have a problem with people who eat honey and still call themselves vegan. (Isn’t that nice of me? Me who ate meat for almost half a hundred years.)

But this fig thing seems different. Humans aren’t making this happen. The wasps would do it in the absence of humans. It doesn’t even seem to be live wasps that are getting eaten. But I guess the idea here is that it’s wrong to eat something that once was alive. On principle, I suppose. Because what’s the difference between eating a dead wasp in a fig or eating a deer that was hit by a car and left dead on the side of the road. I wouldn’t eat that deer even if it were safe for me to consume because, well, I don’t eat animals. So does that apply here? Or is a wasp not an animal?

It’s at this point, when we’re out on what feels to me like the fringes having these kinds of discussions, that this might as well be a religion. But I suppose there are discussions at the edges in all kinds of secular areas, be they science or philosophy.

But isn’t it worse to think that The Cinnamon Snail Truck, as it heads home from dinner each night in the dark, is plowing into thousands of little flying things as it makes its way down the Garden State Parkway? Things that weren’t dead until they got hit by a truck. Or is the problem not the killing but the eating, even if the death of the thing being eaten wasn’t caused by humans at all? While it may not be clear to me whether a wasp is capable of feeling pain, I feel pretty certain that a dead wasp is not. So it’s not about the pain, which is the primary reason for my veganing in the first place. Sure I think that animals, even insects, have just as much right to exist as I do, but do I feel bad about the tiny things I may be hitting with my Honda or stepping on with my Soft Stags? A little bit, but I shrug it off pretty easily.

I hope this doesn’t make TCS change its ways or even feel bad for a second. What they and other providers of incredibly good-tasting vegan food are doing is showing that vegan food doesn’t have to be the feces-laden sawdust that so many meat-eaters imagine it to be. They show that an alternative exists that isn’t devoid of taste. That is in fact delicious. They are showing the way. And that’s a start. A very important start.

Farmer Boys: Victuals for Vegas-bound vegans in Victorville, and 24/7 in L.A.

18 Dec

Farmer Boys
726 S. Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
213.228.8999
(and throughout SoCal,
CentralCal, and Vegas)

Not Victorville.

Okay, I didn’t go to the Victorville location of Farmer Boys. Of which there are three. I went to the one in downtown Los Angeles. Not fancy loft in what once was a bank downtown — gritty truck-trafficked potholed downtown. Which isn’t all that far from the other one.

But the menus are the same in Victorville, and I thought it might be more useful to know that this option exists when you’re 15ing it to Vegas than to know there’s a fast food joint that awaits you with open vegan-friendly arms on Alameda.

And they’re not just on the road to Vegas, they’re all over the 99 to Yosemite too, though sadly not the dreaded 5 to San Fran. (cisco.)

My FAQ touches on the hold that fast food has on me. I’m not the only one, of course. Many other Americans patronize fast food even though they know it’s not good for them. Do they like the food? Do they like the convenience? Or like me, have associations been made with family, childhood and safety.

But there was no Farmers Boy when I was a kid. So what am I relating to? What still provides that feeling? Is it merely the concept? Vinyl and plastic booths, a big metal counter, some backlit signage, and ordering standing up?

The downtown Los Angeles location is open 24/7! (Or 7/24 if Eur from Europe.)

Pulling out of the fast food world may be the best thing that veganing has done for me. There’s no way the vegan crap I eat is crappier than the non-vegan crap I ate, right? (Please say right.) I actually hadn’t eaten much fast food for a good decade before going V last year. But once in a while I still did. And even though I hardly went any more, I often felt the pull, drawing me toward its location on the corner of Drive-thru Drive and Memory Lane.

But there are times when convenience is needed. When something/anything to eat is needed. Like that drive to Las Vegas. (Which btw I don’t do very often, because I don’t like Las Vegas —  because I don’t like cigarette smoke, odds stacked against me, or cowboy hats.) You probably know this, but the people in Las Vegas are Las Vegans. And sometimes even call themselves Vegans. And those Vegans do a pretty good job feeding us vegans, so I hear.

But let’s talk tofurky. Or at least veggie burgers. Because that’s what you can get at Farmer Boys. Or a veggie sandwich. That’s right. They’ve got two choices. Two on-the-menu choices that require but scant modification. No dressing on the veggie burger, and no cheese on the veggie sandwich. And swap out the wheat bread on the veggie sandwich for rye or sourdough, cuz the wheat’s got honey.

