30 June 2012

Seoul: Kwang Jang Market

This market is enormous; about a fifth of a mile long and a block wide.  It's covered the whole way, despite its impression of being open-air, and many shops have AC blasting, thank goodness.  The sheer density of shops, food stands, and people in here is incredible.  Good thing I'm vegan - if I were any fatter I would've gotten stuck in a crevice somewhere.

Kwang Jang Market
6-1 Yeji-dong
Jongno-gu, Seoul
South Korea
(31-82) 2-2267-0291

I chose to eat at this particular stand because the woman in charge seemed friendly, but you could grab vegan fare almost anywhere - although I'd avoid the places with cooked pig snouts if I were you.  In fact, if you're anything like me, you'll need five minutes outside in the fresh air to recover from the mere sight of a dozen pig noses attached to surrounding facial skin piled on top of each other, so... good luck.  Or something.

For W5,000 ($4.38), I got a small dish of kimchi and of greens, a cup of iced tea (storebought, from a bottle, and mercifully unsweetened), and a bowl of cold noodle and soy "bean" soup.  Obviously, the kimchi was great.*  (Is it ever not?)  The greens were good and pungent, cold, and slightly spicy.  The soup...

Imagine a bowl of simple cereal.  You'd pour cold soymilk over it and scarf.  Yes?  Well, now imagine that instead of cereal in your bowl of (unsweetened) soymilk, you have noodles.  And a little cucumber, sesame seeds, salt, and ice cubes.

Because I was sitting at the place counter style, facing the woman in charge, I had to fight to keep my face from imploding.  I started dumping my greens on the soup.  The woman looked disgusted and told me "No, no, no, no."  So I took the greens back out.  She didn't object when I added kimchi, though.  If it weren't for the kimchi I would have blown chunks.  I actually enjoyed the soup after that point - flavorful, noodley, and refreshingly cold.  Kimchi works wonders.

I couldn't finish.  Not even close.  But I did fill my belly with something that wasn't once on the face of a pig.

* Kimchi is made from cabbage (or other vegetable) pickled in super spicy chili sauce.  It's super common.  Just like ketchup, but better in every way.  So, not really at all like ketchup.  It's on a higher level of enlightenment, like Dijon mustard and Alicia Silverstone.

29 June 2012

Yongin: Jamba Juice

I've always wanted to post about Jamba.  Why not do it in Korea?  True, the menu's a little different.  And instead of calling your name when it's time to collect your smoothie, they page you on a buzzer, which you're given at the time of your order.  But you can go there by yourself, leave your purse on a table you can't see, and not waste an ounce of worry on it while you go to the counter.  This country wins.

Jamba Juice
Bora-dong 623-1
Giheung-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do
South Korea
(82-31) 80091234

Vegans at Jamba have it made.  Just order off the All Fruit section of the menu.  Duh.  In the States, try the Fruit and Veggie Smoothies; I love all three.  They don't even really taste like vegetables - the fruit flavor carries much more strongly in each.

Today I nabbed a Five Fruit Frenzy, W6,500 ($5.67) at the original size.  Your five fruits are strawberry, blueberry, banana, peach, and mango.  Anything that mixes mango with berries is my favorite.  The smoothie is creamy, tart, and bursting with flavor.  It's sometimes trial and error with Jamba - their smoothies can be too tart - but that's not the case with the Five Fruit.  The low-key sweetness of the bananas grounds the taste.

Ahh.  Now that I've had my morning Jamba, I will punch the sky.  If you see a rainbow blur ricocheting around Gangnam today, that's me.  Or Wonder Woman.  Either way, say hi.*

* She must be vegan.  I mean, she has superpowers.

Yongin: Gecko's

Before coming here, I'd only heard glowing reviews of Gecko's veggie burgers eight, maybe nine times.  Shelley's good at making you anticipate stuff. Plus, the restaurant is at the top of that high-rise.  There's a whole garden up there when you sit outside.  Can this country get any better?

While you were pondering that question, it already did get better.  It's freakin' Korea.

1266-2 Bojeong-dong
Giheung-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do
South Korea
(82-31) 262-9974

Time to reach to your inner Engrish-loving teenager and giggle at this menu with me.  You're looking at the famed veggie burger - the Wellbeing Burger for W11,500 ($9.93).  Read the description.

I love me some burgers without the neat.

Gecko's menu is very Westernized for Korea.  Don't expect many other menus around here to have this much English.  Lucky for you, Gecko's has a few locations in the Seoul area.  If you're just off the plane, this'd be a great place for you.

Because tap water can be sketchy for anyone with lady bits, I grabbed a peach iced tea.  It was sweet and really good.  I mean, really good.  There was nothing artificial in the flavor - these guys know how to do tea.

