Culinary Dwelling

Much to my delight, life  has calmed and evolved in the past few weeks. These are some photos and dishes I created while life was not so calm. With this oh so welcome change, expect more updates in my internet-verse. Time is mine once more, and every damn day belongs to farmers markets and projects.

The first worthwhile, summer strawberries from the farmers market

-

Pie was made. Chocolate peanut butter cream, shortbread crust and salted caramel. I missed making pies.

-

More thanks to Bryant Terry. Inspired Vegan-style grits, simmered fava beans with fresh herbs, and roasted asparagus and garlic flowers.

-

The roasted asparagus and garlic flowers stood in for fennel. As much as fennel has certainly grown on me, I couldn’t bring myself to buy an entire bulb. I spent one summer receiving a CSA where I was haunted with multiple bulbs on a weekly basis and almost burnt out. This dish, regardless, was glorious.

-

Fully dressed. Grits are now in rotation.

-

From the Isa Does It test kitchen: Beefy Seitan Stirfry with Fresh Herbs and Cabbage Sesame Slaw

-

Sunday brunch had been a saving grace through my now-over workplace stress. Scrambled tofu with pea shoots and sugar snap peas, baked hash brown UFOs, watermelon and coffee.

Yeah, I’m loving the charming new tablecloth J. Legume picked up. 

Thank you, Basement Pub imperial glass. Thank you,Wandering Aengus.

-

Keeping it simple: Thai basil fried rice with cabbage and baked sesame tofu cubes. The tofu is also a tester for Isa Does It that keeps making the rounds.

-

Life included another treat at Veggie Grill: a grand opening dinner with team VVC, our plus ones, and Dan & Nicole from Upton’s. Yes!

-

Lastly, on one special evening, Julia Legume and I enjoyed our own buffalo tofu salads. These included baked tofallo cubes, a zinged up Sanctuary Ranch dressing, sliced cucumber and field greens. Goodness, gracious.

Veggie Grill Double Feature

It makes sense that while I’ve been overwhelmed with the rest of my life lately, the one matter I’ve somehow made time to post about, is the one topic that vegan Portland is jumping up and down about: the downtown opening of our very own Veggie Grill.

It’s the growing chain that offers more than just novelty – Veggie Grill boasts the delicious normalization of vegan food in mainstream America.

Most importantly, the Veggie Grill in legitimate downtown Portland is NOW OPEN. The sneak peaks were held last week, and the very grand opening just happens to be today, June 6th, 2012. As usual, the location is shiny and new and sending countless people home with bellies full of soy chicken burgers and kale every single day. That’s what you really need to know.

Mac-N-Cheese and much more ahead…

I would say I became a Veggie Grill fanatic back in January, when sure, they invited myself and a few other Portland area food bloggers for a weekend tasting event down in Los Angeles. I had stopped by for a meal here and there on past visits to the area, and I enjoyed it, but the devotion was official while sampling nearly every thing they offered, including knife & fork items that were recently developed, while meeting the founders and head chefs. I had returned from a month-long escapade to Southeast Asia mere days before, and looking back, I realize their American vegan cuisine could not have come into my life at a better time. I remember people asking me if there was anything I had missed, vegan wise, while spending a month expanding my life and culinary horizons, and the only thing that came to mind was nooch sauce and seitan tenders. Cue nachos. Cue tenders.

Most recently, I’ve had the pleasure – the tasty, tasty pleasure, of attending two Veggie Grill events in the past couple of weeks.

Let’s start with the most recent, the sneak peek of the much-awaited downtown Portland locale on SW Taylor & 5th.

finally.

Janessa’s Thai Chickin’ Salad

Without a doubt, my new favorite item is the B-Wing Salad, with Buffalo glazed wings and creamy ranch dressing.


All Hail Kale Salad, Bayou Chickin’ Sandwich. All Veggie Grill chickin’ is a Gardein-ish substance, which trust me, tastes way better than that sounds.


Near definitive Veggie Grill Feasting ™


The gluten-free Urban Plate, featuring an entire portobello mushroom on top of tempeh and caramelized onions.


Uptown Nachos: an easy favorite

Veggie Grill offers both beer and root beer


A week or two before the downtown opening, Michele, Janessa and myself traveled all the way to Beaverton for a new menu items tasting. The things we do for Veggie Grill access! We were joined by Kristin, from Beaverton-based blog Our Ordinary Life, for a family style debut of B-wing Salad, VG Rollers, the Blackened Chickin’ Plate, “Crab” Cakes and a couple of other dishes we’d been fortunate enough to have a sneak peek of back in January. Bring it on.

