Cashew Cheese-Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms | Restaurant (Review) Closing

Before launching into today’s post and recipe, I’d like to congratulate Melissa Kallick, the winner of my giveaway for a pack of savory, vegan, gluten-free snack bars from Slow Food for Fast Lives!

Back in mid-June, shortly after I had set myself up in Brooklyn for the summer, I published a review of a restaurant in my new neighborhood and promised many more over the course of the next three months. However, on the next occasion I sat down to type up a Brooklyn restaurant review, I stopped myself mid-paragraph and questioned, “Do I really want to post this review on my blog?”

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Why, after offering my take on dozens of vegan-friendly eateries around the world, did I suddenly decide not to do so? I don’t feel comfortable publishing restaurant reviews anymore. Dining at fabulous eateries on a regular basis (or at all) constitutes an enormous privilege afforded to me by my family’s well-off background and my social standing as a non-marginalized individual.

Indeed, if one considers that, after paying rent and taxes, someone who works full-time on the minimum wage enjoys only $77 per week to spend on food and transportation, a single dinner at an average restaurant in New York City would eat up (oh, puns!) about a third of the money that someone has to spend over the course of seven days (i.e., 20 more meals). I imagine that anyone who has experienced this skimpy weekly budget – 3.3 million workers, or 4.3 percent of all hourly paid workers – would not only feel completely unable to identify with me as a person, but would also feel rather offended that I was essentially rubbing in their face the class gap that allowed me to eat at a high-quality restaurant at least once a week while their food choices remained severely constrained.

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As someone who advocates veganism – a lifestyle often associated today with upper-middle-class white folks, and thereby regarded as classist – I seek not to perpetuate the frequently true stereotype of vegans as people focused solely on staying up-to-date on the latest animal-free food trends, waxing poetic about expensive specialty products, and acting in other ways that obscure the heart of veganism: saying no, wherever possible in the contemporary world, to consuming products that rely on animal exploitation (meat, dairy, eggs, honey, fur, leather, silk, animal-tested cosmetics, etc.). While I understand the importance of sharing with not-yet-vegans the wide variety of familiar, veganized foods – both packaged and in restaurants – that make many individual’s transition easier, I feel that relying on these aspects of one form of the vegan lifestyle contributes to the capitalist system that both oppresses marginalized groups everywhere and fuels the animal agriculture industry.

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Veganism is about so much more than the food we eat, no matter how ridiculously delicious it can be, and centering our (and thereby the general public’s) attention on the food to which we have ready access contributes to the perception of a vegan diet as viable only for the most privileged groups of people. I certainly don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t continue to share vegan food with others – I write a blog with plenty of recipes, for goodness sake – but that we should be careful to not present vegan specialty products and restaurant food as the only important aspects of a vegan lifestyle.

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Of course, in addition to this shift in attention, we should support measures to get nourishing food into communities damaged by systemic inequalities, such as community garden initiatives, efforts to minimize food waste, and the programs of such groups as the Food Empowerment Project. Lack of access to healthy food options is also intimately connected to structural racism against which we must unite, though these efforts prove much more complicated and multifaceted. Check out my Resources section to learn more about structural racism and how we might combat it.

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Obviously, my choice to no longer publish restaurant reviews on my blog will not fix the lack of access to nourishing food in low-income communities, nor does it mean that I’ve ceased to play into the classist rhetoric of the current vegan movement. However, I feel that it will comprise a small, semi-symbolic/semi-material step on the path to a less classist vegan movement. If you’re interested in vegan restaurant recommendations in a particular city, check out my Travel section or shoot me a message using my Contact form.

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And anyhow, why take up blog space writing about food I didn’t even make, especially when I and anyone with a bit of practice have the ability to create just as tasty fare? Indeed, it doesn’t take a culinary genius to blend up some cashews into creamy bliss, stuff it inside the flowers that grow on the end of summer’s bounty of zucchini, and fry it all intro crispy morsels of summery yumminess. This recipe represents Italian peasant food at its best – a reminder that the origins of plant-based food lay not with cost-prohibitive items, but with unpretentious produce-centric dishes. Pff, who needs restaurant reviews?

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Cashew Cheese-Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms

Makes 15-20 blossoms.

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight), drained, and rinsed
1 tbsp sweet white miso
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemons’ worth)
1/2 tsp maple syrup
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup tightly packed fresh tarragon leaves

15-20 fresh squash blossoms, gently rinsed
1/2 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch
Coconut or vegetable oil for frying

In the bowl of a food processor or the carafe of a high-speed blender, combine all of the cashew cheese ingredients except the tarragon (cashews through salt). Process/blend until very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl/carafe as necessary to get everything blending nicely. Once the mixture is smooth, pulse in the tarragon so that it flecks the cheese, rather than turns it green.

Spoon a tablespoon or so into the hollow middle of each blossom, handling the delicate blossoms carefully so as not to tear them. As you stuff the blossoms, lay each one on a large plate.

Place the arrowroot or cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl. Lightly coat each stuffed blossom in the starch, tapping the blossom against the side of the bowl to knock off any excess starch. Lay back on the plate.

Heat over high heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large-ish skillet with about a 1/2-inch of oil. While the oil heats, place two layers of paper towel on another large plate. Once the oil is very hot and starts crackling (350°F), place half of the stuffed and coated blossoms in the oil. Fry for 2-4 minutes on each side, or until both sides are golden brown, using a tongs to turn the blossoms over. Once the blossoms have finished frying, turn off the heat and carefully transfer them with the tongs to the paper towel-lined plate. Place the skillet back over the heat, and add more oil as needed to bring the level back up to about a 1/2-inch of oil. Fry the remaining half of the blossoms, placing them on the paper towel-lined plate when they’ve finished frying. Serve immediately.

Recipe submitted to Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

In solidarity, Ali.

Brooklyn Restaurant Exploration: Dao Palate + Announcements!

Before I get into today’s post, I’d like to point you toward the latest episode of the Our Hen House podcast, which features highlights from recent interviews on the OHH TV show. In between interviews, you’ll hear the voice of yours’ truly introducing each of the interviewees. Check it out! 

Mariann & Jasmin on the OHH TV show.

I’d also like to announce the two winner’s of the Tastymakes raw, sprouted, vegan, organic, and gluten-free snack box giveaway. Congratulations to Samantha Matons and Theresa Norris! Enjoy your tasty, nourishing treats.

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I’ve hesitated to make this announcement until now, mostly because I’ve found myself in partial disbelief that such an ideal series of opportunities has unfolded before me in the past couple of months, and wanted to make absolutely certain of their reality before I went about publicizing them on the ol’ blog. Now, midway into June, I believe that I can confidently assert that, yes, these dream-worthy experiences legitimately constitute the actuality of my summer.

