Monday, June 28, 2010

Pepper Club Restaurant, Portland, ME

What a great place.  My stepmom is gluten intolerant, my dad wanted a great salad, my wife a staunch carnivore and me being near veganesque with a vegetarian daughter, we did have some diverse needs and all were met.  I was also, after 4 days, so tired of veggieburgers and trying to veganize ingredients on touristy restaurants.  Being inundated with fried clams.

I ate at this place two years ago and every one seemed to be happy and I figured it was time for a nice meal of a higher quality.  It served all of our needs and everyone was actually happy with their fare.

We had a miso/mung bean soup which I thought was lentil at first taste.  It was seasoned just right with a nice earthiness to it.   2 other apps were Tempeh Spring Rolls with soy dipping sauce and Samosas with a chili dipping sauce.  The samosas had a nice peppery taste that overwhelmed my mom and was just a bit over the line for my dad.  We three like it.

The Spring Rolls were good but I didn't really get a tempeh sensation.

My dad said his Greek Salad was excellent and had to be persuaded to take half of it home.  He wondered out loud how chefs know exactly how much of each ingredient to put into a salad to create that perfect balance.   They're chefs dad.

We wont go into the 4 salmon dishes but everyone was happy with the mustard glazed or plainly seasoned ordered.

I tasted the mashed potatoes which were half sweet potato, garlic, salt and pepper and no dairy.  Incredibly creamy but not totally pureed so it had a bit of texture.

My Thai Coconut Tempeh was a wonderful mix of flavors.  It was served over Jasmine rice, contained bok choy, carrots, broccoli and softened triangles of flavored tempeh.  A squeeze of lime added a nice freshness to the dish.  The sauce was a coconut milk based broth.  Great dish.  I added Sirracha and it kicked.

I'm still getting my head around taking a picture of my food before I start, (or finish), eating so here's a real life example of that.  Glad I had SOMETHING to take a picture of!

The salad, which I usually don't mention, was mixed greens, crisp, refreshing, with a dill vinaigrette.  I think there might have been some tarragon in there.  What a wonderful change from Old Orchard Beach fare.

Desserts were heavenly.  I had a piece of non vegan Chili Chocolate Cake just because I think I can veganize it and chili and chocolate have always been an interest of mine.  The vegan chocolate coconut mousse was thick and chocolaty.  I wasn't too impressed with the coconut on top.  You had to chew and chew and finally got a hint of coconut.

A really good cup of coffee topped off a great meal.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Houston and Columbus

Never wrote the blogs but the first two pics are a veggie burrito from Houston and the bottom one is  one of the best veggie burgers on a PRETZEL bun and a side of chili mac and cheese from Hal and Al's in C Columbus, OH.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Watercourse Foods, Denver, CO

Ah, never posted this from May but here is a pic of the Seitan Buffalo Wings and the Country Fried Seitan.

Oh, and the onion rings were like thick, beer battered onion rings.  It was a 50/50 with the fries.

Natures Express, Yuma AZ

I drove right by it and didn't notice the sign.  We were on the way to the hotel and I'm always looking around for anything interesting in a new town but drove right by it.  And it's a big sign.  As big as any BK or McDeath sign.  So when I WAS looking for it, using my Vegout app on the iPhone, there it was bigger than life.  It's definitely a fast food place, no mistaking that.
The counter and a great book display including restaurant copies for tableside reading.

I asked the kids at the front, (sorry, I'm getting to be that age), my standard question:  If I never came back here what should I make sure not to miss?

Turns out the concept here is pretty fantastic.  Take regularly available ingredients and make them fast foods.  The burgers are Gardenburgers and the Hot Dogs are Smart Dogs.  I wasn't impressed enough by all the various vegan toppings to ... bottom line ... order a burger that at best is neutral in my opinion.
I asked if anything was made there.  Chef Vinny came to the front and I found out he makes his own chicken, which is really Seitan.  Now I'm hooked.  I ordered the Southwest burger but with the chicken instead.
Nice plate of food.  
A little blurry because I was starting to shake at the prospect of eating this!

Now the sweet potato fries, (yams actually), were a different story.  All greasy and very unappetizing.  Taking one for the team I sampled one.  The flavor was great.  I found out later that the fryolator was acting up and probably wasn't up to temp.  Vinny, my friend, next time the chips come out like that just 86 them would be my suggestion.

If you notice that chocolate drink on the tray it was soooooo chocolaty.  My young friend went so far as to put chocolate chips in the blender but alas, operationally, the straw was too small for the job and the chips kept clogging it up.  So I ditched the lid and downed half.  Unfortunately though, here is an example where vegan doesn't mean low calorie.  If you ask they will show you the nutritional breakdown.  Don't ask.  The shakes were between 500 and 700 calories.   Worth it as a treat for sure but not as part of your regularly scheduled happy meal.

Next morning on the way to the airport we stopped for breakfast, (and in my case lunch).  I had called ahead so my food was waiting but my associate, who before declined my invitation to order something, saw the Avocado sandwich and succumbed.  Although he said the bread was stale told me the sandwich was excellent.

I ordered a burrito called the Einstein which contained tofu scramble, soy cheese, mixed greens, tomatoes, avocado and beans.  I added the vegan sausage.  Unfortunately I couldn't eat it for several hours but it was great.

A burrito at 37,000 feet.
Half a burrito at 37,000 feet.

