Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lucky Lunch-goers

Stacy makes a not-so-subtle effort to conceal her height as we pose in front of Lucky Creation.

Who: VN associate publisher Colleen Holland + VN Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig + VN Editorial Assistants Stacy Blondin + Melissa Feineman
What: A leisurely lunch
When: Saturday, February 28, 2009
Where: Lucky Creation in Chinatown
Why: To find out if the hype could be believed

A lot of talk goes down at the VNHQ. Sure, much of it is related to work and other serious matters, but, as it turns out, food is both our line of work and a serious matter, so it should come as no surprise that a lot of the talk is food-related. If someone has discovered a hot new restaurant, a charming café, or a can't-live-without-it comestible, chances are good that everyone in the office will be hearing about it in due course of time (which, more often than not, is the next morning). Of course, having constant access to all this highly valuable and expertly culled information is an honor, but one that comes with a certain sense of responsibility. If you, for example, hear one day that there is a tiny hole-in-the-wall establishment selling the best Chinese fare this side of the Pacific, you feel bound to investigate. After all, this is not just about you–this is about keeping the vegans of San Francisco (and beyond) well-informed.

So it came to pass that Colleen, our associate publisher and long-time San Franciscan, let us know about her favorite Chinese place, Lucky Creation, deep in the heart of Chinatown. A lot of words get thrown around the VNHQ, but let's just say that when we hear "my favorite restaurant in the City," we know Colleen's not joking.

We came from all corners of the city, but somehow managed to make it at our agreed time. The rumbling sound that nearly drowned out all conversation was not a distant thunderstorm, but in fact, our stomachs. However, since Colleen was clearly the expert, we put our menus down and let her take charge with the ordering. Here's what she chose: Pot Stickers, Won Ton Soup, Sautéed Black Mushrooms with Chinese Greens, Meatless Diced Almond Chicken, and Braised Eggplant with Bean Sauce in a Clay Pot, all served with a side of steamed rice.

Just some of the tasty morsels we devoured in record time.
(Clockwise, from left: Pot stickers, Sautéed black mushrooms with Chinese greens,
and diced meatless almond chicken.)

Within a few minutes of ordering, our table was chock-full of delightful dishes, and our only dilemma was deciding which deserved seconds and thirds. My favorites were the pot stickers (they had a nice, crispy texture on the inside) and the eggplant in a clay pot, since it was gooey, sweet, and oh-so-satisfying. However, if you asked my dining companions the same question, I doubt you'd get the same answer. Funny how everyone's tastes can be so different, yet we pretty much universally agreed the meal was a smashing success.

So is Lucky Creation the best Chinese food in The City? The only way to find out is to continue our intrepid journalism and sample many, many more restaurants along the way. We'll keep you posted.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Love Wins, Actually

Who: VN Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Joseph Connelly +VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria
What: An evening of fund raising for the Engage Network
When: Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Where: The Bently Reserve, San Francisco, CA
Why: Because who doesn't want love to win these days?

The Scoop: It's a tough job—going to fancy dinners and meeting interesting people—but someone has to do it. So, Joseph and I diligently donned some nicer-than-normal duds, hopped on Muni, and headed down to The Bently Reserve, which was aglow with red lights—the "love" theme was immediately evident. Inside the love was all around us, in a variety of different forms. After scoping out the extensive silent auction, I headed upstairs to meet up with Joseph, who naturally gravitated towards the VIP reception. Upstairs, servers passed trays of some utterly delicious hors d'oeuvres; the potato croquettes filled with parsely pistou were particularly good. Just before we were ushered to our seats for the evening's dinner and presentation, Joseph snapped this quick photo of Julia Butterfly Hill—one of the Engage Network's founders—and me:
Once inside the main hall, which was also lit with crimson, we got to chat with our table-mates, and listen to a presentation from Julia in which she thanked everyone profusely for coming and supporting the new venture. The Engage Network, as we were soon to discover, is the amalgamation of Julia's What's Your Tree, Seane Corn's Off the Mat, Into the World, and Van Jones' Green For All. While any of these projects would be a worthy cause on its own, getting to see them work together was sort of like, well, a big love-in for people who are trying to do good things in the world. Michelle Shocked, whose birthday it happened to be, added to the lovey vibe by serenading her sweetie during her highly fun performance.

