Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Masao's Kitchen, Fulfilling Buffet in Waltham, MA

There were many areas that were prominent displays of water overflowing river banks and parking lots half under water.  Here is the Thames River in Connecticut.  Or maybe it was the Connecticut River.  I don't remember when I took the picture on the way to Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., a reliever field outside of Boston.

It truly is amazing how many gems are scattered across this country.  It never ceases to amaze me.  I found a listing for Masao's Kitchen on Happy Cow on my iPhone and about a 20 minute drive from Bedford's Hanscom Field we drove up to this place.  It's half the size of the two surrounding restaurants, to the left a Guatamalan/Salvadorian restaurant and to the right a bargain pizzeria.  It truly is amazing how we eat in this country where we have so much of everything yet mis-allocate our food and turn it into junk to eat.

Food = Happy Pilot.
Masao's Kitchen is a small buffet style place but is packed with a lot of good things from hard(er) or shall we say less common ingredients like 4 different kinds of seaweed and Mochi packages to his and Evelyn's cookbook.   Oh, and lets not forget the food!  There were 2 salads and about 11 hot dishes.

Salads and condiments to the left.  To the right the display counter.

2 steam tables offer plenty of choices at $8.50 per pound.

OK, lets see if I can get it all.  From lower left clockwise, carrots and lotus root, sauteed Shitake mushrooms and Hijiki seaweed, steamed broccoli and kale, millet with cauliflower, 2 white pieces of steamed daikon radish, tempeh in sweet and sour sauce, bbq tofu chunks and in the middle seitan pieces in a savory sauce.

There was complimentary bread and a big container of filtered water.

After eating that delicious plate of food I saw a few sandwiches in the display case.  "Ah, for the trip home," I thought.  Then I thought about just a little taste.  I cut it half to share so I wouldn't be the only feeling like I overate and before you knew it, it was gone.  A perfect ciabbata, toothy and yeasty, lettuce holding the thing together with a crunch, a mayo type coating and the bbq came together in a perfect union of flavor and texture.

The proverbial question, "Why can't I buy a sandwich like this everywhere?"

My dish came to .98 pounds.  Not a bad price for a full plate of food.

There should be a 3rd word ... "delicious."

Masao should allow cell phone use here to call your friends to come and eat!

It's so nice to know that 20 minutes away from one of my more common destinations is this little perfect place to eat.  And for those who refuse to have a meal without animals, there are 3 other places within a stone's throw that I'm sure can serve you cruelty on a plate.  Bravo Masao on your 11 years here.

Masao Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pyramid Bistro in Aspen a hit, (and a miss), a hit and a hike.

A view of Molly Gibbons Lodge where we stayed.

Lunch outside on the balcony.  Much better than lunch on the streets of NY where everyone gawks at your plate as they pass by.  So relaxing over the bookstore.

I tried the Pyramid Bistro my first night here but the restaurant was closed due to the Nutritarian Event hosting Dr. Fuhrman.  It's his book being read by the chap in the photo above.  I actually saw a crusted tempeh dish I was thinking about and a day later with that dish in mind sat down at the Pyramid.  No tempeh dish. Oh well, craving greens in any format and fooling myself into thinking crispy kale is the same as raw kale I went with the kale chips.

I'm fast becoming a kale junkie.

The kale was really nice.  Crispy with a nice cashew/nutritional yeasty/cheesy flavor.  The ginger soy dip was refreshing, adding a nice bite and counterpoint to the cheese-ish flavor.  The one problem with kale chips is that by the time you're at the bottom of the bowl there are tiny kale flakes mixed in with kale dust.  Ah, the move was to incorporate the remaining soy dip with the remnants.  Ah, that could have been a dish unto itself!  Ah.

None of the salads or entrees struck a chord so I decided to make it a light lunch.  I haven't had a light lunch since about 50 pounds ago so I thought it would also serve to ease me into my anti-gluttony campaign.  I went with the Thai Curry Soup.  

Ah, it looked so promising.  Sadly, and I hate to say it, I wasn't a big fan of the taste.  At all.  It tasted like a "greensy" broth pretty much overpowering everything else.  I had a few spoonfuls but then just called over Michael the waiter.  It had what I was pretty sure were collards, (but hey, could have been some other kind of green), and not the bok choy.  Michael said it was kale.  Now I'm not sure why if he knew there was a substitution it he didn't mention it to me but I'm pretty sure it wasn't kale.  No big deal. I love kale.  Collards, to me, have to be sauteed in an oil with garlic and onions to begin to become edible.  I do cook them from time to time but I looooove kale.  Anyway, I sent the dish back.

