Tag Archives: vegan vacation

Dallas does vegan!

While I wouldn’t call Texas a top vegan travel destination, it does offer some unique eats that always makes the trip worth it. On one recent visit to the Lone Star State, we trekked to Dallas and visited Spiral Diner & Bakery.

Spiral Diner Dallas

Spiral is the closest to Phoenix’s Green Vegetarian that I’ve experienced in Texas. It’s completely vegan, and serves “comfort food.” The menu has a lot to offer! I tried the Patty Melt.

Spiral vegan patty melt

It was a soy burger patty with melty Daiya cheese and grilled onions.

My husband is a sucker for vegan “barbecue” and got the Chopped BBQ San’ich.

Spiral vegan BBQ

The grilled seitan and barbeque sauce were sloppy and delicious.

Best of all was the desert. We had a slice of coconut cake.

Spiral vegan coconut cake

It was light, moist and the frosting was particularly great. Sprinkles!

Spiral is a bit off the beaten path of downtown Dallas, but it’s worth the effort to get there! We were sad that we weren’t there long enough to try them for breakfast.

As big as it is, I can’t help but feel there is a lot more to explore in Texas! If you have any vegan favorites, especially in Austin, please let me know so I can try them next time I’m there!

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Messing with Texas, vegan style

I’ve been making regular trips to Austin for almost a decade, and I’ve always enjoyed exploring the vegan dining options in a city that prides itself as such a cultural hot spot. My close friend in town keeps an eye out for new places to try when I visit. Last year, he came up with what I initially considered an odd choice. I admit I was hesitant to give this place a try, but I became an advocate after my first visit.

Casa de Luz is a healing center that offers a set meal for breakfast,  lunch and dinner. It’s always vegan, always gluten free and always made with whole, unprocessed foods. They provide soup and salad a la carte, then serve up a plate of beans, grains and vegetables.

Casa de Luz Austin kitchen

The specific ingredients and recipes change every day, as do the unique sauces and dressings. They post the menu online daily. This may sound like a boring meal, but trust me, it’s not. In fact, it may be, quite possibly, the best thing ever.

When I visited a year ago, the dinner included beets, lentils, rice, Kim Chi and kale (with an oil-free sauce). The lentils were beyond heavenly.

casa de luz 2011

On my most recent visit (on December 26, 2012), the meal included a borscht (pureed beet) soup with an almond pesto sauce and salad.

Casa de Luz vegan borscht

Again – it sounds boring but it was fantastic. I especially liked how well the almond sauce blended with the soup, giving it a bit of texture and zing. The creamy (yet vegan and oil-free) “Pepita cucumber” salad dressing had my husband going back for seconds.

The meal consisted of medium and short brown rice; kidney and black beans; steamed mushroom, carrots, onions, broccoli and yellow squash; blanched greens (kale) with a balsamic, sunflower and dill sauce; and pickled red radish.

Casa de Luz Austin vegan dinner

I can’t think of a better meal after a heavy Christmas dinner. If I lived in Austin, I would probably have to move into this place.

Mother’s Café & Garden is my other must-visit Austin staple. Its diverse menu of vegan and vegetarian favorites offers something for just about everybody in the family.

Mother's Austin

The chips and salsa are highly edible (I think we ate four baskets full), and the fresh-made salsa has a lively Texas kick to it.

Mother's chips and salsa

To start, I ordered a cup of vegan tortilla soup. It was so good I forgot to take a picture until it was gone! I’d highly recommend it.

My entrée was the Chili Melt.

Mother's vegan chili melt

It was fairly basic flat enchilada with black beans, rice and corn tortillas. I chose the verde sauce, which was sweeter than I like for my Mexican food. However, they have discovered Daiya vegan cheese, so that made it just right!

My husband’s “TLT” was a bit less fun.

Mother's vegan TLT

It was a simple sandwich of marinated tempeh with lettuce, tomato and Veganaise.

However, it left him with enough room for some vegan Belgian chocolate cake.

