Silver Diner Review | Vegan Options at Silver Diner

When I first moved to Maryland seven (!!!) years ago, I was delighted to discover a local diner chain with vegan options. Back then, Silver Diner had a location at the mall near my office, and it was a not-infrequent destination for celebratory team lunches. The options were good and creative, too, more than just your average portobello burger or veggie wrap. Unfortunately, the mall location closed years ago, and I haven’t really been to a Silver Diner since.

This year, though, Silver Diner has upped its vegan options game, introducing a Just Egg Benedict, adding the Beyond Burger, and offering an entire section of vegan entrées. So when a (vegan!) friend suggested we head to the location in Frederick as part of her low-key birthday celebration, Steven and I thought that sounded like a perfect idea.

After much deliberation, I ordered the cauliflower mac and cheese, which features tempeh bacon, roasted tomatoes, asparagus, and a cheesy sauce served over cauliflower and zucchini… all topped with Beyond Meat meatballs. An unexpected combo, to be sure, and not only because there’s no pasta in this mac and cheese. I was dubious, but hopeful. Local vegan restaurant Great Sage has an outstanding mac and cheese that includes both pasta and big chunks of cauliflower, and I’ve often pondered ordering that dish sans pasta, but with added cauliflower.

Alas, Silver Diner’s take on cauli mac and cheese couldn’t live up to Great Sage’s classic version. Instead of big, toothsome cauliflower florets, the cauli, tomatoes, and zucchini are finely chopped, mixed with nearly undetectable  bits of tempeh bacon, and stirred up with a Chao- and nooch-based cheesy sauce. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a sauce, because it was indiscernible from the rest of the dish’s elements (as I’m sure is obvious from the photo).

To be fair, it all tasted pretty good (if a bit overly herby). The Beyond Meat meatballs were tender and flavorful, and the asparagus was cooked just right. But to call this a mac and cheese is, frankly, absurd. Call it a stew, maybe, or a cauliflower “rice” dish, but not mac and cheese. It irks me that Silver Diner is presenting this as a vegan take on mac and cheese when our mac and cheeses are not generally pasta-free! If any curious omnivore were to order this, I fear they’d be quite disappointed. It felt like a dish that just wasn’t well conceptualized. Why are there meatballs served on top?! That’s not a feature of mac and cheese. Nor are roasted tomatoes. It’s just bizarre.

On the bright side, the side of fries we ordered for the table to share were absolute perfection, the perfect combo of crispy, salty, slightly herby goodness, and my dining companions enjoyed their dishes (Beyond Burgers and Just Egg Benedicts). And afterward, we got to hang out with Maggie: always a good time.

Dinner at Fancy Radish in Washington, D.C. | VeganMoFo 2019 Day Twenty-Four

This is the blog post equivalent of a #latergram: an extremely belated review of a dinner I enjoyed in March (!). (Why now? I’m on a long-weekend vacation with Steven, so no new content till Tuesday! Pre-scheduled posts to the rescue.)

For my birthday this past March, Steven and I visited Fancy Radish, a new-ish vegan restaurant in D.C. that we’d been meaning to hit up since it opened in early 2018. Helmed by the same team that made Philly’s Vedge the plant-based hotspot it is today, the Fancy Radish has gotten rave reviews from all my friends who’ve visited. The perfect spot for a birthday dinner! And the perfect opportunity for a Fancy Radish review, only five months late. :)

I really love the concept: you order a bunch of small dishes and share them with your dining companions. It’s a spin on the tapas experience, except here the server brings them in carefully considered courses rather than all at once, and the servings are a little larger. Our waitress recommended that we share four to five dishes, so we went with five “medium” plates. It was my birthday! Time to splash out and eat up.

I started with a cocktail, and I’m 99% sure it was the Marbles Found: tequila, bitter rose, and grapefruit. I’m a sucker for grapefruit! I really enjoyed this, even though I don’t usually drink tequila outside of a margarita.

