Wednesday, July 30, 2008
What: Taking Action for Animals
Where: Arlington, Va.
When: July 19–21, 2008
Why: Because animals need us to take action!
The Scoop: While most tourists tend to avoid the Washington, DC, area during the throes of July's humidity, attending TAFA was reason enough for our troupe to brave the thick, wet air. Luckily, the hotel in which the convention was held was well equipped to deal with our wilting and kept the AC flowing freely. After getting settled, we all enjoyed the welcome reception and met up with multitudes of enthusiastic advocates. TAFA is put on by The Humane Society of the United States, and who do you think was the very first person to welcome us to the conference? That would be president Wayne Pacelle, of course. After mingling to our hearts content and getting to know our fellow attendees, Katie and I decided to strike out on our own in search of some substantial eats. It took us more time to read over the extensive menu at The Vegetable Garden than it had to get there on the Metro. The crispy eggplant, orange beef with pineapple, and organic vegetable delight revived us from our day of traveling.
The next morning we hustled downstairs to the exhibition hall to make sure we were ready for the VN-hungry crowds. Well, okay, they may have had one other reason to stop by our booth: the Sticky Fingers Cupcake Party! That's Sticky Finger's own Ben Adams and Doron Petersan you see holding a hefty box of cupcakes below. It took only 20 minutes for all 200 incredibly yummy treats to get distributed to the eager masses. There are likely better methods of taking action for animals than gorging on vegan cupcakes, but none as sweet!
We spent the rest of the conference enjoying the oratory skills of Gene Baur, VN columnist Rory Freedman, web-media guru Joe Trippi, and anti-puppy-mill crusader Jana Kohl, and munching on the exquisite fare provided by Veg Advantage's Chef Lex Townes. Let me just say that I could have easily eaten 10 of the incredible faux-chicken panini with melty, dairy-free cheese and fresh tomatoes that we noshed for lunch on Saturday. Though, it would have been a shame to be too full to eat at the banquet Saturday night, which featured some of the best freaking mashed potatoes I've ever had, and a scrumptuous faux-chicken breast in an outrageously good herbed mushroom sauce. Another highlight of the banquet was Carol Leifer's fall-down funny presentation. We were lucky enough to have the highly comedic comedian at our banquet table, and she was kind enough to snap a photo with Katie and me (above). Despite the heat and humidity, a great time was had by all!
What: A long weekend in Tokyo
Where: Tokyo, Japan
When: July 17–22, 2008
Why: To check out a new vegan restaurant + the Tokyo Star Wars Celebration
The Scoop: I'll be honest: Tokyo was never on my list of "Places to See Someday," but when my friend Betty mentioned that the Star Wars Celebration was going to be held in Tokyo for the first time, I couldn't resist. Having never been to any kind of Star Wars convention, I thought Japan would be the best place to experience it for the first time. Also, Mark Hamill was going to be there! I mentioned the trip to my VN co-workers, and like Charlie's Angels, they were on the job. While Aurelia was at Summerfest, she met Mamiko Matsuda, an author from Japan who drew up a couple of maps pinpointing two great new restaurants in Tokyo. Sold.
Our first night in Japan's capital, we found ourselves wandering through a mall near the Tokyo Disney Resort looking for food. Bad idea. I spent $20 on fries and an iceberg lettuce salad with an unexpected, unwanted creamy ranch-type dressing that had to be scraped off. The experience was not unlike an expensive trip to Applebee's … ugh. Surely this can't be a typical Tokyo dining experience?
We spent the next day at the Star Wars Celebration. My veteran Star Wars-convention-going friends assured me that this was a much smaller, mellower version than usual, but since it was the first time for me and my friend Susan, we had a great time nonetheless! The veg options at the convention center were sparse, but we soon discovered something we called "food triangles." They are basically just that—a triangle of rice wrapped in seaweed with various fillings that you buy prefab. Tip: The one in the green package is vegan. Luckily, they're cheap and sold almost everywhere, so we lived on those for the day.
