DC Restaurant Exploration: Le Pain Quotidien

Though I haven’t featured a restaurant review on the ol’ blog for nearly a month, rest assured, dear readers, that I’ve engaged in some serious DC restaurant-perusing since recounting to you my enjoyable experience at Busboys and Poets. If you recall my list of veg-friendly DC eateries, perhaps the featured restaurant of this post, Le Pain Quotidien, won’t surprise you. Though not a part of my aforementioned list before I arrived in DC, Le Pain Quotidien became a desirable meal destination after I discovered its adorably rustic storefront while first exploring the neighborhood I’ve called home for nearly six weeks now.

Image courtesy of runinout.com

As a young Belgian chef who had worked at a number of highly esteemed restaurants, Alain Coumont fruitlessly sought the perfect bread to feature at his own establishment. Dissatisfied with the quality of bread available in Belgium, Alain decided to open a bakery rather than a restaurant as he had originally intended. The city of Brussels soon became ardent fans of Alain’s sourdough-style levain bread, inspiring the young chef to expand his bakery menu to include pastries, tartines, and simple salads. Today, Alain’s bakery-café has exploded with success, boasting over 185 locations in 17 countries, yet maintains its original integrity by offering simple, high-quality, organic, and wholesome food, as well as by supporting local charities in NYC and LA. Unfortunately, they also proudly sponsor an annual sheep-shearing festival in upstate NY, which I’m sure the sheep involved in the event would not appreciate. Perhaps if I had adequately researched the destinations of LPQ’s finances (as well as their ridiculously high prices, which I’ll cover later) before patronizing one of the DC locations, I would have chosen to enjoy dinner elsewhere.

Oblivious to these two downsides to LPQ, Katie, my fellow intern at Compassion Over Killing, and I ventured to the European-style eatery after a long, rewarding day of leafleting. After seating ourselves at a pleasantly unpolished wooden table and gushing over the fresh simplicity of the menu, impressively vegan-friendly for a European chain restaurant, Katie and I paged through Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook that lay upon one of the long communal tables on which LPQ prides itself.

Image courtesy of runinout.com

Our waitress delivered our dinner selections in a quite timely manner, which I will eternally appreciate considering the alarming volume of my stomach rumblings on this particular evening. Katie and I both began our meals with a salad of impeccably fresh mesclun, surprisingly flavorful tomatoes, crisp cucumber and radish slices, and a small wedge of juicy cantaloupe in an intensely herby vinaigrette.     le pain quotidienSoon after scarfing down our salads, Katie and I each received another colorful plate featuring our respective entrees. Katie opted for the six-vegetable vegan quiche—an almost mosaic-like layering of various vibrant veggies in a gluten-free buckwheat crust and topped with a grilled artichoke heart. While the savory tart packed a delightful punch of flavor, I can’t imagine that the miniscule slice on Katie’s plate adequately filled her hungry tummy. For $12.75, Katie should have received easily triple the amount of quiche than she actually did.

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For my entrée, I chose to partake in one of LPQ’s seasonal specials—a springtime platter of sweet pea hummus, beet tartare, peppery arugula dressed lightly with olive oil, fluffy quinoa, thinly shaved ribbons of carrot and zucchini, and French lentils, all served alongside two slices of LPQ’s famed levain bread. Every component of the dish tasted wonderfully fresh and burst with flavorful simplicity, while the moist sourdough bread provided the perfect vehicle on which to enjoy the spreads featured on the plate. I again, however, must complain about the amount of food I received in relation to the amount I paid for it. Relatively scant portions of each of the dish’s components cost me $13, whereas the infinitely more filling Tempeh Panini and side salad that I enjoyed at Busboys and Poets set me back only $9.

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Though already frustrated at LPQ’s arguably unfair prices, I awarded priority to my still unresolved hunger over my miserliness and ordered two desserts to split with Katie. Surprisingly, LPQ offers a couple of dairy-and-egg-free pastries alongside their more traditional European baked goods, including an apple cannelé, a hazelnut flute, and a cupcake-sized carrot cake. Katie and I opted to sample the carrot cake—a dense yet moist cylinder of not-overly-saccharine cake flecked with brightly orange shreds of carrots and plump raisins, lightly frosted and sprinkled with sunflower seeds.

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Only a scoop of ice cream could have improved the carrot cake, though the creaminess of our second dessert certainly provided adequate contrast to the dense cake. Though listed with the other breakfast items, the “crunola” parfait provided a quite delightful conclusion to our meal. A sweetly tart mash of magenta-hued raspberries layered atop a raw granola of buckwheat, almonds, and raisins begged for Katie and I to mix it into the thick blend of bananas and coconut milk swimming at the bottom of the parfait glass. I quite enjoyed that LPQ didn’t fully puree the bananas and coconut milk together, maintaining a couple lovely chunks of banana in the dessert.

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All in all, I happily savored LPQ’s fresh, light, and simple fare, but don’t plan on returning to the eatery in the near future due to its stingy portion sizes and astronomically high prices; indeed, I spent nearly $30 on a meal that just barely filled my growling belly. Lesson learned: don’t trust the Europeans (JUST KIDDING!).

Next up on my DC restaurant exploration list: Founding Farmers.

Until next time, Ali.

DC Restaurant Exploration: Busboys and Poets

Checking another restaurant off of my list of vegan-friendly DC eateries, I had the pleasure of dining last week at the indie-acclaimed Busboys and Poets. Immediately upon learning the story behind the social justice-imbued restaurant, I eagerly awaited the chance to patronize it. The brainchild of prominent Iraqi-American peace activist, artist, and restaurateur Anas “Andy” Shallal, Busboys and Poets functions as a community gathering space that works to foster racial and cultural connections, a popular spoken-word poetry venue, a progressively minded bookstore, a gallery for thought-provoking art, and a scrumptiously veg-friendly restaurant. Indeed, I wouldn’t expect any less of a socially conscious establishment from the co-founder of the pre-2003 invasion group Iraqi-Americans for Peaceful Alternatives, Peace Fellow with Seeds of Peace, member of the board of trustees for the liberal think tank The Institute for Policy Studies, and recipient of the United Nations Human Rights Community Award.

