Saturday, October 3, 2009

Restaurant Review - The Majestic

I'm so behind in posting, I'm horrible at this vegan mofo thing. It's now 4 days after I went to the Majestic, but I'm going to pre-date this so keep things making sense.

So, Saturday night. Day 2 of the "My Best Friend is in Town" extravaganza. First we went to PX, which is a speakeasy above Eamonn's: A Dublin Chipper, in Old Town Alexandria. It's an "intimate cocktail lounge" that you actually need a reservation for. It was lovely, great ambiance, and fantastic drinks. I got something with elderberry infused vodka and YUM. Delish. But finding vegan cocktails isn't that hard (THANK GOD) so I'll move on.

Next we went across the street to The Majestic. It (along with PX and Eamonn's) is owned by Cathal Armstrong, chef at Restaurant Eve. I went to Restaurant Eve with my best friend last winter and it was the best meal I've ever had in my life, so already we have an affinity for the chain. The Majestic is in a gorgeous old art deco building and it has more of a busy casualness than Restaurant Eve, or even PX has. They even have a kids' menu. Oooh, that made me think I should take the family there for my and my husband's anniversary in a few weeks.

I can't remember what I saw on the menu that looked potentially appealing, but when our waitress came, I told her I was vegan and asked if the chef could do anything off-menu. She immediately gave me a ton of options and was so very attentive to what we were ordering. I decided to go with the "chef's vegan special" which was just a platter of about 8 different little servings of vegan dishes. We were going to split a fried green tomato starter, and the waitress carefully warned us there were eggs in the batter so I decided to just get succotash instead of having them make it without the eggs. Again, she carefully warned us that's normally cooked in butter, so we requested for that to be done in olive oil instead. She brought the de rigeur bread and butter, and included a little dish of olive oil without me even asking. EXCELLENT knowledgeable service.

My food was amazing. A. Maze. Ing. My 2 omnivorous friends even commented on how absolutely incredible it looked and tasted. They split the duck and one of them said something along the lines of "stupid duck, I want THAT." I had a little shooter of gazpacho with melon balls over it, and it was the best gazpacho I've ever had, including in Spain. We all exclaimed that we've never had such perfectly cooked green beans with just a hint of sea salt and garlic. Incredible ratatouille. Divine sauteed swiss chard and figs. Some sort of marinated cucumber/melon/red onion salad. Roasted butternut squash and brussel sprouts. The succotash. It really could not have been any better. I actually got my leftovers (got too full!) boxed up to go, but ended up forgetting them in the hotel fridge. :(

Restaurant Review - Cafe Atlantico

This is an odd week for me. My best friend is in town. She lives out of the country, so when she's here, it's a mad whirlwind of fitting everything in and seeing all of her/our friends. She's a crazy foodie and has no problem spending $400 for a good meal. She's also an unabashed omnivore and thinks the whole vegan thing is a little whack-a-doo, but is supportive of me. We're going out for at least 5 meals at high-end restaurants in the next 5 days in the Washington DC area, so I'll be writing reviews of them and their vegan friendliness as part of my Vegan MoFo entries. Although after she leaves next week, there will be no more, because she's the one with the insane disposible income and I don't go to these types of places without her. I apologize in advance for no pictures, but the only camera I have is a big honkin' DSLR. It does not fit into my evening bag. And my cell phone's camera capabilities are not even worth mentioning. So, sorry. Use your imaginations.

Tonight we went with another friend to Café Atlántico. It was a spur of the moment decision, we didn't really have anything planned for tonight after this 3rd friend arrived in town, so I didn't have any time to research its menu or veggie options before going. I've also never been there before, although I quite enjoy some of its sister restaurants - Jaleo and Zaytinya especially. It's located in Penn Quarter, on 8th Street between D and E. Right across from the downtown branch of Teaism, my very favorite lunch spot in DC. That 8th Street corridor, of course, is also the home to the downtown farmers' market every Thursday (until December, I think). Right away, I'm a fan of the location. Café Atlántico cuisine is desribed as "Nuevo Latino" and it is the home to the Latino Dim Sum brunch on Sundays, which looks interested (and offers a vegetarian tasting menu for that, apparently).

My BF ordered us an assortment of cocktails to share when we got there. One was the "Magic Mojito" where they poured the liquid over spun cotton candy in the glass which of course melted, one was a margarita with "salt and lime air" foam on top (I loved that one), and a third was the Pisco Sour which I didn't try because it has egg whites in it.

