26 April 2012

Minneapolis: It's Greek to Me

Here I am!  You know how vegans never get sick?  I was super vegan this past week.  I was so vegan I barely left the apartment and had no excuse to update.  Tonight: jailbreak.  Time for Greek.  Gotta get my garlic on.

It's Greek to Me
626 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  554408
(612) 825-9922

Most of the time when Matt and I eat out together, we wind up somewhere in the vicinity of Lyndale and Lake.  The quality food per square foot ratio in this area is unusually high.  This particular establishment is something of an institution; It's Greek to Me has been around for at least 25 years.  Why I haven't been eating there for exactly that long I couldn't tell you.  (For some reason I was weaned on baby food instead of this stuff.  Psh.  Moms.)  I have been frequenting the place for the last 5 years.

Awesomely, 20% of our check tonight went to AIDS research.  Happy Dining Out for Life night!  We got stickers that said "I ATE."  In a cruel twist of fate, we received the stickers before our food arrived, thus negating the verisimilitude of said stickers.  It was literally - yes, literally - the worst thing that could have happened to us.  Except maybe getting AIDS.

Every time Captain Adventure and I eat here, we share a plate of Skordalia for $5.95.  It's a cold potato-garlic dip with pita.  If you've ever wanted more garlic from your dips, this is the dip for you.  And it's not so much garlic it gets spicy - it's more of a comforting, roasted garlic taste.

The pita served alongside the Skordalia is also phenomenal.  I gotta say, if all the pita bread in town got into a fight, this pita would kick the other pitas' butts.  Where other pitas are flaky and dry, this pita is warm, chewy, and just moist enough to make it work.  Pockets are for sissy pitas.  This one is soft and cohesive all the way through.

Allow me to mention that we don't even look at the menu anymore.  That fact, paired with our server's super quick delivery, got all the food on the table within ten minutes of our arrival.

So sometimes I also order a cup of Fakes Me Spanaki soup for $3.15.  It starts out with a ho-hum heavy vegetable soup flavor, but it broadens in your mouth to a satisfying, comforting, perfectly Greek taste.  It's full of lentils, spinach, and tomatoes.  Comes with Saltines - also vegan! - which I love to shove into the soup and eat half-dissolved.

I told you a long time ago that I am a total sucker for stuffed grape leaves.  The best grape leaves in town are the Yielantzi here.  For $6.85 you get five or six of these beauties, each one lovingly stuffed with rice and magic.  You don't even know.  I feel like dill is one of the main reasons I love them, and I know there's lemon involved.  The flavor is totally unique.  If I knew how to cook like this, you might never see me again.  Beware, vegans - these come with a white creamy yogurt sauce.  It's not vegan.  But you can remove the little cup of sauce, like I did for the above picture.  (Can't be having pictures of dairy products on my blog all willy-nilly.  Gotta have boundaries.)

Sadly, muffins, the baklava is made with butter.  Well, and honey.  But that's okay.  I came home and ate some lemon bars.  The inside of my stomach is now officially Greece.

21 April 2012

Kenya II

Oh, you.  You are the most wonderful person in the world.

Remember my post about Kenya?  Where I told you about the awesome kids whose lives have been affected by AIDS, and who live in that slum - Dagoretti - in Nairobi?  They still need your help.

This is Ilene.  She is SO sweet.  I met her when I went to camp in 2010.  She made me a necklace!  Isn't it amazing that someone who lives in absolute poverty has such a giving heart?

She's wearing my sunglasses in this picture.  I have about twenty pictures of kids wearing my sunglasses.  They loved 'em.  I just like big sunglasses 'cause it offsets the size of my enormous teeth.

Ilene and I had some really good conversations about life.  She's only 16, but she's wise beyond her years.  Thank god she's being sponsored by Friends of Ngong Road.  If she weren't on the path to a college education, my heart would break forever. Ilene asked me a few times if I was going to come back to camp next year, which would have been last summer.  I told her I couldn't because I was getting married in July 2011, but that if I had the money I'd be back in 2012.  In a skeptical voice, she said, "The Americans always say they'll come back, but they never do."

That was the moment that cemented my resolve.  Like I said before, Ilene isn't in a position to understand that I might not have enough money to buy that flight to Kenya.  In her eyes, we're all rich.  Even a bum like me who earns half as much as a teacher and has tens of thousands of dollars in student debt.  Because I have family with money, I get to eat out sometimes.  I get to live in a nice apartment.  I have indoor plumbing and electricity.  I don't have to worry about getting sick from my water.  And I will always, always have enough to eat.  Ilene doesn't have those guarantees.

