Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gracias Madre Fiesta

Who: VN Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig, VN Publisher Joseph Connelly, VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, and VN Editorial Assistant Liz Miller
What: A celebration of the opening of Gracias Madre
Where: The Mission District of San Francisco, CA
When: Monday, February 22, 2010
Why: To honor Latin American culture with delicious organic, vegan food.

The scoop: Mexican fare is not hard to come by in the SF Bay area, especially in the Mission District. Almost every block has a taqueria of some sort, where you can grab a big burrito with all the fixin's, including beans, rice, veggies, and guacamole. These places are great, but unfortunately none of them is specifically organic and vegan. And maybe sometimes a burrito just won't suffice, and what you're really in the mood for is a tasty tamale, or an overstuffed quesadilla. This is where Gracias Madre comes in—the new, all-vegan Mexican restuarant from the owners of Café Gratitude. To celebrate the restaurant's recent opening, the owners, Matthew and Terces, cordially invited close friends to a special evening of food, drinks, and fun.

The owners and staff among the gorgeous spread.

The first thing you notice when you step into the restaurant is its atmosphere. It has a beautifully designed interior with a quaint bar on the side, and gorgeous paintings and embroidered quilts adorning the walls. This is no "In and out" dining experience, but a place in which to enjoy yourself and share.

Upon entering, we were greeted by the owners and managers of the restaurant and served mojitos, made with fresh mint, lime, and agave with soju—oh so refreshing. After some mingling within the crowd, we were invited to serve ourselves from a beautiful buffet of the Quesadillas de Calabaza, the Tamal (or tamale), guacamole, and fresh salsas. Everything was truly delicious, but the favorite was definitely the Tamal—stoneground heirloom masa (corn) steamed in the husk, and filled with butternut squash and green chile. It was so good, some of us had seconds. And though we were stuffed and satisfied with these dishes, we just couldn't pass up on dessert. Hugo, one of the managers, graciously helped us with our decision, and we were served the Flan as well as the Mexican Wedding Cookies with a cacao-cinnamon sauce. Both were marvelous.

Quesadillas de Calabaza

The end of the evening was near, and to finish it off, Terces and Matthew stood up to say thanks to all those who came, as well as to introduce the amazing staff and to give a bit of history of how Gracias Madre came to be. Being their seventh restaurant in a span of six years, it was mainly their love of the Latin culture that inspired the restaurant, as well as their wish to bring local, organic fare to the Mission District. Being farmers themselves—both in Hawaii and the Bay Area—they wanted to share how delicious fresh and organic produce can be. We think they've definitely proved their point.

Liz and Lyndsay show off the delicious desserts.

With our stomachs full and our palates satisfied, the night came to an end—some of us are already planning a return trip. Among the plethora of wonderful restaurants in San Francisco, Gracias Madre is a great addition and one that truly stands out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Vegan Night at Mission Street Food

Who: Editorial Assistant Abigail Wick
What: Mission Street Food's Vegan Night
Where: Lung Shan Chinese Restaurant, San Francisco, Calif.
When: Thursday, February 18, 2010
Why: Date night starts right with a Mission Street Food jaunt!

The scoop: The scene at Mission Street Food (MSF), San Francisco's funkiest underground restaurant, is bumpin'. You go if you dig slow-foods community meals and love the fact that every night is a benefit fundraiser—not to mention it all goes down in a Chinese restaurant.

MSF bills itself as an “occasional restaurant” and sets up shop inside Lung Shan Chinese Restaurant’s commercial kitchen and dining area every Thursday and Saturday evening. Local guest chefs with a DIY spirit volunteer their talents—ranging from classic French cuisine to molecular gastronomy—and throw themselves into the preparation of multi-course fine dining for the masses. MSF aims to accomplish two things: 1) Donate all proceeds to San Francisco-based non-profits that address systemic hunger and lack of sustainable food sourcing, and 2) create innovative, communal food experiences that even working folks can afford. It’s all about food artistry and accessibility.

Lung Shan is a hole-in-the-wall eatery nestled in the Mission District. It’s a cute joint with metal chairs, posters of painted bamboo forests and bright birds, and strings of pink and white Christmas lights lining its interior. The music, ranging from Yo La Tengo to Morrissey, floated into the room. The coveted reservations, dim lighting, and artsy, bohemian clientele gave the restaurant the feeling of a speakeasy.

