A Vegetarian in the Carnivore’s Den: Animal Restaurant

February 28, 2010 By: Megabeth Category: Restaurant Review, Travel

Animal Restaurant - Carrot Salad

One glance at the menu at Animal would make any vegetarian want to curl up into the fetal position or turn tail and run. Oxtail gravy, chicken livers, rabbit loins and pig ears? Holy molies. There are just some of the many carnivorous “delicacies” that are available on the Animal menu.

In fact, what can a vegetarian possibly find at restaurant that positions itself as “delicious, rustic and unapologetically carnivorous”? It really is sort of a strange place to go considering you can trip over a vegetarian restaurant almost at every turn. Well, their vegetarian dishes – of which they have several – are made with fresh, local produce and are bursting with unique flavors. They are created with the same attention to detail and, dare I say, “love” as their meat dishes.

Animal is located in a nondescript building, with no outside signage on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. Once inside, it’s a small space bustling with activity and filled with billowing laughter and animated conversation.

Jon Shook, co-owner of Animal, walked by us as we waited for our table.  His eyes lit up when I mentioned I was a vegetarian and was looking for suggestions. Even though Animal is known for it’s extensive menu of animal parts I think sometimes the care and attention they place on their vegetable dishes gets overshadowed. He assured me that I would be more than happy with what they had to offer and pointed out some of his favorite vegetarian dishes including the blood orange salad.

The servers were pleasant, funny and knowledgeable, recommending which dishes were vegetarian, and treating us with the same respect as the others at the table that were ready to dig into their meat dishes.

Animal is very serious about not making changes to the menu.  We tried to get some of the gnocchi without the bologenese sauce but it was a no-go. They pre-mix the gnocchi and the sauce and do not make special orders.

As the wine flowed, we were slowly served our plates as they were ready. It’s a family style restaurant so be ready to share with your table partners.

The carrot salad had a light and tangy green goddess dressing. The delicate carrots were sliced into almost translucent sheets and served with sunchokes and avocado.

The crispy hominy was simply made but complex in the taste experience. Visually, it wasn’t a stunner. However, once you popped them into your mouth, the crisp outside of the hominy gave way to a warm chewy interior. (Although, some of the smaller bits of hominy were a bit over-battered and were a little too chewy.) With a spritz of lime juice, these tiny bits were an unexpected treat.

I can’t think of enough superlative adjectives for the blood orange salad. Simply put, it took all attention away from every other dish we ordered. The spicy chili oil and the subtle tang of the red onion swirled with the bitter blood orange and the salty castleventrano olives. This plate was hands-down the best example of how fresh ingredients and a creative culinary view can turn dinner into a dining experience.

Coming in a close second was the baby kale salad with pecorino cheese, lemon and smashed croutons. The croutons were more like crunchy and salty breadcrumbs and the kale was perfectly cooked with still some crispness left in the leaves.

Don’t forget to end your meal with a plate of donuts. They come to your table piping hot with a warm caramel sauce. They were in high demand at our table and were quickly devoured before I could take a picture of them.

The menu changes every day as I’m sure they base their selections off of what’s available in market that day or week. I’d recommend calling to see what vegetarian options are available and to secure reservations. The restaurant was packed when we were there on a rainy Friday night. (As for the carnivores in your group, I was assured, by our pack of meat eaters, that they will not go away hungry.)

435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

I must apologize, due to the dark ambiance my pictures came out a little blurry…

Restaurant Review: Butternut Squash, Chapel Hill, NC

October 03, 2009 By: Megabeth Category: Restaurant Review

Tucked behind an unassuming strip mall in the heart of Franklin Street, Butternut Squash is a new vegetarian restaurant in Chapel Hill that is worth the search. The food is fresh, the menu is diverse and the service was great. I went to this restaurant with my favorite carnivore curmudgeon. He was a little grumbly about the prospect of eating at a vegetarian restaurant, so I promised that if he walked away hungry after eating here I’d take him to go get a burger…

The restaurant is a little hard to find and I’m sure that they suffer from folks not knowing it’s even there. You have to go behind a building and scan a bit to find the doorway. It’s a small space with clean lines and was filled with sunshine on a Saturday morning. We came right when lunch was being served and only one other table was occupied. Within about 30 minutes, another two tables were filled so I’m sure that they can still fill the tables despite the awkward location.

