Monthly Archives: November 2010

Sens: Sensational Spice in Downtown Phoenix

Update: Unfortunately Sens is now closed, but you can get many of the same menu items just a few miles away at SoChu House!

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Sens Asian Tapas and Sake Bar is one of our favorite vegan-friendly restaurants in downtown Phoenix. It’s also one of the hardest to describe. When I say “Asian tapas,” most people think “dim sum” – which it definitely isn’t.

Sens is the culinary masterpiece of Chef Johnny Chu, and is essentially the 2.0 version of one of our other past favorites, Fate. Chu is a master at spicy Asian sauces. At Sens, the small portion sizes allow you to try a wider variety of flavors and sauces in one meal than you could at Fate. My husband and I usually get three or four items for the two of us, which leaves us so full we can barely roll out the door. They bring the dishes out essentially one at a time, so it’s a slow-moving meal where you get to savor each item and share with your table-mates.

The menu at Sens offers a good variety of vegetarian entrees, which are also vegan, but we’ve heard they may fry the tofu in the same oil as meats. However, the fried tofu items with dipping sauces really can’t be skipped. Two of our favorites are the Wasabi Tofu and the Sesame Tofu.

Sens Wasabi Tofu and Sesame Tofu

The Wasabi Tofu sauce is exactly what you’d expect – if you put too much of it on your tofu it’s a direct and painful hit to the nose. But it’s the kind of pleasure and pain combo that makes you keep going back for more. The Sesame Tofu is a little less intense, with more of a soy and chili flavor to it.

Sens often offers a vegetarian special – usually some kind of spring roll or sometimes an entrée. On our last trip we had a spring roll special that was better than their usual spring rolls.

Sens spring rolls special

I think the wraps were wheat instead of rice, and crisped up better. They were also served with an outstanding soy and peanut dipping sauce and a small papaya mango salad, which was excellent.

One of the newer items on the Sens menu, but a throw-back to the days of Fate, is the Spicy Saigon.

Sens Spicy Saigon

Spicy Saigon was one of my favorites at Fate so I was thrilled to see it come back in a slightly different version at Sens (but hope they someday bring back the Spicy Sesame too). Spicy Saigon is a stir-fry of veggies and fried tofu in a sweet yet flavorful basil sauce.

The other item that’s a must-have for me is the Red Curry Tofu, which is served simmering in a clay pot.

Sens Red Curry Tofu

It’s extremely rich and can sometimes be very spicy, but I end up licking the bowl every time. It’s served with the same fried tofu as the other dishes, plus veggies like okra, baby corn, carrots and snow peas. The best part is the hunks of pineapple. I usually leave them til the end when they’ve absorbed tons of the curry.

We usually get two bowls of rice and a plate of udon noodles to use as the base for the curry and Spicy Saigon, plus it comes in handy if you have any extra dipping sauces to sop up at the end. Woe to the waiter that tries to take the sauces away before we’re done!

Over the past two years since Sens has been open, we’ve tried pretty much every vegetarian item on the menu. Other highlights include the Papaya Mango Salad with Tofu, which is quite good and very spicy, and the Pineapple Ginger Tofu, which is tasty, but just not as great as the other two tofu dipping sauce items. We weren’t overwhelmed with the Hong Kong Flat Rice – the noodles were just too thick and flavorless, and the standard Papaya Mango Spring Rolls don’t do too much for me.

One warning: as much as we love Sens, 8 out of 10 times that we eat dinner there one or both of us ends up in fairly extreme digestive pain throughout the night. It’s just that spicy. I’ve tried to determine if it’s one particular dish, but I think it’s just spice overload in general. If you’re sensitive to spicy food, I’d recommend taking an antacid before eating there!

Sens is located south of Roosevelt in downtown Phoenix at 705 N. 1st Street #120. It’s open for lunch Monday – Friday, and dinner 7 days a week. It’s also open late (til 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday) and I think it turns into a hip bar based on the DJ that usually shows up around 6 p.m., but I don’t think I’d want to eat their spicy food at midnight!