Then it was dinnertime. [Cue ominous "Darth Vader's Theme" here]. We walked over to a restaurant near the convention center and I ordered some noodles with vegetables. What ensued was the third worst meal of my adult life. Instead of mixing the veggies with the noodles, they brought me yet another iceberg lettuce salad with two massive dollops of mayonnaise "dressing." At least I could scoop those off the plate. Then came the plain soba noodles, floating in the most vile-smelling meat broth ever. So, there went $13 for about six bites of plain lettuce and two under-ripe tomato wedges, all the while trying not to gag from the inundating sights and smells.
The next morning, Susan and I set out to find Kappabashi, aka Tokyo's restaurant supply district. Navigating the subway system can be a bit daunting since there are two competing train companies, hence two subway maps are needed to figure out which line to take, which company to use, and if you'll need to transfer between the two. But we found it with just a little local assistance, also discovering the beer and sake vending machines along the way. We skipped the kitchen supply and dishware stores and headed straight for the shops with the fake plastic food models, in all of their kitschy glory.
Then we set out for the Ginza district to find the first of our highly recommended restaurants—Dorobushi—a classy place on the 9th floor above a cosmetics shop. Even though it isn't strictly veg, it's organic, and there are many veg options on the menu. I was thrilled with my meal, which involved miso soup, an array of vegetables, and sautéed green peppers. Now this is more like it! From there we walked through Shinjuku district and had a drink at the Aurora lounge with a view of Tokyo from the 45th floor. An unexpected firework display provided the perfect ending to the day.
The ultimate meal came the following day. Veggie Paradise, which just opened last September, sits on a small street in a residential area that we would have spent a very long time searching for if not for the help of a taxi. But it was so worth the journey. The all-vegan menu includes a choice of raw and macrobiotic meals. This is my new favorite restaurant! Since it was such a warm day, we started the meal with a cool tomato-watermelon soup and a cabbage salad. Susan had the faux-chicken meal, and I opted for the macrobiotic meal. Their wine and beer selections are all organic, so we indulged. After our meal we were lucky enough to meet the owner and chef, Yuki Itoh, and I discovered that she attended the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, Calif., and she now teaches living-food and macrobiotic cooking classes in Japan.
Yuki was kind enough to draw us a new map to find our way back, sending us past Levain vegan bakery along the way, where we picked up some snacks for dessert. As we were walking through the Yoyogi-koen Park we found the best flea market (where I scored an adorable vintage dress), before stumbling across some great veg-themed t-shirts at a shop near the Harajuku station. From there, we ran over to Tokyo Disneyland for the night where I had—you guessed it—fries for dinner. Oh well, I still found two really great restaurants in Tokyo, as well as having a great weekend, so it was worth all of the iceberg lettuce and French-fry meals.
What: Phase 2 of their Manhattan/Brooklyn Adventure
Where: The Big Apple
When: July 11–14
Why: To eat, drink, and be merry
The Scoop: I’d always heard how awesome New York was, but didn’t comprehend the actual degree of it’s awesomeness until getting there and seeing—and tasting—for myself. On a warm, sunshiny Brooklyn afternoon, Jen and I took Dan Piraro’s advice and set off toward Bedford Street to check out the action. First stop: Vinnie’s, an ordinary-looking pizza place that just happens to serve up an extensive menu of vegan offerings, including barbecue “chicken” pizza and "bacon" calzones. What do we have to do to get one of these joints in San Francisco? We weren’t hungry after our Chinatown chow-down, but we made a full inspection of the wares, and chit-chatted with the nice guys behind the counter. I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be all rough and gruff? Not so. Using our vegan radar, we walked out of Vinnie's like happy Stepford Wives and right into the cutest veg establishment ever in the history of the universe: Penny Licks.