Which brings me to my point.  You are a wonderful person.  Seriously.  Because you have the power to bring joy to kids like Ilene.  This camp changes kids' lives.  It makes them feel loved and cared-for, gives them 3 meals a day and clean water.  They play games that make them happy and take their minds off their lives for a week.  You can help give this powerful gift.

Ilene'll be back this year.  I'll be clasping that necklace on and running to her for a hug.

19 April 2012

Minneapolis: Ecopolitan

You know how yesterday, the afternoon was super nice and sunny?  Mom and Sister picked me up at eatin' time, and the following conversation happened on the way to Ecopolitan:

Seestor:  There are so many Saab convertibles!  Mom, I think it's a sign I should get a Saab convertible.
Mom:  I think it's a sign you shouldn't go out in this weather.

I love my mom.

2409 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55405
(612) 874-7336

I've been to Ecopolitan five thousand times - what with it being the Twin Cities' only all-vegan restaurant - but because it's all raw vegan, I hadn't thought my fam would be interested.  They surprised me!  Seestor made the connection that raw vegan = gluten free.  In fact, the menu says 100% vegan and GF.  And Mom was up for a food adventure.  So hooray!  Ecopolitan it is.

I have trouble ordering here.  The ability to get absolutely anything on the entire menu is rather overwhelming.  But with practice, I've learned to deal with my problem.

Step one: get a smoothie.  It's no secret that this place is expensive, but as long as you're here, you owe it to yourself to have the full experience.  My two faves are the Apple Pie Smoothie at $6.50 and the Orange Julia at $7, but there are tons of other good ones for you to try.

Seestor ordered the Apple Pie Smoothie and loved it.  It's perfectly appley and cinnamony, and tastes like the crumbles on an apple crisps.  Oh my god.  It's SO great.  It hits me right in my cinnamon button.
My Orange Julia tasted, as always, like an orange dreamsicle.  It strikes that perfectly vanilla shade of natural orange flavor that takes away the tartness and is so yummy.  Sometimes I try to make my own smoothies taste this way.  But my kitchen just doesn't have that kind of magic.

Step two: have a Cashew Cheese Log for $8.50.  It sounds weird.  But you cannot imagine a better appetizer.  The crackers are great, made of dehydrated seeds and stuff.  Seestor says they're the first good crackers she's had since going GF.  And the CHEESE.  OMG.  It's smooth, dense, delicious, amazing, life-changing, and might be made of ambrosia instead of cashews.  The kind the Greek Pantheon ate, not the cake.  It's topped with really tasty marinated sweet onions.  I could eat that stuff all day.  Can I eat that stuff all day?  I'll look into it.

Step three: nab an entree - Rawvioli for $13.  This is the first meal Seestor and I have shared since we both ate mac and cheese in the early 90s.  Monumental.  I like it for some of the same reasons I love the Cheese Log - the rawvioli pockets contain the same type of filling of which the cheese is made.  It'd probably be good for me to branch out a little and get something different, but I've tried most of the menu.  That cheese stuff is too favorite.  The Rawvioli also comes with fresh mixed greens, a delicious fruity vinaigrette, a spicy ginger sauce, bruschetta tomatoes, and a reappearance of the marinated onions from the Cheese Log.  Each of these ingredients is prepared with wonderful flavor and love.  The bruschetta tomatoes are nice and garlicky, and the ginger sauce is super good.  Our only complaint?  There ought to be more than six rawvioli pockets.

Mom got the fun Surprise Entree for $13.50.  Isn't that exciting?!  The chef could make you anything!  Last night it was a Taco-Stuffed Pepper.  It was spicy and Mexican-flavored (yes, Mexican-flavored - I are so well-spoked), with filling tastes of cilantro and garlic.  The accompanying salad came with a thin vinaigrette.  And the bell pepper: it's just so cute.

Step four: dessert!  This will blow your minds.  Kay.  This is the Ice Cream Parfait.  Ten bucks.  Look how big!  How beautiful!  How sweet!  How pink!  It's full of strawberry flavor - the good kind of strawberry flavor.  The ice cream is made out of coconut, but it tastes nothing like coconut.  Seestor made the observation that it actually tastes like tutti-frutti.  It's got really good bits of chewy fruit, kind of like fruit leather or fruit roll-ups.  And under all the ice cream, you'll find a blend of coconut and nuts in a sweet syrup.

If you're lucky enough to be eating this dessert, you'd best be sharing it with somebody.  Seestor and I worked on it for ten minutes.  At the end of those ten minutes, it looked like this.  We kept eating.  We got full.  We tried to eat more.  Finally, we could force no further morsels into our bloated bellies.  And the thing STILL was full to the brim.  Dude.

