24 December 2013

Minneapolis: Naviya's Thai Brasserie

So, how's things?  It's been a while, muffins.  Know why?  Guess.  Just guess.

IT'S BECAUSE I'M A TEACHER NOW AND I LOVE IT AND sometimes, when you have essays to grade and tests to make and PowerPoints to write and a Moodle site to update and you also want to fly in the face of time-management skills and have a social life while also getting 8 hours of sleep per night, you develop an addiction to coffee.  I mean - don't have time to blog.  But also coffee.

Anyway, food.  So Sunday night happened as follows:

ALLI: Matty, let's walk to the Harriet Brasserie for dinner!
MATT: (Skeptical) Where's that?
ALLI: Like half a mile away.  They have Nutella Mochas!  Look, I blogged it.  You'd love this tofu thing.
MATT: How cold is it?
ALLI: Like -1 or something.
MATT: (Squints)
ALLI: I ran 8 miles this morning, so if you don't walk there with me, you'll look like a wuss.
MATT: Yes, because that's something that I care about.
ALLI: (Bats eyes)
MATT: Let's go to the Brassiere.

So we set off, fully equipped in our best winter gear.  We were within one block when we walked by Naviya's - and it was a magical moment, wherein we simultaneously decided that walking an extra block would be maybe the worst thing that could possibly happen, and even though Matt had just had Thai the previous night, we would try this place for the first time.

Naviya's Thai Brasserie
2812 W 43rd St
Minneapolis, MN 55410
(612) 276-5061
Monday - Friday: 11:30a - 9:00p
Saturday & Sunday: 12:00p - 9:00p

The menu is full of vegan and gluten free options, easily identifiable with their green parenthetical text.  Roughly 15 dishes, including appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, and desserts, can be made vegan by request - but the real draw is their ability to veganize their curries.  That's right, friends!  Vegan Thai curries await you at Naviya's and, unless I'm mistaken, at no other Metro location is this a possibility.  (Chiang Mai Thai does offer a - as in, a single - vegan curry.  But we are way more impressed with Naviya's here.)

We, starving in a very first-world kind of way, started with 14. Thai Lettuce Wraps at $9.  I asked our server for the vegan kind and he asked if tofu would be alright.  I was like, "Is that even a question?!"  Except in a way more polite and socially acceptable manner.

Things always come in threes.  Bad things, good things, degrees Farenheit...
The DIY thing was super fun.  You grab some butter lettuce (Matt scoffs at the nutritional value of lettuce, but I caressed my face with the silky leaves like a long-lost lover because that's a healthy way to interact with lettuce), scoop in some of the tofu mixture, and sprinkle crispy rice noodles on top.  It is possible to stuff it all in your mouth in one go.  This is certainly the course of action I recommend.

10,000 times better than potato salad.
The blend of sweet (cracked palm sugar) and savory (wok-charred tofu and lime) flavors is super delish, and pretty much every food texture that ever existed is included here.  Except mushrooms.  Nobody likes that texture.  The tofu mixture has a smoky and/or bitter aftertaste that is totally enjoyable.

Matt got the 51. Pad Ze-Ew (sweet soy noodles) vegan with tofu for $14.  Check out these noodles:

Tofu vs. broccoli vs. giant noodles: who will win?  MATT'S MOUTH duh.
The description on the menu includes the magical words, "Double black soy reduction."  The noodles are so thick and wonderful - Matt could've eaten a plate of nothing but.  The sauce had a little heat and a nice soy flavor which penetrated all the components, veggies and tofu alike.  The dish was sweet-but-not-too-sweet, with a hint of caramelized something.  Win.

I went with a curry, which you knew a grillion paragraphs ago.  The 40. Red Curry "Elegant & Thunderous" with tofu for $15 - AND our server asked if I wanted white or brown rice.  I was overjoyed to have this option.

Brown rice literally turns you into a supervegan.
This thing was incredible.  Spicy and sweet, creamy and tangy, crunchy veggies and soft rice, with kefir lime and basil leaves to finish it off.  I couldn't have been happier with this dish.  Plus I get to eat more of it when I need a meal of leftovers.  Double score.