Our first course was the rutabaga fondue, a truly heavenly crock of mild, gooey goodness served with a pretzel roll and a small bowl of lightly pickled veggies. (They had me at “pretzel roll,” tbh.) Would I ever have paired pickled vegetables with fondue on my own? I would not. Was it amazing? It was. Ugh, this was such a perfect starter. As soon as I tasted that fondue, I knew the hype about Fancy Radish was real and I could not wait to experience the rest of the meal.

Next up were two dishes served at once: the eponymous fancy radishes (a plate of roasted and raw radishes served with a yuzu-avocado puree) and a Chioggia beet “lox” toast. The radishes, if I’m being honest, underwhelmed. There wasn’t a lot of substance there, and thinking back on the meal today, I barely remember that we ordered this dish! I really enjoyed the beet lox, though. It was served with some kind of creamy spread and an herby topping. Someone in the kitchen must be exceedingly proficient with a mandoline, because those beets were sliced incredibly finely! I really appreciated that the lox flavor was not overwhelming. I’ve had some plant-based lox dishes that were just overpoweringly smoked, including one salad topped with carrot lox that I had to stop eating because it was burning my mouth! No such issues here.

For our final course, we had the shaved brassicas and spicy dan dan noodles. The former was tasty, but not my favorite. The shaved Brussels sprouts came heavily dressed with a smoked mustard sauce and crispy shiitakes, but by the time the plate got to us it was all kind of lukewarm and limp — not ideal conditions for my beloved Brussels sprouts. Those dan dan noodles were killer, however. They packed a serious spicy punch thanks to the liberal use of Sichuan peppers, but I couldn’t stop eating! The bowl also included a topper of fried five-spiced glazed mushrooms along with a respectable helping of noodles.

These five dishes were the perfect amount of food for the two of us. If we’d planned to order dessert, I would’ve gone down to four savory dishes instead. (Steven had made me a birthday cake, though, so no dessert needed this time!) I was blown away with how fresh and creative and nuanced the flavors were; it was some of the best vegan food I’ve had. (Even the dishes that underwhelmed were still creative and tasty!) For a splurge meal, it was totally worth it. The menu changes seasonally, so I’m eager to return and try some new options. Perhaps for my 10-year veganniversary this October…?!

Apologies for the photo quality; Fancy Radish had “atmospheric” lighting, shall we say.

Hot Breads Gaithersburg Restaurant Review | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Four

Week One: Inspiration Week
This week is all about using different things as your inspiration for great food.

Gaithersburg, Maryland, is not exactly what I’d call a vegan hotspot. Sure, we’ve got the standard veg-friendly chains (Chipotle, Cava Grill, Noodles & Co.), a few Mexican restaurants where you can cobble something together, a Chinese resto with a more than respectable vegan menu, and the Beyond Burger-slinging newcomer Barking Mad Café, but that’s about it. There are no 100% vegan joints, and we’ve got to head out of the city limits to experience most of my favorite veg-friendly establishments.

But! There’s a newcomer to the veg scene. (At least, it’s new to me.) A few months ago, Steven was browsing ye olde interweb when he stumbled across a review of a nearby restaurant.

“Have you ever heard of Hot Breads in the Kentlands?” he asked.

I had not. The Kentlands is a nearby planned community, with mixed-use buildings and a walkable town center and one of my favorite veg-friendly Thai spots, but I hadn’t heard of any place called Hot Breads.

“It looks like it’s got a ton of vegan Indian food,” he said, browsing the menu online. “And… wait, vegan cakes and pastries?!”

He had me at “vegan cakes.”  We tried Hot Breads and were delighted by it. The cakes were just OK, but the main meals? They were fantastic. So, with our newfound appreciation for authentic Indian food (and my promise to take Steven out to dinner for his 30th birthday a few weeks ago, a promise delayed because we were fostering a puppy who couldn’t be left alone for too long), we hit up Hot Breads again last week.

Both of us ordered a masala dosa. Despite the sunken appearance of the one on the right, they came out lovely and crispy, stuffed with a potato and pea filling and served alongside coconut chutney, a tomato-y sauce, and sambar. Steven also ordered chili idli. Look how cute these mini idli are!

