Vegan Friendly: Blissful Gatherings Monthly Vegan Pop-Up

The Short and Skinny

Each month, plant-based diners gather in the hills of southern San Diego for a stylish, intimate backyard dinner party.

The Vibe

Guests slowly meander along a path winding between Chula Vista homes in order to find the affair, taking in the falling light of dusk.

They know they have arrived when they spot the artfully set table and are approached by staff offering Sol-ti juice and Kombucha, often including Boochcraft, a high alcohol kombucha brewed just a few miles west.

A spray of eucalyptus leaves run along the center of the communal table, while floral vignettes from local growers rise from small globe vases, set mindfully so as to not block plate space or lines of sight.

Read morehttp://ediblesandiego.ediblecommunities.com/eat/vegan-friendly-blissful-gatherings-monthly-vegan-pop

Vegan Friendly: Bar Snacks at Madison on Park

The Short and Skinny

This hip space, which undulates between indoor and out, is known for creative cocktails, but they also have some seriously great vegan options.

The Vibe

The soft blue paint of the simple façade blends into the clear skies above. Window frames popped up like visors offer glimpses of the wood-rich interior. Cedar planked walls are accented by geometric pops of blue, mustard yellow, and soft pink and modern fixtures resemble drops of white glass clenched in brass. Unseen from the street is the modern basilica of a dining room—a breezy semi-outdoor space enveloped by a 20-foot high arch.

Read more athttp://ediblesandiego.ediblecommunities.com/eat/vegan-friendly-bar-snacks-madison-park

Vegan Friendly: BESHOCK Ramen & Sake Bar in San Diego’s East Village

The Short and Skinny

Quivering curls of springy ramen noodles bathed in a creamy vegan both and inventive vegan buns await under the hospitable gaze of the East Village’s BESHOCK Ramen & Sake Bar.

The Vibe

Sunlight streams through the floor to ceiling glass walls into the modern interior of BESHOCK Ramen & Sake Bar. Stamped tin tiles and Gaslamp-style pendants line the far wall, reflecting the historic core of the city. Above a matte black counter, large windows provide an open view into the kitchen where steaming curls of noodles slip into deep bath of carefully crafted broths. Rustic wood tables and steel-backed chairs are set under an industrial steel rack neatly lined with sake bottles.

Owner Ayaka Ito, a certified sake master, opened BESHOCK in 2016, but the journey to get into this space was a long and winding one.

Ito spent nearly three years traveling thought over 100 ramen houses in Japan to learn the craft. Though her eyes were always focused on San Diego, she built her first ramen house—Three Little Pigs—in her hometown of Nagoya, Japan, a sister ramen shop—or “ramen lab” as Ito calls it—where she developed the recipes that would become the cornerstones of her East Village restaurant.

Read more athttp://ediblesandiego.ediblecommunities.com/eat/vegan-friendly-beshock-ramen-sake-bar-san-diegos-east-village

Loving Hut Mira Mesa (San Diego, CA)

 

Delving into new-to-me dishes at Loving Hut Mira Mesa, I was sure to order a known ally: Amazing Chow ($10). Toothsome wheat noodles, echoing the Chinese egg version, twist around charred soy protein and vegetables. The sauce, sweet and one dimensional, caramelized like soy-candy on the seared edges of everything. Overflowing from the plate, this ample dish makes a meal for days to come. 

A wreath of rice paper wrapped around thin rice vermicelli noodles with mint, fried tofu, soy ham, and lettuce fill the plate of the Loving Hut Fresh Roll ($6). Offered with a fragrant pineapple peanut sauce tying together these mild elements at the start of the meal.

Tight buds of brown rice glazed in their own starch, spiked with curry powder, build the base of the Guru Fried Rice ($10).  Strewn with carrot cubes, petite peas, slivered green onion, and haphazardly cut fried tofu, this dishes holds all the notes of a typical Thai style fried rice.

Although I think the portion runs small, the BBQ Noodles ($10) hits all my wants: Cool knots of rice noodles, crispy spring roll, crisp cucumber, herbaceous mint, sharp green onion, mild and sweet soy beef, and dusting of roasted peanuts. Doused in a sweetly diluted soy sauce, this Vietnamese bun-style dish is a little kitchen sampler.

“Amazing Sauce” perseveres through the menu. The sticky sweet brown sauce pours over the Amazing Saute ($12). Similar to the chow but with rice instead of noodles and larger cuts of soy protein.

