Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rang Mahal Restaurant, Hicksville, NY

After my experience with chicken stock in my food in Westhampton I was more than a bit leary of my next restaurant adventure but with my omnivore friends begging to have dinner at an indian place I got back on the horse.

As you can see I almost forgot to take a picture so please excuse the dirty plates but this stuff was high calorie and fantastic.

After I explained my foodal needs to the waitress I look up and the CHEF is standing there.  Arun, asked, talked, and suggested.  Here's what we ended up with:

My plate, (I've yet to lick it clean) has a piece of Roti.  No butter.  Who needs butter with all of these sauces to sop up?

In the 1 o'clock position, just above the covered rice bowl is a house special vegetable dish in a warmly spiced coconut milk.

Just to the left of that is Saag, made out of mustard greens.

To the left of that is the dish Arun said, "Let me make you a vegan surprise dish."  It was a vegetable dish with a sweet flavor mixed with the sour tinge of pomegranate.

This is my favorite kind of stuff face food.  No cutting or playing.  Pile on the rice, the food, shmoosh all around and push it on your fork with the bread.  Mixing up the flavors, sweet to tart to earthy.

With attention like this I have to recommend this place no only because the food is fantastic but the chef actually cares on an individual basis.  He said more than once, "My restaurant, my food, if you don't like it you don't pay for it."

Seriously?  Who could ask for anything more as the owner/chef stands there with an order pad making sure you get exactly what you want.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Johnny Chih's, Westhampton Beach, NY

You think it's going to be easy because you've had a run of good luck eating in restaurants. You think maybe you've turned the corner on this vegan thing because you haven't been offered plates of veggies with grill marks.

Here's a smack in your face.

During a trip, (see some awesome pics on my facebook page), we needed a reasonably quick lunch and ended up pulling up next to Johnny Chih's in Westhampton, NY. Apparently my buddy was told this was an institution. I figured chinese food is easy for me. Easy for anyone.

It's a small restaurant that reminded me of the old restaurants I used to go to as a kid sometimes, with my mom, for lunch on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. White tablecloths, napkins rolled up in the tea cups, and you could get chopsticks if you asked. Very un-chic but perhaps the equivalent, in terms of comfort food, of todays Cracker Barrel. You got your egg rolls, your chow mein and noodles and fried rice.

I was relieved to see the menu broken down into protein section and was going to hit the Buddha's Delight when my taste buds said no no, there's more to life than veggies, and zeroed in on the Ma Po Tofu.  Now this is one of my all time favorite dishes.  It's listed in every single chinese restaurant under Vegetables but is traditionally made with pork.  Even though I don't as a rule enjoy omission dishes, this is the exception. OK, dumplings and tofu.  I'm golden.  Ah, of course there's no brown rice.  What was I thinking?

I ask my usual litany of questions and make my usual statements.  I'm a vegan, I don't eat any meat, fish, chicken or anything made with them.  I ask about the dumplings.  Veggies only.  I ask for the tofu, no pork.  No chicken stock right?  Right.
Look how thick that dough is.

The dumplings are thick.  That's the word that comes to mind.  Thick and glutenous, not delicate but hearty if a word had to be picked.  There wasn't a ton of flavor but the dipping sauce and chili oil, duck sauce and mustard somehow allowed them to all to easily slide down my throat.

The Ma Po Tofu comes and it looks great if very much on the white side but those are hearty sized cubes of tofu, I must say.
I see flecks of pepper and I'm psyched.  I put crispy fried noodles, white rice on a plate, (just in case I haven't had my quota of white nutrition-less food this month),  dump a couple of spoonfuls of tofu on top, stir it all around to make the noodles mushycrunchy and start to shovel away.  I love this kind of stuff your face eating.  Not cutting, no pausing, no chewing.  Shovel, shmoosh, swallow. Repeat.

But there's something I taste that I'm not sure of.  I call the waiter over and ask.  He's not sure.  I guess his dad comes over.  I think he smells like cigarettes but he answers that they're not sure.  Half a minute later they come back.  Yes, it was made with chicken stock but it was only the bones that were used to make the stock, no meat.