Despite the cashier warning us that the chili idli would be very spicy, we both found them quite mild. The sauce was also quite sweet and almost ketchup-y. Steven didn’t care for it and I was neutral, although the flavor did get to be a bit much after a couple of bites.

Although the online menu doesn’t indicate which items are vegan, the cashier who took our order (it’s a fast-casual joint) was able to check with the chef to verify which items were OK. Pastry case items are labeled clearly. While I didn’t get a dessert this time, Steven got a strawberry cupcake to go and reported that it was quite tasty.

So, Hot Breads? A definite jewel in Gaithersburg’s veg-restaurant-scene crown! :D

Vegan-Friendly Restaurant Review: Barking Mad Café in Gaithersburg, Maryland

I’m not usually a burger person. Sure, I’ll order them every so often at veg restaurants if the mood hits, and there’s definitely an uptick in my patty consumption during the summer months, but in general I could take or leave them. When I do take them, I typically opt for a burger that’s more veggie than meaty.

At least that was the case until I tried my new favorite restaurant meal: the Beyond Burger, served with tempeh bacon, sautéed mushrooms, BBQ sauce, and all the veggie fixins on a big ol’ wheat brioche bun.

Beyond Burger at Barking Mad CaféIt might look like your average veggie burger, but oh. my. goodness. It is phenomenal, and I’ve eaten it an embarrassing number of times over the past few months. It’s juicy, sweet-and-savory, and full of so many delicious textures… and it’s served alongside my favorite style of french fries: skin-on, nearly shoestring, with just enough salt.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the restaurant that serves this burger par excellence happens to be located just 10 minutes from our house, and just a couple minutes down the street from my office. The place is called Barking Mad Café, and it boasts an impressive range of vegan options on the lunch and dinner menus. Aside from my beloved burger, plant eaters can also enjoy a soba noodle bowl, a pizza (with mozz, caramelized onions, figs, tempeh bacon, and arugula), a farro salad, a kale salad, or a quinoa salad. I’ll be honest: I’ve only ever ordered the burger. But Steven had the pizza and was impressed, and another friend loves the soba noodle bowl. Plus, Barking Mad has a vegan affogato on the dessert menu, and you can veganize the fried cauliflower appetizer with spicy avocado sauce. (We did try the latter once, and I wasn’t impressed — too oily and not enough flavor.)

Fried Cauliflower at Barking Mad CaféBarking Mad does both sit-down meals and take-out, which is a boon for those of us who live close and prefer to eat while wearing jammies. I’ve only done a sit-down meal once, on my birthday, and found the ambiance and service a bit mystifying. There’s a back bar section, which seemed quite busy, and then a surprisingly massive table section with chrome and hot pink accents and a big window opening onto the kitchen, with the massive brick oven taking center stage. Although the bar was hopping the night we went, the rest of the place was not full by any means, yet the service was surprisingly slow. It took me an age to get my old fashioned (meh), and our food was similarly delayed.

On the plus side, in warm weather you can sit outdoors on a lovely — and large — patio. Barking Mad is situated in a fairly new mixed-use complex, with apartments facing a small retail development. There’s a splash pad, community lawn, and “performance park” in the central shared area, though I’ve personally never seen any “performances” other than dogs straining to have a pee on the artificial turf!

All in all, while the service may be disappointing, the vegan food at Barking Mad is anything but. And the restaurant itself is a great addition to the dismal vegan scene in Gaithersburg. During the warm months, their cold-brew nitro coffee is my occasional morning splurge on the way into work: It’s gorgeously smooth and a perfect, hyper-caffeinated start to the day. Now if only they’d add some vegan options to the brunch menu!

Green Owl Anniversary Dinner

Today’s post is the last in a rather long series of restaurant review posts. I swear, S and I aren’t restaurant-hopping spendthrifts, throwing fistfuls of money at every dining establishment with a vegan option! We happened to be traveling for work at the same time in February, and then it was our two-year anniversary and I had a Groupon for The Green Owl, so we just had to get dinner there! But I promise – I’ll get back to basics soon and cool it with the restaurant posts*.