Without further ado, I’m more than thrilled to announce that this summer, I’m living in Brooklyn, NY, interning with the multimedia hub of animal advocacy Our Hen House, and working part-time for both the vegan publishing house Lantern Books and the public policy action tank on the environment and animal agriculture Brighter Green. Needless to say, I’m honored and humbled to offer my time and energies to these change-making organizations, and I highly encourage you to pop around their websites and get to know their important work.

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In addition to working for three impressive groups, I also feel incredibly privileged to live in one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the country, and as such intend to partake in my fair share of restaurant-hopping. To recount my experiences with Brooklyn’s vegan scene, I’m excited to launch a temporary blog series similar to the DC Restaurant Exploration of last summer. But this time, FMV’s taking on Brooklyn.

My first stop: Dao Palate. A favorite of my Brooklyn-native buddy and his entire non-vegan family, this 100% vegan pan-asian café delights eaters of all persuasions with its wide selection of colorful and unique appetizers, market-fresh local vegetables, hearty entrees that feature some of the tastiest plant-based meat I’ve encountered, and dense, rich cheesecakes. Dao Palate serves up all of these goodies and more in a gorgeous dining room paneled in mahogany wood accentuated with jade green decor and lit naturally through floor-to-ceiling windows. Additionally, I hugely appreciate their speedy service and reasonable prices, which prove impressively proportionate to the amount of food each dish provides (about $5 for an appetizer, $13 for an entree, $9 for a noodle or rice dish, $6 for dessert).

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Dao Palate dining room; photo via Dao Palate.

Ranging from tempura to dumplings to scallion pancakes to avocado tartar to BBQ seitan ribs, Dao Palate’s appetizers prove perfect for sharing with the table. Rather unfortunately named “soy protein” on the menu, the anything-but-unfortunate entrees—which include mango soy protein, General Tso’s soy protein, orange seitan, and smoked teriyaki seitan—feature the most toothsome, substantially textured, and tender vegan meat I’ve ever tasted. And dessert? Look no further than the cheesecakes. Though not quite as impeccable as the cheesecake available at Hangawi, Dao’ Palates thick and creamy creations are available in chocolate, pumpkin, and raspberry white chocolate.

From left to right: Avocado Tartar, Mango Soy Protein, Spinach Shumai; photos via Dao Palate.

From left to right: Avocado Tartar, Mango Soy Protein, Spinach Shumai; photos via Dao Palate.

In addition to nibbles of my dining companions’ dishes, I’ve had the chance to sample two of Dao Palate’s entrees and one dessert.

The first—the bibimbap, served in an always entertaining sizzling stone rice bowl—offered a stunning amalgamation of different tastes and textures, including such components as a brown rice base, a refreshing mango salsa, spicy and crunchy kimchi, a salad of hijiki seaweed and edamame, silky smooth steamed spinach, pleasingly chewy tofu sauteed in teriyaki sauce, and slices of avocado, all tossed in a spicy miso sauce. Full of surprising flavors, this dish could keep any diner happy on multiple visits to Dao Palate.

Bibimbap.

Bibimbap.

Indeed, I almost ordered the bibimbap again during my second excursion to the restaurant, but persuaded myself to try a new dish instead. In the mood for noodles, I opted for the stir-fried soba with julienned vegetables and browned tofu. While I duly appreciated the uniform size and shape of the vegetables and tofu (Dao Palate clearly pays close attention to presentation), as well as the tangy stickiness of the sauce, after a couple of bites the dish became a bit monotonous. The dish certainly didn’t taste bad, but I don’t think that I’d order it again, as it simply ceased to interest me after I had eaten only half of the plate.

Stir-Fried Soba Noodles with Vegetables and Tofu

Stir-Fried Soba Noodles with Vegetables and Tofu

After my less-than-optimal soba experience, I gave Dao Palate a chance to redeem itself with its raspberry white chocolate cheesecake—a dense slice of crumbly crust, oh-so creamy New York-style cheesecake, and tart raspberry jam, topped with swirls of whipped cream. Though the rich texture and characteristically cheesecake-y crust didn’t disappoint, the layer of raspberry and the whipped cream proved much too saccharinely sweet for my palate. I would definitely order a Dao Palate cheesecake again, but perhaps I would opt for the pumpkin flavor instead, in the hopes that it would harbor a more subtle sweetness.

Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake

Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake

I wholeheartedly plan on returning to Dao Palate in order to get me one of their tantalizing soy protein dishes all for myself, and would certainly recommend this restaurant to anyone upon whom I wish an artfully prepared, hearty, and uniquely flavored meal.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan in Florence, Part 3

Don’t miss your chance to win a jar of body butter and a tube of lip butter from the all-natural and vegan cosmetic company Ellovi! Enter Farmers Market Vegan’s latest giveaway by Wednesday, April 2.

Well, dear readers, my adventures in Florence, Italy have come to a close, but I still have one more round of vegan Italian cuisine to share with you all. The last few days of my trip included day trips to the nearby towns of Siena and Fiesole, both of which boast magnificent churches and stunning views of the Italian countryside; a dinner party with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousin; and a theater jaunt to see the previously on-Broadway show Stomp. And of course…tons of tasty vegan noms. Here are a couple culinary highlights from my final days in Florence:

Il Vegetariano

Via delle Ruote 30r, Florence, Italy 50129

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

I first discovered this 30-some-year-old staple of Florence’s vegetarian scene three years ago when I spent the summer with my aunt, and eagerly returned to introduce this popular, all-organic eatery to my travel companion Gabe. Luckily, from that summer I gleaned the experiential know-how about how Il Vegetariano works, so that I could lead Gabe along in the process. You see, Il Vegetariano’s set-up differs from that of a traditional sit-down restaurant, functioning in a more cafeteria-style manner. Upon entering the restaurant, the diner proceeds past the two dining rooms to greet the kind bespectacled man behind the ordering counter, seated beside a colorful blackboard that lists the daily-rotating menu of small plates, salad bar, entrees, and desserts. The diner puts their order in at the counter, pays, picks up a tray, and stands in the line in front of the salad bar/dessert counter to wait for another kind balding man to grab a freshly made plate from the kitchen, and/or to choose from an array of raw and cooked vegetables to enjoy in a salad. Finally, the diner can choose a seat in one of two mahogany-clad dining rooms with exposed brick walls, or on a covered patio just behind the restaurant.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

During our visit, Gabe and I opted to enjoy the warm weather and took a seat on the patio. Peckish after meandering around the city all morning, we dove into our bowls of immensely savory brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes, cauliflower, and parsley. Herbaceous and full-bodied, the pilaf’s flavor showcased just how complex simple vegetables and grains can taste. Of course, considering that Il Vegetariano describes their wide dessert selection as their specialty, Gabe and I simply had to sample a slice of a crumbly tart jam-packed with succulent pears and apricots. Certainly no complaints there, especially when my entire meal cost less than 10 euro.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Gelateria Perche No!

Via dei Tavolini 19r, Florence, Italy 50122

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Gabe once again serves as my restaurant model.

