Vegan Las Vegas

For Halloween I got to go to Las Vegas for the first time and it was surreal. From now on when people from other countries ask me where to visit in the US I think I will say Vegas because it’s the ultimate manifestation of the American experience. Doing research for the trip about where to eat it also seemed like Las Vegas was going to be the most vegan friendly destination ever. All anyone will really tell you is to stay at the Wynn because all of their restaurants are vegan friendly. The Wynn, however, was way out of my price range so we just had a meal there. It was difficult to figure out which of their 20 restaurants to go too because the vegan menus aren’t on their website but, after some searching, I found a pinterest board that has them all Wynn and Encore Vegan Restaurant Menus which was very helpful. I went to make a reservation for Sinatra but then found that they had a dress code and since Dan only had sneakers we had to find something else. Grr! As Austinites, we are just not used to dress codes. I finally settled on La Cave and it was a lovely experience, except for the ever present thumping music. I had the mushroom tortellini, arugula, and cashew cream sauce along with the Gardein chick’n, celery root puree, and lemon caper sauce. Everything was fantastic, it was supposed to be small plates but just one of them would have been quite filling. Luckily, I was able to walk it off since we were staying at the other end of the strip at the Luxor.

I was really glad that we stayed there, and not just because I got a hot deal. Everything is pyramid shaped and it’s connected to the Mandalay Bay shopping center. Along the walkway there are three very vegan friendly restaurants that I learned about on the eating vegan in vegas tumblr. We tried the over-hyped but still really good Slice of Vegas Pizza. It wasn’t the best vegan pizza I ever had but they did have a shockingly vegan friendly menu with sausage, chicken, cheese, meatballs, pasta fagoli, fried caluliflower, garlic bread, and several vegan desserts like cheesecake! Next door has Hussong’s Cantina which has many Mexican plant based options and Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar which has a vegan burger. Downstairs at the Luxor they also had vegan friendly tacos at T&T (Tacos & Tequila). So while the food at the Wynn was amazing if you can’t spend a hundred dollars at every meal the Luxor seemed like the best alternative. Plus you get to live in a pyramid. I walked through most of the other casinos which is fun and exhausting.

New York New York

Paris

And we got to see the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil which was so beautiful. Now I want to see all my favorite albums transformed cirque style!

On Halloween we dressed up as Axl and Slash which was really fun for the shows at the MGM.

The Vegas Strip made me feel really crazy and I learned that’s a common refrain. You endlessley walk through these casinos and there is loud, horrrible music being blasted every which way, and the noise from the slot machines, and people trying to get you to see naked girls, and people wanting you to buy their vacation packages, and people begging for money, and tons of indoor smoking. By day three I was desperate to get out of there so we took a cab to Komol restaurant, an incredibly vegan friendly Thai restaurant. We got tons of food, a appetizer platter with fried Tofu, spring rolls, fried eggplant, crispy spinach and fried sweet potato, Tom-Kha Soup, Gluten Sukiyaki-Thai Style, and orange tofu. They even had vegan Thai Iced tea. My favorite part was the orange tofu, it was super crispy and delicious. I’ve been craving it ever since. I realized after the ridiculously expensive cab ride that it was about a half mile walk to take the monorail back.

For our last big meal we went to Hakkasan inside the MGM. Even though getting into the restaurant was a maze like everywhere else in Vegas I loved that it was dark with soothing music. Dan had the most delicious cocktail ever, the Green Destiny with Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka, cucumber, kiwi and apple juice. It didn’t even sound that good to me and I ordered wine instead and then tried to steal his drink. Everyone I was with had a lot of trouble deciding what to get but as soon as I saw the Dim Sum plate, I knew there was no other choice. It had morel mushroom dumpling, a truffle beancurd rolla, edamame dumplings, and crystal vegetable dumplings. I think the mushroom was my favorite.

But honestly, even with all the amazing food, glorious shows, and so many of my favorite people I was never so happy to get back to Austin where everything is on a human scale. I think if I do Vegas again I will have to stay off the strip. And eat doughnuts because I was really sad to miss out on that.

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Mendocino California and it’s Vegan Bed & Breakfast: The Stanford Inn

I was so overwhelmed by wonder and beauty of my last trip that it’s almost hard to blog about. I have so many pictures to share and things to rave about that I don’t even know how to put it all out there without just gushing. Let me start by saying my Mom is the greatest person in the world. She knew I’ve been going through such a super rotten unbloggable time this summer that she really wanted to cheer me up with a trip to visit her in Sacramento. We had a lovely time day-tripping to San Francisco and eating in vegan hot spots in Sac but the highlight was to be our drive out to the Mendocino coast via Napa. We stayed the first night in a little town in the valley and drank wine by the pool and already I started feeling better. The next day, as we drove to the coast, the views just got more and more beautiful.