I’ve mentioned The Green Owl more than a few times, but I think I’ve only blogged about it once. The Green Owl is Madison’s only vegetarian restaurant, and a high percentage of their menu items are either already vegan or can be made vegan with ease. I love supporting the place, but I do think that some of their dishes are overpriced considering the portion size and the quality. There are standouts, however, that are totally worth their cost: the Crabby Cake Po’Boy and BBQ Jackfruit sandwiches are top-notch in my book, while S prefers the Italian Beef sandwich. And you’d be a real idiot if you passed on their kale crisps, which are always crunchy, flavorful, and highly addictive. Where The Green Owl really stands out is its dessert menu… but I’ll get to that soon!

Our anniversary fell on a Tuesday, which is (apparently) taco night. I couldn’t resist ordering the tacos, which featured a soy-based chorizo, lettuce, and avocado in corn tortillas. They came with a side of beans and rice and small bowls of vegan sour cream and their house pineapple pico de gallo.

Plate filled with three tacos, rice and beans, and two small metal bowls of vegan sour cream and pico de gallo.

Taco Tuesday!

To be honest, the pineapple pico was probably the best part of this dish. The tacos weren’t anything too special; I could easily make them at home with little fuss. And the “beans and rice” was disappointing – it was literally a pile of barely seasoned black beans alongside a scoop of brown rice. Again, totally fine for something I’d make at home when I wanted a simple dinner, but not what I particularly want to receive as a paying customer at a restaurant! At least I had a pomegranate cocktail to keep me in good spirits. ;)

S ordered the TLT with avocado, served on locally made bread.

Sandwich cut diagonally, alongside a helping of roasted baby red potatoes.

TLT!

I’ve had this before, and it’s perfectly serviceable but nothing mind-blowing. S chose roasted red potatoes as a side – a wise choice, second in quality only to the kale chips! S also ordered a Manhattan. You can see it in the corner, inexplicably served in a small tumbler. When he ordered the drink, our waitress said, “Hmm, I think she knows how to make that!” Not exactly confidence-inspiring, and a Manhattan is not exactly an exotic drink!

Although our meals didn’t boast the most inspiring flavors or quality, our desserts made the entire dinner worthwhile. I ordered a margarita cheesecake that was truly phenomenal.

Small sliver of vegan cheesecake with a thin, translucent topping served alongside a small dollop of vegan whipped cream.

I’m drooling right now.

Bursting with fresh lime flavor, this luscious, creamy cheesecake hit all the right notes. I absolutely loved that it wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet. The head pastry chef at The Green Owl constantly produces some of the most creative and consistently drool-worthy vegan cheesecake creations I’ve ever had, and this one was one of my all-time favorites. She doesn’t just do cheesecakes, though – all her desserts are equally delicious. S took the cake route and ordered some sort of mocha cake.

Dark-colored three-layer cake with chocolaty frosting. Served with a dollop of vegan whipped cream and two chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Served with chocolate-covered espresso beans!

Although I preferred my cheesecake, this was definitely a standout dessert too. Cakes at The Green Owl are always perfectly moist, with just the right frosting-to-cake ratio.

While not every dish at The Green Owl is a winner, those that are winners win big. No omnivore could try a dessert at The Green Owl and think that vegan baked goods are inferior to their traditional counterparts, and the favorites I listed earlier are consistently high-quality dishes. Even though I have some qualms with The Green Owl’s prices, I’ll still be back for more! Here’s hoping the margarita cheesecake is on the menu next time…!

Do you have easy access to any delicious vegan desserts?