Venturing out for gelato after enjoying lunch at home became a favorite ritual of mine and Gabe’s during the latter portion of our stay in Florence. While we most often headed to Festival del Gelato due to its close proximity to our apartment, Gabe and I opted on one occasion to sample another of Florence’s famous gelaterias, founded in 1939 and known as Perche No! (aka “why not!”). Upon first entering the small shop, I noticed and hugely appreciated that the gelateria had separated its non-dairy gelatos into a separate cooler, making ordering much simpler for myself and others who avoid dairy. On the day that we visited, Perche No!’s non-dairy flavors included banana, dark chocolate, pear, soy-based hazelnut, soy-based vanilla, strawberry, lemon, and raspberry. Funnily enough, Gabe and I both chose the soy hazelnut and raspberry to satisfy our daily gelato quota. While both gelatos held the exact flavor essence of their respective fruit and nut bases, the soy hazelnut proved less creamy than the rice-based hazelnut that we often enjoyed at Festival (strange, considering that rice milk tends to hold a much thinner texture than soy milk!). Regardless, Perche No! boasts some darn tasty gelato.

The "senza latte" (without milk) case at Perche No!

The “senza latte” (without milk) case at Perche No!

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Miso di Riso

Borgo degli Albizi 54r, Florence, Italy, 50122

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A couple of weeks before arriving in Florence, my mother emailed me to express her excitement that she had discovered a newly opened vegetarian restaurant called Miso di Riso (translated to rice miso) along the main pedestrian street in her neighborhood. As such, I made it a point to accompany my mother to lunch at the eatery during one of my final days in Florence. Brightly lit, filled with verdant potted plants, and boasting a plethora of vibrantly colored décor, Miso di Riso provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere in which to enjoy some macrobiotic-inspired vegan noms.

After ordering, my mother and I check out the dessert case to find such tantalizing creations as two mixed berry tarts, as well one with a semolina crust and chocolate ganache filling. While we opted to head to Festival del Gelato for dessert after our meal, Miso di Riso’s bakery selection definitely impressed me.

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Soon after we had sufficiently ogled at the dessert case, my mother and I received our plates. I chose to sample a savory tart of cauliflower and seaweed with a remarkably flavorful crust, accompanied by a meltingly tender pile of curried cabbage and a lightly dressed salad of gorgeous greens and shaved carrots. As for my mother, she opted for the tofu burger, complete with vegan mayonnaise and coupled with a colorful sauté of mixed vegetables, as well as a salad similar to mine. While both my mother and I “mm”-ed with delight at the features of our plate (the tart and burger) as well as at the impeccably fresh salads, the vegetable side dishes left us unimpressed—though tasty, they struck us as dishes easily made by any home cook. This new restaurant has a great base (and space!) on which to build, but it definitely requires improvement.

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Le Fate

Borgo Allegri 9r, Florence, Italy 50122

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About seven minutes before my mother, Gabe, and I planned to leave to see Stomp, my mother decided to call the restaurant at which we wanted to have dinner, only to find that they had no open tables for the night. Scrambling to find another eatery for the evening, we soon recalled another newly opened vegetarian restaurant that we had passed by on one of our evening passeggiare (walks), called Le Fate (translated to “the fairies”). With moments to spare, we secured a reservation and ran out the door to the theater.

That scramble for another restaurant resulted in one of the best gastronomic decisions of my trip, as the meal that my family and I enjoyed at Le Fate will live on in the Seiter family memory for years to come. True to its name, Le Fate boasts a rather enchanting dining room and a mystical menu: the four appetizers find inspiration in the four elements (earth, water, wind, and fire), while each of the entrees corresponds to one of the twelve astrological signs. Upon noticing the struggles of our English-speaking family to decipher the Italian menu, our charismatic waiter called the chef out of the kitchen to explain in detail every dish—VIP treatment, eh?

As a pre-meal amuse bouche, we each received a small crostini of house-made whole-grain bread spread with what I took to be an artichoke pate, served upon a leaf of soft and lemony sorrel. For an appetizer, the table opted to share a platter of house-made vegan cheeses and fruit compotes. Though I couldn’t discern the exact flavors of each of the cheeses, I could tell by the textures that two of them certainly featured agar-agar seaweed as a binder, while the other two seemed to be aged nut spread-type cheeses. Unfortunately, the latter two lacked the creaminess integral to satisfying cheese, though their flavors proved intensely complex. I have absolutely no complaints about the sweet and expertly spiced compotes, however.

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While I found the vegan cheeses a tad lacking, there was absolutely nothing subpar about any of our entrees. Indeed, every bite (both of my own dish and stolen from the plates of others) offered a new flavor and mouthfeel, providing for a hugely interesting and astronomically delicious meal.

The only diner of our party to order the dish that corresponded to their actual astrological sign, I chose the Vergine (Virgo) plate as soon as I heard the chef say “dates,” “fennel,” and “homemade basil tofu.” The bowl of homemade noodles coated in a creamy, succulent sauce of dates and caramelized fennel that I enjoyed that night still enters my dreams. Providing textural contrast to the silky pasta were leaves of bitter radicchio spread with house-made basil tofu and topped with orange segments and toasted hazelnuts. An inspired dish.

My mother opted for the Gemelli (Gemini) plate, which featured a bowl of fluffy-on-the-inside-crusty-on-the-outside biscuits in three savory varieties, accompanied by a number of spread and toppings: a mild golden chutney of onions and apples, a rainbow-colored salad of minced peppers, a fluffy and cloud-white vegan mayonnaise, oil-marinated heirloom white beans, and quenelles of smooth hummus. Um, wow.

Finally, both Gabe and my father chose the Capricorno (Capricorn) plate: creamy black lentil soup topped with a puree of white root vegetables, served alongside perfectly round balls of falafel with carrot-tamarind spread, and rounded out by a salad of mixed greens and ripe berries. Need I say more?

Though we all found ourselves too full to enjoy dessert, we did end the meal quite enjoyably by speaking with the bubbly owner of the restaurant—a longtime vegan and astronomer who gave us each our horoscopes before leaving. Le Fate’s inviting atmosphere, it’s enormously hospitable waitstaff, and its inspired and tantalizing culinary creations have earned a top spot on my list of most memorable travel restaurants, and I can hardly wait to return during my next trip to Italy (crossing my fingers that it’s soon!).

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Though I probably experienced one of the more perfect spring breaks of my entire life during the past two weeks, I’m happy to find myself back at school and among the community of my on-campus vegan living cooperative. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the spring on Farmers Market Vegan!

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan in Florence, Part 2

Welcome, dear readers, to round two of my special post series for the month of March: “Farmers Market Vegan Goes to Italy”! My last post, reaching you from the art-filled city of Florence, offered you a taste (pun very much intended) of the first of my vegan adventures during my two-week stay in Italy; check it out to fulfill your daily quota of quaint cafes, traditional Neapolitan pizzas, and dairy-free gelato.