When we got to the coast we stopped to see the Pygmy forest in Van Damn state park where conditions make it so the usually giant trees only grow 12 feet high. We had a picnic lunch on the beach. The water was sparkling and so blue. My pictures don’t do it justice.

After this we arrived at the Stanford Inn which I was a little nervous about since it was really expensive and all vegan. I didn’t know how my mom would feel. I needn’t have worried. As we drove up to the Inn we were already falling in love. It’s surrounded by an incredibly well maintained organic garden and sitting beautifully up on a hill. As my mom checked in I wandered through the lobby that sells dog and cat themed greeting cards and pretty much every vegan cookbook in existence.

When we walked into our room soft music was playing as we gaped at the horse + ocean view from our balcony.

The rooms are wood paneled which reminded me of the vegan version of the Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks. The room was bigger than the picture shows, I didn’t have a wide angle lens! I loved that the bathroom was stocked with wonderful vegan spa products. All the accouterments were top notch. You can’t tell from my picture but our room had a potbellied stove that was all set up for a fire. 

Every room in the Inn has a fireplace and though it wasn’t too cold I saw most of the chimneys lit and so we did ours too. I was glad because it did get quite a bit cooler and it was just lovely having a crackling fire. Every night they set up the fireplace so all you have to do is drop in a match. It’s like having Hogwarts house elves. House elves that you tip.

There were so many other little touches that made me feel like I was in the perfect place. You know how sometimes you go to a hotel and they want to give you a fresh baked cookie and you have to say no, I’m vegan, I don’t get a cookie. Well at the Stanford you get to eat the damn cookie.

Or how your hotel will have a coffeemaker but usually it’s terrible coffee and dairy cream so you have to find a starbucks or something? Nope! Not here! There isn’t a Starbucks anywhere around but there is complimentary soy milk in your freaking room.Or what about when the included breakfast has tons of stuff but you are lucky to find a bagel with jam because that’s the only option? Nope, at the Stanford you get your choice of fresh squeezed juices to choose from and then there is an elaborate menu of any breakfast item you could ever want from waffles to crepes to chilaquiles to a bennedict florentine with your choice of marinated tempeh, roasted tofu, sausage, or grilled portobellos. And of course they even have raw and gf options. Of course. The Ravens Tempeh Bennedict

When we asked the waiter what time they started breakfast in the morning we realized we were going to miss it the next day. No matter, he said, just let us know what you want. We will box it up and you can take it with you, and what juice would you like tomorrow. The entire staff couldn’t have been more graceful.

You know how sometimes you are really looking forward to the pool but it’s an outside pool that’s too cold, and there are a million kids playing so they have to over chlorinate the water? Well at the Stanford Inn the pool in in a lovely solarium complete with hot tub and sauna. The pool is a giant saltwater pool and several times I was the only one in the whole room.

The solarium had banana trees growing and other tropicals but there were beautiful flowers and plants all over the grounds.

And you are allowed to wander anywhere on the property, they even have complementry bikes that you can take down the river road or you can rent a canoe and paddle the river or the ocean and tour caves. You can pet the animals and stroll the beautiful organic gardens. And you can see the team harvesting vegetables that they are serving for dinner at night. It takes a lot of kale to run a vegan restaurant.During the day we checked out the shops in Mendocino and went hiking at the Headlands state park (there are three state parks within ten minutes of each other)We also checked out the Russian Gulch State Park. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the coastline was, it truly reminded me of Hawaii (aka my favorite place on earth).We stopped at the botanical gardens too and I was amazed by all the different gardens. Of course the hotel also has complimentary tea time from 2-4 so that just when you are done digesting your breakfast you get a lovely pick me up. We had some delicious date nut brownies. Did I mention all the food is amazing? Even if you can’t stay at the Inn I highly recommend stopping at The Ravens, their attached restaurant if you are anywhere near the area. My mom and I LOVED the food. I thought it was better then Candle 79 and Millennium which are the two vegan restaurants always taking the top of any “best of” lists. The dinner menu was balanced with Japanese, Mexican, and Italian influences and all the local ingredients were marked. Here is most of what we had over the course of several meals. Each meal started with a nice amuse-bouche and they also had a different featured spread for breads each night that we couldn’t stop eating. Every night there was a different soup too. We loved the cauliflower with shitake bacon.One night for an app we tried the Tamari-Maple Glazed Tofu with wasabi emulsion, sesame seeds and scallions which was practically a meal in itself. 