[EDIT - Thanks to a friendly comment, now we know the iced tea is a Lipton packet mixed with water.  As my lady bits seem fine, I assume the water is safe and/or filtered.]

The burger came with a salad - mixed greens.  However.  There were super bitter leaves mixed in with romaine.  I nearly choked, so Shelley grabbed the olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.  She whisked it with her fork for about two minutes like we were in her kitchen, telling me, "You have to emulsify it."  Who DOES that?*

When it comes to food, Shelley is always right.  Duh.  Emulsified dressing and a little salt later, the salad was much improved.  I even enjoyed the diversity of lettuce.

The burger, though.  Man.  That thing is every bit as mind-blowing as Shelley described.  The 2 patties have both been fried and crammed with yummy flavor.  Add mustard and ketchup and you've got yourself an enormously satisfying meal.  We split the burger in half and both got full to bursting.  My fingers wound up dripping with condiments.

The meal may not have been Korean, but I have plenty of time left for that while I'm here.  It was worth it to see everyone's faces when they had bread with crust for the first time in months.

* Moreover, who does that after they've had a strong drink at the end of a long work day?

28 June 2012

Yongin: Kimbab Jonkuk

Bibimbap is one of the most delicious foods in the world.  No, really.  CNN says so.  It's a common Korean meal that comes with rice, veggies, and gochujang (spicy chili paste), and the flavors are incredible once mixed together.

Kimbab Jonkuk (I think)
Giheung-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do
South Korea
(82-31) 261-7891

You can find the stuff virtually anywhere in South Korea, so don't feel like you have to zero in on this exact location.  I saw lots at Gwangjong Market today.  This one just happens to be 5 seconds from AJ and Shelley's apartment.  Um, yes.  Seoul metro area gets major bonus points for having ridiculously delicious healthy food within arm's reach at all times.*

This place serves take-out bibimbap in a tofu-like plastic container with shrink-wrapped plastic across the top.  They'll throw a fried egg on, but just offer it to the resident ovotarian/AJ and the rest will be yours to pack in.

You're seeing my bibimbap after I already mixed it up.  You see, I had just arrived at Shelley and AJ's apartment after that long plane ride and a 2 hour journey from the airport.  I was starving.  But only in the way that people from affluent nations can starve, not in the way that people in concentration camps starve.  In case you weren't sure.  I mean, I get low blood sugar sometimes, but I don't think I'd have died without this meal.

... Maybe I would have.

The bibimbap here is only W4,000 ($3.46).  Chump change!  This meal filled me up, and I only ate a third of it!  Hello, leftovers.  Here you see rice, seaweed, greens, sprouts, mushrooms, and gochujang.  I would agree with CNN about their assessment, but insead of 40th best food in the world, I'd bump it up.  Definitely better than potato chips and shrimp dumplings.  Seriously, who even LIKES fried chicken anymore?

Best of all, I ate it during a glowing reunion with two of my favorite people in the world.  They're definitely in my top 40, along with Matt, Napoleon, that girl who works at the flower shop, bus drivers, and Q.

I wouldn't visit any of THEM if they lived in Korea, though.  Well, Matt.  But it wouldn't be visiting, it would be living with.  I'm a married woman, people.  Stop it.

* I will make you a bet.  I bet you that if you go anywhere in Korea and stick out your arm, you will automatically grasp delicious food and stuff it in your face.  W1,000.  Do it.

27 June 2012

United Airlines

Time to pick apart United bit by bit, exposing all its secrets for vegans to see.  I've wanted to do this ever since they made Matt and I late for our flight home from New Zealand and then yelled at us for being late.  OH UNITED.  I hate you.  I hate you bad.  You win this time, with your cheap flights and your transporting me safely overseas.  But don't think I didn't notice that when I changed my seat for this flight on the phone (a process which took over an hour), you failed to actually change my seat.  54A is the worst.  D-bags.

First world problems, man.

United Airlines

The good news is that as I write this, having finished the first in-flight meal and chapter 2 of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (read it), I have no motion sickness.  I'm the lightning rod for motion sickness.  Just ask Becca.  (The story involves gallons of vomit.)  I overcame the nausea I felt throughout the first 2 legs of the trip by taking a Target-brand Dramamine knock-off whilst on this flight.  Why must I convey this information to you?  Because I recently discovered that Dramamine has lactose in it.  Lactose as in milk.  So I grabbed Target's pills for half the price - score!  Now I'm basking in my health.  'Course, the thing conked me out.  But after that nap, I'm ready for anything.  Anything including, but not limited to, sitcoms with laugh tracks, the color red, and United plane food.  Bring it.