Then we went all out.  Perhaps you know that lately I've avoided all things sugar - so I made Matt order the Vegan Chocolate Ganache Cheesecake for $6.  He was super bummed.

Is this what it feels like to see the gates of heaven?
I decided to take one, and only one, bite.  Just so I could write about it without feeling like barfing up sugar.  Matt also decided to take one, and only one, bite.  He was full of noodles.  Then this happened:

Not a single gram of sugar was barfed up that day.
I ate like the whole thing!  One bite made it clear that it had no added sugar - the sweetness came entirely from coconut, dates, and dark chocolate.  Can you believe it?  What are the odds that I would land on such a dessert?!  And with cinnamon, no less!  My one weakness.  (By one, I mean one of like 8,000.)  Usually I'm satisfied with a bite of 85% dark chocolate, a few berries, or a super super light decaf mocha, but this outstripped them all.

During the walk back home in subzero temperatures, we thought of happier times, like the previous ten minutes when we had been sitting in Naviya's.

MATT: I hate my life.
ALLI: Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger!
MATT: So if by chance some guy comes up to me and says "Hey," then chops off my arms and legs, would that make me stronger?
ALLI: I like how he says hey.

11 August 2013

Minneapolis: Darbar India Grill

Another fantastic Indian restaurant.  OH DARN.

Darbar India Grill
1221 W Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55408
(612) 822-3300

I ordered for Matt and I while he was off washing his hands/saving the world.  My wonderful Captain Adventure!  He's such a sanitary hero, and he is so, so dear.  I rattled off the 2 curries and 3 breads we desired with spice levels and the typical no-dairy-I'm-vegan disclaimer.  Our server poked fun at the fact that I had memorized this whole order.  I responded with something cool, like, "I have a photographic memory," or, "ARE there other items on your menu?  I hadn't noticed," or probably more likely, "We get this allll the time," along with a disarming display of my enormous teeth.

The Roti - $1.99 - is vegan if you get it without butter on top.  To extra-protect it, they had this sweet idea of throwing my bread into its own basket, separate from the dairy-infested naan.  Isn't that nice?

I will do battle whole-wheatedly with the detritus of your intestines.

Good and healthy.  Just what I wanted.  The subtle whole wheat taste didn't at all interfere with the positive flavors of the curries.

Matt and I shared Bangan Bhartha on the left - $11.95 - and Chana Masala on the right - $10.95.  Aw yis.

Prepare for trouble.  Make it double.  Said only the specialest snowflakes of former Pokemon fans.

The Chana Masala had that completely amazing authentic Indian flavor that I strive so fruitlessly to achieve in my own kitchen.  After my first bite it became clear that Darbar is one of the great Indian restaurants of the Twin Cities.  The medium spice level we ordered came through perfectly - it was hot enough to demand several sips of water throughout the meal, but not so hot that it burned our taste buds off.

The elusive roasted eggplant makes an appearance at the surface with the aid of our impermeable metal net.

The Bangan Bhartha had the same totally authentic flavor wave happening.  Plus the eggplant melted in our mouths.  MMM.  The curry was a little smoky, perfectly spiced, and completely addicting.

Like any ideal meal, this one included hearty Shatner-bashing.  Did you know Mom was at the Conan O'Brien show in the 90s when George Takei was on it, and that was her first ever introduction to the world of Shatner-bashing?  I... I have just learned so much from Mom.  It's because of her I became the person I am today.  And it's because of unknown forces that Shatner has become the person he is today, but I suspect ham had something to do with it.

Minneapolis: The Harriet Brasserie

The restaurants of Linden Hills are fancy places for fancy people.  Or, fancy places for people like AJ and me who are willing to pretend to be fancy for a short period of time as long as we are served a Nutella Mocha and Crawfish Grits (AJ) and/or a vegan meal (me).

I am 95% sure they don't get their food animals from Wild Rumpus next door.

We didn't call it the Harriet Brassiere once while we were there.

The Harriet Brasserie
2724 W 43rd St
Minneapolis, MN 55410
(612) 354-2197

Exotic animal dishes abound at The Harriet Brasserie.  Pheasant, duck, bison, octopus and more all roam freely across the menu.  I'm sure the animals were free-range, well-fed, and produced organically.  Whatever.  But the nice thing is that there's this one vegan option: Tofu Hash for $10.  It's cleverly made available for brunch and dinner.