Something that made Joseph and I particularly happy was that, in contrast with the majority of fundraisers, all of the food at the event was vegan, thanks to Back to Earth Organic Catering. It's a rare pleasure to just nibble blithely without worrying about chicken stock in the risotto or any other unwelcome ingredients. The dinner was served family-style, which added an element of community that I really enjoyed; there's something about asking a total stranger to pass the salad that makes you feel like you're already friends. Said salad was a lovely blend of greens and walnuts, and was followed by a trio of entrées: roasted root vegetables and fennel with garbanzo beans, a multi-mushroom risotto, and braised kale, collard, and mustard greens. Despite his in-demand status for the evening, we had the pleasure of sitting with Van Jones, seen below with Joseph:

After dinner, we were torn. Make a beeline for the mountain of cupcakes, courtesy of Peace, Love & Cupcakes (if you're local to SF, look for them at Rainbow!), or stay in our seats and take in the creative twirling of two hoop dancers? Yes, that's hoop as in hula, which is pretty stinking impressive. As someone who routinely injures herself performing such complicated tasks as walking and sleeping, I was thoroughly amazed by the hoopers' ability to, you know, not die while swinging huge hoops around their heads. Thankfully, Joseph made my decision a piece of cake by swooping up a couple mini-cupcakes and bringing them to our table before I even had time to ponder. Any evening that includes vegan food, do-gooders en masse, and yummy cupcakes is a win in my book.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Weird Food

Who: VN staff+VIPs
: Dinner after drinks
When: Thursday, February 26, 2009
Where: Weird Fish, San Francisco, Calif.
Why: To celebrate the launch of SF Vegan Drinks and The Road to Vegetopia

The Scoop: After quenching our thirsts at the fabulous, first-ever SF Vegan Drinks, the VN staff and a few VIPs moseyed on down to the Mission to quell our hunger. With hearty appetites we were eager for something warm, wonderful, and maybe even a little ... weird. And weird is exactly what awaited us in the dainty dining room of the weirdest place in town: San Francisco's own Weird Fish.

The entire gang celebrating in a weird way.

We were welcomed by an enthusiastic waitstaff presenting an array of amazing, animal-free appetizers: coconut-milk-mashed yams, lemon-garlic sautéed green beans, barbecued seitan, heaping piles of yam and potato house fries, and Buffalo Girls (aka seitan with buffalo sauce and Vegenaise). The assortment of tastes, textures, and tones accented the eclectic decor and vivacious background beat, making for an unusual atmosphere that one might even venture to describe as, well, weird.

The scrumptious food made a perfect pair for the great company and conversation we enjoyed. We were fortunate to share dinner with a few members of the extended VN family and the night's two guests of honor: Mat Thomas and Mark Middleton—the masterminds behind VegNews' March+April feature, The Road to Vegetopia. After months of hard work, it was a proud moment and true pleasure to personally present fresh-off-the-press copies of the finished product to each. As we appropriately feasted on locally grown produce and sustainable food in a restaurant committed to green business practices, it seemed as though the future of food was right in front of our faces, and soon to be in our tummies—where it belonged.

As for the main course, the most popular orders were the Wako Taco, Hell Fish Taco, and mixed basket of tofu- and seitan-based Fish 'n' Chips, which were served with house fries, slaw, and fixin's. A few of the more courageous members of our party opted for the infamous Suspicious Vegetarian Dish, the ingredients of which were kept secret until the plate arrived from the kitchen. This time, the risk-takers were rightfully rewarded with a beautiful display of black rice and roasted butternut squash topped with tofu in an orange-vanilla sauce. A rarity when dining out, every member of our party of 11 seemed more than satisfied with their selection, as was evidenced by clean plates and wide smiles all around.

Mark proudly displaying his suspicious dish.

If, by this point, you are anxious to digest the details of dessert (come on, you knew it was coming!), you can imagine how we felt waiting for it. Despite the fact that we'd already eaten far beyond our fill, our patience was adequately answered with decadent slices of graham cracker-crusted cheesecake topped with a delicately carved strawberry flowers, all drizzled in strawberry syrup—yes, completely vegan and very, very tasty.