Ahh.  Ecopolitan.  You can eat anything here.  It's all delicious.  Come when the sun is getting low in the sky and you might even get free rainbows.

15 April 2012

Minneapolis: Gorkha Palace

I had these coupons.  $5 off.  Plus, Tibetan food?  I'm so there.

Gorkha Palace
23 4th St NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
(612) 668-3451

Gorkha's got Tibetan, Nepali, AND Indian food, actually.  A perfect trifecta of Asian noms.  My spell check recognizes only four of the six words in the previous sentence, and I bet you can guess which ones they are.

Becca, John, Matt and I had never been here before - what an adventure!  So we ordered half the menu.  I have a blog to run, after all.

I started with a chai for two bucks.  I couldn't get the Chai Masala on the menu because it comes with cow's milk and they haven't got the non-dairy variety.  But the server, sensing my plight, kindly offered me the regular water-and-tea-bag version of olden times.  You know, before tea lattes.  It was lovely.  Tasted like my everyday Tazo chai.

We received a complementary basket of papadum (Indian chips), which were good and flavorful, especially when dipped in the vegan tamarind chutney.  That stuff was addictive - kind of spicy, kind of ketchupy.

Actually, the chutney came with our Sweet Potato Pakora, which were $5 fries.  Yum!  They weren't too mushy or too crispy, but they had a nice warm temperature and also tasted great with the tamarind stuff.  A yogurt mint chutney came with the Pakora as well - ew, is that dairy?  Vegans don't care.

As we awaited our entrees, we discussed our upcoming trip to Korea with starry-eyed enthusiasm.  Shall we go to Japan, too, since we're in the area?  Might as well!  China or Russia?  Who knows!

All the food came at once.  We stared at it while Matt took careful pictures.

Here we go!  Please keep your hands and arms inside the dinner table at all times.  In the event of an emergency, too bad.  You're eating.

First of all, our Garlic Roti at $3 was yummy.  Warm, bready, whole-wheaty, and suffused with cilantro and garlic.  A good thing to shove in your mouth when things get too spicy.
I ordered Aaloo Katahar for $10.  They ask you upon ordering a curry how spicy you'd like it - I unerringly say medium, no matter which restaurant I'm at.  Here, medium is pretty spicy!  Ha.  We'll get to Becca's in a minute.  But the Katahar had jackfruit and potatoes with a good, well-spiced, tomato-based sauce.  The Indian flavors were all there.  And jackfruit?  Seemed kind of like artichoke hearts to me.  It was soft, and because of the curry, I couldn't really taste the fruit itself.  I hear it's supposed to be kind of like a tart banana.

My overall impression of their Aaloo Katahar?  Kinda mediocre.  I enjoyed it, but it's not as good as Best of India.

Next, Becca's meal!  LOL.  You guys.  She ordered the Vegetable Thenthuk - a Tibetan noodle soup for eleven bucks - at the medium spice level.  And it blew our brains out.  It was the spiciest "medium" (those are air-quotes, in case you couldn't tell) we'd ever tasted.  So spicy that the more subtle flavors we're sure were in there somewhere went unnoticed by us.  That being said, it was delicious.  Becca slurped most of it up, and I was happy to help with a few noodles.  Those things were good: they seemed home-made and perfectly dense.  If you've ever had really good, thick udon or soba noodles, you know what I'm talking about.

Lastly, our intrepid Captain Adventure stuck with the place's specialty: Momos.  He ordered the 10-piece veggie variety for $10.  And out of our entire melange, those were my faves.  They weren't as spicy as our curries, but that doesn't mean they don't have flavor.  Those little Tibetan dumplings were bursting at the seams with taste!  The onion is surprisingly good, and the cabbage as well - it tasted kind of like some of the cabbage I've had at Fasika.  So, plus.  The orange sauce added even more loveliness.  As if they needed it.  They put the mm back in momos.

The rest of the menu, you'll be pleased to note, is very vegan-friendly.  Each little (v) denotes a vegan option, and almost half the menu is dotted with that happy little letter.

After eating, we went back to our place and watched Star Wars: Episode I with RiffTrax.

Don't do it.

14 April 2012

Vienna: die Bio-Bar von Antun

As if this city could get any better.  By our last full day here, we had gotten to that point where we were like, "Let's turn a corner.  Oh, look.  ANOTHER beautiful set of old buildings and perfectly preserved white marble statues.  What a joyous surprise."  This time, we turned just such a corner and, thanks again to Urban Housewife, discovered all the aforementioned qualities AND an all-vegetarian restaurant with amazing fare and a sweet old Slovakian guy to serve it to us.

die Bio-Bar von Antun
Ledererhof 2
1010 Vienna, Austria
+43 1 9689351

Matt and I snuggled into a little table for two in a window alcove and delighted in all the vegan things on the menu.  From what we could grok from our server, about 75 - 85% of all their food is vegan.  So we followed the next logical step: ordering fun smoothies.