*Sorta. I’ll be in Rhode Island next weekend, and on Sunday my friend is holding a birthday brunch at a restaurant with multiple vegan breakfast options, soooo………

Guest Post: Everlasting Life Café Review

Today I’m sitting back and letting someone else do the talking! My dear darling S (whom I most definitely did not just call an overly mean name for running the dryer instead of the washing machine and then wondering aloud why the clothes hadn’t gotten wet…) spent his Christmas holiday in Maryland. He made a few jaunts up to D.C. for some friend-visiting, and one night he emailed me a couple of food photos with the caption, “I can’t wait to take you here!” Three weeks later, he’s still talking about the meal that inspired that email, and now he’s going to share his review of what’s probably his new favorite restaurant. So – here’s S!

***

I chose to go vegan for entirely ethical reasons. That’s why you’ll find me wolfing down an entire slice of Chicago Diner cake while Kelly watches in awe, fork dangling from her fingers.

That’s also why I devoured a huge plate of food, plus half of my friend’s sandwich, on a recent trip to the vegan soul food restaurant Everlasting Life Cafe in Washington, D.C.

The restaurant itself is almost aggressively unassuming–at night, with the blinds drawn, it looks from the outside like it could be abandoned. I walked right by the first time. But inside you’ll find a spacious dining area, bar, and in the back, a beautiful cafeteria-style spread:

Angled shot of an open hot bar and a covered deli case full of food.

Free samples, you say?

On the left you’ll see a hot bar serving an ever-changing array of entrees and sides. Choose from main courses like shepherd’s pie, barbecue tofu, or country fried chicken, and sides such as collard greens, macaroni and cheese, or black-eyed peas. On the right is a cold bar with a mind-bogglingly huge selection of fresh salads like marinated kale, seaweed, and mung bean.

Not pictured is a juice bar hawking nogs, shakes, and smoothies sweetened with agave and molasses, and a sandwich bar with offerings like a fried chicken sandwich and a steak and cheese sub. More on that chicken sandwich later…

When I approached the counter, I had a momentary flash of fear–what if I’d misread the menu? What if this was the wrong place? But the server, perhaps a mind-reader, greeted me with a smile and a reassurance: “Everything here is 100% vegan.” What a statement! As a newbie vegan, precious few are the restaurants I’ve visited where everything is vegan. It’s so nice to be able to relax and choose based on what looks good instead of what looks like it doesn’t contain fish sauce.

It was also great to be offered a barrage of samples in tiny paper cups; a sign declared only three were allowed per guest, but our server seemed to want us to sample the entire menu. After trying the macaroni and cheese, kale salad, and sweet potatoes, I wanted it all. I settled, however, on the lasagna, with collard greens on the side.

Plate with a large piece of lasagne and a side of collard greens.

Lasagna as big as yo face.

Wow! This meal blew my mind. The lasagna was packed with a great non-dairy ricotta, TVP-esque meaty bits, and plenty of delicious spinach. As you can see, the portion was huge, as was the helping of collard greens, which were deliciously savory with a strong smokiness.

Despite the abundance of food, I didn’t have any trouble scarfing it down, and when my friend offered me the rest of her chicken sandwich, I accepted with very little prodding. Sorry I don’t have a picture, but it was a breaded seitan chunk slathered in vegan mayonnaise and topped with tomatoes and lettuce. In other words, exactly what a fried chicken sandwich should be!

I cannot wait to return to D.C., hopefully with Kelly in tow, and pay another visit to Everlasting Life. It’s not fine dining–you grab your own silverware–and you should steer clear if you’re watching your weight. As Wikipedia notes, soul foods “tend to be very high in starch, fat, sodium, cholesterol, and calories.” But if you’re looking for a hearty, indulgent vegan meal, look no further than Everlasting Life.

Restaurant Review: Julians Restaurant

I think I broke my mom’s heart a little tiny bit when I visited last week. On our first night in RI, my parents wanted to go out to eat – but not to our veg-friendly standard, the Garden Grille. Instead they wanted to hit up a local establishment that offers a variety of Asian cuisines. Our conversation went something like this:

Mom: So I was thinking we could meet at Seven Moons for dinner.

Me: I’m not sure Seven Moons has vegan options…

Mom: Yes, it does! They have pad thai! I get that all the time!