If by "weird," the founders of this culinary gem meant "appetizing," "satisfying," "fun," "unique," and "altogether delicious," I think it's safe to say they nailed their choice of adjective head on. I, for one, will definitely be returning to Weird Fish to satisfy all of my weird cravings—and, if I had it my way, all of my normal ones as well!

Bottoms Up!

Who: The whole VN staff!
: SF Vegan Drinks
When: Thursday, February 26, 2009
Where: Martuni's, San Francisco, Calif.
Why: To mobilize the vegan movement—and drink!

The Scoop: So, maybe you've heard a little something about this whole Vegan Drinks thing. When we first read about New York's inaugural version, our initial collective response was, "Why don't we have one of those?" So, after a bit of diligent bar-sleuthing—research, you know—we were thrilled to launch SF Vegan Drinks. Could we have been happier with how the evening turned out? No.

First of all, Skip, the owner of Martuni's, and Brett, our extra-awesome bartender, took maybe the best care of us that any group has ever received. Even the popcorn from their recently purchased popcorn machine was vegan! Even though the crowd got pretty massive, they were right on top of getting everyone their drinks super quickly, which certainly helped the evening go smoothly. Settled in the cozy, semi-private backroom, we conducted a vegan-cheese taste test on the bar's grand piano. Yes, it was a classy evening, thank you very much.

Of course, the best part of the night was everyone who came! We had the pleasure of seeing some familiar faces and lots of new ones, which is exactly what we'd been hoping for while planning the night. The winner for longest-distance-traveled was definitely Erica Meier of Washington, DC-based Compassion Over Killing. Well, OK, maybe she technically was already in the area for work and happened to come by, but we're content to lie to ourselves and think that she flew out just for us. Here she is with Elizabeth:

EC and EM—all smiles

Also in attendance were Erik Marcus of, vegan bodybuilder and former VN cover model Kenneth Williams, illustrator extraordinaire Mark Middleton and his collaborator for The Road to Vegetopia feature story, Mat Thomas, chef/VN columnist Jesse Miner
(pictured below with his lovely wife Erin), and Thomas Stephen Bates of the very exciting Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, just to name a few.

No alcohol needed: Jesse and Erin enjoy booze-free beverages

A room full of happy vegans is definitely what we'd call a successful first event, and we can't wait for this month's—which will take place on the 26th, for those of you eager to mark your calendars. See you there!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Super Supperclub

The moody ambience at Supperclub San Francisco

: VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea
What: A night of food, drink, and entertainment galore
When: Wednesday, February 25
Where: Supperclub San Francisco in SF's SoMa district
Why: To experience this global-dining phenomenon's take on "vegetarian week"

The Scoop: If you thought the only perks for staffers here at VegNews were the daily vegan lunches, that's where you'd be wrong. There's also this little thing called "vegan dinner," and sometimes, this event takes place at a swank nightclub where opera singers and burlesque dancers provide the entertainment while one dines, Roman style, in full loungey-relax mode. Sound intriguing? It was!

My date and I arrived in time to partake in the pre-dinner Champagne-and-mingle festivities in the restaurant's sparkly red and black bar. Across the room I spotted Darryl Cohen, who publishes Foodism magazine. The last time we crossed paths was at the Slow Food Nation event last summer, where we sat next to one another during a "Climate Change and Food" panel discussion. Small world! After chit-chatting a bit, we were ushered into the ultra-mod dining room for the main event.

We scooched in to our small table, adorned with votive candles and a carrot bouquet where one might expect flowers, were promptly served a most-welcome glass of vino, and before we knew it, the entertainment segment of the evening began.

From the dining-room's elevated catwalk, a lovely vision with a voice to match descended: an opera singer, wearing a bosom-hugging ball gown, singing something lovely and recognizable (but unnamable by this opera novice). So perfect was this woman's voice that my companion and I each thought we were watching a lip-synching performance. Not so! The performers at Supperclub—from the opera divas to the airborn contortionists—are top-notch and très authentique.

Our first course was delivered in an unorthodox fashion: in a skillet, meant to be consumed a deux, directly from the pan. Hmm ... interesting. The lighting was so dim that it was hard to see what all we were eating, but it tasted pretty darn good and consisted primarily of fried mushrooms.