But, apparently the dish to get here are the Texas Fries ($8.50). According to the internet, Texas Fries are a thing that people who eat at places like Chili’s know and love. Traditionally, sour cream *could* be an ingredient—but more often it’s a cheese slick punctuated with bacon. At Loving Hut Mira Mesa the fries are tossed with raw white onions, scallions, a scant offering of jalapenos, spice powder, and a minuscule sprinkling of vegan cheddar under a huge glob of what the kitchen calls “sour cream.”

It’s a looming—and sometimes legal—question about how we apply words heavily associated with animal products to their vegan alternatives. So while I personally cannot tell anyone what is or isn’t vegan sour creme—to my taste, this is mayo. I’ll do the glob the service of calling it aioli… and aioli and fries…. do you see where I’m going here? These are really pommes frites. Modeled after a beloved world dish, it’s no surprise this is THE menu favorite… despite it’s mistitlement.

Loving Hut Mira Mesa
9928 Mira Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92131

lovinghut.us/sandiego2

Vegan Friendly: FaVe Tacos in Hillcrest and North Park

The Short and Skinny

Sustainable, farm-savvy T. Elizabeth Cramer fills house-made tortillas with fresh produce pulled fresh from the earth for vegan friendly tacos worth the queue at the Hillcrest and North Park farmers markets.

The Vibe

A smile breaks through the hustle of the Hillcrest Farmers Market, as San Diego native T. Elizabeth Cramer stirs enamel pots filled with locally sourced vegetables—many purchased from the farms just a few stalls down. Curls of cabbage and flutters of cilantro drop from the tip of her tongs. Each day the offerings are slightly different as the rhythms of nature are embraced.

After walking the standard line of life, Elizabeth stepped away from an office job and onto a popular DC food truck to study the food business (something she strongly recommends to anyone wanting to start their own edible empire). Invaluable lessons were learned, followed by a spell of disenchantment, replaced ultimately by a deep desire to really understand farming and sourcing.

Read more at: http://ediblesandiego.ediblecommunities.com/eat/vegan-friendly-fave-tacos-hillcrest-and-north-park

Vegan Friendly: Sushi 2 Launches a Vegan Sushi Menu

The Short and Skinny

After the wild success of their “All You Can Eat (and Drink!) Vegan Sushi” nights, downtown’s Sushi 2 has put their vegan sushi on the permanent menu.

The Vibe

Crowds clamor on the sidewalk outside of Sushi 2. The dining room windows seem to allow the baroque decor of the adjacent Spreckels Theatre lobby to spill inside, so much so that you might think the crowds are here for a show. But, don’t be fooled, they’re here for the sushi.

Owner Kuniko Holmes roams the aisles of her beloved restaurant, smiling over tables filled with colorful cuts and sparkling Sapporo towers. Warm red-orange walls rise high to the paper lantern lit ceiling.

Once the downtown outlet of the Sushi Deli restaurant group, Holmes’ dedicated management won her the opportunity to buyout location, whose menu still holds memories of its past, while carving out its own niche in the market. Ever popular for riding the cusp of quality and affordability, the vegan expansion (officially debuting on 3/28) is perhaps the clearest example of her thoughtful, purposeful changes.

Read more at: Edible San Diego Vegan Friendly

Influx Cafe (San Diego, CA)

This 2/3 bread sandwich is a gift to San Diego.

A faint twinkle of sea salt dusts the surface of Influx Cafe‘s house baked focaccia. The thicc crumb rises with tender, slightly sweet, and yeasty tones, offering a springy hand when clenched between the fingers.  That focaccia is not the focus of this cafe confuses me—but I guess in today’s gluten-fear environment, the many are still dull to the fine breads of San Diego.

Come early enough to Influx Cafe and your only vegan bread option is a bagel (their focaccia is still baking). That was the first annoyance one morning. After standing around 30+ minutes for two bagels (lost ticket) I was ready to blast them with a million ughs. But hot damn—these are the best vegan bangle sandwiches I’ve had in a very long time.

From the sandwich menu, the Tofu 1 ($6.95) are described with little fanfare. Slender slices of firm baked silken tofu layer with sliced red onion, tomato, mixed greens, and a smear of chile veganaise boom. I’ve actually never made it past the Tofu 1 before because it’s just so doggone good.