In the days following my last post, I and my travel companion Gabe have continued our slow and steady touring of the city, journeying to Piazzale Michelangelo, an elevated square in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city (and the trek up the steep winding roads to the Piazzale will also take your breath away).

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In addition to the sightseeing above and the restaurant exploration below, I also discovered a storefront of the vegan cosmetic company LUSH, which practices ethical product sourcing and actively combats animal testing. Further evidence of a growing consciousness of animal rights in Italy!

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Of course, Gabe and I have also continued our survey of Florence’s vegan scene. Our second round of culinary gems include:

Mercato Sant’Ambrogio

Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, Florence, Italy 50121

Touted as Florence’s second-best open-air market (close behind the Mercato Centrale), Mercato Sant’Ambrogio offers a colorful bounty of fresh produce alongside artisanal bread, marinated jarred veggies, and other goods. Open everyday except Sunday, the market is located just around the corner from my parents’ apartment, and my mother and I pay it a visit on most mornings (in much of Europe, grocery shopping happens on a daily rather than weekly basis like in the U.S.). Spring has arrived here earlier than in the States (not too excited about returning to a snowy New York in a couple of days), and the market accordingly boasts piles of green goodies like artichokes, fava beans, delicate greens, and Romanesco cauliflower alongside early fruits like strawberries and pears. Much of the produce has made appearances in the dinners that I and my mother have cooked at my parents’ apartment, including steamed artichokes served with vegan aioli; platters of roasted veggies; crisp and simple salads; and breakfast bowls of fresh fruit, granola, and hazelnut milk.

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From top right: globe artichokes, zucchini with blossoms, Romanesco cauliflower, enoki mushrooms, mixed lettuce, and fava beans.

La Raccolta

Via Giacomo Leopardi, 2r, Florence, Italy 50121

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The La Raccolta storefront.

The La Raccolta dining room.

The La Raccolta dining room.

A natural foods store complete with non-dairy milks of every ilk, ancient grain bread, dried seaweeds, and a well-stocked bulk section comprises the front of La Raccolta, while through a doorway in the back you’ll find a macrobiotic restaurant in an inviting dining room with walls lined with brightly colored art of various African animals. Along with the Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, the grocery section of La Raccolta has provided an almost-daily destination for me while in Florence, fulfilling all of my soy yogurt, non-dairy milk, granola, and apple cider vinegar needs. Due to the pretty steep prices of La Raccolta’s restaurant, however, I’ve only dined there once during this particular stay in Florence—but boy, do I always enjoy my meal there.

Vegan items make up the vast majority of La Raccolta’s impressive menu, complete with whole-grain pasta dishes, seitan scallopini, and macrobiotic-style vegetable dishes accompanied by lip-smacking sauces. Despite such an extensive menu, however, I’ve ordered the same dish on all three of my past visits to La Raccolta (I first ventured there three summers ago when I lived with my aunt for three months): the mixed platter. This substantial plate is composed of 7-10 separate preparations of roasted, steamed, and sautéed veggies embellished with creamy sauces, accompanied by fresh raw salads and more hearty grain and bean dishes. On the platter pictured below, I found (from the top of the plate and working clockwise) a gingery sauté of cabbage and carrots; herb-roasted potatoes; a crisp salad of lettuce and shaved carrots in olive oil and vinegar; a delicately flavored mash of fava beans; parsley-packed orechiette (ear-shaped pasta) with broccoli in a creamy sauce; herb-roasted kabocha squash; steamed purple cabbage in a bright yellow-orange sauce; and steamed broccoli and green cabbage in a tahini sauce. All so simple, yet so lovingly prepared and bursting with freshness.

After such a pleasant savory experience, I couldn’t help but sample one of La Raccolta’s many vegan dolci (desserts): a multi-layered pastry similar to phyllo dough stuffed with almond cream and topped with caramelized pears (known in Italy as mille foglie, or “cake of one thousand sheets”). A transcendental experience.

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Festival del Gelato

Via del Corso, 75r, Florence, Italy

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Gabe and I have made a point of enjoying una coppa of gelato once per day, for no afternoon ritual can beat reveling in creamy, artisanally prepared yumminess that tastes exactly of the real fruit, nut, or other edible that comprises its flavor. One of Florence’s most popular gelaterias, Festival del Gelato finds itself right next to the Duomo, one of Florence’s most popular tourist attractions. In addition to a number of fruit-based gelatos that contain no dairy (including mango, strawberry, and lemon), Festival boasts two rice milk-based gelatos (cappuccino and nocciolia, aka hazelnut), neither of which, as an added bonus, contain sugar! Surprisingly, Festival’s rice milk gelatos prove creamier than those based in soy milk that I’ve enjoyed at other gelaterias, though their fruit-based gelatos tend to harbor an ever-so-slightly more diluted fruit flavor than other gelatos I’ve sampled. I feel like the spectacle of their neon lights make up for this disappointment, though.

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That’s all for this round of vegan Florentine extravaganzas! Look out for my next post on eating vegan in Florence.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan in Florence, Part 1

Don’t miss your chance to win a prize pack—including free product coupons, a t-shirt, and a vintage-style metal lunchbox—from Tofurky! Be sure to enter Farmers Market Vegan’s latest giveaway by Friday, March 22.

Buongiorno from Florence! As I mentioned in my recent post regarding the connections between eating disorders and digestive complications, you, dear readers, can expect a number of posts relaying my adventures in Florence, Italy during the upcoming weeks. My parents have subletted an apartment here until late April—joining my aunt, a longtime resident of the city—and have graciously invited me to spend my college’s spring break in the art capital of Italy.

In the days leading up to my departure, I encountered many inquiries from friends concerning the availability of vegan food in Florence. To their surprise, I informed them that navigating Italy as a vegan proves incredibly easy—moreso, probably, than navigating many areas of the U.S. For example, a vegan in Italy can always find an animal-free pasta dish, even if that comprises of a simple bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce (it’ll be the best damn spaghetti and tomato sauce you’ve ever had, too). A vegan in Italy can always order pizza with tons of veggies and no cheese. A vegan in Italy can always enjoy gelato, since all fruit-based gelatos contain no dairy or eggs. A vegan in Italy can gorge themselves on every type of bread imaginable. A vegan in Italy can always find the freshest of vegetables—grilled, marinated, tossed in green salads, and served with plenty of olive oil. A vegan in Italy can always find olives. What more could you need?

Gabe's first true gelato experience!

Gabe’s first true gelato experience! Mmm, vegan blackberry and rice-based hazelnut.