With the Peace Café program—the largest Arab-Jewish dialogue group in the DC area—Shallal continues his advocacy for conflict resolution in the Middle East through Busboys and Poets. However, Shallal does not limit the activist reach of Busboys and Poets to focus solely on Middle Eastern conflict; the restaurant also offers events centered on workers’ rights, racial equality, and issues related to the LGBTQ community. Almost expectedly, Busboys and Poets donates over 15% of its annual earnings to various non-profit organizations—for example, all proceeds from book sales go directly to Teaching for Change, which seeks to create social justice curriculum in schools—and harbors an eye toward environmental sustainability with their initiatives on recycling, fair- and direct-trade, and organic food, as well as their boycotting of Canada’s seal hunt. So, um, yeah, Busboys and Poets is a pretty cool place.

Moby speaking at Busboys and Poets on his book “Gristle.”

To those of us who recognize the intersectionality between animal rights and numerous other social justice movements—such as how oppressing one group of beings desensitizes us toward oppressing other groups—it would make sense for Busboys and Poets to offer completely vegan fare. However, the restaurant sadly abides by the “humane meat” myth, advertising their “sustainable seafood” (which doesn’t actually exist), and their “grass-fed, free-range beef” (which is still slaughtered at an early age and is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale from global to local“). Fortunately, Busboys and Poets offers a slew of tantalizing animal-free menu items, attracting plenty of vegans to the restaurant, both as customers and workers (my waitress happily revealed her veganism after I inquired as to the tastiest veg options).

Busboys and Poets dining room.

Busboys and Poets dining room.

Accompanied by a longtime DC resident, spoken-word poet, and fellow vegan, I began my first Busboys and Poets experience with an extreme sense of welcoming thanks to the restaurant’s casual décor, complete with murals and plushy couches that double as dining room chairs. Overwhelmed by the bounty of mouthwatering dishes on the menu, my dinner mate Emily and I agreed to split an appetizer, as well as to order sandwiches which we would halve and share. Though the Vegan Nachos proved quite tempting, after Emily informed me of their generous portion size, I decided to wait until my return visit to B&P to sample them as my entrée. On this particular occasion, Emily and I instead opted for the Coconut Tofu Bites as our appetizer—silky smooth tofu nuggets enveloped by an impeccably crispy and subtly sweet coating of shredded toasted coconut. Served atop a sticky and slightly sour yet succulent yellow plum sauce, the tofu bites definitely constituted the highlight of our meal. Normally, I would say something to the effect of, “I fully intend to recreate these in my own kitchen,” but in the case of these tofu bites, I can guarantee that I would experience hopeless disappointment in attempting to do so—the folks at B&P have truly perfected this dish.

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While the rest of our dinner sadly did not compare to the paragon of lusciousness otherwise known as the Coconut Tofu Bites, Emily and I enjoyed our festival of sandwich-sharing, nonetheless. Emily ordered the Vegan Tuna Salad Sandwich—a mash of chickpeas, sweet pickle relish, nori seaweed bits, diced celery, red onion, yellow mustard, and vegan mayonnaise served on toasted French bread with lettuce and tomato. I frequently whip up fishless tuna salads with mashed chickpeas, avocado, and dulse seaweed flakes, and I unfortunately must say that I much prefer my own version of the dish. Harboring an overly liquefied textured with a complete absence of chunky goodness, as well as an overpowering flavor of mustard, the salad itself proved unimpressive, while the bread that sandwiched it lacked substance on the inside and supplied too much crustiness on the outside. Certainly, the sandwich did not taste bad, but I tend to become rather critical of and annoyed with restaurant dishes that I could have easily created at home with more success.

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Happily, the sandwich I ordered offered Emily and I more gastronomic pleasure that did the Vegan Tuna Salad. B&P’s Tempeh Panini boasts thin slices of juicy tempeh complimented by succulent caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, nicely wilted arugula, and vegan mayonnaise, all sandwiched between two slices of hearty, seeded, whole-grain bread. The only criticism I harbor with this dish stems from my experience as a seasoned veteran of cooking up delectable tempeh bacon (if you’d like the tastiest tempeh recipe on the planet, please follow this link). Though the tempeh held a quite pleasing, chewy, and (dare I say) meaty texture, I found it’s flavor a bit lacking in depth, with a distinct note of soy sauce predominating. On a rather nitpicky side note (haha, puns!), I also would have preferred that my side salad come a bit more well-dressed.

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Emily and I opted to forgo dessert on this particular night, but B&P does offer a tantalizing selection of vegan treats, including an out-of-this-world cheesecake, as highly recommended by our waitress.

Vegan cheesecake. Photo borrowed from the B&P website.

All in all, I found quite delightful my first encounter with the truly progressive, trailblazing, and unique establishment of Busboys and Poets. I wholeheartedly intend to pay the B&P team another couple of visits, both to enjoy their community poetry nights and to sample more of their yummy vegan fare—pan-seared basil tofu with quinoa, roasted vegetables, and tomato cream sauce, anyone?

The next restaurant on my list of veg-friendly DC eateries: Le Pain Quotidien.

Until next time, Ali.

DC Restaurant Exploration: Sticky Fingers & Sticky Rice

Ranking sixth among the U.S. cities that boast the greatest number of vegetarian restaurants, my summer home of Washington D.C. proves a bit overwhelming (in the best way possible) when one attempts to navigate through the plethora of veg eateries located within its limits. Indeed, before arriving in D.C. I had created a list of 20+ veg-friendly restaurants to possibly visit during my 12 weeks in the city, but that list has easily doubled after my modest explorations of the nation’s capital. Though doing so caused me and my gastronomic enthusiasm much sorrow, I managed to narrow down my expansive restaurant list to a mere 12—one for each week of my stay in D.C.

As it currently stands, I intend to patronize the following 12 establishments while in Washington:

Sticky Fingers

Sticky Rice

Busboys and Poets

Le Pain Quotidien

Mark’s Kitchen

Elizabeth’s Gone Raw

Everlasting Life Café

Senbeb Café

SweetGreen

Sweet and Natural

Ethiopic

Freshii

While I’ll say no more of the last ten restaurants on my list, I’d love to regale to you my experiences at the first two, both of which coincidentally appear quite proud of their…stickiness? Regardless of the eateries’ viscosities, both of their fare proved fresh, thoughtfully prepared, and quite tasty.