This wild tofu grew up among the bison and pheasant, then was humanely slaughtered for your enjoyment.
 You know how watercress can be "spicy"?  This is a phenomenon I thought I had understood.  The stuff on that plate kicked my butt.  It made my throat close up, the flavor was so intense!  That was one of the first bites, before I realized I needed to incorporate bites of the strong, lemon-vinaigretted greens into my consumption of the tofu mixture in order to avoid overstimulated taste buds.

The fried tofu was accompanied by yucca, red bell pepper, shishito peppers, and fermented black beans.  The flavor combination was spicy, tangy, and lovely, and the textures - especially with watercress thrown into the mix - provided a fantastic variety.  The tofu tasted slightly bitter, but overall I confess myself impressed by the preparation of such a complex vegan dish at such a fancy meat-oriented brassiere.  I mean, brasserie.

Come here with a non-vegan and watch them drink a Nutella Mocha.  Then kindly offer to smell their mug for them.  This, I feel, is a major selling point.  Matt's gonna be all up ons.

28 July 2013

Minneapolis: Victor's 1959 Cafe

So Valynne was like, "Hey Alli, want to go back in time to the year Castro took over Cuba?"

And I was like, "Heck yes I do," but in a Napoleon Dynamite voice.

Victor's 1959 Cafe
3756 Grand Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55409
(612) 827-8948

This place is all about the ambience.  It's tiny, bright, charming, and your wait can be rather long, but we got in after only about 10 minutes at 12:30p on a Sunday.  The walls are covered in very personable, small, neatly-written graffiti.

"El Vic," Fidel's little-known pet/cousin.

The vegan options here are somewhat limited - you just can't have that black bean burger - but it is possible to have a delicious and satisfying vegan meal.  I went for the Vegetales Criollo off the lunch menu for $8.75.

Cuban Food-Packing Crisis: just how fast can our American diner shovel that stuff in?

That amazing plate covers every food group; black beans and rice on the bottom, the house creole sauce Criollo in the bowl with lots of delicious veggies, and tostones (fried plantains!) off to the side.  The meal was simple and lovely.  Nice and warm, well-spiced, and improved by the addition of the Tobasco on the table.  I threw my beans and rice into the Criollo and went for it.  Yum.  The tostones were savory and good with a little salt - like fries made out of plantains.

Valynne spotted a real-live meme.  In the flesh.

Does this mean life is also a lie?

Clearly, a place that combines delicious food, history, and nihilistic memes is worth a visit.

Minneapolis: Seward Cafe

It is just silly that I hadn't been here before.  It's one of the most vegan-friendly restaurants in Minneapolis!  Probably second only to Ecopolitan.  Plus they serve breakfast.  Seriously.  Check out their menu.  Am I allowed to say best vegan breakfast in the city?  Because I think it might be true.

Chef Amber Shea
Seward Cafe
2129 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55404
(612) 332-1011

Seward Cafe is so iconically Minneapolis punk.  The little building is as old as the city, it seems, and the partly mismatched tables and chairs squeak whenever you stand up.  You gotta love a place with history.  To order, grab a spot in line for the register.  Ogle the menu and write your order on one of the provided slips.  Hand it to the staff member behind the counter, pay, and wait for your name to be called.  When your food's ready, snag it from the old-school diner style window counter at the kitchen.  Piece of cake.

I grabbed a Peppermint Iced Tea to start with, then merely had to spin around to find the soymilk, which I could add myself!  Holy moly.  Coffee stations with DIY soymilk are a rare and beautiful thing.

Hipster tea vs. pee-colored tea.  Who will win?

Matt had a hard time restraining himself in there.  I suppose it could've been worse.  He did, to his credit, only order one vegan muffin and a single soy chai in addition to his meal.  The Smooth Operator Muffin tasted like sweet cereal to me.  With raisins.

I will operate your digestive tract with the smoothest of touches.

