See you at the Crossroads

Ever since Madeleine Bistro went more or less underground, LA has been sorely lacking in gourmet upscale vegan dining options. We’re lucky enough to have a plethora of casual vegan restaurants and even some fantastic new veg-friendly hotspots like the swank  The Village in Studio City, the incredibly delicious STREET on Highland and Melrose, and the ever-scrumtrulescent Mohawk Bend in Silver Lake. But 100% plant-based places are rarely all that fancy, and sometimes a vegan wants to get her high heels on and be able to eat more than three things on the menu, you know?

Enter Crossroads. No, it’s not based on the Bone Thugs-n-Harmony song, nor on the Britney Spears vehicle, nor the used clothing trading company. It was founded by none other than vegan megachef Tal Ronnen, whom I can personally attest to being 100% good dude. The Conscious Cook author/Gardein golden boy has created a beautiful yet unpretentious setting in the Fairfax/Beverly Grove area that serves all-vegan cuisine and gets me that much closer to my dream of being the world’s foremost vegan gourmet restaurant critic. This Friday night the hubs and I were lucky enough to get a reservation on the second night it was in business and I’m so, so glad we did. Forgive the quality of my crappy cell phone photos – it’s dark as a mother in there. Moby was eating there at the same time, NBD. Bottom line: the place has a few kinks to work out, as does any in its early days, but overall it’s fantastic.

The restaurant itself is just gorgeous. Tal and the other founders clearly paid a lot of attention to detail. The bar is the focal point of the main dining room, and I’d be happy to wile away a few hours here chatting it up with the friendly bartenders.

IMAG1967Our reservation (DEFINITELY make one) was for 9 PM, and we ended up having to stand at the bar and wait for a good half hour for our table. I’m pretty forgiving of slow/disorganized service when a place is brand new, and it ended up giving us a few moments to hang out and try the drink options. Some of these beverages were downright crazypants – they were out of the Caprese Smash and I really wanted to try a concoction with 9 ingredients, especially one with Sriracha bitters. I ended up going with the Punch Lyfe and the Mr. got an old-fashioned. Both of us agreed they were THE BEST EVER and immediately ordered a second round. I ended up getting the Sunset & Vine the second time around, which looks super pretty on account of the beet juice, but tasted sorta eh also on account of the beet juice. The Punch Lyfe seriously was amazing and I’d get it again in a heartbeat, and the hubs’ old-fashioned was no joke the best I’ve ever had.

SUNSET & VINE milagro reposado / solerno / lillet rouge / st. germain / rhubarb bitters
blood orange / beet / basil / ginger beer,  and PUNCH LYFE tullamore dew / gingersnap liqueur / orange marmalade / angostura / sparkling wine; both $15

After being seated we ordered about a billion dishes. One thing to note here – the portions are not just small, they are TEENY. Some dishes are bigger than others, of course, but for the most part you’re going to be getting just a bite or two off each plate. Again on the service, it was somewhat poorly timed. We ended up getting four dishes at once, which of course didn’t all fit on the table, was a little uncomfortable, and not to mention made us look like total hogs. First up was the kale spanakopita.

photo (1)

KALE SPANAKOPITA / 8
harissa spiced smoked tomato fondu / mint oil

These were nothing short of goddamned delightful. The little tomato fondu (say that in as obnoxious of an accent as you can for full effect) was creamy, rich and thick, and the little spanakopita (you have to press your fingertips together and move your hands up and down while saying that like you’re in an old racist cartoon) were crisp on the outside and full of creamy, chewy kale on the inside. We both oohed and ahhed over these babies. I could have eaten about twelve of the little two-bite rolls.

Flat bread - PISTACHIO KALAMATA TAPENADE & SPICY ROASTED CAULIFLOWER   / 10

Flat bread – PISTACHIO KALAMATA TAPENADE & SPICY ROASTED CAULIFLOWER / 10

We saw a couple at the table next to us eating this, and had to get it for ourselves. The texture on the cauliflower was just perfect. It was almost like a BBQ chicken pizza, but vegan and for grownups. Definitely would get this dish again. This was probably the biggest dish we had, and luckily one of the tastiest.

KITE HILL CHEESE PLATE   / 14 assorted cheeses / housemade jams / and other goodies -- (GF optional)

KITE HILL CHEESE PLATE / 14
assorted cheeses / housemade jams / and other goodies — (GF optional)

I was really excited about the cheese plate, and ended up being a little disappointed. The serving size was ample, and I enjoyed the accompaniments, but the cheese itself left a bit to be desired. It was just way too springy. Too much agar or carageenan or somethin’. The cheeses weren’t labeled, but from their facebook page I can guess that the red-rinded one in the center was their Costanoa and the one on the far left was the Cassucio. The White Alder (in the foreground, with a mottled white rind) was the only one I really enjoyed, as it was creamy and rich and spread nicely across the little multigrain bread provided. Still, I think they’re all worth trying because new vegan cheese duh.

