Growing Up

August 4, 2010

Hi Folks! Veggiewala is growing up. It’s got a new domain, style, and location along with fresh content. It’s been a tough one in the making but I hope you like it. Feel free to give me any feedback you’ve got via comments or email (jesal06@gmail.com).

Check it out at: www.veggiewala.com

And while this site will be up for a while, feel free to change your RSS feeds.

Cheers!

Ice Pop Renaissance

July 29, 2010

Ice cream might be facing its old rival: ice pops. These frozen treats-on-a-stick aren’t what they used to be and they are popping up all over the city (pardon the pun). Gone are the days of sticky, artificial flavorings and neon colors. The first of what might become a new trend includes People’s Pops and Popbar. People’s Pops, located in Chelsea Market and with stands at the Highline and the Brooklyn Flea Market, produces a grown up version of the original. It offers fruity flavors made from organic, local produce combined with sophisticated accents such as jasmine, basil and tarragon.  While I enjoyed the rhubarb and jasmine pop, I wasn’t sure about the fibrous texture created from using whole ingredients. The stringiness of the rhubarb wasn’t exactly pleasant. And a taste of a blueberry and cream bar left blueberry skins in my teeth. However, it might have been a small price to pay knowing that these ice pops were a far more nutritious choice than one from an ice cream truck. But if texture is a deal-breaker for you, than head over to Popbar for one of their gelato, yogurt or sorbetto bars.

Made from 100% natural ingredients (with no preservatives or artificial flavorings), Popbar’s gelato passes my flavor test.  Each bar has a smooth, creamy consistency that leaves a brightness and intenseness on the palate that can only be found in really good gelato.  The sorbetto, which is made from real fruit, is also amazingly refreshing. All of their daily-made bars can be customized with chocolate dips and toppings like coconut, biscotti crumbles, almonds and many more. The only warning I would give is that if the weather is insanely hot, eat your gelato inside Popbar because it will melt quickly. The sorbetto holds up much better against the heat.

People’s Pops
Chelsea Market – Arcade
425 W. 15th Street (between 9th & 10th)

click here for other location and times

Popbar
5 Carmine Street (near 6th Ave.)
212-255-4874

Charmed by Amanda Cohen

July 7, 2010

Though Dirt Candy has been my favorite restaurant for a while, I might have recently formed a girl-crush on its Executive Chef Amanda Cohen.  Aside from being cute and all, she’s full of vibrant passion and yet still retains a bit of an outspoken edge. But what really does it for me is her take on vegetarian cuisine. While I respect those who adopt the lifestyle for political, ethical, religious, environmental and/or health reasons, I didn’t grow up with any those associations. Honestly, vegetarianism was simply the way I grew up and I didn’t really feel the necessity to question it much in my youth. But contrary to anyone I’ve met before, Chef Cohen became a vegetarian in order to rebel. Yes, you read that right.  What a badass! And besides that, her food is still out of this world. Off the current menu, the steamed carrot buns, eggplant fettuccine and especially the fried green tomatoes blew me away.  And of course, the staples that I love are still on the menu, including the jalapeno hush puppies, the Portobello mouse, and the crispy tofu. Anyway, to find out more on how I was won over by this petite fireball, check out the interview after the jump.

Your food is so eclectic and doesn’t fall into any one ethnic type. How do you decide what makes it on the plate?

I grew up on all different kinds of food. I’ve lived all over the world at various times and I’m really lucky: I can put all of these influences into one dish. People talk about it a lot as fusion cuisine, but to me it’s just food. It’s not even different kinds of cuisines; it’s what’s available in your neighborhood.

So how then, do you categorize your food? If it’s not fusion, then most people would call it vegetarian. What’s your take?

We think of ourselves as a vegetable restaurant, not just a vegetarian restaurant. We do whatever we can to make vegetables taste really good. A year and a half of working specifically with vegetables, we’ve learned that vegetables are really unique and sometimes don’t have a lot of flavor. So we do whatever we can to bring out the most flavor.

You became a vegetarian at the age of 15. But you clearly didn’t make this change for healthy-related, political or ethical reasons. Why did you become a vegetarian?

All my friends were vegetarians. It was peer pressure. I know…most people have friends that pressure them to drink or smoke. But I had friends who were all vegetarians.

Umm…where was this?

It was in Toronto in the very late eighties and early nineties. Believe it or not, it was the trendy thing to do back then. It was how you rebelled. And I wasn’t really a big meat-eater as a kid, so it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t for health or politics. Anyway, I’m not a vegetarian anymore…I eat fish. But that’s mostly because I wanted to be able to experience other foods and styles of cooking at restaurants.