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More Vegan Travel: Less Than 24 Hours in San Francisco

Continuing on from my last post about our recent trip to vegan-friendly California, we were in San Francisco for less than 24 hours on this trip, but had only one real dining destination: Millennium. It was my birthday, and there’s no place I’d rather eat at for a celebration! My husband even bought me a new camera for my birthday that features low-light capabilties so I can take better restaurant photos without a distracting/annoying flash.

Millennium Restaurant

I’ve been to Millennium many times, and am convinced that there is no finer vegan restaurant. I’ve brought several omnivores there too (even children of cattle ranchers), and they’ve always raved about their meals. The menu constantly changes, aside from a few standards, and Chef Eric Tucker places an emphasis on fresh, healthy and in-season organic ingredients, and taps elements of world cuisines without being too exotic.

During this visit, the menu predominantly featured a mix of Asian ingredients that created unique flavor combinations.

We started with the Mirin Glazed Sesame Rice Balls.

Millennium Mirin Glazed Sesame Rice Balls

I’ll admit we dug in too quickly to get a good picture of the whole plate. Oops. The official description is: kabocha squash, ginger & star anise puree, spicy shiitake mushroom, chile & edamame relish, nori paste, shiso. My description is: OMG. Sweet, tangy, savory – they were an umami-esq delight.

Decision time was tough for the main entrees. I went with the Sweet Soy Glazed Tempeh.

Millennium Sweet Soy Glazed Tempeh

It was the Indonesian style peanut sauce that sold me. Other ingredients included seared udon noodles with broccoli rapini, carmelized onion, fermented black beans & ginger, coconut-kaffir lime dressed snap pea & cabbage salad, and fuyu persimmons. Crazy delicious! One of the things I love about Millennium is how they use such a wide variety of flavors in each dish, but they complement each other perfectly. Every bite was a new taste experience.

My husband selected the Masa Crepe, which offered a nod to Mexican flavors.

Millennium Masa Crepe

The dish included cilantro-tofu cheese & roasted corn filling, roasted zucchini-pinquito bean hash, habañero-tomato cream, pickled nopales salad, and a pumpkin seed & cilantro emulsion. Again: wow!

We had to get two deserts, because we couldn’t decide between them. The first was a Warm Chocolate Cake.

Millennium Warm Chocolate Cake

It was filled with hazelnut ganache and poached seckle pear, and served with vanilla bean crème anglaise and chai ice cream.

I don’t remember the name of the second desert and it’s not on the menu anymore.

Millennium dessert

I remember it had figs, plus chocolate, plus some kind of yummy ice cream. Sorry, I didn’t take notes!

Since we had eaten so much vegan food in LA the two days before, we were worried that we would be too over-stuffed to enjoy our meal at Millennium, but the quality and variety of the food was able to cut through the pack and provide a truly amazing experience. Also of note, the service was impeccable at Millennium and we always enjoy their interesting variety of local and organic wines.

Before heading off to the airport the next day, we had breakfast at Herbivore in the Mission District.

Herbivore, Mission District

This was the first time we’d been to Herbivore. I’m not sure how we could squeeze any more food in, but we gave it a hero’s try. They had a great breakfast menu. My husband had the basil pesto scrambled tofu and a side of blueberry cornbread.

Herbivore basil pesto scrambled tofu

Herbivore blueberry cornbread

I had the breakfast burrito and a chocolate donut (I can’t resist vegan donuts).

Herbivore breakfast burrito

Herbivore chocolate donut

Both meals were great, but I don’t think we were able to finish either of them. In fact, the donut went in a to-go box. The breakfast potatoes were cooked perfectly – golden brown and flavorful. The blueberry cornbread was also another highlight. Service was a little slow, but we were the first ones in the door so I think they were still getting prepped. I hope we can get back there someday to try lunch and dinner!

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Greens on this trip but I know it’s a must-try. We never seem to hit the right window of time to go there. We made it there during opening hours once, but they were too packed to seat us so we got something from the to-go counter. Maybe next trip!

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More Vegan Travel: Los Angeles Vegan Delights

Once again, I’ve been traveling too much and slow to post. But I’ve been eating! On a recent trip to California, we visited some of the best vegan restaurants in the U.S.A. – both in Los Angeles and San Francisco. These restaurants are all fairly well documented in the blogosphere, so I’ll go through them briefly, starting with the places we went to in vegan heaven LA.

Our first stop after LAX was Real Food Daily (aka RFD) – West Hollywood location.

