Cafe Blossom on Carmine: 40% Off

Today on Gilt City, get 40% off at the delectable and cozy Cafe Blossom on Carmine in New York City’s West Village. Gilt City is members-only, so click here for your invite to join.

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Meatless in Seattle

I was in Seattle for the first time last month and had the chance to explore the city’s vegan side.  From what I had always heard about this vibrant capital of the Pacific Northwest was that it was as replete with coffee shops and rain as with delicious vegan dining.  Yet even as the city teems with cruelty-free options (possibly more per capita than New York) it is just as committed to its “free-range” chicken, “grass-fed” beef, and “open-water” fish—none of which I’m convinced actually are.  For a city so adamant about the separation of trash from compost from recyclables, I imagined more of this environmentalism shining through in day-to-day dietary choices as well.  For now, we’ll just focus on the positives.

Moo Shoes has a Left Coast sister—and she sells chocolate, too.  Vegan owner, Sadaf Hussain, opened The Chocolate Shoebox two years ago in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge.  It’s twenty minutes by bus north of downtown, and surrounded by other vegan options.  The store is small but offers a wide selection of men’s and women’s shoes, accessories from belts to wallets, and chocolate.  Lots of chocolate.  Really good chocolate.  I brought back an assortment of these US-made treats for my non-vegan friends and they apparently fought over every flavor.

Highline Vegan Bar is an enormous second-floor space in Capitol Hill that caters to punk bands and the scull-and-crossbones-wearing vegans who listen to them.  It wasn’t my ideal night out, though not because of the music.  I got the Tempesto, a tempeh sandwich with pesto, avocado, and red onions, all swimming in grease.  The latter wasn’t listed on the menu, and my friends had to wade through the same soppy oil to reach their meals as well.  Eat at your own risk.

Seattle has a gem in Makini Howell.  When I ate at Plum Bistro I knew I had found the real deal.  Like many restaurants in the area, Plum’s architecture and décor is industrial-chic, with its steel and distressed wood and its massive garage-like door that slides up to the ceiling for fresh air.  Everything—and I ate a lot—was second to none.  From the spicy Cajun mac ‘n’ yease to the grilled polenta and orange fennel salad to the wild mushroom fettuccine, I was so impressed I thought I might write a letter to the restaurant.  Then I met the owner herself.

Ms. Howell, who insists she’s much older than she looks, was born and raised vegan in Tacoma, just south of Seattle.  In 1972 her parents opened the still-thriving vegan restaurant, Quickie Too, in her hometown, and went on to open Hillside Quickie, Sage Café, and Plum Bistro in Seattle.  On my last morning in town I ventured over to Sage, an itty-bitty joint with a Bob Marley vibe and by far the best sandwich I’ve ever had (the crazy Jamaican burger).  I implored the waitress to let me compliment the chef and moments later, warm and smiling, out stepped Ms. Howell.


Second from the left, Makini Howell, with her staff at Sage Bakery and Cafe
 

The incredible Crazy Jamaican Burger with a side of seasoned and stir-fried short grain brown rice

It’s not often the owner of four establishments also serves as one of its chefs, especially when preparing to open her fifth—a vegan kiosk at the Seattle Center—later this month.  Ms. Howell is clearly passionate about producing high-quality vegan fare and has set the standard very high.

A few other spots to note include In the Bowl, listed as vegetarian pan-Asian but entirely vegan and first-rate; Wayward Vegan Café for brunch, in the University District; and Cinnamon Works at Pike Place Market which offers a range of incredible vegan muffins and cookies.

How to Cater to Vegans at Your Non-Vegan Restaurant

On my most recent road trip (with no specific destination), I’ve found myself in lots of places that aren’t exactly in the “Best Vegan Cities in the World” handbook (if such a handbook existed). And while I’ve had a ton of amazing dining experiences at non-vegan restaurants, I have unfortunately had a lot of experiences that could have easily gone much better if restaurants knew a few key things about veganism. 

This is a photo from a Thai restaurant that didn’t have a single vegan item on their menu, but was happy to make us something. We asked in advance to being seated and were pleased to find out they made every dish from scratch – so leaving out non-vegan ingredients was easy.

