22 February 2013

Edina: Big Bowl

Ahh, Big Bowl.  A national Asian chain where vegans can eat in peace.  And, as Sister said, "The food is so good here I don't think I've ever put so many colors in my face!  Except for Skittles."  Wise words, Sister.  (She had gluten-free pad thai!  She really HAS never shoved so many colors in her face.  But.  Well.  She's right about the Skittles.)

Big Bowl
3669 Galleria
Edina, MN  55435
(952) 928-7888

The menu is liberally sprinkled with Vs and GFs, but beware, vegans.  V means almost nothing.  There are dishes marked with a V that are not vegan, and dishes that are vegan but have no V.  Be sure you tell your server you're vegan.  Odds are they'll know what you need.

If you order off the menu, your best bets are the Kung Pao Tofu and Seasonal Greens or the Spicy Thai Green Vegetable Curry.  You can also order from the Stir-Fry Bar, which has lots of vegan options.  But you have to like, get up for that.  And be creative.  Ugh.  Don't they know how hungry and exhausted I am?


Matt's Spicy Thai Green Vegetable Curry was $12 of spicy as #$@! veggies, tofu, and white rice.  It was so spicy, Matt ordered a side of more white rice to cut the heat.  It was so spicy, I felt like I was getting heartburn AS IT SLID DOWN MY ESOPHAGUS.  (Whatever heartburn is.  Said the vegan.)  The veggies were fresh and crunchy, and the sauce was creamy and cilantro-filled.  Oh, and spicy.  (Honestly, it hurt.)

I more sensibly ordered Kung Pao Tofu and Seasonal Greens for $12.  The noodles were so nice and wide, firm but steeped in the almost smokey, perfectly vinegary, spicy-but-not-like-Matt's-thing flavor.  The peanuts, tofu, and perfectly prepared kale brought the quality of the dish up to very, very good.  New favorite.

Meanwhile, Matt spontaneously combusted.  I gave him some chocolate.  It helps.

Minneapolis: The Lowbrow

It blew my mind that there could be such a vegan-friendly place in So-Mpls of which I had never heard.  Then their fried tofu extra-blew my mind.  I was not left with a lot of functional brain cells by the end of the night, to be honest.

The Lowbrow
4244 Nicollet Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55409
(612) 208-0720

The menu has a boxed v next to their vegan options.  We ordered three of 'em.  How can you not order something called Southern Fried Tofu?  Seriously.  Tell me.  Because I don't know.

The aforementioned Southern Fried Tofu runs you $6.25, but you can't put a price on knowing you're about to devour something that smells exactly like a Green Mill mozzarella stick.  It even tastes kind of like a mozzarella stick - the crispy, herb-encrusted surface is full of in-your-face spices, and it protects a flavorful, chewy interior.  The BBQ sauce adds a spicy, tangy layer; smokey without tasting like smoke, and packing heat.  That's right.  It was full of GUNS.

Becca's Pinto & Quinoa Veggie Burger for $8.75 came with fries.  Super good and greasy ones.  You know.  The addictive, really not that great for you kind.  The burger was good with its simple flavors - other than pinto beans and quinoa, there wasn't a lot of stuff in there.  It was kind of crumbly as a result.  Better with mustard, for sure.

My Fried Tofu Sandwich for $8.75 came with a side salad of fresh, crisp mixed greens in a subtle vinaigrette.  The sandwich was jam-packed with shredded cabbage, sliced jalapenos  BBQ sauce, and... the same fried tofu from the app!  Score!  The jalapeno was too much for me, I admit - I threw it out.  Otherwise the heat from the BBQ sauce went really well with all the components, and the bun made it more subtle, in a nice, I-can-eat-a-whole-sandwich-of-this kind of way.  A very well-constructed meal.

We were so lucky.  We got to eat our vegan food under the eyes of this sweet little deer.

By little, I mean huge, and by sweet, I mean painted on the wall.  Aw.

12 February 2013

Minneapolis: Chatterbox

From Edina Patch
This place has an interesting dynamic going on.  The atmosphere is stellar.  It has a cozy pub feel, a huge selection of food and drinks, and tons of games - both of the board and video persuasion.  It's been awarded Best Place for a First Date by City Pages.  Sweet, right?

The thing is, though... the food kind of blows.  This I can explain in great, flowering, enthusiastic, rabid detail.

4501 France Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55410
(612) 920-3221

First of all, an observation from Becca.  She's had 2 different kinds of wine here and was disappointed by both.  John, however, who knows beer better than I will know my firstborn child, lends 'Box props for a rather solid beer selection.

Given the choice, we had snagged the table with the couches by the Nintendo and N64.  Our server brought us controllers so we obviously started hammering it out on Mario Kart 64.  I won a few races.  No big deal.

We paused the game to inhale our Sweet Potato Fries, which were $7.95 and came with like 6 dips.  Vegans: stick to the ketchup and add salt.  As far as sweet potato fries go, these are remarkably crispy, rather than soggy and limp.  They have lots of delicious battering.  Pretty good.

