Maggie Brown (Brooklyn, NY)

Tending the Bar

After a few unnoteworthy dinners at Maggie Brown I pretty much dismissed her as a viable food option, but at my friend’s insistence we met here for brunch. Although I had recently made the resolution that drinking with brunch is a waste of money (except in the case of an unlimited glass) the awkwardness of sitting at a bar and not ordering a drink prevailed.

Hot whiskey... I wish it were tea

The warm mug of Bette Sue’s Apple Cider (whiskey spiked cider) was a pleasant restitution for breaking my own rule, but I later regretted loosing that $7 for a feeling that could have easily been recreated with simple hot tea.

Maggie Brown (Brooklyn, NY)

Blue Smoke (New York, NY)

The back room

Another ladies night and another opportunity to flex my food muscles… or another chance for me to explore treacherous culinary offering on someone else’s dime. These brave souls let the singular vegetarian of the group – along with my worthy co-conspirator Michelle N. – pick the locale. After ciphering though many worthy contenders, my brain began to plead for cheese (a frequent occurrence) and then I remembered reading reviews of people preening themselves over the supposed magnificence of the Mac and Cheese at Blue Smoke. Et volia!

This guy folded our napkins every time somone left the table

After the rounds of “Yeah! BBQ sounds great… but wait, what will you eat?!”I assured everybody that haveing extensively reviewed their published vegetarian (and gluten-free and nut-free) menu, I would be a smitten kitten drowning myself in Mac and Cheese. I also held out hope that the Veggie Burger would be stunning since Danny Myer is the birth father of the canonized ‘Shroom Burger. Alas, only the Mac and Cheese would live up to the promises, although not as expected… but the journey would lead me to new egalitarian editable entremets which heavily outweighed the disappointments.

We were thrilled to be seated at a round table for 8 people, the best way to dine in a large group, and we were attended to in professional Union Square Hospitality Group style which was completely unexpected at a restaurant where peanut shell littering the floor would have only enhanced the décor.

We ate a lot of food… A LOT… the skinny waitress kindly warned us that we had ordered too much food, but we flipped our hair at her and demanded that she bring it on.


Grabbing at the warm bucket of chips

Warm BBQ Potato Chips with blue cheese dip ($7.95) – Excellent! Fresh but slightly soft chips doused in powdery BBQ Flavor in a bucket next to the cool ranchy white addictive dip. It can be ordered sans bacon but I had no problem eating around it for the sake of others.

Blue Smoke (New York, NY)

Vinegar Hill House (Brooklyn, NY)

As expected from the Freeman’s pedigree, the decor is colonial shabby with all the idiosyncrasy of the Sporting Club and veiled with a refined ladies touch. But from the beginning, many elements of the night were working against us, let this be a lesson in the futility of the “I know someone” mentality, because even though we got hugs and kisses from the all right people, we couldn’t get a timely table… but the birthday party in the basement, the surprise health inspector, and the diners who obstinately refused to move to the bar long after finishing their desserts even after the hostess offer them a free round of drinks didn’t help either… so we waited well over an hour in the charming but cold courtyard while the hostess offered us the boorish table’s free round(s).

We began with a round of salads; I was quite fond of my Bartlett Pear Salad ($10) with an oily slab of roasted fennel adorning a crown of baby arugula festooned in salty white nuggets of pecorino. Personally I would have liked more pear less fennel but my friend felt the opposite so we traded some portions to adjust the salads to our preferences. 

Vinegar Hill House (Brooklyn, NY)

Rant: Hey Top Chef, cook me something vegetarian

I am abhorred, embarrassed, and ashamed of everyone after this week’s “Meat Natalie” or “finally a vegetarian episode” of Top Chef. While they all seemed to approach the challenge with a positive attitude, I am floored that this episode only furthered my thesis that somewhere in the cultivation of “chefs” they ALL develop the equation that “vegetarian” equals “vegetable” totally eclipsing the rest of the edibles spectrum. It is akin to the cognitive aptitude of 8 year old Janey asking “Are you going to marry a carrot?” to Lisa Simpson. As any child would tell you, the best vegetarian food is pizza and mac & cheese… not that I’m saying that is what the chef’s should have done, but the basic elements of these two enticing entrees, starch and cheese, only appeared in a smear of lentils and a defiled polenta, aka the technical grain. As Kevin said: “Cooking vegetarian food can be challenging because when you eat meat it leaves you feeling satiated and it’s hard to replicate that with a plate of just vegetables…” JUST VEGETABLES! I couldn’t agree more…

This challenge should have been easy, the only restriction was no meat, a mere portion of a single food group, which is hardly the wildest elimination challenge… in fact, it should be something they have all experienced before. As Gail Simmons said in her blog entry “we re-created a scenario that regularly occurs in most restaurant dining rooms: a demand for one superlative vegetarian dish that tastes and looks as delicious as anything else on offer.” A review of the Craft Steak’s menu confirms that the kitchen should have been teeming with rice, pecorino, fresh buffalo mozzarella, blue cheese, yukon and fingerling potatoes, but instead they fought over tiresome eggplants and mushrooms so that they could present the dismal parade of vegetable melees. The winner of which was a pabulum of smoked kale/mushrooms/turnips, a threesome this vegetarian does not want an invitation to.