Behold, a sign of great hope in the suburbs. How much better is this than a TGI Friday’s or a Subway?!? At least 200x.


On-wards.


You’ve got to be kidding me.

Serious preparation

Once again, more glorious Veggie Grill Feasting ™ lays ahead…

My adorable VVC cohorts and fellow Veggie Grill enthusiasts, Michele & Janessa. Appropriately hiding behind a menu.

Another brand new item: VG Roller, spicy tortilla bites with blackened chickin’, cabbage & zesty Santa Fe spread.

Also new, the “Crab” Cake with tartar sauce. Intriguingly chickin’ of the sea-like.

Time to bring on the kale – the Blackened Chickin’ Plate, one of the newer homestyle, fork & knife  plates on the menu.

Instant classic?  The Crispy Chickin’ Plate with cauliflower mashed potatoes and porcini gravy. Don’t you just want to cover it in nooch?

Another encore: The Urban Plate

I can’t get enough! This was first time trying the B-Wing Salad. I even brought one home for my girlfriend. She’s had it twice new, and declares it “the best thing on the menu. Obviously”. I concur.

Ed Casey insisted we try their staff-inspired Mac-N-Cheese paired with the bonus spoonfuls of basil & garlic pomodoro and pesto. I’m glad that Michele was there to remind me about my silly little nut allergy and I stuck to the pomodoro with my mac – delish!

VGF™ in progress

Michele liked the crab cake so much she went for a full order. Nice.

Ah, dessert. The new chocolate pudding parfait awaits.

Tah dah! Digesting with Janessa.

Hold up, carrot cake.

Til we meet again, Veggie Grill!

As in…tonight, for dinner.

Full disclaimer: All dishes featured in this post were courtesy of Veggie Grill.

Food Porn Edition: Veggie Grill’s Pre-Opening in Beaverton & Anticipation

It’s about to get all food porn up in here.

But first, some related anticipation with not only a purpose, but hope for those of us stuck working downtown and tired of shuffling away without direction when our go-to food cart is closed for the owner’s family cat’s birthday (which I totally understand):

Good riddance, Carl's Jr! Veggie Grill's downtown location is scheduled to open in May 2012.

Sure, I felt positive about the opening of the first Northwest Veggie Grill location in Beaverton. I was incredibly stoked to receive an invitation to the pre-opening weekend event, especially after my indulgent weekend in LA, and just as glad to see ‘normal’ vegan food available from a casual chain nearby in Beaverton. I mean, once a year I seem to make the public transit trek to Uwajimaya, so figuring out a convenient stop with vegan nachos isn’t out of the question.

It makes me smile big time to pretend I’m 12, and to picture that kind of accessibility to 100% vegan food in a neighborhood suburban complex. I mean, the world is changing, no big deal.

Really, it is a big deal that a major fast food chain suddenly closed in a very central downtown location, and will be re-opening as a plant-based chain.

Selfishly, I remain damn stoked about ordered a Bayou Chickin’ sandwich and sweet potato fries for lunch by Spring’s end, and thrilled that vegans, vegetarians and curious (and convinced co-working) omnivores alike will all be able to place that very same order.

Away we go.

Here’s a look, all classic Stumptown Vegans style, at some dishes my friends and I ordered at the aforementioned pre-opening:

Sante Fe Crispy Chickin’ Burger [Gardein patty]

All Hail Kale Salad

Uptown Nachos [with Daiya-based sauce]

All-American Stack [with Gardein strips]

Papa’s Portobello  Burger

Sante Fe Chickin’,  full plate

Interior

Attention: Shoppers

Disclaimer: All dishes were complimentary at the pre-opening.

Veggie Grill Weekend, Day Two: Avocados & New Menu Items

The following is a continuation of menu food porn from my recent Veggie Grill weekend. This post hereby includes upcoming Veggie Grill menu items of the ‘fork and knife’ variety (brief pondering: Do you call it ‘knife and fork?’ Or is that phrasing simply more carnivorous?), a morning visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market, strolling the Venice Beach pier, more silly photos, and further anticipation for the Beaverton opening, just over a week away. Never before have I muttered a similar sentiment for this suburb, but I like to think I returned from my December travels lighthearted, open-minded, prepared to take public transportation wherever it may go (and in any language), and certainly, craving American-style vegan cuisine.