Here are all the things in my lunch that have milk in them:
  • Ranch dressing
  • Butter
  • Cookies
I improvised salad dressing.  Ya can't just eat iceberg, carrot, and red cabbage and expect it to go down easy.  I squirted the lemon wedge over everything (for some reason this made my hand sticky), then dumped on the salt and pepper.  It actually didn't suck.  The salad was fresh and crispy enough that it worked.

Next I picked up the bread packet from the upper right hand corner, turned it over the check the ingredients, and found nothing but the following message:
CHICAGO, IL    60651
 Is that precious?  NO.  It's in violation of FDA regulations.  Well, maybe it's just a little precious.

The bread wasn't too dry.  Kind of a rye taste.  I don't know.  Better ask Chicago.

The entree impressed me!  It had delicious big couscous with its own fun flavor and an Indian curry I can only assume was chana masala.  The baby-food consistency of the top layer in the picture above is misleading - that's just the sauce covering chickpeas, spinach, carrot, zucchini, and squash.  Mixed all together, it's like... authentic!  Well, as authentic as a white girl from Minnesota can discern.  The orange segment in there threw me off, but it tasted like curry.  I'm willing to overlook its presence.  Good job, United.  I'm not sure if that was vegan, but it sure was tasty and it didn't make me ill, so I'll take it.

Three in-flight movies later, breakfast!  It came with the same bread and butter as lunch.  The applesauce had no added sugar, and - yum.  You know what Mott's tastes like.  You do not, however, know what that amazing-looking cube of tomato-sauced vegetable matter tastes like.  Are you drooling?  Too bad.  I'm 99% sure it's full of cheese.  The tomato sauce was great in the super bland potato mush thing.  With salt.  Salt's important.

Bottom line: when booking your flight with United, the most you can do is request the vegetarian meal.  There's no vegan option.  I suppose you could call the airline and make a special request, but based on how they dealt with my seat assignment, I doubt it would work.  The only items I'm absolutely positive are vegan were the salad from lunch and the applesauce for breakfast.

I'm glad I brought a grillion Cliff and Luna Bars.  I suggest you do the same, and maybe even pack a PB&J or something.  You'll survive.  I believe in you.*

* Unless you are Rubschlager Baking Corp.

23 June 2012

off to Korea

Oh, muffins!  I'm going to Korea in a mere couple of hours!  I'll be visiting my favorite people in all of Asia, Chairman Mao and Ho Chi Minh.

NAH.  They're not my favorite people in Asia.  Shelley and AJ are my favorite.  Sorry, commies.  I'll visit you if I got time, but I'm sure I'll be pretty busy.

Il Gatto Giallo Cucina
Thanks to Shelley's 4 months of experience living in Seoul, we know going vegan is tough.  Like, really tough.  Ordering food without any animal products is almost impossible because of the language barrier and because Koreans think you're super weird for ordering something without fish.  Fish broth, fish sauce, fish whatever - it's in everything.

[EDIT - Shelley says the fish is easier to avoid than I'd suspected.  Booyah.]

I'm a little terrified.  At least my vegan fail at Amazing Thailand prepared me a bit.  That didn't taste like fish.  So... hopefully the rest of what I eat in Korea also won't taste like fish?  Moreover, I need to perfect my eating-around-the-meat skills, because apparently when you say "no pork," sometimes there's still a pile of beef in the middle of your noodles.

It's okay.  I'm bringing a grillion Luna and Cliff Bars and 2 gallons of homemade granola.*  And I'll tell you guys about every restaurant I visit.  I'm definitely excited about all the kimchi.

See you in Seoul, muffins!

* Shelley and I will systematically devour every oat, seed, and particle of coconut therein.  It will be scary.  We'll be on ESPN2's Granola Wars.

19 June 2012

Minneapolis: Longfellow Grill

Longfellow Grill is part of the Blue Plate Restaurant Company.  If you've ever been to the Highland Grill, Edina Grill, Groveland Tap, 3 Squares, Scusi, or The Lowry, you know the business.  Like at Longfellow, I've had marginal success eating vegan at the Edina and Highland Grills.  I steer clear of The Lowry, though.  The front of the building tells you why; all it says is "BURGERS WHISKEY OYSTERS EGGS".


Longfellow Grill
2990 West River Parkway
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 721-2711

We came to Longfellow to see a near and dear family friend perform.  He's in a band.  It's called The Jupes.  We got a table 5 feet from the outdoor stage and spent the whole meal telling people we knew the talent.  It was a good situation.

Talia required sweet potato fries - 8 bucks.  She shouldn't have asked if they were vegan.  But - sigh - thanks to her kindness and stuff or whatever, we found out that they ARE vegan, which is why I ate approximately half of them.  Sorry, Talia.*  The aioli that comes with them isn't vegan, but the fries themselves are safe.  They aren't breaded, which makes the flavor a little dimmer, but they're still good.  The skin is just tough enough to break easily on contact with your teeth, and the insides are nice and creamy.  I dumped on the salt.  Everything's better with salt.

