Saturday, April 30, 2011

Shakin' It Up At Cafe Rivva

Recently, I've been reading and hearing so much about cleanses that I've secretly desired to try one. It seems to be the Hollywood way of detoxing your body and losing weight fast. I know I would never actually be able to do one, since I love food way too much, though I find myself envious of those who are successfully able to complete a cleanse. When a fairly new vegetarian cafe called Cafe Rivva had a deal on Living Social for $15 for $30 worth of juices, smoothies and frozen yogurt, I was excited at the chance to attempt some sort of juice diet. It also helped that it is located near me in Brentwood.

The cafe was so cute and had a vibrant energy that was transferred into the delicious smoothies. The voucher could be used across multiple visits, thus I decided to try a raw shake diet in place of lunch. I did not do this consecutively, as I started to miss food too much. I also felt tempted to order one of their scrumptious sandwiches to go with the shake, but I controlled my urges to maintain the diet.

On day one, I ordered a Kale Smoothie, which had kale, banana, almond butter, flaxseed and agave.

I loved this smoothie. It was so frothy and creamy and had a light sweetness to it. It was also fairly dense and filling. I only ordered the 12 oz smoothie and this kept me satisfied until dinner.

On day two of my diet, I tried the Raw Cacao Smoothie made from cacao powder, almond milk, dandelion blend, banana, coconut oil and topped with cacao nibs.

This was probably my favorite shake and it was so rich and decadent. It had a strong chocolatey flavor and was very dessert-like. The cacao nibs on top were a great contrast to the smooth and creamy shake. This was reminiscent of a chocolate milkshake, only way healthier.

On day three, I decided to give the Green Delight a try, despite it sounding kind of odd. It was composed of spinach, super green powder, almond milk, banana, and agave.

This was very similar to the kale smoothie, only a little less frothy and not as sweet. It had a lighter flavor and was very enjoyable. It was still very creamy and quite decadent. I was nervous the spinach might be overpowering, but there was only a hint of it in the shake.

On day four, I opted for something more fruity for a change. Thus, I chose the Superfood Smoothie, made of blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, banana, goji, tocos, spirulina, almond milk, and agave.

This was like no fruit smoothie I've had before! It was very fruity and sweet but also very frothy. It was slightly creamy and had notes of spirulina, which added a light bitterness to it which was a great contrast to the various fruits and agave.

On day five, I decided to order another fruity drink, thus I chose the Westside Post-Yoga Refresher made   from blueberry, banana, spirulina, maca, and coconut water.

This smoothie was very similar to the Superfood Smoothie, although it wasn't as frothy or creamy. It was  a little lighter and also did not taste as sweet. It was very refreshing and the name is definitely fitting. While I enjoyed this smoothie, I still prefer the Superfood Smoothie.

My raw shake diet ended up being very successful. I was able to enjoy five delicious 12 oz smoothies for just $30. Normally each shake cost $6, but with the discount I only ended up paying $3. This is such a great deal considering how nutrient-rich each smoothie is, along with being packed with many high quality organic ingredients. I also felt satisfied and energized from each drink and didn't find myself craving food throughout the day as I normally do. The staff at Cafe Rivva were very friendly and told me they plan on doing another deal like this soon. This is my new favorite juice joint and I can't wait to try the rest of their menu.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Turning Over A New Leaf At Leaf Organics

Last summer, I discovered an appreciation for raw food, along with a small, quaint restaurant called Leaf Organics in Culver City. I regret not having tried Leaf Organics before their relaunch this summer, thus I cannot compare my experience with the original restaurant. Their menu had been completely revamped to create a middle ground for raw and cooked food. They now have raw, cooked and raw fusion dishes to please the palates of all diners. Not having been there since last July, I was excited to go back this past week and use a $25 gift certificate. 

The minimum spending required to use the gift certificate was $35, which my dining partner and I were able to do really easily. We ordered a raw appetizer, two entrees, and a raw cheesecake.

First, our appetizer came out, Cashew Kreme Cheeze with corn chips ($6.50).

The dish was delicious and this is saying a lot, considering I've never been a fan of cream cheese. Everything was completely raw, but it did not taste like it. The cashew kreme cheeze was so creamy and decadent with the right amount of saltiness and bitterness. The corn chips accompanying them were very crispy and crunchy and had a slightly sweet taste. They complimented the kreme cheeze really well. There were also some sprouted beans interspersed which added an extra crunchiness and was a great contrast to the smooth kreme cheeze.

Next, our entrees came out. I ordered the Bombay Burrito ($10), while my dining partner opted for a cooked dish and chose the Chik'in Dill quesadilla ($10). 