My Bio-Bar Vit Drink was €3,90 ($5.10) and delightfully yellow.  That would be the OJ and lemon juice, both freshly squeezed.  They were complemented by carrot and elderflower syrup - COOL, right?  I couldn't taste even a hint of carrot over the lip-smacking tartness, but I felt roughly 18 times healthier once I'd finished.  Delicious.

Matt's Antonio Cocktail at €4,50 ($5.89) had a subtler flavor, and by subtler, I mean less like getting hit by a citrus truck.  It contained more fresh-squeezed OJ, grenadine, lime syrup, and sallow thorn, which is a from a European shrub that makes yellow berries.  This drink is appealing if you like a more widely acceptable depiction of orange flavor.

In perusing the fabulous menu, a wonderful specialty kept popping up: this place has a million different kinds of bruschetta.  Unwilling to fight the inevitable, I ordered the Bio-Bar Bruschetta for €8,40 ($10.99), which comes with tomato, smoked tofu, garlic, spices, and vegan cheese.  Mmm.

The taste turned my expectations of bruschetta upside-down.  In a good way.  Think of a sandwich where liquid smoke meets hearty Italian.  The tofu was brilliant and the bread was toothsome.  It came with a plain little salad.  I love lettuce.

One of Matt's favorite foods in the whole entire universe is gnocchi.  If he had to choose between me and gnocchi, I'd be a little worried.  Fortunately, he got some at Bio-Bar.  And you guys.  It was THE best gnocchi of all time.  For €9,90 ($12.95) it came with pesto, artichokes and olives.  The gnocchis were dense, soft, warm, and whole-wheaty.  The pesto and artichokes were perfect.  And I don't know what it is about European olive oil, but I swear.  It blew our minds.

We ordered dessert (it was never in question) and it didn't come for about half an hour.  You know what?  That was just fine with us.  We were in Vienna.  We soaked it up.  We looked out the window.  We discussed the possibility of creating a holodeck novel in Star Trek Online.  And our sweet server chatted with us.  (Not about Star Trek Online.  He was like 65.)

At last it came!  Totes European dessert.  I had crepes with apricot jam for €5,90 ($7.72).  Vegan crepes! The jam was fantastically tart and sweet, and the crepes tasted just as crepes ought to.  I know, because I used to room with a girl from a French family in New Orleans.  Whenever crepes come up, I can hear Nickie's voice in my head using the correct pronounciation.  Ce n'est pas "crapes."  It's creps.

My plate was huge.  I only got through two of the three.

Matt's beauty there is called the Kaiser Schmarren, which is shredded pancake with stewed fruit - in this case, cranberries and cinnamon.  That was even better than my dessert.  The bits of pancake were nice and warm, soft inside, and crispy outside.  And I'm a total sucker for anything cinnamon.  If it were a perfume, I'd wear it.  That dessert made my life.  €7,50 ($9.81).  Worth it.

Well, dear readers, that was our final European meal.  Next time you hear from me it'll be about a local joint.  Maybe Ecopolitan.  I kinna got used to the super-vegan restaurant thing.  Also, how have I not blogged Ecopolitan yet?  Cray-cray!  And, of course, I'll be drooling in anticipation of our next adventure.  Korea.  June.  EPIC.

Vienna: Formosa

You know what's a really fun idea that's also kind of ironic?  Going to an all-vegan restaurant, stuffing your face, then watching The Hunger Games.  LOL.  Oh, angsty distopic teens!  You so silly.

Barnabitengasse 6
1060, Vienna, Austria
+43 1 5811112

Formosa, recommended by Urban Housewife, is on one of those quintessentially European adorable, narrow, cobblestone alleyways with tall old buildings and no cars.  The inside of the small space is crammed floor-to-ceiling with vegan food and menus.  It is a restaurant or grocery store?  You decide.

With each entree, you're granted a soup or salad.  The salad's got lots of different lettuces, and the yummy vinaigrette allows the subtle flavor of each to blossom.  The soup is hot and brothy, full of herbs and perfectly boiled potatoes.  It's simple.  But you'll love it.

Hilariously, when Matt ordered the Schnitzel and I the Cordon Bleu, we thought we were gonna get two different-looking plates.  But no!  Why would we think that?  We're Americans, what do we know?