Fine folks waiting for Mission Street Food to commence!

Each MSF event benefits a different organization, and on Thursday evening, the local chapter of Food Not Bombs (FNB) was in the spotlight. FNB, founded in Cambridge, Mass., in the '80s, shares free vegan and vegetarian meals with those in need in hundreds of cities around the world, as a “protest of war, poverty, and the destruction of the environment.” MSF has also benefited organizations like the Women’s Building Food Pantry, Youth Meal at the LGBT Center, La Cocina, and Groceries for Seniors. Last year, it gave more than $22,000 to charity.

MSF founder and chef Anthony Myint developed Thursday’s Vegan Night small-plate menu. My boyfriend and I salivated over the selections—panisse cakes and cassava fritters with spicy guacamole, pickled honeydew, and fried almonds! We wanted everything.

We ordered two drinks. The first, a Huckleberry-Earl Grey, Cava, and Spumante Aperitif, tasted like a fine kombucha. The Blueberry-Acai Soju Cocktail was like grazing on wild, liquid blueberries under a late-afternoon summer sun. We settled on four small plates. Our first, a snap-pea salad, featured pomelo wedges, spears of crisp jicama, a zesty cranberry purée, and—get this—house-made vegan white chocolate. It crumbled like feta cheese and tasted like golden cacao cream.

Snap your fingers to the tune of snap-pea salad

Next up, the yuba dumplings: an oily, crackly, tofu-skin purse containing a treasure trove of maitake mushrooms, scallions, and cauliflower, floating in a shallow dish of coconut curry and green shoyu tapioca—savory and bright with a surprising, spicy finish. We voiced various exclamations, ranging from “Oh my god!” to “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!”

Yummy yuba dumplings surprised my taste buds

Following the ecstasy came an elegant plate of Black Garlic Stuffed Tofu, which melted on the tongue like custard. Waxy preserved lemon zest, sharp arugula leaves, and nutty beluga lentils accented the earthy, out-of-this-world tofu.

Dessert consisted of a dense, decadent coconut olive-oil cake crusted with toasted macadamia nut pieces, served warm. The chef paired the cake with a rich, vaguely sweet taro parfait, served chilled.

While Mission Street Food isn't exclusively vegan, it sometimes provides a vegan option and every few months hosts a vegetarian dinner. It's cash-only and BYOB, with a small corkage fee.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Golden Lotus: A Gastronomic Love Story

Who: Editorial Assistant Abigail Wick
Golden Lotus
Where: Downtown Oakland, Calif.
When: Saturday, February 13, 2010
The perfect mixture of Valentine's Eve, starving artist boyfriend, Supreme Master TV, and vegan avocado smoothies.

The Scoop: Let’s face it—San Franciscans look for every excuse to avoid schlepping to the East Bay. We spend our days in blissful seven-by-seven insularity, indifferent to the charms of Oakland, which could just as well be as far away as Shangri-la. But sometimes the mood to travel strikes—especially when the cupboards are bare, love is in the air, and your boyfriend starts hankering for Golden Lotus.

The completely veg restaurant is an unassuming operation—think vinyl booths and beige-tile floors. It serves primarily Vietnamese cuisine, with a healthy side of pan-Southeast Asian fare. Prominently featured Supreme Master slogans and iconography define the décor, and a flat-screen TV streams Supreme Master TV into the dining room. (Vietnamese-born Supreme Master Ching Hai is a media-savvy Buddhist activist, who promotes veganism and environmental stewardship.)

As at any Vietnamese eatery, I gravitate toward the country’s culinary hallmark, the fresh spring roll. The Golden Lotus doesn’t let me down: rice noodle, red lettuce, julienned carrot and daikon-radish, mint, shredded fried tofu, and succulent mock-chicken bits all come wrapped in a delicate rice-paper roll. A savory-sweet peanut dipping sauce rounds out the flavor.

The entrée selection is vast, including lemon chicken, broccoli beef, and ginger fish—all vegan, of course. Jason and I split the house special—spicy gourmet chicken—a delectable combination of fresh relish, zesty chilies, and flavorful mock-meat. Sweet-pickled zucchini, daikon radish, carrot, and hot pepper proved perfect bedfellows, and a bed of small-grain brown rice left my palate with a nutty finish.

