Friday, February 29, 2008

VegNews Does Dallas

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Lunch in Texas
Where: Spiral Diner, Dallas and Fort Worth
When: February 27, 2008
Why: Why not?

The Scoop: You know what they say about vegans. We will travel to great lengths to get great grub. VN Publisher Joseph Connelly and I were in Austin for a publisher’s conference (where VN took home the top prize for “Best Magazine Design” … more on that in the March edition of the VegNewsletter), Fort Worth is a three-hour drive from Austin, so how could we not extend our trip an extra day to experience a meal at the world famous (and VegNews’ 2007 Restaurant of the Year) Spiral Diner? Lo and behold, the day before our scheduled meal, Spiral opened its much-anticipated second location in Dallas, so to Dallas we went. Housed in an old brick warehouse, the space is bright, airy, and abuzz with exuberant employees and overjoyed customers (overjoyed because they no longer have to make the 30-minute trek to Fort Worth for their Spiral fix). I settled into a luscious Parmigiana Wrap (marinated and grilled seitan covered in marinara sauce with black olives, pine nuts, pesto, and vegan mozzarella plus a side of house-made potato salad), while Joe enjoyed every bite of his Sweet Luv’us Hummus Wrap (layers of sweet potato and hummus, steamed veggies, avocado, and spicy walnuts plus tortilla chips). After chatting with the owner Sara about the challenges and rewards of running a vegan restaurant, we hopped into our rental and made the trek to Fort Worth. Located on a charming street in a historical neighborhood (which we later discover is the most progressive voting district in Texas), we entered the retro-style, ultra-hip abode of the original Spiral Diner. The menu is identical to the Dallas location and filled with appetizers, wraps, burgers, salads, hot plates, shakes, baked goods, and sundaes—it was the most extensive vegan menu I've ever seen. But it was dessert time, so Joe ordered a slice of freshly made blueberry pie with a scoop of vanilla soy ice cream, and I went for a slice of chocolate mint cake and a chai latte with almond milk. The cake was incredible—chocolate cake smothered in a peppermint buttercreme frosting and covered with crumbled Oreo’s. So good. We finally met Spiral Diner founder Amy McNutt and had a great conversation with her husband James Johnston and Spiral Fort Worth’s new owner, Lindsay, before making our way to the airport. Fortunately for the VN staff, we returned with a box full of cookies, brownies, and peanut butter cups from the Spiral bakery.

We want to know: What is the furthest you’ve ever traveled to procure a vegan meal? Do tell all! Did your travels reward you with anything as gorgeous as this cake?!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Southern Comfort

Who: VN Senior Editor Jennifer Pickens
What: The southernmost vegetarian take-out in the world
Where: El Bambú, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego
When: January 4, 2008
Why: On my way to Antarctica—for fun, obviously!

The Scoop: I recently embarked on the journey of a lifetime—a cruise to Antarctica! The departure gateway is Ushuaia—a quaint town nestled at the foot of the Andes at the southern tip of South America—the southernmost town in the world. After 22 hours of traveling we checked in to the Hosteria los Canelos. Since it was dinnertime (and as usual, Aerolineas Argentinas didn’t supply the vegetarian meals I had requested) I decided to head out, explore the town, and grab a bite. After patiently listening to directions to the touristy place down the road with the “best” steaks in Argentina from the hotel's concierge, I explained “soy vegetariana” and his face went blank. A gentleman ran across the lobby to tell me about a place that’s “good for vegetarians.” So with map in hand, directions, and a no idea what might be in store for me, I rounded the corner and saw El Bambú—an all-vegetarian take out counter! At this point I was ravenously hungry, and I enjoyed my re-heated vegetable brown rice bowl with gusto. Maybe not the best food I’ve ever eaten, but even at the end of the world, there's veg dining!

La La Land

Who: VN Managing Editor Aurelia d’Andrea + Senior Editor Jennifer Pickens
What: Restaurant soft opening for media
Where: The Veggie Grill, El Segundo, Calif.
When: January 18, 2008
Why: Business

The Scoop: Our fun- and food-filled weekend excursion to Los Angeles began at Veggie Grill which is not technically in LA, but in El Segundo, of all places. It’s a little tricky to find if you don’t know this area, but after accidentally driving into a local air force base, we finally discovered the restaurant tucked away in a mini-mall behind the largest Whole Foods either if us had ever seen. Gregarious owners Kevin and TK met us at the door and gave us the VIP treatment. Choosing which amazingly yummy dish to order off the all-vegan menu proved challenging. Jen opted for the Chop-Chop Chef salad, sprinkled with quinoa and served with a creamy, chipotle-infused dressing. Jen swears it’s the best salad she’s ever eaten. Ever. For reals. Aurelia’s Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ Sandwich came with the crispiest, most heavenly sweet potato fries, and left her feeling full and happy for hours. After an afternoon of shopping for vintage clothes on Melrose, we drove to Venice to meet up with friends and dine at Real Food Daily in Santa Monica—where we immediately spoiled our appetites with the best starter in the world: vegan nachos. They were perfect, right down to the cheesy sauce drizzled all over them. We both wished that we’d ordered individual platters. Not that dinner wasn’t great, mind you. But come on. Vegan nachos?! Yes, please.

Here's a close-up on the awesome grub at Veggie Grill:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fun(ny) Times

Who: VN Senior Editor Jen Pickens + Managing Editor Aurelia d’Andrea
What: A night of comedy with one of our favorite columnists
Where: The Purple Onion, San Francisco, Calif.
When: February 22, 2008
Why: For fun. Lots of it!

The Scoop: When we heard that VN columnist and world-renowned cartoonist Dan Piraro would be performing stand-up comedy right here in VN’s hometown, and that proceeds from the show would benefit animals at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, Jen and Aurelia didn’t hesitate to procure tickets to the first of two sold-out performances. After scoring rock-star parking right in front of the legendary Purple Onion nightclub’s door, we stopped to chat with the signature gatherers working for, then moseyed downstairs to get our giggles on. Inside the club, we spied Sun Flour Baking Company’s founder, Rey Ortega, who bought us thirsty girls a drink, then settled in for a night of fake-guitar playin’, high-school-photo showin’, hate-mail readin’ hilarity courtesy of a very dapper Dan. Opening act Johnny Steele wasn’t bad, either.

New York, New York!

Who: VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria
What: Dinner on the town
Where: Candle 79, New York City
When: February 8, 2008
Why: Fun!

The Scoop: Probably the most amazing dinner I've ever eaten. Correction: probably the most amazing dinner anyone has ever eaten. This evening was an absolutely perfect storm of setting, company, and cuisine. Candle 79's classy, dimly lit interior made an elegant space for our group. VN columnist and professional funny guy Dan Piraro and Ashley Lou Smith, Ben Adams and his awesome wife Anne-Taylor, yours truly, my permanent date T.J. Kirkpatrick, and the amazing playwright Bekah Brunstetter shared a meal that should be noted in the history of great meals. It started with grilled seitan chimichurris and quickly became an all-out smorgasbord of young coconut pad thai, pumpkin seed and sage crusted tempeh, the chef's special pasta of gorgeous gnocchi in a tomato and cashew cream sauce, and, of course, the seitan piccata. Everything that went into our mouths was incredible, and if there weren't photos to prove it, I might not be able to believe that such a lovely evening took place.