Lemonana

IMG_2104     We had frozen “Limonana” (Lemonana) at Dizengoff in Philadelphia recently and I was struck by the herbal flavor of it, and by how well it went with their very excellent hummus.  Lemonana is basically lemonade with a generous dose of mint, and it’s been called the national drink of Israel.  This aint your Grandma’s lemonade–it’s assertively tart with a divine herbal edge.  It can be made in a good variety of ways, but I know they make a mint syrup at Dizengoff, and they choose to serve it frozen.  I looked at a bunch of Lemonana online and developed this easy recipe, which tastes a lot like the one at Dizengoff.  I’m convinced, however, that Dizengoff uses a secret ingredient–some savory herb or something.  I’ll be trying that in future, but in the meantime, this is so good and refreshing that I’m satisfied.

LEMONANA

Serves:  2 to 3

Mint Syrup
1 Cup water
1 Cup sugar
1.5 oz. fresh mint
Combine water and sugar in a very small saucepan and simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and wait 10 minutes for the syrup to cool slightly.  Stir in fresh mint, cover and let steep for 15-30 minutes.  Remove and discard mint leaves or strain syrup through a mesh sieve and allow to come to room temperature.  Store in a sealed glass jar or bottle in refrigerator for up to one month.

Lemonana
1/2 Cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup water
2/3 Cup mint syrup
2 drops orange blossom water  (optional)
20-30 ice cubes

DIRECTIONS
To a blender, add lemon juice, water, mint syrup and orange blossom water, and stir.  Add ice and blend until frozen, adding a little more ice if necessary.  Taste.

Notes:  My ice cubes are those smaller crescent-shaped ice “cubes” that come out of an ice dispenser in my freezer.  You may need more ice than this, unless you’re using the old-fashioned, big rectangular ice cubes.  Any leftover mint syrup can also be used in iced tea, of course.  To save time, make mint syrup ahead and have it well chilled.  Two photos of Dizengoff below.  Dizengoff has a cult following for their hummus and their pita bread.
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Blackbird Pizzeria – vegan Philly

IMG_0102    Blackbird Pizzeria is a GREAT vegan restaurant located at 507 South 6th Street in Philadelphia.   The food is so good that when I go back to Philly, it’ll be first on my list of places to eat.    After reading Yelp reviews, we ordered the Cubano sandwich, and also the Philly Cheesesteak for Lars.  And, especially for me, we ordered the Pizza Patate, which was DIVINE.  The Cubano came first and since we had a cooler in the car, we split one half of it, and it was surprisingly good–I didn’t want to stop eating it.  Mr. Seitan (Lars) enjoyed the Philly Cheesesteak while I waited for the Pizza Patate, which was my favorite thing we ate in Philly that whole weekend, including a superb dinner out at Vedge, not kidding.

Blackbird’s menu is not too large, but perfect, in my opinion, with five good-looking salads, sides like vegan hot wings and sautéed kale, and tons of toppings including avocado, tofu ricotta, seitan bacon, artichokes, garlic, caramelized onions, pineapple, etc., etc.  All items are not only vegan, but kosher too (not that I care if anything is kosher).  The neighborhood is nice and friendly, across from a children’s playground.  Blackbird’s pizza dough recipe is in the Happy Cow Cookbook, and I plan to try it because their crust was killer.  They even have homemade cookies, “warmed to order,” such as the Kitchen Sink cookie (chocolate chips, potato chips, pretzels, pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes, oats) or the Early Bird cookie (oatmeal cookie, assorted breakfast cereal, melted marshmallows) (see photos below) (we got one of each to go).  In short, Blackbird Pizza makes me want to move to Philadelphia.
IMG_0100  A nice, friendly neighborhood.
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IMG_0105  the blackboard at Blackbird
IMG_0110  Cubano sandwich.
IMG_0112 Pizza Patate to die for.
IMG_0126  Early Bird cookie
IMG_0127  Kitchen Sink cookie.

IMG_0106   Yesssssss

IMG_0198_1  Hell yeah I bought a t-shirt.

Vegan DC – Woodlands Vegan Bistro

20141019_142046    This is post number three in a series about  eating vegan in Washington DC.  For lunch on Sunday, we easily found parking across the street from Woodlands Vegan Bistro, at 2928 Georgia Avenue NW.   This is now in contention with Vedge for my favorite vegan restaurant–Woodlands Vegan Bistro is great.  I love Vedge, but I also doubt they could make mac and cheese or fried chicken as good as Woodlands, and I really like the comfortable atmosphere at Woodlands too.  Check out the big 100% vegan menus.  The system is that when you come in, you walk straight to a back room and get in line, cafeteria-style (photos below).  You’ll move up to some deli cases where there is only one laminated menu on the counter.  So if the line is short, you need to think fast, or know what you want beforehand.  Luckily for us, there was a nice young woman in line ahead of us and she was very helpful–recommending the fried chicken, garlic kale, collards, and mac and cheese, which she always gets to go.  Once you order, you backtrack out of the back room and come to a cash register at the bar to order your beverages and pay.  There are no caffeinated drinks here, so we got Izee sodas and paid for our food.  You get a number for your table so they can bring your food to you, and then you sit where you want.  Note; had I seen the self-serve, porcelain jugs of ice water at the end of the bar, I would have skipped the soda.  We found a table against a wall near the door, so we could enjoy the musician who was singing Marvin Gaye at a keyboard.  It turns out we were there during Brunch, which is served from 10 to 3 every Sunday.  So, how did we like the food?   The breakfast sandwich was unremarkable, and we were stunned by the amount of garlic in the kale, so next time I would order the plain kale.  Forget that and let’s focus on the creamy and flavorful macaroni and cheese–it was so good that I’m sure the recipe must be a secret.  Also, the chicken burger was KILLER, with a thick, crunchy batter and served on what seemed like a soft, buttermilk-biscuit bun.  This place was buzzing with happy diners–small families, college students, and little groups of friends lounging on the sofas along one wall.  Prices are decent, portions are large, and I’ll definitely be back whenever I’m in DC so I can try other things on the menu.  My only regret is that we did not order a piece of the outrageous-looking Red Velvet Cake to go.
20141019_134239   The service line at the back of the restaurant.
20141019_135112  You can see the back room where you select and order your food.  The register is just before the back room door, and the jugs of water at this end of the bar are for customers to help themselves.
20141019_135120  A little Marvin Gaye with brunch!
20141019_140519  On the right is the best chicken sandwich on the planet.  Crunchy batter served on a buttermilk-biscuit-type bun.
20141019_140525  The best-tasting macaroni and cheese I’ve had.

