The Road Less Eaten
Sharing my experiences traveling and integrating my surroundings through local vegan cuisine.
Los Angeles, California, USA
Food style: Eco-conscious, local, organic vegan bistro and bar
Veg Scale: 100% vegan
Part of town: Santa Monica municipal area, near the courthouse
Located on Olympic Blvd. between Ocean Avenue and Main Street, this brand new gem recently opened in my neighborhood and is a most welcome new kid on the block! As you read in my previous entry about Zest Kitchen & Bar in SLC, I absolutely fell in love with the food and the ambiance there and now eLOVate brings many of those exact same elements to my front doorstep!
The LOV stands for Local, Organic, and Vegan and is pure LOVE ☺ Their menu is diverse featuring everything from fresh-squeezed organic juices and cocktails to crabless cakes, jackfruit tacos and daikon scallops. There are so many incredible options on this menu that I actually had a tough time choosing. Lucky for me I was being taken out for my belated birthday nibbles so we all shared family style!
First up was their Classic Poutine (GF). As I’m now dating a Canadian, I’ve been on the search for the perfect vegan poutine since February of this year and… I’ve found it! In America no less! This dish is definitely for the mushroom lover like myself so if you’re not a fan of the fungi then you may disagree. I found the wild mushroom gravy to be the highlight, an incredibly savory and complex blanket engulfing the delicate French fries underneath and topped with the satisfyingly creamy texture and bite of the almond cheese curds. No processed cheese substitute here, just delicious, all natural ingredients making for a decadently guilt-free indulgence! The fries were happily swimming in their gravy pool, the perfect balance of soggy and crispy, slightly seasoned and not too oily or dense. I could have eaten this twice and we almost did! I traveled all over Canada trying to find this dish done right and it was down the street from me the whole time!
To wash it down we ordered a Juice Flight (GF). You can pick the 4 juices for your flight (which costs the same as one full-sized juice), but we opted for our waiter’s recommendations. I LOVE that they offer a flight! It’s the first time I’ve seen such an option at any of the juice bars or vegan restaurants I’ve been to and I see myself taking advantage of it more than once! The Chillax (strawberry, apple, parsley, cinnamon) was my favorite. Not overly sweet, the ingredients balanced perfectly and the cinnamon gave it a unique, comfy finish. The Chloro-Farm II (kale, cilantro, mint, lemon, lime, parsley, spinach, cucumber, spirulina) tastes just as green as it sounds, but would be delicious over ice right after a long, hot hike. The Blaze (pineapple, cucumber, celery, cilantro) would be perfect first thing in the morning; the cucumber and celery balance the sweetness of the pineapple making it a nice option for a mimosa. One of the classic cleanse blends, the Alive on Five (carrot, apple, beet, lemon, ginger) was smooth but a little too sweet for me to want to order a full size.
Next up was dessert times two; this was a birthday meal after all! Again we took the recommendation of our wonderful waiter and got the Pecan Carrot Cake (GF) along with the Coconut Magic Bar (GF). Neither disappointed.
I don’t normally go for carrot cake as I usually find it to be too dry and cakey and the icing too overly sweet. This blew that expectation right out of the water! Soft chunks of soaked pecans mingled with impossibly thin carrot shavings making up a rich, moist and dense cake with layers of creamy vanilla frosting and sprinkles of shaved almond slivers. Served a la mode with their house-churned Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, all the flavors interacted to create a most excellent dessert experience. The unique way they churn their ice cream in-house aerates it so that it has a lighter mouthfeel than average yet is still wonderfully creamy. No element was too sweet or sugary and the assorted textures danced together in perfectly palatable rhythm.
