When I lived in Brooklyn, I had better access to vegan food options. Living on Long Island, I make my food more often. This is a good thing. But on occasion I’ll hunt down food leads, determinedly, like I would if I was staying for just a day. I like the hunt–and more so on Long Island than in the New York City area, because it happens via car.
Here’s what I found: First, Bellmore’s Lil Left Coast, lil sister to Merrick’s Left Coast Kitchen. They have interesting eats with a few vegan options. I got the spicy roasted eggplant & tofu banh mi mostly because I would love to have a place near home to get the sandwich perfection that is a banh mi. Unfortunately, this didn’t really make the cut. But I ate it all up. Proof that bread is the staff of life–that my mom might have been onto something when she wrapped two slices of bread with nothing in between for my 3rd grade lunch that one time. That or she knew I was a budding vegan. Or it might have been that whole working nights thing. Either way, I will have to return to the Lil Left Coast to try some of their other veg options.
Hicksville is Long Island’s Little India. I love hitting up Hicksville’s huge Indian grocers to stock up on pantry items that seem to be triple the price elsewhere (seasonings, unique rice, coconut oil, flax) and experiment with their selection of imported produce. Then, there is the awesome selection of authentic Indian cuisine. A Yelp search for Indian restaurants in the 7 square miles of Hicksville brings up 63 eateries. (!!) Lucky for me, many are exclusively vegetarian and are very clear about vegan options. My sister and I visited the all-vegetarian Rajbhog Cafe, a counter spot with an exclusively vegan menu, for some lunchtime sustenance.
I got the lunch platter, a sampling of all their vegan selections of the day along with paratha, a deliciously oily flatbread. What is so satisfying about eating these small but varied portions (eating ayurvedically) is that it fulfills all emotional and physical requirements of food–hitting sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Well ok, my dish was missing the sweet. Ayurvedic eats means balanced doshas, a personal inherit mind/body principle. Hey baby, what’s your dosha? I took the dosha quiz (teehee) and learned I was Pitta. I’m reading about this stuff because I am hoping to visit India next year to celebrate two decades of being vegan. I mean, it is the birthplace of vegetarianism.
Feeling the urge to cruise, I knocked the very non-Ayurvedic Queen City Cupcakes off my list. Queen City is not a bakery, per se. It’s like a cupcake depot. They get cupcakes from bakeries and house them in a pretty shop and showcase. They get a few standard vegan cupcakes from somewhere. The vegan flavors never seem to be as interesting as the rest of the cupcakes. I got the lone vegan vanilla cupcake and ate in the car impatiently, sloppily like an opportunistic, fumbly tryst. Alas, I was not fulfilled by this tryst. The cake seemed frozen for an indefinite period of time and then thawed. The mile high frosting, however, had a different melting point and remained rock hard and wax-like. Gosh, I’m hard to please. No, not really.
It is such a delight to see winter’s umber turning a bice green. These happy daffodils in the backyard share my wide-eyed enthusiasm for the expanse of blue above. They seem like an assembladge excitedly whispering encouraging words to each other in the shifts of the wind. And it may be evident that I am currently writing a poetry unit for my 5th graders.
And finally–Three words: Frank Sobatka selfie.
Although there are plenty of vegan ravioli options abound, most of the fillings are vegetable or tofu-based “ricotta.” In fact, in my almost 20 years of being an informed vegan, I have never seen vegan “meat” ravioli–either on a restaurant’s menu or at the store.
That’s not to say the vegan ravioli options available are not varied. Rising Moon, my go-to frozen ravioli available at my local Wild by Nature, has three satisfying certified vegan flavors: Spinach Florentine, Butternut Squash, Garlic & Roasted Veggies. Soyboy, also frozen and which I like less than Rising Moon though I like their plumpness, has tofu filled ravioli in either tomato pasta, spinach pasta, or durum pasta. New to the scene, Maryland-based La Pasta has expanded their pasta line into the vegan market with Artichoke & Spinach, Vegan Cheese (with a blend of vegan ricotta and mozzarella) with or without spinach, and Mushroom varieties. [I’ve yet to try them. Check out this review from the Veracious Vegan for the scoop!] And closet to “meat” ravioli, I suppose, is La Bella Pasta in Kingston, New York. They have a Chic Pea ravioli that I’ll have to drive upstate for soon. See–plenty of options! But, again, mostly vegetable or tofu-based. High-end Manhattan vegan eatery Candle 79 even makes a frozen tofu spinach ravioli meal.
For taste and nostalgic reasons, I need a meaty vegan ravioli to eat with Victoria Vegan‘s sauces. And I elect Field Roast, who has been expanding its market greatly these days… with its amazing Chao cheese line, breakfast links, hand-formed burger patties joining its wheat meat family of products. Why not get that good stuff inside some ravioli. Let me show you how:
Start with Field Roast Italian Sausage Links.Boil them and then throw them into a food processor, adding a little bit of olive oil and nutritional yeast.