But because I was kind enough to share my bagel with my husband, I was able to get half of his Tofu 3 ($6.95). I’m sitting here now, reading the ingredients list, knowing I’ve eaten this combination a billion times over, always sucking—except now. Nothing suck about this. The same baked silken tofu is paired with briney olive tapenade, a juicy slice of roasted red pepper, and balsamic vinaigrette dressed arugula. This sandwich, which would normally elicit eye rolls from me, utterly slays. I am now dead. Please bury me between a Tofu 1 and Tofu 3 on India St in Little Italy.

Influx Cafe
750 West Fir
San Diego, CA 92101

influxcafe.com

Instagram: @influx_cafe
Facebook: Influx Cafe Little Italy

Beelman’s (Los Angeles, CA)

At brunch with the super smart, funny, talented and all around good person, Stacy Michelson we dove headfirst into this relaunched, 100% vegan, pub in Downtown LA. Easily agreeing on two cocktails to share, we sat back to enjoy good conversation and me accidentally smashing a glass candle holder. After the candle mishap, we shared the Accidental Guru ($13)—a blend of Jameson with forward notes of peach liquor, tempered with ginger, lime, and hefeweizen, served on the rocks—and the Trinidad Sour ($13)—a boozy crush of Redemption rye, angostura bitters, orgreat, and lemon served Snoopy sno-cone cute with a polkadot paper straw.

I’m about to let you in on a secret: I am a suckers for tater tots. This innovation of waste management grip my heartstrings in its crisp chunky nugs. And so Beelman’s Tachos ($10) were an absolute outcome of brunch. The pan comes loaded with fried tots topped with soyrizo, cashew cheese, salsa, gochujang crema (although we had a hard time singling out this element of the mountain), housemade pickled jalapenos, bird’s eye chili pinto beans, and a toupee of cilantro. Carby and warm, with just a hit of spice, this is exactly what what I crave in pub food.

The appetizer portion of any menu is usually the best part. It is because apps are designed as small flavor packets meant to satisfy in one or two bites—such as these, the Wonton Mee Bites ($6). Golden arms of deep fried wonton wrapper reach up and around domino-sized cuts of smoked tofu. A sweet and tart balsamic reduction glistens over a base of sriracha aioli, all under a confetti of green onions.

The least successful dish of my brunch was the only actual brunch dish we ordered: Harissa Says It All ($15). Slivers of fried grits and seared tofu with togarashi—a japanese chili pepper—atop roasted potatoes with rainbow carrots and kale tossed in a mild house-made harissa. This dish simply didn’t live up to the complexity and kick that harissa promises. As for the fried grits, I would pay for just a plateful of these deep fried, sweet corn filled, shards.

We debated this choice. Neither Stacy nor I had yet tried the Impossible burger. Unsure if Beelman was where we should rip the hyman of this darling-of-mainstream-hype, our eyes locked and we decided: No, this would not be the one.

While ordering we mentioned that we had never tried the Impossible Burger.

“But you must! ” Vance said.

Apparently that was all it took because as you can see, we order a Classic Impossible Burger ($16). Slathered with chipotle aioli, a fat red tomato slice, spring greens, pickles, and spicy ketchup which is was thankfully not very ketchupy because ketchup is a garbage condiment and yes you should be ashamed of liking it. The burger party was thinner then I expected (have we all been spoiled by the girth of the Beyond Burger?) and… umm, well—OK, let me acknowledge here that it’s been at least 25 years since I’ve eaten cow. But, like many of us, I have vivid memories of the flavors of youth which in my case did include cowburgers. So, to my self-assessed strong sense of food recollection, this did not taste “just like meat.”

For me, this burger confirmed what I’ve suspected about the Impossible Burger—that it’s a high quality product benefiting from awesome PR and the sudden societal interest in WFPB “healthy” eating. This burger got lucky. Riding on the What the Health tailwind, there is a strong desires by vegans and omnis alike to believe it is a near undetectable substitute for cow. Personally, I don’t think it is. This burger’s miracle of science story and the corroboration of “non-bias” (aka not vegan) media has coddled hordes of omnivores into finally feeling it is OK to say a veggie burger tastes good. So I am very happy to complicity nod and smile when omnis tell me how much they love this vegan burger*.