Vegan DC – Smoke and Barrel restaurant

20141018_173354(0)    This is post number two about eating vegan in Washington DC.  On a hopping Saturday night, we went to Smoke and Barrel tavern and restaurant at 2471 18th Street NW, in the heart of Adams Morgan.  We got a small table along the brick wall as you come in.  The downside of this place is that they serve a LOT of dead animals.  The upside is that intermingled throughout their menu are some really good vegan options, recognizable by two little symbols after the menu item (a single symbol indicates vegetarian).  Vegan options include chili, sweet potato fries, French fries, smoked asparagus, cole slaw, a vegan chicken cutlet sandwich, a vegan fried fish sandwich, and an interesting salad, among other things.  We settled on a basket of Fried Pickles with Chipotle Aioli that turned out to be totally addictive.  The batter is almost paper-thin, as are the pickle slices, and the chipotle aioli is smoky but not too smoky.  One of the tastiest things I ate all weekend were the Smoked Vegan Wings.  You can get them different ways, and the friendly waiter recommended the Buffalo Blue style, which we liked a lot.  The texture of these wings is like white-meat chicken, very much like the vegan turkey we had last Thanksgiving.  There is a small wooden stick in each wing, so you do have to cut the meat off the stick, and then there are two additional BBQ sauces on the table for you, and they were killer good too.  I was disappointed in the Vegan Spare Ribs, which are possibly made out of Whole Foods General Tso’s Vegan Chicken.  I like the vegan General Tso’s in a stir-fry, but it’s not what I want in a barbecue joint, especially when I could have other menu items instead.  Smoke and Barrel has a few vegan dessert options, you can get any four sides for $10, they’re open 7 days a week AND they even do Brunch every Saturday and Sunday, also with quite a few vegan items.  All in all, I would definitely go back the next time I’m in DC.
20141018_173248   Smoke and Barrel tavern
20141018_174218  Fried Pickles with Chipotle Aioli, totally addictive
20141018_175613  Skip the vegan ribs and go for these vegan wings.

Vegan DC – Native Foods Cafe

20141018_121341    This is the first in a small series of posts about eating vegan in Washington DC.  Our first stop was Native Foods at 1150 Connecticut Avenue NW (at 18th and M).  When you arrive at this address, you must walk around the back of the building to find the restaurant, and it’s a nice spot.  With the help of a $15 million investment from two private equity firms, Native Foods is slated to open 15 to 30 new locations across the U.S. by the end of 2015.  Soon, there will also be two more Native Foods locations open in the DC area.  One at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (Penn Quarter), scheduled to open November 4.  And one at Falls Church, VA (1216 West Broad Street), opening December 9, 2014.  We found the restaurant clean and bright.  At first glance, there didn’t appear to be much seating, but there were tables in another room on street level and then a lot of seating in the basement as well.  It helps to peruse the menu before you go up to order, because there’s a lot to pick from.  Once you pay, they give you a number for your table, and then you sit wherever you want and they bring the food to you.  Lars wanted the Chicken Run Ranch Burger and he also chose the Saigon Roll.  Both were good.  This is fast food that will not clog your arteries, and the portions are large.  There’s a children’s section on the menu, desserts, and beer and wine.  Next time I’ll try the Caribbean Jerk Kale Stacked Salad, or the Bangkok Curry Earth Bowl, or the Classic Deli Reuben or the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger, or Crispy Sweet Potato Fries, and Lavender Lemonade.   I only wish we had a Native Foods Café here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
20141018_121543  Chicken Run Ranch Burger, and Saigon Roll
20141018_121255  One small section of the basement seating.
20141018_121321  More downstairs seating.

Yuan Fu Vegetarian Restaurant

Yuan Fu    Yuan Fu Vegetarian Restaurant in Rockville, Maryland, in the Washington D.C. metro area, is a pure vegan restaurant.  And now, it’s my favorite place to eat on the Rockville Pike.   This was my first time going there, but I wish I could eat there once a week and explore the big menu.  Because Yuan Fu is two hours from my home, and for the purposes of this post, we ordered dishes heavy on the vegan meats.  But  there are plenty of whole foods on the menu, including non-fat steamed dishes with brown rice.  Yuan Fu is a casual place, very Mom-and-Pop, which I like.  The service was good, to the point where the waiter took my cousin’s young Thai coconut back to the kitchen to saw it open for her so she could eat the spoon meat out of it.  As per their menu, “All of the vegan meats and seafood at Yuan Fu Vegetarian are made from vegetable products.  For example, beef and pork are made of gluten;  the chicken is made from soybean protein, the duck is made of layers of tofu skin;  fish is made of soybean protein and seaweed;  shrimp and squid are made of Japanese style white yam.  We serve nut products in our restaurant and do not use any MSG or dairy products in our cooking.  If you have any food allergies, please alert our staff members when ordering.” We started our meal with an appetizer of  deep-fried Crispy Black Mushrooms, which everyone liked.  They were kind of rich and chewy with an undertone flavor of Chinese BBQ.  My cousin Scott ordered the Roast Duck appetizer which was a bit fatty and did indeed taste like Chinese Roast Duck. It was a generous portion, and If we lived nearby, I would have taken the leftovers home to make a vegetable stir-fry with.  Scott also ordered the Pan-Fried Dumplings appetizer and they were good, and thankfully stuffed with shredded greens.  Munam ordered the Hot Sour Soup and said she liked it, but I did not try it myself.  Based on a Yelp recommendation, we got the Sesame Chicken with Broccoli, and it was almost polished off, mostly by the men at our table.  I ordered the Peking Duck and again, we all liked it.  I can’t resist those paper-thin pancakes painted with hoisin sauce, and wrapped around “duck” and shredded scallions.  This is a dish my Mom and Dad used to make when I was a kid, so the Peking Duck at Yuan Fu really brought me back.  It was a bit less fatty than the dish of my childhood, which is fine with me.  The one dish nobody was very fond of was the Crispy Orange Beef–it wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t especially good either.  Oh, if only we’d had room to try the Kung Pao Chicken or Crispy Noodles, the Sizzling Rice Soup or the Eight Treasure Steamed Taro Roots Paste Pudding, darn. If you’re not familiar with the Rockville Pike, it’s got everything you could think of.  Two places I like off the Pike are Meixin Chinese supermarket, and Pangea Vegan Store.  In conclusion, I’ll go back to Yuan Fu Vegetarian when I can, and try different dishes (with more vegetables, ha ha).  I think the owners and staff of Yuan Fu Vegetarian are Super Heroes in their own quiet way.  To work so hard to give the public a humane dining option at a reasonable price is in fact, super heroic.  To have the  flavors and textures of classic Chinese-American restaurant food, without the torture and murder of innocent beings is pretty damn Wonderful.  Thank you, Yuan Fu!    ADORABLE ART ABOVE BY CHRIS MURRAY.

