Guest Post: LA Eatin’ Part Two

Here’s the grand finale of S’s enviable trip to California, where he shares more of his attempt to eat his way through LA and nerds out over SPACE!

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My friend and I returned to her home after our warm-hearted Cafe Gratitude dinner and rich, sugary BabyCakes dessert. We’d bought tickets to a 10:30 showing of The Gatekeepers, a critically acclaimed documentary about the Israeli secret security service. Alas, I was not to remain awake that long, and I bailed for an early jet-lag induced rest.

The next morning we awoke and headed off to Real Food Daily for brunch. My friend’s late Christmas present for me was a copy of the Real Food Daily cookbook, so I was excited to try their selection. I started off with one of my favorite morning beverages, a hot cup of espresso.

Small cup with a frothy espresso and a silver spoon.

Gimme caffeine!

I sipped my beverage while we mulled over the menu. The waitress recommended The Weekender, a make-your-own brunch meal that looked like way too much food–perfect to fill in for my breakfast and lunch. I got the scrambled tofu, which came with onions, tomatoes, and cashew cheese, a side of tempeh bacon, plus hash browns. If that sounds like a lot, it was!

Plate of tofu scramble, ketchup, potatoes, and tempeh bacon.

Scrambled!

The tofu scramble was pretty standard. The cashew cheese on top was unnecessary but delicious, although the promised jalapeno did not deliver much spice. The hash browns were a bit greasy and uncannily square. This was, however, my first experience with tempeh bacon, and it was awesome. How do they get the bacon taste so right? I wanted several more pieces, but I probably couldn’t have eaten them anyway. That’s because I forgot to mention that this meal also included french toast.

Plate with two thick slices of French toast and a bit scoop of vegan butter.

Toast, a la francais.

It was light, fluffly, and delicious, if a bit too chewy. But honestly, I could barely choke it down. This weekend turned into a glut-fest!

My friend left me to my own devices for my remaining two days, and I ate both lunch and dinner at separate Native Foods. Did I mention that I love Native Foods? [Ed. note: I can confirm this.] I didn’t snap any pictures or take notes, as I figured there wasn’t much novelty. But later that day I did take a picture of something that was ONCE IN SPACE!

The space shuttle Endeavour!

THIS HAS BEEN IN SPACE SEVERAL TIMES.

I am a huge science nerd, and seeing the Endeavour was honestly a pretty awe-inspiring experience. I teared up a bit when I first entered the hangar; it’s amazing to think of the incredible ingenuity, courage, and genius of the men and women who built and flew that craft. Space travel is the most astonishing accomplishment in human history, and seeing the massive shuttle in person was a humbling experience.

But I couldn’t stay long; I had to get to Loma Linda for a work trip. I cruised west for an hour or so and checked into my hotel in Riverside, California, right down the street from the beautiful and historic Riverside Inn. I’d stopped for some snacks along the way, but I was going to need nourishment for the whole week, so I decided to get a pizza and store it in my hotel fridge, eating a few pieces a night. I drove about a half hour to Cheezy Pizza in Colton, a bizarre establishment that was the only vegan offering in the area.

Shady-looking row of small storefronts.

Yep, that’s a head shop next door.

This place was really weird. First of all, it was in the middle of nowhere; the only other buildings around seemed to be warehouses. Secondly, it offered a strange combination of pizza and Mexican food (I wish I’d grabbed some “vegan-style” empanadas). And thirdly, I swear the pizza had fennel on it. It was otherwise not bad, but pretty standard Daiya pizza. I got half “pepperoni” and half mushrooms, and it did the job.

My final vegan stop on the trip was at Loving Hut in Upland, which was about a half hour drive. I’ve never been to a Loving Hut before, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a muted TV playing the Supreme Master with helpful subtitles that covered nearly the entire screen. I ordered the Spicy General Tso’s and was fairly unimpressed.

White plate with a scoop of white rice, a small salad, and a fake meat with sauce. In the background are copies of the New Yorker and The Silmarillion.

New Yorker and Tolkien, no biggie.

I did very much enjoy my dessert, however: an Oreo cheesecake. I also got to watch a very cute baby across the room.

Big slice of cheesecake with a cookie-crumb crust.

Sorry, no baby pictures.

I had a great time in California and I was so glad to be able to sample such diverse vegan offerings. One unexpected benefit of my going vegan has been that I can plan my trips around the places I want to eat, and that strategy worked swimmingly in LA and the Inland Empire. Thanks for reading!

Chicagoin’ it Up

WHEW.

That was me giving a big huge sigh of relief. My move is complete! We are safely installed in our new place (thanks in part to some hastily hired movers who hauled our two sofas up to the third floor when we utterly failed to do so ourselves)! I can now settle in and enjoy living with two of my favorite people, S and Moria. Yes, Moria is people.