The burrito was wrapped in layers of collard greens and was filled with crunchy vegetables and soft, savory patties. There was a creamy, mildly spicy coconut curry sauce coating everything and made the dish so flavorful. I enjoyed the various textures in the dish and the vegetables were very fresh. This was a great take on a wrap. I love that the outside was so soft and chewy and felt light in my stomach, as it was so easy to digest.  The beet salad that accompanied the dish was also very delicious. It had a light, sweet taste and was very refreshing and cooling. 

My dining partner was unable to finish her dish, thus I was able to enjoy some of it. It was also very delicious. I was a little nervous trying a cooked dish at Leaf since they are known for their raw food and am happy to report they did a great job!

The quesadilla was huge and stuffed with vegetables, "chicken" and daiya cheese. I am pretty sure they use gardein chicken, as it had the meaty, chewy texture I am all too familiar with. The tortilla was very dense and savory and filled with hearty ingredients. The sauce on top was very creamy and had a bittersweet taste. It complemented the dish really well. My only complaint is that the daiya cheese was not completely melted, thus retaining its odd aftertaste. 

Finally, our dessert came out. It took a friendly reminder to the cashier to bring it out, but it was well worth the wait. We ordered the Chocolate Coconut Cheesecake ($8).

The dessert was so delicious. It was not overly sweet and had a good balance of chocolate and coconut flavors. It was very creamy and decadent, but not too rich. The sauce on top had a light sour taste with hints of sweetness. I would have preferred a sweeter sauce, since it is a dessert, but the sauce still complemented the cheesecake fairly well. 

Overall, I really enjoyed the dinner. Not very often do I get to enjoy a meal with both raw and cooked dishes. Leaf does a great job with each dish, although I still wish there was a bit more variety on the menu. Still, the ingredients are so high quality and we each spent less than $9 with tax and tip. This is such a great deal for raw food and the meal was very filling. I will definitely be back and I regret not having gone back sooner!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Very Green Mobile Deal

Today only, the Green Truck is having a deal for 50% off that can be used to purchase their delicious vegan-friendly grub. For $10 you get a voucher for $20 of food and drink.

                                            50% off The Green Truck

While I've never tried their food, I've heard and read amazing things about it. For $10 it definitely seems worth a try! The food tends to be a little pricey for a food truck since the truck is completely powered on vegetable oil and has such high quality, organic ingredients. They also have a delicious vegan burger called The Mother Trucker. I can't wait to try it!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kickin' Chinese Food At Kung Pao Bistro

In my continual quest for Chinese food that is not overly greasy nor contains the dreaded MSG, I am happy to report my discovery of a delectable restaurant that has greatly exceeded my expectations for a non-vegan Asian restaurant. Many Chinese restaurants I have tried in the past have a tendency to either sneak fish sauce into the dishes or attempt to create vegan meats that have an odd texture. A few months ago, I happened upon Kung Pao Bistro when I noticed they have an expansive vegetarian/vegan menu.  I figured I had nothing to lose by trying it and am so glad I did. I was even happier when the West Hollywood location had a deal on Living Social for $15 for $30 worth of food. I jumped at the chance to be able to dine at this amazing restaurant for half the price.

When my dining partner and I arrived around 8 pm, the restaurant was fairly crowded. The hostess told us to seat ourselves, and thus we chose a table by the door as seemed to be in the least cramped area. We looked over the menu and after much debate, we finally settled on an appetizer, soup and two entrees to spend as close to $30 as possible. The staff all know what vegan means and I specified to our waiter that everything needed to be prepared vegan. Kung Pao Bistro's vegetarian menu isn't completely vegan, as some of their mock meats contain whey, but they are very accommodating to any requests.

First, our appetizer came out. I initially ordered the pan fried vegetable dumplings which are my favorite dish I've had at Kung Pao Bistro. The server informed us they were all out of the dumplings, so instead we ordered the veggie mini drumsticks ($5.50).

These drumsticks were so delicious and completely made up for the lack of dumplings.  Each drumstick had a savory barbeque glaze coating the skin and a soft and chewy interior.  They lay on a bed of puffy, crunchy chips that had a slightly sweet taste. I really enjoyed this appetizer.

Next, we had the "small" portion of hot and sour soup ($6.50), which was really a ginormous bowl that had about ten servings in it.

This is one of the best hot and sour soups I've had in a while. The soup was dense with vegetables and tofu and was extremely spicy. My mouth was constantly burning and I found myself reaching for my cup of water quite often. Nevertheless, it was so delicious and I love spicy soup that makes my body sweat. The only problem I had with the soup is that it had way too many mushrooms that left a slight fungal aftertaste in my mouth despite doing my best to pick them out.