In addition to the inherently vegan aspects of Italian cuisine, I’ve also noticed a proliferation of uniquely vegan goods and restaurants in Florence. I know of four well-stocked natural foods stores, all of which boast soy/almond/rice/hazelnut milks, soy yogurt, marinated tofu, seitan, vegan mayonnaise, and animal-free pastries. Five all-vegetarian restaurants have done successful business for at least the past four years, one of which has enjoyed a cult following since 1981. Hole-in-the-wall panini shops have begun advertising vegan sandwiches on their outdoor menu displays. Waiters understand the word “vegan” rather than having to interpret my horribly pronounced “Che sono qui senza latte ni carne?” (“Is there anything here without milk or meat?”). Yes, eating animal-free in Florence poses no difficulty for your average vegan traveler.

During the first couple days of our two-week stay in my parents’ Florentine apartment, my travel companion Gabe and I acclimated ourselves to the city in the most effective and enjoyable manner possible: trekking on foot through the cobbled streets. On most of our excursions, we simply stepped out of the apartment and started walking, map in hand but with no plan. The familiarity of Florence and ability to navigate it surprised me; I hadn’t visited the city since the summer of 2011, yet I remembered the streets, shops, and neighborhoods that I’ve known sporadically since infancy. Our walking adventures led us through the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio (the outdoor produce market near my parents’ apartment), to grocery shop at La Raccolta (my favorite natural foods store and macrobiotic restaurant), across the Ponte Vecchio and to the arsty Oltrarno neighborhood (which literally translates to “the other side of the river”), through the Palazzo Pitti and its Giardino di Boboli (the palace-turned-museum and adjoining gardens), and of course through all of the piazzas that form the basis of Florence’s street layout. A more structured adventure took us through the home of Michaelangelo’s family—known as Casa Buonarotti—led by my talented art historian of an aunt.

My parents and cohorts (Gabe and Connor) getting ready to tour Michaelangelo's house.

My parents and cohorts (Gabe and Connor) getting ready to tour Michaelangelo’s house.

Needless to say, throughout our meanderings, Gabe and I reveled in the artful simplicity of Italian cuisine. Below are a couple of favorite eating experiences from our first days in Florence:

Le Vespe Café

Via Ghibellina 76R, Florence, Italy 50125

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This adorable café, clad in painted Florentine tiles and aqua-blue décor, provided haven for my parents when the WiFi in their apartment died for a week. Offering free internet access alongside a selection of organic and vegan-friendly baked goods, smoothies, juices, sandwiches, and salads, Le Vespe Café provides an ideal homey atmosphere in which to while away the hours with spring break schoolwork. Gabe and I have spent a number of our afternoons working in the café, but have only enjoyed a bit of edible fare, including a berry smoothie and a cardamom-cinnamon spiced latte known as Indian Kofi. I hope to return to Le Vespe during the lunch hour to sample their tofu scramble, homemade veggie burger, tofu salad, and vegan red velvet cupcakes.

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Il Pizzaiuolo

Via de Macci 113R, Florence, Italy 50122

My parents stumbled upon this unassuming, wood-fired pizzeria on the first night of their three-month stay in Florence, only to find out later from my aunt that the Florentines regard its pizza as the highest quality pies in the whole city. On the third night of my visit, Gabe and I joined my parents, my aunt, and my 11-year-old cousin to experience the traditional Neopolitan pizza that the city of Florence (apparently) raves about. Though not a vegan establishment in any sense of the word, Il Pizzaiuolo does offer a number of animal-free pasta dishes (one of which my father enjoyed that consisted of spaghetti, tomato-basil sauce, and capers) and veggie-loaded pizzas. Two pizzas on the menu—the Marinara with tomato sauce, oregano, and olive oil; and the Boscaiola with tomato sauce, mushrooms, artichokes, oregano, and basil—are vegan as-is, while even more pizzas lend themselves well to veganization. For example, I opted for the Vegetariana with tomato sauce, eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers and requested no mozzarella cheese, which the waitress happily obliged. Indeed, the Florentines have judged Il Pizzaiuolo correctly—the tender yet crunchy crust, charred flavor from the wood-fired oven, sweet tomato sauce, and succulent veggies all serve to render Il Pizzaiuolo’s namesake items mouthwateringly delicious.

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Vegetariana pizza with eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and arugula.

Bosciaola pizza with mushrooms and artichokes.

Boscaiola pizza with mushrooms and artichokes.

5 e Cinque

Piazza della Passera 1, Florence, Italy 50125

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I frequented the all-vegetarian 5 e Cinque during the summer that I lived with my aunt in Florence three years ago, and excitedly returned with Gabe for lunch while in the city’s Oltrarno neighborhood. Sporting not but five tables (hence the name) in a brightly lit dining room on a small piazza, 5 e Cinque serves a selection of artisanal yet unpretentious vegetarian dishes (many of which are vegan-friendly) and specializes in the thin, crunchy-on-the-outside-creamy-on-the-inside chickpea flour pancakes known in Italy as cecina (and in France as socca). During our lunchtime visit, Gabe and I both started off with a slice each of cecina, hot out of the oven and brought to our table almost immediately after we ordered. While we waited for our entrees, Gabe and I munched on some soft, salted bread for which we didn’t even get charged (Italians have a habit of bringing to your table supposedly free items like water then adding them to the bill without telling you). To follow, I licked clean a pilaf of farro (an ancient wheat berry) and spicy broccoli served over a succulent puree of winter squash, while Gabe reveled in a steamy bowl of curried vegetables served with a scoop of couscous. Impressively delicious and surprisingly inexpensive, 5 e Cinque holds a special place in my heart.

Cecina, hot out of the oven.

Cecina, hot out of the oven.

Ahh, Italian bread...

Ahh, Italian bread…

Spicy farro & broccoli over squash puree.

Spicy farro & broccoli over squash puree.

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Curried veggies with couscous.

Gelateria della Passera

Piazza della Passera 15, Florence, Italy 50125

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Just across the piazza from 5 e Cinque resides a tiny gelateria that offers house-made, artisinally prepared gelatos of unique flavors. To boot, they feature a blackboard of that day’s available flavors, separated into those con latte (with milk) and those senza latte (without milk, vegan, yay!). On any given day, their vegan selections include a number of fruit-based gelatos (that taste like the essence of fruit packaged in a creamy dessert) as well as at least one almond milk-based gelato. On this particular visit to Gelateria della Passera, I opted to try the pera (pear) and carezza (almond milk base with chamomile) flavors; the former boasted tiny flecks of pear skin while the latter held an intense flavor of marzipan. Divine.

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Stay tuned for my next post of Florentine adventures!

Until next time, Ali.

Thanksgiving Adventures in NYC 2013

Fair warning, dear readers—I’m planning a hibernation from the blogosphere from the moment I conclude this post until Saturday, December 21. As the end of the academic semester nears, my studies (read: mountain of essays) require my full attention, and the ol’ blog must fall by the wayside for a bit. Fear not, however, for December 21 marks the beginning of my winter break, during which I plan to return to my thrice-per-week posting routine of yore. Additionally, I’ve let go of a handful of extracurricular commitments for the spring semester, in part to allow for a sustained level of relatively high-frequency blogging. So bear with me for the next three weeks—the end of the academic tunnel shines bright!