Me: Really? They don’t use fish sauce?

Mom: …fish sauce?

Needless to say, it was all downhill from there. Mom called the restaurant, they confirmed that fish sauce is everywhere, and my poor mother suffered a severe case of disillusionment. I might have spied a tear on her cheek when she hung up the phone.

Luckily, though, a quick Google search advised me of a promising but yet-untried (by me!) veg-friendly joint in Providence – Julians Restaurant. (And yes, there is a lack of apostrophe in their name. I know.) So, that evening, we all met up there to see what Julian had to offer.

While Julians isn’t a vegetarian restaurant (the menu includes various meats), it does offer more than a few meat-free options. And we’re not talking about your token Boca burger, either – these are creative, thoughtful dishes worth ordering. All of my family members chose something meat-free (if not vegan), and I passed the camera around the table and had them photograph what they ate. We’ll start with the Vegan Steak & Cheese Wrap, which both S and I ordered because neither of us was terribly hungry.

Wrapped!

Our wraps included house-made seitan, onions, mushrooms, peppers, and vegan cheese, and they were the perfect size for our less robust appetites. The house-made seitan was juicy and tender and they included just the right amount of soy cheese. My only complaint was that the seitan was just a bit too salty for my tastes.

After being foiled in her earlier craving for pad thai, Mom decided to go with a different flavor palette entirely. She ordered the Mediterranean Spice Fried Seitan Skewers.

Two skewers of seitan resting atop a bed of bulgar wheat, with green pea shoots in the background and cauliflower puree to the right.

Definitely not pad thai.

Fancy, right? These featured more house-made seitan alongside saffron-olive-portobella bulgar, pea tendrils, preserved lemon, and paprika roasted cauliflower purée. See what I mean about the creative dishes here? Mom enjoyed these, although she agreed that the seitan was a bit salty.

Finally, here is the last dish that got photographed. I’m not sure if it was dad’s or my brother’s – I thought both of them had snapped a shot, but apparently not!

A rather nondescript dish of seitan and noodles and broccoli.

Moar seitan!

I think this is my brother’s dish. He chose a special of the day, which was a seitan-based dish in a spicy peanut sauce. He liked it but commented that it wasn’t really all that peanutty – the spiciness overpowered the peanuttiness. Alas.

I’m not totally sure, but I believe my dad ordered the  House Corned Beef Seitan, which is served with roasted fingerling potatoes, maple glazed carrots and caraway stout braised cabbage. He gave me a taste, and I can vouch that it was quite tasty. My sister ordered the only non-vegan meal, another special of the day. Hers was some sort of tofu-based sandwich; I think it included cheese.

Beyond pleasing my taste buds with its yummy food, Julians pleased my eyes as well. The restaurant is decorated with all sorts of art and knick-knacks in its the cozy interior. The bathroom features a collection of action figures alongside an art installation – a TV showing images and sounds of trains. I’m not quite sold on that one. ;)

If my praise doesn’t convince you that Julians is worth a visit, let me also add that S is 95% sure he saw Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists) enjoying dinner on Julians’ patio. He was slightly starstruck but decided not to say hello so as not to make an unwelcome dinnertime intrusion. :) I didn’t need the star sighting, though – the food was good enough to bring me back! In fact, the weekend after I left, my mom and aunt headed there for brunch. And Julians has some amazing-sounding vegan brunch options – Carrot Cake Pancakes with Cashew Cream Cheese?! Holy smokes! I know where I’m eating breakfast next time I’m in RI! :)

Have you spotted famous folks out and about in the wild? What’s your favorite local veg-friendly eatery?

This is a pre-scheduled post because I’m currently on vacation. If anything looks funky, blame the scheduling feature in WordPress. ;)

Restaurant Review: Lazy Jane’s Café

Left to my own devices, I’d go out to eat very rarely. I’m frugal by nature, and I have a hard time justifying the hit to my bank account when I can make my own meals for so much less money. I want my restaurant excursions to be special! I think this is partly because my parents didn’t have a whole lot of money when I was a young kid, so any time we went out to eat, it was a memorable and notable experience, so I still have a lingering (if diminished) sense that going out to eat should be special.