I take my plate and dump it back into the serving plate and I'm sure the look of disgust said it all.

Now I'm with a work associate and I'm caught between making a hugh scene or just handling this calmly.  I can't go flying into a rage every time someone either chooses to ignore or just doesn't think it through or just doesn't really really know and makes an honest mistake with our 3% of the population...or can I.  I am served a fresh bowl of tofu.  It has distinctively less flavor so I'm reasonably certain it is all veg.  It's 12:30 and I'm not going to finish my day or have another opportunity to eat anything nutritious until around 7pm, (that's 1900 for you aviation aficionados), so I chow down on my new veganized dish trying to keep the steam I feel under control.

What really ticked me off is the owner, the older gentleman, came up and started to talk to me about why I was a vegetarian and actually stated that most vegetarians that come in there do it for health and don't mind the chicken stock because it's only made with the bones.

Family and friends have to put up with my tirades but my business associates already think my foodal needs are a pain in the ass so I figuratively bit my tongue and made a note to write this review.

You don't have to eat the way I eat.  You don't even have to understand the reasons why I eat the way I eat but if I'm paying you for food preparation you better serve me what I want the way I want it if you take my order. I'd rather you just told me you can't do it than try and slip one by me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Noodle Bar

Wandering around the Lower East Side I found nothing that struck my palate until I saw the menu of the Noodle Bar, serendipitously, as I walked by collecting menus and taking a pondering life walking stroll.

Sau Bien (Pressed Sandwiches) 
Wanchai Veggie / crispy tempeh, spicy eggplant, balsamic portobello, sriracha aioli 6.5

Now this looked interesting and different.  I asked if it was vegan and trading the aioli, (a mayo based spread) for just a squirt or two from the Sriracha bottle, (one on every table along with napkins and chop sticks and soy sauce), was the first step.  I wasn't worried about losing the fat and keeping the flavor.

Next was the bread.  I was told it was white bread but didn't think that white bread was necessarily made with eggs or milk.  Well, I don't make it that way.  It turned out to be a ciabatta so I was sort of thinking it was a wheat/yeast bread and I was pretty safe.

The sandwich was surprisingly delicious.  The caperberries started out with a briny hit but that was just a first bite garnish.  The crispy fresh and toasted, (in oil), bread had a great crunch and the middle of the sandwich had a great savory, spicy, complex flavor.  The orange just below the top layer of bread is the tempeh.  It was very crunchy and I'm guessing very sauteed or fried.  Below that is a combination of eggplant and portobello, both cooked until incredibly soft.  Great combination of flavor and textures.  

Hiding behind the sandwich is a cassaba and chili pepper chip.  I had no idea what it was but it was definitely a welcome change from potato chips or fries.

All I have to say is I don't have to look longingly at Katz's deli or Russ and Daughters knowing this is waiting for me just around the corner and down the block.

Noodle Bar Lower East Side on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 23, 2010

Veggie Conquest 5, NYC

My daughter who is going to be 11 was my sous chef yesterday at a vegan Iron Chef type cooking competition called Veggie Conquest.

We planned and potchked in the kitchen for a few days here and there since the secret ingredient was unveiled a week ago ... basil.

Tough one having the center of your dish being an herb.

We spend much of Saturday cooking and I always had in the back of my mind that I was on call and could have been yanked out to work at a moments notice and half the food would have just drowned in the broth. A sad death to seitan cutlets to be sure.

Sunday we cooked all morning and put the finishing touches on the food and packaged it up for transport.

Friday we did the touristy thing with my niece, (where the Max Brennner and Yoga Cafe review came from), we also hit the Essex Street marked, Economy Candy, Baby Cakes and ended up at Chelsea Market. While strolling through the Bowery Cooking Supply we picked up two black Chef's Toques. We were a great team my kid and I.

Unfortunately, I can't find a picture, (and many were taken), of the dish but we cooked: Peppered Basil Seitan topped with a basil Bechemal sauce and dotted with a basil oil ... all over homemade basil colored pasta.