Now just to be fair, I found out Chef Martin Olwald, who owns the place, was pretty much tied up with the Nutritarian Event.  I started looking over the brochure and one of my heros, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, (, who advocates a pretty much vegan diet, was in Aspen also.  Eeek.  It was like $3000 to have lunch with him.  I know it was a fundraiser for the but that's way out of my league.  Ah, but $50 to attend the event, which was like a cook-off of some of the renowned local chefs doing vegan dishes.  Hey, for $50 bucks I can be a sport.  I'll blog about that another day because there's LOTs to say.

OK, back to lunch.  Chef Martin wasn't there.  I don't think he would have let that out of the kitchen.

Looks pretty good but the taste was less than expected.

Soooooo, I traded that in for the Gazpacho.  Now I have to tell you that as bad as the first soup was, this was so good that if I had two spoons I would have eaten it twice as fast.  It was bright, crisp, had a nice bite from the garlic, the tomatoes weren't pureed to excess and left it with several nice chunky bits of tomato.  Perfect.

I'm not sure the chia seeds added to the dish but that's what is on top.

A shot of the bookstore on the first floor.  There's a sign on the front door saying no photos without permission, so I asked, got it, and can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want photos taken in a bookstore.  Maybe the secret to the moonlanding is in one of those books.  It's a very nice place.
Here are a few shots of the town and the slopes.

Main Street.  The pics don't do the town justice.  It does have a Rodeo Drive flavor a few blocks away.  Some of the town is like a new-ish condo farm.  Some of it has a bit of the old mining town flavor.

Main Street with Aspen Mountain.

Another direction, another mountain.

Out front of the Pyramid Bistro and Explore booksellers.

Walking trail.  We went about a mile and a half down the trail.  The following pics are of the trail and some of the residences along the trail.  In my next life ...

An old steam engine.  

There are a few streams that define, in my mind, "Cool Rocky Mountain Stream."

This one in particular.

I don't know if this is an empty trailer park or where they keep the band's busses.  Each space has a hookup.

Interestingly enough, the Privaté family seems to live in all of these home.

Aspen is a really nice place to spend a few paid for days in the summer.  I have never been here more than an hour and definitely would consider coming here just to chill out on a vacation.

And I look forward to one day eating at the Pyramid when Chef Martin does his thing.

Pyramid Bistro on Urbanspoon

Angels and Kings Vegan Drinks

After walking over from a meeting I had near Penn Station I and my sweaty self arrived early at Angels and Kings bar at 500 East 11th Street for the Vegan Drinks meetup.  The focus of the evening was to help raise money for Asian Moon Bears through the Animals Asia organization.  If you would like to donate here's their link (Animals Asia).  This organization has two sanctuaries, one in Vietnam and the other in China.  They have a few spearheads, the most prominent being saving the Moon Bears used to harvest their bile for an ingredient in ancient Eastern medicine.

I went to meet a few new people, shake a few hands, and have a beer or two.  I did all three and also scoffed down an order of vegan chicken wings.  No pic but they had a nice crunchy coating and meaty texture.  Good vegan bar food. Ketchup on top.  Can't be beat.

If you get here early this is what you'll find.

There are two things of note, three if you count my beer.  One is a vegan menu standing up and the other, sitting on the bar, is a list of all of the vegan beer and wines available.  Glad I didn't have to pull up Barnivore every time I wanted a drink!

A little bit later the place started to fill up.
At about 8:30 there was an opportunity for anyone who signed up to take 30 seconds and shout out their cause.  Next time I'll write them down.

It's not extensive, it's not complex, it's just vegan bar food.  I ask you, is that so tough?
So it was an interesting way to spend a couple of hours, meeting people, talking about veganism, vegetarianism and those who were just curious about the whole thing.  I was lucky to have had a day off when the event was scheduled and not have to worry about getting home, changed, and into work in 2 hours.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cantina offers a Vegan Entree in Aspen, CO

It's getting late, the place I had in mind closed at 9PM but when we got there at 20 to there was a private function going on and the place was closed.  We wandered down main street on our own.  I remembered the young lady in our hotel mentioning the Cantina as having a few vegan options, there was a sign saying "Cantina," so in we went.

Entrance and bar area.
It's a nice sized restaurant with plenty of room and we didn't have to wait for a table.