Upon tasting each, the genius in taste became clear and a method of distinguishing them emerged.  The Cordon Bleu at €8,00 ($10.47) came with a surprisingly good potato salad, for starters.  It was like a dip, almost - the cold, lemony, garlicky stuff tasted great by itself or on a bite of the "meat" (tee hee!).

And, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you that this Cordon Bleu - which I'd never even had non-vegan - was heart-stoppingly good.  In a delicious way, not a clog-your-arteries way.  First of all, as you can see, it was breaded and fried.  Score!  Then you bite into it.  And you realize there are two types of fake meat in there.  AND MELTED VEGAN CHEESE.  You guys.  It was chewy and creamy, so dense I had to cut it with a knife, but not overly stringy like Gardein.  It was so good, I overate.  A SERIOUS indulgence for your intrepid author.  Fake meat + fake cheese = real delicious.  Aw yeah.

Matt's Schnitzel, at €8,00 ($10.47), had a different flavor that I can only describe as vaguely more... hammy.

Hey.  You expect me to know terms that describe the taste of meat?  In any case, it was fantastic.  The fries were also well-done; a nice combo of potato flavor and crispiness.

I stocked up on vegan candy bars, and of course since they had this beautiful pastry below I couldn't refuse.  I ate it later on and savored every mouthful.  It's flaky, bready, buttery, and filled with some magically wonderful creamy cream.  I had forgotten this taste, too.  You MUST try one.

Formosa made us ecstatic.  ... Then we saw The Hunger Games.

And we were still kind of ecstatic.

Vienna: Vollkornbäckerei Waldherr

You know the Naschmarkt?  Well, Matt and I were strollin' through, happy as could be, when this sign jumped out at me and pinned me where I stood.


Leik wo.

Vollkornbäckerei Waldherr
Vienna, Austria

You can see from Matt's careful photography that it came down to a choice between this bakery's two vegan items: a roll of bread, or a COOKIE SHAPED LIKE A BUNNY.

Who do you think I am?

I nabbed that cookie for €1,90 ($2.50).  A few hours later, we snagged a table at fancy-fancy Cafe Sacher - hellooo, Innere Stadt - and Matt had a... well, a couple fabulous and famous non-vegan items.  (Kay, the chocolate cappuccino smelled super good, though.)  I ordered... tea.  Big whoop.

I surreptitiously broke bits of my cookie off under the table, dipped 'em in my Assam Meleng, and nibbled away.  Now, the chocolate part sucked.  Too bitter.  But the rest of the cookie rocked.  Its creamy, fruity nougat stole the show.

Hope the fancy-fancy server didn't notice how many cookie crumbs I left in the bottom of my fancy-fancy teacup.

13 April 2012

Vienna: Phò Sài Gòn

... What?  You think I'm gonna go to Vienna and scarf down weinerschnitzel first thing?  Um, no.  Vietnamese, bitte.

Phò Sài Gòn
Naschmarkt 191
1040 Vienna, Austria
+43 1 5850224

Shelley and her equally fantastic hubby AJ lived in Vienna for a semester a few years back, so they were bursting with great travel advice.  Go to the Naschmarkt, they said.  Actually, Shelley wrote it on my map.  In capital letters.  So we went.

It's FULL of locally-owned restaurants, shops, and groceries, all laid out in a car-free, totally walkable area.  Unlike in the states, the locals who work here don't try to shove their services or products down your throat; they respect your right to choose on your own damn time.  So we chose Phò Sài Gòn.

Show me someone who can resist a perfect spring roll and I'll eat my hat.  (My straw fedora, I think.  Hay.) These contained rice noodles, grilled tofu, lettuce, sprouts, and basil. The sweet-and-sour-like sauce had a lovely dash of peanuts.  Put it all together in one bite?  YUM.

After making short work of those, we split the #98, Spicy Tofu with Vegetables.  The veggies were the best part - freshly crispy and doused in tasty sauce.  The tofu was pretty good.  Not the best, but slather anything in that sauce and I'm happy.  It had lots of flavor and a gentle, building heat; the spiciness didn't kick in till a few bites had gone by.

Hooray for vegan dessert!  Our server handed us each a bowl of soupy, sweetened, delicious coconut milk.  The sesame seeds added a nice nutty taste, and you know bubbles?  Like in bubble tea?  It had those, too!  FUN.  The stuff is prolly super fatty.  Good thing I don't care.

Our total was €15,60 ($20.41) - the itemized receipt I usually grab all the prices from seems to have evaporated.  I can tell you right now there are at least five other vegan options on the menu, including a glutenous rice paste dessert!

Bet it tastes better than it sounds.