Lastly, our two entrees came out. We ordered the Veggie Robot Chicken ($11) and the Veggie Cashew Chicken ($9.50). Kung Pao Bistro does an extraordinary job at closely mimicking the meats and each dish seems to be almost an exact replica of its meat counterpart.

I dug into the Veggie Robot Chicken first. The sauce coating the chicken was very tangy and slightly sweet with subtle notes of garlic. It also had a hint of spiciness to it. The chicken was a little chewy but easy to eat. It had a great texture and I love that it was served as small chunks. The steamed broccoli was also delicious and was lightly seasoned.

Lastly, I tried the Veggie Cashew Chicken which was also very tasty.

This dish was very different from the Robot Chicken but complemented it really well. The chicken was smoother and also slightly chewy and was coated in a savory garlicky sauce. The sauce was very light and had a slight tanginess. The stir-fried vegetables were well cooked and very soft. There were cashews interspersed that gave the dish a nice crunch.

Overall, I really enjoyed the dinner, although I must say I am still disappointed I didn't get to have the dumplings. This is probably my favorite Chinese place in Los Angeles, vegan or not, and I am so glad they have such a massive vegan menu. They really take the time to prepare the vegan meats and it definitely shows. This is a great choice if you are craving slightly greasy Chinese food but you are sick of ordering tofu dishes. Our meal came out to $30 with the discount, including tax and tip. Considering the portions are pretty massive and quite filling, it was definitely worth it!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gobble Up A Green Deal!

One of the meal delivery services I've used called Gobble Green is having a great deal going on for the next six days. For $99, you get a week's worth of food which includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and snacks. I always make this last more than a week, since I'm satisfied with two meals a day. It apparently normally cost $225. The people over there are super nice and devoted to helping animals so I love supporting their company.

                      56% of Gobble Green Meal Delivery!

The offer is for a vegan starter kit and there is an option for gluten-free. The meal kit comes promptly shipped to your home and should be kept frozen. They keep really well and I've had mine last me months. I can't wait to order mine, let me know how it goes!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Return To A Native Happy Hour

Last Friday, I headed back to Native Foods to check out the new items on their happy hour menu. This time, I dined at the Westwood location, since I was already in the area. The restaurant was fairly crowded shortly before 6 pm as the happy hour specials were coming to a close. I placed my order just in time and felt relieved I was able to take advantage of the great deal.  I opted for the two appetizers I had yet to try, the sweet potato taquitos and the spicy buffalo wings. These were recently added to the menu just a few weeks ago. With the happy hour discount, each dish only cost $3.50, which is quite a steal!

My food came out pretty fast and I couldn't wait to dig in. First, I tried the sweet potato taquitos, which looked delicious.

They were perfectly deep-fried and crispy and the filling was even more scrumptious with a creamy sweet potato filling. It was so luscious and decadent! The sauce covering the taquitos was a little off putting and tasted too bitter and sour. It did not go at all with the dish. I would have preferred a sweeter topping and it would have complemented the taquitos way better. Nevertheless, the dish was really good and I loved the side of smooth guacamole.

Next, I tried the spicy buffalo wings. These were quite a disappointment.

As a kid, I used to love buffalo wings and pretty much ordered them at every restaurant that had them. I was excited to see Native Food's take on this and felt let down these did not come close to the real deal. The sauce was way too spicy and this is saying a lot considering how well I handle spicy food. My mouth was left burning for hours from this sauce and I felt my body dehydrated rather quickly. The inside was also dry and not very crispy and had an odd soapy taste. I had to force myself to finish these as they were so difficult to eat.  I do not recommend this dish and hope they either find a way to improve it dramatically or permanently remove it from their menu.

Overall, I did not have the greatest experience, but I think these dishes, along with many of the dishes at Native Foods have great potential to become amazing. Nevertheless, it cost me less than $8 and I left feeling satisfied. Native Foods is great with offering discounts and really seem to care about their customers. I will be back to their happy hour soon, but will probably stick with my old favorites.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Terrible Time At Le Tre

After watching one of the most amazing ballets I've seen in a while, I felt energized and uplifted. I didn't think anything could bring me down. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. My search for vegan-friendly restaurants had been a little difficult, since not many places exist near where my grandma lives. She didn't want to drive far, which added an extra challenge. I relied mostly on Happy Cow, as this site has proven to be helpful in the past. Thus, I found a restaurant not too far from the ballet, called Le Tre, a Vietnamese restaurant which was described by reviewers as being very accommodating to vegans. They even had a vegan menu!