Considering Sticky Fingers’ titles of Best Bakery in D.C. 2013 and Silver Medalist for Favorite Vegan Bakery in VegNews’ 2012 Veggie Awards, its two victories on the Food Network’s hit show Cupcake Wars, its successful cookbook, and its band of 11-year-long devoted patrons, it seems only fitting that I visit the acclaimed, 100% vegan bakery and café on my first D.C. dining excursion. Just two days after moving into my D.C. apartment and one day before beginning my internship with Compassion Over Killing, I met Erica Meier—director of COK and my boss for the summer—at Sticky Fingers for a get-to-know-you/welcome-to-the-city lunch. Erica chose our brunch destination quite wisely, for immediately upon entering the 1950’s-style interior of the café and unexpectedly spotting the familiar vegan, fair-trade chocolate bars from the New Paltz-based Lagusta’s Luscious, I felt snugly at home.

Sticky Fingers storefont.

Sticky Fingers storefont.

1950's stovetop functions as Sticky's condiment bar.

1950’s stovetop functions as Sticky’s condiment bar.

So happy to see Lagusta's chocolates popping up in DC!

So happy to see Lagusta’s chocolates popping up in DC!

Though the various cupcakes, muffins, and Sticky Buns featured in the store’s glass display case looked quite mouthwatering, Erica and I agreed that neither of our bodies would respond well to their high succulence levels at the early hour in the day. Instead, we both chose to partake in much more savory menu options; I ordered the Hummus Wrap and a side salad with creamy ranch dressing while Erica opted for the Breakfast Burrito. Bursting with perfectly fresh baby spinach, shredded carrots, dilly cucumbers, avocado slices, garlicky hummus, and olive tapenade, the Hummus Wrap expertly married bold, unctuous flavors with refreshing, crisp veggies inside a pleasantly chewy gluten-free tortilla. While the rather wilted lettuce beneath the veggies on my side salad disappointed me, the silky-smooth herbed ranch dressing served alongside the salad provided sufficient atonement. Unfortunately, I failed to snap a photo of Erica’s Breakfast Burrito, but I can attest that the whole-grain tortilla fat with Daiya-cheesy tofu scramble, black beans, tomato, and spinach looked absolutely scrumptious—so much so that I may just have to pay a second visit to Sticky Fingers to partake in the burrito party myself.

Strawberry Margarita, Coconut, and Carrot Cake cupcakes.

Strawberry Margarita, Coconut, and Carrot Cake cupcakes.

The infamous Sticky Buns!

The infamous Sticky Buns!

Hummus Wrap.

Hummus Wrap.

Side salad with magical ranch dressing.

Side salad with magical ranch dressing.

Before returning to Sticky Fingers, however, I had to sample the next restaurant on my 12-week tour of D.C.’s (hopefully) finest veg-friendly eating establishments—Sticky Rice. Though not a vegan restaurant by any means, the modern Asian fusion joint offers a plethora of specially marked vegan menu options, including creative sushi rolls and noodle bowls overflowing with veggies and plant-based proteins. I ventured to Sticky Rice for dinner with my fellow COK intern and vegan Katie, happily greeted by a hip, edgy restaurant interior and a top-notch musical selection (can you say 80’s pop hits from the Eurythmics and Depeche Mode?).

Katie showing off the Sticky Rice décor.

Katie showing off the Sticky Rice décor.

Behind the Sticky Rice bar.

Behind the Sticky Rice bar.

Opting to split a sushi roll as an appetizer before enjoying our respective entrees, Katie and I began our meal with the Garden Balls—spicy rice stuffed into an inari pocket, tempura fried, and drizzled with “eel” sauce (eel refers only to the name of the sauce, not the contents of it). While the menu advertised the Garden Balls as containing shiitake mushrooms, red pepper, and cilantro along with the rice, Katie and I could find no such veggies of which to speak, much to our disappointment. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the roll’s textural contrast of chewy rice and crispy coating, as well as the sauce’s succulent tanginess. After the small Garden Ball let-down, however, I do wish that Katie and I had ordered the Veggie Tempura Plate—complete with asparagus, sweet potato, onion, broccoli, pineapple, and ponzu dipping sauce—as our appetizer instead of the roll.

Garden Balls.

Garden Balls.

While our appetizer left me less than enthused about Sticky Rice, our entrees certainly redeemed my opinion of the restaurant. Katie and I both ordered soba noodle bowls; I opted for the “Dirty Vegan” while Katie partook in the Mock Chicken Teriyaki. A mouthwatering mess of soba noodles, tender broccoli, succulent red bell pepper, caramelized onion, chewy edamame, and juicy fried tofu chunks slathered in peanut-coconut sauce and topped with mung bean sprouts, the Dirty Vegan provided a spicy, wonderfully filling, and surprisingly fun-to-eat meal that I fully intend to recreate in my own kitchen. Katie responded just as enthusiastically to her Mock Chicken Teriyaki noodle bowl, which contained the same blend of veggies as my entrée, but instead featured a tangy teriyaki sauce and crispy seitan strips.

The "Dirty Vegan" noodle bowl.

The “Dirty Vegan” noodle bowl.

The Mock Chicken Teriyaki noodle bowl.

The Mock Chicken Teriyaki noodle bowl.

Despite the disappointing mislabeling of the Garden Balls and the rather slow service, our Sticky Rice experience proved quite enjoyable, reasonably priced, and inarguably delicious. I would happily return to the eatery to partake in their Veggie Tempura and other vegan sushi roll offerings…if I hadn’t already committed to visiting ten other veg-friendly restaurants in the D.C. area during my stay in the city. Next on the list: Busboys and Poets!

Until next time, Ali.

Brooklyn-Bound: Champs Family Diner & Dun-Well Doughnuts

As a congratulatory gift to myself for successfully completing my first year as a student at Vassar College, I planned one last pre-fall semester jaunt down to New York City—well, to Brooklyn, more exactly. Though a live show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg by my all-time favorite band Of Montreal provided the trip’s impetus, I undoubtedly managed to integrate a scrumptious sampling of Brooklyn’s finest vegan offerings into my 24-hour journey, shared with my fellow Ferry House member and native Brooklynite Gabe. After jumping wildly about to Of Montreal’s eclectic musical majesty, trekking southward to Gabe’s brownstone home, and promptly collapsing on his living room couch, Gabe and I awoke eager to explore Brooklyn’s vegan scene.