Matt gobbled it up, mentioning hints of orange or apricot between bites.  His Chai was sweet and spicy.  Like my iced tea, it came in a frosty frozen mug and stayed cold for ages.

His 2 slices of Vegan French Toast set us back $7.

Here you can see the toast orbiting the syrup, just inside the event horizon.

They're made with nice thick whole wheat bread and a spicy, gingery flaxseed batter.  They come with your choice of butter or margarine, and some 100% pure maple syrup.  Happily, I found the taste nice and spicy, without being too sweet.  It was quite filling.  I could've eaten a whole two slices myself, if not for my...


Cleared for take-off.

$7 of finger-lickin' hot mess.  This was the first gyro I've had in my life, and after hearing all the hype these puppies get, I wasn't disappointed.  Every ingredient was perfect; the veggies were crisp and fresh, the pita soft and moist, the grilled marinated tempeh solid, and the tahini sauce tangy and super runny.  I loved every bite, even as it sent more sauce drizzling down my hands.  Gyros.  I get it now.  I can never untaste what I tasted that day, and I never want to.

There are so many more vegan options to try.  And - I didn't know this - it's open for dinner!  So if you're wondering where to take your new vegan girlfriend, this is it.  If you're wondering where to take anyone who likes incredible food, well, coincidentally, this also happens to be it.

Plus you can write all over the bathroom walls and paper towel dispenser with chalk.

No he's not, he has a time machine!  He has all the time he needs.  The re-entry's just a little bumpy.

22 July 2013

Minneapolis: Modern Times Cafe

Valynne came over yesterday in the middle of a Next Gen episode.  I paused it.

The rare, magical, surely lucky Data derp.  Good sign, I think, considering how much fun we had after that.

We had planned on going out for brunch - and Minneapolis is pretty much full to bursting of great brunch for vegans.  The city has all these amazing, unique little cafes that are only open for breakfast and lunch.  This is my next great untapped blog resource.  Valynne suggested Modern Times.  It turned out to be just as awesome as Data completely arguably, indirectly, not-really-at-all promised.

Modern Times Cafe
Modern Times Cafe
3200 Chicago Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(612) 886-3882

Modern Times is only ever open till 5:00pm, and if you come here on a Saturday or Sunday, you have to expect you'll be waiting for a table.  It's tiny, smokey-in-a-good-way, and fills up fast, but the staff are super nice.  They'll take your name down, ask you if you'd like coffee, not blink when you order a black-iced-tea-with-a-little-soymilk, and bring your beverages out to you while you're sitting on the shaded bench waiting.  Breakfast service is over at 1:00 (weekdays at noon), and Valynne and I happened to arrive just after that for lunch.

As we waited, a kid fell off his bike in the street in front of us.  He didn't hit his head or appear injured or anything like that, but he laid on the street for like, 3, maybe 4 seconds without getting up.  I rushed over to him.  Only then did he bother to stand.  He was fine!  Apparently the street was comfortable.  Not sure the benefits outweigh the risks for me, but he did seem to know how to avoid getting run over by cars.

'Member when I said the staff is super nice?  Seriously.  They are ridiculously on top of things.  Just as we settled in at our booth, Valynne took her coffee over to the coffee station to get cream.  Next thing we know, one of the servers is giving us a sugar shaker and a little cream cup.  Valynne stirred the stuff into her coffee with a stir stick.  Then the server whipped by again and landed a tiny spoon in Valynne's mug.  Is that not amazing?!

Sometimes grown women both order the same thing.  This is one of those special times.  The TLT - Tempeh, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich for $6.50 - was just that good.  Valynne got a side salad with hers, which was fresh, crispy, and simple, with a lemony light vinaigrette.  Then the sandwich was like, gawd.  So great.  It had basil veganaise spread all over the inside of that perfectly crispy toasted bread.  Tasted incredible.  The tempeh was nice and smokey, especially good on the outer edges... but the inside of it still had a little of that soy taste that can be hard to cook out.  Other than that, I loved it.

Don't know if you can tell, but it comes with a pickle.

After that we walked around Nokomis.  We were like SEW South Minneapolis.  But let's be real.  Credit where it's due: the derp that inspired and energized us.  Thanks Data.