Once seated, we had guacamole made at the table and it was absolutely perfect. Guacamole is one of the greatest culinary inventions ever, in my opinion. Looking over the menu, there was nothing that was vegan as listed (not even a salad or appetizer), but a few things with just cheese. To be safe, I asked the waiter if there was anything I could order off-menu and he said they had a whole separate vegetarian menu but when he went to get one, he learned that there had been a few changes so it was outdated. He verbally told me about a few different things they could do. That's what I love about going to an actual culinary type restaurant. As much as this place was meat-centric - the special, which one of my friends ordered, was lamb chops with lamb confit and lamb something else - the chefs almost treat creating a vegan dish as a challenge. Whereas the cook at the local chain has to be instructed exactly how you want something, at a place like that I feel confident saying "No meat, meat products such as broth, no dairy, no eggs" and letting the chef run with it. Oh, I just looked at the FAQ on the website and it has this section:
I am a vegetarian. Can I eat at Café Atlántico? I have food allergies. Can I eat at Café Atlántico? I have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten. Can I eat at Café Atlántico?
The menu at Café Atlántico is varied and provides diners with a wide array of choices to meet the needs of vegetarians, vegans, people who don't eat shellfish, etc. We always strive to make reasonable accommodations for our guests' dietary needs or restrictions. Ask your host or server for our special menu which notes dishes suitable for guests suffering many common food allergies and gluten free items. Your server also has thorough knowledge of Café Atlántico’s menu and can help you identify choices that work for you.

In the case of potentially life-threatening food allergies or other serious health issues, your best bet is to call Café Atlántico in advance and explain your situation. Speak to the manager or chef. They'll be happy to work with you and help you make appropriate selections or make special arrangements if necessary.
Love it. Anyway, I ended up ordering a salad off the regular menu just without the cheese. It had arugula with roasted butternut and acorn squash and roasted pumpkin seeds. It was delicious, so perfectly fall-ish. For my entree, I picked one of the options the waiter had verbally told to me so I don't remember the details of what he said was in it. But basically there were cauliflower "steaks" (cauliflower florets sliced vertically) seared, over a bed of some sort of couscous. There were clearly herbs and flavored oils involved, but I couldn't tell you what they were. I do know they were incredibly flavorful. The cauliflower was awesome, I am definitely going to try that method of cooking it. It was crisp and chewy and not at all mushy like it can sometimes be. Both dishes were evocotive of the fall season, and all the vegetables involved were so fresh.

Afterwards I really wanted some coffee since I had a bit of a long drive back home, but I need milk/cream in my coffee and I thought it would be a longshot to get any non-dairy options. What is the solution for that, experienced vegans? Do they make Silk creamer in those little aseptic pouches for me to carry around in my purse? I had some green tea instead and picked some fresh raspberries off my friend's ice cream plate.

The conversation was pretty vegan-tastic, too. Like I said, my best friend is one of those who says "look at your teeth, we are made to eat meat" and she's also a fitness nut so she's all protein-obsessed. But our 3rd friend was really curious about my recent conversion and asked a lot of questions about veganism and the ethics behind it. She has a very beloved dog and has realized the silly distinction of why we eat some animals but not others. After the discussion, she proceded to down the lamb special, though, so who knows if it's something she'll ever act on.

Anyway, I thought the whole experience was great. It might not be the first place a vegan thinks of going in DC. I mean, come on, they have a FOIE GRAS SOUP as one of their publicized specialities. But they're adaptable, accomodating, and they know food, so I would recommend it for a vegan looking for a nice dinner in downtown DC.

Up tomorrow, drinks at PX and dinner at The Majestic in Alexandria VA! Except I just remembered I'm spending the night at the hotel with the girls after dinner tomorrow, so the review probably won't be up until Sunday at the earliest. I might try to blog about something else in the morning tomorrow. Happy MoFo'ing!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Vegan MoFo Survey

Lauren at Whoa Wren posted this survey to kick off MoFo and it feels like a right of passage to answer it.

1. Favorite non-dairy milk?
I don't particularly have a favorite yet. I honestly don't care - I have never been one to drink milk plain and I rarely eat cereal, so really milk is just used as an ingredient in other things, so don't really taste the flavor at all. I do use soy creamer in my coffee (Trader Joe's brand when I feel like going there to get it, Silk from my regular grocery store when I don't). I do like the idea of using hemp, almond, or rice milk since, while I don't think soy is evil or anything, I believe having diversity is a good thing. As a vegan, I eat soy in a lot of other forms so when I have the choice not to, I think it's a good idea to choose that. All that said, what I currently have on hand is a big case of Costco brand vanilla soymilk. When that's gone, though, I plan to get some almond. Or maybe make my own if I'm feeling ambitious.

2. What are the top 3 dishes/recipes you are planning to cook?
I haven't really thought about this yet. Seitan in some form, a birthday cake for myself (possibly something pumpkin flavored?), and apple belgian waffles for my son.

3. Topping of choice for popcorn?
Earth's Balance (eek!) and salt.

4. Most disastrous recipe/meal failure?
I tried to make the Julie Hasson seitan sausages and they were not very good. Very spongy and totally lacking in flavor. My husband actually spit his out. That was my VERY FIRST (and only) time making seitan in any form, so I really want to try them again to see if my technique can be improved. I think I was out of a couple of the spices too, or was trying to not make them too spicy for my toddler, so I'm sure that contributed to the flavorlessness.