“CRAB CAKES”   / 8 hearts of palm / apples / beets / horseradish cream -- (GF optional)

“CRAB CAKES” / 8
hearts of palm / apples / beets / horseradish cream — (GF optional)

The mini crab cakes were teeny tiny, barely two bites each. Our only complaint with these was that the texture of the veggies inside was a little bit off – they were just barely too firm and too big, which was a bit distracting, but the flavors were on point. It reminded me quite a bit of a dish that Fatty’s used to serve that I dearly miss. Don’t know that I’d get these again, but they were nice.

IMAG1961

SPICED CHICKPEAS / 8
oven-dried tomatoes / parsley garlic whip — (GF)

The spiced chickpeas were also a bit weird in the texture department. I don’t know if they were undercooked, but they just seemed a bit too firm. The parlsey garlic whip was a lovely complement to the spicy red sauce, but in the end I wasn’t crazy about these garbanzos. And you know how I feel about garbanzos.

PAPPARDELLE BOLOGNESE   / 12

PAPPARDELLE BOLOGNESE / 12

Even though we had ordered enough dishes to keep our waitress busy all night, we agreed we were still hungry after all that and ordered the papardelle. This dish ended up being my least favorite, sadly – the sauce was just way, WAY too salty. And I LOVE SALT. Both of us WHOAED Joey Lawrence-style upon our first bites. The flavors were great, the veggie meat crumbles were great, the pasta was great – but the salt level just threw everything off. I probably would have enjoyed it just fine if not for that. Hopefully it was just a one-time mistake and not the way it’s supposed to be made.

The dude at the table next to us ordered all four desserts on the menu and ate all of them by himself. Not to be outdone, we ordered some of our own (though not all four, which I still regret bitterly.)

IMAG1968

CARROT CAKE ICE CREAM, CHOCOLATE BUNDT CAKE, both $4

First of all, OMG SO CUTE. The desserts are itty-bitty (and only $4 a pop!) so don’t feel guilty at all for ordering one of them after eating here. Or all of them. The chocolate bundt cake was super rich and dark – in fact, the cocoa level was a little too strong and bitter, and I’m a dark cocoa fiend. But once I got to the ooey gooey caramely center I couldn’t help but exclaim OMUHGAH at that. It was ridiculous. In the best way. And the carrot cake ice cream? GOOD LORD SO GOOD. Absolutely delicious. Also, the little slices of carrot are candied and they’re bunny ears. GET THIS DESSERT.

Overall, I really loved Crossroads. There were a few hiccups but that’s more than understandable during the very early days of a restaurant. I really believe this is going to be the new vegan place to be, and know that my non-veg friends wouldn’t complain about eating here. The atmosphere is really classy, the food and drinks are bomb, the bartenders all wear cute suspenders, and the bathroom sink is mad fancy.

CRAZY SINK!

CRAZY SINK from inside the restaurant’s holodeck.

Well done, Mr. Ronnen and company. I’ll be back soon!

Crossroads

http://www.crossroadskitchen.com/

8284 Melrose Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90046

(323) 782-9245

 

Duty Now for the Future (Or, CHIPOTLE HAS TOFU! YAY!)

The first time I made the pilgrimage to a Chipotle (this was circa 2005; they were not as omnipresent as they are today), I looked at the mound of guacamole being heaped upon my forearm-sized burrito, gasped aloud, and asked, “Is this the promised land?”

But now Chipotle has even surpassed my initial impression, because they have added another vegan protein option to the menu.

Yay!

Yay!

You may feel you are experiencing déjà vu as you read this.  Hasn’t Chipotle offered faux meat in the past?  Yep.  Your memory doesn’t deceive you: it was a seasoned Gardein, and it made a fine taco.  But this option was never actually featured on the menu, so those not tapped in to the vegan hivemind didn’t know it existed.  After a few short months, it was pulled entirely due to “lack of interest.” (Otherwise known as: “No one ordered this secret menu item that we never actually told anyone about.”) I will always remember that summer of (Gardein-)lovin’ fondly.  It was beautiful, but it was never meant to be.

This time, the protein is a braised tofu that Chipotle is calling “sofritas.” (I’m guessing this is some derivation of sofrito? Silly honkeys and their misguided attempts at appropriation.)  And it is on the signage in the restaurant, so consumers are actually aware of its existence.

It’s currently being tested in a handful of San Francisco bay area locations, and as fate would have it, one of these locations is practically adjacent to my office. I had my gentleman procure some for us while I was working on Saturday in the hope that it would dull the pain that accompanies being an empty office because it’s Saturday.

It did!  The only pain I felt after lunch was a gluttony-induced stomachache. The tofu is extra-firm and cooked in a tangy, semi-spicy sauce.  Imagine if barbacoa and a block of tofu had a lovechild: barbacoa called tofu (okay, actually he texted, and it was at 1:00am) to “hang out.” He poured a couple glasses of red wine, put on an Otis Redding record, and, well…you can imagine the results—or taste them firsthand, if you happen to be in the bay area.

I had a generous portion of the tofu on tacos with black beans, fajita vegetables, salsa (“Uh, the spicy one,” is typically how I distinguish it) and guac.  Other than a serious oozing problem (this is not a dish I would advise shoveling into your mouth as you handle important documents), I have no complaints. I ate two of the three tacos, and then almost died from a combination of gluttony and pure happiness.