This post is going a bit off course from my intent for this blog, as there is no deal involved. Nevertheless, I found it was necessary to post about my experience at this restaurant, as I want to warn others of a restaurant that is so ridiculously overpriced and totally not worth it. 

When we first arrived, the restaurant only had a few patrons. I attributed this to the fact that it was still a little early for dinner, plus Asian restaurants never seem very crowded. We waited a few moments before a woman finally came over, directed us to an empty table and handed us some menus. After scanning over the menu, I noticed that the vegetarian section was a mere two pages, with only about five choices of entrees and no specification of any of them being vegan. The prices for the entrees were about 18 or 19 dollars. I looked over to my grandma and asked quietly if she wanted to leave. She shook her head. I could tell she didn't want to have to deal with the embarrassment of standing up to leave, not to mention the stress of finding another place at which to eat. 

The waitress/owner came over and I inquired which of the dishes were vegan. She had a puzzled look on her face and didn't seem to understand English very well. Her husband came over and I repeated my question to him. He told me all were vegan except the egg roll appetizers. After scanning over the menu again, I waved over the woman and proceeded to place my order. She did not understand a word I said and even pointing to the menu items on the page proved futile. I tried to keep my cool as she kept saying "egg roll" and "shrimp soup" and wondered what business this woman had of owning a restaurant when she clearly did not know anything about food. I could feel my stomach knotting, worried that we would be served meat. 

First, our soups came out. I ordered a hot and sour tofu soup, but the soup that came out resembled a vegetable soup. I was glad this was probably vegan, although not what I wanted. 

I liked that it was loaded with vegetables and soft chunks of tofu and the broth was quite tasty. Nevertheless, it lacked the spiciness and tanginess I love in my hot and sour soup. It was also a bit overpriced at $6 and the bowl was not very big.

Next, we had some vegetarian rolls which were filled with vermicelli noodles, mint, carrots and sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato filling was a nice twist on the traditional Asian appetizer. It was more sweet and luscious than I expected and the highlight of the meal. The contents inside were nice and soft and lightly spiced. The bean sauce that accompanied the dish was even better. It was slightly sweet and tart and so scrumptious. The ground peanuts on top also added a great crunch to the rolls. As delicious as this was, however, the cost of $8 wasn't quite justified.

Lastly, our entree came out. I first tried to order the caramelized tofu which sounded so good, but the owner told me they were all out. Thus, I settled for the tofu with lemongrass, which was pretty mediocre.

The sauce was pretty good and had a very slight sweetness to it and was lightly spiced. The tofu was too soft and crumbly and the vegetables didn't seem to be cooked very well. I was also upset that the portion was so small and not very filling and cost a whopping $18.

When the check came out, my grandma asked me what 15% of the bill was. I stared at her in confusion. Was she actually planning on leaving a tip? The owners were so rude to us and they completely ripped us off. The customers sitting at other tables, who seemed like regulars, had bigger portions than we did and the owners were actually polite to them. I managed to convince my grandma not to leave a tip, since they were already getting so much of our money. If anything, we should leave a negative tip. Thus, we left the restaurant paying about $40 for a meal that was so not worth it. I definitely will not be back, even if they do offer a deal. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pine Garden: Not As Fresh As It Sounds

When I heard about a Chinese place in Boca Raton, Florida that had a wide array of vegan food, I almost jumped out of my skin. Most of the Chinese places I've been to in Florida consisted of greasy meat heavy dishes coated in a disgusting fish sauce, so to hear of a restaurant that actually created a whole separate menu for vegans excited me. Not to mention it wasn't too far from my grandma's house. Thus, the two of us ventured to Pine Garden Restaurant to take advantage of their lunch specials.

As we walked in around lunchtime, I noticed the restaurant was fairly empty. My stomach churned and I worried the food might not be all that I was hyping it up to be. We took our seats and I kindly asked the waitress for the vegan menu and she returned with two menus for us to scan over. While we were deciding on what to order, the waitress brought us some crackers for us to munch on.

These crackers most likely came out of a pre-packaged bag and were dumped into a bowl to look sophisticated, but they really tasted great. They were lightly seasoned and had a great crunch. It was a great way to start the meal and dipped in the "duck" sauce, they were even more delectable.

The lunch special includes a choice of soup, spring rolls and a choice of entree for only $8. To start out, I  ordered the hot and sour soup.

This soup was delicious. It could have been spicier, but it still had a great flavor and slight notes of vinegar.  It was also loaded with delicious vegetables and soft chunks of tofu. It was in a pretty large bowl and was fairly filling.