So you became a vegetarian and then became famous for frying Buffalo wings at a diner in Spanish Harlem. Yet you came back to vegetarian cuisines. What made you return to vegetarianism?

Well, when I was making the chicken wings, I was actually vegetarian. So I worked for years at a meat-centric restaurant as a vegetarian and I was really, really lucky that they let me get away with it. But basically, it was many years later that I became inspired to do something about vegetables. I had eaten just one too many vegetable plates at fancy restaurants. I thought to myself, “That’s it. I cannot have another vegetable plate. I just can’t.” I was tired of being charged $40 for a plate of grilled vegetables…done well, but still…grilled vegetables. I was just starting to figure out that there was something missing and there could be more to this kind of food, but I wasn’t yet good enough and  my palate wasn’t sophisticated enough. I knew I couldn’t compete with these chefs who do great work with meat when I couldn’t taste it. It wasn’t enough just to read about it anymore. So that’s why I’ve started eating fish.

So what’s your least favorite vegetable plate among those that you’ve tried?

Any grilled vegetable platter that has the Portobello, zucchini and the eggplant…It’s just so boring. You don’t have to go all out like we do here. You just have to try a little.

What’s your favorite vegetable dish?

I’m not a big favorites person, but I like the vinegar potatoes at Grand Sichuan. It blew my mind. The potatoes are half raw and really vinegary and the potatoes have Sichuan peppercorns in them. I’d never had anything like that and I thought, “Wow. Somebody is doing amazing things with vegetables.” I also love a lot of the Thai restaurants that do things like deep-fried watercress.

You don’t seem to be a fan of mock- meat but a lot of people think it’s needed to take the place of an animal protein in a dish. How do you make your meals filling?

It’s not that I don’t like mock meat. I think it has its place. I will eat veggie dogs…I think they’re great. I do think they make a meal more filling, but I think that you can’t do as many exciting things with them. Most restaurants see it as a direct replacement for part of a meat-based dish instead of doing something amazing with the mock-meat. I think in order to make a great meal, just treat vegetables (or grains or beans) with the same respect you give meat. If you put the same energy into cooking vegetables as you do meat, instead of treating them as an after-thought, you will have an amazing, filling dish.

Changing topics a bit, you commented recently about how you don’t think female chefs are being recognized. Who do you think should be recognized?

It’s hard to do a specific with that. I do think that women get overlooked in kitchens a lot and that there’s a boys’ club that is really hard to break into. The culinary world is an elitist place where the focus for the next big thing is on mainstream Italian-based or French-based kitchens. Those are the types of places that tend to be dominated by white men. There are lots of people, not just women, doing interesting things outside of that. You don’t see a lot of ethnic chefs celebrated or vegetarian cooks celebrated. I just think there are so many more chefs out there doing interesting things whom we’ve never even heard of because they aren’t part of this standard kitchen category. So I don’t know their names and I can’t tell you who should be looked at. But I know they are out there.

Speaking of ethnic chefs and chefs who sometimes get too much attention, I read that David Chang asked you to do a food stall for the Lucky Rice Festival. It seems odd, since he’s somewhat notorious for disliking vegetarians. How did this come about?

Well I’m not sure but I think it was because they needed a vegetarian stall. I don’t know if David Chang was part of the planning at all (he was there but I didn’t meet him), but I think they had read that for a while I was doing kimchi donuts, so it piqued their interest. I ended up not being able to do the donuts since I couldn’t fry in that alley-way. We ended up doing the steamed carrot buns that are on the menu now.

What are your plans for the future? Any new restaurants or book deals to look out for?

Right now I’m just trying to get through the day. I want to make the restaurant better. I think we are a great restaurant and that we do a great job every night. But I think we could always do better. There is so much more we could be doing and so much food I want to play with and I want to have more time to get creative before I think about opening a bigger restaurant. I’ve always had a problem with restaurants and chefs that do something sort of well and then go off to the next project. I want to feel more settled here and really put the time in to perfect what I’m doing here before I think about the next thing.

What expectations do you want people to come in with when they come to Dirt Candy?