Seestor and I found out there's an allergen menu here.  Those things are so handy!  It had a couple items that aren't on the regular menu, such as a Veggie Burrito - $12.  I ordered it without cheese, sour cream, and eggs.  I'm not sure if it's supposed to come with eggs because our server was super busy and I didn't want to bother her any more than we already were, but the burrito was on the breakfast menu so I thought I'd just make sure.  And stuff.

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much.  I was pleasantly surprised!  It came with red and green salsa on top, and black beans, potatoes, and corn inside.  I tasted a hint of heat and loads of great flavor with lots of well-placed garlic.  It was very satisfying in that way that super-carby meals can be.  I'd order that sucker again.  It was so big, I had half of it for lunch the next day.

Matt and I went home and delved into a pie I made.  It was chocolate mousse pie.  Nobody played awesome music for us while we ate it, though!  What's up with that?

Sigh.  First world problems.

* I'm not sorry.

FAIL! Minneapolis: Amazing Thailand

Before you read any further, know that it is very easy and satisfying to eat vegan at Amazing Thailand.  You just have to grill your server before ordering.

Also, I like you, so I'll be honest.  If someone who's been vegan for 7 years received a dinner containing fish oil, there's something wrong with the system.

Amazing Thailand
3024 Hennepin Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55408
(612) 822-5588

Your very first step shall henceforth be to request - nay.  DEMAND a vegan menu.  You deserve to know.  You are also probably wondering why ice cream is on the vegan menu.  Our server was, too.

I'll get to the exciting fail at the end.  Rest assured, each item I show you beforehand will be 100% vegan.  Sit your little but down and read.

I sipped a Coconut Juice for $4. It was a lot of juice - and I really enjoyed the flavor. It's not for everyone; you really have to like the taste of unsweetened coconut. It was refreshingly cold, rich, and almost savory. When things got spicy later in the meal it was soothing on my mouth, much the same way a fire hydrant is soothing to a building that's been torched.

Becca, Matt, and I shared Fried Tofu for $4.49. Any time we see sweet and sour sauce on the menu, resistance is futile. The tofu was warm, crispy on the outside, and creamy on the inside. As Captain Adventure noted, it's tofu for people who like tofu. Not for those who don't. The sauce was tangy - more sour than sweet, in a good way. It took the tofu from the brink of bland into a taste party.

The spice scale is pretty self-explanatory: it's a 1-5er.*  It's perfect for us Midwesterners who grew up on mac & cheese and mashed potatoes, then decided to broaden our horizons with Indian food as rebellious teens.  If you're anything like me, you've come to enjoy spicy food after building up a tolerance over the last 15 years while deciding whether or not to just commit to buying a bottle of Sriracha, already.  The 3 on Amazing Thailand's scale is perfect for me - it's got enough heat to make my mouth burn, but not enough to overshadow the taste of the dish.

Becca, who is basically me but a dog person, ordered the Amazing Curry for 12 bucks at a spice level of 3.  See all that golden brown sauce in the middle?  That's made out of peanuts, son.  Peanuts and magic.  On most menu items, you can choose between 3 vegan options to go along with the dish: vegetables, mock duck, or tofu.  Becca snagged the mock duck on this one.  Yum. The broccoli was fresh, the mock duck delectable, and the peanut sauce AMAZING.  The peanuts were intact and crunchy.  I think it might have been the best spicy peanut sauce I've ever had.

For dessert, I was feeling daring, so I ignored the server's warning about how sometimes Durian with Sticky Rice ($7) can have a somewhat offensive smell to first-timers.  I was like, "What IS durian?" and the server was all, "It's kind of hard to explain.  It's a fruit."  I should have known.

You know how my coconut juice was weird-tasting but good?  This was weird-tasting.  As in, it tasted like warm unsweetened coconut with a sauteed leek finish.  Um.  The rice was good or something.

However, gentle readers, we now must discuss my dinner. My dinner that had fish oil in it. Allow me to introduce the Pineapple Stir Fry at $12.

So, okay. I didn't know there was a vegan menu. I ordered off the regular one. There was no symbol or little v to indicate which dishes were vegan, so I just ASSUMED that if I ordered a dish with no animal products in the description and chose tofu instead of meat that it would magically come to me in pure vegan form. I mean, what's the point of getting tofu if there's fish oil in the dish?!

