Monday, September 22, 2008


Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly, VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea, VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria, and VN West Coast Advertising Representative Lara Bradley
What: A fancy-pants gala, and the morning-after party
Where: Sunny SoCal
Why: Because we do what we must for the animals—yes, even if it means hanging out with celebs and eating great food
When: September 6–7, 2008

The Scoop: After stuffing ourselves silly at The Veggie Grill, we stuffed ourselves into our fancy duds, and headed out to Acton, Calif., to the amazing Animal Acres Gala. You could say that there are more fun ways to spend your time than hanging out with amazing activists and adorable animals while soaking in the summery Southern California sun. You could say that, but it would be a lie.

Since the gala is actually held right at the sanctuary, we got to literally rub noses with some of the cutest darned rescued animals around. Aurelia took a shine to Mr. Ed, the Brahma bull, while I got to pal around a little with Thelma and Louise, two of the most adorable kids I've ever seen. After getting our fill of snuzzling, we headed to the rotunda to check out the silent auction. Um, hello. Bidders battled over fabulously fancy footwear from Beyond Skin, oodles of cheeky candles from A Scent of Scandal, a selection of high-end artwork, and a mish-mash of other alluring prizes. After bidding and mingling with the likes of Jorja Fox, Persia White, and John Schneider to our hearts' content, we took to the rose garden, which had been set up with dinner tables and the presentation stage. Our table was chock-full of fab friends, including VN columnist Rory Freedman, VN contributor Denise Herrick Borchert and her husband Walter, the ever-radiant Ani Phyo, and Gretchen and Peter Ryan, who—as you may remember from last year's wedding feature—celebrated their wedding at Animal Acres. During the Madeleine Bistro-catered dinner, emcee Carol Leifer got to work cracking us up with her tales of searching for vegan shoes. Of the evening's many highlights, we were particularly proud to watch as Emily Deschanel presented our very own Rory Freedman with the Vegetarian Vision Award. (See the cutie-boots awardee above with the VN ladies.) It seems like there might be some sort of trend here—Joseph Connelly was last year's recipient! After dinner it was straight to the ice-cream-sundae bar, sponsored by Maggie Mudd, and then a few of us—aka Colleen, Aurelia, and Karen Dawn—enjoyed a little impromptu boogeying. It was sad to see the evening come to an end, but we were able to take heart knowing that Animal Acres raised $150,000 for their rescue fund!

The next morning, we continued the Madeleine Bistro trend with a leisurely brunch in Tarzana. Yes, "leisurely brunch" means that we sat and ate amazing food for hours on end. Really, if every meal came complete with Chef Dave Anderson's signature fluffy, sugar-coated doughnuts and beignets (see below!), we'd be a very happy bunch. Oh, and maybe it's totally the case that the tofu benedict, omelet, Bigger Maque, and tofu scramble were incredibly delicious as well. Did I mention the potatoes? Get thee the potatoes. Of course, the only thing better than enjoying exquisite food is sharing it with quality company, of which we were in no short supply. Ani and Denise graced us again, as did Sun Flour Baking Company's Rey Ortega, Jill Hahn, Billy Hulting, Michelle Sass, Stephen Beidner, Lawrence Carter-Long, and Susan Weingartner (though the last two aren't pictured—that's what you get for sleeping in!).

It would be difficult to say whether we spent more time enjoying the company and food or trying to talk Dave and Molly into opening up a San Francisco location, though either way it was time well spent. After this incredible weekend, it was with full bellies and goodie-bag laden suitcases that we returned to San Francisco. Speaking of goodie bags, it just so happens that we have one extra, which, of course, we're giving to you. That's right, it's time for our second-ever Press Pass Giveaway! To win the packed-to-the-gills goodie bag, answer this little question:

What's your favorite method of activism? Do you volunteer at an animal sanctuary or donate to a multitude of worthy non-profits? Do you serve up vegan fare at your local Food Not Bombs chapter or are you on the street with pro-veg pamphlets every weekend? Whatever your preferred method of helping animals is, tell us in the comments by this Friday, Sept. 26, and we'll pick a winner. Good luck!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Viva Veggie Grill!

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly, VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea, VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria, and VN West Coast Advertising Representative Lara Bradley
What: A flat-out feast
Where: The Veggie Grill, El Segundo, Calif.
Why: Powering up before a fancy-pants gala
When: September 6, 2008

The Scoop: In case it wasn't already abundantly clear, we like food. A lot. All the time. So when we had the chance to stop by The Veggie Grill's second location before heading out to Acton for Animal Acres' Gala, we jumped on a plane and drove directly there, without so much as stopping to check in to our hotel. Our enthusiasm was matched by that of Kevin Boylan and John Anderson—TVG's co-founder and operations manager, respectively—who were kind enough to not only join us for lunch, but insisted on helping us out with deciding what to order. And by "helping," we mean that they had the kitchen send out enough amazing food to feed a famished army. The VN team is made up of some serious eaters, and we bravely rose to the challenge of tasting each and every delicious thing that came our way.

First off, let's just say that if every meal began with Sweetheart Fries, like this one did, the world would be a better place. Thinly sliced sweet potatoes get flash fried, then baked, to hot, crispy, yummy perfection. Along the same lines, the Chill Out Wings are basically the best faux-chicken any of us ever had. With a thick, crunchy batter and two dipping sauces—barbecue and chiptole ranch (swoon!)—these wings had us flying high. Yes, those were just the appetizers. Yes, we should have all worn maternity pants.