Gabe and I began our culinary expeditions at Champs Family Diner—a lively 50’s-style diner and bakery that boasts seitan Philly cheesesteaks and tofu-scramble-and-chili-topped French toast alongside green juices and raw kale salads (all vegan, of course!). Clearly, the eatery offers compassionate cuisine suited for all dietary preferences and moods (including gluten-free), and its constant flow of customers speaks to its skill in doing so. Not only does Champs serve its impeccably fresh and filling breakfast fare all day everyday, it also hosts a themed three-course prix-fixe dinner and movie screening every last Sunday of the month. For example, this January saw a Spanish-themed “Drive-In/Dine-In” that featured vegan churros with chocolate and ice cream, soy ham croquettes, and paella with soyrizo, chik’n, and prawns during a screening of Pan’s Labyrinth. How’s that for an unassuming neighborhood diner? With VegNews’ recommendation of Champs as one of Williamsburg’s nine hottest vegan-friendly eateries, Gabe and I determinedly paid a visit to the acclaimed restaurant.

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Seated at the bar among classic metal-paneled walls, black-and-white checkerboard napkins, and soda fountain spigots, Gabe and I launched our hungry selves into an excited analysis of the Champs menu. Both of us opted to order from the all-day breakfast section, choosing the Awesome Bowl and the Belgian Waffle Breakfast (gluten-free, if you can believe it!), respectively.

Gabe’s Awesome Bowl featured a mildly spiced mix of quinoa, scrambled tofu, roasted potatoes, sautéed bell peppers, and leafy greens in a generously sized cereal bowl. After the woman behind the counter informed us that the Awesome Bowl comprised one of Champs’ most frequently ordered menu items, Gabe held high expectations of the dish, yet experienced no disappointment. Hearty, nutrient-packed, and boasting a medley of complementary flavors and textures (succulent peppers, chewy browned tofu, crusty potatoes, garlicky greens), the Awesome Bowl provided ideal brunch fare for my health-minded and large-appetited (just pretend this is a real adjective) buddy.

Awesome Bowl.

Awesome Bowl.

Beckoned to by the golden, baseball-sized baked goods showcased ‘neath a countertop glass display case, Gabe also partook in one of Champs’ Cornbread Muffins. Unfortunately, the muffins contained gluten, hindering me from sampling them, but Gabe assured me of their moist sweetness studded with flecks of fresh corn.

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As for myself, after glimpsing the words “gluten-free Belgian waffles,” I required no further consideration of the Champs menu. As an avid proponent of savory waffles, I felt an immediate, passionate connection with Champs’ Belgian Waffle Breakfast—a fluffy gluten-free waffle served alongside a perfectly browned tofu scramble, two capacious triangles of spiced tempeh, and a pile of garlic-sautéed leafy greens. Garnished with a liberal drizzle of maple syrup, the dish nourished both my body and spirit, especially after an exhilarating yet exhausting night of ecstatic rollicking.

Belgian Waffle Breakfast

Belgian Waffle Breakfast

Bellies contentedly full of highest-quality vegan noms, Gabe and I set out yet again for a quick walk to Dun-well Doughnutsthe vegan doughnut shop widely touted to offer the best doughnuts this side of the Mississippi River, if not around the globe. The brainchild of college companions Christopher Hollowell and Dan Dunbar, Dun-well Doughnuts began with a craving of Christopher’s for the ideal vegan doughnut, unsatisfied by other animal-free fried-and-glazed dough in NYC. On a mission “to be the premiere vegan doughnut shop on planet Earth and reverently carry on the tradition of doughnut making in a manner that is both innovative and ethical,” Dan and Christopher now craft over 200 varieties of organic, artisanal, and compassionate doughnuts, baked fresh twice daily. In 2012, Dan and Christopher’s realized vision earned the title of New York City’s Best Doughnuts by the Daily News—not the best vegan doughnuts, mind you, but the best doughnuts period. Tell that to your naïve friends when they once again ask what on earth vegans eat.

Dun-well Doughnuts Interior

Dun-well Doughnuts Interior

I had long intended to visit Dun-well Doughnuts, but unforeseen circumstances during my spring break in March hindered me from engaging in the vegan bucket list item of biting into one of the shop’s creations…until now. After building up such anticipation of the perfect doughnut experience, I required a couple calming deep breaths and a decisive “It’s time” from Gabe before entering the Dun-well storefront. Upon opening the shop’s door, a mouthwatering aroma of freshly baked sweet bread flooded over us, only adding to my blissful state.

Before I continue my fairytale of fried dough any further, I must acknowledge that yes, Dun-well Doughnuts do indeed contain gluten. While I maintain a gluten-free diet the vast majority of the time, I find that small amounts of gluten on very seldom occasions do not majorly agitate my digestion. However, continued consumption of glutinous substances does condemn my tummy to an unhappy state, so I will not partake in my next encounter with gluten for a good long while after this glorious doughnut experience.

Though on the day of our visit the Dun-well shop did not offer the mouthwatering flavors I had most looked forward to sampling (Rose with Dark Lavender, Caramel Popcorn, Peach Mango, Raspberry Pistachio, Green Tea, Lychee, Sweet Potato Pie, and Tangerine Basil, to name a few), the fresh doughnut case still boasted a wide array of tantalizing fried yumminess. Gabe and I opted to purchase a dozen mixed doughnuts of the following varieties (starting in the upper-left hand corner and snaking around to the bottom-left): Strawberry Cream (2), Peanut Butter & Jelly (2), Sugar Cookie (1), Cinnamon Sugar (2), Lemon (1), Blueberry (1), Jelly-Filled (1), and Toasted Coconut (3). For myself, I saved the Strawberry Creams, one Peanut Butter & Jelly, the lemon, and the blueberry, while Gabe shared the remaining doughnuts between himself and a couple of our Ferry housemates.

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The Lemon and Blueberry doughnuts both boasted a flavored glaze over a pillowy, tender, magnificently delicate round of fried wonder—two truly impressive specimens. However, the Dun-well team showcased their doughnut-making prowess with the Strawberry Creams and Peanut Butter & Jellies. Denser and cakier than the other doughnut varieties and featuring a thick layer of silky strawberry frosting, the Strawberry Creams reminded me more of whoopie pies than of traditional doughnuts. But hey, I’m not picky about this disparity as long as the doughnuts taste good; and damn, they did. I must, though, crown the Peanut Butter & Jellies as the kings of the Dun-well Doughnut universe (at least, the section of the universe I had the pleasure of exploring on this particular visit). Glazed in an unctuous peanut butter frosting and filled with an oozy, generously sized blob of strawberry jelly, these doughnuts laughed in the face of the humble PB&J sandwich, seeing it and raising it a million in their game of delectable poker. So, uh, yeah, I liked them.