Becca and I ate a good portion of the stir fry. It tasted good. But at the end of the meal, when I asked which desserts were vegan, the server brought out the vegan menu. I didn't see the Pineapple Stir Fry on it, so I asked her if something un-vegan was in there. Then the truth came out: there's effing FISH OIL in the stir fry.

Oh, well. There's nothing to be done now. I might as well get over it. The restaurant DID play Kiss from a Rose. Nothing like a throwback to the nineties to distract you from the fish oil sitting in your stomach

Oh, Seal. You understand my pain.

* You gotta say that with yer best Minnesotan accent, dear.

14 June 2012

ask alli: where do you get your protein?

As I said yesterday, this question is like asking us, "Where did you get that sweater for your dog?"  Vegetarianism is something that unexposed omnivores seem to be morbidly fascinated by, so much so that in order to avoid gawking or appearing rude, they ask the question: "Where do you get your protein?"  This way they seem genuinely concerned and interested in our lifestyle.

The thing is, I've been vegetarian for most of my life.*  I've been asked about protein as many times as Hermione Granger has picked up a book.  So the last time the question was posed, I was halfway through my response before I even realized I was giving it.  It's pretty much rote by now.

Here it is: "Oh, I eat a lot of beans and nuts.  And do you know quinoa?  It's a complete protein."

One Green Planet
MIND-BLOWING, right?  Where's my Emmy?

Then the person always says, "What about tofu?"

"I don't really eat it that often," I say, "But yes, it has protein.  There are lots of other fake meats, too, and they're all good sources of protein."

Usually then the person wants to know what the other fake meats are made out of and somehow the conversation always ends with him or her talking about how either 1) they don't eat red meat very often anymore, or 2) they tried to be vegetarian once but it just didn't work out because they didn't feel like they were getting enough protein.

If I feel like the person can take it, I tell them we don't need that much protein.  You should check that link out.  It's from the CDC.  Totes legit.  But because it flies against the face of everything America holds dear, I don't dish that fact out lightly.  People tend not to believe it.  Would I lie to you?  I'll give it to you straight: adult women need around 46 grams of protein per day, and men require 56.  If you consume 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup soymilk, 1 cup beans, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 slices whole wheat bread, and 6 ounces soy yogurt in a day, you're there, ladies.  The average diet around here contains twice that much.  Big discrepancy.

My homie Shelley makes a good point about protein; vegans get protein in its purest form from plants.  The protein that comes from meat is secondhand; it's harder for our bodies to make use of and it comes with health risks.  Plus, it's from a dead animal.  Poor Bessie.

To be honest, I don't even think about protein.

That's not quite accurate.  I think about protein, but only when somebody asks me where I get it.  If you could see my muscles (especially my thunder thighs), you'd know I get plenty.  I don't even try.  I don't even TRY.  God, my life is awesome.

* True story.  I'd like a free tee-shirt for that accomplishment, or at least a fridge magnet.

13 June 2012

Minneapolis: Evergreen

Jeez, I haven't blogged in like a WEEK.  And a half.  The only question I've been asked lately is "How do you get your protein?"  I'm wondering if I really want to make that post.  For you omnivores out there, to us this question is akin to asking, "Where did you get that interesting pillow to put on your couch?"

Now that I'm writing about it, I find myself inspired.  I think I will make that post tomorrow.  For now, enjoy our amazing Chinese meal and allow yourself to be heavily reminded of that time I posted about that one other Chinese place.  It was far away.  This one isn't.  Score!

2424 Nicollet Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55404
(612) 871-6801

The place advertises itself as providing authentic Taiwanese cuisine.  It's unarguably in the basement of a tiny Asian immigrant-run shopping center.  You won't get cell phone reception and you'll wonder how they got KDWB without commercials to play on the intercom, but it's a nice basement.*

Each table is equipped with those ubiquitous Chinese zodiac paper place mats.  Matt's a rat and I'm a boar.  Super attractive animals.  I'm sure you're something awesome, like a cat or dragon or something.  Good for you.  Good job getting born in a non-lame year.

To lessen the sting, you also get a pot of tea for free.  I like to add sugar to it - as far as I can tell, it's a black tea.  Tastes bitter and/or bland to me.  Since there's a big ol' sugar shaker at the table, I sweeten mine.  Considerably.

The Evergreen menu is extensive, but not overwhelming.  It's got so many vegetarian options that instead of using a v or similar symbol to flag each one, there's a circled little m next to each item that CAN'T be made vegetarian.  Isn't that great?  Of the vegetarian choices, you'll want to look for the ones that actually say vegan next to them in little bold print.  Keep in mind that there are more vegan choices than just those, however; most of the meat dishes can be made vegan with mock meat.  If you're not sure, just ask the server.