Like a kid in a, um, candy store
Dressed up like an old-fashioned candy store, this vegan-sweets boutique made us wish we hadn’t just eaten 29 turnip cakes and 73 tofu skin rolls. Vegan cakes, cookies, candies, bars, pies, doughnuts, dipped pretzels, woopie pies … this place was awe-inspiring on looks alone, and judging by the crowds lined up for the goodies, the stuff was tasty, too (and we can vouch for at least one menu item: Vegan Treats' Peanut Butter Bomb Cake. We’d recognize that anywhere!). A few doors up we passed Wild Ginger, a "pan-Asian vegan café" whose menu—from the Yam and Taro Tempura to the Orange Seitan with Broccoli—looks divine. Next time! Moving along, we poked our noses in a number of crowded cafés, vintage clothing stores, antique shops, and internet hangouts before looping around and back to the Manhattan-bound L train to primp for our evening. Along the way, we passed yet another veg eatery, Bliss, that we hear has a killer tofu scramble.
Back at our hotel, we changed clothes, then moseyed over to Lan Café for a Vietnamese meal made memorable by a surprise visitor who arrived at our table armed with a bottle of wine and an offer to share. Lan Café doesn’t offer "adult" beverages, but they do have a liberal BYOB policy, and since we’re never ones to refuse the kindness of strangers, we sipped Australian Chardonnay as we slurped our noodles. Next, we made like boomerangs and headed back to Brooklyn to meet up with a heap of cool cats, including The Discerning Brute’s Joshua Katcher and the world’s most dazzling vegan stylista/animal savior/newsletter diva, Chloé Jo Berman. One of us (okay, that would be Aurelia) was nervous about meeting up with such shiny, pretty dignitaries, but soon discovered they were really a bunch of friendly, down-to-earth, straight-shooting kids with both smarts and silly streaks. My favorite combination!
Leaving our watering hole before the witching hour, we made like hungry bandits to the all-night natural-foods grocery store and scarfed vegan "tuna" sandwiches, chewy Primal Strips, and fresh fruit.
Next day, we sauntered over to the fun and funky Chelsea Flea Market at the advice of dessert doyenne Fran Costigan and picked up a few goodies before bee-lining it to Saravanaas Restaurant for enormous silver plates loaded down with idli, vada, utthapam, and sambar. Next stop: 60th St., for a bit of Bastille Day action hosted by the French Institute. From there, it was a hop, skip, and a jump over to Central Park, where we held our noses as we walked past those sad-looking carriage horses weighted down with tourists. Keeping to a leisurely pace, we arrived, at last, at The Met, where, with a mere hour to blast through the entire collection of world-class art, we scanned Monets, Manets, and Man Rays before heading back downtown for drinks, Dinner #1, and Dinner #2, both of which took place at Viva Herbal Pizza. There, we had a small-world moment: As we chomped our humongous triangles loaded with fake meat and tomato sauce, who should walk in but HSUS's Patrick Kwan. A serendipitous end to a spectacular trip.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Who: Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria + Editorial Assistant Lisa Mickleborough
What: Dinner date
Where: The Usual Suspects Café in San Francisco, Calif.
When: July 17, 2008
Why: To check out the Russian revolution in North Beach
The Scoop: Abuzz since it opened its doors in May of this year, The Usual Suspects filled the retro-veg-diner void the tummies of hungry SF vegetarians have long been grumbling for. Yelpers, bloggers, and other members of the local vegeratti flocked to the deco, rockabilly-styled hot spot, churning out glowing reviews of their pasta, burgers, wraps, and pizzas. But as word that there had been a sudden chef and menu change, many fickle fans abandoned their new favorite watering hole on less-than-reasonable grounds. Sure, ordering borscht from a hand-written menu and eating it next to a jukebox is all a little strange (after all, the American '50s and Russia don't exactly jive), but the restaurant's identity is still in development. What've they already got down pat? Welcoming service, and a now-vegan menu updated daily according to what's freshest at the market—and it's all prepared from scratch by recent Russian immigrants. People, it's authentic vegan Russian food! From the land of fur and kasha!