Mother's vegan Belgian chocolate cake

Mother’s has a wide variety of vegan treats, but the chocolate cake always calls to us. It’s rich and fudge-like. I’d recommend they serve it with some vegan vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce!

Of course, Austin has plenty of other vegan options to offer. We haven’t made it to Counter Culture since it transitioned from food truck to restaurant, but the food truck was pretty good. There are actually several vegan food trucks in Austin, but my attempts to visit them have been hit or miss. We found a vegan taco truck during this visit, The Vegan Nom’s Rockin Vegan Tacos, but unfortunately we had just eaten so I only took a picture of the menu.

Vegan Nom Tacos menu

They’re on the list for my next trip!

Also worth mentioning is Tacodeli. While it’s not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, the menu offers multiple options for the herbivore. I had the Freakin Vegan tacos (sans avocado).

Tacodeli freakin vegan tacos

They were pretty straight forward – black beans and salsa – but the hot sauce was great and it will certainly do in a pinch!

My husband was more adventurous and tried the Florentino and Frontera Fundido Portobello tacos, made vegan.

Tacodeli Florentino and Frontera tacos

He wasn’t too impressed with either, but he’s a native Arizonan. For him, no Mexican food from Texas will ever satisfy him, but that’s another story.

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We Want Wagamama!

I’ve been obsessed with Wagamama for well over a decade, when a friend said, “You’re going to London? You have to go to Wagamama.” If you’re from the U.S. you’re probably saying “Wagawhat?” But hopefully that will change someday soon!

Wagamama

Which do you think I went to?

Anyone who has traveled with me to the U.K. knows that as soon as I can, I make a beeline to the nearest Wagamama. It’s a chain restaurant, and they’ve multiplied like bunnies since first opening in 1992, with locations in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. Lucky for me, on my last trip to glorious Britain I stayed in a hotel with a Wagamama in the basement (I didn’t plan it that way, I swear).

So far, Wagamama has only slightly penetrated The States, with three locations in the Boston area (we’re tied with New Zealand – yeay!). I think Wagamama must mean “good luck” because one of them is very near my company’s headquarters, which means I can usually get at least one visit in every year.

What’s so great about Wagamama, you ask? My answer: pretty much everything. It’s a “rice and noodle” casual dining Asian restaurant, with a blend of Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indian and Vietnamese items. And if you’re thinking that this is another Pei Wei, think again. Wagamama offers a wider variety of flavorful dishes, and has more to offer for vegans and vegetarians. It’s the kind of place where everyone can find something on the menu to like, and they make it very easy for vegans to get a great meal by providing a vegan menu online. It’s also a great choice for gluten-free diners.

I have a bad habit of getting the same one or two things every time I go because I usually only get one meal in during a trip. I at least try to vary the starters if I’m dining with a companion. On my last visit, I tried the Summer Rolls.

Wagamama vegan summer rolls

They were light and fresh, and were served with a sweet chili, garlic and cilantro dipping sauce. I’ve tried the edamame with chili and garlic salt before – which is just fine. The Yasai Gyoza (veggie pot stickers) are also great, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t vegan – just vegetarian. If your meal doesn’t come with Miso Soup, you should definitely order a bowl as well!

My default entrée of choice for years was the Yasai Chili Men.

Wagamama Yasi Chili Men

It’s a huge bright red bowl of veggies, tofu and noodles that provides plenty of heat in the mouth and belly. Since I’m usually traveling for work when I go to Wagamama now and not wanting my dinner to keep me up late at night, I’ve switched allegiances to some other favorites with less after bite.

As boring as it may sound, my latest favorite is the Yasai Cha Han (order it with no egg to make it vegan).

Wagamama vegan yasai cha han

It’s basically fried rice, but it’s not greasy and nasty like some fried rice can be. Instead it’s light, hearty and full of subtle flavor. It also comes with Wagamama’s wonderful vegan miso soup, which is a life saver on a cold night in Boston. It’s usually what I get if I’ve arrived in town late and want to go to bed without a gut full of spice.