Make vegan pasta dough. 1:1 cup ratio of semolina flour to all purpose flour, salt, water, and olive oil. Voila!
Spread the dough on a floured surface and thoughtfully dole half a teaspoon of the meaty stuff, attending to spacial requirements for folding dough… or spread another layer of dough to place on top.
Seal the ravioli pressing dough together, then use a fork to seal the deal.
Boil them. They barely need two minutes in rapidly boiling water.
Eat some vegan meat ravioli, finally.
One can measure the the veg-friendliness of a city on many things. I suppose I have my own algorithm. Part of my measure: if vegan options penetrate mainstream “normy” places, like sports stadiums and airports. So in both of these arenas, San Francisco is decidedly veg-friendly. AT&T Park (where the SF Giants play) and Levi’s Stadium (where the 49ers play) boast vegan options that far surpass the veggie dog at Citi Field, and the nothing but French fries and pretzels of MetLife Stadium, Yankee Stadium, and Madison Square Garden. [The Barclays Center is a bit better, I suppose.] And San Francisco’s airport has The Plant, with a full case of baked vegan goodies, fresh-pressed juice, and packaged vegan options many steps up from NYC’s area airports. It’s not the Real Food Daily in LAX, but it’ll tide me over!
The Plant is not wholly vegetarian, as the name might suggest. But all their baked goodies seem to be pure vegan. I got a couple of items in my excitement–banana bread and this chocolate chip cookie. There was something so nostalgic about how the cookie tasted, like the floury cookies I used to make when I was a teenage vegan experimenting. I used to make tons of chocolate chip cookies and only chocolate chip cookies. These tasted just like them.
Oh, nothing. Just flying through the air to the other side of the country, that’s all.
In my carry-on, cheese from Miyoko’s Creamery that made it home just fine.
Perfect smear for some bread to eat along side a potato and leek soup I made from Isa Does It. Because now I am sick.
But I had to make proper banana bread since it was on my mind. Now commencing nose-blowing couch time.
Almost time to head back east! So I started the day with a donut, a Pepples Donut. The Ferry Building has a market place with high-brow eats, and this Oakland-based all-vegan donut maker has a little outpost there.
The selection was extensive.
I choose the salted caramel (well-recommended) and skipped the more complicated flavor options (I was looking at White Chocolate Curry.) for a standard vanilla-glazed. They were top quality cake donuts, liken to Seattle’s amazing Mighty-O.
Breakfast in the Mission. St. Francis (or San Francisco) is the oldest ice cream parlor around, founded in 1918. The place clearly hasn’t changed much since the dining room addition in 1948. That is why it’s a wonderful thing that there menu of diner grub is inclusive of vegans. It’s a delight to see the v-bomb adorn the menu of a place like this.
I created my own Tofu Scramble combo, with tomato, green onion, vegan sausage, and sliced avocado. With a perfect portion of home fries, it was an ideal breakfast.
We set off to explore some of San Francisco’s famous neighborhoods, like the Lower Haight. I stopped with the clusters of tourists to capture the iconic San Fran-ian image of the Painted Ladies, colorful Victorian homes with the skyline behind them.
But the bustle of the city wore on me quickly, especially after a walk through the gentrified Haight-Asbury. I missed the sea and wanted to look at it again. We headed back to the Marin Headlands to see the Point Bonita lighthouse. But first, we had to walk through a cliff.
What is the allure of the sea? It’s one of life’s projection screens–a deep and lively realm that holds all you need it to hold (mystery, opportunity, openness, love, loved one’s ashes, whatever) and, acknowledgingly, delivers it back to you. And in this way, I like how I feel looking at it. I like feeling just how much I am able to feel. Is that totally weird? Yeah, I probably inhaled too much of those smoke clouds in Haight-Asbury.
What do you give the sea?
And then it was time for the final stop: Millennium Restaurant, the renowned gourmet vegan eatery that I’ve been meaning to try since the nineties. We nabbed an exclusive 5:30pm/Monday night reservation. And I got the 3-course prix fixe so I can sample as much as I could. To start, the Crusted King Trumpet Mushrooms–arborio rice dredged paper-thin mushrooms with a cabbage salad & lime vinaigrette, sitting next to a pool of Gochujang dipping sauce and sprinkled with Szechuan pepper sesame salt. They were absolutely delicious. I appreciated the thicker sliced mushrooms more, as some just tasted like breading.
My entree: Juniper & Mustard Seed Glazed Tempeh strips with a creamy cashew horseradish mashed potatoes, caramelized onion-stout sauce, grilled asparagus and shaved Meyer lemon & fennel with black eyed pea chow chow. The “chow chow” seemed like the outlier on the dish, not quite fitting with assertive stout sauce. I enjoyed the dish a great deal, but was ever so slightly disappointed with the tempeh. I guess I wanted it to blow my mind more. But it tasted like tempeh I could have made.