Postscript:  I’ve been back to Yuan Fu since this post, and discovered that my favorite dish there is the Kung Pao Chicken (the one without the mushrooms).  Second favorite is the Sizzling Rice Soup.  I also have to give a nod to the Crispy Pan Fried Noodles with lots of vegetables.

IMG_2177 IMG_2175  The dining room. IMG_2168  Crispy Black Mushrooms appetizer. IMG_2170  Roast Duck appetizer. IMG_2171  Pan Fried Dumplings have greens inside. IMG_2172  Sesame “Chicken” with Broccoli IMG_2174  Peking Duck came with pancakes, hoisin and shredded spring onions, and we ordered two extra pancakes. IMG_2167  My cousin’s fresh coconut water.
20140528_114835  Crispy Pan Fried Noodles on left are very good, with lots of fresh vegetables.  My favorite dish is on the right–Kung Pao Chicken with no mushrooms.
20140528_113940  Sizzling Rice Soup is sort of addictive.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole Grain Mustard Sauce

IMG_1810    This is the 2nd delicious and easy recipe I’ve tried from the Vedge cookbook by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby.  I’ve eaten these Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Whole Grain Mustard Sauce at the Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia (see photo below), and this recipe replicates that experience very well.  My comments on the recipe are to make sure to divide your salt and pepper before you begin (I accidentally threw all the pepper into the sauce, which didn’t hurt it).  The sauce takes two minutes to make, so make that first and throw it in the fridge.  Cut the stems/bottoms well off the sprouts and discard.  I just used a knife to cut and shave the sprouts.  Make sure to cook the sprouts on high (as per the recipe) because that’s how you get the roasty bits.  Go easy on the sauce–a little goes a long way, and next time I would probably only make half of the sauce.  Out of the Vedge cookbook, I also made the Salt Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers and Red Onion, which is also an easy and super-delicious recipe.  It’s simple to make the components for both of these recipes ahead.  Once the sprouts are prepped, they take only a 5-minute sizzle in the pan before serving.   In short, I love this gorgeous cookbook.
IMG_1484  Here’s the dish we received at Vedge restaurant.  As you can see, lighting was super-low, and they used a very grainy mustard.  I just used organic whole-grain mustard from a jar, and it was still delicious.

Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers and Red Onion

IMG_1784    Salt-Roasted Golden Beets with Dill, Avocado, Capers and Red Onion.  This delicious recipe is from the Vedge cookbook by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby.  Although this dish has various components, it’s simple to make.  To save time, I roasted and peeled the beets the day before I needed them.  We also recently ate this salad at the Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia, and it was killer.  I was pleasantly surprised that the dish I made at home actually tasted like what we ate at the restaurant.  In the restaurant, this dish is served in a round stack with a circle of smoked tofu (see photo below).  My comments on this dish are that I used only 1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt (since the capers are so salty), and I also reduced the second application of black pepper.  I was unable to procure fresh dill and it’s too early for dill in my garden, so I substituted 1 teaspoon of dried dill weed.  And . . . it was still wonderful.  I grow beets, and cook beets more than most people, and noticed no discernible difference with the salt roasting–so in future, I would simply wrap the beets in foil and roast them in the oven for 60-90 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  By the way, the cookbook is gorgeous, with 100 plant-based recipes that highlight The Vegetable.  It has a soft, matte cover with no pesky dust jacket, and beautiful photographs.  Since I had one of the best meals of my life at Vedge restaurant, this cookbook is not going on the shelf–because I’ll be too busy using it.
IMG_1483  At the restaurant, this is served in a stack with a ring of smoked tofu.

Jivamuktea Cafe – New York City

IMG_0826     One Saturday morning, we left our hotel on the Upper West Side and cabbed it over to the Union Square Saturday Outdoor Market.  After we enjoyed that, we had an early lunch at Jivamuktea Café, at the Jivamukti Yoga School at 841 Broadway (2nd floor) in New York City.  We got there right when they opened and they were not busy at all.  The food is all vegan, and it was fine, and it was a great place to rest before the long walk ahead.  The atmosphere of the lobby and desk was hushed and respectful.  I only wish I could have had a yoga lesson, but alas, there was no time.

IMG_0825  This is what you see when you walk in.  Next to this is a little gift shop and then the café.