But the entrée that keeps me going back for more is the Yasai Itame.

Wagamama yasai itame

This delicious noodle soup is made with coconut milk, rice noodles, a light hint of chili and ginger spice, and tons of tofu and vegetables. It’s always way more than I can eat, but I try to at least finish the tofu off. If you order it, make sure you squeeze lime into it to bring out the flavor even more.

If you have room left after all of that, Wagamama usually has a vegan sorbet that makes a nice palette cleanser. However, on my last visit in the U.K. they offered a vegan “ice lolly” that I thought would be something unique and fun. Instead it was a pre-packaged fruit juice popsicle shipped from somewhere in the U.S. Oh well!

There are other vegan entrees on the Wagamama menu that I haven’t tried yet. Maybe if they ever make good on their promise to open hundreds of locations in the U.S., I’ll feel less pressure to always order my favorites and will experiment more with the menu.

Beyond the food, the ambiance of Wagamamas always makes me happy. The restaurants tend to be in basements, so you feel like you’re descending into someone’s hidden, private space (except the Tower Bridge location in London — that one is down right scenic). The servers are always friendly, but not chatty, and very good at their jobs.

In the U.K., they sit you directly with other people at long rows of tables, so you usually get to meet fun people from a wide variety of countries.

Wagamama Windsor, U.K.

In the U.S., while the tables are still long, they put small gaps in the rows so the visual of open dining is still there, while giving territorial Americans some sense of privacy. Maybe when they move west that will change.

The ordering process is unique as well. Wagamama is the first place I had been to where the servers used hand-held wireless devices for orders and credit card processing – and that was more than 10 years ago! It was cutting edge high-tech to me at the time! Every menu item has a number, and the servers don’t just enter it into their devices, they also write the numbers on your place mats so the right food goes to the right person. You have what I’d call a “main” server, but everyone manages your order in a communal fashion. All of this makes for an efficient experience.

Over the years, I’ve made Wagamama addicts out of several friends and co-workers. If you’re ever in Boston or in one of their many overseas locations, give it a try and let me know what you think! Maybe we can get a petition going to bring Wagamama west!

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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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No Vortex for Vegans in Sedona

I was hoping to avoid ever having to write a negative post about a vegan restaurant in Arizona. However, my recent experience at ChocolaTree Café in Sedona left me with no choice.

ChocolaTree Vegetarian Restaurant

With the demise of D’lish, the only other 100% vegetarian restaurant in Sedona, former raw turned vegan restaurant ChocolaTree became our focus for a day trip out of Phoenix.

The menu online looked promising enough, with a variety of standard vegan food options plus some interesting looking desserts. We arrived at about 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday, well past lunch hour, and found a line at the order counter of about six people. It was pretty clear from watching the not-so-streamlined order process that we’d be in for a bit of a wait. The counter person told the people in front of us it would be about 15-20 minute for any cooked food. Okay, no problem, we’re patient types. When it was our time to order, we selected a raw appetizer since we were hungry, a raw veggie sandwich and a cooked veggie burger, plus two deserts.

The small dining area inside was full, so we went to the garden in the back, which was nicely shaded even if the rickety patio tables/chairs were less than comfortable. It was pleasant enough, but the guy serenading his dining companions with folksy acoustic guitar tunes didn’t provide the type of peaceful ambiance I was after. Our next warning signal that our experience at ChocolaTree wasn’t going to go well came in the form of a seminar taking place on the ground next to us on fasting and cleansing. Aside from not wanting to hear about the importance of “poop” while I’m waiting for my meal, the more they talked about not eating, the hungrier I got. From looking around at the other tables full of people with no food, it felt like the entire restaurant had decided that fasting was the way to go that day.

From what we could tell, there was one person serving all the food, and she was stressed. She brought free appetizers to everyone else in the garden to apologize for the wait, but completely ignored us. We watched as various people got up and went inside to complain, came back with desert before lunch, etc. and then we eventually started to see some food come out. Forty-five minutes later, our raw appetizer of Thai Spring Rolls emerged.