When the second course arrived, we weren't sure whether we were supposed to share or not; turns out the enormous bowls of carrot bisque were intended to be consumed exclusively by one diner, so we followed directions and sipped every last drop.

A waitress at Supperclub San Francisco spreading the vegan message

While we waited for the main course to arrive, we were treated to the aerial acrobatics of two daring performers who hovered above the dining room in a strange ballet that combined the most exciting elements you'd find at any Cirque du Soleil performance. Frankly, it was a bit frightening; the last thing you want is to lose your appetite watching a person (or two) plummet to earth before you've had a chance to dig in to the main course.

Presented on a long, rectangular plate, the main course looked as impressive as it tasted: Savory braised tofu, perfectly-cooked onion, bok choy, and fennel, all held together beneath a lip-smacking veil of deliciously salty sauce ... Yum! But hold on here. There's no time to focus on food when a male burlesque dancer is vying for your attention. Good lord!

Between the fishnet-and-top hat wearing burlesque boy and dessert (vegan chocolate mousse), we were treated to one last performance, this time by a blue bunny-suited fellow in six-inch lucite heels who sang, danced, and "interacted" with the audience in ways that cannot be described here. Risque? Yes, ma'am! But was it fun? Yessiree.

If the idea of feasting and funning it up simultaneously sounds like your cup of tea, you won't want to miss Supperclub's next "vegetarian week" which is tentatively slated for later this spring in San Francisco. Just beware the blue bunny!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Japantown Supermarket Sweep

Vegetarian inari pockets–one of the many treasures to be found in Japantown

VN Editorial Assistant Melissa Feineman
What: Scoping out the (veg) selection at Japantown's supermarkets
When: Monday, February 16, 2009
Where: Nijiya and Super Mira
So I can whip up some super-scrumptious katei ryori (Japanese home-style cookin') any time I please

For those of you raised on a steady diet of US-style veggie sushi, you may have been, like I was, lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that Japan is a veg-friendly travel destination, and that every corner sushi shop serves up fish-free fare. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth, and even in dishes that appear to contain only vegetables, fish stock is–more often than not–lurking in there somewhere.

However, if you're willing to expand your culinary horizons (without expanding your waistline, I must add–you gotta love the lightness of Japanese cuisine), there is all kinds of veg-friendly fare available in Japanese supermarkets. FYI, I went to Nijiya and Super Mira in San Francisco's Japantown, but you should be able to find the ingredients mentioned here in any Japanese market worth their soy sauce.

Here is my proposed plan of action to make the most out of your shopping experience.

Step 1: Acquire a snack. It's no good shopping on an empty stomach. I can highly recommend the vegetarian inari pockets at Super Mira (pictured above). Sweet tofu on the outside, scrumptious rice with lotus root, carrot, and green beans on the inside, served with some pickled ginger on the side. You can't help but say oishii!! (Delicious!!)

Step 2: Stock up on staples. As I mentioned earlier, fish stock is one of the main components of Japanese cuisine, but it doesn't have to be. Kelp, or kombu, stock is also readily available, and you can throw it in almost anything–from miso soup to soymilk stew–to add subtle flavor.

Choose kelp stocks (I recommend the green package second from the right, since it's MSG-free) as the base of any soup or simmered dish

Step 3: Spend some time in the tofu aisle, admiring the myriad manifestations of this versatile victual (and on that note, keep your eyes peeled for tantalizing tofu trivia and serving suggestions here soon).

Step 4: Head to the produce section, where you'll find all sorts of possibly unfamiliar, but definitely tasty items such as lotus root, burdock root, and daikon radish. Lotus root adds a crisp crunch to stir-fries, and the earthy flavor of burdock root is a great addition to miso soup. Daikon is one of the most adaptable ingredients around, and is just as yummy munched-on raw with dip as it is slowly simmered into a soup.