But I think the real issue here is form. Because since this meal I’ve had Impossible meat in a shepherds pie—and there, there it tasted like eerily of beef. Without the palate numbing loaf of bread, and the 3:1 ratio of vegetables to meat, the irony tang of heme stands at the forefront of each bite.

Because we are gluttons, after all this food we went on to share an Ice Cream Sundae ($8). Scoops of Vanilla and Honeycomb Van Leeuwen ice cream drizzled in guava sauce, topped in coconut whip cream and eared with deep fried, wonton wrapped, sweet plantains. While I think ice cream is a weak dining-in vegan dessert (dear restaurants: please stop serving sorbet as a vegan, gluten-free, healthy catch-all. It is boring as f***) this was a light yet flavorful finale.

Beelman’s
600 S Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90014

beelmans.com

Instagram: Beelmansla
Facebook: Beelmansla

*Yes, I am away of the vegan paradox surrounding this product. I absolutely respect everyone’s opinion on this matter and am personally choosing to call the Impossible Burger vegan.

All food hosted.

Plant Food and Wine (Venice,CA)

Under the twinkling trees and against the rustle of climbing ivy, we perused the wine list. Our fingers faltered over a lovely 2013 Preston Petite Sirah (Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma​ County, CA) that was so nice we ordered it twice.

From day one, at the top of the Santa Monica Mall, Plant Food and Wine has been serving these Kimchi Dumpling ($16). Dehydrated cilantro and coconut skins folded over a soft paste of fermented kimchee, cashews, tahini, and ginger. The plate is finished with dollops of ginger and sesame milk foam, micro greens, and a twirling flick of red cabbage puree thinned out with kimchi juice. While the name implies heat, there is none to be found in these tender—almost sweet—bites now served in a non-mall atmosphere befitting of the price point.

Two Chinese-style folded rounds of sweet white bread with a tacky glaze make up The Steamed Buns ($14). The fluffy bread is folded around A: Smoked tofu, napa cabbage, and pickled chili with a miso mustard; B: Oyster mushrooms, scallions, and pickled cucumber with a cashew hoisen glaze. I can see how these complex yet delicate flavors made their way to the menu. Priced at $7 a piece, I also understand why they are no longer there.

Though the Cashew Raclette ($14) does not remotely resemble the gooey lava flow of a traditional raclette, the warm cultured cashew creme, glazed in tart brine, melts into the crevasses of the grilled slices of Lodge Bread. Petite gherkins and a radish-parsley garnish drives this dish further from it’s namesake and deeper into likability.

A man-bun of marinated kelp noodles slick with black pepper cashew cream, slivers of sweet snap peas, and delicate curls of pea tendrils make up the Cacio e Pepe ($21). A swath of pea puree lays base under the sandy sprinkle of crisp, oil-cured, olives and pink arugula flowers.

A hardier dish for warmer weather, the Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Farro Bolognese ($24) offers carbs dressed in delicate micro greens and arugula flower. Tender potato dumplings melt into a creamy butternut squash sauce that no one will walk away hungry from.

This is a whole serving of the Apple Pie with Caramel Ice Cream a la mode ($12). That’s not meant as a jab, I’m just stating fact. The raw half-pipe of pastry shell is layered with tart peeled apples with cinnamon, caramel sauce, and a quenelle of rapidly melting ice cream. I’ve repeatedly lamented the state of vegan desserts in restaurants but can say that at least this one is making an effort to be interesting.

To wind down the wine we shared a Turmeric Latte with frothy house-made almond milk laced with ginger.

While overall the dishes at Plant Food and Wine were quite good, at the end of the evening prices gore everyone’s bank account. While food quality and knife skills are what we’ve been groomed to believe we are buying, what one actually buys at Plant Food and Wine—and at any fancy high end restaurant—is status. The right to see and be seen sitting here, high in the corner booth, cocooned by twinkling lights and fluttering olive leaves on one of America’s most exclusive streets. We are the ones who have made it. Who through hard work and moxy—but mostly blind luck and inheritance—get to congratulate​ ourselves on making the good choices in life.

Plant Food and Wine
1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291

matthewkenneycuisine.com/plant-food-wine-venice

Instagram: @PlantFoodandWine
Facebook: PlantFoodandWine

Garden Kitchen (San Diego, CA)

On the edge of residential Rolando, far from the sparkle of coastal locations, chef Coral Strong’s Garden Kitchen pulls from San Diego’s soil and presents the treasures in their naked glory and preserved peaks. No dish captures this as well as the Kitchen Sink ($16).