ChocolaTree Thai Spring Rolls

Truth be told, they weren’t bad, but then again, we were starving by that point. The coconut-curry wrap was interesting and different from anything I’ve had before, but the massive amount of sprouts with a few other veggies inside the wrap left me cold (and still hungry). The sprouted nut dipping sauce was intensely garlicky, but palatable.

I lost track of how long it took for our lunch entrees to emerge, but it was probably another 15 minutes. My husband stuck with the safe option of a veggie sandwich.

ChocolaTree veggie sandwich

As you can tell from the picture, sprouts must be on sale in Sedona. There was nothing interesting or unique about this sandwich, other than it being vegan, and I suppose the $9 price tag for $1.50 worth of veggies is worth a comment. The sprouted grain bread was decent enough though.

My choice was the veggie burger.

ChocolaTree veggie burger

That thin red layer at the bottom of all those sprouts and lettuce is the veggie burger. It didn’t taste bad, and it was definitely unique, but all I could think of was “where’s the beef” while I rapidly consumed it.  It seemed to be beet-based, but the sandwich also had a tomato blend on it which added to the flavor. I certainly wouldn’t drive to Sedona for it again, but it was at least creative.

By this time (about 1.5 to 2 hours later), we just wanted to get the heck out of town, so my husband went inside to ask for our desserts to go. This wasn’t a problem, because the desserts we ordered were pre-packed. When we got home, we started eating our slices of double chocolate ganache cake and coconut cream pie. Both tasted horrible. To quote the menu, these deserts were supposed to be “pure vegan nourishment homemade with natural sweeteners.” But, to add insult to injury, we looked at the ingredients listed on the to-go containers and found that both contained honey. Seriously? They weren’t even vegan! Sorry, no pictures. They went straight into the trash. Later, I found a review of ChocolaTree’s chocolate online that asked what I thought was a very relevant question: “It’s not supposed to taste like ass, is it?”

After having so many good vegan dining experiences around the world, going back to a 1972 stereotype of what a vegan is supposed to eat (i.e. sprouts) was an incredible disappointment, especially in Sedona, “town of enlightenment.” I’ll always give a restaurant an initial pass on poor quality service, but given the total bill for our meal was over $50 and the dessert wasn’t vegan, I just can’t recommend going there and will certainly never go back unless someone can convince me that I’m wrong about this place. Other folks have written positive reviews of ChocolaTree, so maybe I just caught them on a bad day. But clearly there has to be some place good for vegans to eat in Sedona. I just haven’t found it yet. I welcome any feedback on other places to try in town.

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Vegan Food Adventures in Singapore: Part Four

This is the fourth (and last) part in a series of posts on the vegan and vegetarian food I found during a recent trip to Singapore. See parts onetwo and three for more information on the restaurants I visited.

After two intense Southeast Asian dinners in a row, I wanted something a little mellower for lunch the next day. I decided to revisit a place that I had tried on my last trip to Singapore – Original Sin, a Western-style vegetarian Mediterranean restaurant at the ex-Pat enclave called Holland Village (Blk 43 #01-62 Jalan Merah Saga Holland Village, Chip Bee Gardens).

Original Sin vegetarian restaurant in Singapore

While the menu is very solid for vegetarians, it’s pretty limited for vegans. We started with the Mezze plate, which included small portions of hummus, baba ganoush, falafels, pita bread and a delicious dip called Koresh – a pumpkin and carrot infused spread with caraway and fennel seed. The platter also included tzatziki and feta, but they were easily avoidable. All of the dips were delicious, and I should have ordered the large platter instead of the appetizer size!

For my entrée, I ordered a pasta dish that I can’t recall the name of (and it isn’t on the online menu).

Original Sin vegan pasta

It was prepared with a light olive oil infused with garlic and chili pepper (okay, so maybe I just can’t do “mellow” when something spicy is on the menu!), plus included a variety of fresh veggies including tomatoes, spinach and edamame. It was good, but I thought the dish was a little heavy handed with the garlic and chili.  It actually upset my stomach more than the Thai and Indian food did!