Not only do the Dun-well boys stuff their shop with top-notch doughnuts creations, they also cram it full of vegan literature and wall décor supporting various animal rights organizations. For example, their bookshelf boasts such books as James McWilliams’ “Just Food,” Woodstock Farm Sanctuary founder Jenny Brown’s “The Lucky Ones,” and the tome of vegan nutrition “Becoming Vegan,” while their wall features a hand-painted wooden plaque celebrating Mercy for Animals. Clearly, the Dun-well Doughnut team dedicates itself not only to crafting artisan, animal-free pastries, but also to spreading the message of compassionate living.

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Even the Dun-well Doughnut tip jar partakes in animal advocacy.

Even the Dun-well Doughnut tip jar partakes in animal advocacy.

Though I always find it difficult to say goodbye to New York City, it proved particularly painful to do so in this instance seeing as my summer will not feature any trips to the Big Apple, for as I scribe this blog post, I sit in my Washington D.C. apartment eager to begin my 12-week internship with Compassion Over Killing. You can certainly bet that the ol’ blog will feature plenty of narratives recounting my adventures of animal activism in the nation’s capital, but we’ll have to save that until I’ve spent more than a single day in the city.

Until next time, Ali.

A Veg-anza in New Paltz

Last weekend, instead of taking the train into New York City to see my beloved mother (and now fellow vegan!), I invited her up to Poughkeepsie in honor of Vassar’s annual spring Families Weekend. While we did not engage in any of the (thrilling, I’m sure) planned campus activities, my mother and I enjoyed ourselves immensely by paying a visit to the adorable gem of a town known as New Paltz. A mere 30-minute drive from Poughkeepsie, New Paltz functions essentially as a much more thriving, hipper city than the 18th most miserable city in America that Vassar calls home (sigh). In keeping with the town’s hip young atmosphere, New Paltz boasts an all-vegan cafe, a vegan fair-trade chocolate shop, a quaint health foods co-op, plenty of vegan items on many restaurant menus, and a grand slew of unique handmade jewelry stores, clothing boutiques, and antique shops. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly wish that I could gather up the Vassar campus and relocate it to New Paltz, but as that seems rather impossible, I’ll settle for weekend visits to the happy little town.

Upon first arriving in New Paltz, my mother and I sought lunch at a traditional Japanese restaraunt called Gomen Kudasai. The noodle shop features an entire vegan menu, as well as plenty of gluten-free items, including mung bean thread and yam noodles. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to experience the full extent of Gomen Kudasai’s offerings, as the restaurant only offered their brunch menu during our visit. Regardless, my mother and I found plenty of vegan options, as specially denoted by helpful symbols on the menu. We began our meal with a complimentary bowl of always-satisfying salted edamame, followed by a simple and elegant triangular prism of brown rice and seaweed known as onigiri. For her entree, my mother opted for a stir-fry of udon noodles, chewy browned tofu, and succulent vegetables in a delightful gingery sauce. As for myself, I ordered an incredibly comforting bowl of kaki ten soup with gluten-free noodles, which comprised of slippery, chewy, semi-transparent noodles and crispy shredded veggies in an unctuous umami broth. All of Gomen Kudasai’s fare tasted fresh, simple, and quite thoughtfully prepared, though it did verge on the overly salty side.

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After contentedly filling ourselves with noodles and other Japanese goodies, my mother and I set out on the gorgeously sunny day to explore the town of New Paltz. Our ventures brought us first to the much-acclaimed Lagusta’s Luscious—a vegan artisanal chocolate shop with a commitment to social justice, environmentalism, and animal rights. Indeed, the lovely and hugely talented ladies at Lagusta’s source all of their ingredients from small farms and producers in and around New Paltz, package all of their chocolates in 100% post-consumer recycled paper boxes and packing materials, use only fairly traded chocolate certified not produced with child/slave labor, and often donate to various worthy causes including animal sanctuaries and feminist organizations. The shop’s proprietor, Lagusta Yearwood, also just contributed an insightful and inspiring essay to the Defiant Daughters anthology entitled “Eat Chocolate, Have Faith in Women,” which she read at the book’s launch at Bluestockings Bookstore in NYC, where I had the honor of meeting and chatting with her.

The Lagusta's Luscious storefront.

The Lagusta’s Luscious storefront.

Greeted by my favorite professor’s wife, who works at Lagusta’s Luscious and refers to me as her “vegan sister,” my mother and I gazed in awe at the tantalizing and uniquely flavored chocolate truffles and bars lining the blue-and-brown walls of the tiny shop. Yearning to spoil me after not seeing me since spring break (that’s my mother for ya), my mother eagerly gifted me an eight-piece box of assorted chocolate truffles, a smoky corn-on-the-cob chocolate bar, and a block of Lagusta’s housemade chickpea-kidney bean tempeh (I know, right?). From the glass-plated truffle case, I chose to include in my assorted chocolate box a Rosemary Sea Salt Caramel, a Sea Salt Shiitake Truffle, a Caramelized Onion and Chipotle Truffle, a Coriander-Beet Truffle, a Fennel-Apple Truffle, a Grapefruit Cream, a Macadamia Maui Vanilla Cream with Chamomile, and a Raspberry Balsamic Truffle. Um, can you say heaven on earth?

Every spice imaginable to inject oodles of flavor in Lagusta's decadent chocolate.

Every spice imaginable to inject oodles of flavor in Lagusta’s decadent chocolate.

The April 2013 Chocolate-of-the-Month: a vegan "bacon" bar filled with shiitake-miso-yuba caramel.

The April 2013 Chocolate-of-the-Month: a vegan “bacon” bar filled with shiitake-miso-yuba caramel.

Two chocolate barks: a Sea Salt and Almond Slate, and a Fig and Fennel Bark.

Two chocolate barks: a Sea Salt and Almond Slate, and a Fig and Fennel Bark.

My very own box of chocolate truffles.

My very own box of chocolate truffles.

Homemade chickpea-kidney bean tempeh.