For main courses we tried the Spinach ravioli filled with broccoli, shallot, and hemp ricotta, with vodka cashew cream marinara, braised greens and cherry tomato garnish

The Grilled Cauliflower Napoleon – Layered grilled cauliflower, tomato, zucchini, eggplant, hemp seed cheese, with Balsamic reduction and basil-spinach infusion drizzle. Served with roasted fingerling potatoesThe Wild Mushroom Crepe – Wild mushrooms in a chickpea crepe, Forbidden black rice, braised bok choy, port wine reductionand The Sea Palm & Root Vegetable Strudel* – Local sea palm, carrots, onions in sesame phyllo, accompanied by a stir-fry of broccoli, shiitake, bell pepper and cashews. Served with Umeboshi and wasabi sauces 

Everything was impeccable, you really can’t go wrong. I loved that the wine list had all the vegan options marked and I do recommend trying the ’12 Rivino, Viognier from Mendocino, it was my favorite of the week.  I only made it to dessert one one night and tried the Mint Chocolate Ganache Tart – Almond and hazelnut crust. It was so decadent I could have died right there.

Oh, and did I tell you that the whole place is dog friendly and you they even have seating for people with canine companions. Of course you can bring your dog cause it really is vegan heaven. By the end of the trip we were planning our next trip back. Scratch that, by the first hour of checking in to the Stanford Inn we were planning our next trip back. I hope this doesn’t sound like they paid me to write this. I promise I didn’t but I would, Standford Inn if you are reading this and you want to hire me to blog about how awesome you are I could do it every day. Just let me come back. Maybe we can do a taco cleanse retreat :)

 

Sacramento – Bangkok@12

I had another amazing meal in Sacramento worth writing home about. This time was Thai food downtown, or maybe it was midtown I’m not 100% sure on the neighborhoods. We walked around the Capitol building first and, I would imagine, that would be the center of downtown. It’s a beautiful Capitol park with trees from all over the state. Some are bursting with oranges, and there are stately redwoods, and silvery olive trees, and towering palm trees.

Bangkok@12 was recommended to me on the PPK several trips ago but this was the first time we tried it. I was amazed by the vegetarian section of the menu and just when I decided what I wanted I saw something else I wanted more. They had all the standard apps but I had to try the potato curry puffs because they sounded so unusual “Thai style mashed potato and onion wrapped with tortilla, then fried to golden brown, served with cucumber salad.” They looked like quesadillas but they tasted very Thai. The cucumber salad served alongside was excellent too.

I ultimately decided on the Thai Orange Tofu which came out and looked incredible. The tofu appeared battered and fried, the vegetables were crunchy and fresh, and their were mandarin oranges and cilantro served up as well. Sadly, the menu didn’t say that the batter contained mustard which I don’t like but they were still quite, just not to my taste.

My mom absolutely loved her mango curry too. I think next time I will try the Bangkok noodles or the avocado curry. Or the pumpkin curry. It all sounded so good. Today we are headed through Napa on our way to the coast so I probably won’t blog again for a few days. But, rest assured, I will be doing all my favorite things, eating, drinking, hiking in the trees, and reading books by the pool.

 

Sacramento – Noble Vegetarian

My favorite part about traveling the west coast, well after the trees, the ocean, the flowers, and abundant avocados, is that there are tons of Asian restaurants seemingly everywhere you go. Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Indian and every cuisine in between are all over the place. Every time I come to Sacramento I get to check out a new place and this time my mom brought me to another Vietnamese themed all vegetarian spot called Noble Vegetarian. They have every kind of vegan meat on the menu so I wanted to try every one! We started with the vegeham paste wontons. My mom was very wary but she ended up loving them as did I. 

We were also very impressed with the vegeprawn spring rolls. I was a bit nervous since I’m allergic to eating the animal shrimp but I’m happy to report that they were indeed vegan and I had no ill effects. God, that would be the worst! 

Next, we tried the Vegebeef Vegetable Medley and it, unfortunately, reminded me of a Beef Vegetable Medley you could get at any shopping mall. No, I take it back, the vegetables had more bite than you’d find at the mall. It just wasn’t anything special. 

Finally the soup came. I had a hard time deciding which one to try, there was a whole page of the menu dedicated to vegan soups and this NEVER happens in Austin. In the end we went with Au-Lac Sweet and Sour because I just couldn’t decide and I saw it had rice paddy herbs.

I was excited when it came out to see that it was completely loaded with vegetables, tofu, more shrimp, pineapple, tomatoes, okra, and who knows what else. It was delicious. I was sad I didn’t have room in my belly for vegan flan. That’s twice now on this trip I’ve been too full to try it. URGH!

And that ends 2014 VeganMofo for me, I am super proud of myself for pulling it together after my dismal start. There is plenty more to come.

San Francisco – Gracias Madre

I decided that I’d had about enough of Austin and headed out to California to spend some quality time with my mom this week. It’s been gorgeous. Yesterday we went to San Francisco to visit some friends and stop at one of my all time favorite restaurants Gracias Madre which I hadn’t been to in a few years. I saw that they opened up a beautiful location in LA and I sure hope Austin is next. California Mexican food is so different from in Texas. I love it. We started with the potato and masa gorditas.