Natalie Portman offered no inspiration or direction other then “I love food” and “I’m a vegetarian,” the chefs may as well have received their directives from a chimpanzee… and based on their performance, I think that maybe what actually happened. I mean banana polenta… come on, how is that NOT monkey food?! To add insult, she brought nothing to the judge’s table… oh, except some drug dealer joke that was so funny when I was in 8th grade. My eyes rolled as though they were trying to release the mousetrap when she made the “as a vegetarian it’s hard to get protein” comment. Anyone who says this – or swears that as a vegetarian they suffered a protein deficiency so now they HAVE to eat bacon, you know, for “health” – is CRAZY; protein intake is directly related to caloric intake not meat intake. If you have a protein deficiency due to diet then you’re not eating enough calories to maintain your health and you are probably suffering from a much bigger problem than being vegetarian… like poverty, war, or stupidity.

There is a lot of whining from the peanut gallery of the internet (myself included) but there is on questions being as by commenters that I would like to refute: “Why didn’t the chefs venture into more ethnic cuisines?” Apparently the people asking this missed the whole point of the challenge – to take over the menu at Craft Steak. Can you imagine going to Bouley and being served Indian Food?! Of course not! This challenge was about creating a vegetarian meal utilizing the provisions at a steakhouse, and anyone who faults the chefs for not serving enchiladas or curries or tempura or whatnot should have their computer taken away… or at least have their browser locked to the wasteland of their peers at Yahoo Answers.

Rant: Vegetarian = Vegetable

Vegetarian does not equal vegetable… it drives me nuts when chefs assume a “vegetarian dish” must be vegetable based. This works the other way too; I would never assume a “vegetable dish or tasting menu” is vegetarian because frequently enough it is not. The world is filled with an overwhelmingly diverse offering of grains/pastas, beans/legumes, and dairy that vegetarians thrive on! It also drives me nuts when the vegetarian dishes are some dreary rendition of the following:

  1. Veggie or Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burger
  2. Mushroom or Eggplant Anything
  3. Roasted Vegetables with rice or couscous
  4. Tofu steak
  5. Ravioli or Risotto
  6. Overpriced and Meager Salad

Recently a friend alerted me to an episode of Hell’s Kitchen where the notorious vegetarian basher Gordon Ramsey asks the contestants to cook a “stunning vegetarian dish,” but not before saying “There is no bigger pain anywhere in the world than a vegetarian” – and why is it ok to openly offend 3% of the US population! We are a group the size of all Asians or Jews in America, just imagine the backlash if he had made an equally disparaging comment about them… but anyways – the despondent look in the chefs eyes were soon matched by mine after I hear the horridly stereotypical and boring dishes they came up with:

  1. Mushroom Crepe over Beet Carpaccio
  2. Mushroom Stuffed Eggplant with Brown rice and Mushroom Sauce
  3. Grilled Eggplant Lasagna with Tofu and Mozzarella
  4. Polenta Tower with Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers

That menu sounds like an utter gag fest! Here’s my quick revision:

  1. Crepes filled with Brown Butter Mushrooms and Herbed Goat Cheese with Wilted Spinach
  2. White Bean, Wild Rice, Arugula, Pine Nut and Pecorino Stuffed Zucchini
  3. Butternut Squash, Kale, and Sage Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce
  4. Parmesan Polenta and Grilled Asparagus and Scallions in a Pool of Pesto

You’re welcome!

Vegetarian BBQ

I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s the end of summer and the closing of BBQ season. Over the past few years it seems that many of my friends have moved into apartments with outdoor space and my summery quota of hot hot BBQ fun has tripled -but this also means I’ve had to deal with the “vegetarian BBQ” dilemma. I’ve grown sick of hum drum Boca burgers and those awful giggly soy dogs… and even when my friends have actually tried to appease the vegetarians I find myself faced with my ultimate nemeses, the grilled mushroom. So they ask me “what does this vegetarian want to eat at a BBQ?” Well let me tell you…

First off, one of my most successful “vegetarian options” is homemade vegan Setain Skewers. Now you don’t HAVE to make your own seitan since it is readably available at most supermarkets, but it’s much more affordable and there are a few tricks to make it even more awesome then meat. I use Lauren Ulm’s Chicken-Style Seitan Recipe but add ½ teaspoon of liquid smoke and 1/8 cup of BBQ sauce directly into the meat dough! Take that chicken and beef! Skew it up with some red onions and yellow bell pepper, drizzle some oil on everything for a better burn and make ‘em all beg for a bite.