Crispy, spicy, saucy...so naughty

At Golden Lotus it’s necessary to share the main course, lest your belly become too full to relish the array of after-dinner treats. Vegan carrot cupcakes, mocha chocolate cake, and caramel flan are just some of the options. We shared the avocado smoothie—two straws, please! With great glee we slurped-up and gulped-down the smoothie, which was delicate and not too-sweet. Sigh…

Jason's all dreamy over his creamy avocado smoothie.

The best pre-Valentine’s Day date ever? You bet!

Vegan V-Day Dance

Who: VegWebmistress Laura Beck
Where: Brower Center, Berkeley, Calif.
When: February 12, 2010
Why: To drink, dance, and possibly get lucky!

The Scoop: I love to eat, dance, and sometimes get a little cheesy (all vegan, of course!). The perfect place to do that? The Vegan Valentine's Day Dance! The event took place last Friday, and it was my chance to transport back to high school, except this time with people I actually like. Being able to celebrate Valentine's Day surrounded by folks who share my love and compassion for animals? There's nothing more romantic than that! Awww. Now, let's talk about what really matters: the food.

The event, organized by the extremely talented vegan event planner, Karine Brighten, was filled with the best snacks a gal could imagine, including vegan taquitos. Yes, VEGAN TAQUITOS. Flacos provided the goods, and those suckers didn't last long. That might be partly because I ate all of them.

Hungry party-goers hit the snack table (photo by Cathryn Lovecraft).

For dessert? Cupcakes and cookies from Sugar Beat Sweets and baklava and raspberry bars from Fat Bottom Bakery. Hello sugar high, time to dance you off! And dance we did, especially with Lady Gaga in heavy rotation. More please! I feel like I'm still on a sugar high! Please help!
Cupcakes are the best fuel for dancing (photo by Cathryn Lovecraft)

The evening ended with a raffle filled with more prizes than I've ever seen in my life. I swear, my eyes lit up like Scrooge McDuck when I saw all the goodies. I bought about a million tickets and walked away with a Tofu Xpress, a $60 gift certificate to Vegan Essentials, and a bag filled with Sjaak's chocolates and Parma!

VegWebmistress Laura and her valentine, Jonas, show off their loot (photo by Cathryn Lovecraft).

Maybe I'm the greediest person alive, but I seriously love to win stuff. It's especially rewarding when you know all the money raised from the dance went to Vegan Outreach. I can't think of a better organization to shake your booty for, and look forward to this becoming an annual event. I'll see y'all next year for dancing, prizes, drinks, dancing, candy, dancing, making out, and more dancing—all in the name of a great cause. Ain't vegan life sweet? I told you I like to get cheesy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Veg Cooking with Tal Ronnen

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Kristen Haney
What: Vegetarian Cooking Workshop with Chef Tal Ronnen
California Culinary Academy, San Francisco, Calif.
When: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Why: Because I'll go anywhere that involves over-sized Vita-Mixes and tasting samples.

The Scoop: I don't much consider myself a chef, unless baking vegan cookies and eating half of them when they come out of the oven makes me the next Eric Tucker. Luckily, as the only editorial assistant with a car, I had the opportunity to learn a thing or two from vegan chef Tal Ronnen when he stopped by San Francisco's California Culinary Academy for a vegetarian workshop. The man behind VN's 2009 Book of the Year, The Conscious Cook, Ronnen has worked with Oprah, creating recipes for her 21-day vegan cleanse, and catered Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi's vegan wedding.

After applauding myself for arriving 10 minutes early, I spent the next 15 looking for parking and trying to find my way around the maze that is the CCA building. I eventually coerced a security guard into escorting me to the workshop room, scooted my way past the chef coats and little white hats, and finally plopped down onto a tiny red stool before turning my attention to Tal. Chef Ronnen started off with a brief presentation on vegetarian sources of protein. After discussing the comparative merits of the different "meat analogues"—tofu, tempeh, seitan, and (of course) Gardein—he launched into the food demonstration. But not before breaking out this bad boy:

Ronnen unveiling one freakin' big Vita-Mix

Here at VegNews we love Vita-Mixes more than we'd love our first-born children, so I was expecting a little more enthusiasm from the crowd when Ronnen broke out the biggest beauty of a Vita-Mix I have ever seen. I was the only one giddily clapping and leering at it, even after Ronnen explained that it was theirs to keep. They'll learn. Ronnen demonstrated that vegan cooking can be just as creative and flavorful as meat-based dishes—and proved his point by making a celery root soup with granny smith apples; artichoke ricotta tortellini with saffron cream sauce; and Gardein "chicken" scaloppini with shiitake-sake sauce, braised pea shoots, and crispy udon-noodle cakes.