On this particular evening, we enjoyed their amazing, creamy-garlic Eggplant Rolls (seriously, order 18 of them), filling and savory mushroom and potato Vareniks, followed by gooey chocolate blintzes. Made fresh with wholesome, rich ingredients, we left feeling sated, spoiled, and suspicious about what this unusual spot has in store for us next ...
Who: VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea + VN Senior Editor Jennifer Pickens
The Scoop: New York City in the middle of summer? When it’s like, 98 degrees and 100-percent humidity? You bet! According to Aurelia and Jen’s logic, this is the magic time to visit the Big Apple, since half the city is in the Hamptons or at lake houses upstate or maybe just cooling down in their air-conditioned apartments. In other words, the city would be all ours. Well, sort of. But never mind that. Between social engagements, sightseeing jaunts, and stuffing our faces with amazing food, crowds were the least of our concerns.
After checking into our hotel on Day 1, the two of us meandered about the East Village, serendipitously stumbling upon veg restaurant after veg restaurant, including Kate’s Joint, Viva Herbal Pizzeria, and Lan Café. Wanting to hold out for the special meal we were to eat later that night, we skipped those guys in favor of a light snack at Whole Earth Bakery & Kitchen, where, in spite of all the vegan cheesecakes, cheeseless calzones, and egg-free quiches staring at us from behind the glass counter, Aurelia decided on a simple shot of wheatgrass juice and Jen opted for a cooling cup of gazpacho.
Later that night, we cabbed it up to 79th and Lexington for a memorable meal at elegant veg institution Candle 79. Benay Vyenerib, a friend of a good friend, works at Candle and went the extra mile to hook us up with the best table in the house. Hurray! After a glass of wine and shared appetizers that included the to-die-for stuffed squash blossoms, we moved on to our main courses: Seitan Piccata (Aurelia), and Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Cake (Jen). Let’s just say that it was so delicious and so filling that these two chocolate-and-peanut-butter-loving girls couldn’t even look at the words “Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss” on the menu. Ouch. But in a good way. During our meal, we had three surprise visitors to our table: HSUS’s man about town Patrick Kwan, vegan marshmallow diva Sara Sohn of Sweet and Sara, and VN’s very own contributing photographer Danielle Ricciardi. Talk about a small world! The chance encounters gave us an excuse to make plans with Patrick for the following day. Our rendezvous destination? Chinatown.
from left: Benay Vyenerib, Aurelia d'Andrea, Danielle Ricciardi, and Jennifer Pickens
On Day 2, we woke early and grabbed our respective morning pick-me-up elixirs and made our way in a leisurely fashion to the southern tip of Chinatown for some dim sum with Patrick at his favorite local spot, Buddha Bodai. After slurping cups of green tea and feasting on turnip cakes, tofu-skin rolls, steamed buns and other assorted goodies, we wiggled around the neighborhood, making stops at Animal Haven and May Wah Vegetarian Food before hopping on the L train toward Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And oh what fun we were about to have! Just so happens that Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary was throwing a tag sale that day, and if there’s one thing we love, it’s a tag sale to benefit animals. There we bumped into Mr. and Mrs. Hotstuff, Dan Piraro and Ashley Lou Smith—definitely two of the nicest folks we've ever met. We also ran into new friend Cat Clyne, formerly of Satya magazine, and the lovely Jenny Brown, who heads up the Woodstock Sanctuary. Oh, wait! We also met former VN Vegan Wedding couple Tom O’Hagan and Sara Kubersky of Mooshoes, along with their super-cute baby boy. Phew!
Lest your eyeballs begin to shrivel like two organic raisins, phase two of our Brooklyn/Manhattan sojourn to follow in another post.