Next, the entrees came, accompanied by a mound of brown rice and a spring roll. The spring roll was very crispy and crunchy with softened, well-seasoned vegetables inside. This made up for the lack of vegetables that were in the entrees, which was quite disappointing.

First, I dug into my entree: General Tso's "Chicken".

The dish was much smaller than I had imagined it to be, yet it somehow managed to be quite filling. The sauce was very juicy and had a succulent taste. It was just so sweet and flavorful. However, I was let down by the faux meat. It was very rubbery and chewy and did not measure up to the faux meats I have become spoiled by. I don't think I would have been able to continue eating this if it wasn't for the scrumptious sauce. The steamed broccoli on its own was fairly bland, although putting some sauce on it somehow magically transformed it.

My grandma ordered the orange beef, but couldn't finish it, so I ended up eating a large portion of it.

Her dish tasted so similar to mine. The "beef" also had the same odd consistency and was difficult to chew. The sauce was just as delicious and almost identical, except it was a little less sweet and had a more tangy flavor. I would have loved to see some vegetables stir-fried in to make it a little more healthy and to offset the chewiness of the faux meat.

Lastly, the waitress brought out some fortune cookies to finish out the meal. I glared at it in contempt, since I've been told most fortune cookies are made from eggs.  Out of curiosity I read through the ingredients and surprisingly, there were no animal ingredients to be found! This totally made up for the mediocre "meats".

Overall, I would like to applaud Pine Garden's attempt of creating vegan dishes. They are one of the few restaurants in this area that seems to acknowledge that vegans exist and enjoy innovative food. I love that they try to mimic vegan meats, but I seriously wish they would perfect them more before placing them on the menu. I would much rather them pull some gardein out a box than serve something almost inedible. I really hope they work this out, as they have so much potential. They are already so devoted, having created a whole menu for vegans, and I would love for them to be as good as the restaurants in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, I would still recommend their lunch special, as it's a great deal and the food is very tasty. Skip the faux meats, though, and head straight for the tofu.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Incredible Indian Food At Indus Restaurant

When I landed in West Palm Beach, Florida last week, I was tired, dehydrated and worst of all famished. I had journeyed almost across the country, hopping planes to reach my final destination. My grandma picked me up and made the short drive to Indus Indian Restaurant. A couple weeks earlier I had purchased a groupon in which I paid $15 for $30 worth of food. This restaurant opened fairly recently and I read amazing things about it online, so I was excited to try it. It definitely lived up to my expectations.

As we walked into the restaurant, I was surprised to find the interior had such a modern, upscale design, since it was located in the middle of a typical strip mall with nothing too exciting nearby. I felt completely out of place walking in with dingy clothes. Luckily, we came early, when the restaurant was empty, although the service was almost too good.

Even before we decided to order, the waiter kept coming over to our table. I don't think he was trying to be pesky, but I needed time to scan over the menu and decide what I wanted. Fortunately, the menu had a "V" next the options that were vegan, so that helped narrow it down. My grandma doesn't eat Indian food very often, so she gave me complete power in choosing the dishes. Thus, I first ordered the assorted appetizers, which came with a samosa, vegetable pakoras and chili gobi ($9).

The pakoras were so delicious and the filling was sweeter than the pakoras I'm used to. The filling seemed to be a mixture of corn and pumpkin. The chili gobi had a slight spiciness from the chili inside and was a great contrast to the pakoras. The samosas had a very savory, spiced mixture of chickpeas and potatoes. The outsides of all the appetizers were well fried and very crispy to constrast the soft interiors.

The sauces were also delicious and complimented the appetizers well. There was a great balance of very sweet and very spicy within the sauce rack.

The waiter also brought out some papadum crackers. I love these and they are great to eat throughout the meal as they help balance out the spiciness in my mouth. These were great and very crispy and had a light flavor.

Next, we ordered the tomato rasam soups ($4). Unfortunately, the waiter seemed to mess the order up, as the soup tasted more like the garden herb lentil soup ($5). Regardless, it was very tasty.

This seemed to be a mix of a spicy tomato soup and a lentil soup. The soup was filled with bitter yellow lentils, which were balanced out by the sweet tomatoes floating around. The cilantro provided a coolness to counteract the spiciness. There was also a great tang to the soup, similar to that of my beloved rasam soup.

Next, our entree came out. We ordered the Aloo Gobi: Cauliflower and Potatoes cooked in ginger, garlic and cumin tomato sauce ($12).