I’ll talk a bit more about that settling process eventually, but for now let me take you back in time. In the midst of our moving preparations, S and I escaped to Chicago for a weekend to visit some friends who moved there a couple months back. I really enjoy Chicago, especially when I’ve got a place to stay right in the city and I’m hanging out with folks who have done all the touristy things already. This trip was pretty relaxed – we saw a movie, went suit-shopping for our friend Aaron (and helped him select one snappy number!), waxed nostalgic at the American Girl Store (I had Addy and Molly, and I loved them both to bits), and just hung out and enjoyed each other’s company. We also ate food. Duh. Half the reason I travel is to try new vegan eats. ;)

First, we headed to Standard India Restaurant for a late dinner on Friday night. I didn’t take pictures (mostly because I wasn’t feeling well at that point), but let it be known that this restaurant is incredibly vegan friendly. The servers are courteous to a fault (seriously – the service was a hair overbearing) and know exactly what vegan means. They typically bring out a small starter soup before your meal, and our server exchanged the non-vegan soup for a delicious chana masala for S and I without our even prompting him. Then, when my pakoras took longer than the rest of the food to arrive, the server gave me a samosa on the house to tide me over.

We all ordered from the a la carte menu rather than do the buffet or thali meal, and I only had the pakoras because I’d actually already eaten dinner. S enjoyed samosas, while our dining companions had something meaty. :) I wish I’d been hungrier, though – the buffet had clearly labeled vegan options that looked fantastic. The food was delicious, perhaps even more so because the restaurant is BYOB and our server kept our wine glasses filled at all times. ;) The only slightly unpleasant aspect was the very irritated reaction a server had when we asked if he could prioritize running our credit cards because we were running late for a movie. I think it was because the restaurant is fairly traditional and prides itself on its slow, impeccable customer service, and he perhaps felt offended by our rush to leave. Still, his knee-jerk look of irritation was off-putting. Beyond that, though, it was a pleasant experience with good food and attentive service.

The next morning, we broke our fast at Handlebar, a vegetarian and very vegan-friendly hipster-tastic establishment with a great variety of sandwiches, breakfast foods, and traditional (and not so traditional) bar food (fried pickles?!?). I enjoyed a cup of coffee and these melt-in-your-mouth tender slices of French toast:

Toast-tastic.

This was remarkably filling, for being only two triangles of toast! It was actually a side order, and I complemented it with a side order of breakfast potatoes. They were perhaps the least memorable part of my meal, because the toast was just so delicious and the potatoes were pretty average. I love that the French toast came with pure maple syrup, too. So yummy. S also wholly enjoyed his breakfast – biscuits and gravy:

Vegan Bloody Mary in the background!

That seitan sausage gravy was a savory, meaty treat! I’ve never really encountered biscuits &andgravy before, but now I see why so many people love this meal – more on that later! S thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to consume a veganized version of this meal, and I felt the same way about my delicious French toast. If only Handlebar had a location in Madison – I’d be brunchin’ it up all the time!

Because we brunched around 11:00, we didn’t have a full lunch. Instead, we stopped at Big Bowl after finishing our suit shopping for some refreshing drinks and appetizers. A couple of them are vegan; S and I shared summer rolls and… something else I can’t remember. But we ate light because we were saving our appetites for dinner. We’d intended to head to Karyn’s on Green for a fancy-pants meal, but the timing didn’t work out so we decided to hit up Native Foods instead. I never say no to Native Foods!

My stomach wasn’t terribly happy by the time we got there, and I knew I needed something loaded with veggies. The Soul Bowl was the perfect choice. It’s a big gigantic bowl of brown rice, red beans, steamed broccoli & kale, ranch sauce, BBQ sauce, and a couple pieces of Native Chicken. And by “a couple pieces” I mean one normal piece lying atop the bed of veggies and one skewered, BBQ-slathered piece proudly standing tall like a fake-meat tower:

A majestic sight.

Insane, right? And a HUGE amount of food! I barely got through half this bowl, which meant I had lunch ready for work the next Monday. Win! It was just what my upset tummy ordered – veggie-rich and delicious. I could’ve done with a little less ranch sauce, but I’m a big weirdo who’s not actually very fond of ranch.

S and one of our dining companions ordered the Portobello and Sausage Burger, which happened to be the special, so S enjoyed a free side of sweet potato fries. We all shared the Native Nachos as an appetizer, and they were fantastic – the Native Chipotle Crema and Native Cheese made for an appropriately cheesy platter, and the entire dish was loaded with guac, veggies, black beans, and taco meat. Perfection.