When I started dating S, though, I found myself hitting up restaurants more often. Although we enjoyed making dinner together at one of our apartments, there’s also something uniquely enjoyable about sitting in a totally different place and focusing on one another, not on preparing your meal. Plus, it reduces the tension that often arises in the kitchen – I’m a bit of a control-freak when it comes to cooking (stop laughing, family and friends who might be reading this!), and have a hard time biting my tongue if someone’s doing something in what I consider a less than optimal manner. Although I’d never have called S out on a perceived inefficiency when we were first dating, we’ve been together for well over a year now, and all bets are off. :) But eating in restaurants precludes the temptation to criticize S for not putting water to boil while chopping veggies, which I’m sure we can all agree is a huge inefficiency. ;)

Anyway, a few months ago I decided we should further cut down our eating out, preferably to only once or twice (or thrice) a month, and that we should plan it and not use it as a fallback for lunch when we’re out running weekend errands or something. So, a few weeks ago, I told S we should go out for brunch at Lazy Jane’s Cafe on a Sunday. We’d been there once before, and I was pleased with my meal and wanted to return to try something else. S loves brunch, so he was more than amenable to the idea. Last time, I ordered a seitan hash, which usually comes with eggs. I replaced the eggs with more hash and received a giant plate of savory, tasty seitan and a side of potatoes. Yummy and incredibly filling.

This time, we both ended up ordering the Curry Tofu Scramble, which comes with a huge side of potatoes and toast. S recently decided to take the vegan plunge <insert fist pump here>, and the scramble is actually the only menu item that’s totally vegan without modifications.

Scramble, scramble scraaamble!

It was a quality scramble. The curry flavor was just spicy enough, with a complex blend of spices and complementary crisp, fresh, perfectly cooked veggies. The potatoes and toast were equally yummy. Lazy Jane’s uses bread from a local bakery, and even though S unknowingly chose a non-vegan bread for his toast, one of the cooks noted his vegan scramble order and kindly toasted up one of the vegan bread options just in case and then asked him which one he wanted – score one for customer service!

Despite its tastiness, I could barely eat a third of my scramble – we’d split a vegan Lemon Cream scone (!) while we waited for our meals, and between it and my delicious mug of coffee, my tummy was getting full when our order arrived. But it was totally worth it – the scone was a lemony dream, and I had scramble leftovers for lunch the next day.

All in all, this visit to Lazy Jane’s was a worthy use of one of our restaurant meals for May. It’s a cute, cozy fast-casual restaurant, so there’s no tip required, which saves a bit of cash. It is, however, always crowded and there’s always a line to order, but I don’t mind – it gives you time to drool over the pastry case, which allegedly always contains one vegan baked good. I do wish there were a few more vegan meals on the menu, though – it’s one of those places that advertises itself as being vegan-friendly, but having only one (and a half) vegan options really just makes you sort of vegan-semi-friendly, y’know?

How often do you go out to eat? What’s your favorite brunch food?

Restaurant Review: Macha Tea House

“Ooh, have you been to Macha?! They give you free cookies if it’s your first visit!” This is what I inevitably hear whenever Macha Tea House comes up in conversation. Needless to say, the thought of free cookies doesn’t thrill me as much as it does my non-vegan friends – odds are slim to none that the cookies are vegan, so I knew that the most pleasure I’d get out of them would be the selfless thrill of giving mine to S and watching him devour two cookies while I sipped my tea. Ho hum. But after hearing more than one friend rave about how cute and quaint and cozy Macha is, S and I decided to check it out for ourselves. We like tea, and we like trying new places – even ones without the allure of free cookies.

