Trio at the Four Seasons – a vegan menu for date nights and special occasions

The question that I get asked the most in Austin is where to go for fine dining. In the old days my best answer was the Clay Pit for Indian food and I stand by that recommendation. If you can get seated in the candlelit stone brick-walled basement you will have the great atmosphere plus excellent vegan friendly food. But, not everyone likes Indian. Sagra, which I wrote about last week, gets recommended quite a bit but it’s really a bit more casual and calls itself a Trattoria. Other spots like Lenoir and Second will make you an awesome vegan meal but you don’t know what you are going to get since there isn’t an actual vegan menu. It’s up to the chef which means you might have something you don’t like and that if you are dining with another vegan (or several) you will all get the same thing which isn’t as fun. The other day someone posted on the Austin Vegan Facebook group that TRIO, a highly reviewed restaurant here in Austin inside the Four Seasons, had a vegan menu and I kind of couldn’t believe it. I mean, their tagline is steak.seafood.wine. Usually seeing steak and seafood featured at a restaurant means you better enjoy wine because that’s all you will be eating with your bread but look at this menu! Two entrees! Appetizers! OMG!

I made reservations minutes after seeing the post and one week later I was sitting at a table holding the menu in my hand enjoying a fantastic cocktail, The Buffalo Solider, Orange Zest, House Infused Buffalo Trace, Cherry Heering, Earl Grey Syrup, and Mineral Water. It was maybe the perfect summer drink.

The restaurant itself is very lush although the clientele definitely seemed more of my parents generation than mine. That could very well be because of the weekend I went, I’m sure that it changes around depending on who is in town for what event since it’s at a hotel. They had a huge patio as well that overlooks the lake but we chose to sit inside in the dark yet sunshine toned dining room.

Our waitress was maybe the best most helpful waitress that I’ve ever had. As soon as she found out I was vegan she started excitedly telling me about the menu options and told me she preferred the vegan gnocchi to the one on the regular menu. She just glowed with warmth and seemed more than happy to let me interrogate her. After the meal she was dying for me to sample to prickly pear sorbet for dessert, she even said she’d comp it, but I was just too full!

Another server came and brought complimentary bread and olive oil for me since they usually give everyone cheese popovers. It was such a nice touch to be brought the bread and then assured that it was ok to eat without having to ask.

Next they brought the quinoa fritters served with garlic confit, pea tendrils, radish, and tofu ranch. They reminded me of fancy hush puppies. They were light and delicious. 

But of course the star of the show was the entree. Our waitress recommended the Trumpet Mushroom dish if we were really hungry. It is served with ramps, romanesco cauliflower, quinoa granola, and mojo de ajo. It sounded really interesting but there was no way I could avoid trying the gnocchi.

Described as potato gnocchi with tempura scallions, rainbow carrots, asparagus, and garlic gastrique I didn’t quite expect the beautiful dish that came to my table.

I loved this dish and I could have eaten it all day. The gnocchi was a bit dense and not the light pillows of perfection that I hoped for but the vegetables were all exactly how I like them and the combination worked really well. I finished with a huge best-meal-ever buzz and I’m so glad that I have somewhere else to recommend for when folks want to dress a little fancy and valet the car. I do wonder if they change the menu from time to time it seemed seasonal but I was eating in late August and between the ramps, asparagus, cauliflower, and radishes the menu screamed spring. I’ll find out the next time I go….the next time someone wants to buy me dinner (thanks mom!).

Sagra – An Italian Dream come true for vegans and the gluten free in East Austin

Italian food seems to be universally loved. I did an informal poll in my office asking “do you like Italian food” and everyone said yes, and then looked at me with questioning eyes as if I was about to give them a piece of lasagna or something. Sorry y’all! Somehow getting vegan Italian food in Austin isn’t always that easy. If you go to a fancy place they often use eggs in the fresh pasta. Rarely do they have vegan specials or delicious vegan cheese. You’re lucky to get Daiya at a pizza place here. If you go to a shitty place – I’m looking at you Olive Garden- you can’t even order a salad. I guess it comes shipped in pre-made from god knows where.

There is one place, however, in Austin that does it right, not only does Sagra have a multiple course vegan menu but they also offer homemade cashew cheese and special meaty substitutes. When I went the other day I was also impressed that they were able to assure me, without asking, that the table bread was vegan and they could easily leave items on the side so my dining companions could have their precious cheese. And yes GFers, they can make any dish gluten free. We started with the polenta fries with fried brussels and chickpeas in a salsa roja. I was a bit worried with all the fried items that this dish would be a bit greasy or heavy but it wasn’t at all, the large portion was enormous for the three of us too. 

We also tried the Barbietolla which was roasted beets, fruit mostardo, truffle salt. This dish was very sweet but a really nice complement to the polenta dish and we all enjoyed it as well. 

My favorite dish of the night was undoubtedly my pizza. When I originally looked at the menu I thought I might try the Macaroni al Forno, (baked macaroni and cheese, cashew cheese, spinach, bread crumbs, truffle oil, spinach macaroni), but once I saw the pizza I knew I had to try it. 