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Nice Matin Restaurant – New York City

IMG_0757    For our first vegan breakfast in New York City, we ate at Nice Matin, which is located directly next door to The Lucerne hotel, where we were staying.   Now, Nice Matin is decidedly not a vegan restaurant, but in the interest of time, we made do very nicely there.  First, we walked directly across the street to the little Duane Reade and bought some Silk soy milk and walked it right back to the restaurant.  They welcomed us in and ushered us to a table with no complaints.  I got the Bowl of Ripest Fruits and Berries and the House Toasted Granola, which was chock full of nuts.  Also on the breakfast menu are McCann’s Steelcut Irish Oatmeal with Sliced Bananas, Raisins and Brown Sugar.  Or Perfect Grapefruit Segments with Sliced Apples and Granola.   They also had fresh melons, toast with jams,  juices, etc.  Nice Matin has open-air seating in nice weather and a nice atmosphere–slightly deco, slightly French.  You can also order off their menu for room service if you are staying next door at The Lucerne hotel.    Portions were generous and they even brought us extra fruit for some reason.  We stayed at The Lucerne because it’s within easy walking distance of 3 or 4 vegan restaurants and you can even get vegan food delivered!  This would be a good place to meet friends or family for breakfast in NYC.  One more photo below.

IMG_0762  They let us bring in our own soy milk.

Peacefood Cafe – New York City

IMG_0863    We walked to Peacefood Café for dinner on our last night in New York City.  This is the location on the Upper West Side at 460 Amsterdam Avenue.  Right from the get-go, it was a pleasant atmosphere.  Light and clean with some fresh touches, such as a blooming potted azalea, little oil paintings, and colorful fruit stacked for juicing.  This place was a bit casual, which we liked.  I would come here in my jeans, or in a dress after work.  Also, this was the one place where the food came out piping hot, I was so impressed with that.  The service was great.  Our waitperson was a young woman who kept an eye on us, and there was no annoying delay for the check when we were finally ready to leave.  I liked that she served with no pretense, she was just friendly and efficient.

IMG_0866  I got the PFC Un-Chicken Basket with an aioli and a chipotle sauce.  Excellent and enough for at least three people.

IMG_0867  Chickpea Fries with House Dipping Sauce.  These are actually more like little bricks, and have a hint of Indian spice.  Very good and filling.  These literally had steam coming out when we cut into them.

IMG_0860  Juice anyone?  Yes, please!

IMG_0859  Peacefood pastry case.  We got a Raspberry Jam Spelt Bar, which was big enough for two, for $4.  To make your own amazing raspberry bar, go here.

IMG_0857  The back of the restaurant is a bit quieter.

IMG_0858  The front half of the restaurant.

IMG_0861   Outside the door.

Candle 79 Restaurant – New York City

IMG_0786    Vegan Mofo 2013.  For our first lunch ever in New York City, we went to Candle 79, on the Upper East Side, at 154 East 79th Street.  It was a gorgeous September day, around 75 degrees out, so the bottom of the restaurant was open-air that day.  We arrived when they opened and were seated promptly in a quiet spot.  We were unable to get any caffeinated “regular” iced tea, but a hot tea was poured over ice for me.  The service was great–our waiter was pleasant and attentive without hovering.   Later, one of the managers, Christine, came by our table to see how we were doing and she was so friendly and helpful, gave us some directions around town.  A wonderful lunch, all in all!

IMG_0795  Lars got the BBQ Seitan Burger with avocado, chipotle aioli, red onions, polenta fries and mesclun.  It was kind of excellent!

IMG_0793  I got the Falafel Sandwich on whole wheat pita with Israeli salad, minted tahini, mesclun greens and quinoa tabouleh.  Good and filling.  I especially liked the salad.

IMG_0799  I was dying to try their carrot cake, but we had ahead of us a long walk back to the Upper West Side, through Central Park, so we kept it lighter and split the Housemade Ice Cream and Sorbet Sampler.  From left, the flavors were vanilla cinnamon, peach sorbet and huckleberry.  So delicious.  We really liked the cinnamon one, which surprised us because the flavor was slightly intense, but it was the perfect complement to the creamy vanilla base.

IMG_0789   The upstairs seating was fairly comfortable.

IMG_0800  The kitchen is on the ground floor, semi-visible.

IMG_0787  A fun greeting at the door.

Candle Cafe West – New York City

IMG_0734   Vegan Mofo 2013.  Please excuse my absence from Mofo, but I’ve been in New York City for a few days, just got back last night.  On our first night there, we had dinner at Candle Café West, at 2427 Broadway, on the Upper West Side.  I booked our reservation through Open Table, which I do recommend.  We arrived at 6 p.m. and the restaurant was not busy yet.  There was no caffeinated iced tea on the menu, but our waitress poured a hot tea over ice for me.  Lars got a nice glass of wine, so he was happy.  We ordered two appetizers and split an entrée.   The food came out of the kitchen within 10 minutes after ordering!   I just wish I could go back and order some of their juices and salads (next time).   Let’s just get on with the review and photos below.

IMG_0737  The restaurant inside is sort of warm, cozy, clean, low lighting, lots of wood, wait staff in all black.  Do not wear your pajama pants here, but you would be fine in jeans and a decent shirt, or even all dressed up.

IMG_0739   Fried Seitan Dumplings appetizer.  The seitan was sort of ground up, very good.  I especially liked the still-slightly-crisp baby bok choy in a very light sesame-ginger soy-sauce.  You could also get these dumplings steamed instead of fried.  I liked these.  $13.

IMG_0743  Summer Rolls appetizer.  Pickled cabbage, carrots, zucchini, cilantro, BBQ-ginger seitan wrapped in rice paper with spicy peanut sauce.  Lars liked these.  $13.

IMG_0745  Seitan Piccata entrée with creamed spinach, mushrooms, garlic mashed potatoes, white wine-lemon-caper sauce.  This is their iconic dish, so we had to try it.  Lars said this was the best thing he ate the whole time he was in NYC.  I liked it too and the texture was pretty spot-on, just like a classic paillard.

IMG_0750   Lars got the Berry Crumble dessert.  Seasonal berries, almond crumble, vanilla ice cream, berry coulis.  This was fine, and a nice finish, but it honestly could not touch my crumble.  $13.

 IMG_0752   Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse Pie dessert.  Chocolate mousse and peanut butter, berry coulis and salted peanuts.  Not quite enough peanut butter for my taste, the peanut butter was overpowered, but the texture is amazing!   Surprisingly light but still rich.  $10.