The rest of the menu will look like no man's land for vegans.  It's very meat-centric - lots of burgers, meat sandwiches, salads with creamy dressings and chicken, meat on sticks, fried meat, meat dips, meat soups, meat drinks, meat desserts.  Not once ounce of tofu in sight.  Here or there you'll come across a lonely dairy-laden entree labeled "(vegetarian)" (really it's just 2 wraps).  Anything on this entire menu that you want to order vegan, save the sweet potato fries, you'll have to omit at least one ingredient.  It'd be wise to let your server know you're vegan.  What follows is a pretty complete list of what you can get veganized.

Becca's Raspberry Citrus Vinaigrette Salad for $8.95 (without bleu cheese and onions) was a total letdown. It came with romaine, oranges, and dried cranberries.  The dressing was spread so thinly across the salad that it could have been water.  Although the lettuce was fresh and crisp, I couldn't tell if the oranges were canned, and the cranberries were probably Craisins.  The salad was just phenomenally boring.  Near the end, when Becca was about to give up, she discovered walnuts.  They were all at the BOTTOM.  Hiding.  WTF?

Oh, PS, the focaccia that came with her salad was amazing.  'Cause.  It wasn't a vegetable?

Out of the two wraps, I thought I'd get more food in the De Sabroso, so I went for it at 8 bucks.  I asked the server to omit the sour cream and cheese, expecting to get the tomato tortilla with cumin black bean spread, lettuce, pico de gallo, and guac.  Then the server came back out to kindly point out that the guac actually isn't vegan.  She very nicely offered to have the chef whip up some more veggies for the filling, so I accepted.  Then instead of the fries side, she offered a side salad.  That, I also accepted.  Cram those extra veggies down my gullet, Chatterbox.  Do it.

My overall impression?  Meh.  The black bean spread in the wrap was good, but was used too sparingly.  Everything was cold and fresh.  Even the roasted mushrooms were chilled.  And I mean, it wasn't horrible.  But they had left the onions to bear the brunt of the flavor.  That's not a very nice thing to do to people who are on a first date.  Good thing Matt's stuck with me.  The salad was... kind of like Becca's.  Despite the extra veg.  Boring.

Now, I ate through this subpar food just so I could figure out what I should tell you.  Here's my final pronouncement: order a pizza.  Yes.  This meat-obsessed circus offers build-your-own pizzas with SOY CHEESE.  Why would a restaurant choking on meat give you a glorious choice like that?  No idea.  Not complaining.  Just order yourself a decent pie.  Grab a couple toppings - a personal pizza won't set you back more than $10.  And based on my previous experiences, odds are it won't suck.

Get some better food for vegans, Chatterbox.  Then we'll talk.  Don't call me, I'll call you.  I'll be at the co-op around the corner, never thinking of you.  HEARTS!

09 February 2013

Minneapolis: Common Roots Cafe

So Matt and I had this exact conversation about 17 different evenings:

MATT: What would you like to do for dinner?
ALLI: I'm too hungry to cook.  I haven't blogged Common Roots, want to go there?
MATT: What are they like?
ALLI: You order at the counter and they bring food to you.  It's good food.  Nice ambience.  Plus they have a full coffee bar, so you could have a chai or something.  'Member we went there that one time with T and Dane?
MATT: ...
ALLI: I got a vegan cupcake?
MATT: ... Nah.  Tiger Sushi?
ALLI: How come?
MATT: I just don't want to eat at a cafe for dinner.
ALLI: Oh.  Kay!  Tiger Sushi then!
MATT: Let's never fight again.

I'm lying.  By the 17th time it had shortened to the following:

MATT: What would you like to do for dinner?
ALLI: Me too hungry for cooking.  Common Roots is place for dinner?
MATT: Dinner at a cafe.
ALLI: Tiger Su-
MATT: Let's never fight again.

Finally I plied him.  It wasn't that hard.  All it took was having the conversation an 18th time.  I'm pretty sure the lolcat grammar is what did it.  (We'll never fight again.)

Common Roots Cafe
2558 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55405
(612) 871-2360

I started with Ginger Lime Rooibos because the Spicy Ginger Tea Latte has honey and I still wanted tea, dammit.  This stuff was delicious!  I really dislike bitterness in my tea, and I feel like it's a difficult flavor to avoid.  But where other teas are witheringly mouth-drying, this one is fruity and sweet!  It was tangy.  Well, duh.  Ginger + lime = exactly what you'd expect.  Lime is a great taste in tea, turns out.

Matt's Spiced Masa Cakes set us back $11.  At first we were like, what are masa cakes?  Then we looked at a menu and we were like, we're getting masa cakes.  They're little fluffy cornbread pancakes covered with roasted eggplant and bell pepper, smothered in this incredible dark mole, and sprinkled with fresh cilantro.  Think of the best chili you've ever had.  Then think of the best cornbread.  Now put them together and turn up the Zagat.  The flavor was so full and deep, with lime notes and a spicy finish.  Win.