Dessert! I choose the Lemon Cornmeal Cake made from red cornmeal topped with balsamic macerated strawberries, vanilla chantilly cream pipings, and garnished with almond brittle. Oh, and there is mint ice cream on the plate too, but I wanted no part of it.
Done & done! Thanks for the eats, San Francisco.
SOMA StrEat Food Park sets up next to the I-80, South of Market. Thanks to the rain (and the holiday?) we enjoyed this space with minimal crowding.
I had to get the bizarre Birthday Burger, a dense beet-based patty on a confetti sprinkled pancake bun with ancho chile aioli, avocado and cucumber/radish pickles. I choose this burger because I had a strong desire to take a picture of it and write about it, to be perfectly honest. And I think I may have enjoyed photographing it more than eating it. It really didn’t taste like much!
So let’s look at another picture!
Here I was thinking that the Bay Area had a lack all-vegan sweet treat shops. Then I discovered Cinnaholic, an all-vegan cinnamon bun shop. So it was yet another journey across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley for a taste of the goodies. Because it was Easter, I got the Cotton Candy “Peep” Bun, topped with a delicious pink cotton candy cream and a sprinkling of vegan marshmallows. And that’s Cinnaholic’s spiel: start with their cinnamon roll and then choose your frosting flavor and toppings. Sounds good to me!
The roll was delicious. Airy and not too sweet. The frosting was yummy, not artificial-tasting
The Electrician had a very normal vanilla frosted cinnamon bun, devouring it quickly. A testament to its deliciousness.
Then it was tourist time. As the rain clouds dissipated, we went to ride the cable cars, touring San Fran’s diverse neighborhoods. It was quite the scene, but we managed to nab prime seating on the Powell & Market line down to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Once we were down at the Piers, we checked out some of the other cheesy tourist stuff. Like the smelly sea lions who lounge on Pier 39…
…and the Musee Mecanique, a free museum of coin-operated relics on Pier 45. They had some great machines. I’ll include a picture of the bison machine, the only one I put a quarter in.
After a long walk, I chowed down on this mango & sticky rice from The Plant on Pier 3.
To cap off day 2, Tonga Room, a kitschy tiki bar in the basement of the historical Fairmount Hotel. Tonga Room is subject to thunderous rainstorms that drizzle on the center lagoon. Perfect while sipping a Pineapple Royale to the rhythm of a steel-drum band.
Final eats: Glass Noodle Salad–green papaya, carrots, cilantro, mint, Thai basil, and peanuts in a rice wine vinaigrette.
I never really spent much time in San Francisco.
As a reporter of vegan food all about this great country, why wouldn’t I have spent more time in the very veg-friendly Bay Area? It just didn’t sit right with me. No need to fret. The Electrician and I have headed west to soak in the Northern CA rays. With a full day of exploration, we started at Golden Gate Park to track down the elusive roaming bison at Buffalo Paddock.
I really like bison, you see, lest you forget last spring break‘s trek to Montana. Sadly, this sign was the only sign of them.
Then we found them… and commenced an enthusiastic bison photo shoot through the chain link fence. They really are spectacular animals. Their skeletal frame seems so wild… from an archaic time period when their tremendousness made more sense. I think this is why I like them so much. They’re relics, walking wooly bullies. That and they are powerful herbivores, dispelling ridiculous myths of the need for animal protein. I like that, too.
California, in general, is dropdead gorgeous. But the Bay Area trumps southern California in beauty. Spending the morning in Golden Gate Park made for a wonderful day 1–seeing the herds of Tai Chi-ers who bring their boom boxes to play tranquil Guqin music that seems to come from the trees, hearing the birds chatter about with the percussion of foot stomps from early morning joggers, seeing trees like this: And what’s with this tree anyway? These spiraling roots bend and contort just to get what they need (water, der.) The simple reasonableness of living things. We all do what we have to get what we need.
And what does this thing want, with its flashy red tickley thingamajigs? This also does what it does to get what it needs (asexual reproduction, der.) All of nature, trying to get what she needs. That’s life, as David Lee Roth said surrounded by a bunch of ladies in bikinis, no matter how humans try to complicate things with their social constructs.
So, naturally, the Golden Gate Bridge was the next stop. In the early morning hour, we caught a calm, unobscured view before heading on the bridge to Sausalito and then onward to the Marin Headlands.
I can’t believe that I haven’t eaten anything yet! We stopped in at a sundrenched eatery in Sausalito across from the sun-sparkling bay to grab a bite. They were “out” of tofu for my tofu scramble (hmph), so I got avocado and toast to make my own avocado toast. The Electrician fared better with some non-vegan atrocity.