IMG_0753  This is what you see as you come up the stairs from the restrooms.

IMG_0744  A view from our nice, quiet table.

X’s to O’s Vegan Bakery

IMG_9712On the way back from New Hampshire, we took a detour to visit X’s to O’s Vegan Bakery in Troy, New York.  It cost us about an hour of driving time, but I’m glad we went.  The goodies are vegan, and never made with hydrogenated oils.  This place is not fancy, but I really liked the slightly militant feel of the menu.  The women in this place are on the front lines and they are badass.  One staff member told me to be sure and come back for the vegan brunch.  What?  Vegan brunch?  It’s killing me!  I WISH I could go back for the vegan brunch!  I had to buy a “Canoe Boat” (vegan Twinkie) and Lars got a cookie and I seem to remember someone eating a whoopie pie in the car, but I can’t recall who that was . . . hmmmmmm.  p.s.  All were delicious!

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Vegan Treats Bakery

IMG_9651On the drive up to New Hampshire recently, we made a pilgrimage to Vegan Treats bakery in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Although it cost us a couple hours of drive time, it was worth the trip.  The first thing you notice is the 1950’s hot-pink aesthetic.  The second thing I noticed was that there was basically a little factory going on, with staff baking and decorating away.  This is because Vegan Treats bakery supplies baked goods to restaurants and cafes in New York City, Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia each week.  This place is like a vegan Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but in the best possible way, where nobody gets hurt.  Owner Danielle Konya is truly an American Pioneer, and she’s created the coolest menu with hundreds of offerings.  There are so many choices that it was a bit overwhelming, so I asked a staff member what the most popular item was.  She told me it was the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bomb, and let me tell you, it was the BOMB!  The other thing we got was pretty much something I consider the Holy Grail of vegan food:  ICE CREAM.  They have this little ice cream machine and every day, they feature two different flavors, and that day, it was salted caramel soft serve.  This is hands down the best the ice cream I’ve had.  I don’t know how they do it. but it tasted like dairy ice cream, only better.  Vegan Treat’s glossy paper menu is sort of Steam-Punk cool and is filled with Buns, Whoopie Pies, Truffles, French Pastries, Gluten Free offerings, Pies, Petit Fours, Cannolis, Cheesecakes, you name it.   This is true, compassionate fun.  Usually these types of places look all pink and pretty, while behind the glossy food is unspeakable animal abuse,  but that is not the case here.  The message of compassion at Vegan Treats is loud and deliciously clear.  Thank you, Danielle Konya, for putting yourself out there, for us animals, human and non-human!    Photos below:

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Just as you walk in the door, you can see the
little factory on the side wall.

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The deservedly-famous Chocolate Peanut Butter
Mousse Bomb is the one on the far right.  It was
just before Easter when we arrived here.

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More gorgeous sweets.

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The super-helpful staff.

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The Holy Grail, vegan ice cream that tastes
better than dairy.  Salted Caramel Soft Serve.

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Drinks galore.

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Dogwood cupcakes for Spring.

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Easter goodies on offer.

Veggie Heaven in Denville, New Jersey

IMG_9675Peking Duck, Barbecue Char Siu spare ribs, Thai iced tea, and so much more, and it’s all vegan!  While driving up to New Hampshire, we stayed at the Sonesta ES Suites in Parsippany, New Jersey.  Veggie Heaven restaurant is in Denville, New Jersey, only 3 miles away from this hotel.  The menu is huge, and every single thing on it is vegan, it BOGGLES the mind.  After eating there the first time, we changed our hotel reservations on the way back, to stay again at the Sonesta in Parsippany, so we could eat once more at Veggie Heaven.  This was Lars’ idea, but I readily agreed.   Food photos below.  Be aware there is a large pagoda next door that is also a restaurant, but that is not Veggie Heaven.  Veggie Heaven is the single-story restaurant next door to the pagoda, and when you walk in, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  It’s clean and crisp, with sparkling dishes, lots of warm wood and white drum lights.  The bathroom is clean, the waiters are super friendly.  Go for it!

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Decor is hip, warm and clean.

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Peking Duck – vegan

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BBQ spare ribs, vegan Char Siu

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Mango Bubble Tea

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Compassionate placemat

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Vegan Roast Pork Spring Rolls

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We think the waiter called this “Smooth Duck” but are not sure.
It was different from the Peking Duck, with a crispier outside, good.
Comes with steamed veg, is popular with customers.

Susty’s Cafe – Northwood, New Hampshire, USA

I’ve been gone for a week, to New Hampshire, to visit my folks.  My Dad mentioned a vegan restaurant in the town of Northwood, so of course, I HAD to go.  So we planned a day of antiquing and had lunch there on the same day.  This little bare-bones restaurant is very easy to get to; centrally located right on the famous Antique Alley (Route 4), at the corner of 43 also.  The signage on the restaurant could be better but I did see a small sign that said “Radical Vegan Food” which instantly gave me a good feeling.  Their menu says “100% Vegan and 99% Organic; our food quality is super important to us!”  And . . . it was great.  It’s so wonderful to just be able to pick anything off the menu, isn’t it.  Yes, Susty’s Cafe is totally, fabulously, vegan.  I really wanted to order one of everything just to try it, but restrained myself.  I have to say that the two young women running the place are a credit to the owners, if they are not the owners themselves.  Very sweet, and good service too.  We noticed signs for vegan cooking classes and yoga classes and the like, it’s just a feel-good atmosphere.  We ordered the famous Tofu Fries that I’ve seen in online reviews and am happy to say they lived up to the hype.  Thin, and crispy with a fine seasoned crust on them, they’re killer good, especially with ketchup.  The small size portion was surprisingly large, more than enough for my Dad and me.  Mom ordered the Thai Summer Rolls which were also nice and fresh and slightly peppery, with a mildly spiced peanut sauce on the side, these are perfect as an appetizer or in lieu of a salad.  I was torn between the vegan iced chai and the fresh-squeezed lemonade, but opted for the chai which was good, tasted like a basic coffee-house chai, maybe a tiny bit too strong on the nutmeg or something, not sure, but still very good.  The beverage list is enticing;  you can also order Maine Root Sodas, or Juice of Life (your choice of three juicables).  Dad and I split the Seitan Pepper Steak wrap which was also good, and Dad got a soup special, some kind of brothy noodles.  He said he liked everything we shared, and he seemed a bit surprised.  I noticed on the menu that there are kid-friendly options like Grilled Cheeze and PB and Jelly, apple juice, etc.   In fact, there was a group of small children waiting for their treats and I could clearly hear them saying, “Ooooooh, smoothies!” when the waitress brought their food.  It warms the cockles of my heart to see such young children, maybe 5 or 6 years of age, eating such healthy, violence-free treats!  We got a piece of strawberry cake to go and that night confirmed that it was also delicious.  The menu also offers things like Seitan Pot Pie, Vegetable Curry, Fajita’s, burritos, enchiladas and Shepherd’s Pie.  Next time, I’m going to get the fresh-squeezed lemonade, the soy fritters and one of those chocolate peanut butter brownies.  My conclusion is that Susty’s Vegan Cafe is like an oasis of health and compassionate eating, and I plan to go back every single time I travel to NH, and I’ll try to time my visit so I can take one of their cooking classes, too.  You can read reviews and see photos on the Happy Cow web site, also.