Captain Adventure and I started with Vegetarian Rolls for $3.20.  They smelled great and were definitely fried.  Hallelujah.  The veggies inside might have been steamed beforehand, and they didn't have very much flavor - but that's what the sweet and sour sauce was for!  It came in a red squeezy ketchup-looking bottle.  The rolls plus the sauce tasted better than I remember egg rolls ever tasting.  The fried taste didn't feel greasy or unhealthy - just crispy and delicious.  The server also brought us a yellow bottle along with the sweet and sour sauce - the it's full of wasabi mustard.  Some may call it horseradish mustard.  I call it death in a yellow squeezy bottle.  Proceed with caution.

I snagged a plate of Sweet and Sour Mock Chicken for $10.75.  I'd like to take this moment to thank Becca for always ordering this dish over the past several years - only now have I finally caught on that this is possibly the best thing on the menu.  Well, this and the Eggplant with Garlic.  And Three Cup Tofu.  Whenever Becca comes here with me, she orders it and I pick off her plate until she starts throwing rice at me.  (Just kidding.  She throws clever puns at me.  SO MUCH WORSE.)

The first time I ever came here, my companions and I were so convinced our mock meat was real meat that we asked the server if he'd heard us correctly while ordering.  Of course, he assured us it was fake, and we have since realized it's just really amazingly prepared mock meat.  It's still amazing: dense and chewy.  This particular dish comes with really wonderful juicy pineapple, crispy bell pepper, and cute carrots cut up like flowers.  The sauce, of course, is also awesome.  You know.  Sweet and sour.  Can't really go wrong with that.

Matt's Three Cup Tofu at $10.75 was fan-freakin'-tastic.  You gotta take a bite and wait about 30 seconds for all the flavors to unfold in your mouth while you chew.  It's spicy, garlicky, salty, dense, and SO GOOD.  The tofu is jam-packed with taste all the way through to the center, but succulently crispy and chewy on the outside.  It's like biting into... well, meat.  Evergreen knows tofu.

This restaurant has won several awards for its amazing treatment of everything it serves.  Now that you know that and have read my post, I'm sure you'll be wanting to visit Evergreen within 24 hours.  There's one more thing you need to know: it's closed on Tuesdays.  Don't despair.  If you forget and go anyway, you're on freakin' Eat Street.  Go to Bad Waitress.

* Writing about basements is approximately 10,000 times more enjoyable than writing the answers to online teaching application questions.  Next time I get asked how I'm going to reach diverse learners, I think I'll just put up a link to my chilluns post.

02 June 2012

Edina: Chipotle

Good ol' Chipotle.  Or, as people over forty like to call it, "Chipolte," or alternately, "Chipotl."*  We all know it, some of us love it, and the rest of us hate cilantro.  Yes.  If you don't know it already, you pretty much have to be okay with cilantro in order to eat this food.

Some interesting tidbits about Chipotle include:

  • The first Chipotles outside Colorado were opened in Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio in 1999.
  • In 2009, Steve Ells (Chipotle's CEO) testified in front of Congress to ban all those nasty antibiotics used on factory farm animals.  Nice try, Steve.
  • Chipotle is NOT owned by McDonald's.  I didn't know this until five seconds ago.  Mickey D's was an investor, but only until 2006.
  • Remember Food, Inc.?  Chipotle helped sponsor it, which sparked controversy about its questionable treatment of farm laborers.
  • In early 2011, Chipotle ran into a bit of trouble with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and fired an undisclosed number of undocumented immigrants.
Undocumented immigrants are people too!

Fun.  I just love trivia.

Everywhere, or:
6801 York Ave S
Edina, MN  55435
(952) 926-6651

So.  If you're vegan, there are two ways to do Chipotle (as far as I know, anyway).  Path one: you can order a Veggie Burrito with no meat, pinto beans, sour cream, or cheese.  Path two, and my personal favorite: snag a Veggie Bowl without the same, then eat it with Chipotle chips.  Love those things.

Side note: the Chipotle website has this great page with allergy info.  It'll tell you the possible allergens of any ingredient, so it makes spotting eggs and dairy super easy.  There's even a side note that tells you the pinto beans are cooked with bacon, and that we should avoid the chipotle-honey vinaigrette.  To be honest, I'm... not sure what that is.  I do know that it's really easy for cheese to fall into the guac, so if you're super sensitive about it, speak up!  The staff will be happy to accommodate you.

On with the meal!  Matt and I usually grab a Veggie Bowl each at $6.25.  Did you know that if you order a Veggie Bowl, the guac is included in that price?  Sweet.  That stuff is magic.  We also share a bag of chips for $1.25, then use them to shovel the bowls into our mouths.  No plastic forks necessary.

I hate to make it sound like I care more about the quality of my food than the victims of Chipotle's mass firing last year.  So let me make it clear that I care more about those people - I'm just gonna talk more about the food.

