One Last Taste of the Bay Area

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Looking on the bright side of having our travels delayed by a week, it gave me a chance to check out some Bay Area vegan (or vegan-friendly) restaurants I'd not yet been to. Well, ok I confess, most of these I did not visit in the last week, I just haven't gotten around to writing them up. So here goes...

Unicorn (San Francisco's Financial District)

It's probably the dorkiest name I can think of for a restaurant. (All I could think of when eating there is Planet Unicorn. Don't click that link unless you want that goddamn song in your head all day.) Now it's not hard to find vegan pan-Asian food, but what's notable about them is they have a vegan prix fixe menu in addition to their omni dishes.

It sounded like a bit too much food at the time, so we got individual dishes that were unfortunately, not particularly impressive. Most upsetting was that the dish I ordered was supposed to come with tofu and they gave me a fake-chicken gluten-based substance instead. I've got a major aversion to fake-chicken so I just ate around it. Lame! I would not likely go back even if I were sticking around. But maybe if you're a vegan working in the FiDi it would be a good option.

Manzanita (Oakland)

UGH. I'm not at all averse to macrobiotic food. You'll soon be hearing me gush about Iku, like all the time. But I am averse to being charged $15 for a lunch buffet consisting of plain steamed vegetables, plain rice, and crappy salad. I'm all for healthy eating, but there's a way to do it with flavor. Herbs go a long way, people. This is the kind of thing that makes people [idiots] think that vegans are depriving themselves. For several counter-examples, see below.

Gracias Madre (San Francisco's Mission District)

It would be really easy to hate on a pricey vegan Mexican-ish restaurant from the white folks at Cafe Gratitude coming in to a historically Latino neighborhood where tension over gentrification is already high. That said, the food at Gracias Madre is so good, they make it really hard to hate or care about its authenticity. It's not like they're driving the local taquerias out of business. I'll still hit up Pancho Villa for a burrito any chance I get.

What they do instead is obviously more "inspired by Mexican" food, using local ingredients that taste really damn good. And I'm a sucker for a kick-ass Sangria. The menu rotates but I implore you to try to the Coliflor con Queso if they've got it. So good, as was my tamale and the tacos I sampled.

Encuentro (Oakland's Jack London Square)

I love just about anything served tapas style, because it means I get to sample so many different great tastes, and Encuentro is no exception. While not all vegan, most dishes can be made so. And not in a "we'll just take out this giant hunk of cheese and charge you the same price" way that many restaurants do. They're big on nut-based cheeses. And apparently, so am I. We got dates stuffed with macadamia nut cheese and it was awesome!

They're definitely small plates. Like this teeny-ass portobello sandwich pictured here. But I found the prices actually fairly reasonable so you can get a lot of plates. For a group of four it was under $100 including wine (which was excellent).

Yield Wine Bar (San Francisco's Dogpatch District)

We went here for a friend's art opening a few weeks ago. While they're not that new, we'd always wanted to check it out, as they're known for organic and biodynamic wine selections. Turns out they also have great food that's often vegan-friendly. The menu rotates and the night we came they were just putting out plates for guests. We had some delicious lentil pate and this awesome cashew-based dip that was almost like a fondue to dip veggies in. I couldn't get enough. Plus the staff there is super-friendly. I chatted with the chef for a while and was totally inspired that he started out just as a "home cook" like me, with no training, and just walked into Millennium one day and asked if he could work there unpaid to learn the ropes. How cool is that?

So there you have it. The latter three restaurants here I will definitely regret not having the chance to eat at again before we move, but there's always our visits back, which I'm sure will be plentiful!

Sydney, Here We Come!

Well, after a perhaps unsurprisingly frustrating immigration process, I'm happy to announce that Tim and I have gotten our approved visas and are flying out to Sydney this Saturday night! Due to the time change, we'll arrive early Monday morning. It promises to be a fun-filled day dealing with customs, going to the immigration offices, getting new cell phone plans, and opening bank accounts.

Very glamorous, I know. Although Tim has the week off so we can deal with all the minutiae of getting set up in a new city, we also hope to find some time for recreation. Especially after the stressful week I've had. I won't get into the details of the move-out complications we've had, but I'll just say there better be some beachside relaxation in our future.