First up, I appreciate a hotel with a chilled pitcher of soymilk, ready to go.

You know, I should have gotten my hopes up (and denied my bladder) when I passed by this publicity poster in an upstairs room. I missed out on a Dolly Parton lobby-walk-by, by mere moments.

My time visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market.

Oh, California.

I picked up two new-to-me varieties of avocado: Bacon and Zutano.

We were serenaded by a Michelle Williams look-a-like in between produce stops.

Branded iced tea shots from a Ghostbusters-style backpack. So LA?

Moving on, we made it to the West  Hollywood Veggie Grill, which I had lunched at last fall on my first visit to LA, for our second lunch tasting.

The full menu is here.

Here’s what we all came  here for, the food.

Most importantly, we started again with nachos. Most definitely, I did not complain. I may have applauded. I’m not normally one for the D-cheese, but Veggie Grill uses it as a base in their nacho sauce, and it really works.

Uptown Nachos [Daiya-based sauce]

Sweetheart Chili Cheese Fries [Daiya-based sauce]

NEW: Bayou Chickin’ Caesar Wrap

Chillin’ Chickin’ Strips, Sweetheart Fries, Ranch and Sweet & Sour for dipping

Wait a minute!

Chickin’ nuggets, Chipotle Ranch (how I dig thee) and BBQ sauce

NEW: Buffalo Chickin’ Sandwich

Fun tidbit: all sandwiches are available wrap-style or served on a bed of kale

NEW: Chicken Fried Steak Plate [Gardein] with Mashed Potato & Cauliflower (aka Caulipots! Name credit: Isa Chandra Moskowitz), Steamed Kale and Porcini Caper Gravy

NEW: The Gluten-free Urban Plate with Grilled Portobello, Grilled Tempeh, Caramelized Onions, Steamed Kale (aw, yeah!), Chipotle Ranch (yeahyeahyeah!), Tomatoes with Basil and Guacamole

NEW: Chocolate Pudding Parfait with Crushed Oreos and Sour Cream Frosting

Our Sunday tasting club: Terese from Veggie Grill, Janessa, Webly, myself and Veggie Grill ‘s “Food Man” himself, Ray.

One last look – surely, that’s a celebrity power couple clandestinely dining on the patio. It would be almost exciting as realizing Daryl Hannah was sitting behind  us the day before in a series of ridiculous pudding photos.

Farewell, Hollywood!

Hello, Venice Beach…

After a week back in rainy Portland, I admit, I missed reading on the beach.

If only there was a rum-based cocktail in a coconut available in place of $3 PBRs. Isn’t this the land of $2 buck Chuck?! The red is vegan-friendly, btw.

With that, we were on our way back to Portland -

Avocados & lemons in tow

I also had some Nicobella chocolates in my bag to sample back home.

On the downside, the mysterious Michele’s take out did not make it home with her.

More discussion coming soon to Stumptown Vegans, in addition to photos and menu tales from next week’s pre-opening event in Beaverton. Check  out their website and facebook for Portland AREA opening information. I’m out.

As for me, I’ll be in Chicago for the first time with the VVC gals this weekend (please share any tips!), and I’m focused on hushing my inner New Yorker about the idea of an authentic, deep dish pizza.

Veggie Grill Weekend: Day One

Veggie Grill: Day One. Everyone's ready to sample 4 different vegan burgers, right?

While I could sit here for hours and slowly being to photo document my December-long travels in Southeast Asia, deciding the next day’s destination on a whim, sleeping in a bamboo hut alongside a river, attempting to rock a saree at a Sindhi wedding, watching the sunset from the steps of ancient ruins, or the young coconut curry that changed my life, and so on…well, I’m almost ready. First,  however, comes the story of my satisfying weekend in Los Angeles.

No holds barred, here’s the gist: mere days ago, I was one of a few lucky-ass Portland bloggers flown down to LA (what!) for lunch tastings at Veggie Grill. I’ve been twice before, in West Hollywood and Irvine, and was a fan, and frankly, I thought the email I half-read while waking up in Thailand sounded too good to be true: Meet & Greets with founders? Cocktail hour with the CEO? Special lunch tastings and previews of upcoming menu items? Traveling with friends? Were they taking vegan bloggers seriously? Would we take ourselves too seriously?

The departure for the overnight whirlwind was less than a week after my arrival back home, and my jet lag was only just fading, but I was in. 