Side-effects include needing way more napkins than you have at your disposal.

Side-effects include needing way more napkins than you have at your disposal.

The mister, on the other hand, had his tofu served in a burrito. This burrito easily weighed more than the dumbbells I use when I do bicep curls: it was Man-vs.-Food, seriously-do-I-get-a-plaque-for-finishing-this sized, and I’m proud to say that my svelte gentleman took it down.

Look at the scale of this beast.

Look at the scale of this beast.

The only real drawback to this option is that, since we now have a vegan “meat,” guacamole costs extra.  But come on: it’s like twelve ounces of guac. It’s worth the $1.50.

While he was buying the food, my fiancé asked the Chipotle employee how the tofu was selling (I think to gauge the regularity with which we will have to buy it in order to ensure its permanent presence on the menu; three times a day?  Five?).  She responded, “Oh, great!  It tastes just like meat!”  Sigh.  Nevertheless, I hereby pledge to eat as much Chipotle as necessary to keep this option alive and well.  It’s a big commitment, but I’ll do it for our future. And for all of you.

Some Like it Raw, Day 3: A Near-Death Experience

I drank kombucha today. This sounds like a prosaic report to make, since hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Americans drink kombucha every day. Having now tasted it, this abundance of kombucha drinkers sounds like a worrying social problem —situated somewhere between poverty and girls who insist on wearing Uggs.

I never drank kombucha prior to today because it is entrenched in my psyche as a byproduct of new age spirituality, and I avoid new age spirituality the same way I avoid weeping sores. Stores that sell crystals, men who speak at length about their mastery of tantra, middle-aged women with dyed black hair and tattooed eyeliner named Raven: in my mind, they all perfectly represent new age, and they make me uncomfortable. I bet they drink kombucha.

It wasn’t hate at first sip: initially, I thought, “Oh my! A beverage concocted to taste like pickle juice. Delightful!” I didn’t even mind when stray chunks of ginger slipped into my mouth, or that the pungent flavor caused me to spasmodically shudder with every swallow.

So I guess my sudden turn on kombucha is my fault, because it resulted from incompetence: I inhaled it. You would think, at age 26, I would be capable of controlling my ingestion mechanisms. But no. I inhaled it. And let me tell you: inhaling that vinegar drink made my nose burn, and my eyes water, and my lungs quiver, and my life flash before me–which ended with the epitaph: “Here lies Crystal. She accidentally drowned in kombucha, less than twenty-four hours before being reunited with her lifelong love, the mashed potato.” Cruel fate!

There is little else to add about my diet today; it’s hard to feel inspired to comment when all I ate were salads. How much can one say about lettuce, anyway? “It’s crunchy” “It’s fibrous” “It’s stupid and no one likes it” (take that, lettuce!).

So the detox is over, and if my tummy weren’t full of raw collard green (used in place of tortilla in a wrap; this technique is only recommended if you share the same digestive system as cattle), I would run to my fridge and undo any potential benefits I may have reaped from this cleanse. I probably wouldn’t do a detox like this again, mostly because I feel more –toxed than de-. Abrupt diet changes are generally inadvisable, and I’ve realized that if I want to amend my habits (which I grudgingly admit may not be the worst idea; the secretaries at my work incessantly remind me that my vending machine habit will someday catch up with my ass), it would probably be better in smaller doses.

Like carrots in carrot cake.

<3

Some Like it Raw, Day Two: Lettuce Rock

I began my morning with another chocolate shake.  I am not even upset that it restored my previously eradicated food baby; after all, food babies are the reason that the good lord (or some merciful fashion designer) invented fluffy skirts.

But now it’s 11:15 a.m. and I’m feeling a bit peckish.  I think I’ll eat…

???

A giant bowl of mustard.

Oddly enough, this baby-food-esque puree not only looks like mustard; it has a fermented, vinegary flavor that is reminiscent of mustard.  But it isn’t mustard.  It purportedly does not even contain mustard (I remain skeptical).  It’s corn chowder, “slightly spicy with cilantro and cayenne”, but I do not taste spicy.  Well, unless you count the overwhelming flavor of fermentation that causes a numbing sensation with every bite. Hm.  Every day brings new knowledge: paresthesia inducement is a property I had never previously attributed to corn.

11:36 a.m.: Why am I still eating this?  It’s like baby food for a less discerning palate.  I guess it’s mostly because I miss the gooey foods that I consumed with reckless abandon just 48 short hours ago.  Like burrito fillings.  And cake batter.

The first time I ever went to a raw restaurant, it was with an omnivore.  He ordered lasagna, and winced when a cold plate of raw squash was brought to him.  “But there aren’t any noodles!” he pouted.  “And it’s like…cold.”  “Yeah dude,” I responded, filled with smug faux wisdom.  “It’s raw, what did you expect?  All raw food is like salads.  Like, creatively constructed salads, you know?”

But in retrospect, I was wrong.  Sometimes, a fermented bowl of puree is placed before you, and it is perfectly reasonable to pout about it.

