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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.)
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!
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.