The Coconut Magic Bar is very aptly named and begs to be eaten slowly, though this will be a magic trick in and of itself without a proper mindfulness practice. Somewhat related to a traditional Blondie Bar, this is it’s sexier, more worldly cousin with a much more sophisticated sense of humor and better wardrobe… ok, my metaphor is stretching here, but the flavor and texture of this creation would shame any Blondie Bar I’ve ever tried! A thin sheet of toasted coconut and dates creates the home for a plentiful smattering of rich dark chocolate drops. Served warm and melty, we asked for the Double Chocolate Ice Cream to be served with it in place of the standard Vanilla Bean it normally comes partnered up with. This was one of those rare successful arranged marriages. The melting chocolate chips nestling within the crispy caramel bed of toasted coconut was a sweet vessel on which the newly wedded couple became better acquainted… in my mouth. Wow, my metaphors are really reaching on this one, aren’t they? I guess I’ll have to go back to do some more research and honor you with a more appropriate entry. Le sigh.
Along with our dessert we received a nice little surprise in the form of a birthday drink! The Red Rain is a subtly sweet blend of beets, lemon, celery, cucumber, pineapple, and ginger with an infusion of Rain Vodka. It’s balanced so well and the vodka is of such a quality that I honestly couldn’t even taste the alcohol! The juice mixture was reminiscent of the Alive on Five, but somehow less sweet. I absolutely love that they fresh squeeze all their own mixes in house. You can really taste the difference and for someone like me who doesn’t drink very much, it’s a nice treat.
Due to the distinctly ridiculous metaphors I’ve included in this blog entry thus breaking my commitment to bring you quality reviews of conscious cuisine around the world, I promise to walk down the street to this oasis to research their offerings again and again until I craft a tapestry of tongue tactics (read: words) that is worthy of your distinguished palate. It has nothing to do with their huge menu that offers countless options that I desperately want to indulge in. Not one bit. This is for you.
Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Food style: swanky, vegan comfort food/small menu with seasonal, local offerings
Veg Scale: all vegan, GF labels
Craving some NYC restaurant-quality in the middle of the heartland? Look no further than this unassuming half-block in the middle of Omaha. I was in for a surprise as I didn’t realize that this delicious destination was owned and operated by none other than the vegan cooking goddess herself, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, best-selling author of vegan classics such as Veganomicon (aka The Vegan Cooking Bible), Vegan With A Vengeance, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World and her newest Isa Does It, among others. You NYers will be pleased to hear, if you don’t know already, that she will be opening a 2nd location for this gastronomic wonderland in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) in early 2016. Cheers, Isa!
Sharing a building with a local hole-in-the-wall pub, the exterior belies the cozy and whimsical atmosphere within. Walls adorned with various sized vintage mirrors, hand painted decals and modern lighting fixtures invite the feeling of sitting in the home of a good friend about to enjoy a home-cooked meal, if your friend was Alice and you, The Cheshire Cat J Perfect portions arrive in white china bowls and plates large enough to curl up in for a post indulgence nap. Tables snuggle up quite closely with each other inspiring food voyeurism and friendly banter amid bites.
Chris wet his whistle with a little Ginger Shandy action pre-meal. With my gluten sensitivity preventing me from enjoying a beer now and again, I still chanced a sip and was pleased to be hit with the subtle tartness of the grapefruit juice perfectly balancing the bitter hops. With a nice cloudy appearance it afforded a thicker mouth feel on the tongue making for the perfect summer drink.
We chose a classic soup and salad combo for our shared openers. The Soup of the Day was a Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Chowder (GF), which acted as the perfect swimming pool for the Noochy (nutritional yeast) Croutons that came with the Kale Caesar (GF when made without the croutons). The soup had a wonderful creamy, bisque-like texture that wasn’t too thick or heavy and was dotted with bits of roasted corn kernels and red bell peppers. An added zip from the peppers perfectly balanced the sweetness of the corn, all further accentuated by a light drizzle of seasoned oil across the top.
The Kale Caesar (GF option) was a dino delight with the large, thin leaves layered atop one another delicately doused with a zesty tahini caper dressing. The salty goodness of the capers added a brackish authenticity to the Caesar dressing sans anchovies. Adding a little protein crunch to the mix were the quinoa and pumpkin seeds that politely interacted with bits of avocado bringing the whole dish together in a big, creamy hug. I plucked the croutons out and delivered them to Chris’ half of the soup, much to his culinary satisfaction, and all was well in the Land of Appetizers.