16 July 2013

Eden Prairie: Great Mandarin

In order to set the correct mood for writing tonight about this particular restaurant, I have selected the soundtrack for the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie.  Partly because the word Mandarin now makes me think indirectly of Robert Downey, Jr., and partly because this is a knuckle-crackin', jaw-droppin' story.

Now, muffins.  I may or may not have made it clear in the past that I'm not usually a fan of Chinese food.  But in this instance I was willing to try because I remember it being pretty good and because it was convenient.  Mom, Sister and I approached, grabbed a menu, and speculated about the possibility of eating there.  A host was nearby, so I snagged him and asked if they could do gluten free.

The ENTIRE STAFF came to us and explained exactly how several items on the menu are gluten free or could be made gluten free.  Seriously.  Like 3 people.  So we took a seat.

Great Mandarin
1206 Eden Prairie Center
8251 Flying Cloud Drive
Eden Prairie, MN 55344
(952) 941-9828

This happens to be one of those places that serves Eggplant with Garlic Sauce.  I knew I'd be set from square one.  Sister was intrigued by my choice, so she resolved to order the same thing.  But when our server came by and she asked if the Eggplant could be made gluten free, the server said no.  No big deal.  She chose Shrimp with Peapods instead.  The server attested to its freedom from all things gluten.

Then the host came over and told Sister that Shrimp with Peapods was a great gluten free choice.  He was very attentive.

Then the MANAGER brought out this plate of incredible string beans, for free, for like no reason!

They were super delicious, expertly cooked, firm, and saucily salty.  They're not on the menu.  But man, were they good.

Mom asked if they were gluten free, and the manager started to say yes - but then changed his mind.  He apologized and explained they had been made with soy sauce.  Mom and I shrugged and scarfed them.  Then I pretended they sucked, for Sister's sake.  (Shh, she doesn't know.)

Our food came and we were all pretty satisfied.  My Eggplant with Garlic Sauce, $11.50, was surprisingly good!  The green peppers were crunchy, the sauce a little spicy, and the eggplant so melty and wonderful.  Truly, I was impressed, in a way that I rarely am by Chinese food.

About halfway through our meal, between conversations about American history and the Dollar Shave Club commercial, Sister pulled a f-ing NOODLE out of her meal.

Yes.  A NOODLE.  Made out of gluten.

So, since Sister has Celiac's, she was done eating.  20 parts per million of gluten particles are enough to cause the lining of her small intestine to start like disintegrating or something.  An entire noodle?  MAJOR contaminant.

We let the server and host know what had happened, because they came to our table to ask how the meal was.  Sister asked to see the manager.  He apologized and took the cost of her meal off the bill, but didn't seem to realize that this was a serious accident.

If a food accident happened to somebody with Celiac's, it could happen to a vegan.  So for the Great Mandarin I have to say: eat here at your own risk.

Wow that makes me feel pretty badass right there.

15 July 2013

Seattle: New Saigon Restaurant

On my way home, I wound up stuck in Seattle for 7 hours on a layover.  I took the light rail into town.

This, not quite yet being "town," was my view from the light rail.

This is maybe one of the best cities in the US for a long layover – provided you’re not doing it on a Sunday evening when practically everything is closed downtown for some reason.  Like I did.  Oops.

New Saigon Restaurant
1529 6th Ave
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 623-0212

It was okay.  Despite the difficulty of finding a place to eat off the cuff, I wound up at a rather wonderful restaurant.  The sign drew me in – it had pictures of the Vietnamese dishes all over it, which usually is a no-no, but it said vegetarian-friendly.  Always a yes.  Except for that stupid Chinese place in Roppongi.

I grabbed the Com Cari Tofu (Tofu Curry) for $9.50 off the menu’s vegetarian page – super spicy, soupy, and full of yummy vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, mushrooms, onions, and carrots.

The veggies were, for the most part, just a teensy bit overcooked, and the tofu left a little to be desired, but the sauce compensated.  I even poured it over my rice and slurped it all up.  Being alone, I read some Sherlock Holmes.  I had a pretty great time.