I did take these of sous chef Anna making the pasta and the seitan resting and in the process of being pounded:
You should have seen how happy Dad was!

This will make 8 cutlets.

Finally found a use for that meat tenderizer.
Notice the ever-present BASIL.

I just wanted to publicly compliment Anna on her work ethic, attention to detail, creative ability and just a great kid to hang out with. It was one of the most fun days I've ever had.

And we sort of had the feeling that if we didn't make anyone sick or have anyone spit the food out we'd have done alright. But we did get 5th place out of 6 by the judges and saw many of the voting chips in our voting box so I know that there were people there who loved our food. One man came up to me and told me he thought we should have won and that always makes you feel good about your food.

I agreed.  Anna agreed.  We went home happy.

The bottom line, we had fun cooking for 80 people, had fun working together, and loved eating a whole spectrum of vegan food. I also loved seeing non vegans really digging the food.

Now for 3 days of cleaning the kitchen.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Diablo Burrito in it's new $0.75 home
First of all, the search for a vegan place came about because my kid and niece wanted, in the worst way, to eat at Max Brenner's Bald Chocolate Man.  I do a search on VegOut, my iPhone go to app and lo and behold, there's a place at the SAME address.  What?

So our waiter says, yeah, great place, he used to work there and when they closed for renovations a few years ago got the job at Max's and never went back.  So I read a review on HappyCow and I discover that someone had a hard time finding it because unless you know it's there YOU HAVE NO IDEA!!

841 Broadway, between 13th and 14th.  Go in the lobby, say hi to the security guard, go to the elevator and push 2.  Have faith.

You're in a yoga studio but keep poking around and you'll find this small eclectic place.

I really don't like a sprouts and raw veggies on a pita kind of place but the menu had seitan, which they make themselves ... Rosemary Seitan actually and if I remember a tempeh dish or two.  So I ordered the burrito, I think it was called the Diablo Burrito, because we were walking and I thought it would be convenient.  (But I forgot to ask for it to go.)

The burrito was in a whole wheat wrap, had lettuce, tomato, avocado, black beans and of course, the seitan.  The salad of mixed greens had a mustard dressing.

The burrito had a curryish flavor and wasn't too spicy at all but in all fairness, I did eat it about 2 hours later on a stoop on Rivington Street.  The piece of seitan I ate before they put it in my 'to go ' container was delicious and had a great mouthiness to it.

For $19 it was a pretty pricy burrito but seitan isn't being served on every street corner yet and we still have to pay a premium for specialty prepared vegan dishes.

That being said the real negative, to me, was that when I asked to have the meal 'to go' they charged me $0.75.  As you know, I hate nickel and dime stuff and at $19 for the burrito, plus a buck for a tip, that is just nonsense.

This is definitely a place to eat at if you're in the union square area.  It's peaceful, quiet, and serene.  My 11 year old said, "What a zen place."

Curley's is 4 long blocks away and Zen Palate I heard was reopened on Union Square East so you do have choices.  We'll definitely do this place again.

Now, as far as Max Brenner and the Bald Man Chocolatier, what I got was a basic Dr. Praegars veggie burger, vegan, no bun or dressing and a side of fries.  I later found out that the fries were cooked in the same oil as all the other proteins but live and learn.  What I do want to give a thumbs up to is the way it was presented.  I made me feel, for the first time getting a veggie patty in a restaurant, that some care was put into the plate. Here:

So thank you Max Brenner for at least putting this on the menu for me.  Now if you can up the vegan choice and please please a vegan chocolate for us too!

All that being said, the kids had fun!

Jivamuktea on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Now Disneyland is a pilgrimage we make each time we go to California for our week of family time.  It appeases the child's need for play and removing oneself from the actual hardships of life for two days actually appeases, were it not for the omnipresent lines, the adult too.

So, vegan at Disney.  Yes, can be done because there is always a banana or pineapple on a stick or carrots at a stand here or there.  There is corn on the cob, (with butter or chipotle lime), but I didn't ask if the chipotle lime was vegan as I didn't want it.