Next up on our journey were our respective entrees: Chris dove into the Gnocchi while I consumed the Mac & Shews (GF). Having already had a sip of the Shandy, I figured a bite of the Gnocchi wouldn’t make much of a difference to my level of gluten reaction that evening. Caramelized strips of fennel, plump cherry tomatoes, soft edamame and tangy arugula danced amid the homemade gnocchi swimming in a light, savory broth. Gnocchi can easily become gummy and heavy, but these doughy bits of goodness were soft and pillowy, easy to chew and took on the subtle flavors of the rest of the dish. Each piece of the puzzle was lightly seasoned, every flavor complementing the other as bite by bite the combo grows on you until you yourself feel as though you are happily swimming alongside the very dough balls you are consuming! This all I gained from one bite so I can only imagine enjoying the entire dish! Perched atop this Italian dome was a dollop of truffled almond ricotta, completing the sheer sensuality of this dish. If you know me, and hopefully by now you do, you know that there isn’t much in this world that you could truffle that I wouldn’t like. Except maybe a tire. Something tells me that wouldn’t work out well. But I digress.
The truffled ricotta would have been an incredible addition to the cashew cheddar sauce in the Mac & Shews (GF) I enjoyed. I love a multi-cheez mix with a crispy breadcrumb topping for my most decadent mac & cheez escapades, though this version came in decidedly close, its palate more complex than simply rich. The gluten free noodles were not thick or stiff and soaked up the smokiness of the sauce. The cheddar could have been a little thicker and creamier for my taste and was comparable in texture to the classic Kraft blue box (without the processed animal byproducts). The pecan-crusted tofu was the perfect replacement for a breadcrumb crust, soft on the inside and very crisp on the outside, while the braised kale added an element of green goodness. The BBQ cauliflower stood out enough to be its own side dish, its sweet brown singed edges caramelizing in perfect harmony with the smokiness of the sauce. All the textures and flavors – smoky and sweet, soft and crunchy – combined for a complex palate and mouth feel that kept my tongue guessing and my taste buds dancing for the entirety of the evening. That is until… dessert… where all things savory are promptly forgotten.
That being said, I’m not one for too-sweet sweets so I opted for the Chocolate Peanut Butter Tart (GF) as I was assured it was a rich dark chocolate and not milky at all. A wide but thin slice of pie greeted me and was much harder to put my fork into than I would have expected. Described as a chocolate ganache with a peanut butter mousse, I was expecting a softer experience, but instead was met with the consistency of a vegan Crunch Bar in pie formation. Do not let this mislead you into thinking I did not thoroughly enjoy this crunchy pastry. The candied peanuts encased in the bitter dark cacao added texture while the lightness of the peanut butter mousse topping was a welcome contrast to the hardness of the tart itself. The shortbread crust reminded me of some sort of cookie from my childhood, a little sweet, but not overly so. It had clearly come directly out of the fridge or freezer, which makes me interested to try it again once it has thawed a bit longer.
Interesting flavor combinations, seasonal influences and a touch of love that is evident in every dish’s home cooked roots ensure that you will leave with a satisfied tummy and heart. Though I would have loved to have more variety as far as gluten free options, overall I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Isa’s table and hope to someday return the favor.
ZEST KITCHEN & BAR: Part 3, Dessert
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Food style: Farm-to-fork restaurant & fresh juice cocktail bar
Veg Scale: 100% gluten free (except for some beers) vegetarian, everything can be made vegan
Part of town: Downtown near Temple Square
Last week I filled you up with a hearty helping from the dinner menu. Now join me as I take you from the adult portion of the menu to the dark (chocolate) side. This is Part 3 of 3. I went there three times in two days. ‘Nuff said.
My favorite part of the dessert menu at this place is that the only sweeteners they use are maple and agave (except for the chocolate torte which uses chocolate chips that have some sugar in there, but I digress).