The chips aren't as good as they used to be.  The general taste is the same, but often they're not as crispy.  It's definitely hit and miss.  The chips we got today were half crispy, half chewy, all mixed up in the same bag.  Better than all chewy!  When they're good, they're GOOD.  The saltiness is what does me in.  I just love salt.  Is there lime in there, too?  I might be making that up.

The bowl I order consists of brown rice, black beans, pico de gallo (mild tomato salsa in Chipotle terms), guacamole, and lettuce.  I'm pretty sure all vegans have a compulsion to order brown rice whenever it's offered alongside white.  Prove me wrong.  Anyway, it tastes almost the same as the white, full of cilantro and lime flavor.  The beans are lovely, the pico is always fresh, the lettuce crisp, and the guac creamy and wonderful.  The guac is really the superstar of the whole ensemble.  Put all of it together with the saltiness of the chips and you are in Mexiheaven.

I can never finish a whole Chipotle.  That stuff is definitely inferior as leftovers.  Good thing I have a husband!

* Dear loved ones: Don't deny it.  It's endearing.

Ann Arbor: Chia Shiang

Seva looked like a good restaurant.  Lots of vegan choices.  Mac and cheese, banh mi, stir fry, salads...  But alas.  I'm not the only one with dietary restrictions. The place just didn't blow one of our skirts up.  Since I'm NOT the most important person in the world (shocking, I know), I swallowed my excitement and found a suitable back-up.

Well, Chia Shiang turned out to be more than suitable.  Let me tell you, I've never been so happy while listening to elevator music.

Chia Shiang
2016 Packard St
Ann Arbor, MI  48104
(734) 741-0778

The menu read like a novel.  Several of its 850,000 pages were devoted to vegan dishes.  The place didn't get this Certified Veg-Friendly Veg Michigan sticker on the door for nothing.  We had oodles of choices, so the decision-making process took a while.  Luckily we had the smooth jazz version of Let It Be to help us along.

I chose Sue Gi with Black Bean Sauce for $13.  Sue gi, we learned from the menu, is soy-based chicken.  It's hard to spot in the picture.  In fact, it was hard for me to spot when the plate arrived in front of me.  I said, "Where's the sue gi?  Is there sue gi in here?"  Since I have no volume control, our server overheard and responded politely, "Yes, that's the sue gi."  Next time I opened my mouth, I was shoveling food into it.

There's a circular bit in the bottom left corner of the picture - that's the sue gi.  It blended well with the bamboo shoots, pea pods, and mushrooms.  The quality of that stuff was great; chewy, realistic, but without that nagging sense of horror I'd feel at consuming a fellow animal.  The sauce turned the whole plate into good Chinese-style comfort food.  Overall, the dish wasn't too impressive, but I enjoyed it.

Matt, who like me is a sucker for eggplant, got Sauteed Eggplant with Garlic Sauce for 12 bucks.  You know when eggplant is so perfect and tender it melts in your mouth?  Score.  Not only did it fulfill all our eggplant expectations, but it also had a fantastic spicy, smoky, creamy quality.  If I could learn to make eggplant like that, I'd be set for life.  Becca's gonna teach me.

Last but not least, we sampled Becca's Sauteed Fried Tofu with Orange Sauce for $10.  WOW, you guys.  Most favorite.  A lot of Chinese restaurants will open a brick of tofu, chop it up, throw it in the stir fry like it's a vegetable and call it cooked.  Not Chia Shiang!  This stuff was heavenly.  It had a super satisfying depth of flavor that penetrated all the way into the middle of each bite of tofu.  It had a slightly spicy, toothsome bite.  Man, that was good.

Thus ends our trip to Ann Arbor.  The following day we had some airport food in Lansing.  I won't be blogging about that because I'm sure we've all had Gardenburgers at those restaurants that serve only variations of burgers, fries, and cheese.  Interestingly, now that I look at the menu of the two cafes at LAN, the Gardenburger I had doesn't seem to appear on them.  But you CAN order a "Bucket of Popcorn" with free refills for four bucks.  So I don't know why you wouldn't fly through the Lansing Airport.

01 June 2012

Ann Arbor: Grizzly Peak Brewing Company

This was a desperate situation.  We'd been frantic all morning with cupcakes and DJ prep, so when lunchtime came and we still weren't done, we knew we had to eat.  FAST.  And get back to work.  I had brought a Google list of several vegan-friendly places and their addresses for emergencies like this.  I busted it out.  Roughly thirty seconds later we settled on Jazzy Veggie.

We zoomed downtown, only to find that the place was closed.  Sundays.  Ugh.