Though I’m already anticipating winter break, I actually just returned to campus from a three-day Thanksgiving extravaganza in New York City, accompanied by my dear parents. Last November marked the onset of our family’s current Thanksgiving tradition of celebrating in NYC, and we enthusiastically did so again this year.

Deeply appreciating the irony of enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant whose culture lends absolutely no consideration to the problematic holiday, my parents and I returned to Korean vegan restaurant Hangawi for the second consecutive Thanksgiving. Seated on colorful pillows at sunken wooden tables while not wearing shoes, I reveled in my family’s redefinition of a holiday steeped in the slaughter of over 5 million turkeys, the impending blatant consumerism, and the violent colonialism of American settlers still present today. Instead, Thanksgiving for me now means reuniting with my beloved parents, exploring an ever-exhilarating city, and chowing down on sizzling stone bowls of crispy brown rice and succulent veggies.

hangawi collage

In the above collage encompassing our dinner at Hangawi, the top two photos on the right depict shared appetizers of a plate of tempura-fried kabocha squash, broccoli, eggplant, and carrots (aptly named “Fritters Galore“); and another of shiitake mushroom caps stuffed with what I believe to have been a mixture of sautéed tofu and herbs. Light, crispy, and served with a sweet dipping sauce, the fritters provided a delightful beginning to our meal, while the stuffed mushroom caps served as an intriguing dish bursting with umami flavors. For our entrees, all three of us ordered the sensory experience of a sizzling stone rice bowl—my own Organic Zen Stone Bowl contained crispy brown rice, juicy wilted mountain greens, toothsome mushrooms, and shredded zucchini and carrots in a mild dressing of chili paste. In between mouthfuls of hot rice, we snagged bites of spicy and sour kimchi from a communal plate. Too enamored by the savory portion of our meal to pass up dessert, my parents and I opted to split a slice of spiced soy cheesecake, garnished with slices of fresh persimmon. This cheesecake may constitute the most impressive edible that entered my mouth during my four days in NYC, and my father more than adequately reiterates this sentiment with the following quote: “This cheesecake is easily better than any dairy-based cheesecake I’ve ever had.” Coming from a man who has celebrated his birthday with a cheesecake every year since childhood, I’d call this quite the victory.

The next afternoon, after an enlivening yoga practice at the ideologically vegan studio of Jivamukti, I eagerly introduced my parents to my most recently discovered restaurant gem of M.O.B (check out my rave review of the establishment here). Though rather abbreviated from their dinner menu, M.O.B’s lunch menu still includes their impressive vegan charcuterie in the form of a hearty, chewy crimini mushroom-lentil burger loaded with “secret sauce,” Brooklyn Brine pickles, and cashew cheese on a fluffy sweet potato bun. My father, myself, and my good friend Gabe (a native Brooklynite who met up with my parents and I for lunch) each ordered the burger, while my mother opted for the daily M.O.B.—a flatbread in the shape of the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge heaped with sautéed kale and shiitake mushrooms, horseradish aioli, and shaved nut cheese. M.O.B. also offered a special that day of roasted brussels sprouts in paprika aioli, which my mother and I could not forgo.

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After bidding goodbye to Gabe, my parents and I trekked northward to Williamsburg to experience the unparalleled decadence of Dunwell Doughnuts. I had patronized Dunwell’s on multiple past NYC excursions with Gabe, and brimmed with excitement to introduce my parents to the unquestioned best doughnuts in NYC (not the best vegan doughnuts, mind you; the best doughnuts. Period). Positively captivated by the glass case of fluffy, glazed fried dough, my father ordered six doughnuts for the three of us to enjoy during our remaining few days in the city. My father’s obsession only grew upon first bite of a maple-glazed doughnut, and demanded that we snap multiple photos of our family at the shop to share with his siblings on Facebook (funnily enough, one of my father’s sisters married a man named Dunwell, which only furthered my father’s insistence on photo-taking). Along with the maple-glazed that my father first enjoyed, the varieties of our half-dozen doughnuts included chocolate-glazed with almonds, chocolate-glazed with coconut, and strawberry buttercream-frosted with coconut (otherwise known as the “Pink Lady).

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Plenty of walking around Williamsburg helped us work up another appetite, pointing us toward another favorite family restaurant of Angelica Kitchen for dinner. Forgoing appetizers (except for a small dish of kimchi. You can’t miss Angelica Kitchen’s pickles!) since we knew to expect gigantic entrée portions, my parents and I ordered our main dishes straightaway. My mother opted for the night’s special of a tomatoey lentil stew topped with roasted brussels sprouts and accompanied by steamed greens and pickled vegetables, while my father and I both ordered the “Dish a Dixie”—a new, southern-inspired addition to the menu consisting of grilled tempeh in barbeque sauce, a crispy coleslaw in a creamy almond dressing, steamed greens with maple-glazed pecans, and a generous wedge of maple cornbread with green chilis. While I adored the robust nuttiness of the tempeh (produced by an artisan company in Philadelphia), my father found the flavor too strong, and questioned whether one could truly call the sauce “barbeque,” since he thought that it lacked adequate tanginess. Even if the tempeh did not live up to its full potential, the cornbread—an absolutely perfect balance of moist, dense, fluffy, and bursting with corn flavor—certainly helped to redeem the dish, as did the surprisingly delicious coleslaw.

angelica kitchen

For our final full day in the city, my parents and I ventured to two restaurants that we had never before patronized: Peacefood Café for lunch and V-Note for dinner. I had heard glowing reviews of both eateries from multiple reliable sources, and found myself quite impressed with both. At Peacefood Café, I experienced a craving for a good ol’ salad, and opted to try the Asian Greens Salad—a mix of tender baby greens, crunchy jicama, shredded carrots, and diced tomatoes in a bright, tangy dressing of garlic, ginger, cilantro, ponzu, and sesame, all topped with thin strips of marinated baked tempeh. Paninis caught the eyes of both of my parents. My father—ever infatuated with seitan—ordered the Fried Seitan Medallion Panini with cashew cheese, arugula, tomatoes, and pesto, while my mother—ever infatuated with Mediterranean cuisine—ordered the Mediterranean Oven-Dried Vegetable Panini with cashew cheese, basil-spinach pesto, and tender broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. In between bites of our salads and sandwiches, we munched on a plate of Indian-spiced chickpea fries—crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside—with the creamiest aioli I’ve ever experienced (yes, I licked the aioli dipping bowl clean).

peacefood cafe

Too satisfied from our entrees to consider dessert, we opted not to partake in the many offerings in the bakery case; though, considering the tantalizing variety of sweets, we certainly must return to Peacefood Café in the near future.

peacefood desserts

From upper left continuing clockwise: raw coconut cashew cheesecake topped with pistachios; gluten-free veggie biscuits and iced cinnamon rolls; banana bread; strawberry shortcakes; carrot cake with cream cheese frosting; peanut butter cheesecake (all vegan, of course!).