Below was written to simply share some ideas should any restaurant want to feed vegans. I don’t believe restaurants have to as it’s their business, and their call. But should they, I guarantee word would spread to the vegan community.

Dear food establishment owners/staff,

I spend months of each year traveling. A lot of that time is spent discovering and eating at new restaurants. But here’s the thing — I’m vegan. That means I do not eat meat (including fish), dairy, butter, honey or any ingredient that is made or harvested from animals. What do I eat then? Whole fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, spices, etc — it’s a broad range of easy to find ingredients.

To start, let me clarify, you don’t have to cater to vegans. It’s your business so it’s completely your call. This is written to simply share some ideas and suggestions so that if you do want to cater to the vegan community, can you easily do so. I guarantee that if you do, and do it well, word will spread. Even if it’s a single, well-made dish.

YOUR STAFF NEED TO KNOW YOUR MENU

Simple product knowledge goes a long way. I’d rather be told something is definitely not vegan than have a server have to go ask multiple times because they don’t have a clue what’s in any of the dishes on your menu. This happens more than you think (I can count on a single hand how many times a server has actually known their menu well). It’s a bonus if they know off-hand which dishes accommodate different diets.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO ASSERT THAT ANYTHING ON YOUR MENU IS OR CAN BE MADE VEGAN, ABSOLUTELY KNOW WHAT “VEGAN” IS

I have been served meat, dairy and honey so many times at restaurants after being told something could be made vegan. That just gets my hopes up and disappoints. So if you are offering to make something vegan by modifying a dish or creating a new one, make sure it is actually vegan. And if you aren’t sure, just ask — vegans are more than happy to talk about what is vegan and what isn’t (getting vegans to stop talking about it is another matter altogether). If you do make a mistake with the dish and serve it with a non-vegan ingredient, offer to fix it and move on. If you aren’t comfortable making substitutions or modifying dishes — I’d rather be told you can’t do it than have it done begrudgingly or in a half-assed way.

BE CREATIVE IF YOU’RE GOING TO OFFER A VEGAN OPTION

“Pan Roasted Vegetables” on pasta is not creative. Being creative is easy though, just put as much effort into creating a vegan dish as you did into creating the rest of your menu. If you need ideas, ask someone (even ask me — I’d freely help you brainstorm) or experiment — if you and/or your staff like the vegan dish, that’s a good sign. Or flip through a vegan cookbook for ideas, there are hundreds (I even wrote one).

OMNIVORES WILL ORDER A VEGAN OPTION IF IT’S GOOD

I can’t even count how many times I’ve been out for dinner with omnivores who’ve wished they’d ordered my vegan option instead of their meat dish. I also know a lot of people that aren’t vegan but eat vegan the majority of the time. Some people have rules about eating vegan too, like “I eat vegan 4 nights a week”. A vegan option will cater to far more people than just vegans.

VEGANS TALK

Vegans love to talk about places they eat and the vegan options available. If you have a good vegan dish, word will travel quickly. Want to tempt in vegans to eat your vegan dish? Promote it on social media and on your online menu (note: have an online menu). I routinely drive hours out of the way if I’ve received word of a good restaurant with a vegan dish or two. If the food is good, I tell thousands of people online how good it was. Make sure there’s mention of your vegan option(s) online though, or else vegans might find your restaurant, see nothing they can eat there, and promptly look somewhere else.

MAKE SOME EASY ADJUSTMENTS TO OFTEN-USED INGREDIENTS

Having items on-hand to help many more dishes become vegan is not a bad thing. Non-dairy creamer, for example, can go a long way if you serve coffee or tea. Same with items like vegan butter, vegan mayonnaise, vegan sour cream, etc. These all store well and can go a long way towards enticing vegans to frequent your business. A bonus would be to make your own of each of these (which is pretty easy to do). Make a killer, homemade vegan pesto mayonnaise to add to any sandwich, pizza, etc — and vegans will be climbing mountains to sing your praises.