Again, the day was incredibly satisfying. It began with an early morning flight and quickly moved onto an extensive lunch tasting of the classic Veggie Grill menu items, while meeting with the co-founders, a visit to The Getty, haute cocktails with the CEO at The Bazaar, and later on, our off-site dinner at Mao’s before collapsing in bed watching Chelsea Lately.

I’ll be sharing more from our second day, including new menu items, and any news about the Portland area locations that comes my way soon, as well as  in-depth thoughts on the food itself over at Stumptown Vegans with Webly.

As for the first restaurant opening in the Northwest (which includes Beaverton, Portland and Seattle), expect the Beaverton Veggie Grill to open its doors the last week of January, followed by downtown Portland later this Spring.

The following are photos from the day, in order. You can download the current menu on their website.

It all started with our ride for the weekend, Lonnie, as joined by Janessa:

Cookies in the car for breakfast!

Get ready…

Get set…

Go! 

Uptown Nachos. We were treated to plates of these as lunch starters on both days, and I am not complaining.

Buffalo Wings [Gardein] and Ranch with celery

All  Hail Kale Salad with roasted corn salsa and agave-roasted walnuts

New favorite breakfast = leftover kale salad!

Refreshment break: Iced Pomegranate Green Tea 

The burgers begin…

Bayou Chickin’

El Dorado Style VG-Cheeseburger

Classic VG-Cheeseburger

Sweetheart Fries and my beloved Chipotle Ranch

Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese with Garlic  Breadcrumbs [Daiya-based]

You may think we were done sampling, but as the lovely Janessa showcases, we had more to come…

A few bites of dessert, perhaps?

Carrot Cake, Chocolate Tofu Pudding & Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookie

“That cookie is just asking to be dipped in pudding” – Julia

It’s rare that my photo will included, but you guys….Janessa took a pudding photo series, and I wanted to share my favorite. 

The end! Of Saturday’s lunch tasting, that is.

Smiling bloggers & The Veggie Grill Founders & CEO

Ordering is counter-style at all Veggie Grills

Even as co-founder, Kevin’s cravings are relentless….

After our first lunch tasting on Saturday, we headed off to The Getty for some wandering. 

Not to mention a lot of close calls on these extended steps -

Cruising down Rodeo Drive may not have been a dream come true, but I like to think we were filming the opening sequence for some awful reality show that will never make it on air. I am not signing a release.

Later on, we digested and went for a cocktail hour at The Bazaar at the SLS.

I ordered the “New Way” Dirty Martini with Belvedere, on the right. Naturally, I could not pass up the chance for a burst of olive spherification and foamy olive brine air. I mean, come on.

Our group also experienced two table-side liquid nitrogen creations, including Michele’s Caipirinha and Webly’s Shirley Temple, pictured below. This series simply reminds me that I’m back from vacation and a new camera is totally on my back-to-life for a bit wish list.

This may have been the least dramatic of the hotel bathrooms used over the weekend, and yet I wondered such things as…just where will the water go in these sinks? Can people see through these stalls?

Hours later, with cocktails (and mocktails) sipped, we headed to Mao’s Kitchen for dinner. When Michele recommends a restaurant in LA, let alone a vegan-friendly Chinese restaurant, I’m in.

Fried noodles and sweet dipping sauce

Janessa and I split an order of the People’s Potstickers to start, filled with black & woodear mushrooms, smoked tofu and minced bok choy.

Next up to our table was a Peasants’ Onion Pancake. Not my type of dish due to our enemy status, but the ladies seemed to enjoy it.

Our crispy Beijing Spring Roll was $1. Enough said.

Tofu Fried Rice

Long-life Beans with Tofu

Hong Kong Chow Mein

HOLY CRAP, ROAMING, COULD-BE-FAMOUS, CARTOONISH FOOD CART ALERT!!!!1!!11!!

Day Two is up next. Go fawn over the menu some more til then.

Disclaimer: All lunch dishes were provided for by Veggie Grill, of which I have no contractual affiliation. I simply really enjoyed this outrageously fun weekend.

A Few Days in the Life; Last Month: The Vegan Vacation in LA

First time. Los Angeles. Vacation. Tourist Sights. Vegan Foodz.

Every time I start to tell the stories of my short vacation in Los Angeles, I start squealing about catching up with an old friend, or dramatically demonstrating how I threw out my back on the morning of the last day – so, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

The Top 5 Highlights:

1) The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.

I find myself telling my friend and co-organizer on a couple different projects, Michele, “Thank You!” on an average of 3 times a week, it not daily, and this recommendation deserved a big one.  Casual vegan sushi at Taiyo and big laughs at UCB made for a fun evening.