12:45: kale salad time!  This is the most normal-looking dish in the detox plan thus far: kale, tomatoes, sprouted wild rice, pickled cabbage, mung beans, and pureed avocado moonlighting as creamy dressing (it’s as brilliant as it sounds).  Despite a tinge of fermentation, the flavors are well married.  The kale is hearty without being indigestible, and I chomp it with gusto.  It’s like my teeth were never semi-retired (they’re the Michael Jordan of the digestive process!).  I do have an inclination to pour an ocean’s worth of salt on top of this salad, but I refrain: besides (presumably) being against detox rules, over-salting falls under the purview of “bad habits from which I am taking a break”.  But seriously.  It needs salt.

All of these fermented foods has left me wondering if Leaf Cuisine is trying to get me drunk (if so: that’s nice of them).  After considering Leaf’s potentially nefarious plot to intoxicate strangers versus the raw food agenda, I realize that this is probably a way to circumvent cooking.  Now I’m even more confused.  Did a group of raw vegans convene and conclude, “Hey, we’ll just use this here bacteria to break down these here molecules, and then we won’t need concentrated heat application!”  Because molecular breakdown is molecular breakdown, you know?  And isn’t avoidance of molecular breakdown like, the thesis of raw foodism?

Eh.  I’m sure they have their reasons.  I just wish it were kept away from my precious, precious kale.

Since food is permissible today, I’m not quite as overwhelmed with the urge to throw it all away and become a fast food bandit.  But this junk food deprivation is beginning to cause hallucinations: the letters “t-a-c-o” hover before me when I close my eyes; the aroma of apple pie haunts my senses; I begin to experience phantom cookie dough syndrome, which is sort of like phantom limb pain, but more delicious.

Anyway.  It’s 5:30 p.m., and my condition quickly deteriorates to a debilitating nausea: I feel like I’m going to vomit mulch.  In the back of my mind, a voice gently reminds me: Taco Bell would never forsake me this way.

I get home, feign wellness long enough cuddle my dog, and proceed to lay in the fetal position for twenty minutes. I pop a Tums.  Tums aren’t part of the detox deal, but feeling awful because my body doesn’t know how to process salads isn’t, either.  My digestive rebellion subsides.

Time for another salad.

The Caesar salad (romaine, “crawtons”, tomatoes and Caesar dressing) settles my stomach a little more, presumably because it contains fat.  It also contains the aforementioned crawtons, a substance of truly incomprehensible composition.  It tastes like TVP chunks that have been partially rehydrated: salty, spongy—meaty? I have no idea how to describe them, but my dog enjoyed them.  Of course, she also eats fertilizer.

Who, me?

Day Two is over and I am 66.666666666666…% of the way through this all-too-fibrous experiment. I’m ready to designate waffles as a raw food group (I mean, pizza can be categorized a vegetable! With sufficient lobbyist muscle, anything is possible) and cry chlorophyll tears.  But I’ll persist!

Waffles 2012!

Tomorrow:  Installment 3 of 3 (Otherwise known as salvation.)

Some Like it Raw, Day One: No Chewing Allowed

Every morning, I stand before my mirror, facing profile, and assess how many months pregnant I look (no paternity tests needed: Food, you are the father).  This morning, my guess is about eight weeks (which is to say, my food-baby bump would only be visible to those thoroughly acquainted with my torso).  Since I’m going on a liquid fast for the day, I anticipate it will shrink over the next 24 hours.  At least, it had better, or I will contact Groupon and self-righteously demand a refund.

So.  First on the prescribed detox menu is the Got Greens drink, which is a blend of celery, spinach, kale and cucumber juices.  Those are some of my favorite green foods!  It doesn’t sound disgusting, despite resemblng Slimer’s ectoplasmic residue in Ghostbusters. And I am delighted to report that, indeed, it is not disgusting!  It tastes like water flavored with essences of celery and grass, which is actually better than it sounds when you know you have no other options.

Meals for the day. In the world of food porn, this is a fetish.

20% through this green concoction, and my stomach is beginning to feel like I swallowed a bottle of multivitamins without food.  I don’t think it comprehends today’s objective.

Two hours later.  I have only drunk about 80% of my juice.  HOW MANY OUNCES WERE HIDING IN THAT CUP?

Two hours and ten minutes later (around 11:00 a.m.): I’m finished!  But now that I have no edibles to put in my mouth, I sort of miss it.  Oh well; I did just drink my weight in kale juice. That’s more than most accomplish in an average morning.

An hour has passed.  It is noon, and I am ravenous.  I have an urge to go on a rampage, wherein I crawl through every Del Taco drive-thru window in a six-mile radius and demand they surrender all of their French fries to me.  But instead, I walk to my office kitchen and retrieve my Veggie Combo juice (carrot, celery, beet, and kale) from the refrigerator.  My boss saunters in and inquires what the hell I am drinking (he’s British, so when he swears at me it’s charming).  I tell him about my dietary plan, which elicits an eyeroll.  He decides that I am actually drinking blood.  Evidently, blood tastes very strongly of beets.

The drink isn’t bad (I like beets just as well as the next kid who grew up watching Doug), but it could definitely benefit from some vegan Worcestershire sauce.  And a celery stalk.  And vodka.