A slew of sandwiches and salads followed, including the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin', Papa's Portobello, Carne Asada, Bali Bliss, Grillin' Chickin', The V-Burger, the Baja Fiesta salad, and a little something that isn't quite on the menu yet called the All Hail Kale salad with blackened chickin'. Holy crap. Yes everything was amazing, and yes, somehow we managed to eat it all! Since all the sandwiches came on fresh, whole-wheat bread and smothered in avocado and other top-shelf toppings, it's hard to imagine a more appetizing spread. The All Hail Kale stood out from the already outstanding crowd for a couple reasons. One: the kale is perfectly marinated, so it retains all the fresh flavor of raw kale without being too dense. Two: the blackened chickin'. If you were ever any kind of fan of barbecued chicken in the pre-vegan days of yore, get you some blackened chickin'. Without overstating the case, it's perfect.

Just in case there was any nanometer of room left in our bellies, out came dessert. Usually, we'd send up a white flag and declare surrender at the thought of eating one more morsel after a meal like this. This time, however, let's just say that Kevin convinced us—aka told us not to "wimp out." And somehow we ended up tasting the very densely chocolaty brownie, the slightly pumpkiny cheesecake, and the faux-cream-cheese-frosted carrot cake. Then we died.

Aside from the outrageously good food—which in this case is a big aside!—what we noticed most about TVG were the people. On a sleepy Saturday afternoon, the place was continuously busy, and the customers represented all age groups and ethnicities. Kevin told us that roughly 75 percent of his customers are meat eaters, many of whom have no idea that their lunches are cruelty-free, but know for certain that the food is damn tasty. It was difficult to leave The Veggie Grill, but with our bellies bulging we bid a very fond adieu to Kevin and John, and headed back our to hotel to digest. Here's the VN crew with Kevin, who is not standing on a platform, fyi:

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I Like Ike('s Place)

Who: VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea and partners in crime Fanny + Jeff
What: A last-hurrah trip to the Sierra Nevada before summer's end
Where: SF + Nevada City
Why: A little R & R
When: August 30–31, 2008

The Scoop: Okay: so I was really really excited about getting out of town. First, I knew it was going to be hot—super duper hot—and that's the way I like it. And I knew I'd get to go for a swim in my favorite watering hole at the Yuba River. Heaven. And, possibly the most exciting part of the trip was going to happen before we ever really hit the road: a trip to Ike's Place.

Never heard of Ike's Place? Well, if you're a sandwich sort of person, and a vegan sort of person, this newish Castro District hole-in-the-wall is the place to be when hunger hits in San Francisco—or so I'd heard. So I had this great idea to go pick up two of these amazing meat-free meatball subs I'd heard so much about, pick my travel partner up from work, then head for the hills. When I arrived at Ike's Place, the door was open, there were people behind the counter milling about, but the "We're Closed" sign was up. Noooooo!!!!!!

"Are you guys really closed?" I inquired sheepishly to the guy behind the counter. "Yeah, we close at six," comes the reply. It was now 7:00. "Drats! I've heard so much about this place!" And next thing I know, the owner, Ike Shehadeh, is back there turning on the oven for little ol' me, and making me the best daggone meatball sub I'd ever had. (Though, truth be told, I'm not sure I've ever really had one before.) Ike is a really nice guy—aside from the whole I'll-make-you-a-sandwich-even-though-we've-been-closed-for-an-hour thing. And you've got to love a non-vegan guy with a menu that looks like this. And he even gave me a free Guayaki drink. Now you know why I like Ike!

There's no photo of that tasty treat, 'cause Jeff and I devoured it in 2.5 seconds (approximately). Believe me when I say it was hearty and delicious and covered in Teese, and that it held us over for the long drive north and east, up Interstate 80 and past all those Burning Man-mobiles loaded down with art and bikes and other detritus, all the way to Nevada City (home of Allison's Gourmet, who makes the best freaking butterscotch fudge ever).

Next day, we were hungry again, but eager to get to the river, so we decided to make a quick stop over to Café Mecca for, well, something. "Do you have anything vegan here?" I asked the tattooed young woman behind the counter. "Well, we've got these," she said, pointing to some very healthy looking cookies. "And we can make you a bagel with hummus and veggies if you want." Sold! Make it two. While I waited, I got to chatting with a hipster dude hanging out at the counter, and he told me about a new place in town called Fudenjuce, where I could get a whole vegan spread and wash it down with a shot of wheatgrass juice if I wanted. How wonderfully rejuvenating would that be after a long hot day in the sun? Couldn't wait.

The river was as beautiful as ever, the water as refreshing as always, and the air as hot as can be. After several hours spent swimming and sunning, we were hungry again, so off we went toward Fudenjuce. Guess what? They were closed, but there was no one to cajole into making us a smoothie to go. On to Plan B: the Briarpatch Co-op. This is the place to run into old friends from high school and pick up some Zen Party Mix and Kombucha while you're at it. And that's what we did.

Heading back toward San Francisco, we found ourselves hungry again right around the town of Auburn, and made an impulse stop at the dodgy-sounding Taco Tree. I ordered two tostadas, and while the price was right ($1.29 each), the quality and taste, well, not so much. It was an awful lot like Taco Bell, and that's about the best I can say about it. And, unlike Ike's meatball sub, there was plenty of time before digging in to take photos. Enjoy!