Homemade chickpea-kidney bean tempeh.

After bading goodbye to Lagusta’s rather magical shop, my mother and I meandered around New Paltz for the better part of the afternoon, peeking inside and browsing nearly every quaint little storefront in the small town, including a shop called Scarborough Fair that specialized in artisan infused oils and vinegars. There, my mother insisted upon buying me a 4-oz bottle each of avocado oil and pomegranate balsamic vinegar (hey, I’m not complaining), but they also boasted other intriguing varieties like porcini mushroom extra virgin olive oil and fig balsamic vinegar. I hope to experiment with the avocado oil and pomegranate balsamic to produce a couple winning recipes for the blog in the near future, so keep an eye out for those.

Oil and vinegar jugs at Scarborough Fair.

Oil and vinegar jugs at Scarborough Fair.

Our wandering also brought my mother and me to Inquiring Minds—an independent bookstore that, incidentally, will host a reading by three contributors to the Defiant Daughters anthology, including Lagusta Yearwood herself, this Saturday at 7pm (stop by if you’re in the area!). Inside the bookstore, I excitedly discovered an entire display table devoted to vegan cookbooks and animal rights literature, including the cult classic The Sexual Politics of Meat by vegan pioneer Carol Adams. With her feminist background and newfound veganism, my mother immediately became enthralled with the book’s cover and premise. After purchasing the book, my mother and I agreed that I would read it first while at Vassar, hand it off to her when she comes to help me relocate to D.C. for the summer, and discuss the book’s still groundbreaking ideas once we had both finished reading it. I can’t wait to start paging through the book that has enlightened so many individuals to the unavoidable intersections of veganism and feminism.

Vegan & animal rights display table at Inquiring Minds bookstore.

Vegan & animal rights display table at Inquiring Minds bookstore.

I planned on accompanying my mother back to New York City to spend Sunday with both of my parents, so before departing from New Paltz, my mother and I picked up a dinner to enjoy on the train ride home at organic and local vegan deli, bakery, juice & smoothie bar Karma Road. Though I didn’t obtain photos of the actual food that my mother and I ordered (snapping pictures on moving trains does not translate to quality photography), I did document the deli case, which boasted gluten-free veggie burgers, coleslaw, kale pizza with Daiya cheese, mixed vegetable curry, braised greens, and spelt sweet potato biscuits among other offerings. For our to-go dinners, my mother ordered a hummus wrap and a small portion of coleslaw from the deli case, while I chose the Karma Combo salad—kale, sunflower sprouts, carrot, celery, tomato, and roasted peppers in a tahini dressing—accompanied by two logs of hearty and sweet apple juice-glazed tempeh. Followed by a piece each of my smoky corn-on-the-cob chocolate bar, our meal from Karma Road provided immense satisfaction on the train ride to NYC.

new paltz (26)

new paltz (1)

As my mother and I strolled around New Paltz, we discussed the pervasive feeling of great clarity achieved after adopting a vegan lifestyle, the abhorrently corrupt nature of the meat-industrial complex and food corporations, and cruelty-free cosmetic brands. I never could have fathomed that my own mother of all people would find herself caught up in the same issues that I hold near and dear to my heart, and feel so unbelievably greatful to now call my mother an ally in the vegan movement. To those individuals feeling frustrated with their own family members who haven’t yet found their vegan calling, I’d encourage you not to lose hope, to always speak to those family members with patience, kindness, and compassion, and to continue to embody your own values in your everyday life. Even if your loved ones don’t adopt a vegan lifestyle in this lifetime, you can rest confident that you at least shifted their consciousness, if just a smidgen, to a more compassionate mode of existence. At the end of the day, I’d call that successful advocacy.

Until next time, Ali.

Austin Extravaganza, Day 4: Daily Juice, Sweet Ritual, & the Wheatsville Co-op

Aware that the conclusion of my Austin adventure would pass the next morning, I resolved to take full advantage of my final day in the southern gem of a city by indulging in vegan soft-serve sundaes at Sweet Ritual and sampling the animal-product-free portion of Austin’s famed taco culture. Ashley and I intended to accomplish the latter endeavor at The Vegan Nom—an electric-blue food truck self-described as “Austin’s first vegan taco hub” specializing in breakfast and regular tacos loaded with tofu scrambles, caramelized veggies, alfalfa sprouts, avocados, plant-based meats, refried beans, and non-dairy cheeses. However, after waiting for a bus that arrived over 30 minutes late, trekking down a rather godforsaken street, and all the while nursing a grumbling tummy, we reached a very not-open Vegan Nom only to discover the owner preparing to take the truck in for inspection. Short story: no tacos for Ali and Ashley.

Disappointed, irritated, and ravenous, Ashley and I frantically searched HappyCow.net on her iPhone, desperately hoping for a vegan restaurant within walking distance. Thankfully, we discovered that dining at Mother’s Cafe and Garden—a vegetarian restaurant boasting standard café-style fare as well as enchiladas—would require only a couple block’s walk. However, as we approached the intersection of Duval and 45th Streets, a mere two blocks away from Mother’s, Ashley and I stumbled upon an adorable eatery called Daily Juice located in a refurbished gas station and offering nourishing vegan eats alongside raw entrees, desserts, and green juices. Lo and behold, the cozy sunlight establishment also housed Sweet Ritual, the vegan soft-serve joint that Ashley and I had planned to patronize since day one of my arrival to Austin. Clearly, the universe decided to smile upon Ashley and I after throwing us a curveball of a morning.

Never one to pass up a gourmet raw meal, I ordered from the uncooked portion of the Daily Juice menu, opting for the Raw Enchilada—a tomato “tortilla” rolled around a kale salad with sesame seeds and Bragg’s liquid aminos, smothered in cashew queso and topped with red bell peppers and alfalfa sprouts. Tempted by the raw dessert case while waiting for my entree, I decided to immediately satisfy my hunger with a chocolate-walnut truffle cup topped with a mixture of goji berries and coconut. Gorgeously dense, silky smooth chocolate encased crunchy walnuts and provided a decadent base for the fruity, chewy topping to culminate in an extravaganza of bittersweet gastronomic luxury. So, like, yeah, the truffle was okay. As for the enchilada, each of its components offered a lovely fresh flavor, though the massaged kale filling felt a bit ersatz without a more hearty accompaniment inside the tortilla—perhaps some spiced ground walnut meat?