Monday, July 21, 2008
What: Gastronomical tour of San Francisco
Where: San Francisco's Chinatown and North Beach neighborhoods
When: July 12, 2008
Why: To be ladies who lunch. And snack. And get treats to go.
The Scoop: Having lived six months in this fantastic town, I'd like to think I've done Arthur Frommer proud, exploring SF's most remarkable nooks, crannies, and vegan venues. But no amount of my own enthusiasm or well-researched trailblazing can compare to a personally guided tour with a long time local—particularly one who happens to be vegan and great company. Colleen planned a jam-packed, epicurean treasure trail, leading Ms. Jenny and me east around the new old-world, making stops in the particularly delicious China and indulgent Italy. First stop: lunch at the Buddhist and vegan Lucky Creation—a tiny, spotless hole-in-the-Great-Wall where, no sooner had we dumped our bags and placed our orders did countless steaming white dishes descend upon our crowded table. Boasting simple and flavorful renditions of won-ton soup, pot stickers, tofu and eggplant, and homemade marinated curry, sweet and sour, and barbecue mock meats, all made with amazingly fresh ingredients. Lingering longer than our business-like hostesses would have liked (you may have to trade your first born for a second glass of water), we stopped for a quick photo op before meandering through the famous Ross Alley to peak in on the hard-working ladies of the historic Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
After so much food, we were in danger of slipping into a food coma, so off we went to North Beach for some uppers in the form of soy lattes and Italian sodas. But first, we had to take a quick Eurasian detour to the now all-vegan The Usual Suspects Café and peek at their recently Ruskied menu which, as we found out, boasts "borsh" and blintzes. Uh, you heard us. Check back here for highlights for our upcoming full-review!
Heading north, we visit Caffe Greco—one of San Francisco’s most treasured Italian spots. Famous for its authentic, fresh tiramisu and cannoli, they also whip up some mean, foamy lattes and a special sweet treat for our sweet-toothed tour-guide: the Greco Sunrise, which consists of Orangina and gourmet strawberry syrup. With the Saturday sun and tourists in full-force, the café's sidewalk seating presented the perfect opportunity to rest our feet, watch the flurry of interesting international fashions, and soak up some vitamin D. With no cuisine more indulgent than that of the French, we had to cap our tour de SF in France—or, at least, a French chocolatier. XOX Truffles’ founding chef Jean-Marc Gorce is nationally renowned for his velvety morsels, and we scooped up some of his vegan dark Chocolate, “l'orange,” and “noisette” (hazelnut) vegan flavors to take home as a sensual souvenir.
Here's a photo of the enthusiastic, albeit extremely caffeinated, trio:
Friday, July 11, 2008
What: A post-party weekend getaway
Where: Lake Tahoe, Calif.
When: June 28–30, 2008
Why: To relax and rejuvenate after the party festivities!
The Scoop: It’s true. We had one heck of an issue launch party. You know when everything goes just right? Well it all did, the night of our fabulous soirée to benefit the very important Humane California campaign.
But after all is said and done, a little R&R was in order to get back on track. And with a cozy cabin at our disposal that just happened to be a stone’s throw from a handful of veg-friendly eateries, we were happy campers. Oh, we also enjoyed the very close proximity to gorgeous Lake Tahoe, but I digress from what’s of utmost importance: the food.
After a four-hour drive from San Francisco and then quickly getting settled at the cabin, we strolled over to the area’s most talked-about veggie hotspot, Sprouts. Although not completely vegetarian, the restaurant boasts a bevy of veggie options that would keep us satisfied for a much-longer stay than we had planned. Clearly a neighborhood staple, the place was packed with fresh-faced locals (Ski instructors? Hikers? Bicyclists?) in for their fix of healthy, wholesome, generously-portioned food. We grabbed a table outside and tucked into chips and guacamole, a taco salad smothered with tahini sauce and salsa, and the always-dependable brown rice with veggies. After an evening stroll along the lake, we found ourselves at Freshies, a Hawaiian-style restaurant loaded with vegan options. In need of a sweet finale, we shared a slice of the housemade Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Pie. Vegan and delicious.