Common Roots has Fish Tacos.  With a little v.  That means tofu tacos.  Hellz to the yeah!  Only $8.50 - what a steal!  (I'm SUCH a pro at sounding like a teenager from the 90s and my grandma simultaneously.)  These toasted corn tortillas come with red cabbage slaw, radishes, amazing salsa roja, and, of course, delicious delicious tofu.  The side salad of mixed greens was crisp and lemony.  The tacos were spicy, chewy, surprisingly not that messy, limey, and fresh.  It took a minute for the flavor to develop fully, and once it did, I was in fish tofu taco nirvana.

The Fruit Crisp was sweet; too sweet for me.  I only took 2 bites before bailing the sugar train.  The blueberry flavor was super prominent, so major points for that.  You'll want to ask for it warm, definitely.  They use an oven.  (Duh?  Not like a fine establishment's gonna microwave their desserts.)  The oat top is crispy and gives the dish a lovely balance between sweet and tart.  Matt gobbled that thing up faster than a vegan with a wasp-free fig.

Afterward, instead of seeing a movie or some other normal-people activity, we went home and watched a very disappointing Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episode.  Now you may be thinking: but Alli, ALL DS9 episodes are disappointing.  Not so!  It was just getting good!  But this was a KLINGON episode.  Are there any aliens in the Star Trek universe more boring than the Klingons?  Well, there was that one cool episode about Sto-vo-kor in Voyager.  But this one made me fall asleep.  I just hope the next episode's about Data Odo.  Otherwise I'll... keep watching anyway.

05 February 2013

Bloomington: Masu

Hello muffins!  Still there?  Obvies.  You're totally reading this right now.  Look how much you're reading.

Let's do this!  Get ready for some classic shenanigans from Mom, Sister, and me.  (I would say classic antics, but my first boyfriend from eighth grade who I'm not even facebook friends with had an almost physical hatred of that word and I never really got over it.  Cray.)

Mall of America
344 South Ave
Bloomington, MN  55425
(952) 896-6278

We go to the B-town location because it's more convenient for all three of us, and because it's easier to park here.  This may sound counter-intuitive; how could it be easier to park at the Mall of America than at some nondescript corner of a random street in a quiet neighborhood of Minneapolis?  Well, it just so happens that that random street is Hennepin Avenue, and that quiet neighborhood is Central, just northeast of Nicollet Island.  So I'll take my chances parking in Texas, thank you very much.

By Texas, I clearly mean the first floor of the West parking ramp.  Not the state that's 1,000 miles away.  Seriously.  That would be like, warm or something.

Masu is a fabulous Japanese restaurant with an edgy, appealing ambience.  So edgy, in fact, that you can ask for a vegan menu.  That's right.  Yet another joint that slaps all its veggie food onto one convenient piece of dog-eared tagboard.  Make sure you check with your server before ordering, though - some dishes listed have eggs or maybe even dairy in them.

Our server, I have to say, was super nice.  She was practically tripping over herself to serve us well.  I think the camera and note-taking made her nervous.  Sorry, nice server!  I'm like scary or whatever!

The Steamed Edamame we got to start with for $5.50 was good, as edamame always is.  These were prepared with a salty, liquid smoke-type taste.

Then I got a Seaweed Salad for $3.50.  Did you know seaweed salads are amazing?  Not only do they taste great, but they're FULL of nutrients.  They're even rumored to contain the elusive B12 vitamin.  Masu's is good, chewy, and has a little heat with a lot of flavor.  The carrots must have been marinated in some magic sauce, too.  Well done.

I kept packing it in.  Just wait.

Next I got Nasu - Japanese eggplant with miso for $3.  It was a little too chewy, but only a teeny bit.  I may have only noticed because I happen to eat a lot of eggplant.  But the delicious smokey grill flavor went a long way toward distracting me from the texture, and the dipping sauce made it even better.

Finally, the coup de grace.  This is the Veggie Grasshopper, which you can snag at $12.  Make sure your server knows you're vegan with this one, otherwise it'll come out with eggy tempura batter inside.  But you know what?  This thing is fine without tempura batter.  Better than fine.  Kind of amazing.  See that green crumbly stuff coating each piece?  That's wasabi pea powder.  Yeah.  I'm for real.  The same kind of stuff that comes in savory Asian trail mixes.  And I hate wasabi, but this pea powder made my meal.  It had some heat, but none of the offensive, overpowering taste I associate with straight up wasabi.  It's unique, for sure, but well worth it and full of flavors when combined with the veggies inside.

Mom ordered an udon noodle soup.  It came with nori strips on top - you know, the dried, black, papery seaweed often used to roll sushi.  Mom took one look at it and said, "What's this black sh*t?"  To which Sister and I both told her, "MO-OM."  Then we all giggled and tittered.

True story.  Well, except Sister doesn't really giggle, per say.  She's more of a laugher.  (I have to say this, otherwise she'll punch me or something.  NO I AM NOT AFRAID OF MY LITTLE SISTER)