How do I know this? I called the Farmer Boys toll-free number and spoke to a friendly person who was eager to help. In fact, I didn’t feel a single eye-roll the entire time. And she even emailed me later to verify that the wheat bread had honey and that the veggie burger bun was egg, dairy and honey-free.

© Ansel Adams

Now to the basics. The veggie burger, which I photographed, and the veggie sandwich, which I did not (*sigh*), are pretty different. The veggie burger is the kind that’s a patty of stuff smooshed together. While smooshed might not be a verb that’s usually used to connote tastal satisfaction, in this case it’s doing just that. I much prefer this kind of big flat fall-apart patty to the kind of styrofoamy hockey puck veggie burger you’re often served when you dare to go meatless at a cathedral of meat. It came with iceberg lettuce, tomato, and onions, all of which seemed unusually fresh for a fast food joint, and there’s ketchup on the table to make up for the mandatory dressing removal. I combo’d it with some good hot fries and a Mug root beer. I can’t guarantee that all locations are Muggly since the menu on the website doesn’t show it, but for this caffeine-after-3-keeps-me-up-all-night loser, it was a sight for sore-if-I-had-Barq’s-the-day-before eyes.

The veggie sandwich, which comes on toast, has no burgery patty. But what it does have post-cheese is lettuce, tomato, mustard, pickles and avocado. (You can add avocado to the veggie burger, too, but it’ll cost you — $1.50 I think.)

And there’s calorie info on the website, too. The veggie burger weighs in at 581 (that’s some accurate lab they must use!) but that’s with the dressing, so I figure you’re saving at least a hundred calories by going ketchup or mustard or dry.  And the veggie sandwich says 398 but that’s with ewwy milk-of-another-animal cheese.

So there. Now you know about another fast food option. At least if you find yourself in SoCal, Central Cal, or Vegas Cal. If you’re in a different Cal, check out this great website if you don’t already know about it, which makes a pretty good effort to document what’s available to us eaters-of-the-future at the various fast food joints and other chains across this great American fastfoodjointandotherchainscape.

Oh. And if you liked this review, ring my bell.

Veggie Castle (II) and The Cinnamon Snail (by Roald Dahl)

12 Dec

Veggie Castle (II)
132-09 Liberty Avenue
Richmond Hill, NY 11419
718.641.8342

The Cinnamon Snail
(It’s on wheels so
check their Twitter)
Manhattan, Brooklyn,
Hoboken, Red Bank

Chapter One: Veggie Castle

Once upon a time last month I made a quick trip to New Jersey for my niece’s wedding. (She’s 25, I’m… sigh.) Flew into JFK and thanks to the wonder that is Happy Cow I found a great  vegan restaurant only a few minutes north of the airport right off the Van Wyck. (Pronounced WICK not WYKE and if you try to tell me otherwise I’ll punch you in the EYE — pronounced IH.)

I know that looks like a fat Roman numeral I but it's a blurry Roman numeral II. Trust me.

Veggie Castle has a Roman numeral II on the sign outside because they once had another Veggie Castle, which got its name because it was located inside an old White Castle, and do you think I can still wear my White Castle jacket that I bought before I was vegan? (On the one hand it’s made of synthetics, on the other is it promoting the eating of animals?)

One thing I forgot about New York is that it’s harder to find a parking spot on any given day than Pasadena on January 1st. But the native New Yorker in me prevailed and I found one out back between a hydrant and a Dumpster and ran around the corner to a Caribbean (food) paradise. Veggie Castle is a take-out place, so I ordered a bunch of things and ate them when I got to my in-laws’ place in Jersey. This had the added advantage of irritating my in-laws, who while not opposed to my veganizing, are under the impression it’s simply another diet like Atkins or Paleo despite repeated attempts to disabuse them of this notion. (My in-laws, no matter what the issue, are not disabusable of any notions whatsoever.)

What did I eat? Well, who says a restaurant review has to tell you what was eaten? I’m breaking new ground here. Mostly because I don’t remember. Because what happened was, as I stood there trying to choose from the amazing collection of items in steam trays before me, the owner, who was so into it that I had sought out his restaurant after finding it on the Internet, threw a bunch of different things into the container so that I could try a vast array of his creations. They were Caribbean items that included things like plantains, yams and fake meats. And they were all amazing.