On our first visit to Zest, Chris and I couldn’t reach a consensus on dessert and so we each ordered our own, much to your benefit J Easily swayed by the concept of “limited time only,” I ordered that night’s special, the Tiramisu. The texture and density of this dish took me back to my childhood when my mom used to make my sister, Puppett and I a very non-vegan, non-gluten-free Graham Cracker Mousse Cake on special occasions. I remember when my sister made it for the first time on her own; it was good, but there’s always something extra in there when a dish is made by Mom. Sorry, P.
The tiramisu was built with layers of cashew cream mousse with a cream-cheese-like consistency stacked between chewy layers of cacao crumble. The crumble was comprised of a salty, savory mixture of dates and nuts smashed together that balanced the sweeter, more solid layer of mousse. Creamy and dense, the mousse was not too heavy, but was definitely not on the fluffy side. Although traditionally very strong on the coffee flavor, Zest’s take on this Italian classic doesn’t overdo it. Whether or not you’re a fan of that caffeinated kick, you’ll be safe ordering this treat as I did not find it overpowering.
Chris went for their other nightly special: the White Chocolate Blueberry Tart. Filled with a sweet, lemony, white chocolate custard the crust was firm but not stiff. Made mostly of chickpea flour, my favorite for baking, it was easy to cut and the blandness balanced the sweetness of its innards. While a little too sweet for my taste overall, the custard filling delivered a nice tang from the lemon and was a perfect partner for the tart blueberries that were sprinkled on top.
A super sweet surprise came to us from Casey at the end of our meal. Having had such a tough time deciding between their Tiramisu special and the Chocolate Beet Cake with Avocado Mousse that appears regularly on their menu (I was craving chocolate, but just couldn’t pass up the limited time only option) Casey took pity on me and sent the chocolate cake home with us for later. I had it for breakfast. Don’t judge me. The cake was like a dense brownie and held very true to the bitterness of its dark chocolate roots. Slathered atop this cacao creation was a rich chocolate avocado mousse that was closer in flavor and texture to a creamy ganache and would have been just as decadent served on its own with some berries. To perfect this delicacy I would have added a second layer of mousse, making it more of a chocolate layer cake, but one that I would happily live in for many years to come.
Our final venture to this culinary haven removed the middleman of a meal as we went straight for dessert. Chris and I both split the Salted Caramel Chocolate Hazelnut Torte and the current night’s special: Raw Chocolate.
As I stated earlier in this post, the torte is the only item on the menu that contains sugar as they melt down vegan chocolate chips for the filling. While I would have preferred sans sugar, this dessert still delighted me in every way. The crust is similar to that of the White Chocolate Blueberry Tart that Chris enjoyed on our first foray and is a stout deliverer of its sweeter contents. The chocolate is lightened somewhat by the addition of roasted hazelnuts which add a complexity to the filling that is only further accentuated by the drizzle of caramel over top. Vegan caramel can be very hit or miss and they knocked this one out of the park!
I neglected to inquire if they made the Raw Chocolate in house, but I would not have been surprised as it was as rich and dark as raw chocolate can be. Dried cranberries were both inside and sprinkled on top along with fresh, ripe blueberries and a lemon citrus drizzle. This was a nice, much lighter option for dessert and something that I would have readily enjoyed with a glass of deep red wine.
In summation, if you’re having a particularly strong craving for rich, dark chocolate I highly recommend the Raw Chocolate or the Chocolate Beet Cake (if they add the extra layer of mousse inside especially). The Hazelnut Torte is a little on the lighter side and might work better if you’re more of a milk chocolate fan. Hate chocolate altogether? Get out. Now. But grab some Tiramisu to go, as it will have your belly smiling for the rest of the evening.
And there you have it: three weeks of vegan eats in Salt Lake City. While Zest is not the only option in SLC, it is definitely the most alluring and will keep you (and me) coming back for more for years to come.