After lunch, my parents and I moseyed over to Broadway to catch a 3-hour matinee performance of my favorite Shakespeare play—Richard III—before heading to the upper east side for dinner at the vegan wine bar and bistro known as V-Note. V-Note’s atmosphere provides an immediate sense of comfort: cream-colored faux-leather benches line the mahogany walls, fluffy geometrically patterned pillows grace every seat, and candles burn brightly. Seated at the back-most table, my parents and I began scanning the extensive (yet not overwhelming), varied, and unique menu, complete with full sections of starters, salads, entrees, and sides. Though we could have easily created a meal simply by sharing a number of starters (as I’m sure many V-Note patrons do, given its purported status as a tapas-style restaurant), my parents and I decided to split one appetizer and each order entrees, my father seeking to also leave room for dessert.

v-note

We began the meal with the Mushroom Calamari Fra Diavlo—herbed and breaded mushroom rings served with a tangy cocktail dipping sauce and a squeeze of lemon. Though lacking the hearty, “meaty” texture of many robust mushrooms (indeed, I thought the rings proved a bit soggy), the calamari harbored a satisfying slippery texture, a toothsome crunch from the breading, and an unctuous flavor, while I probably could have drank an entire glass of the homemade cocktail sauce. While I found the appetizer a tad lacking on the texture front, I forgot my slight discontent as soon as I took the first bite of my entrée, the Tofu “Salmon” with Mushroom Scallops—a slab of beet-marinated and grilled tofu topped with a dilled leek tartar sauce and shaved fennel over crispy black rice and tender broccolini, served alongside medallions of lobster mushrooms atop a white wine-mushroom reduction. To my immense surprise, the tofu reflected quite accurately the smoky flavor and flaky, charred texture of grilled salmon steaks, especially when coupled with the piquant tartar sauce. Seeing as salmon constitutes the only animal food for which I’ve ever experienced cravings of any sort, this dish left me duly contented (not to mention incredibly close to licking the plate).

As for my parents, Mom ordered the Creamy Three Mushroom Risotto—a mix of shiitake, trumpet, and cremini mushrooms studded with sweet peas in a Dijon mustard sauce—while seitan-loving Dad opted for the Seitan Cordon Bleu—breaded seitan cutlets served with dilled and truffled mashed potatoes, sautéed swiss chard, and a shiitake reduction. Needless to say, both of my folks sang the praises of their respective dishes.

Only my father had tummy space left for dessert, and excitedly partook in the Chocolate Ganache Cake—a three-tiered cube of creamy chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse served alongside a scoop of ice cream. Pure decadence.

While my parents and I had reservations for brunch at Candle 79 the next morning, we had to cancel due to complications to my travel plans because of the train derailment on the Metro-North railroad. Rest assured, I returned to school safely, though the events certainly shook both my parents as well as the greater Vassar community. My heart goes out to the families affected by the accident.

On that rather somber note, dear readers, I bid you farewell for the next three weeks! Wish me luck in scaling my mountain of schoolwork.

Until next time, Ali.

Review of M.O.B. Vegan Restaurant in Brooklyn

Well folks, I’ve failed you yet again—in the midst of my studies, my role as co-president of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC), and my galavanting across southeastern New York, I’ve not made the time to scribe a post to quench your thirst for social justice-infused food prose. However, the aforementioned galavanting has provided me with ample blogging material, as it included a jaunt to my beloved spiritual hometown of New York City. Accompanied by my dear Ferry housemate and native Brooklynite Gabe, I wholeheartedly enjoyed two days of urban frolicking, chock full of yoga, vegan eats, philosophical subway conversations, and the discovery of a revolutionary eatery known as M.O.B.

The day after catching a train from Vassar to NYC and catching up with Gabe’s generous, welcoming family, my Brooklyn buddy and I enjoyed green smoothie-granola breakfast bowls à la Ali before heading to an invigorating class at the activism-imbued yoga studio of Jivamukti. If you’d like a taste of the Jivamukti style, I’d highly recommend downloading a couple of podcasts from top-notch instructor Jessica Stickler. An artful yet unpretentious round of sandwiches and donuts from the Cinnamon Snail food truck nourished our yoga-ed bodies, and I basked in the superbly vegan-positive atmosphere that so contributes to my love of The City.

Tempeh crusted in blue cornmeal & hemp seeds, tomatillo salsa verde, beer-simmered onions, arugula, and chipotle mayo on grilled spelt bread. Oh yes.

Tempeh crusted in blue cornmeal & hemp seeds, tomatillo salsa verde, beer-simmered onions, arugula, and chipotle mayo on grilled spelt bread. Oh yes.

Gabe, meanwhile, savors a pistachio-cardamom donut. Even more yes.

Gabe, meanwhile, savors a pistachio-cardamom donut. Even more yes.

After tea, showers, and lazy reading, Gabe and I had worked up another appetite. Accordingly, I employed my mental arsenal of vegan restaurants of NYC to invoke one near Gabe’s Brooklyn home, and happened upon M.O.B. First popping up on my restaurant radar at The Seed Experience 2013, M.O.B.’s newly launched Brooklyn location received positive reviews from a handful of my fellow NYC vegan venturers, though it has not yet exploded onto the main veg restaurant scene alongside the Candles and Blossoms. However, M.O.B.’s outstanding food quality, creativity, and whimsy undoubtedly deserve a coveted spot in the New York Vegan Restaurant Hall of Fame.

Boasting an acronymic name for “Maimonides of Brooklyn,” M.O.B. buries its roots in the ancient Jewish philosophy of reflection, commitment, and knowing “The Other,” as well as in the following’s emphasis on the healthful combinations of vegetables, fruits, and spices—sounds to me like the basis for a vegan ideology! The brainchild of French-born Cycil Aouizerate, M.O.B. originated in Paris, but drew primary inspiration from Brooklyn’s hip hop scene. Aouizerate sought for M.O.B. to unite all people, regardless of beliefs and lifestyles, over nourishing, compassionate, and scrumptious food. Both of M.O.B.’s locations function as celebrations of Brooklyn’s dynamism, featuring “avant-garde pizzas” in the shape of the Brooklyn Bridge’s arches as the restaurant’s namesake dish, as well as Brooklyn-themed comic books offered to guests along with the menu. M.O.B.’s playfulness extends beyond its comic books: one of the walls of the main dining room sports a plethora of plastic vegetables nailed to wooden plaques bearing such eulogies as, “R.I.P. Mister Tomato—Died for Sauce,” as a satire of the taxidermied heads of hunted animals.

M.O.B.'s complimentary Brooklyn-themed comic book.

M.O.B.’s complimentary Brooklyn-themed comic book.

The comic book not only provides guests with a story of a Brooklyn superhero, but also a board game...