In addition to the steam table items, I spotted some patties behind the counter. Seeing these immediately took me back to my Brooklyn days when there was only one, that’s right, one, restaurant on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope and my favorite place to go in the neighborhood was Christie’s Jamaican Patties for “one on coco bread.” (That “one” was beef of course, ugh.) I asked about the patties and was told there were three kinds: fake chicken, fake fish, and some kind of spinachy thing whose name I wish I could remember (and yes, I’m personifying spinach here, so what, do you want another punch in the ih?). I decided to get one fake chicken and one spinachy and they smelled so dang good I broke into them in the car. Not only did they taste as good as they smelled — especially the chicken one — but it was a rental car, which is essentially a napkin wrapped in metal, right? (BTW, I don’t know about you, but I do a lot better with fake meat than fake fish.)

And… and this is not a small and… they carry Vegan Treats straight outta Bethlehem! After seeing constant references to this beloved bakery I of course had to try some. I got four different slices of cake and, here’s the best part, when I got to Jersey nobody wanted to share them! (So what if I ate four pieces of cake over two days, it’s allowed when you leave your home state.) And yes, they were good. Better than the bestest vegan dessert ever? Don’t know that I’d say yes. But I’m looking forward to a re-match, especially if I can get my hands on some of those peanut butter bombs one day.

Chapter Two: The Cinnamon Snail

So that was Friday night. And Saturday was a rehearsal dinner at The Olive Garden which provided me with a perfectly fine plate of vegan pasta. But, Sunday morning, while the others were still asleep, I took my metal napkin up to Red Bank, where parked at the farmers market was…

Behold!

By the time I got there, about five minutes before their stated 9 a.m. opening, there was already a line! And I’m guessing it wasn’t just vegans lining up at the gates of food truck heaven though I have to admit I didn’t do a survey. This was pretty exciting. I’d read a lot about this place online, and this was before they got permission to start hitting the streets of New York, so the whole thing seemed kind of legendary and — how often can you say this and mean it — it did not dissapoint. The special of the day, which I was told will become a regular menu item this spring, was the Ancho Chili Seitan Burger and it is THE BEST VEGAN THING I HAVE EVER EATEN. And really, I wouldn’t even have a problem taking the word vegan out of that sentence. It destroyed. To the point that after taking a bite in the car I had to go back to the truck to tell them just how incredible it was.

I got some other things to try, too, like their “classic breakfast burrito” and a puff pastry with curried lentils and a few different doughnuts, and while those were all good, the star of the show was clearly the ACSB. (Though the burrito was a pretty good VPM on the flight home Monday, I must say.)

So to all you New Yorkers who have been too lazy to tube it over to Hoboken: go see what the fuss is all about!

And then cry for me that I live 3,000 miles from it.

THE END

Afterword:

At the wedding I had a terrific, and I’m not overhyping this, vegetable napoleon. If you’d gotten this at any vegan restaurant, even a pricey one, you’d have been very happy with it. Even better, after my niece told me she’d make sure they’d have something I could eat, she had them put it on the menu card. So hopefully this led some other people to get it instead of the chicken or salmon.

Babycakes LA… rchmont

4 Dec

Babycakes NYC
130 East 6th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014
213.623.5555

At almost half a hundred years of age I should be better with change. Because it’s probably something you can learn to deal with over time, right? It’s not genetic, is it? Yet it often throws me.

Today I went to Babycakes downtown. What a nice drive I had, no traffic on the 5, over the 4th street bridge, okay I had to circle the block for a meter, and then okay the meter was $3.00 an hour (which doesn’t sound nearly as bad as the TWENTY-FIVE CENTS FOR FIVE MINUTES that it works out to) but still. Things were going well.

Then I opened the door to Babycakes. Was I in the wrong place? Did I step into something next door by mistake — you know, like the way I walked into the coffee house next to Scoops once and asked for some ice cream. (I’m scoopid like that.) But nope, I was in the right place, it was the world that had gone wrong.

Step through the door of Babycakes now and you are greeted by… another door. A drab, hastily erected in a hastily erected wall, door. And, it’s maybe ten feet from the front door. Huh?