None. I want people to come in with an open-mind about a different kind of experience. We are a different restaurant. We are small…tiny, really. The temperature is always wrong for the season, we don’t have enough servers because we can’t fit them in. Your server is probably going to be me and I’m going to look messy because I’ve just had some sort of disaster in the kitchen…while I’m in the middle of serving you, I’m also peeling beets and cooking your meal. With the food, I think it’s really different than what you’ll get at any other restaurant. You won’t get your three components on a dish. Instead, you’ll usually get one component done five different ways.  You’ll also get really different flavors. I don’t expect everybody to love it, but I hope it sort of opens minds to what could be done. We want to challenge our diners and have dialogues with them. We want to be interactive; all of our servers and cooks are really friendly and we want you to ask them questions. We want you to feel comfortable here and, though I don’t expect you to love it, I do want you to be happy here.

Sorry for the Silence, Folks!

July 7, 2010

Hi All,

I know the blog has been on the quiet side for the last few weeks. But I promise it is all for good reason and lots of new, cool, and exciting things happening. Stay tuned for some really big changes, new features and posts about some new places. In the meantime, I’m posting my long overdue interview with Chef Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy…it’s an awesome one, so enjoy!

Cheers!

Cookshop

June 25, 2010

“American Bistro” is a term that instills fear in a vegetarian only slightly less than the words, “French Bistro.” So when my friends and I settled on Cookshop for brunch, I definitely felt a wave of panic wash over me. I mean, when the website proclaims that the butcher was the original chef, one can’t help but be worried. But being one to face a culinary challenge head-on, I made my way over to check it out. Outdoor seating helped to assuage my anxiety by occupying my attention as a fashionable and rather good-looking crowd walked by or joined the wait to be seated. When I could finally turn my attention to the menu, I was pleasantly surprised at my options. On the sweet side, there were the usual choices of French toast and pancakes, however, there were also more interesting treats such as sticky buns, beignets with pineapple compote, and a stuffed croissant with banana and chocolate that is out-of-this-world.

To my amazement and pleasure, almost all of the egg options were also easily converted to vegetarian-friendly fare. Though the scramble with caramelized onions, crème fraiche and chives looked interesting, I opted for the poached eggs with white cheddar grits (minus the sausage). I loved the creaminess of the grits paired with the salty bite of the cheddar. And adding the mild flavor of two perfectly poached eggs was a stroke of genius. The only thing I felt missing was something with a bit more crunch – maybe next time I’ll get a side of crispy toast. Other items included huevos rancheros, a frittata, skillet eggs, a hearty-looking salad, porridge and a plethora of breakfast sides (biscuits, fruit, granola, etc). If you are in Chelsea and would like to enjoy your breakfast along with a glamorous crowd without the pretention of some of the joints a few blocks south, then Cookshop is definitely worth a visit.

Cookshop
156 10th Ave (near 20th St.)
212-924-4440

Clover Food Lab

June 15, 2010

The inception of the Clover Food Lab brought with it two important contributions to the Boston food scene. The first is its addition to the slow and steady rise of food trucks in this city. While L.A., San Francisco, and New York have been quick to embrace the benefits of this medium, Boston has been lagging behind. What makes this trend so great, anyway? I think it can be summed up as: great food brought closer to customers at a faster rate and for lower cost. While brick-and-mortar restaurants will not be going anywhere, the lower cost food trucks allow chefs to distribute their culinary ideas without the time and investment need for a full-scale restaurant. Additionally, food trucks provide a better option when a customer does not need ambience or table service as part of their dining experience. Let’s face it: if you’re eating at a desk, ambiance is not going to matter much. But convenience, price and flavor probably will matter. What’s secondary but also important is that food trucks have greater flexibility to experiment and change their menus with relatively little cost to their reputation and business. Since food trucks are usually run by small start-ups types (few big financers and restaurant groups), consumers have come to expect constant change and for this change to be communicated via online and social media.  The increased flexibility for the food trucks allows you, the consumer, to try new and different foodie experiments that have the potential to blow your tastes buds away without completely damaging the food business if the experiment fails. If you’ve ever read their blog, you’d know that this is something that the folks at Clover Food Lab can attest to. The other important contribution Clover is making to Boston is that it serves 100% vegetarian fare that is delicious and not too “hippie-ish.” While Boston is mainly known as a meat and potatoes kind of town, the crazy lines at Clover Food Lab are a testament to a growing market that is currently underserved.

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I popped over there recently and tried out their seasonal sandwich: the pimento. It was mouth-watering. A soft pita was filled with pickled celery, spicy marinated cucumbers and pimento cheese spread. It’s a perfect combination of spicy, creamy and crunchy. The spread was so good I was inspired to try making my own at home. While this was ideal for a light lunch, they also have heartier options like the popular egg and eggplant sandwich. If you’re interested to try one of their creations, I suggest getting there on the earlier side of breakfast or lunch since they tend to run out of their top selling items quickly.