They were fried perfectly crisp and soft inside and served with a cashew cream and the ubiquitous avocado. We also got the mole empanada. The last time I was here I wasn’t a fan of their mole but with the sweetness of the fried plantain in the empanada it was more balanced and delicious.

For my entrée I chose the pozole because I’d heard it was delicious and also I had in my mind all day that it would be cold and foggy in SF. It was sunny and warm but, whatever, I was set for some soup.

It was yummy and chock-full of avocado but it wasn’t as good as the recipe make at home all the time. I was hoping after this to try the flan but by the time our waitress came back all that food had hit my belly and there was no way. For dinner we went to Dosa on FIlmore and I’m still recovering from all the delicious cocktails, Uttapam, potato and basil spicy dosa and every kind of chutney. If you go, and you should, make sure you ask for the vegan menu because it’s very clear and even mentions if cashews are used which I know many are allergic too. It was magical, highly recommended. Now I’m going to lie down.

Ahhh, vacation.

Secret Ingredients: Miso

I don’t know what I would do without miso. It’s a key element to almost everything I make. I read that in Japan miso is as important as cheese is in France and you can go to specialty stores and seek out whatever miso you like from hundreds of different kinds. There are similarities to the two victuals. Both are craft foods that have been around for hundreds of years and, since they are fermented, vary greatly depending on the ingredients used, the weather, and even the processing. According to Japanese mythology, miso itself is a gift to mankind from the gods to assure lasting health, longevity, and happiness. Basically, it is made by cooking soy beans, mixing them with salt and a culturing agent called koji which is a fermented grain and then it’s aged in wooden vats. I became very interested in making my own after reading Wild Fermentation years back but, with the intense heat in Texas, I’m always a bit leery of trying my luck at fermenting. I’m excited, because later this year in November the author of that book Sandor Ellix Katz is coming to Austin for the fermentation festival so I really want to go and learn more about our unique issues.

As it is now, I buy all kinds of miso and usually have a couple of different ones in the fridge. For a while I was hooked on the Dandelion Leek one from South River pictured above but I always have a white on hand and keep trying different kinds. Anywhere where mustard is called for I sub in miso. I love love love simple creamy tahini miso dressing on roasted vegetables, bowls, or even salads. I think miso gravy is amazing. To make any sort of cheesy vegan recipe miso is a must. Of course, most people think of miso soup when they think of miso and I do enjoy the simple Japanese version in the winter but I’ve also learned you can add miso to just about any soup and it will improve it. It’s basically salty fermented goodness packed with protein and probiotics which makes it a perfect vegan food.

Miso Glazed Brussels Sprouts

Secret Ingredients: Coconut Butter

Windy-City-Organics-Dastony-Coconut-Butter-608819794600I think I first became aware of Coconut Butter years ago when I decided to go on a raw foods diet. One of my favorite recipes from that time was from Raw Food/Real World’s Macaroons which are basically coconut butter and almond flour dehydrated. During this experiment with raw food I learned a lot about myself, mainly that I prefer cooked food. I did continue to make the macaroons for Christmas and occasionally used the coconut butter when called for in recipes for other desserts.

It wasn’t until a few years ago when I learned to saute savory foods in coconut butter that I started to realize it makes almost everything taste good. I am not really a fan of quinoa, for example, but if I wash it and then saute the seeds for a minute in coconut butter before adding the water they become both aromatic and buttery rich. It works even better with rice. I love re-frying beans in a bit of the coconut butter or starting curry in the oil, or even finishing some off with a dollop if it’s missing that something.

Coconuts are one of the oldest foods in recorded history. There are all sorts of uses beyond making coconut cream pie and coconut radios. The butter itself is a great moisturizer and you can even remove eye make-up with it. If you were ever trapped on a tropical island they would be the first thing you’d probably start eating since they are delicious and full of fat. Don’t fall asleep under the coconut tree though, I learned on a trip to Costa Rica that more people die from getting whacked on the head from a falling coconut then by shark attacks. It’s made me wary of the beach ever since.

We humans get our revenge of coconuts though. In order to make the butter one must first create an emulsion of the raw coconut meat and water. “Modern techniques use centrifuges and pre-treatments including cold, heat, acids, salts, enzymes, electrolysis, shock waves, or some combination of them.” YIKES!

I think in most of the raw coconut butters you find at the co-op are just ground up, perhaps using elephant labor as is depicted on the jar above. BUT if elephants are laboring over our coconut butter aren’t we exploiting them and therefore making the product less vegan? I am hoping it’s just a cute picture but it really raises some questions that we, as a community, will have to someday face.