About 10 PM while completing all the left over paperwork I chowed down on my mixed greens and Burrito Supreme (with added chicken).

I had two other pictures which didn't come out but the mixed greens were something I wished every restaurant served, to eat in or take out.  I spilled the container out on a plate and it was a nice massive heaping bunch of Kale and Collards, a touch of agave, garlic and olive oil and 2 lemon wedges.  It was so crisp and refreshing even after all those hours sitting against the cold sidewall of the cockpit.

The Burrito Supreme had the seitan along with potatoes, chili, salsa, guacamole, and greens.  Man I do wish there were 10,000 of these places all over the country.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Candle 79

Father's Day Dinner

Candle 79 is one of my few meccas where just as with any other vegan restaurant, I start to relax as soon as I walk in ... except with an "up spin" of elegance.

We arrived exactly at 5 for our reservation and the staff was completing the setup so we enjoyed a Merlot an d and a Strawberry lemonade. We were led to my favorite table in the corner with an unobstructed view of the world going by on East 79th Street and Lexington Avenue.

Appetizers were Angel's Nachos, Grilled Seitan Chimichuri, and Seaweed Salad.  The Chimi is pictured on the left and the Salad below.  We tore into the Nachos before I could get the camera out.

The Nachos had a great flavor and texture combination. I enjoy my food on the spicy side and was hoping for more of a kick from the chili grilled seitan. Still the dish was one of my favorites.

The Chimichuri had a great lime and grilled flavor and the chunks of seitan were incredibly satisfying. It would have been the perfect app but for the hair. John the manager did offer a replacement to both the Chimichuri and another appetizer on the house so we reset the experience and added the steamed dumplings.

The Salad looked beautiful and colorful and as we started to work on it we were were less than enthused. My daughter loves seaweed, (she's 10), and the seaweed was just a minor player in the salad and none of us cared for the taste and flavors.  We'll stick to the local Japanese place for our seaweed salad.  John saw we had half left on the platter and didn't charge us for it or either of the Chimichuri dishes or the Dumplings.

On another personal note, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to go to a place that has specialty dishes and order something you can get just about anywhere. I wasn't about to argue with my daughter over food choices so we ordered it but folks I highly suggest, at any place that has a specialty they are known for, to order that. Getting for instance, a salad, at a place like this is, imho, a wasted opportunity to taste something new and different. It might be the best salad in the world but it's still a salad.

The other order of Chimi arrived along with the dumplings. The aroma from the broth and greens the dumplings were sitting in was amazing. The Chimi was better than the first, (being sans hair and all). The dumplings were enjoyed by my wife and daughter but left me a little disappointed. I was expecting a bit more flavor in the filling. The broth however was a different story with a soy sauce, leek, and bok choy combination. When John returned to check up on us I suggested they just serve the broth and greens as a soup ... so look for that in the future.

Entrees were all seitan dishes since, (oddly enough), Candle 79 has GREAT seitan dishes because they have GREAT seitan.

We got the special Cashew Encrusted Seitan, The Caribbean Jerk Seitan and the Seitan Piccata.

The Piccata was a wonderful dish, described by my daughter as THE most delicious, crunchy, right amount of tartness from the lemon, and the spinach was creamy and the mushrooms melted in your mouth. (per my daughter and I concur)

The Jerk Seitan was a Caribbean mixture of flavors and delicious but I missed the kick I expect from a Jerk.  My wife guarded her plate cautiously and devoured most of it loving every bite.

My Cashew Encrusted Seitan was the definition of comfort food. It came atop a ring of veggies, (although I thought the fingerling potatoes added a texture I wasn't quite sure belonged), with a subtle mixture of flavors and textures ringed with a red and green sauce.

Never ones to shy away from over ordering, for sides we ordered onion rings with a Chipotle Mayo dipping sauce and Polenta Fries with ketchup, and, (yes I said "and"), sauteed mushrooms. Wow. The light crusting on the onion rings was a delicate tempura crisp coating over perfectly cooked onion rings. The Chipotle was a nice addition but again, for my palate you could have dumped in the capsaicin.

The mushrooms melted in your mouth, seasoned perfectly.

And the Polenta Fries. Amazing. Crunchy and crispy on the outside and soft and creamy in the middle.

We dipped the two sauces interchangeably.

So you think we were too full for dessert? Not a chance.

One of the things that I think can either make a meal or break it is a cup of coffee at the end. My cup of decaf, (have to be up at 0400 to head off to work), was the perfect cup of coffee. Smooth and flavorful with a touch of sweet and soy creamer to round it off.

And of course we had to try the Peanut Butter and Chocolate. I was looking up the exact name and description but the dessert link on the website wasn't working. Not that one dessert would be enough of course we had to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The hard chocolate coating covered two layers of mousse; one of peanut and the other of chocolate. What an amazing combination of creamy intensity combined with the crunch of the hard chocolate coating.   The word luscious comes to mind.  I loved the ice cream but the omnivore at the table said it tasted like soy. I think it tasted phenomenally good but like all soy ice cream, (to me), had a slight tongue coating aftertaste. I thought it was great.

So, Candle 79 is a special occasion sort of place for us and aside from a glitch or two, (which were handled properly and graciously by John and our waitress Kimberly), it did not disappoint. It is now my daughters, "favorite vegan place on the planet."