The Pacific Ocean. It’s the world’s largest geographic feature. I’m chock full of 5th grade facts.
Hanging out in San Francisco proper, there were some tourist stops on the agenda. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps in Inner Sunset was first. It was pretty and I took pictures of it. There were great views from the top, as well.
Next, I took our VW GTI, whose power and handling is far superior than the crummy midsize option, down the famous crooked street, Lombard Street. It was a hoot but it was way too swarmed with photo-taking gawkers.
It was finally lunch time. We headed to Oakland to try Souley Vegan, an all-vegan soul food spot with a jam-packed menu with starchy, salty comfort foods. The signage was made to be blogged, so here:
First, deep-fried tofu poppers with a medley of dipping sauces: hot sauce, vegan ranch, barbecue sauce, and ketchup. I enjoyed these, as I would enjoy anything plant-based breaded and deep-fried.
I got the housemade seitan and waffles. I though that the waffle was spectacular, probably the best waffle I ever had! Cakey, slight tang/buttermilk-y. Delicious! But the seitan was mostly breading and seasoning. It was a very thin strip of seitan underneath all that crunchy, salty stuff. I was hoping for tender, succulent seitan.
After some down time, a visit to Republic of V to stock up on road trip goodies. Republic of V is an-vegan store with treats and pantry essentials. They had plenty of goodies in their store space. I picked up some peanut butter No No’s from Premium Chocolatiers, classic double cream chive cheese wheel from Miyoko’s Kitchen, and a big, fat Sweet & Sara‘s s’more.
And finally, dinner at the satisfying Sanctuary Bistro in Berkeley. Hands down, the best eats of the day.
Despite the California drought, we got a quart of the wet stuff, packed with sliced blood orange and greens. I also tried their housemade lemon kombucha.
To start, the Beet Tartare, balsamic marinated chopped beet topped with a delicious, thick housemade cashew cream cheese, garnished with fennel fronds. Perfection. The Electrician was into it, too. And he’s got good taste of course.
Trying to keep things light after a way too heavy lunch, I got a small plate: the Dynamite Futomaki Roll with Nigiri— Futomaki rolls packed and rolled with marinated tofu, spinach, carrot, bell peppers, avocado, roasted bell pepper, nigiri, and the Chef’s secret sauce. Just what I needed. Fresh, flavorful, and minimally processed.
There was nothing left to do but drive into the sunset. Until tomorrow!
To say “vegan” or not to say “vegan,” that is sometimes the question. Slowly but surely I believe hesitant proprietors are seeing the light. When you say it, they will come. By say, I mean signage outside and on the website. And by they, I mean me. Especially if you’re 9 minutes away and have a parking lot.
Though Bare Naked Bakery & Cafe is a dedicated gluten-free bakery, they have an ample selection of egg & dairy free options. I came by on a bright Sunday morning looking to sample them all.
At home, I ripped into the bakery box.
I picked up some Easter sugar cookies, adorned in their pastel piping. They had a soft texture that was slightly grainy in that gluten-free fashion, nice flavor overall.
The Linzer tart, freshly dusted with powdered sugar.
Bakery standard Black & White cookie. Yummy icing, cookie was a bit too moist. I know, I know–gluten free is tough. Did I mention I am eating fresh vegan options from a real-life bakery on the South shore of Long Island, where I grew up? That kind of trumps all.
And another bakery standard: the chocolate chip cookie.
I am excited that there are vegan options so close by. I’ll be back Bare Naked!
A Rocky Point strip mall is an unlikely place for vegan option to surface. But they did at the lively B.B.D.’s (Beers, Burgers, & Desserts). CP and I trekked to this eastern point of Long Island to sample their vegan seitan wings, confident in their menu listing them officially as “Vegan Seitan Wings.”
The place is a fairly typical bar and bar food spot: thick coated wood about; dark; a thick, palpable buzz in the air. Disclaimer: We were visiting during a St. Patty’s day party. We ordered the vegan wings and some tater tots… and were brought our plastic fork, knife, and ketchup packets. (Huh?) The wings arrive and were very delicious. They didn’t seem to of frozen origin, they were certainly seitan (as some may know that eateries can sometimes use tofu, seitan, and what is really packaged texturized soy protein products interchangeable.) Sauce was sweet with a subtle kick. Vegan ranch dipping sauce was guiltily delectable.
After some shenanigans, we were ready for more food. We headed towards Bay Shore’s Tula Kitchen. I visited this place once years ago and had never returned. To my experienced veg palate, they offer meh vegan options, the kind you can make at home easily. But the posh space asks a pretty penny for these dishes. So although I welcome the option given the dearth of choices in the surrounding area, I won’t likely make the trek to Bay Shore when I can get Candle 79 for the same price if I head west.
In the Past
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