Real Food Daily

Their totally vegan menu has so much to offer that I can’t go there enough. On this trip, I had the Salisbury Seitan.

Real Food Daily Salisbury Seitan

There are few things I love more than RFD’s mashed potatoes and gravy. They nail comfort food! The seitan was a little bland, but the gravy made up for it.

My husband had the RFD Burger with the works. His review, “It was good! But it was pretty heavy and filling.”

Real Food Daily Burger with the works

We also had an intense chocolate brownie and a lovely latte. Both gave us the energy we needed after such a rich meal to tackle LA traffic, Hollywood tourists and Amoeba Records!

We timed our trip to make sure that we were in town when Madeleine Bistro was open.

Madeleine Bistro

They are currently open only on weekends, and they may be moving at some point. I hope they are doing okay because aside from Millennium, I’ve had no better vegan gourmet cuisine.

We had the mac and (vegan) cheese, fried (vegan) chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy (can you ever have enough in one day?) and a carrot and string bean veggie mix. We shared it all between the two of us.

Madeleine vegan mac and cheese

Madeleine vegan fried chicken and mashed potatoes

The mac and cheese was okay, but I’ve been spoiled by the melty consistency of Daiya, so I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. Madeleine’s fried chicken is second to none though. It’s perfectly breaded and goes very well with gravy.

For desert, we had the deconstructed smore.

Madeleine deconstructed smore

I raised an eyebrow when the waiter recommended it, thinking it was less appealing than a nicely constructed piece of pie, but his recommendation was spot on. It consisted of chocolate ice cream, lightly toasted marshmallow fluff, cocoa powder, chocolate cookies and a U shaped block of gooey chocolate (all vegan, of course). When all combined on your spoon, it was a unique, delightful experience. It was also very pretty.

For breakfast, we went to M Café on Melrose for the first time. They had a great menu and lots of breakfast treats. The first item that caught my eye was an almond croissant.

M Cafe vegan almond croissant

I haven’t had an almond croissant in years, and they are my favorite. I think M Café’s may have been the best one I’ve ever had.

I also got a breakfast burrito.

M Cafe vegan and gluten-free breakfast burrito

It was fairly small, but reasonable given the price ($5) and the spicy chipotle sauce was fantastic. The gluten-free brown rice tortilla was slightly crunchy, which made it very interesting. I’d gladly eat one every day.

My husband had the breakfast panini.

M Cafe vegan breakfast panini

It was serviceable, but nothing spectacular.

We of course grabbed some Babycakes cupcakes to go – strawberry and chocolate.

Babycakes vegan strawberry cupcakeBabycakes vegan chocolate cupcake

We have been to Babycakes in NY but this was our first chance to try the LA version, which are stocked at M Cafe. Both were as good as we’d remembered from NY, but without the charming Lower East Side setting.

Lunch brought us up to Silverlake and Flore Vegan – another vegan hot spot that we hadn’t tried yet. It was crowded, but after a short wait we had a street-side table and were deep into decision heck due to the great menu.

Someone at M Café recommended the Reuben sandwich at Flore, but I couldn’t resist ordering the Eastsider Tacos.

Flore Vegan Eastsider tacos

All I can say is “wow!” This may have been my favorite food from the whole trip. The seasoned seitan was delicious and tender, the tortillas were fresh and sturdy, and the salsa was tangy.

My husband went with the Tacos de Papas which were good, but didn’t hold a candle to mine.

Flore vegan potato tacos

We were still so stuffed from lunch at dinner time, so we tried to find something light. We ended up at Vegan Glory – a cute vegan Asian restaurant. The menu was full of a wide variety of mock meat dishes that looked fun to try. We weren’t feeling too adventurous though, and started with the Freshy Rolls.

Vegan Glory Freshy Rolls

They were fine, but nothing to go out of your way for when there is so much else for vegans to eat in LA.

We split an entrée of chow mein with tofu.

Vegan Glory chow mein with tofu

Again, it wasn’t an exploratory choice, but we really wanted something light (at least compared to everything else we’d had) and simple after having over-indulged so much already by the second day of our trip. No complaints!

I could eat non-stop in LA, but we were off to San Francisco next. More on that in a future post.

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