Now that your grocery-basket is full, it's time to head home and cook yourself up something special. Let us know how it goes, and if you have any questions about what to do with any unfamiliar ingredients!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Golden Ray

Who: VN editorial assistant Stacy Blondin + VN office manager Lyndsay Orwig
: Delightful dinner + Amy Ray Concert
When: Saturday, January 31, 2009
Where: Golden Era Restaurant + Slim’s night club
Why: Scents, sights, and sounds of the city

The Scoop: Ready to reign the bike-friendly streets of San Francisco, Lyndsay and I sported our hip helmets, lovely locks, and brightly blinking lights all across the city for a night out on the town. We said farewell to our frizz-free, carefully combed tresses as we sped from the Sunset to the Richmond to the SOMA district and back, making two noteworthy stops along the way: one tasty and the other tuneful. 

First things first: food. We both brought biking-boosted appetites to a produce-packed Vietnamese paradise, aka Golden Era. Their magnificent menu listed a long line-up completely free of meat, poultry, fish, egg, and MSG—which, conveniently, are all things we try our very best to avoid. Lyndsay started off with a scrumptious Steamed Veggie Bun stuffed with veggies followed by a main course of Lemon Chicken over rice. Meanwhile, I warmed up with the Thai Cucumber Salad and finished off with a heaping mound of the Mixed Vegetable Tofu, which consisted of a bright combination of broccoli, carrots, bok choy, cabbage, and snow peas stir-fried with brilliantly braised tofu. What more could a veggie-lover ask for? Disappointedly too full for dessert, the only thing that came to mind was the bill.

Golden Era's Cucumber Salad and Steamed Veggie Bun

Second things second: sound. For the next episode we cruised South of Market to Slim’s live music nightclub to take in a stop on Indigo Girl Amy Ray's solo tour. More familiar with her worldwide activism than acoustics, we were excited to tune into her musical work. After claiming our tickets and signing every Amnesty International petition possible, we were right on time for the 9pm start. Guest openers Arizona and Slackluster got the party started with their original songs; the latter, in particular, lacked anything but luster. By the time Ms. Ray made her way on stage, well into the 24th hour of the day—and way beyond my 10pm bed time—our feet were sore and so were my innocent ears. We stayed for the first several songs, and wished we'd had the energy for more. One thing's for sure, though: we certainly hope this gal and her Indigo pal keep "Rockin' in the Free World." 

Lyndsay and me, all smiles at Slim's

With just about every one of our five senses satisfied, we departed. Still full from our first Golden Era feast, we boarded our bikes for the journey home, laudable lyrics lighting the way.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Stateside Sake Sampling

My petite tasting cup lookin' pretty

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Melissa Feineman
What: Sophisticated boozing, aka sake tasting
When: Saturday, February 14, 2009
Where: Takara Sake Tasting Room and Museum in Berkeley
Why: Because there just aren't enough opportunities to say "sake to me" in daily life

The Scoop: For those of you who don't know, I've been suffering from an acute case of JWS (Japan Withdrawal Syndrome). Symptoms include constantly talking about Japan, traveling all over the Bay Area to procure rare Japanese products (separate post to follow), and generally trying to adjust to life on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. In an effort to rouse my spirit (and make me feel more "at home"), a friend invited me to a sake sampling at Takara Sake Tasting Room and Museum, producers of the Sho Chiku Bai line of sake.

After watching an informative video about the sake-making process and touring the Sake Museum (aka getting the cultural bits out of the way so we could guzzle our fill guilt-free), we sidled up to the Tasting Room and made our selection. Takara offers seven different courses to suit your fancy, including a course "for those who prefer white wine" and one "for sake connoisseurs." Being the certified sweet-tooth that I am, I opted for the "Sweet Variety Course," which included two types of nigori unfiltered sake, one lychee-flavored sake, two types of plum wine, and one plum sake.

After the first few sips of sake, I almost forgot I wasn't in Japan!

Since I can sometimes find the flavor of sake to be overpowering, I was very happy with my selection, appreciating the nigori sake for its lighter and sweeter qualities. I was surprised by the hints of coconut and honeydew in the Nigori Silky Mild and Nigori Crème de Sake, respectively. Who would have thought that rice+enzymes=tropical cocktail?

In Japan (here we go again!), one of favorite drinks was umeshu, a sweet wine-like alcohol made from a Japanese plum, so I was very happy to see that there were three such drinks on my tasting menu. They were all superb, but for me, the standout was the Koshu Plum with its alluring fragrance and cherry-almond taste.