Ronnen demonstrating how to prepare the udon cakes.

Ronnen interacted well with the crowd, which was primarily made up of meat-eating, meat-cooking chefs. He breezed through the meal preparations while fielding questions that ranged from thoughtful (how soy effects estrogen levels) to slightly ridiculous (if consuming eight pounds of quinoa was the only way to get adequate meatless protein). He was able to completely finish three of the menu items, and let everyone come up and have a taste. The response from the vegan-skeptics was fantastic. Everyone kept exclaiming "this is so good," and one guy tried to be sneaky, coming back for second and third helpings.

While I'm not entirely convinced that the chefs decided to eschew meat following Ronnen's workshop, they did leave more informed about how to cater to a growing vegan and vegetarian community with discerning palates. At least no one will be trying to fit eight pounds of quinoa on a plate. I hope.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

10th Anniversary WildCare Gala

Who: VegWebmistress Laura Beck
What: 10th Anniversary WildCare Gala

Mill Valley Community Center, Mill Valley, Calif.
When: Friday, February 5, 2010
Why: Because where else do you get to hang out with rescued opossums while wearing a ball gown?

The Scoop: Last Friday, I got all dolled up and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin for a bash to celebrate Wildcare. Wildcare is a wildlife rehabilitation hospital, education center, and advocate for wild creatures everywhere. Who you gonna call when you find a baby sparrow in the middle of a busy SF street? Wildcare! I can't count the number of times I've either taken an injured wild animal to Wildcare or called its Living with Wildlife Hotline to learn the best way to humanely handle the family of raccoons playing poker in my garage—or whatever it is that raccoons do besides be adorable and eat garbage. Wildcare is an amazing resource and I love them for being there for the wild animals of the San Francisco Bay Area. Also, Wildcare is hip to the fact that those working to save animals probably shouldn't also be eating animals. Therefore, all of its events are vegetarian friendly! You gotta love a group that extends compassion to all creatures.

The 10th Anniversary Wildcare Gala was definitely a reflection of the organization's values, filled with wonderful animals and the people who care about them. When I arrived, I walked into a room filled with some of the most fabulous fashions I've seen in a long time. I'm talking sequined taffeta and floral satin EVERYWHERE. I love a well (read: crazily) dressed crowd. Best part? The only fur in the room belonged to some of the animals who were meeting and greeting the gala-goers.

Livia Stone, Biz Stone, Arianna Huffington, and Gretchen Kimball

Set back from the attendees, there were seasoned volunteers introducing the crowd to some of the more human-friendly Wildcare residents. I was assured by several staff members that only animals who were comfortable around people were brought out for the evening. There was also a rotation so that none of the animals spent more than 15 minutes amongst guests. Now that the animal-rights part of me had her questions answered, the slightly psycho animal enthusiast in me was PSYCHED to meet a barn owl, an opossum, and a king snake! I went into full fanatic mode when I saw a Peregrine Falcon. I don't know if I'd be this excited to meet any human celebrity. Jude Law WHO? Johnny Depp WHAT? Excuse me, I'll be in the corner making eyes at that falcon. Did you know that Peregrine Falcons can fly up to 200 miles-per-hour when diving for prey? Animals are amazing.

Hello, vegan feast!

After I got my fix of animal time, we headed into the ballroom where dinner was served. And what a vegan feast it was! The highlight of the meal was the butternut-squash ravioli that was coated in some sort of magically addicting sauce. I'm pretty sure it had at least a small amount of crack in it. I kid! Don't do drugs! The other highlight of the evening was the emcee, Arianna Huffington. She gave an amazing speech about the power of empathy and about how Wildcare is low-tech but high-heart (aww). There may or may not have been a reference to Star Trek and the fact that you can't gain admittance into the United Federation of Planets if you're not respectful towards all life. Yeah, it was pretty great.