The dish was very delicious and so different from the Aloo Gobi I'm used to. The tomato base added a sweetness which contrasted the heat from the spices. The cauliflower and potatoes were very soft and almost melted in my mouth as I ate them. The seasonings on top added a great crunch to the dish.

The dish also came with rice which was very good and lightly seasoned.

I love that they garnished the rice and it mixed really well with the Aloo Gobi.

Overall, I really enjoyed the restaurant, although without a groupon it is definitely expensive.  With tax and tip we only spent $25 on what would have cost around $40. Nevertheless, the food and the eloquent dining experience more than justify the price.  The waiter was over attentive in offering to serve us our food and coming back consistently to check that we were enjoying our food. Indus also has great drinking deals that I would have taken advantage of, had I not been so fatigued. From 4-7 pm every day, they have half priced drinks and women who opt to sit at the bar get their drinks for free! The restaurant also has a daily buffet which has vegan options and cost $10.  I will be sure to return to Indus Restaurant the next time I'm in Florida.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Grasshopper Restaurant: No Bugs or Animals Harmed!

On my last night in Boston, my parents took me to one of my favorite restaurants, Grasshopper Vegetarian Restaurant in Allston, MA. Despite the use of "vegetarian" in the name, the restaurant is strictly vegan. This restaurant has a relaxing and fun atmosphere and is constantly filled with college students. Grasshopper has also withstood the test of time and while other vegan restaurants vanished into thin air, Grasshopper somehow has managed to stay afloat. My best guess would be that it's because the food is so delicious and so closely resembles the beloved meaty Chinese food many people have become accustomed to. In fact, my parents, who are both omnivores, prefer this restaurant to any Chinese restaurant they normally frequent.

We headed over with our $25 gift certificate, which required a minimum spending of $45. This was not hard to do with three people and a menu filled with endless options.  It was almost as if the employees at Grasshopper knew we were coming and exactly what we would order because our soups and appetizers came out almost immediately after we placed our order. Talk about fast service!

My dad and I both ordered the hot and sour soup ($4), while my mom ordered the miso soup ($3).

The hot and sour soup was so delicious. It had a great tangy flavor with a slight vinegary taste. The vegetables were soft and complemented the chewy pieces of "meat". The broth was just so scrumptious and I was glad it wasn't overloaded with vegetables.

My mom described her miso soup as being very light with a hint of spice. It also had notes of soy sauce. She really enjoyed it and found it a great option for a less spicy dish.

Next, we dug into the house special assorted appetizers, which was composed of vermicelli rolls, fried wonton, fried dumping, and fried spring rolls.

The fried appetizers were so delectable and not overly done. They were so crunchy and crispy but did not taste too greasy. The contents inside were soft and even more flavorful. The salad was a nice complement to the fried dishes and had a light, creamy vinaigrette. The vermicelli rolls were a good contrast to the fried dishes in having a soft outer skin and having a lighter filling of tofu and vegetables. Each appetizer was further enhanced by the luscious sauces, especially the bean sauce which was slightly sweet with a tad of bitterness.

We didn't even finish our appetizers before our two entrees came out.  My favorite is Grasshopper's specialty dish, ironically called the No Name, which is battered gluten in a sweet and sour sauce served with assorted steamed vegetables and topped with sesame seeds ($12.45).  We also ordered the Braised Spicy Tofu and Assorted Seitans Hot Pot in a Clay Hot Pot with Pineapple and Lemon Grass ($10.50).

Grasshopper's take on traditional Vietnamese, Chinese and even Thai dishes is innovative and unlike a lot of vegan restaurants in Los Angeles, they do not merely defrost some gardein. They actually take the time to hand-make the "meats" themselves, which is evident in each perfectly crafted dish. This is one of the few restaurants where the vegan meat actually resembles real meat and could fool any omnivore.  Each entree perfectly replicated its meaty equivalent in a frightening manner.

The gluten in the no name mimicked chicken so closely, I could even taste the tendons as I bit into it. I do have to admit, this grossed me out a bit, but I could see how this would appeal to omnivores and transitioning vegans alike. It was coated in a delicious, sweet and slightly tangy sauce with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds to add an extra crunch to the dish. This is the best dish I've had at Grasshopper and I would definitely recommend ordering this if you dine there.

I really liked this dish, although it was not as flavorful as the No Name. It had a lighter taste and was slightly bitter. The vegetables and tofu were soft and had a thin glaze of sauce.  The seitan were also soft and slightly chewy. The dish was well spiced, although I would have liked for it to have been a bit spicier.

We were served more salad to accompany our entrees, which was a light and refreshing contrast. The brown rice was also very soft and well cooked.