The next morning, eager to go hiking but also wanting to try another restaurant, we stumbled upon Wide Awake Conscious Café. A small but inviting and quite chic café, the menu makes a claim we’d never before seen: 100% vegetarian, except for a few dishes marked with a chicken icon. Okay, we can live with that; at least they’re proudly touting the veggie focus. We again dined al fresco and sipped on freshly squeezed orange juice (with biodegradable corn straws) before indulging in one of the best veggie breakfast burritos we’ve ever had. Stuffed in a flat bread were tofu scramble, vegetables, beans, and vegan cheese, then the whole thing was grilled to perfection (see photo below). Each order arrived with a pair of burritos, plenty to share amongst two people. We loved their self-service water pitchers teeming with edible flowers and herbs, and an all-vegan dessert case is in the works. If you’re in need of free wi-fi (is anyone not in need of free wi-fi?) or a computer to check email, Wide Awake offers both.
Later that evening, after a very long, hot day of hiking, we couldn’t wait to return to Freshies to partake in a Hawaiian-themed meal on their deck overlooking Lake Tahoe. Although we had to wait about 30 minutes, it was so worth it—we were seated in clear view of the setting sun over the lake. We started off with homemade lemonade and tempura-battered vegetables with spicy peanut sauce. Made with rice flour and rice milk, the tempura was super light and downright delicious. We then shared the East Indian Spinach Salad, with fresh spinach topped with curried tofu, green apples, pickled onions, tomatoes, coconut, mango, and scallions in a chutney vinaigrette. The restaurant is famous for its tacos, which can be made with tofu or tempeh, but we opted for the Rippin’ Red Curry, a blend of sautéed yams, sweet potatoes, tempeh, bean sprouts, spinach, and tomatoes in a fiery curry sauce (see photo of curry and salad above). We were in paradise.
The next day, we hit Sprouts one last time for a pre-bicycle-ride breakfast. We went with the toasted bagel sandwiches loaded up with hummus, cucumber, sprouts, and tomatoes. Why do these always taste so much better when someone else makes them? We sipped frosty fruit smoothies and then got on our way. Before leaving town later that afternoon, we stopped by the area’s lone natural food store, Grass Roots, for some road trip fruit and beverages. An institution in South Lake Tahoe, the market has been around for decades and carried all the veg provisions one would need, including freshly baked vegan cookies. We like that.
Friday, July 4, 2008
What: July+August Music Issue Launch Party
Where: The Electric Works Art Gallery in San Francisco
When: June 26, 2008
Why: Why not?
The Scoop: It was yet another historic happening for VegNews: Our first Issue Launch party. To celebrate two other premieres—our first-ever Music Issue and the doling out of our initial veg Bloggy Awards, the staff decided to throw a little party. Our capacity of 200 guests quickly grew to 250, and the waiting list was almost as large. Yes, this was one hot ticket.
Speaking of hot, Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers, one of the 50 musicians featured in the July+August issue to whom we were paying homage, performed two hour-long sets of silky vocals and soft jazz, perfect for the intimate venue. Lavay and her long-time partner/keyboardist Chris Siebert, both vegan, were honored and overjoyed to be part of the festive evening. And we couldn’t have chosen a more perfect five-piece. Here's Lavay with the VN gang:
In addition to the Skillet Lickers, several other musicians from the new issue were in attendance, including The Astral Projectionist, Edge with the Dreads, members of Blammos, Cult of Sue Todd, and Zepparella. Bloggy winners who graciously graced us with their presence included Super Vegan’s Susie Cagle, The Urban Housewife’s Melissa Elliot, Vegan Talk’s Billy Amon, Vegan Yum Yum’s Lauren Ulm, and Walking the Vegan Line’s Amanda Mariano. Had so many noted veggies ever been assembled in one place in San Francisco before? We think not.