Vegetarian BBQ

Sripraphai Thai Restaurant (Woodside, NY)

My sweet Amanda is dear to me, but the fact that she has a car means I love her a little more than my pedestrian friends. So many prohibitively distant locations become so accessible when you can get to your meals on wheels; so on a lovely weekend she and her man whisked me and mine off to the far-far-away realm of Woodside with the promise of copious consumption of delectable Thai food. We arrived at 5:30, aka Grandpa Hour, and effortlessly snagged a table in the front room (1 of 4 dining areas in this big/small establishment) and perused the novel of a menu – three pages of which are vegetarian, which is thankfully manageable when everything sounds delicious… but is woefully devoid of curry.

Whittling down our food selections, we placed our order with our curt and efficient waiter and soon the dishes began magically appearing on the table. In retrospect I wish I had been a little more diverse in choosing dishes, but I was clearly in an All Fried Appetizers/All Sauteed Entree mood this evening.

My BF fixated on the banal sounding egg roll and was eerily obsessed with consuming these skinny crunchy rolls apparently I’ve been denying him his required dose of crispy fried vegetable products since he plowed through these like there was a prizes at the bottom of the pile.

Sripraphai Thai Restaurant (Woodside, NY)

No. 7 (Brooklyn, NY)

Maneuvering around a flight of steps down to the C train we entered the crowed lounge of No. 7. A loitering line five couples deep blocked our view of the dining room so I send my BF to find out what kind of wait we had in store… he returned with a 30 minute estimate and a cocktail menu. Scanning the list I fumbled over the effervescent Lambrusco and into the Mango, Cilantro, Chipotle Vodka, Sparkling Lime cocktail ($11). The chipotle lingers like undercooked taro (but in the good way) and the cilantro fills the nose with every sip, but the sweetness (or lack thereof) from the mango was inadequate to tie the libation together. I was only 15 minutes into my drink when the hostess came over to tell us our table was ready.

Although we sat at what is probably the worst table in the house – next to the bread stations and bathroom hall – we were happy to be seating at all and we had a direct view into the spiffy bright white kitchen with the red bandana headed chef bobbing back and forth.

We were immediately presented with crusty bread and, be still my heart, a warm gooey white bean fondue and delicately thin and crunchy quick-pickles. When the waitress came over, with a friendly wave of my hand, I said “bring us every vegetarian dish” and then chugging my drink “and a Lambrusco!” Our table was promptly filled with 3 appetizers and a cool glass of wine –our waitress warned me it was a sweet bottle, which I loved despite the resemblance to Welch’s and day old club soda.

I was eager to get the “famous” Fried Broccoli ($7) in my mouth but I was sorely disappointed. From what I gather this is a middle of the country state fair kind of delicacy, and so if you grew up with this I’m sure No.7’s is fabulous; but this girl grew up refilling the ice bath for lacy tempura and so, to me, this dish tasted like a heavy over battered tempura. No. 7 (Brooklyn, NY)

La Bottega (New York, NY)

On a perfectly sunny summer evening the (cool) ladies of my offices hopped a cab to the airy patio of the Maritime Hotel. We quickly sank into a scene where the clientele sashay around the nautical piazza as though they are gracing an uber cool red carpet. They mingle with the hot dads, beautiful children, and monotonous models in scant breezy skirts that flashed bare ass with every butterfly flap.

Our waitress was beautiful but looked barely 17, and so I refused to take wine recommendations from her. I jealously admired her tight short shorts that looked like they hugged her perfectly, but then I saw her picking wedgies multiple times and felt better as I lounged in my summer dress.

On my side of the table, we order the cheapest bottle of white and it was one of the worst wines I’ve ever consumed. Thinking our lesson had been learned, the next round we ordered a pricier bottle, but it was only a hairline better. So we enviously watched our friends sipping on their lovely (although non alcoholic) cocktail across the table. The virgin cocktail menu assembles distinctive drinks that sounded more and more alluring as I drank my 2 bottles of crappy wine.

I found the palm sized rounds of warm pizza doughy bread and the salads to be the highlight of the dinner. Although we didn’t order pizza (until dessert ) the “bread” quietly establishes their pizza oven pride… which I’m sure is perfectly good for the tourist…

La Bottega (New York, NY)

Rant: Menu Etiquette

A recent conversation with a friend made me realize there maybe a disconnect between how to “deal” with a vegetarian when dining out and how such treatment makes them feel. First off, my BIGGEST PET PEEVE of non-vegetarians is when they point out what dishes don’t include meat on a menu. I know they are just trying to be “nice” because they are “worried” I’ll have nothing to eat, but it is embarrassingly patronizing. It’s tantamount to saying “You’re on period… hey look you can have chocolate cake as an entree.” A vegetarian can scan a menu better than anyone (except vegans because they have mad skills), and I find that I am more knowledge about foods that are customarily meaty or unusual terms for animal protein then most omnivores.

My next pet peeve is when a dish at a restaurant is actually called “Vegetarian Pasta” or a sandwich at a deli is called a “Meatless Panini”, this implies the food is somehow a lesser creation or is missing an otherwise important element. It’s more appetizing and inclusive to give these foods names that appeal to everyone and actually describe what the fare is, like “Pappardelle with Lemon, Baby Artichokes, Asparagus, and Parmesan” or “Caprese” – doesn’t that sound better!