If you know anything about me, you know that I love olives and Star Trek and the only thing that could have made this pizza better would have been if I was sharing it with Captain Picard. Or actually, if they hadn’t run out of cashew cheese. No matter! I didn’t miss the cheese in the least and they added pine nuts to compensate. The pizza is called the Maialina and comes with pesto sauce, walnuts, black olives. Interestingly, they chopped up the walnuts and olives together which gave the pizza a salty delicious meaty texture. From now on it’s going to be my go to home topping. I loved it! And the large was so big that I got to eat it for the next few days although obviously it was much better in the restaurant.

So Sagra is a big win for me, their cocktails were fantastic too and they have a nice happy hour special so when it cools down I think it might become my after work meet up spot. Let me know what you thought or think if you try it out! I’m curious about the rest of the menu.

The Taco Cleanse Book is coming soon…still

I’ve been so busy working on the Taco Cleanse lately that I’ve not blogged here as often. Don’t worry, I’m still keeping the Austin Vegan Guide as updated as I can! I’ve been busy testing recipes like this Tempeh Picadillo from the book and creating recipes for the Taco Cleanse blog like the Mexican Smashed potatoes underneath. 

Follow the Taco Cleanse on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook too!

And don’t forget to pre-order the book, it’s on sale at Amazon!

Fork and Taco – Vegan Tacos in North Austin

After folks like the Vegan Nom and Taco Deli close up shop it isn’t as easy to find awesome vegan tacos on the north side as it is south of the river (or east of 35). When I’m on a taco cleanse and find myself in that area I start panicking about where to get my night tacos! The new-ish Fork and Taco on Burnet is the perfect fit for a vegan looking for margaritas and tacos to fit a taco-based lifestyle. They have several vegetarian menu selections that can be easily veganized, margaritas, and black beans and chips with guacamole to round out the vegan meal.

The restaurant is actually a bit hard to see sandwiched in a strip mall between the Noble Sandwich Co. and Pinthouse Pizza on Burnett at 48th street by where the Omelettry used to be. When you walk in you order at the front and then sit while with your number waiting for someone to bring tacos too you. The inside is colorful in a modern fast casual kind of way and they also have a back patio which seemed a little better for lounging.

It tried two tacos, the Crispy Cauliflower that comes with Mexican Street Corn (they can leave the cheese out if you ask), avocado, cilantro and lime. I liked this one quite a bit though my dining companion and I both agreed that there was way too much lemon in the cauliflower. Hopefully that was a one time thing. I also ordered the Beet taco which had grapefruit, avocado, pepitas, and cilantro (ask for no sauce) and I really liked it even though I typically do not care for grapefruit. It worked really well balancing the earthiness of the beets. Both tacos were strengthened by being served on thick homemade corn tortillas. In fact, I’d say these were some of the best tortillas at a yuppie kind of place in Austin. They also have a portabello taco with zucchini, crookneck squash, bell pepper, and tomatillo sauce but two tacos seemed like it would be enough for me. Plus portobellos are always risky at non-vegan places. Anyway I should have tried one for the team or at least gotten the side of beans because after only eating these two vegetable tacos I was as hungry as all get out by the time I got back to my south Austin abode hours later. Next time I will definitely get the beans and guacamole because a woman like myself can not survive on vegetables alone.

Sweet Ritual: Vegan Ice Cream So Good You Wonder What It’s Made Of

People say a lot of wacky things about vegans but when they call us picky eaters…there is actually some truth to that. Not that it’s picky to refuse to eat animals, that only makes sense! But, as a group, we have more issues with food than the average person. My theory on this is that we’ve given a lot more thought to food than the random eater but that doesn’t explain my own personal aversion to lettuce, or my friends’ allergies to tree-nuts, groundnuts, peppers, and even *gasp* wine. Even my dog Dinger has all sort of allergies. People go on all sorts of cleanses. I, and a group of taco scientists, once ate nothing but tacos for a whole month, for example. And I would imagine that a large share of vegans are trying to cut back on soy. Of course there is the fear of gmos, the fear of growing boobs, and the general fear or big ag and I would imagine that Sweet Ritual wanted everyone to be able to eat their ice cream and so they switched out soy with many different bases.

The good news is that whatever the reason that they made the switch the ice cream is even better than it used to be, and it used to be great! I tried the Death Metal By Chocolate the other day and, I have to say, it was better than any other vegan ice cream I’ve ever had. I often crave something that’s chocolate mixed with chocolate, topped with chocolate, and maybe a little chocolate added in that’s exactly what this ice cream was. I’ve also been picking up the pints at Wheatsville. I think I’ve tried them all now and I can’t tell you if Sweetsville or PB & Chocolate is my favorite.

Amelia, who makes most of the ice cream explained “We went through a giant overhaul and most of our bases changed. We now have cashew bases, almond, peanut, and coconut on offer. Sometimes we have more exotic bases, like tahini, cashew and sunflower. The chocolate chips we use have soy lecithin, but the only thing in our shop that has soymilk is the soft serve. The Cubano, vanilla, & strawberry are cashew based and are soy free.” I asked her specifically about the bases in the pints and she wrote me,

“Cashew: strawberry, vanilla, Cubano coffee
Coconut: mint chip, Sweetsville, salted caramel, toasted coconut
Peanut Butter: Peanut Butter Chocolate

Also, Wheatsville carries a gluten-free cookie ice cream sandwich made with cookies from Better Bites Bakery”

It only makes sense to have the peanut butter ice cream to have a peanut base and yet it’s brilliant and probably why it’s soooo good. And those ice cream sandwiches, by the way, totally worth it.

Now if only they could bring back the waffle cones.