Butternut Squash Restaurant Chapel Hill NC

Butternut Squash restaurant serves lunch and dinner and brunch on the weekends. When we got there, the items off the brunch menu were finished being served for the day, but the cheese grits and biscuits with vegan sausage gravy looked interesting to me. I’ll definitely come back to check them out.

The menu included a variety of small plate tapas including spinach pie, feta basil dip with peppers, and flash fried goat cheese. We started with the hummus and crispy fried tofu. The carnivore curmudgeon is a little afraid of tofu, but he happily consumed the freshly baked vegan rolls and olive oil that was brought to our table. I didn’t mind at all that he’s not a tofu fan because that left more tofu for the rest of us. It was perfectly fried, light and not a bit gooey. The hummus, served with ample pine nuts, was smooth and tangy. It went very well with the fried tofu.

Butternut Squash Restaurant Chapel Hill NC

Butternut Squash Restaurant Chapel Hill NC

Meanwhile, it was difficult to order our main dish due to the large variety of vegetarian and vegan items – pizza, burgers, pasta, sandwiches, hot wings, lettuce rolls, curry and more. There are also weekly farmers market specials, using fresh in-season ingredients, to add to the variety.

I ordered the farmers market special of rice tacos stuffed with eggplant, topped with a spicy salsa fresca, sounded really good. It was served with a giant spinach side salad with a fresh green dressing. (Yes, I forgot completely forgot to write down what kind of dressing it was. Perhaps that’s because I was starving and ready to dig in.)  The rice formed a unique taco “shell” that surrounded the rest of the ingredients. It was so good that I would have loved to have one more taco and a little less of the salad.

Butternut Squash Restaurant Chapel Hill NC

The pizza special was a whole wheat pizza base topped with olive oil, spinach, tomato, tempeh bacon, and cheddar cheese. The tempeh bacon added a smoky flavor to the dish and was quite satisfying and  I believe one comment at our table was, “The tempeh tastes like actual bacon! Taste it!”

Butternut Squash Restaurant Chapel Hill NC

The carnivore crumudgeon ordered the 3 cheese sandwich served with fresh herbs, tomatoes, red onion and avocado. He declared it a success…until he hit the pesto in the second half of the sandwich. It was as if the avocado in the one half was replaced with pesto. The avocado was gone. The curmudgeon is not a fan of pesto so it’s quite understandable about why it hit a sour note. In fact, the description on the menu said nothing about pesto (but perhaps it was the “fresh herbs”?)  The highlight of the whole meal came from a little unassuming side dish of red cabbage and carrots. For such a simple dish, it had really complex flavors.  It had an asian flavor to it provided by what we determined to be sesame seeds and sesame oil. I could have eaten much more of it but had to give up trying since it was served with the curmudgeon’s meal and he quickly laid claim to it.

Butternut Squash Restaurant Chapel Hill NC

The highest form of praise for a vegetarian restaurant is one where a carnivore curmudgeon can walk away full and satisfied. In fact, my curmudgeon never once mentioned that he wanted me to pay up on my offer to stop for a hamburger on the way home. In fact, he commented that when he comes back he’d order the 3 cheese sandwich – sans pesto. Oh, and he wanted to return to try the omelet for breakfast, too.

Success, indeed.

Butternut Squash
133E West Franklin Street
University Square, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Restaurant Review: Cafe Flora – Seattle, Washington

May 03, 2009 By: Megabeth Category: Restaurant Review, Travel

Cafe Flora - Seattle, Washington
Considered one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants in the United States, Cafe Flora in Seattle exceeded all of my expectations.  When you walk in, you never would have guessed that the building used to be an abandoned laundromat. In fact, right off the main dining room is a peaceful arboretum complete with a bubbling fountain and humongous greenery. This restaurant is a treat for both your eyes and your palate.

Cafe Flora - Seattle, Washington

Cafe Flora takes advantage of the local organic produce to create fresh and interesting dishes that complement the current season. We ordered two entrees that were marked as a seasonal dish. (Although, I’ve heard the mushroom wellington is their “to die for” signature dish.)