2) Flore Cafe. A small part of me wanted to wake up and brunch outside this  cafe every day.  If only I were that cool…  Photos below. More coming.

3) Intelligentsia Cofffeebar. Located at the Silver Lake junction, the Chicago-based roaster clearly boasts great coffee (vacation = lattes), endless hipster eye candy and a shaded patio to enjoy both with their wireless, where I often planned my next stop.

4) Sunglasses and simultaneous young coconut consumption. If I had glimpsed cool kids sipping other tropical fruits walking down the street, I’m sure I would have tried that, too. I know, it happens elsewhere, but this was like 3 girls, 3 blocks.

5) Late night vegan pizza delivery. What do you do when you’ve already deemed the vegan restaurant attached to your hotel inedible and you’re beat? Thank you, Cruzer Pizza delivery!

Runner Up: Seeing people reading scripts in public. I only saw this twice, once on the subway (which was handy!) and once on the bus (again, handy and easy?!?), but it cracked me up, both times. No offense. I love television.

The Photos & Foodz

Obligatory Sight-seeing.

Necessary star power. Not the one I posed with.

Graffiti-orientated sight-seeing.

There’s always been something eerie about Mickey Mouse.

Schoolyard Graffiti!

Is this a real landmark? I don’t know. Palm trees and a dinosaur were enough for me.

Vegan-friendly Silverlake: where I didn’t go…

As much as it pains me not to visit a cafe that shares a name with one of my favorite friends, there just wasn’t enough time…

Options, options, options.

Yup.

Aforementioned pizza delivery:

Ordering was a bit odd, but quick. I’m glad I went for the “extra crispy” (Italians use quotes) crust. Not sure why that meant overcooked seitan sausage bits, but the rest was tasty — and delivered to my door! in 20-something minutes!!

Again, this one can be filed under the worst vegan food in LA &  a dumb reason to book an adjoined (but quite cheap & decent) hotel: Vegan House.

My first meal..or should I say..bites of a meal, really blew, even for $4.99 “Happy Hour” fair. The order was bland, messed up, most of the vegetables were worrisome, the ‘chicken’ was mushy, and there were multiple pieces of hair. Negativity over.

In Silverlake, but sadly, encountered closed up:

Down West Sunset Blvd:

That whole Flore brunch thing I was talking about: buckwheat pancakes, blueberry sauce, tempeh bacon.

Inside Flore:

I was terrified of how under-toasted this bread appeared – and somehow, some noochy tofu, tempeh and avocado combining way, this was a kick ass BLT – with a side of fresh fruit, to boot. Kudos, Flore.

And kudos, sprouts.

Flore Deli Case:

I had just visited a Veggie Grill days before in Irvine, and was happy to come across one again. If this is the future of mainstream veganism, we’re gonna be all right*.

*Which is, admittedly, a much longer conversation about mainstream veganism and society.

It’s so…normal. And refreshing. And fast. Throw some of these into America, STAT.

Cajun Tempeh Burger. I don’t normally find myself saying such things, but I even really liked the citrusy slaw!

Inside the V to the G

I almost bought half price tickets to see Tim Allen and grunt the night away, but somehow, I resisted…

Instead, UCB! And here’s their neighbor – a freaking conscious convenience store.

Locali

Back to Silverlake – pictured because I really liked that they advertise their guacamole like so. How inviting.

Oh look, another vegetarian restaurant. This is getting exhausting.

And another that I actually visited: Pure Luck. Sweet service and pickle chips. Boring wrap. Why talk about anything else?

Half pickles/Half fries plate

Spring Rolls. Served fresh.

Scoops = mini vegan ice cream mecca = vacant shoppe = who cares, I was coaxed into sampling every flavor (okay, 4? 5?).

Vegan selections of the day included Salted Chocolate, Pomegranate Blueberry, Coconut Mocha and Banana Oreo.

Light & Creamy Banana Oreo with some fixin’s

I clearly caught this employee shirtless ?!? and dancing in the back…Sorry!

Fairly befuddling.

If I hadn’t come across Bar Keeper on my last day of vacation, lamenting that I’d already spent too much, I would have spent even more at this kitschy cocktail supplies store.

Be still, my heart. Be still, my nose. New spices and Coconut Bali Smoked salt  won out over vintage cocktail stirrers and exotic bitters.  Not that shocking.

Inside Spice Station:

Now, this is vacationing.

And back to reality…