Raw chocolate-covered strawberries with walnuts and coconut in Daily Juice’s dessert case.

Goji chocolate truffle cups.

YUM.

Raw Enchilada.

Ashley fell for the Avocado Wrap—a spinach tortilla folded around a generous amount of avocado, mixed salad greens, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, and onions. Both overly excited and overly hungry, Ashley began to devour the wrap before I could even snap a photo (hence the teeth marks in the picture below).

After returning to Ashley’s apartment and working up another appetite, Ashley and I commissioned her skeptical-of-veganism boyfriend to drive us back to the Daily Juice location for vegan ice cream sundaes at Sweet Ritual. The shoppe’s hard-pack case offered such tantalizing flavors as lavender blossom blueberry, salted caramel, and raspberry chocolate, while the sundae menu included Rocky Road (chocolate sauce, Dandie’s marshmallows, and pecans), Dirt and Worms (oreos and gummy worms), Faux Butterfinger (Chick-o-Stix and chocolate sauce), and Glitterbeast (salted caramel sauce, strawberry sauce, and edible glitter). Seduced by the lavender blossom blueberry and salted caramel ice creams, I opted for one scoop of each flavor topped with toasted coconut, while Ashley (after much deliberation) ordered the Turtle Sundae—vanilla soft-serve drizzled in chocolate sauce and sprinkled with pecans (no photo, many apologies!). Somewhat begrudgingly, Ashley’s boyfriend tested the waters of vegan desserts with the sundae of the day—salted caramel ice cream drizzled with peanut butter hard-shell, salted peanuts, and chocolate-covered cookies. Needless to say, all three of us immensely enjoyed the creamy, animal-cruelty-free deliciousness. What better way to showcase the pleasures of a vegan lifestyle to cynics than with plant-based ice cream? Effective and yummy, I must say.

Lavender Blossom Blueberry and Salted Caramel ice creams topped with toasted coconut.

Sundae of the Day.

I mentioned in my Austin Extravaganza, Day 3 post an absolutely magical place known as the Wheatsville Co-op. Enamored with the vast array of vegan & gluten-free baked goods; the hot foods bar rife with vegan options, the entire half-aisle devoted to raw foods like kale chips; flax crackers, and cacao truffles; the well-stocked bulk section; and a whole host of other various health-food products, Ashley and I journeyed to the co-op two days in a row to gawk at the impressive selection housed between their colorful walls. While perhaps Wheatsville’s material offerings don’t appear too dissimilar from those of other co-ops around the country, the overwhelmingly welcoming, knowledgable atmosphere cultivated in this friendly Austin co-op provided in me a deep sense of homecoming—I felt quite confident that the vast majority of the co-op’s employees wouldn’t question my veganism or choice not to consume sugar, would share in my enthusiasm for kombucha, and would understand (and confidently answer) my inquiry as to the gluten-free-ness of the tempeh taco filling offered on the deli menu. In other words, the folks at Wheatsville seemed like my kind of people.

One of many vegan & gluten-free baked goods at Wheatsville.

Samples of raw energy bars from local company the Bearded Bros.

During our first excursion to Wheatsville, Ashley and I merely oohed and ahhed at their exciting selection, but on our second visit, we actually purchased some of the co-op’s tantalizing offerings in the form of our final dinner together in Austin. Determined to enjoy tacos in the land of acclaimed southwestern food before I returned to the east coast, I ameliorated my lunchtime taco failure by ordering from the Wheatsville made-to-order deli counter two fragrant corn tortillas filled with juicy and spicy tempeh crumbles, diced tomatoes, jalapeno slices, shredded carrot, romaine lettuce, and alfalfa sprouts. I accompanied these delightful handheld eats with a salad of kale, beets, and alfala sprouts coated liberally in a creamy, tangy tahini dressing, also from the deli case. To round out the meal, I picked up a small box of raw chocolate-hazelnut “love” truffles from Lulu’s. Ashley and I enjoyed our meal while basking in the evening’s setting sun and entertaining Bella, Ashley’s boyfriend’s absolutely delightful canine companion—a perfect finale to a perfect four-day adventure.

Tacos!

Kale-Beet Salad.

Lulu’s Chocolate-Hazelnut “Love” Truffle.

Needless to say, my four days in Austin proved absolutely magical, both because of the 48 straight hours I spent with my best friend of eleven years after not seeing her in person since sophomore year of high school, and because of the vibrant vegan community rampant in the heart of Texas. I also found myself truly appreciating Ashley’s open-mindedness regarding and support of my veganism—by the end of my visit, she truly seemed to understand the reasons behind my leading a vegan lifestyle. I don’t know if she intends to start making the shift towards a plant-based diet, but the fact that she will advocate on behalf of the vegan community against her antagonistic boyfriend means the world to me. My spreading of the compassionate message into Ashley’s life, as well as into the lives of everyone I meet wherever I journey, reminds me of Johnny Appleseed except with veganism—just call me Ali Vegan-seed!…or something like that. I eagerly await my next bout of traveling during which to positively affect the hearts and minds of those I meet.

Until next time, Ali.

Austin Extravaganza, Day 3: Casa de Luz & Beets Cafe

Don’t miss the vegan eats and adventures of my first two days in Austin here and here.

The penultimate day of my visit to the liberal-hippie-progressive-veg-friendly city of Austin, TX commenced with a scenic stroll along Lady Bird Lake, which eventually led Ashley and I to our lunch destination of Casa de Luz. The “favorite place in the world to eat” of one of my ultimate vegan inspirations James McWilliams, who attests to patronizing the restaurant for breakfast every morning, Casa de Luz serves macrobiotic vegan fare out of an open kitchen in a community-centered atmosphere, with a group of different chefs providing each meal. The restaurant offers a set meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day (no menus here!), which always includes tea, soup, salad, and an entree complete with a whole grain, a bean, a leafy green, and a pickled vegetable—all for $12, not including dessert. On the day that Ashley and I patronized Casa de Luz, the menu boasted a creamy soup of cauliflower and yellow squash; a salad of crisp greens and red cabbage in a tangy sunflower seed, basil, and parsley dressing; meltingly tender pinto beans swimming in their own silky broth; short-grain brown rice in an earthy mushroom sauce; a saute of crisp-tender burdock root, carrots, and green beans; steamed greens topped with a dollop of sesame-almond-pecan sauce; and pickled red sauerkraut. I sprinkled my serving generously with a Japanese sesame seed condiment known as gomasio, a jar of which graced every table.