Anyway, I down it…in about an hour and a half, which is significantly rapider than the previous beverage.  Despite my increasing ability to power-chug juices, I feel about as sluggish as I would on any other day that I skip my morning espresso-chased-with-Diet Dr. Pepper-followed-by-green-tea.

It’s now 3:00 p.m., and I am growing certain that I am slowly wasting away from starvation, so I turn to the beverage I have been dreading most: Druids [sic?] Detox, which contains burdock root, lemon, apple, ginger, agave and cayenne.  Most of the ingredients sound palatable; cayenne is a bit questionable, and burdock root—I don’t have any preconceived notions about that, actually.  Apparently, burdock is a biennial thistle that moth larvae like to eat, and it has numerous medicinal applications. Hm.  I wonder if that’s the ingredient that lends a woodsy odor to my drink.

I take a tentative swallow.  It is not delicious.  My stomach growls.  I hold my breath and take another sip: consumed in this way, it tastes like lemonade with a curious afterburn.  Not bad!

I finish it, and in record time (twenty minutes!), but I can’t help but suspect that druids had strange tastebuds, or lacked olfactory bulbs (perhaps that anatomical feature evolved later, or was bestowed upon the human race by Stonehenge aliens).  Or maybe druids were just starving and ate everything.  (I can relate.)

As my work day comes to a close, I don’t think I can definitively declare that I’m more alert and energetic, or that my mood has been elevated, as a result of raw food alchemy.  But I will say this: it is a miracle that I have gone this long without eating and have not yet experienced the urge to strangle someone.

I get home and manage to clean my kitchen for ten whole minutes (this is practically a record) before tearing into my final drink of the day: Chocolate High Fiber Smoothie (cacao, banana, nut mylk—P.S.: they made me spell it that way—chia seeds, and dates).  Every time I considered throwing a Hail Mary today, I remembered that I got to have a chocolate milkshake for dinner, and I was sated.  It was worth the wait: wondrous, chocolate-banana sludge. I devoured it thusly:

Step 1: Vanna White that shiz.

Step 2: Chug with the enthusiasm of a hazed sorority rush.

Step 3: I'm a lady.

Day One of this detox is over (therefore, I am 33.333333333333333333…% on my way to Thanksgiving feasting!).  My boss thinks I’m a vampire, I’ve considered robbing multiple Del Tacos of their French fries, and I had a milkshake for dinner.

Not bad, all things considered.  But I wonder if I’m going to sleepwalk to my refrigerator in the middle of the night to ravage a burrito.  Only time will tell!

Tomorrow: Installment 2 of 3 (now with solid foods!).

Some Like it Raw: The Preamble

I’m not exactly what one would consider health-conscious: I could spend my days floating on a lazy river filled with melted Earth Balance, devouring cookies faster than the Cookie Monster and slathering aioli on everything, including exposed areas on my body, and be quite satisfied (and my skin would be so supple!).

This is not to say that I am not health aware; I have a basic understanding of health principles, and when forced, I’m capable of eating salads and otherwise competently monitoring my nutrition.  But most of the time, I’m a “takes her multivitamins with a swig of beer”-type girl.

My awareness of basic nutritional tenets makes me wary of cleansing diets. It’s just a fancy title for a crash diet; you only lose water weight (and that is what Diurex is for—well, that and peeing the color of Windex, which is an excellent conversation starter in the ladies’ room); and cleanse-diet shillers often utilize marketing terms that make my skin crawl, like “detox” and “probiotic”.

It’s all so GOOP, you know?  This is the sort of approach people take in an attempt to emulate Gwenyth Paltrow.  I don’t hate Ms. Paltrow (she’s a convincing actress in the right part, and has surprisingly extensive knowledge of good hip-hop), but I don’t aspire to her waify build.  She looks great, but I could stop eating entirely and never attain her BMI.  Plus, who would want to give up eating?  There is a lot of [vegan]pizza in this world, and I’ve devoted my life to ensuring that it all finds a proper home.  In my tummy.

So many pizzas, so little time.

Also, if Sir Mix-a-Lot is to be believed, a little jiggle can be a good thing.  And when it comes to muffin top, everyone knows that the top is the best part of the muffin, anyway.  Right?  Right.  I’m comfortable with the amount of fat on my body (usually), and even when I’m not, no one wants to hear the petite girl whine about her genetically regrettable birthing hips. So I generally shy away from weight loss regimens of any kind, but especially ones that prohibit me from eating cookies.

Somehow, I’ve still duped myself into purchasing a “detox” cleanse from Leaf Organics (I’m blaming Groupon).  It’s a three-day dietary program consisting of raw juices and raw salads, and touts the ability to “cleanse, detox, lose weight, increase alertness and mood”.  Its promises have the familiar ring of overpriced skin serums at Sephora (tighten pores!  eliminate wrinkles! attract Ryan Gosling!), and I do not expect it to fulfill all of them.  But having been to Leaf in the past, I know that it is possible eat worse things than their salads for three days (I have, for example, been on the Taco Bell diet before, and the results weren’t pretty).