Some of our fellow patrons were complaining about the $5 tasting fee and the long line (to be fair, we did have to wait for about 15 minutes before we were served), but it was just the shot in the arm–or, come to think of it, just the shot–I needed. I left feeling refreshed and with a slightly rosier outlook on life in general.

Since we happened to be a mere 10 blocks away from Fellini, we stopped by afterwards for some vegan pizza and other goodies. It was Valentine's Day, and in addition to super-attentive service, we also received single red roses, a small–but significant–detail we enjoyed. All in all, our trans-bay trip was a success, and instead of feeling homesick, it left me feeling excited about all the adventures I have ahead of me in my new hometown.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Raw Revolution

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Stacy Blondin + VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria + VN Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig
What: Alive!’s Chinese New Year Celebration
When: Monday, January 26, 2009
Where: Alive! Vegetarian Cuisine, San Francisco
Why: Because one New Year celebration is one too few

The Scoop: In anticipation of the Chinese New Year, Elizabeth, Lyndsay and I could not resist the urge to spend Monday night out on the town. Three buses, two trains, and a short walk later, we three weary travelers found ourselves at the doorstep of Alive! Vegetarian Cuisine just in time for the party. And—minus the cold food—what a warm welcome we received!

Making our way outside onto the patio, we were delighted to feast our ears upon live, traditional Chinese music, which set the tone for the evening. Under fiery heat lamps we listened to a duet of string instruments—the Guzheng and the Erhu—as we said farewell to the year of the dog and welcomed in the Ox. Chinese lanterns, fans, and ornaments transformed the outdoor garden into a festive feng shui oasis.

After a brief survey of our surroundings, we found—and soon lost ourselves in—the incredible assortment of uncooked edible creations set elegantly before us, almost too beautiful to eat—but not quite. We dabbled in an assortment of appetizing appetizers, delectable hors d’oeuvres, and decadent desserts—all prepared from seasonal, local, raw, vegetarian, and animal-free ingredients. And that handful of adjectives, while impressive on its own, doesn’t dare do justice to the beauty and flavor of the bite-sized works of art displayed on white paper doilies.

Lyndsay and Stacy with empty plates and full tummies

Among the sampling of starter salads in the buffet, we basked in the glory of creations granted titles as sophisticated as their flavors; the Apple-Fennel Salad, Ginger-Carrot-Napa Cabbage Torte, Marinated Kale Salad, and Spicy Asian Pear salad each boasted a unique combination of creativity and crunch. We awarded the Kale concoction, with its tangy dressing and marinated mushrooms, an extra-shiny gold star.

Moving on to more filling fare, we were particularly fascinated by the flax crackers and sesame- seed hummus, a raw version of this traditional veg party favorite. The avocado and cabbage stuffed sushi rolls were nothing to shy away from either. However, the Salmon Paté Sandwich was perhaps the most impressive entrée of the evening, consisting of carrots, sunflower seeds, and sprouts plopped prettily upon a sprouted kamut biscuit slightly sweetened with a hint of agave.

Carrot Sunflower Seed Pate Sandwiches and Spicy Plum Vegan Satay

And last, but certainly not least, dessert. With our choice of Tangerine Cake, Mango-Lemon Cheesecake, Walnut-Chocolate Confection or Asian Pear-Almond Torte, we clearly made the right one: all. The only decision remaining was which to try first. We started on the safe side with the Walnut-Chocolate Confection. After all, it’s hard to go wrong with chocolate. And right we were. These harmless little nuggets of walnuts, dates, cashews, coconut oil, raw cacao, and agave nectar were rich enough to quell any chocolate-lover’s craving. The Asian Pear-Almond Torte and Tangerine Cakes ranked close behind, but it was the Mango-Lemon Cheesecake that took the cake—and every last bit of stomach space.

We departed, none of us ready to part with all things toasty and warm, but exceptionally impressed and intrigued by the raw side of things. An entire meal, and an exceptionally satisfying one at that, created entirely from the highest-quality ingredients available, soaked and sprouted rather than steamed, sautéed, or smoked, earned our utmost respect and left us feeling oh so alive!