ZEST KITCHEN & BAR: Part 2, Dinner
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Food style: Farm-to-fork restaurant & fresh juice cocktail bar
Veg Scale: 100% gluten free (except for some beers) vegetarian, everything can be made vegan
Part of town: Downtown near Temple Square
I hope you enjoyed my exploration of Zest’s brunch menu in my last entry. Now I bring you Part 2 of 3. Chris and I went there three times in two days. ‘Nuff said.
Our exploration of Zest’s dinner menu began by sharing a couple of their aptly named Share Plates. Baked Mushrooms (GF) stuffed with Cashew Cheese (GF) arrived alongside shaved Brussels Sprouts with slivered almonds in a spicy masala almond sauce (GF). Yes.
The mushrooms were heavy with flavor, being baked to savory perfection and then topped with the house made herbed cashew cream. The rich flavors of the mushrooms and the cheese combined in an explosion of deep, earthy flavors delivered with a chewy and creamy texture. The mushrooms were a little too moist for me and I would have preferred they be slightly dehydrated post-baking to ensure a more compact and less drippy mouth feel. Chris, however, was not in the same Goldilocks camp as I and found these fungi to be juuuust right.
The Brussels sprouts was far more delicate a dish than I was expecting as I’ve only ever seen them cooked whole or cut in half rather than shaved in this manner. This preparation afforded an enticingly softer yet crispy-around-the-edges texture while enabling them to soak up more of their rich sauce thus delivering a stand out dish. The spice of the masala combined harmoniously with the sweetness of the almonds making for a sauce that I would happily put on everything. I could have continued eating this for days. Seriously, it still haunts me.
Chris was craving soup so we opted for the daily special, a Mediterranean Melanzane (GF), which literally translated is “Mediterranean Eggplant”. Combining this versatile aubergine with an assortment of other hearty veggies simmered to perfection, this chowder was light and not overly seasoned. A little too watery for me as I tend to like creamier, thicker soups, Chris fully enjoyed this dish and found it comforting. Filling enough for a small meal, I would definitely order something else alongside it if you are experiencing more of an appetite.
Next we moved into splitting another aptly named dish, the Hearty Meal (GF). The kitchen was kind enough to split the dish for us so one black bean-chia patty w/BBQ sauce and one mushroom-walnut patty w/roasted red pepper sauce arrived open-faced on separate plates. They were each topped with sautéed mushrooms, red onions, and avocado perched atop fresh baby spinach on a gluten-free multi-grain bun all snuggled up nicely alongside a petite salad. Comprised of baby spinach, arugula (AKA rocket), shaved carrots and purple cabbage, the salad was tossed with a very light and refreshing vinaigrette and was a nice leafy green interlude between flavors.
Both patties were hearty and filling and held together very well en route to my mouth, but my favorite was definitely the black bean-chia. It felt more uniquely satisfying and less like a standard veggie burger than the mushroom-walnut. The sauces were chosen well and complemented their respective patties. The sweet tanginess of the BBQ added a robust kick to the mild flavor of the black beans while the roasted red pepper coulis added a layer of smoky dimension to the nutty mushroom burger. The onions, mushrooms and avocado slices somehow worked with both patties, tying them together nicely as a meal despite their contrasting palates. The bun was dense enough to transport the deliciousness, but in no way masked or overpowered the patties, a tendency that has generally steered me away from ordering sandwiches, wraps or burgers in the first place. I’m sure this was due in large part to the burgers being served on only the bottom portion of the bun, a technique I wish more places would adopt – despite what the carb-loving part of my heart would vehemently attest, we really don’t need that much bread!
The dessert-loving part of my heart, however, is right on point and was delighted to explore that portion of the menu on multiple visits! With a daily rotating special in addition to the sweet seasonal staples, the ever-evolving options kept me coming back for more. Tantalized yet? Check out next week’s entry for a sweet treat, or two, or three or…
I am an actor/writer/content creator based in Los Angeles. I travel extensively both as the host of the new vegan food travel show The Road Less Eaten and on my own. This blog will chronicle my journey around the globe as I hunt down all the vegan options in every part of the world, no matter how big the city nor small the town.
Copyright © Ally Iseman 2016. I own my awkward. Thanks for enabling me.