S and I rounded out our meal with dessert to go – a Peanut Butter Parfait for S and a Double Delight Brownie for me. We saved them for later and enjoyed them while watching a movie. The brownie was nothing to write home about, but it was certainly worth $2.95. I very much appreciate the accessible prices at Native Foods – no $7.00 desserts there!

The next morning, we all brunched at The Chicago Diner before S and I headed back to Madison. I was extremely excited to finally eat there – it’s a veggie institution, but in all my visits to Chicago I’ve never made it there! (Although S did bring me back a treat that one time.) We all sat in their semi-outdoors back patio area, which is fully covered by a yellow tent. Hence the lack of pictures – the tent gave my pictures a hideous, radioactive mustardy glow that made all the food look very unappetizing. However, it was very appetizing indeed. I stuck with my brunchy theme of ordering sides and had a bowl of fruit and a small plate of biscuits and gravy. Y’all, I’m totally sold on this biscuits and gravy dish – it’s so perfect! It’s got a carby element that’s undeniably welcome at breakfast time, it’s savory and filling, and it’s incredibly satisfying to mop up that salty gravy with a flaky biscuit. S also had the biscuits and gravy, and rated them on par with those at Handlebar.

After our meal, S and I got two cinnamon buns to go, and we stickily devoured them on the drive back. They were melty, sweet, soft, and totally perfect. Chicago Diner, I think I like you.

For a two night, one point five day stay in Chicago, this trip was full of noteworthy eats. Our hosts were incredibly gracious in accommodating our veganism, never once complaining about being forced to eat mostly meat-free for a weekend. Our friend Aaron remarked a few times that the non-meat in his meals was good and not really noticeably fake, and I think both our hosts enjoyed all our meals. So hooray for Chicago and its omni-friendly veg eating establishments!

Where have you traveled lately? How do your omni friends react to eating at veg restaurants?

Windy City Weekend Eats: Part 2

Welcome to Part Two of my Chicago eats recap! Part One featured vegan diner food and fantastic pho, and Part Two only gets better. :)

After slurping pho for lunch, S and I switched to forks for our dinner experience. The next restaurant on the docket was Karyn’s on Green, where we transitioned from a fast-casual lunch to a fancy-schmancy sit-down dinner. I dined at Karyn’s Cooked last year, so I knew I could expect delicious, delicious eats from a Karynian establishment, and I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t have a photo, so you’ll just have to trust me. S ordered a pizza with arugula, caramelized onions, potatoes, and a cheezy topping, and he graciously let me share, so I can vouch for its deliciousness. I chose the Sweet Pea Risotto, which features white truffle oil, sweet peas, and pea pods. I’m not sure I can adequately describe how fantastic this was. Perfectly creamy, the entire risotto was infused with a delicate sweet pea flavor, turning it a gorgeous shade of light green. The crispy pea pods were a perfect textural counterpoint to the otherwise creamy dish – it was very well-balanced. It was also quite filling; S had to help me finish it. I’d absolutely love to recreate it, but I’m not sure I could do it justice!

Beyond its amazing food, Karyn’s had fantastic customer service. Through some oversight or miscommunication, S and I weren’t given menus for about ten minutes after being seated (we did have bread with an herbed butter to munch on, however), and our server was extremely apologetic and offered us a round of free drinks on the house. We both chose the specials of the night; S’s featured muddled watermelon and other things I can’t remember, and mine was a minty, chocolaty affair that was a rich, creamy delight. We rounded off our meal with a to-go dessert, a chocolate-peanut butter pie that I might have eaten for breakfast the next morning. Maybe. I can’t say for sure. Overall, our experience at Karyn’s was fantastic, and I still dream about my risotto.

Our final eating destination was a new-to-Chicago establishment, Native Foods. The Wicker Park location opened in early August, and it seems like it’s already gained a fan following. We just beat the lunch rush on Sunday and sat outdoors munching on a meatball sub (S) and a chicken-ranch burger (me). This is the type of thing I’d never make on my own, so I loved the opportunity to try it!

I swear it wasn't this neon IRL...

Native Foods does faux-meat really, really well, so it makes total sense that their new location was hoppin’ on a Sunday afternoon! My chicken-ranch burger was the special of the day, so I got a free side. Obviously I chose the sweet potato fries, and they were crispy, sweet, and salty perfection. I also got a lavender lemonade, which hit all the right notes – tart and tangy with the slightest floral flavor.

And that’s all she ate! Despite trying four fantastic vegan-friendly restaurants, our Google doc has many more options yet to be tasted. I resolve to one day try the famous Chicago Diner, Handlebar Bar & Grill, the Loving Hut, the Green Zebra, and one (or two… or three) of the vegan-friendly bakeries in Chitown.