Kabobi Restaurant – Rockville, Maryland

Monday was the first time I tried Persian food, but it won’t be my last.  A business acquaintance very kindly took us to Kabobi Restaurant in Rockville, Maryland.  This eatery is very attractive, having an ornate domed ceiling with a big French-style chandelier, wall alcoves hand-painted by a Persian artist, and a bar against one wall.  A plate of papery thin lavosh bread with cut raw onions arrived at the table, along with a shaker of lemony ground sumac.  Perusing the menu, I noticed vegan options for starters, such as grape leaves stuffed with rice and spices, also salad, pickles, hummus and olives.  Beverages include pomegranate juice, other fruit juices, sodas and beer and wine.  Prices are reasonable.  I noticed a roasted vegetable plate with rice and salad, and when I ordered, I was offered to have a vegetable kabob instead.  I just went for the lunch special as seen on the lunch menu (not shown on their web site), but it’s good to know you would have a choice if you asked.  When my lunch came, I was very happy.  Perfectly roasted vegetables sat atop a mound of the fluffiest rice, and the salad was crisp.  I sprinkled the rice and vegetables with some sumac and really enjoyed this meal from start to finish.  We enjoyed glasses of fragrant hot Persian tea after the meal.  Oh, and the service was perfect.  I came away with an impression of Persian food that will bring me back for more.  It is colorful, simple but perfectly cooked, flavorful but somewhat delicate.  All around us groups of people were having lunch and talking happily–there is just a convivial air about the place.  An added bonus is that there is a lovely little Middle Eastern grocery store right next door to this restaurant.  I had to go in, and I came out with the prettiest large dried apricots, big Medjool dried dates, a box of Persian tea, real saffron (kept behind the counter) and some boxed sweets to give as a gift, including teeny tiny chickpea cookies shaped like flowers.  Being able to shop in this fabulous little grocery store really adds to the whole restaurant experience at Kabobi.  See more photos below:

The Oaks, at Royal Oak, Maryland

We were invited to a dinner for ten that was won at auction by our generous friend Scott Wagner of Penn Waste, for the James M. Bryan, Jr. “Building Dreams for Youth Foundation.”   This lovely dinner was donated by and held at The Oaks, an old, gracious inn in Royal Oak, Maryland.  Let me just say, this was a dining EVENT.  The food was so delicate, so pristine, so beautiful to look at!  While the other diners were eating non-vegan food, my dishes looked similar, but were indeed vegan.  It started out with an amuse bouche of a square of potato with a purple pea shoot and teensy splash of tomato sauce.  Then came a crispy, geometric potato gallette over a salad (see below), and then a quenelle of warm savory guacamole puree with roasted red pepper and dill, sitting in a broth of clear tomato water.  Then a little jewel-box of a salad of pea shoots and asparagus tips, etc.  The piece de resistance was the main course of roasted/grilled zucchini round with quinoa melange, topped with crispy ribbons of fried onion rings (shown above).  At the end, it was a delicious rhapsody of raspberries.  I was just blown away, so conscious of being treated specially by the talented chefs in the kitchen and the staff.  Paul Milne, Candace Chiaruttini, Marcus van Winden and Nicole van Winden.  No detail was left unattended.  The Oaks is famous for their fabulous weddings and other special events and now I can see why.  If you ever want a catered event with compassionate food on the Eastern Shore, this is the place!  Loved it!

Cream Cheese and Olive Bagel

I looked online, expecting there to be a manifesto or even just a Wikipedia entry on the flavor profile of Cream Cheese and Olives, but there wasn’t.  However, there are tons of recipes;  for dips and sandwich spreads and canapes, etc.  When I was a little kid, I remember my mother eating a sandwich of Cream Cheese and Olives on toast, and thinking it was a bit odd.  Since then, I’ve enjoyed cream cheese and green olives on sandwiches and bagels in delicatessens and at home.  We were in Panera Bread recently and I asked if there was anything vegan in the bakery area.  I was handed a large binder notebook that I could look through.  While my husband waited for his to-go order, I looked.  They have a simple chart with the items and then whether or not they have eggs or dairy or  whatever.  So I selected the Everything Bagel (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic, toasted onion, kosher salt).  These bagels are huge, so have them cut them  in half for you.  They’re hard bagels and it’s not like cutting a tomato; you have to get out your big bread knife and give it some elbow.  Someday, Panera might get smart and have some vegan cream cheese on hand, but that day has not yet come.  So, once home, I got out the Tofutti Cream Cheese and a jar of olives.  Two tablespoons of the vegan cream cheese and however many olives you like per one half of a giant bagel.  As you can tell from this photo, I like a lot of olives, you might like less.  This would be a good solution if you’re having guests who want breakfast, and it makes an occasional special treat out of your own breakfast or lunch.  Some things can be easy.