The world (and restaurants found in it) by no means need to cater to vegans. I am not so self-entitled that I think every restaurant should have a vegan option. We’re a relatively small group of folks that eat out. But our numbers are growing. And past that, the number of people who know about food and care what goes into each dish is growing even faster. So knowing your menu inside and out and offering easy ways to accommodate different diets can make sense and more importantly, make you more money.

And don’t forget, a good vegan dessert is literally icing on the cake.

Eating Awesome in Portland

Contributor Paul Jarvis takes us on a unabashed, gastronomic tour of the vegan hub that is Portland. Enjoy.

It seems everything in Portland is prefixed with the word “vegan”. Everything from strip clubs to B&B’s to realtors can and do pull out the big V at every stop. And this is good news for wary vegan travelers in search of grub and adventure. Here’s a list of some of my favorite places to check out while in PDX.

Blossoming Lotus — organic vegan fusion. What does that mean? Think awesome, lots of raw options, and a diverse menu. A trick I learned to being able to eat a variety of menu items here is to go for happy hour and order half a dozen tapas (for yourself, more if you’re with friends) and go nuts.

Homegrown Smoker — stoner soul food. From mac-no-cheese to deep-friend Oreos, these dudes have your cravings covered.

Sweatpea Bakery — baked goods and strong coffee. The almost-lost art of sandwich making is alive and well (and vegan) here. Their desserts are insanely good as well.

Scapegoat Tattoo — vegan tattoo shop. Did you know not all inks are vegan? These guys and gals use plant-based inks and do a bang-up job. I’ve got a few tattoos from here.

Foodfight — heck yes, a vegan grocery store! No more do you have to stand around reading labels for hours, everything is vegan. They also carry a lot of hard-to-find vegan treats.

DC Vegetarian — mostly-vegan food cart. Although I’ve never tried an actual Philly cheese steak, their vegan version is easily one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Powell’s Books — massive bookstore. Get your vegan cookbook on in their vegan section!

Bye and Bye — vegan hipster bar. All vegan spirits and a killer southern kitchen (hello collard greens, I think I love you!).

Vita Cafe — mostly-vegan breakfast/brunch spot. They have a vegan chicken fried steak. Enough said. If you’re into “day drinking” they also have great morning vegan cocktails.

Prasad — a mostly vegan raw joint. They’ve got great lunches and killer juices.

Voodoo Donuts — any establishment where I am able to order a “coffin of donuts” is right by me. They’ve got a huge vegan doughnut selection, and they’ll even perform marriage ceremonies!

Being vegan while traveling can sometimes require a little more planning, but definitely not in Portland — almost everywhere has vegan options. The only downside is that I am not able to eat the entire city whole.

Kyotofu is Sweet, John Bartlett’s Jackets, Move & Speed Demons

Kyotofu is a small Japanese restaurant tucked away in Hell’s Kitchen. Their house-made tofu puts all other tofu’s to shame; it is creamy, luscious, and delectable on its own – which is saying a lot for someone (me) who doesn’t love tofu. The chefs transform the tofu into vanilla-chocolate swirl soft-serve (topped with green-tea mochi, brownie, caramel and fruit) that is to die for. The restaurant is not vegan, but there are several incredible vegan options. The sorbet dessert was delicious, and the the dessert that gets the cake is – the vegan chocolate cake.  It is dense and slightly crisp on the outside; moist and rich on the inside, and the cocoa they use is so smooth. I will definitely be heading back for more, I’m addicted!

 

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• Prior to the dessert binge - Leanne of Vaute Couture and I went to see vegan choreographer James Koroni of enforcedarch.com perform in a benefit show for Autism. I snapped some pictures of his piece “Arrest Yourself” which was dark, edgy and really fun.

• The following evening I attended the launch of John Bartlett‘s collection for Bon Ton, which included some really handsome, vegan faux-leather jackets. Look out for these next fall.

• Lastly, I walked into the Tesla store to see for myself what all the excitement is surrounding this super-charged, electric sports-car. I have to say, even though I am more into the classic car aesthetic, I was in awe of how cool this car is, and I was even invited back for a test drive. I hope to report to you on that – and maybe shoot a video of it like my speed-queen pal Annabella at Ethical Bella. In addition being the baddest electric car on the road, Tesla offers microfiber interiors for vegetarians.