Still, willfully adopting this regimen is out of character for a number of reasons, some of which are outlined above, and not least of which is that chewing is one of my favorite activities–and Day One of the cleanse is all-liquid.  I’ve considered liquid diets before, but I’m usually idly wondering about the feasibility of subsisting entirely on pumpkin spice lattes and multivitamins, or deriving all of my nutrients from beer.  Speaking of: no beer (or wine, or scotch, or other adult beverage) is permissible for the duration of the diet.  My liver is going to be so bored for the next three days.

But I have resolved to go through with this: I want take a break from my questionable dietary habits.  I’m curious how I would feel if I did not consume fried foods on a regular basis.  And if nothing else, I will devour fat-soaked carbohydrates on Thanksgiving with cataclysmic delight.

Goodbye, miracle emulsion.

Hello, fridge full of nonalcoholic liquids.

So! Coming tomorrow: Installment 1 of 3.

The Blue Dog Cafe: Inebriety, Pet Obesity, Mediocrity (But Still…Pretty All Right.)

So, how long have you been vegan? is often asked of me.

The most accurate answer I can give to this question is, “Oh, since high school, so I guess about…[count on fingers]…nine years.  Nine years?  Jesus.  Nine years.”

But the most honest answer to this question is: “Too fucking long.  Really.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love being vegan.  I love what I cook, I love what I bake, I love that I can look upon fields of grazing cattle and squeal at their cuteness and anthropomorphize them and never have to think, “Hey, I eat you.” I also love that I can maintain a healthy weight while eating (vegan) pizza with (vegan) ranch dressing at least twice a week.  The perks of a vegan diet vastly outweigh the detriments, and even though it has been too fucking long, really, since a devilled egg (or a similarly cholesterol-laden food item) has crossed my lips, I don’t look back on any of these herbivorous years with regret.

Part of being a vegan old-timer is that I remember how things were, and reminiscing about that is liable to invoke “back in my day” speeches not unlike those your metaphorical grandfather would tell you about walking shoeless in the snow whilst defying natural law (really, grandpa, I know I was four years old but I wasn’t stupid enough to completely disregard Newtonian physics).  And let me tell you: back in my day, soy cheese was scarce, and it was rock-hard and crumbly, and it tasted like the plastic in which it was packaged.  Vegenaise was a twinkle in a food scientist’s eye.  Soymilk tasted like soy (ever thought about blending a block of silken with water and then using it to douse your cereal?  No, because that sounds disgusting? Well.  That’s what it tasted like).

I suppose part of this can be explained because I cut my teeth on veganism in the Inland Empire, where vegan options are rarer (although: Baker’s continues to be an IE-exclusive phenomenon.  And I’m calling Baker’s a phenomenon because it is phenomenal: salty-to-the-point-of-hypertension TVP tacos, and fries, and from a drive-thru?  Be still, my heart!),

(No, don’t really do that, heart; I’ll do some cardio soon, I promise.)

So, when I first made the vegan conversion as a gastronomically clueless 17-year-old, my newfound vegan diet consisted of…bread.  Sometimes the bread was spread with barbecue sauce, since it was the one condiment I trusted.  After several weeks of severe fatigue, Clif bars were added to my dietary regimen (don’t ask me where, oh, fruit and vegetables were at that time; that much common sense eluded me).

And forget about restaurants.  Vegan options were usually limited to French fries and iceberg lettuce “salads” without dressing.  I was probably vegan for two full years before I ever saw a specifically vegan item on an omnivorous restaurant menu, and regardless of what that item was, I ordered it (it’s just a giant mushroom? Mushrooms are fungus and that is gross? Fuck it, it’s vegan!). Which brings me to the topic at hand: Blue Dog Café.

 

Blue Dog Café is sort of a gastropub.  They have burgers, a couple of non-burger sandwiches, a lackluster vegan menu, and beer. I say that it’s “sort of a gastropub” because really, calling a burgers-and-beer joint a gastropub feels inaccurate; there is nothing gastronomically innovative about pairing greasy finger foods with beer.

Anyway, they have a lot of beer.  And it’s well selected.  Their beer list consists largely of brews that cause you to exclaim, “Hey, they have _____!  That’s my jam!”  (Well, maybe you don’t exclaim “that’s my jam”, because you are not a dorky white girl with a seven-year lag on colloquial trends.  But you know what I mean).  They have Old Rasputin on tap.  They have Raging Bitch in the bottle.  They have a plethora of other beers that I have never tried, because I am a creature of habit and Flying Dog Brewing Company is a rare sight in a bar, or a restaurant, or an establishment that is not my apartment.

Just like me.

Basically: you do not go to Blue Dog for the food.

Actually, that isn’t true: an omnivore probably would.  Having been accompanied by a meat-eater to this joint, it’s clear that Blue Dog makes some crazy-decadent, likely-exceeding-1,500 calories-per-entrée burgers.  But for us vegans, beer is the main draw.  Because Blue Dog’s vegan options are reminiscent of vegan fare of yesteryear: the “vegan special” amounts to a hummus sandwich.  It’s pretty tasty: toasted multigrain bread, a generous spread of silky hummus, tomatoes, fresh basil, and (sometimes) avocado.  But—it’s a hummus sandwich.  On the scale of culinary creativity, it ranks somewhere between a Subway Veggie Delite and, I don’t know—something that I would actually be excited to eat.