The comic book not only provides guests with a story of a Brooklyn superhero, but also a board game…

...and a poem prompt.

…and a poem prompt.

Not only does M.O.B. offer humor, spunk, and free reading material, it also boasts a well-crafted menu of artfully composed, soul-satisfying vegan dishes. Two Michelin-star chefs and an acclaimed raw food connoisseur united to create a legitimately groundbreaking menu of wholesome, plant-based comfort foods, with specialties of meatless saucissons, sweet potato buns and rolls, corn soup, and (of course) the namesake M.O.B. flatbreads. Since the menu nor the restaurant’s décor nowhere explicitly denotes the restaurant’s complete vegan-ness, unsuspecting (and non-vegan) diners expect the traditional animal-based versions of mac & cheese, burgers, and hot dogs, and become subsequently wowed by the wonderful world of vegan food. I became convinced of the efficacy of this strategy when, on both of my visits to the eatery (one a week after the first), curious patrons hesitated outside of the restaurant’s front door and enthusiastically entered with my slight prodding of, “Oh, this place is great, you’ll love it!”—no mention of veganism involved (the servers would take care of that later).

Even I, aware that M.O.B. was a vegan establishment, felt compelled to double-check with my server that nothing on the Mob Dog Deluxe contained animal foods (better safe than sorry!). With her blessing, I eagerly ordered the loaded hot dog. In between munches of complimentary paper-thin kale chips, Gabe and I talked life, love, and literature before gawking over the colorful plates soon presented to us.

Any restaurant that serves kale chips as appetizers instantly wins my heart.

Any restaurant that serves kale chips as appetizers instantly wins my heart.

As you know, dear readers, I don’t often find myself speechless in reply to food (if I did, my blog would certainly be lacking in content). However, the Mob Dog Deluxe—a carrot-chickpea dog studded with fennel seeds stuffed inside a sweet potato roll and topped with tangy ketchup, spicy mustard, salty Brooklyn Brine sauerkraut, and sour relish—transcended words. One bite of perfectly intermingled flavors dancing over a toothsome, seitan-like chickpea dog evoked in me a rather epiphanal response in which I stared, wide-eyed and longingly, at the dog; locked eyes with Gabe; and turned the dog toward his mouth, needing to share my mind-blogging gastronomic experience with another. The dog produced a similar response in Gabe (remember that he still eats meat occasion), though he regained his vocal capacities faster than I did in order to gasp, “That dog is not just as good as meat-based hot dogs—that dog is better. As in, given the choice between a traditional ballpark hot dog and this vegan one, I would choose the Mob Dog.” Coupled with M.O.B.’s strategy of not advertising their vegan-ness, the eatery’s genius evocation of traditionally meat-based classics harbors the potential to revolutionize the vegan restaurant scene. Indeed, the restaurant prompted me to break my streak of not patronizing eateries twice in a row, calling Gabe and I back for more M.O.B. a week after our first visit.

The Mob Dog--an other-worldly gastronomic experience.

The Mob Dog: an other-worldly gastronomic experience.

The impeccable Mob Dog necessitated my return to M.O.B. a week later in order to enjoy their other "meaty sandwich" offering of the Mob Burger Deluxe--a hearty, chewy crimini mushroom patty topped with secret sauce, Brooklyn Brine pickles, charred onions, tomatoes, smoked eggplant, and lettuce.

The impeccable Mob Dog necessitated my return to M.O.B. a week later in order to enjoy their other “meaty sandwich” offering of the Mob Burger Deluxe–a hearty, chewy crimini mushroom patty topped with smoky & tangy secret sauce, Brooklyn Brine pickles, charred onions, tomatoes, smoked eggplant, and lettuce.

While the Mob Dog & Burger appealed to me more than the M.O.B. flatbreads on both of my visits to the eatery, two of my dining compatriots ordered both M.O.B. options during my two excursions. On our first M.O.B. visit, my dearest Gabe enjoyed the Autumn Glow M.O.B.—a house-baked flatbread made with locally grown and milled organic flours shaped like the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge, spread with black bean puree, paprika-roasted sweet potatoes, grilled corn, and jalapeno sour cream. Gabe’s younger brother Isaiah opted for the Iron Man M.O.B.—a verdant flatbread topped with roasted shiitake mushrooms, sautéed kale, horseradish aioli, and parsley— on our second journey to the eatery. Both Gabe and Isaiah sang the praises of their M.O.B.’s, sweetly offering me fabulous sample bites (though not quite as fabulous as either the Mob Dog or Burger, I must say). The graffiti-style metal plates specially tailored for serving M.O.B. flatbreads further contribute to the restaurant’s playful atmosphere.

Autumn Glow M.O.B.

Autumn Glow M.O.B.

Iron Man M.O.B.

Iron Man M.O.B.

No quality vegan restaurant has ever disappointed me in terms of dessert, and M.O.B.—the increasingly impressive establishment that it is—proved no different. Just as varied, mouthwatering, and well-chosen as M.O.B.’s dinner menu, the dessert selection guarantees a succulent, revelatory conclusion to an already pivotal meal. During both of my visits to the restaurant, I had the pleasure of sampling three of M.O.B.’s four regular desserts, and one special. I first enjoyed the Mob Sundae—two scoops of DF Mavens coconut milk ice cream (a new vegan ice cream company that has burst onto the scene over the past year) in both chocolate and vanilla, topped with a chocolate hard shell, toasted hazelnuts, and citrus-mint whipped cream.

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Gabe, Isaiah, and I opted to split three desserts during our second visit, sharing a Lemon Cheesecake with Blueberry Compote, a Chocolate Hazelnut Torte, and a Peanut Butter Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich (the latter, unfortunately, is unpictured).

The Lemon Cheesecake offered the closest parallel in both dense, creamy texture and rich, tangy flavor as dairy-based cheesecakes that I’ve ever encountered, even sporting the familiar golden-brown exterior of traditional cheesecakes. The blueberry compote, unfortunately, tasted like little more than thawed frozen wild blueberries, but only detracted slightly from the otherwise remarkable dessert.

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The Chocolate Hazelnut Torte harbored a similarly creamy texture, coupled with the classic, genius pairing of hazelnut and chocolate.

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Finally, the Peanut Butter Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich provided a fun, childlike eating experience, what with its slowly melting chocolate ice cream oozing out from the soft, chewy cookies and threatening to drip all over the table at any moment.

Gabe and I first patronized M.O.B. on a bit of a whim, but I could not be more enthused with the outcome of our rather spontaneous restaurant choice. M.O.B. easily ranks among my top four vegan restaurants of all time, along with Vedge in Philadelphia, Angelica Kitchen in New York City, and Garden Café on the Green in Woodstock. I duly look forward to my family’s annual NYC Thanksgiving adventure so that I can introduce my parents to the wonders of M.O.B. Hopefully my Mob Dog cravings over the next six weeks don’t distract me too much…

Until next time, Ali.