My dining-mates ordered an interesting mix of vegetarian entrees, including the lasagna, supremo pizza, and the Absolut pasta.

Original Sin supremo pizza

Original Sin Absolut pasta

Out of them all, I was most jealous of the pizza – it looked beautiful. Too bad they haven’t discovered Daiya vegan cheese substitute in Singapore yet!

As much as it was a nice setting and good food, I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to go back to Original Sin if I make it to Singapore again. It’s great for vegetarians, but does not offer as much for vegans, and it isn’t serving anything I wouldn’t be able to eat in the States.

My last meal in Singapore was a very happy surprise. There were still three vegetarian restaurants on my list that I wanted to try – Zen Japanese Vegetarian at 122 Middle Road, Living Greens at 325 Beach Road, and Eight Treasures Vegetarian Restaurant Chinatown at 282A South Bridge Road.

Since I had a half day before our flight home with no meetings to attend, I decided to make a quick shopping dash for souvenirs in Singapore’s Chinatown. Eight Treasures was right by the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in the heart of the tourist area in Chinatown so it got the nod. The menu was vast (far more than what’s online), and claimed to be “100% vegetarian” – which, based on what I saw, I think meant it was totally vegan. There was a wide variety of mock meats and seafood – more than I’d ever seen – plus interesting bean curd and veggie dishes. Many dishes had photos accompanying them on the menu so you could get some sense of what was in it. They had interesting specials and the mock meats intrigued me (vegetarian suckling pig?) but, I decided to play it safe since I was about to get on a 17-hour flight. I ordered what I thought would be a basic tofu and veggies dish. It doesn’t show up on the online menu but it was called either the Family Bean Curd or the Eight Treasures Bean Curd. My dining companion ordered an eggplant dish that also does not show up on the online menu.

Both items were entirely unique. When the tofu dish arrived, I thought it might actually be in a pesto sauce.

Eight Treasures vegetarian bean curd

It was a light, clear sauce, almost like a Moo Goo Gai Pan sauce, but loaded with an herb that we just couldn’t identify. We thought it might be cilantro, or maybe parsley, but it was such a gentle flavor that neither of us could be certain. Either way, it was delicious and I don’t think I’ll ever have anything like it again. The tofu and veggies were fresh and full of flavor. I kept saying, “Okay I’ve had enough, I’ll stop eating now,” and then ate more.

The eggplant dish was similarly distinctive.

Eight Treasures vegetarian eggplant

It was beautifully prepared, with all the vegetables looking bright and fresh. The purple eggplant was glowing. The red sauce wasn’t spicy, but instead had a nice light flavor that wasn’t too sweet, wasn’t too sour. I didn’t know what to expect from Eight Treasures, and it ended up being the perfect final meal for me in Singapore.

I really hope that I have a chance to go back to Singapore again and try more vegetarian and vegan food from around the region. I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s available!

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Vegan Vacation: Portland, Oregon (part 2 of 3)

The second part of this series of posts on vegan dining in Portland, Oregon is about 100% vegan restaurants, plus vegan treats. Part one was about Portland’s food carts, if you missed it.

Full Vegan Restaurant Dining

When it comes to 100% vegan sit-down restaurants, Portland delivers as well. The three below were the highlights:

The Bye and Bye (vegan)

Although this is predominantly a bar (note: no minors allowed after 8 p.m.), all the food is vegan. I had the BBQ tofu platter and was completely delighted. Sorry, I had already eaten half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

The Bye and Bye BBQ tofu platter

It was the best BBQ sauce I’ve had in ages. It was slightly spicy, didn’t have too much vinegar and I think it had a hint of peanut butter. The greens weren’t worth the effort, but the baked beans were great.

My husband had the BBQ tofu sandwich, which included avocado, red onions and jalapeño slices. He ate it before I remembered to take a picture. He also kept picking at my tofu so I think mine was probably better. If we had more time, I would have gone back to further explore the menu and the drink options!