5. Favorite pickled item?
ew. I can't think of any.

6. How do you organize your recipes?
My cookbooks are all on the little cart next to my kitchen. Some of them have little post-it flags on recipes I want to try, but most of the time I just flip through them. It's not very efficient. I much prefer finding recipes online, because then I email them to my special Gmail account I have set up just for recipes (and, now, this blog). Using the "email" option in my Google Reader makes this step even easier. Once they're in my recipes email inbox, I can tag them with all sorts of labels - beans, dinner, breakfast, crockpot, fast, eggplant, cookies - that make things easier to find. Plus I can just do a search if I know more specifically what I'm looking for.

7. Compost, trash, or garbage disposal?
A little bit of each

8. If you were stranded on an island and could only bring 3 foods...what would they be (don't worry about how you'll cook them)?
pesto, coffee, black beans

9. Fondest food memory from your childhood?
My mom making us pancakes on our birthdays in the shape of the number of whatever age we were turning.

10. Favorite vegan ice cream?
I haven't tried any non-dairy ice creams yet, I tend to just go for the fruit (especially lime) sorbets.

11. Most loved kitchen appliance?
my Belgian waffle iron

12. Spice/herb you would die without?

13. Cookbook you have owned for the longest time?
lordy, I have no idea. Maybe my Cooking Light Five Star Recipes, which has a fair number of vegan or vegan-adaptable recipes.

14. Favorite flavor of jam/jelly?

15. Favorite vegan recipe to serve to an omni friend?
Isa's Chickpea Cutlets

16. Seitan, tofu, or tempeh?
I like tempeh a lot. Haven't had much experience with seitan yet.

17. Favorite meal to cook (or time of day to cook)?
Hmm. I hate the rush of cooking dinner, scrambling to get it on the table in time, but rarely cook lunch either. Therein lies my whole problem. I guess lunch on the weekends, when we do tend to do lunch up bigger and have a small dinner.

18. What is sitting on top of your refrigerator?
mixing bowls

19. Name 3 items in your freezer without looking.
Peas, Trader Joe's meatless corn dogs (my toddler's favorite food ever), and strawberries

20. What's on your grocery list?
Right now? Vanilla extract and dijon mustard to replenish staples. Haven't done my menu planning/grocery list for the week yet, though.

21. Favorite grocery store?
I have different things that I get at different places. I do most of my shopping at the Giant that's a mile away. Then there's things that I go out of my way to Trader Joe's to get. Most staples (and a lot of produce) I get in bulk at Costco. Then there's the "International Foods Market" that has really cheap tofu. And Whole Foods for whatever other hippie things I can't find elsewhere (would love to shop there exclusively, but, eek, the prices). I just learned there's a health food co-op nearby with bulk grains and legumes so I'm going to check that out soon.

22. Name a recipe you'd love to veganize, but haven't yet.
an ice box pie that's been tempting me for years.

23. Food blog you read the most (besides Isa's because I know you check it everyday). Or maybe the top 3?
Vegandad, Fatfree Vegan, and Vegan Yogini

24. Favorite vegan candy/chocolate?
Mint Newman-O's

25. Most extravagant food item purchased lately?
some agave nectar. Haven't tried it yet!

26. Ingredients you are scared to work with?
Any sort of fake cheese

The Ubiquitous First Post

There's no easy way to jump into blogging. I've tried it a few times but never got very far since I always felt like I was walking a thin line in terms of exposing too much about my personal life, and people who don't want exposure. But a food blog? There's not much drama involved in a food blog, right? I think I can do that.

I'm starting this today in honor of Vegan MoFo. See here or here for more information and a list of participants. Started by one of my vegan icons, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the goal is to post every day this month about something related to vegan cooking. I'm a brand new vegan, I just this week completed the PCRM's 21-day Vegan Kickstart, and now feel I can officially proclaim myself a vegan. I've gone through the hardest part - the dairy detoxing - and am truly amazed at how wonderful I now feel.

Now the challenge is the cooking. I've been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for years, so meat-free isn't so much a problem, but I definitely leaned on the ovos and the lactos in appeasing my (omni) family. I'm also guilty of being a bit of a junk-food-atarian. French fries are vegan, after all, and I can eat my weight in them. I'm fat, and there've been days in the not so distant past where I didn't consume a single vegetable. I like bread dipped in olive oil, and vegan waffles slathered in Earth's Balance. Clearly, that needs to stop.

So! That's where I am now. I'm hoping that I'll be in a different place by the end of this month. I really want to EXPLORE vegan cooking and discover new family favorites. I personally want to amp up the fruit and veg consumption and cut down on the breads and oils. I'm doing a weight loss challenge with my friends starting this month and I can't help but hope that going deeper into vegan-land will help things on that front too.

I'm going to linky on the sidebar to some of my favoritest vegan blogs, which I've been reading for months. They helped encourage me in going vegan, whether they know it or not (probably not, since I never comment), so I'll say a big THANK YOU to them right now. And I'll probably be swiping many of their recipes to use over the next month, so THANK YOU again for that. :)