Then there was the food. And drink. And more food. And even more drink. Can you say “VegNews Rock & Roll Martini,” made with tasty ModMix? How about organic red and white from La Rocca Vineyards? The beer nuts were happy with Mateveza Yerba Mate Ale, and the prohibitionists had their fill with four choices of new Steaz sodas and two flavors of MetroMint H2O.
So much liquid refreshment was needed to wash down the ample and delectable hors d’oeuvres provided by Millennium, Herbivore, and The Usual Suspects, as well as Personal Chef Justin Lucke. All these were followed by dee-lish mini cupcakes by Sugar Beet Sweets, which were gobbled up in approximately 11 seconds. For optimal snacking, roaming candy girls delivered mini Clif Bars, Sjaak's Organic Chocolates, and Tofurky Jurky.
Other noted guests were Matt Gonzalez, former San Francisco Board of Supervisors president and current Independent Vice Presidential candidate with Ralph Nader, and New York Times #1 selling authoress Rory Freedman, who Skinny Bitched herself up from L.A. just for our party (that's her in the top photo with VN Publisher Joseph Connelly). And did we mention authors Karen Dawn (Thanking the Monkey) and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (The Joy of Vegan Baking)? If that isn’t enough, key members of the Californians for Humane Farms ballot initiative were on hand, including Jennifer Fearing, Heather Carpenter, Karin Olsson, and Nora Kramer. Oh, we also had a little silent auction to raise some much-needed funds for the campaign.
Yes, vegans know how to have fun. The gallery was packed all night, and the buzz continued far longer—though that might have been those martinis.
* * *
This night wouldn't have been anything like the success that it was without our dedicated, tireless volunteers, all of whom were rock stars in their own right. Thank you!
The staff of VegNews would like to thank Noah Lang and the very accommodating staff of The Electric Works for opening their doors to VegNews. Will we be back? You betcha!
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Who: VN Editorial Assistant Lisa Mickleborough + SF Vegan founders Barna Mink and Kathleen Bennett
What: A vegan-venue food crawl
Where: Souley Vegan + Layonna Vegetarian Health Food Market in Oakland, Calif.
When: June 21, 2008
Why: East Bay soul searchin'
The Scoop: San Francisco, a city abounding in vegan restaurants and vegetarian markets, has yet to produce a venue with real soul. Having tried them all—everything from raw to retro-inspired—I've been yearning for a spot that really knows how to barbecue tofu and season collard greens. You can imagine, then, my reaction when I learned that a vegan soul food joint was opening just around the corner from Layonna Vegetarian—a regional veg institution—across the bay in Oakland. Grabbing the first available Saturday I could, I rounded up my dearest friends, hopped the train to our sister city, and made a day out of these two dream-come-true destinations.
Rounding the corner on 13th, a vibrant read awning emblazoned with the words "Souley Vegan: Vegan Soul Food" beckoned, and we ducked into the bare but cozy vegan-owned café blaring scratchy blues, took a look around the place at other patrons' dishes and, no exaggeration, cursed out loud with joy. Grabbing bottles of very strong strawberry-ginger juice to wash it all down, we picked amazingly textured crispy tofu, smoky-savory collards, and creamy and rich mac 'n' cheese from their mouth-watering menu. With all the anticipation, I was amazed these home-cooked dishes managed to exceed my expectations.
Next up, after saying our good-byes and profuse thank-yous to the chef and owner Tamearra Dyson, we waddled over to Layonna's to gawk at the aisles of mock meat—with everything from codfish steak, giant prawns, yeast "jerks," and beef tendon to their widely consumed chicken chunks and drumsticks. As a first-time visitor I was overwhelmed, but I managed to pick a few interesting meatless meats to try. Stuffed and stunned, we explored the city for awhile before heading back to our homes to recover.