Blossoming Lotus (vegan)

Blossoming Lotus was probably the closest to a Millennium-style vegan dining establishment in Portland. It’s located in the “historic Irvington District” at 1713 NE 15th Ave. We were a little grubby going in, having traveled through the Columbia River Gorge and over to Mt. Hood all day, so the quiet, relaxing atmosphere of Blossoming Lotus was appreciated!

The menu was a mixture of raw/live items and cooked entrees.

We started with the creamy pesto & white bean dip.

Blossoming Lotus creamy pesto & white bean dip

The bean dip was drizzled with pesto, which used an excellent light olive oil and lots of fresh basil. It was a great combo of flavors.

I also had the soup of the day, which was a tomato basil soup.

Blossoming Lotus tomato soup

It was slightly creamy and not too acidic, as some tomato soups can be.

My husband ordered a side salad with his entree, which gave him his serving of beets for the day.

Blossoming Lotus salad

It came with a light creamy ginger dressing.

For the main entrée, I ordered the four cheese lasagna.

Blossoming Lotus vegan four cheese lasagna

Similar to other Portland vegan creations, the homemade cheese-like products struck me a bit as “why bother when there’s Daiya?” The herb tofu ricotta was actually very good, but the lemon-basil cashew cream was oppressive. It was too much of a distraction from the well seasoned pasta sauce and just ended up being scraped to the side of the plate so I could get to the “good stuff.”

My husband was on a BBQ binge, so he went with the BBQ tempeh platter.

Blossoming Lotus vegan BBQ tempeh platter

It was not so much a BBQ tempeh as it was tempeh cooked in a vinegar, tomato, red onion reduction sauce. The chili was of less interest since the tempeh was delicious, so it was barely touched. The corn bread was a great complement – slightly sweet and served with Earth Balance margarine on request.

The deserts didn’t hold much interest for us, mainly because we had Voodoo Doughnuts waiting for us in the hotel room, but they had an interesting raw key lime pie that I would have tried if the waiter hadn’t told me it was made of puréed avocado (see previous posts about the wrongness of vegetables as desert).

Portobello (vegan)

Portobello logo

The place I was most interested in trying was Portobello due to the solid-looking Italian menu. We seriously lack decent vegan Italian food in Phoenix so I was looking forward to a nice experience. We went with friends, which meant we could try a wide variety of the menu (which is rarity for us). I didn’t take any pictures because the wait was long and we were starving by the time the food came. My “must eat now” instincts overwrote my “take blog photo” instincts.

We went with four courses for the meal: starters, pizza, pasta and desert. I now firmly believe every meal should come with a pizza course.

For starters we had the beet tartare with carrot aioli and cashew cheese; the olive plate and the arugula salad with chao cheese, beets, walnuts, apples & moscatel vinaigrette. Out of these three the only one I tried was the salad. The “chao cheese” was great – like a light ricotta. Everyone else at the table loved the beet tartare but I think I had hit my limit with cashew cheese at that point in the trip.

The pizza course reunited me with my addiction for Daiya cheese, so “hooray” all around for that! We had a basic Daiya, red sauce, basil pizza while our friends tried the mushrooms, herbed black olives, sundried tomatoes, capers, and Daiya cheese pizza. They were impressed with the cheese (and one of our friends used to work at Millennium, so she’s hard to impress with vegan food!). I think the Pyro food card pizza was probably a bit better (less rushed) but it was still a quality pie that I would gladly have again.

For the main course, we ordered the smoked tomato sausage and cheese ravioli with tomato-basil sauce and cashew besciamela. Our friends ordered the fettuccine alfredo and the tempeh-walnut agnolotti with lemon & sage. Out of the three, the agnolotti got the biggest raves. They looked like over-stuffed pierogies and had a nice, delicate lemon sauce. I preferred the ravioli because I’m not a fan of walnuts. At one point I had to stop my husband from handing it over to our friends since it was “mine.” The alfredo got a thumbs down, but I wasn’t surprised by that. Out of the three I’d think that would be the hardest to vegan-ize.