Macha is located on Monroe St., a hip neighborhood not quite downtown that still feels bustling and busy. You might recall that I cited it as the location of Pizza Brutta, where I ate my birthday pizza. Macha is set back from the street a bit, in what looks to be a renovated house. This enhances its cozy feel and makes it possible to have a few small tea rooms upstairs, set apart from the more traditional restaurant seating below. The tea rooms are raised slightly, so you have to step up to enter them. You’re encouraged to take off your shoes before entering, which S and I did after ordering at the front desk, receiving our pot of steeping Yunnan tea, and proceeding upstairs.

Each tea room has a low table and a few cushions on the floor, along with bamboo floor mats and Japanese-inspired wall decor. It’s a pleasant, calming atmosphere. S and I chatted and watched the sand in the timer drain as we waited for our tea to steep.

I'm a little teapot, short and square...

When it was done, we poured our tea and sipped it, enjoying the warm sunlight while waiting for our food. The Yunnan tea was delicious – I’m so used to drinking Irish and English black teas that I sometimes forget that there are other varieties out there! Unlike the one-note, almost bitter flavor of an Irish or English black tea, the Yunnan was nuanced and deeply satisfying. And when our food arrived, we eagerly dug in. S ordered the miso soup with tofu, while I enjoyed the donburi bowl with tofu.

Donburi for lunch!

My rice bowl featured jasmine rice, scallion, black sesame, shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, and daikon. I ordered it with a sweet, soy-glazed tofu, which came in large chunks. The whole dish came with a mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil on the side, but I found the sauce almost unnecessary – my bowl was well-seasoned as is. For such a seemingly light and simple meal, I found it surprisingly (and happily) filling. And the price was right – just $6.50 for a tasty lunch. Next time, I’ll forego the tofu and save a dollar.

And there will definitely be a next time – S and I both enjoyed our visit, especially getting to sit in a more private room. Macha also offers tea services, where you can reserve space for a party and receive lots of tea, baked goods, and delicate sandwiches and nibbles. Delightful!

Oh, and those free cookies? Nobody mentioned them! Where did that rumor start?!

Loans & Pizza

Hello! I’m on the other side of 25 and feelin’ fine. In the twoish weeks since my birthday, I’ve already accomplished one of my goals – I paid off a loan! Granted, it was one of my smallest private loans, but it’s GONE. Woo! That rush of minimal-exertion accomplishment felt so good that I’ve decided to pay off my Perkins loan next month, I think. I have the money – I’ve been shoring up my savings account for the past couple years, and even though it’s hard to drop a couple thousand dollars at a time, it’s saving me money in the end because, hello, that interest accrues mighty fast! Anyway, I’m excited to already cross one thing off my list. I’m so productive now that I’m old and mature! Ha ha ha.

So, what did I do on my 25th? Well… I ate pizza. Yes, for my big birthday dinner, I chose pizza. What can I say? I’m a little tired of the vegan options in Madison (appreciative though I am of their existence!), and S had raved about the delectable pizzas that are birthed from the wood-fired ovens at Pizza Brutta on Monroe Street, and I’d been craving a simple, thin-crust pizza with garlic and marinara sauce… so pizza it was. And it was good.

So simple, yet so delicious.

Ahh, the pizza marinara. A perfectly baked crust topped with vibrant crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano, and garlic – exactly what I was craving. Perfection!

Although the pizza was definitely a highlight of my birthday, I also really loved my gifts and talking with my loved ones. I have the best family and friends. They know me so well – many of my gifts were kitchen-related, from the homemade vanilla extract (made with organic vodka!) from my dear friend Nicole to the gorgeous cast-iron pan from S and the double boiler/steamer from my parents. My parents also framed a truly adorable picture of my mom and baby-me, and it now sits in a place of pride on my windowsill, nestled between my basil plant and a photo of me with my best ladyfriends from college. I could go on, but nobody likes to read a litany of someone else’s gifts. :) Suffice it to say that my 25th birthday, though low-key, was wonderful – a great way to usher in this year of Actually Accomplishing Things and Figuring Stuff Out.

Would you prefer an all-out birthday bash or something quieter? And what should I make to showcase the flavor of my new vanilla extract?!