The one tequila I ordered seemed to be the one that they sold out of but they have an extensive list and I chose another with a frozen margarita.  I asked I asked our waitress, Katie, about vegan options after mindlessly perusing the menu and seeing everything I expected to see and mentally going through my options, vegetable fajitas, burrito with vegetables, (yes I have to ask about rice and chicken broth or beans and lard), how about this if I take away the cheese and meat, or that without ... another sigh and 20 questions, and was surprised when Katie, in her next breath, pointed out the "Vegan Mushroom Tower." Now I usually don't miss the word vegan on a menu but this was a nice surprise.

Right between the Carne Asada and the NY Strip.  Maybe that's why I skipped over it.  If you can't read the menu here's what it says:

Vegan mushroom tower
Grilled Portobello mushrooms, sweet potatoes, spinach and roasted red peppers stacked and drizzled with a roasted pepper balsamic vinaigrette, set on a bed of vegan brown rice and sautéed veggies $18

And here's what it looks like.  I couldn't really tell how colorful the dish was until the flash went off as the restaurant was a bit dark.  I was very impressed.  The broccoli, squash, carrots and peppers were sauteed in oil, seasoned gently and had a perfect cooked and slight crunch texture.  The rice was a brown rice and wasn't particularly seasoned but laid a nice bedrock for the star of the place.

But before we get to the tower I want to tell a little aside about hot sauce.  I asked the server who brought our meals for some hot sauce and her inquiry was Tabasco?  Chaloula? Nah, what's the hottest thing you have.  So she brought me this tiny cup of sauce, home made, and I dipped a chip and ate and after my eyes stopped tearing and my throat opened back up I ate some more.  (Go figure).  It was awesome.  Too bad I ran out of patience to troubleshoot why the flash wasn't going off but here's a dark picture of it.  I found out that the chef makes a lot of hot sauces.  Just ask for what you like.  (As an aside, my carnivore buddy ordered a dish that had hot sauce which he felt straddled the line of too hot).

The tower had layers and layers.  Spinach, (sauteed soft but not mushy), sweet potato slices, (once again, cooked with just the perfect amount of bite remaining, roasted peppers and of course, portobello slices.  The only critique is that I wish the portobello was as thick as the sweet potato.  It sort of got a little lost.  But on top of that all was the most amazing balsamic/mustard reduction.  All I can say, stupidly enough, is, "Mmmmm."

Tower of flavors and textures.
I was so glad to see the word vegan on the menu and the entree had a really nice flavor profile and texture diversity.  I'd order it again in a heartbeat but the only thing was, I don't think it was "Mexican."  It's not a big deal, I'm just saying. It was a really nice change from my low expectations of the usual vegan fallback of rice, beans, and veggies in a burrito.

La Cantina on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Brixx Pizza chain offers vegan cheese down South

Initially our trip was to go down to Raleigh, wait a few hours and fly our passengers home.  A mechanical glitch turned that into a 3 day culinary adventure but for our quick lunch on day one we were driven over to a pretty nice sized shopping center.  I have to guess that half of the stores there were restaurants.  While searching for decent options for my carnivore co worker I noticed a Jason's Deli, (which has a pretty huge salad bar), and a Greek place which had falafel, (always a welcome choice but didn't think it was a Greek dish.  I wouldn't have looked for a vegan option in a Greek restaurant but was surprised to find one).  I wanted to do a bit more exploring. 

And there was Brixx.  I passed it off initially as just another pizza place but I'd never seen a Brixx before so I wandered in just to eliminate it as an option.  Lo and behold, there was the word VEGAN on the menu.  I asked the hostess and she actually directed me to one of the waitresses who was vegan, (who turned us on to Earth Fare).  She gave me the lowdown and although we didn't choose Brixx for that lunch, put it on my list for the future.  Little did I know it would be the next day.

We, (my good friend Helene and my compatriot RB), sat outside overlooking the parking lot as it wasn't yet plastic melting summer temperature season.  Or we just had a cool(er) day.

Our waiter, although eager to help, seemed a bit undertrained, (as most servers are), on the issues intrinsic to a vegan diner.  I have to suggest that any restaurant offering a vegan option will ... well ... attract vegans so should have the answers to the basic questions we will ask.  Actually, we pretty much ask only one question, (first), which is, "Is (insert food item here) vegan?"  So I sort of have to call you to task on not knowing which of your beers are vegan, (see, or if the dough or tomato sauce has egg, milk or cheese in it.  I care less that it does, (well I do care that it does), but from a "what am I going to eat for dinner" standpoint I care more about my dinner options at the moment.  The manager did find out the answers from the kitchen so the info was available.  I'm just saying, if you put "vegan" on the menu these questions will come.