The picturesque walkway into Casa de Luz.

Casa de Luz’s open-style kitchen.

Creamy cauliflower and yellow squash soup.

Crisp Salad with Sunflower Seed, Basil and Parsley Dressing.

Entree plate.

Gluten-Free Pecan Pie.

Nourishing to both the body and the soul, macrobiotic cuisine never fails to impart a feeling of having given a generous gift to myself; indeed, I would argue that nothing more holistically fulfilling exists than the act of enjoying and truly appreciating a wholesome vegan meal prepared by caring hands. Surrounded by diners and restaurant employees who clearly shared in my sentiments, I could certainly understand why James McWilliams speaks so highly of Casa de Luz. Before departing from the oasis-esque nature of Casa de Luz, Ashley and I shared a slice of sticky and scrumptious gluten-free pecan pie, and browsed through the shelves of the restaurant’s mini macrobiotic market, which offers books on macrobiotic principles, animal rights, and veganism, as well as traditional Japanese food products and cooking supplies like miso, umeboshi plums, mochi, bamboo rolling mats, and suribachi.

Raspberry-flavored brown rice syrup; yes, please.

Love me some mochi, especially with medicinal herbs thrown in!

Harboring an avid sweet tooth and a passion for crafting baked goods, Ashley requested to learn the ways of animal secretion-free baking from the experienced vegan gastronomer that she held at her fingertips for the next couple of days. Thanks to the multiple dairy-and-egg-less desserts we’d enjoyed prior to our baking excursion, Ashley already felt quite confident about the high quality of sweet vegan treats, and ardently awaited the opportunity to craft her own. Unfortunely, our first bout of recipe experimentation with a veganized version of this Pomegranate-Soaked Almond Hazelnut Cake fell rather flat due to my mistaking of the 1/2 cup measure for the full cup measure to yield a lack of flour…oops. Determined to fully impart to Ashley the joy and success that usually ensues from vegan baking, I searched for recipes that would use up the rest of the baking ingredients we had purchased from Whole Foods, and discovered two cookies: Almond Flour Cookies with Almond Butter and Pistachios (we subbed peanut butter for almond butter and walnuts for pistachios), and Banana-Flax Crackers. Both of these recipes yielded infinitely more delicious results than our failed cake, and even impressed Ashley’s skeptical meat-eating boyfriend.

Our baking extravaganza filled up most of the afternoon, but Ashley and I decided to while away the remaining few hours before dinner by perusing the area around Guadalupe Street, which includes such desirable locations as the nostalgic wonderland of Toy Joy; the vintage, thrift, and clothing swap store of Buffalo Exchange, which recently participated in the noble endeavors of discontinuing the use of plastic bags and accepting used fur apparel donations to benefit Coats for Cubs; and my new happiest place on earth, the Wheatsville Co-op, of which I’ll provide a full review in the blog post regaling my final day in Austin.

For dinner, Ashley and I excitedly visited Beets Café—a raw restaurant serving up gourmet uncooked cuisine in a chic yet unpretentious and quite welcoming dining room to everyone from moms with strollers to bulky machismos to bespectacled hipsters to college students. After a bit of a bus-induced planning hiccup (thank you, Austin bus system, for picking us up an hour later than scheduled), Ashley and I yearned to fill our growling tummies immediately and began our meal with raw treats from Beets Cafe’s dessert case. While all of the sweets looked absolutely beautiful and surely ambrosial (can you say Blueberry-Lavender Cheesecake and Chocolate Macaroons?), Ashley and I decided to partake in the Almond-Raspberry Cookies and the cacao-coated Superfood Clusters (chock full of goji berries, coconut, brazil nuts, spirulina, raisins, inca berries, maca powder, and mesquite powder), respectively. Bittersweet, chewy, crunchy, and creamy all at once, the Superfood Clusters served as the perfect beginning to a stunning meal. However, even though Ashley regaled the wonders of her Almond-Raspberry Cookies, the bite I snuck of them left me unimpressed by their miserly amount of raspberry filling and rather unflavorful cookie exterior. Glad I made the right choice on pre-dinner dessert.

While I beat Ashley on dessert choices, she prevailed in entree selection by ordering the Raw Reuben—two pliable slices of sunflower seed flatbread layered with Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, marinated portabella mushrooms, dehydrated “caramelized” onions, and cashew Swiss cheese, served alongside a shredded beet salad and a pile of dill-and-nooch-dusted sweet potato chips. Ashley generously offered me a bite of her sandwich, which transported me to veritable raw food heaven due to the genius mingling of creamy-tender-tangy-umami-ness bursting from in between the flatbread, the hearty and chewy texture of which impressed me more than most of the raw flatbreads I’ve sampled in the past. With Ashley’s blessing, I also finished off the last of her sweet potato chips, which exactly resembled an oil-free, dehydrated variation on sour-cream-and-onion potato chips.

Though Ashley’s entree proved a tad more extraordinary than mine, I still thoroughly enjoyed my Cha-Lu-Pas—two crunchy corn tostadas spread with sunflower seed “refried beans,” topped with shredded lettuce, salsa, guacamole, and olives, drizzled with a cashew sour cream, and served alongside a kale salad in a tangy marinara-style dressing. All of the components proved quite fresh-tasting, though the creamy sunflower seed beans served as my favorite aspect of the dish, which satisfied my intense day-long craving for avocado. While quite tasty, the Cha-Lu-Pas simply could not match the sheer perfection of Ashley’s Reuben. I suppose I’ll just have to return to Beets Café during my next visit to Austin—darn.

On the bus ride back to her apartment, Ashley expressed her happy surprise at how much she enjoyed her first experience at a raw food restaurant. In fact, for the remainder of my trip, she continually waxed poetic about her sandwich at Beets Café, and even asked me if she could make a version of the sunflower seed flatbread at home (I passed these two recipes from Gena at Choosing Raw along to her). If not for the slightly out-of-reach price tag, Ashley would have suggested that we dine at Beets Café again the next day. Instead, we planned our meals for my final day in Austin to include ice cream at Sweet Ritual and dinner from the Wheatsville Co-op (more details on our eventful lunch excursion in the next post).

Until next time, Ali.