We arrive February 1st which is a special day for me because it's also my nine year Vegetarianniversary. Yup, I gave up meat in 2001 and haven't looked back since. Perhaps to celebrate we'll be able to squeeze in some meals at the vegan-friendly places we discovered on our last trip, like Iku Wholefoods, Yulli's, and Bodhi in the Park. And, I'm excited that there's plenty of places we've not yet been, like Badde Manors, Funky Pies, and Naked Espresso for brunch. If you have any recommendations, food or otherwise for how to spend a great first week in our new home, feel free to let me know!

Alternatively, for my Bay Area friends, how would you spend your last day in San Francisco? We're planning on brunch at Herbivore (because that is how we've spent nearly every Saturday morning in San Francisco since we've lived here) and then if we can stave off the rain, maybe going up to Crissy Field (where Tim and I got married.)

From one coast to another, we can't wait to start this new adventure!

Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's been quite an emotional couple of days for me and Tim. Over the weekend we had our going-away party, said goodbye to many friends and family, and started making peace with the fact that we're about to leave the city where we met, fell in love, and called home for nearly five years.

And then we found out our visas are delayed. So far it sounds like just a week, but it's hard to know for sure.

Major bummer, as we'd been hoping to arrive in Sydney in time for Australia Day, and we'd joined a Sydney Vegetarian group on who are having a party a few days later that we'll now have to miss. Not to mention, it would have been nice to have an extra week with Tony Danza.

Early this morning, through torrential downpours, we drove our little guy down to Pet Express, the company that has been helping us through our pet immigration process. I can't recommend their services more highly. Throughout, they were responsive, on top of the myriad of paperwork and vet appointments required of us, friendly, and reassuring.

We bid Tony a tearful goodbye and earlier this evening, his plane shipped off to Australia. He'll arrive tomorrow at his quarantine facility, where he'll spend the next ten or so weeks. It was so hard not being able to tell him that we'd be coming back for him. We're allowed to visit when we get there, though the facility is a bit far outside the city and not public transit accessible so it will be tough.

We were able to take our minds off of him today though, as it was quite the busy day of shipping off all our worldly possessions to Sydney, and handing off the rest to Goodwill, SCRAP, and various friends. The upside of our delay in travel is that I can take a bit of a breather tomorrow before repainting and cleaning the apartment. Whew!

And bonus: we'll have a chance to check out this weekend's emergency vegan bake sale to benefit Haiti. Bonus link for you: Food for Life, a great organization that is bringing vegan meals to Haiti. I highly recommend donating to them. I suppose in that context, saying goodbye to your cat and being delayed a week to Australia is not the biggest tragedy in the world.

Ultimate Vegan Alfredo Recipe

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On our last trip to Napa, Tim and I picked up a bottle of wine from Mendocino that I've been saving for a special occasion. My last home-cooked meal in our current apartment seemed ideal. It's a smokey roset that I remember thinking would go well with cheese, if only I ate it. So instead I attempted a vegan fettucine alfredo.

I've made my share of vegan cream sauces before, usually cashew-based, but they usually taste... well, cashew-based. And nothing like the creamy Italian sauce I grew up with. But with the advent of the miracle food that is Daiya (seriously, who do I need to bribe to get this stuff into Australia?) I thought I might be able to make a better go of it.

And how right I was! I might make some tweaks if I were to attempt this recipe again, but this worked pretty darn well for me tonight:

Vegan Alfredo Sauce Recipe:

1/2 Cup Earth Balance
1 Cup Soy Creamer (I used Wildwood)
1/2 Cup cashew cream
2 Cloves garlic minced as finely as possible
1 tsp nutritional yeast
Cracked pepper to taste, a pinch of mutmeg
1 Cup Daiya Italian vegan cheese
Basil for garnish
1 lb. Fettucine

It's pretty simple. Start off by boiling your water for the pasta. Mix together all the ingredients but the Daiya in a pan over medium heat until it reaches a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer. Once you put the pasta in to boil, you can add the Daiya to your sauce mixture. Stir continuously until you get a creamy sauce. If it's too thick, add more creamer or soy milk to thin it out.

Drain the pasta and ladle on the sauce generously. Top with a basil chiffonade if you're feeling fancy. It's good with some sort of green veggie side like steamed broccoli with lemon juice.

It may not be the healthiest meal ever... in fact, for the sake of my new year's resolution, we'll pretend it never happened. But it's the closest I've come to replicating an authentic alfredo sauce and still probably way less heart attack-inducing. I sort of have this idea in my head that because everyone in Australia is so fit that as soon as I arrive there, I'll just start shedding pounds by proxy. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

A Love Letter to Millennium

Monday, January 11, 2010

We're starting to get down to our last remaining days in San Francisco, which means we're going through a lot of "lasts." Our last beers at Zeitgeist, soon our last trip to Dolores Park, our last brunch at Herbivore. And this weekend, we took our last trip to Millennium.