Hellbender Burritos

Went up to see some friends in the lovely Canaan Valley of West Virginia, and did some hiking too.  The first night, I knew the host was preparing fish as a main course.  So, I went on the Happy Cow web site, and typed in the location of Davis, WV.  Lo and behold, up came Hellbender Burritos.  At first glance, the menu looked pretty carnivorous, but a closer look revealed homemade seitan, beans and tofu, and some good-looking vegetarian house dishes too.  Unfortunately, the bartender had never heard of vegan sour cream, but hey, there’s always hope.  Like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Hellbender has a lot of extras you can add in, so you won’t miss the dairy.  I got a seitan burrito with cilantro rice, salsa, guacamole, etc., and it was very good, even though it was heated up hours later.  This is a location with great hiking, and maybe that’s why there are these options in such a remote area.  It’s not a fancy decor; bikers and hikers feel right at home here.   Once again, I’m very thankful for the Happy Cow web site!

Out of the Fire restaurant, Easton, MD

As vegans, we can sometimes feel guilt over not just eating what everyone else is eating, whether at a restaurant or a family gathering.  And, unless you live in LA or New York City or Portland (Oregon), you also might feel like your restaurant options are limited.  If you’re like me, you have a few meal options at some local restaurants and after a while, that can be a bit boring.  Listening to various vegan podcasts, we are encouraged not to assume that a restaurant owner or chef won’t prepare anything vegan.  It’s OK to be a vegan, in other words, and to ask for something once in a while.  So, when friends asked us to go out to dinner with them, at Out of The Fire restaurant in Easton, Maryland, we said yes.  These friends are newer residents here, in St. Michaels, Maryland, and had not yet been to this very popular local restaurant.  Having been to this restaurant many times in the last seven years, and knowing that this Proprietor really cares about quality and ethics, I took a breath and emailed her, asking if there were any vegan options available to me at dinner that night.  Once I hit send, I felt a bit guilty, like a pain in the butt.  However, I got an immediate and kind response from Amy Haines, saying the chef would prepare a rice pasta linguine with summer vegetables for the special, that they had a crispy polenta with organic black bean and sweet corn salad and charred tomato sauce on the menu, and that she would personally prepare a vegan chocolate cake with chocolate ganache.  WOW, the compassionate universe responded in spades to my shaky request!  Or rather, Amy did!  After finishing a beautiful salad of simple greens, on came the entree I chose (see photo).  The pasta was silky but toothsome, and the olives and capers added just the right savory note to the vegetables.  One of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in years.  Why, oh WHY can’t I make my whole-grain pasta come out like this??  There must be some technique I’m missing, and I’m determined to figure it out.  This plate was adorned with some frilly purple basil leaves that were dusted with fine sea salt.  I ate every single, last bite, including this pretty garnish.  Our friends had the same entree and loved it too.  On came dessert; a dark chocolate cake that was not only vegan but accompanied by VEGAN ICE CREAM that was made in-house!  And we could have our choice of vanilla or mint chocolate chip!  I was kind of stunned.  It was like Christmas and my birthday, and I started to feel like I had some good karma coming back at me for something, if only I could remember what!  Amy made the almond milk that went into the cake, and used coconut oil for fat, and . . . OK, I have to stop, I’m getting a tear in my eye and the computer screen is blurring.  Suffice it to say that after the pasta I could only eat half of this dessert, but it was AMAZING.  Being a new vegan, this was an extraordinary evening, to say the least.  Many, many thanks to this wonderful restaurant and to the Proprietor, Amy Haines, and her great staff and chefs.  An added note is that the service was impeccable and the decor is really lovely, having golden ochre walls, a visible wood-burning oven, and a nice bar area with revolving local art hanging on the walls.  My final thought here is that Restaurateurs have a really tough job.  They want to express their own ideals through their food, but they also have to give the public what it wants for economic reasons.  So, it’s up to us to ask for better than the common western diet that’s dragging the health of earthlings and the planet down.  I heard Gary Francione say once that it’s not the giant corporations, it’s the consumer.  If consumers are buying bananas instead of beef, the corporations will start selling bananas.

CHIPOTLE Restaurant

Today we went to Chipotle Mexican Grill in Annapolis.  This is a chain restaurant that I had seen on Oprah, known for their sustainable approach toward fast food.  Here’s a quote from the Oprah show:  The average American eats fast food four times a week, but there are chains with a conscience. In 1993, Steve Ells opened the very first Chipotle Mexican restaurant. “I think fast food to most people means cheap, highly processed,” he says. “At Chipotle, it’s just the opposite. Everything at Chipotle is fresh, never frozen, with the exception of corn.”  Steve says 45 percent of Chipotle’s beans are organic, and restaurants buy produce from local family farmers in the months it’s available.   OK, so I went on a helpful web site:  Vegan Eating Out and got the lowdown on what I could order.   At this little cafeteria-style counter, I chose the Vegetarian Fajita Burrito for $6.10, and then I had to hang onto my hat, because the servers move pretty quickly.  It’s sort of like Subway, where they move your dish down the line, and you tell them what you want.  I got black beans (the pinto beans have pig in them), cilantro-lime rice, grilled fajita vegetables, chopped Romaine lettuce, guacamole, roasted corn and medium salsa.  Also had to try the chips and guacamole for $3.00.  And let me just say, the meal was outrageously good.  At first, being a new vegan, I had that split-second of remorse that I could not have the sour cream or cheese.  Once I began eating, however, that vanished.  The combination of flavors is at once detectable and subtle, juicy and slightly smoky, with a finishing note of heat from the salsa.  One of the best burritos I’ve had in my life.  The guacamole is also some of the best I’ve had, including my own.  It’s made with red onion and cilantro, maybe a bit of sea salt, not sure.  A few of the chips were a bit too salty, but they are just a vehicle for this heavenly guac.  I . . . love . . . Chipotle.  Yes!