Ooh yeah, give it to me, baby.

They also have a vegan chili I have yet to try, and some of the most glorious fries in the Valley (hand cut; fried in peanut oil; oh my god), and if you’re into commingling the foods on your plate, they offer chili fries.

Here's a close up of them fries.

I believe there is a “spa” salad, but since I’ve never been inclined to pair rabbit food with my beer, I’ve only given it a cursory “Oh hi we’re both vegan so it’s nice to make your acquaintance” glance.

I hope this review does not seem excessively critical.  I am delighted that there are establishments in the Valley that have explicitly vegan, non-sketchy (oh, hello, questionable meat at every Thai vegan place ever) options, and beer, and my dog is welcomed.

 

Translation: Fur babies welcomed.

Did I forget to mention that tidbit?  It isn’t called Blue Dog for no reason: pictures of pups adorn the walls, which provokes a litany of squeals every time I enter.  And they allow dogs to chill on the patio while their owners get appropriately soused, which means that on nice days, my spoiled fur baby can accompany me on my descent into afternoon alcoholism while I feed her inadvisable quantities of fries (I sometimes feel like the unfit parent of an obese child on a daytime talk show who rationalizes overfeeding their offspring with the proclamation that “THEY’RE HUNGRY!”).

Like mother...

...like daughter.

There is little else to add to my review of this place (the music is okay, sometimes: on a good day they play Otis Redding, but it more than likely will be circa-Blue Album Weezer–not the worst auditory fate but I’ve been over Blue Album since Rivers stopped being bone-able; the servers range from being genuinely nice to oddly unfriendly; the clientele ranges from cool-ish to “I am silently judging you”).  I did manage to embarrass myself in front of some actor the last time I went: the actor, who is moderately famous, but whose name I don’t know–essentially Katherine Heigl with a penis–walked directly into a drunken impromptu photoshoot of me and my dog, in which my pup refused to reciprocate my affections (bitch!).

Luckily, all of my dignity had been (blessedly) exhausted long before this occurrence.

So anyway, if you have a dog, and/or you emphatically appreciate hummus and/or beer, and/or you are irrationally excited by lukewarm actor sightings, Blue Dog Cafe is worth going to.   If not: eh.  At least you won’t be there to call me out on contributing to my dog’s weight problem.

She's just big boned.

Sorbetto Heaven at Gelato Bar & Espresso Caffe’

I really love the little Tujunga Village area of Studio City. Aroma Cafe is a super popular breakfast (and lunch and dinner!) spot that makes GREAT lattes and has a few delicious vegan options, along with a cute little bookstore. There’s a great little gourmet shop across the street, and all sorts of kitschy little stores that are perfect places to take your Mom when she’s visiting.

When I’m in the mood for something sweet, though, Gelato Bar & Espresso Caffe’ is my jam. There’s also a location in Los Feliz that I have yet to check out, but if it’s anything like the Studio City store it’s double the awesome.

Gelato Bar & Espresso Caffe' interior (long haired dudes not guaranteed to be in attendance)

 

This place is usually full of locals sipping on lattes and working on their screenplays, not to mention chowing down on some sweet sweet gelato. Let me point your attention to something especially interesting on that archway:

THE LEGENDS ARE TRUE!

 

That’s right, the sorbettos here are all vegan! Dairy-free, what! Their selection is pretty vast, with delicious berry and melon flavors, not to mention, oh, CHOCOLATE SORBETTO. It’s pretty much the highlight of my life.

Half chocolate sorbetto/half blood orange sorbetto/ALL YUM. Bambino size - $3.50

 

Make sure you get a flavor that says “sorbetto” and not “gelato,” as those contain cream. Maybe they can work on a soy or rice gelato someday! That would be even delicious-er; however, the chocolate sorbetto is so incredibly rich and dark and take-a-bite-then-open-your-eyes-to-realize-you’re-naked-and-everyone-is-staring good that I’m more than happy with what they have. And you can have them make you a mix of two flavors! I highly recommend the chocolate with, um, anything.

So many flavors, only one stomach.

 

Studio City is lucky to have such a great artisanal gelato shop, and it’s definitely worth a trip on its own. You can find me there with a bambino size full of ciocolatto with my eyes rolled back in my head. Let’s take one last look at that beautiful sorbetto, yeah?

Heyyyyyyy chocolate. Heyy. You lookin' GOOOOOD.

 

Gelato Bar & Espressio Caffe’

4342 1/2 Tujunga Ave

Studio City, CA 91604

818.487.1717

M-Th 8a-10p, F-Sat 8a-11p, Sun 9a-10p

How Amanda’s Bakery Saved Me from Myself

Two days ago, I turned 26.  This is not a particularly revelatory age (quoth Patton Oswalt: “Go to work!  Who gives a shit?”), and I suspect 26 will closely resemble 25.  Nevertheless, I find myself in the midst of a minor adulthood crisis (I’m 26 and I’m still in school and I live in an underfurnished studio apartment and god only knows the last time I cleaned out my refrigerator, et cetera).

But luckily, to distract me from the inevitable confrontation of my immature existence, I have birthday cake.