On the way back to the light rail station, I walked by a Starbucks.  I could hardly be expected to stop in Seattle without visiting a Starbucks, and these seemed to be the only establishments that were consistently open at 8:30pm on a Sunday.  I walked in, ordered my venti iced tea with a little bit of soymilk like I had been grabbing from Starbucks once or twice a day in Tokyo, and my jaw dropped at the SIZE of the venti.  Do you know how small things are in Japan?  Oh, glorious Seattle, with your huge cups.  That was a good iced tea.


Tokyo: Chien-Fu

So then this one day happened.

Allow me to set the scene: Monday morning, Shelley and I went for a long run.  Our bodies, battered from constant Tokyo walking and the epic Saturday multiple-mountain hike, could probably handle 5 miles, tops.  But when we started running, we felt pretty great!  (After a sketchy hole-in-the-ground porta-potty stop, that is.)  So we stretched it out a little and went for a fantastic 7-miler.  We felt characteristically awesome.

The plan was then to go into the city, walk very little, eat a ton, see The Great Gatsby, and eat a ton more at a pre-determined Indian restaurant.  What actually happened was going into the city, getting hungry, not finding acceptable food, rushing to a convenience store, packing our bags with a lunch mish-mash, rushing back to the theater, smuggling the food in, stuffing our faces during Gatsby, enjoying Gatsby, stumbling upon the Harry Potter Experience, experiencing the Harry Potter Experience, then heading back toward the Roppongi Hills JR station for that nice Indian place.

But the Indian place just wasn’t there.  We looked and looked, backtracked, looked some more, and checked Lonely Planet maybe a thousand times.  What worked for Nataraj wasn’t working this time.  Maybe the place had closed and no longer existed?  In any case, our hunger was approaching Defcon III.  Then it reached Defcon III.  Things didn’t look good.  Maybe this German joint?  They had great beer – which Shelley would’ve had for dinner.  They had pretzels! – which I would’ve had for dinner.  But ultimately, beer and pretzels, we realized, were perhaps not the best choice, nutritionally speaking.  We checked the menu at an Egyptian place and got excited when we saw hummus and tabouleh.  Our hearts sank when we saw the steep prices.  We glanced wildly about.  There!  A block away!  That slightly crappy-looking Chinese place!  It says the word Vegetarian in the sign!  Who even cares that it’s Chinese!  We’re in!

4th floor, Sai Building
3-1-22 Nishiazabu
Minato, 106-0031 Tokyo
+81 3-6438-9128

The food turned out to be just as mediocre as we’d guessed.  Let's make this brief.

The Vegetarian Salad for ¥580 ($5.84) was good, but the seaweed wasn’t the best thing ever.

Shelley’s Rice with Mixed Vegetables at ¥1180 ($11.87) was… exactly what you’d expect.  But to our very kind server’s credit, Shelley did get the brown rice she requested instead of the standard white variety.

And my Tofu in Chili Sauce for ¥880 ($8.85) turned out to be decent!  The sauce was of the spicy sweet-and-sour persuasion, and the veggies and tofu tasted alright.  The mushrooms, though, were super chewy.  In a weird way.

Placated, we paid and left, stumbling back toward the station.

We passed the Indian place.

We didn’t even barf on the sidewalk and run in for better food!  Aren’t you impressed?  I am.  Our self-restraint is amazing.

Tokyo: Ristorante Sabatini de Firenze

It’s Shelley’s tradition to eat at an expensive, fancy restaurant once on every vacation.  She loves to find a not necessarily vegetarian restaurant – Italian works well – and blow some cash on a nice glass of champagne and an expertly-prepared gourmet meal.  For this trip we had a little trouble finding a place to fit the bill, but in the end the Interwebs did not fail us.

Sabatini sits near the top of the Sony Building in Ginza, affording a 7th-floor view of some of Tokyo’s most iconic central vistas.  The interior is decorated in an understated traditional theme; shining wood paneling and smartly-uniformed wait staff make an approximation of pre-Mussolini Italy.

When we walked in, Shelley had been wearing a dress, but my travel outfit of the day involved a tank top and a pair of bright purple shorts – which were nice, but still shorts.  Looking around, I immediately felt underdressed, so I reached into my shopping bag and started pulling out the dress I had bought earlier.  “I think I’m going to put this on,” I said.