Desert options were more limited than I expected. We were almost tempted by the raw chocolate tart but decided it might be too heavy after everything we had just consumed. We went with the apple tart with streusel topping and vanilla coconut bliss ice cream. It was good, but not stellar.

Overall I think the restaurant may be suffering growing pains after its recent expansion. We had a lovely time and were not in a rush, but they need to do some tweaking of service levels and food delivery timing as some of our items seemed to have sat for a bit before being served. And the food prep needs just a bit more TLC. For instance, there was no salt on the table. The reason we were offered for this was that the chef felt the food wouldn’t need salt. We all agreed that they aren’t quite ready for that affectation. They are ambitious, and will probably improve over time into a premier vegan dining experience.

Portland Eats Vegan Treats

Portland did not lack for fine vegan sweets to eat! I know we didn’t make it to all of the local vegan-friendly bakeries, but here’s what we tried:

Sweetpea Baking Company (vegan)

If I could take one Portland dining establishment, pick it up and drop it in Phoenix it would be Sweetpea Baking Company at 1205 SE Stark Street (and the two shops next door to it – Herbivore Clothing and Food Fight vegan grocery).

Sweetpea is the only restaurant that we visited twice. The first time was for Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch.

Sweetpea Baking Company vegan Sunday brunch

Brunch was set up as a buffet. We had vegan pancakes with fresh blueberry compote, tofu scramble, seitan with gravy, kale and potatoes. It was all well-prepared and a fun experience.

For desert, I had a toasted coconut cupcake, which was absolutely the best cupcake I’ve ever had in my life.

Sweetpea Baking Company vegan toasted coconut cupcake

Before we left town I had to have another cupcake, so we went back on our way to the airport. The 2nd cupcake was just as excellent as the first. We also had a nice cup of Stumptown coffee and a slice of chocolate cake.

Sweetpea Baking Company vegan chocolate cake

We grabbed a hummus sandwich for the flight home but I forgot to take a picture. The thick homemade bread kept the hummus in good shape for eating four hours later.

Voodoo Doughnut (vegan friendly)

No trip to Portland would be complete without standing in line for 45 minutes to get a fancy doughnut. I sent my husband off to Powell’s Books while I endured the fellow tourists and doughnut hecklers (yes, there were hecklers).

Line at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, OR

I was a little worried when I saw a bacon doughnut go by that I might be wasting my time. However, once inside, their selection of vegan doughnuts was impressive!

Vegan doughnut options at Voodoo Doughnut

It was hard to choose! After a lengthy negotiation with my husband over the phone, I went with a cake chocolate, a raised chocolate, an old dirty bastard and a Portland cream (counterclockwise from top left in photo).

Vegan doughnuts from Voodoo Doughnut

I don’t think I would have gone wrong with any selection. I don’t remember the last time I had a raised doughnut, so it was a true treat! The raised doughnuts were light and not glazed. An added bonus was that the people working there were very nice – which was a big surprise given how intolerable it must be to have to put up with non-stop customers (who probably all complain about the wait).

Whole Foods Market (vegan friendly)

Of course it’s not unique to Portland, but we stopped at the Pearl District Whole Foods at 1210 Northwest Couch St. to do some essentials shopping (soy milk, coffee, hummus, etc.).

Whole Foods Market in Portland, OR (Pearl District)

I was beyond exhausted so I went straight to “The Mezz,” the coffee bar upstairs in the store. Humorously enough, it also had a real bar in it with beer and wine. I’ve always heard WFM is a great singles pick-up spot so Portland’s just taken it to the next level I guess! Even though I hadn’t had dinner yet, I eyed a piece of vegan chocolate cake and thought “what the heck.”

I forgot to take a picture, but take my word for it – it was awesome (and my husband’s favorite treat out of all we tried in Portland). The cake was moist and the frosting didn’t have that “fake” butter cream taste that sometimes comes with vegan treats (or even non-vegan treats).

Part three, on lowlights and our overall experience, is online now.

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