On menu it is a meat and cheese plate—but I rolled the dice on Coral’s veganization and won a bonanza. The dairy cheeses were replaced with luscious sunflower seed pate and a lemon and chive spiked cashew cheese. Served alongside spicy picked beet stem (a scrumptious no-waste solution), strawberries, blackberries, cherry tomatoes, avocado, gherkins, radish, pickled cherries, curry hummus, strawberry sage jam, strawberry rhubarb compote, smokey grilled bread, and glossy Surinam cherries from La Vigne Organics in Fallbrook (distributed via @wesavegoodfood). But the pot that I wished to drown in was the sweet and earthy fennel carrot marmalade. Assuming all vegan variations of this dish provide this level of quality and innovative, I’d say this is THE must order item in this restaurant.

The beverage menu is short and well curated. We diversified the table with a Benchmark Brewing Brown Ale and a glass of Chuparosa Vineyards (Ramona) 2016 Albarino ($12). I took a shot of the South Coast Winery (Temecula) California Girl Table White midway through the evening, but I stuck with the Albarino for the meal.

Sometime when a item is marked “vegan option” you look at the subtracts need and wonder if it will still be good. Such was the case when I eyed the Greek Artichokes ($10). Described as “baby artichokes with arugula, feta, roasted red bell pepper, tzatziki, and grilled lemon” I took the risk and ordered it. The result exceeded expectation. Feta was replaced with an invisible to the eye, but not to the tongue, sage oil and the tzatziki gave way to a rich thai coconut curry. I filled the crevasses with drippings of charred citrus and devoured the entire flower, including its carefully dissected heart.

Waves made still in the mire of Cream of Butternut Squash ($8). Pureed squash with a modest amount of house-made vegetable broth and topped with crisp sage leaves.

Berry Goat ($14) arugula, strawberries, blackberries, roasted fennel,  candied pecans, shaved radish, and red onion in a strawberry champagne vinaigrette. In lieu of goat cheese, chef Strong offers up avocado and radishes. Roughage was needs for this meal, but the avocado didn’t temper the tart of the berries they way a cheese would. But having just indulged ourselves in the Kitchen Sink, I understand the chef’s attempt to not repeat herself with a cashew cheese.

Tacos–especially those filled with mushrooms–are never my first pick. But that was the vegan option my night at Garden Kitchen. Double stacked, scratch-made, corn tortillas could not contain the heaping base of finely ground cremini “Chorizo,” nugs of hass avocado, cabbage, carrot and fennel slaw finished off with a strawberry pico de gallo ($20). As I’ve always complained about tacos, a fork was necessary to transport these into my mouth. But while I may lament form, I am thrilled to encounter fruit in unexpected places. Here, strawberries got to expose their savory side–tart and crunch twinkled in the forefront as sweetness slid behind the scenes. The pot of black beans were rich with seasonings of the southern islands and I feel eminently guilty for having not scraped that ramekin completely clean.

With one vegan dessert option listed, Chocolate Mousse ($9), the waitress let us know the kitchen could also make us a Peach & Blueberry Crisp ($9). Stuffed silly and unable to reach a conclusion, we let the kitchen choose: The kitchen chose both. The base of summer fruit, tart with lemon zest, lies hidden under a crisp on top and oatmeal gooey below cinnamon and steel cut streusel. Mildly sweet, as fruits should be, it was no match for the luscious glass of chocolate-whipped avocado and coconut cream, grounded by base notes of mocha powder and tart cymbals of strawberries.

Beyond the thoughtful vegan options, Garden Kitchen stands as my ideal restaurant. A space build without pretension–a renovated home patio made cozy with awnings and heat lamps and the occasional wail of a babe living next door–Chef Coral’s presence screams sincerity. She takes each table to heart, serving her talents without ego, and enabling her staff to funnel the kitchens graces through attentive service and culinary accommodation. It kills me to think there are people missing out of this restaurant simply because of its location.  But on a random week night the house seems full enough to keep a smile on chef Coral’s face and my table full of wine and surprise vegan dishes beyond what the menu promises. If I had the means, I’d eat here regularity. But till then, I’ll be directing as many as I can to come to Rolando for what is truly a taste of San Diego.

Garden Kitchen
4204 Rolando Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92175

gardenkitchensd.com