I was told the pretzels were vegan too and the Bengal Grill had a skewer of roasted (or was it grilled) veggies.  You can't get more meatless then a few veggies on a stick now can you?

Squash, pepper, potatoe, onion, mushroom, tomato, and a zucchini.

The best meal for a vegan at Disney I think is by far the gumbo.  It's not the best gumbo in the world but it does have a unique and unexpected appearance in the park of middle americans, land of the turkey leg and cotton candy.  It actually tasted good.  Like a gumbo, celery predominates with a touch of cayenne.  I looked forward to it as it's something you usually can't even get in a Cajun restaurant.

The sourdough bread bowl makes the perfect combination of makeshift slurper and crouton dunking spoon since the oyster crackers served with the dish are most definitely not vegan.
Another post described it as vomit looking but I believe that is a French word for gumbo.

The new exhibit called Glow Works in California adventure has a decidedly adult spin to it evidenced if nothing else but for the serving of alcohol.  It was a great beer.  Sometimes it's not the beer particularly but the having of the beer that makes it great.  Any beer will do because the time for A beer is upon us.  This beer went nicely because on the way in I got a pita with falafel (stuffed with fries no less) and held the Tzadiki and Feta.  I just assumed at that point it was vegan but I might have been too tired to ask ... or just was happy coming close at that point of the day.

The falafel was more like one big rectangular shaped piece then several little fried balls.
There was nice flavor with a cumin kick as should be and other seasonings but of all place I got it at a Greek "Taco" truck selling greek doughnuts.

Disney.  So fascinating in so many ways.  Truly a vegan treasure hunt.

Veggie Grill, Irvine, CA

This is the wave of the future of fast food.  It's the kind of place that will eventually be in every mall and every empty shell of a MacDonalds and Burger King will be selling food like this ... if they can keep it on the shelves long enough because it'll be flying out the door faster than they can make it.

Bright and airy, (well it IS southern California ya know), The Veggie Grill at the Irvine Spectrum Shopping Center

I must say to be honest and in full disclosure, (when did I ever promise you full disclosure?? hmm??), that my brother hated, absolutely hated the food.  My wife, the other die hard carnivore loved it.  So there.  Now that being said as I looked around there was no shortage of customers happily dining on their VEGAN food.

I actually went back the next night as my daughter and niece happily went through my retirement funds at Dave and Busters across the way so these pics are a combination of both meals.
Chill Out Wings  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 6 .25
Bite sized chillin’ chickin’ with our tangy BBQ sauce.
The wings were scarily like chicken and the breading really crispy.  The chipotle ranch gave the wings a bite and creaminess reminiscent of Buffalo, (except closer to the other border), and the BBQ sauce was a sweet and not much heat.  You can see the bottle of hot sauce, looks homemade, (well, the bottle makes it look that way), which in essence is a pool of peppers although not bone searing hot.

Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’  .  .  .8 .95
Crispy fried chillin’ chickin’, lettuce, tomato, red onion, avocado, southwestern spiced vegan mayo.  

To get this here for every dish the burgers are all served with:
Served on a wheat bun with a side of red cabbage ‘slaw or chili. Sub side with: Sweetheart Fries (2.25) | Daily Soup (1.95) Steamin’ Kale (1.50) | Spring Mix Salad (1.95) | Mac-n-Cheese (2.25)

Chop-Chop Chef .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 9 .50
Chopped romaine, tempeh, veggie-steak, chillin’ chickin, green onion, roasted corn salsa with chipotle ranch dressing.

Usually I say, "big deal, salad, if you can't make a salad ... really".  This was a great salad.  It had a great fresh flavor, crunch, meatiness of the protein and a creamy dressing with a nice easy bite 

This was the Santa Fe burger.

Tomato Basil Soup
The soup was intense.  I don't know if it was cooked or raw but the tomato and basil had crisp and distinctive flavors.  Very refreshing on a warm Southern Californial day.

Chipotle BBQ .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .8 .50
Shredded veggie-steak, marinated in our tangy BBQ sauce, with chipotle ranch, caramelized onion, lettuce, tomato.