This year, Spice lovingly donated a birthday cake to my cause, which is sometimes referred to as “Unlike-Diane-Lane-(,)-subject-to-advances-in-the-calendar-year-and-the-aging-process-and-the-fifth-dimension-generally” or “birthday” for short.  Anyway.  The cake was from Amanda’s Bakery, and it was glorious: two layers of moist chocolate cake, the freshest raspberry filling imaginable (it makes other fruit fillings cower in inferiority), and sugary chocolate icing.  It was appropriately topped with the words “I am too nostalgic” (which means nothing to those un-obsessed with Noah Baumbach’s 1995 film Kicking and Screaming, but is significant to me).  I spend many days seated at my desk, daydreaming of cake; this cake exceeds even my imagination. It turns cake-haters (ambivalers?) into cake-believers.

(I wish I had the foresight to photograph this wondrous creation, but like shooting stars and barefoot Ethiopian Olympians, it was gone too quickly.)

Amanda’s Bakery is an all-vegan bakery located in Field’s Market in West Hills—a shining beacon of culinary greatness in the unholy collection of strip malls that comprise the San Fernando Valley.  Amanda is a FYH alum and close friend of Spice, but don’t think this glowing tribute was born of bias: one bite of any of her luscious treats will prove otherwise.

As a vegan baker, I am not always impressed by vegan baked goods.  I mean, I never met a cookie that I didn’t at least sort of like (that is to say, that I wouldn’t finish), but that’s just a testament to my being a fat kid. My palate is more discerning than my will to consume sugar, and I regularly find myself thinking, “Well, this is all right.  I think I could do better, but I didn’t have to make this!”

Not so with Amanda’s goods.  If anything, I find myself in awe of her work, asking myself how she made orange cake taste like spongey, buttery, orangey heaven (with a slightly sugary exterior!).

Amanda has a rotating menu of cupcakes, loaves, donuts, scones, and more. I can attest personally to the outstanding quality of the orange loaf, maple bacon donuts(!), chocolate/vanilla cupcake, chai donut, and, of course, her birthday cakes.  She also offers gluten-free selections, coffee, and tea.

But enough of this rambling assortment of praises.  Get thee to Field’s Market and try one (or a dozen) of her brilliant confections.

Amanda’s Bakery Website

Amanda’s Bakery Facebook

Donuts. DONUTS. DONUTS!!!

Cakewalk

On a recent trip to Salty City, I was super stoked to find on HappyCow that there was not only a bevy of vegan-friendly eateries at my disposal, but a freaking VEGAN BAKERY just around the corner from where I was staying. I of course made it a point to trek down to the nom-ery in the snow, and I was greatly rewarded for my arduous journey.

OMG

Where adorable and delicious meet.

This place was awesome! Not only did they house a gorgeous display of drool-worthy ‘cakes, cookies, and Dillos (more on those later), but they had all manner of yummy vegan goodies: FYH Vegan Gourmet cheese, imported Sheese, Sjaak’s chocolates, and of course hot coffee and tea. It was exactly what I needed to defrost my cold, black heart. The pièce de résistance, however, was the Dillo. Just look at this monster.

A chocolate-covered vegan Twinkie. YOU READ THAT RIGHT.

What, you may be asking, the hell are Dillos? Dillos (I pronounce it “di-yos,” as in aye dios mio) are wonderfully delicious creme-filled spongey cake torpedos reminiscent of Twinkies, but cruelty-free and OMG SO GOOD. I got the ChocoDillo, and I’m not kidding when I say this thing made my eyes roll back in my head like one of those creepy dolls you found at the bottom of the toy box in the thrift store and its hair was mostly ripped out and it had only one shoe and its arms were on backwards and it smelled vaguely of wild animal urine and its voicebox was on its last garbled battery so it sounded like possessed backwards Russian when you shook it. Anyway. This thing was intense.

Light, fluffy, creamy, chocolatey, sugary, foodgasmy.

I was expecting something overly sweet and artificial, but this baby tasted surprisingly light. It had just the right level of bright sweetness and rich creme filling, and the sponge cake surrounding it was exceptional. The chocolate, of course, kicked all kinds of ass too. I recall at one point saying something like “oh mah guh” while gleefully chomping it down. It really surpassed my expectations. I could have eaten about five more of them, easy.

Lucky for me, a RazDillo (think a Zinger but with a cooler name) was also at my disposal. I’ve never been a huge fan of shredded coconut, but I’ve got to say, this was pretty delicious. My heart belongs to the ChocoDillo, of course, but that doesn’t mean a girl can’t keep her options open.

Raspberry and coconut-covered lust.

By then we were reasonably stuffed so didn’t have room to try any of the awesome-looking cupcakes, but I think it’s a safe bet that they were similarly bitchin’ awesome. The guy working the counter was super friendly and made me a delicious cup of chai, too!

If you end up in Salt Lake City, definitely check out Cakewalk’s storefront. There’s apparently also a pickup-only location in Woods Cross, UT, and of course you can get Dillos online at a number of vegan retailers. ¡Viva el Dillo!

Cakewalk Baking Company

434 S 900 E Salt Lake City, UT 84102

801-953-0804