See that sculpture on the wall of the birds or whatever? Now scroll to the first photo up top and you'll see those birds through the window.

A look to the left revealed a tiny counter, with a small display case of items. WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

As the friendly person behind the counter explained to me, “I just came into work one day and this wall was there.”  Turns out, Babycakes is opening up in Larchmont Village, which they’ve already tweeted about, and as a result they have more or less turned their charming, inviting, makes-you-feel-good-to-be-a-vegan location downtown into what now has all the warmth of a check-cashing joint.

Oh, and they’ve also chopped the hours. It’s now only open to 7pm, and 9 on the weekends, whereas they used to be open till 11 some nights!

Look, it’s a business, I get it. They decided they’d probably do better in Larchmont and so they’re turning their downtown spot into a baking operation with a tiny space for some retail sales. Or at least that’s my guess about what they’ve decided. There’s still one table for two inside, but seriously, you feel like you’re sitting at a table in the lobby of an industrial printing plant.  Ugh. (There’s also one table outside.)

The food, I should mention, is still really good. Doughnuts, toasties, crumb cakes — I serve these things to non-vegans and they love it and have no clue. Then they realize I’m eating it too and say, “This is vegan? Really?”  Because, you know, all vegan food contains feces, right?

I actually didn’t like Babycakes the first time I tried it, which was at the old M Cafe in Culver City. And I gave it a chance, too. Tried a few different things. Then one time I was downtown and decided to stop by their charming (I’m starting to cry again) shop. Holy crap, was it good! Maybe I didn’t try the right things at M Cafe, maybe it wasn’t as fresh, maybe M Cafe didn’t carry some of the stuff I was trying downtown, but man, it was all very good and some of it great.

Anyway, the food is still just as good. And I guess it’ll be nice to have them in Larchmont (also known as the most inconvenient part of the city to get to from my home) but if the momma store had to (almost) die to birth this baby, I’m not sure the doctors made the right decision.

Anyway, I was told they plan to open in Larchmont in the second half of December or early January. And I wish them the best, I really do. In fact, maybe they’ll do so well in Larchmont they can open a third location, and then a fourth, and then need a bigger bakery in a commercial space and reconstitute the downtown shop!

Yeah, and I suppose journalism will return to the world, too.

Mr. Baguette

2 Dec

Mr. Baguette
8702 E. Valley Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 288-9166

How could I not try a place with a sign like that?

Okay, this is my first restaurant review. I am not looking to compete with people who are good at vegan restaurant reviews. Like this person. Nor am I looking to build a comprehensive resource. Like this person. I am simply trying to tell you about places you might not know about, even if you’re a vegan in LA. Like this person. So I’ll try to stick to out of the way places.

I went to Mr. Baguette today and had the “Veggie Ham” sandwich. It was $4.99 and pretty big. It comes on a plain baguette. And be sure to order it with no cheese and no mayo. (It comes with a “sweet soy sauce” that Jacques-blocks your “this baguette is too dry” complaints.) It also comes with tomatoes and lettuce (iceberg: leafy not shredded) and for something like 20 cents more you can get it on a sesame seed baguette.

I asked about the veggie ham and also the baguette and was told they didn’t contain any meat, dairy or eggs.

Who knew sesame seeds were so expensive?

As for the place, it’s non-descript.  I was there for over an hour and didn’t see them once bus a table. People either threw out their trash or the next customer threw it out when they needed a table. That’s not good, but otherwise the place was clean.

The sandwich was pretty good if not killer. The baguette itself was very good. Most of the time when you eat a sandwich, if you can remember eating meat like I can, you don’t even taste the meat, or at least not much. And the veggie ham tastes just fine. The most distinct taste is probably the sweet soy sauce, and of course the pretty great taste of that crunchy baguette.

Hamsome devil!

I also got a root beer. I usually don’t drink soda but they had Faygo root beer in cans. You don’t see that every day. Or just about any day. Actually, never before, for me, though I have seen it in bottles. Big thick bottles with seams. Or at least in my memory there were seams.

Oh, and maybe this goes without saying, but this is an omni joint. If you can call a place with one vegan choice an omni joint.

You know what I just did? I wrote about a sandwich. How odd.

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