Tim and I were lucky to be joined by two good friends, both pretty discerning foodies and decided omnivores. One writes the often NSFV (not safe for vegans) blog Beer and Pork and the other is working on soon launching a recipe bookmarking tool at

Sometimes I get nervous bringing new people to Millennium because I love it so much. It's like bringing home the new boyfriend to meet the family. Will they be critical or see the flaws I'm obviously blind to?

So I was pleased to hear our friends gushing over their food and drinks as enthusiastically as we always do. I've never had a meal there even bordering on bad. They use bold flavors, unique, fresh ingredients, and serve hearty meals that leave you fully satisfied. They've introduced me to so many new foods, like the Grilled Seitan Yuba Roulade pictured here that I had this weekend. I was first introduced to yuba in my first meal at Millennium in 2006.

It's also where I first tried fiddle-head ferns, stinging nettles, black pepper-infused vodka, endive, huitlacoche, avocado sorbet, all kinds of exotic mushrooms and other amazing vegan delicacies. I've been to Candle 79 and vegan restaurants all over the U.S. and nothing ever compares to a meal at Millennium.

There are lots of things I will miss about living in San Francisco, and Millennium, you are at the top of that list! I bid you goodbye for now - but not forever, because in my heart I know we will meet again.

Healthful Resolutions

Monday, January 4, 2010

With the new year comes many resolutions. Most commonly people resolve to lose weight, eat better, be more fit, etc. I thought this might be a good opportunity to reflect on some things I learned while completing my Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell's online learning program (eCornell).

First I'd like to review the program itself, as I had a hard time finding much feedback when I was deciding whether or not to sign up. It's not a cheap program and I wondered whether I could just read The China Study to get the same knowledge. The short answer is yes. The vast majority of the course was redundant and some of it (especially in the first course) seemed to get into way too much scientific detail and not enough practical information.

The third (of the three) courses definitely deals with the most hands-on information and was what I liked the best. In particular it touched on school lunch programs and my favorite unit was an awesome practical guide to understanding nutritional labels on packaged food.

Part of my problem with the program is that I don't think I do well with online learning, or at least not in the way it was designed here. Each module is an audio lecture with little visual stimulus. (Strike one: I'm not an auditory learner.) After each lecture you either take a short multiple choice quiz (Strike two: I despise multiple choice and true/false quizzes. These were particularly poorly written and don't test key concepts.) or you have to briefly answer a question in the discussion forum.

The forums were Strike three. If you came late to questions (it's entirely on your time with no deadlines within each course) you found yourself basically re-stating everything that had already been said or struggling to make a new point. And nobody was going to follow up with any constructive feedback, questions or responses because they'd moved on to the next module. It made a dialogue difficult and that is what I have always thrived on in classes. I need group discussion. On the plus side, the professor for the first two courses was great. He always followed up with comments and answered questions. The final professor was fine, I just didn't hear from her as much.

Perhaps another criticism is that the program should be called "Non-Animal Nutrition" to be more accurate. The majority of it was focused on the things that are bad for you in meat and dairy, and far less on the things actually good for you in veggies. I often wondered to myself, "well, what can I eat?" when learning that soy milk, tofu and tempeh - foods most people would certainly rank as health foods - are considered processed and should be kept at a minimum in the plant-based diet.

Through the course I cut caffeine, refined sugar, refined flour, and vegetable oils out of my already vegan diet, and focused much more on whole foods. Basically, I shopped in the bulk section. I went about a month on this diet. The problem is that it's pretty unsustainable for anyone with a social life. While vegan food is pretty easy to come by in restaurants these days, it's often in the form of pastas, stir-fries, baked goods. There was no way I was going to New York, for example, without sampling their finest vegan foods.

The course seems to rely on the idea that a varied enough diet of plant-based whole foods will give you everything you need. But it doesn't address how to handle those with other health concerns like food allergies, digestive diseases, etc. It worked more on converting people towards a specific diet and less on helping those already on this diet to maintain optimal health and get enough of a variety of nutrients.

So one of my resolutions for 2010 is to work to maintain this balance in my diet -- cooking whole foods at home, allowing for indulgences when I dine out. It's all about what's personally sustainable.