The situation reached Defcon III.  Becca had a scary gleam in her eye.*

John pointed across the street - Hark!  Another place on our list: Grizzly Peak!  Make haste!

We should have known better.  GOOGLE should have known better.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Company
120 West Washington St
Ann Arbor, MI  48104
(734) 741-7325

Becca and I flew through a conversation with the bartender about vegan and vegetarian options for fast take-out.  The only vegan things are bruschetta and certain pizzas - without the cheese.

I got bruschetta.  Seven bucks.  Done.

It nearly filled my belly.  And it wasn't too bad.  The olives luckily didn't make me want to puke.  The soggy bread still held the mixture.  And the tomatoes tasted fresh and garlicky!  That was a plus.

All in all... I was glad for my Luna Bar.

* #1 Rule of being friends with Becca: always have food.  She may look tiny, but I assure you her stomach is the size of the Enterprise.  (It's collapsible.  She's all about efficient storage.)

Ann Arbor: Arbor Brewing Co. Pub & Eatery

If you're going out in Ann Arbor on a Saturday night and you have dietary restrictions, this is the place to be.  Not only does the restaurant have a comfortable-yet-nice pub ambience with a logo that'll remind you of Hobbiton, but vegans and those who keep GF can also eat super well here.  So can the people I bullied into ordering vegan in order to help out with the blog.

Haha, just kidding.  I bullied Matt and Becca into hanging out with me.  They were already too scared of me to order something un-vegan.

Yep.  True story.  I'm scary.*

Arbor Brewing Co. Pub & Eatery
114 East Washington St
Ann Arbor, MI  48104
(734) 213-1393

The moment we started ordering, I opened my big mouth so I could go first and get the whole "Hi-I'm-vegan-and-I'm-here-to-make-your-life-as-a-server-super-difficult" conversation out of the way.  Lo and behold, the server's response was not to do a simple run-down of a couple dishes the kitchen could adapt for me, but rather to fetch an entire special diet menu.  It takes care of all the major food allergies, along with vegetarianism and veganism, and touts clear labels for everything.

I ordered a Falafel Wrap for elevenish bucks (which later turned out to be free for reasons that will become clear in a paragraph or two).  The menu mentions a yogurt sauce and feta, so the server, who already knew I'm vegan, told me she'd get the kitchen to hold the dairy.

Fifteen minutes later, our food came.  I took a big excited bite of my wrap...

And chewed...

And swallowed.

Something in there was crumbly and salty in an almost cheesy way.  It almost could have been... feta.

I asked our server when she stopped back in the next minute, and she was horrified on my behalf.  She'd obviously taken care of her end of the bargain and notified the kitchen that they needed to leave that feta off.  Within a few more minutes I had a fresh plate with a real dairy-free Falafel Wrap in front of me.  The server told me she'd removed it from our bill.  Sweet!  Customer service gone right.  Hopefully that feta-filled wrap went toward a good cause and not the garbage bin.

Anyway, the thing was pretty good.  The tomato hummus inside was a little spicy, which was nice, and the ingredients all tasted fresh, but I found it generally lacking in flavor.  I slathered the extra hummus on to improve the taste, which made things better, but not spectacular.  Still, I definitely enjoyed it.

Becca got Veggie Jambalaya for $11.  This dish was also good yet underwhelming.  The veggies were certainly fresh, but Becca and I agreed that they probably hadn't been spiced up enough.  I tasted a good Cajun flavor, I just wanted more of it.  It didn't suck.

Matt's order made up for the mediocre food.  He got the Beer-Battered Tempeh Sandwich for $10.  It came with some pretty good coleslaw and some PERFECT sweet potato fries (which were two-and-a-half extra bucks).  They were spiced with cumin and other herbs, fried to crispiness, and universally addictive.

But the sandwich.  PEOPLE.  The sandwich changed my life.  The tempeh had been, as the title of the dish suggests, beer-battered, then deep fried.  Seriously.  Vegan deep fried food.  When's the last time that happened?  Uh, never.  ('Cept when Becca makes doughnuts.)  So when I took a bite of this sucker, I was transported back to 8 years ago, or whenever the last time I had fried State Fair cheese curds was.  Except this was better.  Is your mouth watering?  Mine is.  The wheaty bun had been toasted with love - it was almost as tasty as the tempeh.

Matt pried the sandwich out of my hands before I ate too much of his dinner.  Nah, just kidding, he never let me hold it in the first place - he held it for me.  He'd tell you this is because he's afraid of contamination, but he's smarter than he may let on.  He really just didn't want me to steal the thing.

Smooth move, husband.  Next time you order a deep fried vegan sandwich I'll be there.  Watching.  Always watching.

Oh, hey Matty - thanks for taking out the garbage yesterday.

* Have you seen my teeth?