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.

Tokyo: Nataraj

It’s always time to either get coffee or eat in Tokyo.  Shelley and I literally got up from Starbucks (did I mention it’s the only place you can reliably get an iced tea with soymilk in the area?) with the express purpose of going to lunch.  We would’ve been at lunch within 15 minutes if not for Lonely Planet’s map impotence.

Okay okay.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Lonely Planet.  Whenever I start planning a new trip, I rush out to buy the newest LP on the destination because they have consistently proven to be the best all-around travel guides, especially for people of my generation.  So you can know that when I’m talking smack about this particular map of Ginza in the 9th Edition Lonely Planet Tokyo of August 2012, I have ample cause to complain, but still would endorse Lonely Planet on the whole.

The problem wasn’t so much that the map itself was wrong, just that Nataraj – the reportedly fabulous and highly recommended vegetarian Indian restaurant – was mislabeled.  Try as we might, Shelley and I couldn’t find a trace of the place within a two-block vicinity of where the map claimed it was.  We asked a few Tokyoites and the address and map confused them too.  We searched for half an hour, considered giving up a couple of times, and felt our hunger sharpen by the minute.  (First world problems.  BUT.)

A nicely dressed expat American eventually saw us and took pity on us – he asked us what we were trying to find.  “Nataraj, the Indian restaurant?” we said.

“Oh, the vegetarian place!  I’ll walk you over.”

Success.  Lonely Planet map be damned.  It said Nataraj was #22, but it was really located at #38, where LP reports there’s a store called Natsune.  We rode the elevator up 7 floors and promptly forgot all our problems as we stuffed our faces.

Several times, did we stuff our faces.
Oh look, an accurate map.

… It was a lunch buffet.  What.

7th-9th floor, 6-9-4 Ginza
Chuo-ku, 104-0061 Tokyo
+81 3-5537-1515

Being a vegetarian restaurant, the vegan items were clearly labeled in English, which made filling our plates a breeze.  Lunch was ¥1100 ($10.87).  All you can eat.

We were pleased as punch with the salad.  The Japanese dressing was miso-based and delicious.  I mean, not like you can really ever go wrong with miso, but somebody in the kitchen knew what they were doing with that stuff.  The vegan nan, as they spelled it, was crispy and chewy at once, just as good as the ones I make on my own griddle.

Each of the 3 curries sang with flavor.  The Dal was nice and simple, the classic taste enhanced by quality ingredients.  The Mixed Bean Curry had a kick and a zing, with more chunk and another fabulous curry taste.  And the Baigan Musalam was like amazing tomato soup, mild, smooth, and with these incredible bits of eggplant that had soaked up the flavor and made you want to hold them on your tongue forEVER.  That was our fave.  All three were a little watery, but I didn’t mind soaking the extra sauce up with more nan.

After that amazing meal, and after marking up our Lonely Planet map, we bounced out onto the streets, full of energy, and headed up to the gardens of the Imperial Palace.  As we entered the grounds, our feet fell upon a path not of nice paved road or sidewalk, but of gravel.

“Oh good,” I said.  “Gravel.”

This was the funniest thing either of us could have said.  In retrospect, maybe we were drunk on dal.  Or, we’re hilarious.  You decide.

Tokyo: Mominoki House

If you’ve never had a conversation with Shelley, your life may not be complete.  I’ve never met anyone who is so curious and empathetic at the same time – she can drag your deepest beliefs and wildest hopes out of you within 10 minutes.  5 if you’ve shared a beer.  And all the while, you’ll be able to tell that she is truly invested in whatever you’re saying, because she won’t let you get away with the stock explanation you give everybody else.  She’ll want to know why you think such a thing, how it’s worked out for you, what the people close to you think about it, and whether or not you’ll stick with it in the long term.  You might want to add speaking with Shelley to your bucket list.  One day there will be an Oscar for best conversational skills.  Shelley will win.

You can imagine, then, that our trip to Tokyo was comprised of absolutely incessant chatter.  We talked as we had breakfast, walked around, rode the JR, stopped for coffee, hiked up mountains, stumbled down mountains, ate snacks, ate lunch, ate dinner, went running, stopped for coffee, saw sights, shopped, stopped for coffee, rode the train home, got groceries, cooked, ate some more, and got ready for bed.  This is what happens when you cram a year’s worth of friendship with Shelley into 5 days.

Oh, and we ate.  Like a lot.

Our first stop was not an amazing organic vegan-friendly restaurant recommended by our Lonely Planet.  That would be too grandiose.  Our first stop was a coffee shop!  Where we chatted for maybe an hour.  Then a 7-11.  You know how here, 7-11s are where the bottom of the barrel scum of American food resides?  In Japan, 7-11s – and all convenience stores – are like Whole Foods in comparison.  They have at least a whole wall dedicated to healthy meals and snacks, comprised of Japanese staples like rice, seaweed, umeboshi plums, soba noodles, veggie salads, fruit, and, well, fish.  It proved to be a great help in times of low energy and hunger.  Japan is a super easy country in which to be vegan.

Okay, THEN we went to an amazing organic vegan-friendly restaurant recommended by our Lonely Planet.

Mominoki House in Harajuku proved difficult to find (although not quite as difficult as some of the other restaurants on that stupid inaccurate map) – we peeked in from the street and thought for a moment we’d come to the wrong place because all we could see was a tiny health food shop.

Bravely, Shelley took a few steps in and discovered the staircase leading to the modest restaurant area.

Mominoki House
2-18-5 Jingumae
Shibuya-ku, 150-0001 Tokyo
+81 3-3405-9144

It was too cute in there.  The 5 or 6 tables were crammed into 3 split levels.  A couple were up tiny staircases and protected by wooden railings.  Filled bookcases lined the walls and you had a 50-50 chance of sitting on a cushioned bench instead of a wooden chair.  Our server gave us an English menu and we reveled in all the choices for lunch.

Shel had the Brown Rice with 7 Vegetables for ¥1150 ($11.39).  Her miso tasted nice and salty with an onion twang.  The rice, simple and delicious, came with gomaschio and sesame seeds – and she sprinkled on a pinch of sea salt.

The best of the veggies was, hands down, the eggplant.  Judging by the expletives written in my notebook on the subject, it was some damn fine eggplant.

My Vegetable Curry ran ¥1000 ($9.91), and kicked up the creamy, sweet flavor of a Japanese curry.  The hunks of potato that had absorbed lots of sauce?  Mmm.  The spinach with tahini was pleasantly fresh and cool.  Lovely.

After that it was off to… where did we even go?  I don’t know.  I just remember chatting the whole way there.