Lastly we ordered a strawberry cheesecake to finish off the meal.

This was not the best cheesecake I've ever had, but it was still pretty good and only $4! It was very creamy and slightly tart. The strawberries added a nice sweetness to the dessert and made it more decadent.

Grasshopper Restaurant is a must if visiting the Boston area, especially with the great discount. We ordered the pricier dishes, but most of the dishes only cost around $8. The dishes are also HUGE and we ended up taking home a good portion of each entree. This place is very consistent and the service is beyond amazing.  With the discount, we paid about $33, with tax and tip, which was such a great deal.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Versatility with Vegin' Out

I cannot tell you how much I love Vegin' Out. A little more than a year ago, I discovered the completely vegan food service on and knew I had to order it.  As explained in my previous post, every Monday they have a new menu for the following week and you can place your order anytime for a week's worth of yummy food to be delivered to your doorstep. When I first tried Vegin' Out, I was struggling with making the transition from vegetarian to vegan. I wasn't getting enough nutrients in my diet and thus I would get sick a lot. Vegin' Out helped me learn how to eat more balanced meals and I actually lost some weight too! My biggest concern about them is that a lot of the dishes start to taste the same but perhaps that's just the chef's style. Within each week's meals, the dishes are pretty versatile but ordering week after week, the flavors become hard to differentiate.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I placed an order with Vegin' Out as I had purchased a Living Social voucher for a week's worth of food, which only cost $58. Not bad considering their meals last me at least 9 days! When the food came, I was a little worried that they would scimp on the portion sizes. As I unloaded it, I was relieved to see all the delicious food I have become accustomed to.

There were three entrees, four sides, soup and cookies. The entrees were: tofu chilaquiles, jambalaya and spaghetti with roasted romas. The sides were 2 rustic quinoa salads, orzo salad and kale with maple glazed walnuts. I replaced a rustic quinoa salad with mixed veggies in garlic cream sauce because veganaise grosses me out. The soup was potato leek. To finish it all out were chocolate chocolate chip cookies. 

First, the tofu chilaquiles were very good. It was so eggy and well-seasoned. I would love for it to have been even more spicy but I guess Vegin' Out is reluctant to add too much spice to their food in fear of turning people off. 

The spaghetti with roasted romas was probably my favorite entree. I ordered it with no mushrooms, so I believe they added even more tomatoes. It was very oily and the spinach and tomatoes were soft. I love how the dish is so healthy and still tastes amazing. I never would have known they use whole wheat pasta as it tastes so fattening!

The jambalaya was also very delicious. This got a little soggy being in the freezer and then transported to my refrigerator.  My only other problem with Vegin' Out is that some dishes don't seem to last past a few days and some even suffer in the freezer so it's really a buyer beware. 

I've never had the real version of this, but Vegin' Out's version was so savory. There were big chunks of field roast that were delicately stir-fried into the well-seasoned rice. 

The sides were also good, although I did not enjoy them as much as the entrees. My favorite was the kale with maple glazed walnuts, which had a good mixture of being sweet and savory. I really love glazed walnuts and am not usually a huge fan of kale, but the kale was easy to chew and evidently well massaged. The dressing accompanying it was also creamy and had a slight sweetness to it. 

The rustic quinoa salad was a little bland, although the dried cranberries added a nice sweetness to it. I wish it had been better seasoned, though. I regret ordering two of these instead of doubling up on a better side dish!

The orzo salad was also very good, although that also needed a bit more spice to it. Nevertheless, it tasted very wholesome and hearty and I felt good after eating it.

One of the highlights was the potato leek soup. My mom used to make this dish when I was growing up and I remember it as being overly chunky and bland. Thus, I was a little nervous to try Vegin Out's version.  I am glad to say it exceeded my expectations. It was so creamy and had a light spice to it. The leeks dominated the soup and were so flavorful. 

Lastly, I indulged in the chocolate chocolate chip cookies. It was hard not to eat these all in one day and took so much self-control! I am glad I was able to contain myself, as these cookies were so decadent and chocolately. The inside was soft and moist and had such a rich flavor. These are up there as the best cookies I've ever had, vegan or not. 