“What?!  Why?” said Shelley.

“I feel underdressed!”

She glanced about.  “You’re being silly.  You look nice!  Look at the guy behind you.  He’s wearing a million-year-old UnderArmour polo shirt.”

I hadn’t even known UnderArmour made polo shirts.  “I just!  I’m gonna go change.  Be right back!”

When I returned, one-strap green dress over my tank top, Shelley relented.  Slightly.  “You’re so silly.  But that is pretty cute.”

“Laugh all you want, but I feel much better, Miss I’m-already-wearing-a-dress.”

Eyerolls ensued.

Ristorante Sabatini de Firenze
7th floor, Sony Building
5-3-1 Ginza
Chuo-ku, 104-0061 Tokyo
+81 3-3573-2371

We shared the Mixed Salad.  Look at that thing.

Beautiful, fresh, and simple.  Our server wheeled a fancy-pants cart over to our table, threw all these chopped vegetables in a bowl, poured some olive oil and balsamic vinegar in, tossed it up, and dished the thing into our bowls.  We even got freshly ground pepper.  I hadn’t been to a restaurant this fancy since I had a baked potato at Kincaid’s when I was like 15.

Our bread was good, by East Asian standards.  Because the flour is different over there, it’s difficult for them to mimic the subtleties of crispy-soft breads of Europe.  But Shelley, having lived in Seoul for 2 years, attested to its divinity.  This stuff was way better than most baked wheat products made in the vicinity.

The main course was slightly tricky to lock in, but we were able to explain to the server that we needed something probably off the menu without meat or dairy.  At best we hoped for a spicy pasta arabiatta, but didn’t say so – we didn’t need to.  He came up with the idea himself after hearing our restrictions!

The pasta was very obviously fresh and tasted like heaven.  Everything about it was perfect – the temperature, texture, appearance, and taste.  Once I applied crushed red pepper, it came to life.  The spice brought out the flavors of salt and garlic, quality ingredients combined in lovely simplicity.

It was expensive, but totally worth it, both for the food and the experience.

As we left, Shelley made fun of my clothing change some more.  I made incoherently sleepy conversation.  We somehow made our way home and called the night a robust success.

Tokyo: San Francisco Peaks

Traveling, of course, does require a little flexibility.  Sometimes you just don’t have a plan when the hunger strikes you, so you have to use your finely honed vegan instincts to stare into the soul of each restaurant you walk past.  The trick is to decide without stopping whether the place will satisfy you or not.  Shelley and I joined forces and easily settled on this place.

It may or may not have been the English signs amidst a sea of Japanese characters that drew us in.

San Francisco Peaks
3-28-7 Jingumae
Shibuya-ku, 150-0001 Tokyo
+81 3-5775-5707

Shelley, forever and always a salad enthusiast, ordered the Garden Salad for ¥900 ($9.06).  It came with a raspberry vinaigrette, salt, pepper, lemon, lettuce, tomato, and the special guest star: fresh dill.  A simple and lovely bunch of veggies.

I ate some.

I have a tendency more toward calorie-stuffing, so I ordered the Vegetable Burger without cheese.  At first I expected a veggie patty, but as Shelley and I inspected the menu we realized I was going to be receiving a veggie sandwich on a bun.  That’s exactly what I got – meh!  I’m not complaining.

The delish sesame bun came slathered in mayo, which I took great pains to scrape off.  When it looked like it was all gone, I pressed the flat of my knife against the inside of the bun, and more yellow-white oozed out.  Just thinking about it makes me want to blow chunks.  But my hunger drove me forward, and once I had gotten as much mayo out of my bun as I could, I assembled the whole sandwich: tomato, sprouts, lettuce and avocado.  I loved every bite.

The fries were more fritey – you know, how real French French fries are skinnier and healthier-tasting than American fries?  They came with this fab tangy seed-filled mustard that Shelley and I practically lapped up out of the dish.

Our hunger satisfied, we emerged into the world once again and continued our vegetable-powered Harajuku shopping extravaganza in such totally foreign stores as H&M, Forever 21, and Starbucks.  We are true women of the world.