First up were our appetizers, and even though we were a party of two – we ordered three. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

The fried avocado presented itself as a simple dish. But, the flavors were quite complex. It’s too bad that the recipe for these are not in their cookbook, because I could quickly become addicted to them. They were battered in a crisp cornmeal breading that complemented the soft inside of avocado. The papaya chutney was sweet and fresh offsetting the spicy cayenne aioli.
Fried Avocado
Fried Avocado
Our coconut battered tofu was cooked perfectly. According to the Cafe Flora cookbook, the key to making the perfect battered tofu is pressing all the liquid out of the tofu for a long time. (In fact, they recommend pressing it for an hour.) The sweet chili dipping sauce was addictive. I let my tofu sit in the sauce to make sure all the flavors intertwined.
Coconut Tofu with Sweet Chili Sauce/p>
The final appetizer was a flavorful pate made of lentils and pecans. This recipe is also featured in their cookbook so I’m looking forward to recreating it at home. The plate was heaping with tiny gherkins and olives which ended up sort of overwhelming the plate. I’m sure if we didn’t have two other appetizers to eat, they would have been eaten up. But, instead, most were left on the plate and headed back into the kitchen.
Pate Platter

The entrees were spectacular. The artichoke croquettes were moist and crisp – cooked to perfection. The grilled asparagus nearly stole the show as it was fresh, crisp and smoky. The potatoes had a sweet taste of satsuma orange and ginger. Everything on the plate had distinct flavors that were well thought out and executed.
Artichoke Croquettes

Rather than just serving a plate of risotto, Cafe Flora puts on yet another beautiful presentation. As with the croquettes, all of the garnishes were not just thrown on for decoration, but they added so much depth to the meal. The risotto was earthy while the pea mash on top created a lighter taste. The pea vine salad was a unique crisp topping tying the whole dish together.
Spring Mint Pea and Porcini Risotto

We ended our meal with a lemon tartlet that was light and tangy. The crust was a little tough to break through on the first forkful, but once you were “in” it broke apart easily.
Lemon Tartlet

All in all, this is worth the short cab ride from downtown Seattle to Madison Valley.  The servers were friendly and knowledgeable and the food was spectacular. Reservations are only accepted for larger parties. I noticed that most tables were set for two or four people. The few larger tables were filled quickly, so it’s best to call and check.
Cafe Flora - Seattle, Washington

Cafe Flora
2901 E. Madison Street
Seattle, WA 98112

Phone: (206) 325-9100

Best Veggie Burgers Found in Pittsboro, North Carolina

February 28, 2009 By: Megabeth Category: Restaurant Review, Travel

As a vegetarian, I’ve become used to going into restaurants where the only option is a veggie burger. That’s fine by me. But, oftentimes, when it’s brought to the table, I’m usually faced with a sad little cardboard patty on a bun. Many restaurants seem to have this menu item to just say they have something for a vegetarian rather than considering that the vegetarian actually wants something good to eat. Worst of all, I tend to face these cardboard hockey pucks at places that are perfect for getting together with friends and grabbing a good beer.

Well, that streak of bad burgers in good locations has now changed. Last year, I visited the Carolina Brewery and declared that they had the best veggie burger I have ever had. I unfortunately did not have my camera with me. But, recently, I had a chance to go back and savor this burger again.

The veggie burgers are handmade at the restaurant. It is a slightly spicy patty with corn and black beans explodes with flavor. It is served with a really tasty chipotle mayonnaise. Served on a really fresh kaiser bun, this burger isn’t considered just a throw-away vegetarian menu item.

Carolina Brewery Veggie Burger

I think I found out  why this burger is so good. It turns out that the Chef, Paul Rhoades, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. So, thank you Chef Rhoades for not turning a blind eye to vegetarians and creating a great veggie burger with the same care you have with your other dishes.

The vegetarian burger is not the only option for vegetarians. They kindly mark vegetarian options on the menu with a little carrot. The carrots are everywhere. There is a mushroom ravioli, several focaccia pizza options and many other items. In fact, five of the seven appetizers are vegetarian.

And, lest I forget, since this is a brewery, I should mention that the house brewed beer is phenomenal as well.

Carolina Brewery

120 Lowes Drive, Suite 100
Pittsboro, NC

460 West Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC

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