A great combination of flavors in a pulled pork kind of BBQ on a bun.  The mac and cheese had a good flavor but needed to be cooked the rest of the way through.  Crunchy pasta ... ugh.  The kale on the top of the picture has never disappointed me.

Even my wife the carnivore wanted to go back again and again.  Go figure.  MacDonalds watch out though.  If you're in Southern California you should definitely give it a try.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Govinda's to Go Vegetarian, Philadelphia, PA

I wonder what the sim instructor is going to fail next.
The instructor's console and chair and the cockpit entrance.
I am here in Wilmington, DE in my semi-annual training and after 4 days in the simulator, ("the box"), playing with engine failures, fires, hydraulic malfunctions and all the other assorted nonsense we train to deal with in the unlikely event something might happen in the real world, it was time for a mini roadtrip.

I had read about Govinda's Chicken Philly Cheese Steak on one of the vegan blogs, ( I do wish I could remember which one), and set out for some home cooked comfort food.  Enough eating Amy's food.  It's great but it's still frozen and in a box.

Govinda's Gourmet to Go, South and Broad

I fight traffic for about half an hour and arrive, buy my parking ticket at the kiosk and head into the restaurant.  Not the one you see on the corner but the one next door to it.  Just plain old Govinda's.  And the door is locked.  Someone inside saw my face and took pity on me but told me they were closed for a few hours for cleaning.  I couldn't believe it but then when I mentioned the Chicken Cheesesteak a kind hearted friendly gentleman lead me to the corner.  It's more like a coffee shop atmosphere, a small luncheonette with a seating area dining room off to one side of the entrance.

My friend in the white shirt, (not a Met's fan btw).  You can see the tables on the right are window seats, the counter on the left is up against the steam table and you can watch your meal being cooked on the flattop.  The dining room is just through that opening to the right of the door, left of the tea fridge.

OK, so the restaurant is closed.  On to the sampling of the heros, submarine sandwiches, hoagies or whatever they're called in Philly.  I order one Chicken and one Pepper Steak.  Uh Oh, out of the pepper steak.  Undaunted I order the fried scallops.  Uh Oh, guess what else they're out of.  So I got the shrimp.

Now I think it's a great thing if a place is so good they sell out of stuff but not so good if there is a supply problem and can't get the stuff.  I don't know which one it was but there was a little disappointment there.

But not for long, because, well, I was hungry and my food arrived.  Yay!!!

Philly Chicken Cheese Steak . Soy Chicken and Rainbow Peppers grilled in olive oil and hing with cheese (vegan or cow cheese, your choice) $7.95  Not such a great picture.  The bread wanted to keep closing on the contents!

A wonderful crusty whole wheat italian style bread, (so was the sesame bread), and copious amounts of moist, flavorful, chunks of soy chicken with soy vegan cheese, sauteed peppers, (only green), and veganaise.  Now I probably could have left off the veganaise, saved 100 calories and had just as delicious a sandwich.

Kofta Ball Sub. Homemade vegan meatballs with marinara sauce and cheese $7.95
This could have used some extra meat but the flavor had a touch of coriander and a few other spices that worked very nicely and had just a hint of heat.  I thought the marinara was a touch acidic but worked well with the cheese.
No fried scallops shrimp instead
Fried Shrimp, Scallops, or Chicken Fingers
4 Pieces..................$5.00
The shrimp were succulent and moist with a delicate crust that added the crunch.  Dipped in the seafood cocktail sauce it was like my time on the shore in years past.  I have had similar shrimp from May Wah on Hester St in NYC, the vegetarian mock meat supply house but don't remember them having that sweet undertone.

Now of course all the meats mentioned here were vegan substitutes.

So sadly this is almost half a review as the stuff I wanted to sample I couldn't .  I want Subway to merge with these guys and offer their vegan options.  I don't think I'd go out of my way, (as in driving a total of 90 minutes plus), to get a sandwich, (but it was good!) but if I knew the restaurant was open I definitely will make the trip again.

If you live in Philly I can see why you wouldn't stop by to get a sub or two a time or three a week.