The evening ended with a slide show about Wildcare and all that they've been able to accomplish, and all that they hope to do. If you feel like some cute animal overload, you'll watch it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sweet Freedom Bakery

Who: VEGdaily Co-founder and Ecorazzi Senior Editor Michael Parrish DuDell
What: Some serious dessert-eating action.
Where: Sweet Freedom Bakery, Philadelphia, Penn.
When: Monday, January 25, 2010
Why: Because every time a vegan eats dessert an angel gets his wings.

If you ask me, there’s nothing greater in this world than healthy, vegan baked goods. True love? A million dollars? World peace? Nope, nope, nope! None of those hold a candle to the tasty, cruelty-free goodness that is a vegan dessert.

Just last week, while speaking at Temple Law School, I discovered Sweet Freedom—a brand-new Philadelphia-based bakery that’s pumping out pure deliciousness by the second!

What makes Sweet Freedom so darn sweet? First, the treats are all vegan (duh) and gluten-free. In addition, the shop never bakes with corn, wheat, peanuts, or soy. Moreover, it only uses natural, unrefined sugars and dutifully avoids all toxic chemicals and preservatives.

In Sweet Freedom's own words:
Philadelphia is a city known for its soft pretzels, cheese-steaks, and all things chock-full of gluten and dairy. For those of us with food allergies and intolerances, or who are mindful of how our diet impacts our health and well-being, it can be difficult to nearly impossible to find a tasty treat for our sensitive systems. Not any longer! Sweet Freedom is here to serve as a safe haven to children and adults alike who have been deprived of the simple pleasure of eating a freshly baked goodie.
Because I love to support vegan operations (and because I happen to know a lot vegans who enjoy baked goods), I bought five or six things to take back to NYC, my favorite being the Cookie Sandwich. I promise that after just two bites, you’ll find yourself proudly exclaiming, “By the beard of Zeus!”

A sweet sampling of allergen-free baked goods

Long story short, this all-vegan bakery proves that cruelty-free desserts cannot only be super delicious, but also nutritious and good for the planet. How sweet it is!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Vegan Drinks: Hello, 2010!

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Liz Miller and the VN crew!
Where: Martuni's, San Francisco, Calif.
When: Thursday, January 28, 2010
Why: Cocktail time is always more fun with like-minded people!

The Scoop: When happy hour rolls around, hardworking vegans are just like everybody else—we too enjoy indulging in afterwork libations. Thankfully for thirsty Bay Area vegans, VegNews and Vegansaurus host SF Vegan Drinks once every month at Martuni's. While the drink specials are great—no, seriously, we have our own monthly special—the company is certainly why we love and greatly anticipate the event. The best part of the night was definitely seeing the room slowly grow from a handful of people to an overwhelming, tightly packed crowd of the finest vegans in SF. Familiar faces included vegan bodybuilder and former VN cover model Kenneth Williams, VN contributor Mat Thomas, VegWebmistress and Vegansaurus founder Laura Beck, vegetarian chef Philip Gelb, Brian Grupe of Vegan Outreach, Dr. Mark Berman, Suicide Girls co-founder and Vegansaurus contributor Steve Simitzis, and many more! Yep, we vegans are a pretty awesome crowd—and very looking good, of course.

Elizabeth and Abby show off how "cute" is done.

It wasn't all just fun though—there were also games. While sipping on cocktails, guests had the opportunity to enter VN's raffle for a chance to win a dozen cinnamon rolls from Cinnaholic! As if that alone wasn't a good enough reason to sign-up, all proceeds from the raffle benefited LBGT Compassion. Florian and Shannon Michelle Radke of Cinnaholic were even on-hand to see who the lucky winner would be. After much anticipation, officer manager Lyndsay Orwig drew the winning raffle ticket: VN columnist and vegan chef extraordinaire Jesse Miner! In total, the raffle raised more than $60 for LBGT Compassion.

Florian and Shannon Michelle from Cinnaholic!

If you haven't tried Cinnaholic's crazy delicious cinnamon roll creations, we can't emphasize enough how, well, crazy fantastic they are. Between delicious drinks we chatted with old friends, mingled with new ones, and photographed everything in between. We were thrilled with the teeming turn out, and can't wait for next month's celebration—hope to see you there! Cheers!