I definitely recommend Vegin' Out. It's such a life saver when you don't have time to cook or can't cook and don't want to eat out every night. The week I ordered it was intense and I barely had time to eat and probably wouldn't have if it wasn't for my food from Vegin' Out. Recently, I've been seeing deals from them on Living Social, so I'm sure they'll be having more soon. In addition, they have referral programs and pay in advance deals to lower the cost of their food. It normally cost $117 for a week's worth of food, but given the quality and convenience it's worth it!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Israeli Food at Rami's

Nestled in the Jewish section of Brookline, MA is a lovely Israeli restaurant that is also vegan friendly called Rami's. The restaurant constantly has deals on groupon and my dad snatched a few. We ventured to the restaurant with our voucher, which my dad paid $8 for $16 worth of food. When we arrived, it was nearly empty, but soon a crowd poured in and we found ourselves having to stake down one of the few tables in the restaurant. Rami's can best be described as a very upscale Subway in that you order what type of pita sandwich you want and then choose the veggies from a toppings bar. I love places like this because I feel like I'm in control of how my food will turn out.

My dad and I quickly decided we both wanted falafel pita sandwiches, his with hummus, mine with baba ganoush (each $8). We also ordered a spinach boureka to share ($1.75).

First, I dug into my baba ganoush falafel pita sandwich. The pita was completely loaded with fresh, crunchy vegetables, pouring out as I took my first bite. Each vegetable was delicately coated in tahini sauce, with baba ganoush interspersed. The pita itself was fairly thick, but easy to chew. The falafels were even more amazing, with the outside being so crispy with a soft, chewy center.

Lucky for me, my dad does not have nearly as big of an appetite as I do, so I always end up finishing his meal (if he orders vegan of course).  He left me a bit to try and it was just as tasty as mine. The hummus was really good and very creamy. His pita sandwich had a stronger taste of tahini, which was the culmination of the tahini sauce and hummus. My sandwich tasted a bit more savory with the roughness of the baba ganoush.

After finishing our sandwiches, we split the spinach boureka in half.

The boureka was my favorite part of the meal. It is essentially a spinach pie without the feta cheese. The phyllo dough surrounding it was so flaky, crispy and scrumptious, made only better by the layers of choppy spinach inside. This made for a great end of the meal as it was very pastry-like and had a good mix of being sweet and savory.

Rami's is a great place to go if you want genuine Israeli food and they have plenty of vegan options. A lot of the customers were Israeli, which is a clear indication of both the quality and authenticity. With the groupon we only ended up about $11 total, which is a great deal. The restaurant is already pretty cheap, so I would go back regardless of a discount.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Savory Meal at Sabra Restaurant

After the amazing buffet I had last week, I decided to head back to Sabra Restaurant in Newton, MA to enjoy their dinner.  Their Mediterranean food is some of the best I've had and I love how they have a whole section devoted to vegetarians. Fortunately, unlike other cuisines, such as Thai and Mexican, I can count on it actually being vegetarian, devoid of any animal ingredients, such as fish sauce or chicken stock. Many of the dishes are already vegan, and the staff is very accommodating with any requests. 

While we decided on what to order, the waiter brought out some pita bread.

The bread was nice and toasty, having just come out of the oven. It was soft and chewy with the crust being slightly crisp. I just wish we had ordered some of Sabra's decadent hummus to dip it into. 

Since we were the only ones in the restaurant, our meals came out fairly quickly. I ordered the pumpkin kibbee: Two layers of pumpkin, stuffed with spinach, onion and Sabra spices. Served with salad.  My dining partner chose the Vegetarian Mousaka: Eggplant, onion, tomatoes, and chick peas. Seasoned with Sabra spices. Served with rice pilaf. Each entree cost $13. 

At first glance, the pumpkin kibbee resembled a big chunk of meat loaf. I have to admit I was a little nervous the waiter messed up the order. As I dug into it, I noticed the assortment of various vegetables all compiled to create a delicious, savory pie. 

The soft layers of pumpkin were sweet and luscious, contrasted by the spiced chickpeas and leafy spinach pieces. There were so many different flavors going on in just one piece. The seasonings prevented the dish from being too decadent and dessert-like as pumpkin dishes can so often be.  The salad accompanying it was very fresh and the dressing was light with a hint of vinegar.  I really enjoyed this dish and it's probably my favorite.

I sampled a bit of my dining partner's meal, the vegetarian moussaka. 

The dish was so savory and well seasoned.  The vegetables were soft from being soaked in oil. I do not usually like eggplant, but I still enjoyed this dish.  There was a very subtle sweetness from the tomatoes. The rice pilaf mixed really well and also had a hint of spice.

I really enjoyed the dinner, especially the pumpkin kibbee. It's so different from dishes I normally order at Mediterranean restaurants and I love that Sabra veganizes dishes that are traditionally composed of meat.  We used a $10 gift certificate, thus it came out to about $22 with tax and tip.  For such good quality and service, it's a really good deal. If you're looking for great vegan Mediterranean food in Boston, this is definitely a good choice.