Boston Truck
Dewey Square (South Station T stop)
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
7  a.m. – 3 p.m.

MIT Truck
Carleton St. (off the Kendall/MIT stop)
Monday – Friday
8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Meet a Locaveg: Danielle D.

June 10, 2010

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Welcome to a bit I call: Meet a Locaveg. What is a Locaveg? A locaveg is a vegetarian/vegan in your town or community who’s got the download on all the best places to eat and resources for recipes. Wait, did I just make that up? Why, yes I did! My first subject for this project is Danielle (see photo below). Danielle is a vibrant and very plugged-in student at Newbury College. She grew up in Swampscott, MA within a meat-loving family and spends a lot of time among Albanians who think chicken is vegetarian.

But this girl’s got the willpower of steel to stick to her vegetarian (well, actually pescatarian – but I forgive her for having great taste) diet. She’s even got enough energy to wake-up and do some Insanity ® workouts before her job and classes. So what does she eat that gives her this amazing energy? She swears by snacking on nuts (she recommends Ellie Krieger’s maple walnuts if you want to mix it up) and eating plenty of beans and lentils instead of gorging on carbs. Below are her top three picks for places to get some of the best vegetarian grub:

3) Sabor Deminas

“It’s organic and has really good polenta with vegetables. I also love their cous cous with fresh vegetables.”

Sabor Deminas
89 Broadway
Sommerville, MA
617-776-0032

2) Tapas Corner

“I recommend their vegetable chili – I think the secret ingredient is cinnamon sticks. They also have other great options like stir fry with their specialty Tapas sauce, babaghanoush and burritos.”

Tapas Corner
6 Wallis St.
Beverly, MA
978-927-9983

1) Arrows

Though this pick might not be strictly in Massachusetts, it’s only a two-hour drive from the city and completely worth it. You know Danielle has great taste when she names Arrows as her all-time favorite restaurant. It’s been nominated for the James Beard’s best chefs of the Northeast award six times previously and finally won for 2010. She recommends hitting it up on one of their bistro nights or their Arrows classic nights where they do 1980’s dish for 1980’s prices. But be sure to make a reservation in advance.

Arrows
41 Berwick Rd,
Ogunquit, ME
207-361-1100

Thanks for the great tips, Danielle! If any one of you want to be the next one profiled, leave a comment with your email and I’ll be in touch with you soon.

Drink Boston

June 8, 2010

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I’m making this place my official new spot in Boston. While there are plenty of places to get a great cocktail in Beantown, Drink is the only place in this city dedicated to the craft. Submerged beneath Barbarba Lynch’s Italian “counter” Sportello, Drink is far from a dark and dingy speakeasy. Its street level windows add an airiness and openness to the feel.  And while there’s plenty of space to accommodate groups, the bar manages to get pretty full. Use the time to ponder what you’ll be drinking when you do get inside. There are no menus so the possibilities are limitless. Personally, I’ll be using this time to come up with challenges like “I’d like a drink that tastes like sunrise in Mykonos” or “Could you make me something that Lady Gaga might order?” If you can’t decide on what you would like, no worries – the personable and knowledgeable staff will help you figure it out while bringing you bottles of water and fresh bar snacks.

Drink
348 Congress St.
617-695-1806

Late-night Chinese…Mmmm

June 2, 2010

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Some of the best Indian Chinese I’ve ever had comes from the Motherland, of course! It’s served from a nameless stall near Shivaji Park and is open late for all those that need some greasy Chinese to stabilize an over-indulgence of Kingfisher Premiums. Like you might expect from street food, it is nothing glamorous – my party was eating on the street corner – though you still get “table” service and the food is unbelievably good. Next time you are partying in the northwest burbs of Mumbai be sure to stop by this place on your way home

Indo-Chinese Battle: Chinese Mirch vs. Nanking

May 26, 2010

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When I think of Indianized Chinese in NYC, there are two places that come immediately to mind: Nanking and Chinese Mirch. But deciding where to go can be a bit of a battle.  Below, I’ve laid out the pros and cons of each restaurant for specific attributes (food, drink, ambience, etc) and picked a winner for each attribute. Hopefully this guide will make a breeze for you to decide what’s best for your next meal.

Chinese Mirch
120 Lexington Ave (between 28th and 29th)
212-532-3663

1830 Second Ave (between 94th and 95th)
212-828-6400

Nanking
1634 Broadway (between 50th and 51st)
212-586-3100