Vegan Philadelphia – last day

Sunday, June 13. Got up early. Took a cab to Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat restaurant at North Fourth Street and we had not been to the North end before this yet. A funky little restaurant with a colorful mural on the outside, in a mixed-use neighborhood. The restaurant was filled with locals. I had the Savory Tofu Scramble but asked for home fries with peppers and onions, instead of the French fries. Also got a potato latke and some veggie sausage. I could live without the veggie sausage. The latke was good but they did not have vegan sour cream. However, the tofu scramble and home fries were really good! Lars got eggs benedict (not vegan) and fresh-squeezed orange juice. He said the oj was really fresh. This is a busy place with lots of local families of all ages coming and going. Very casual and I would definitely go there again. My tofu scramble and home fries would feed two or more and it was $7.25.  As I was sitting there eating that stellar tofu scramble with home fries, I was just so darn HAPPY.  The waitress said if we walked to Spring Garden Road that the cabs go by there. We walked 2 or 3 blocks to Spring Garden and sure enough, a cab appeared in about two minutes. Checked out of the hotel and the valet brought our car around. Drove to nearby Whole Foods which has a great parking garage right there. Bought two flavors of Daiya cheese, vegan Worcestershire, etc. Also noticed that there is a nice little section of vegan desserts. Bought a vegan oatmeal cookie sandwich that was HUGE and tasty. I’ll be eating off it for a week. Bought a bag of ice, packed the cooler up and headed to Queenstown to pick up Ipo dog. Ipo hopped in the back seat and promptly fell fast asleep and stayed so all the way home.

Vegan Philadelphia – Part Two

Saturday, June 12.  Woke up and ate our super-sweet watermelon that we bought from The Bourse last night.  Walked to Reading Terminal Market, a huge conglomeration of food stalls.  This colorful place is quite a show.  Even though the Basic Four Vegetarian Snack Bar was closed that day, I managed to find some vegan eats, and sat facing the passers by.   There was a man playing old-fashioned piano, and it’s just a unique experience.  We then walked all over China Town, getting the lay of the land.  By the time we walked down through Antique Row, we were ready for lunch, so headed for Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant.  As it was lunchtime, only the to-go part of the restaurant was open.  Just a takeout counter with a few tables in back on this side of the building.  But, the Chicken Cheesesteak sandwich is legendary, so in we went.  And . . . it was amazing!  I asked the kids at the counter what in the world was it that tastes just like chicken.  They told me it’s textured soy protein and comes in a box from Hong Kong.  I had the sesame roll and Lars got the spinach wrap and we almost think the wrap was better, if not as traditional.  Then we walked to Essene Market and I picked up some really good-looking glass refrigerator containers with BPA-free lids of a pretty green.  Went through a great old antique mall and ran into a Mummers performance at the Betsy Ross House.  Poked around Elsfreth Alley, and then went to a movie at this great theatre right next door to our hotel;  The Ritz at the Bourse.  Saw The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was stellar despite the subtitles.  We rested at the hotel for a bit, and then we took a cab to New Harmony Vegetarian Restaurant, and had vegan dim sum. They bring the food fast and furious here, despite our telling them not to bring everything, and please only to bring one or two bites of each dish. We were then served entire platters of fried tofu, etc. Char siu bao was not good. Some things were good, some were not. The trick here would be to get to know the menu and order off the menu, not dim sum. But dim sum for the most part was good and we would most definitely love to have a place like this near us, would go here again!  Oh to try the vegan Peking Duck!

Vegan Philadelphia

Having only been really vegan for a month or so, I was desperate to find some vegan peeps and to go to a restaurant and just order anything on the menu.  Listening to vegan podcasts, I learned that Philadelphia is a vegan-friendly city.  Since we’ve been talking about going to Philly for the last three years, off we went.  We checked into the Omni Hotel at Independence Park on June 11.  What a great location!  This hotel backs up to The Bourse; an old Merchant Exchange that was built in 1895.  A complete restoration was done and inside it’s a giant food court with some shops too. We picked up some fruit and water for the early morning, and walked back to our hotel room. Dinner was at Horizons, one of the best vegan restaurants in the country. It was only about a 20 minute walk from the hotel, and the weather was balmy.    We peeked into courtyards and onto balconies, as we went. Past fenced lots with children’s soccer games going on, and all manner of lovely dogs being walked. Horizons is not much to look at from the outside. Inside it is nicer, if a bit shopworn. Professional staff dressed in black and funky modern jazz playing on the stereo.  Lars got a Pomegranate Sangria that he liked. There were ten appetizers and it was hard to choose. We settled on Vietnamese Tacos (crispy lemongrass tempeh, pickled daikon salad, cilantro and spicy sriracha mayo) for $10. Superb but slightly too hot for Lars. I was thrilled with the tempeh. Mostly I have not cared for the taste of tempeh, but this was fried in panko, but very thinly, and had a bit of crunch, and tasted like chicken. Then we ordered the Grilled Vegetable Salad (Smoked black olives, crispy potato, Easter egg radish, shaved cauliflower, preserved lemon/chive dressing). Super good. Our waiter was great, attentive but not too. For main courses, we got the Grilled Seitan (Yukon mashed potatoes, horseradish cream, and roasted red pepper tapenade) for $21. It was freaking me out because I would SWEAR I was eating the best steak I ever had in my life. Grilled and slightly charred and just simply incredible. Our other main course was the Peruvian Mushroom Crepe (with squash trio, giant lima beans, roasted olives, aji Amarillo sauce, spicy peanuts and avocado cream) for $19. Very good. Lars kept eating that and I finally asked him to stop eating that so he could try the seitan. He reluctantly tried it and then agreed it was like an excellent steak. The waiter said they use “Ray’s Seitan” and that it is so much better than they could make in-house.  For dessert, we split the Saffron Creme Brule.  This came complete with perfect crackling crust, and the texture and creaminess were spot on, however, the saffron gave this dish a slightly musty, odd taste, and the pistachio biscotti was dry as a bone, and tasteless.  However, everything else was so good, that it would be a dream come true to have a restaurant like this near us!   postscript:  Horizons is now closed and their new vegan restaurant is Vedge.