We started with the hummus appetizer plate with grilled pita.

Wood Fired Pita Chips and Three Dips

traditional hummus, roasted red pepper hummus and black bean hummus served with pita chips dusted with cumin   5.95

The three dips were all tasty but I think I like the traditional the best.  The red pepper had a really nice flavor but the black beans, I think, made the last option a bit heavier than the first two.  Of course I forgot the picture but imagine pita slices with beautiful grill marks and three nice sized helpings of tan, orange, and black spotted mashed bean hummus.  The pita was charred just right and had a nice soft/crisp texture.

Pear and (not) Grogonzola above, Wild Mushroom below.

Pear & Gorgonzola

sliced pear, mozzarella, gorgonzola 
and caramelized onions topped with 
toasted walnuts   9.95

Wild Mushroom

wood-roasted shiitake, portobello and button mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, topped with fresh arugula and shaved parmesan   9.95

The entrees had to be wood fired pizzas since the name of the place is really "Brixx, Wood Fired Pizzas," and if that's what they're known for who am I to swim against the tide.  Our entrees were two brick oven roasted pizzas, both on whole wheat crusts.  Now you know I'm from New York City, (where pizza and anything good must surely have been invented), and have a certain kind of crust in mind.  This crust was alright but I found it very thin and at the edges almost cracker like.  Under the toppings the cracker absorbed some moisture and was more chewy which I enjoyed a bit more.  I vote for a thicker crust but that's my personal preference.

The Pear pizza had a delicious mixture of sweet from the onions and fruit and richness and salt from the cheese.  The mushroom combination pizza was incredibly savory in a woodsy sort of way with the 3 kinds of mushrooms and the peppery bite of arugula mixed with the creaminess of the cheese.

Of course the cheese was vegan, not from cow secretions but it was not Daiya.   It was, I  believe, Follow Your Heart and in this application melted and worked perfectly.

Kudo's to Brixx for putting a vegan option out there.  It's right there on the printed menu but notably absent on the online menu.  I sent an email asking why and am waiting for a response.  Raleigh Durham has what seems to be a growing vegan community and this vegan pizza should be trumpeted from the rooftops, not discovered by accident when looking for a salad.

Here's the response to the email I sent.

Marty -

We do not have a vegan menu on our site, but are working on it. We have a new site being built and the vegan items will be there.

The short answer is that our dough is vegan. We have vegan cheese as an option and a wide array of veggie pizzas which are also vegan with the cheese.

We would be thrilled to be listed on your blog. Please let me know if I can help with more information.

Tim Miner
Brixx Wood Fired Pizza

And true to his word, second from the bottom, (someone has to be last, right?), this from the online menu:

Vegan Options
We also offer an array of vegan options for our guests. Our vegan cheese is available on any of our pizzas, salads and sandwiches at no extra charge. And, our regular and whole wheat doughs are made with turbinado sugar and are 100% vegan, as well. Click here for more nutritional information on our vegan cheese.
I mean, they even got the sugar right.  My hat is off to Brixx and I'll definitely be stopping by again when my travels take me to RDU

Brixx Wood-Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Bulgur Wheat.  Just sitting around.  Sauteed up some frozen shitake shrooms and onions, sauted for a few minutes then added garlic and porcini mushroom powder.  Mixed in some veggie broth base, added water and soy sauce and simmered covered for about 20 minutes, then let stand.

I had some hydrated soy curls, (you definitely should click on the link and try a bag of these things!), from the night before which I had soaked in veggie broth, then breaded with a mixture of flour, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.  They spent the night in a baggie and were somewhat stuck together so I heated up some canola and one by one peeled each strip off the clump and laid it down in the oil.  I wanted something different and had a jar of Grill Masters Pork seasoning, (only vegan ingredients listed as it's basically a spice rub but you can make any kind of spice mix that suits your palate), and while it was cooking I liberally tossed on the spices.  I flipped the soy curls and after they turned a golden brown and put their crisp on put them on a paper towel to drain.

The salad was mixed greens, mixed pepper batons and grape tomatoes with a Maple Farms Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette.  Actually, I had some flavored tofu I wanted to get rid of also and heated that up in the microwave, sliced it up and laid that on top of the salad.  Then I ate it.  Then I decided to share my meal with you.