Archive for August, 2011

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Toronto Café Tour: Tequila Bookworm

August 16, 2011

Sorry for the recent deluge of café reviews here; I’ve finally been getting around to backblogging previous visits as part of my summer series. Today’s café is Tequila Bookworm, located on Queen West between Bathurst and Spadina.

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Latte: Before I say much about my drink, I should clarify that Tequila Bookworm is actually a bar/restaurant/café, and I’m not really sure which identity they’re trying hardest at. At any rate, I hope it’s not their café one, because the latte I got was pretty flat-out bad, as you may be able to tell by the above picture. The only upside was that it was also fairly cheap, costing only $3.15.

Wifi: Yes!

Atmo: So perhaps I was really the one in the error, choosing to visit in the late afternoon on a Friday, but when I was there Tequila Bookworm definitely felt like a bar, and not at all like a café. There was fairly loud music playing the whole time and the entire atmosphere was just not at all relaxing. I have no idea what it’s like midday, but I have to imagine it’s better.

Food: They have a full menu, but I didn’t bother to look.

Final Verdict: Based on this initial experience, I have to say that Tequila Bookworm is not for me. Even if the atmosphere is more comfortable and café-like during the early afternoon, the latte itself was such a disappointment that I have no reason to come back and try again. If there are any die-hard TQ fans out there, though, please set me straight! You’ll probably be able to get me to go back—I succumb fairly easily to peer pressure.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Vegan Dinner Parties Made Easy: Zucchini Farfalle

August 15, 2011

Hello faithful readers!

Today I have a quick and easy recipe to share with you, which I think is perfect for any end-of-summer vegan dinner parties you may be throwing. The dish is Creamy Zucchini Farfalle, as recently featured on Vegan Dad’s wonderful blog. From start to finish, the whole thing took me no more than 45 minutes to prepare, and the preparation itself is very simple (it requires a blender, but nothing more complicated than that): First, you make a creamy sauce out of tofu, coconut milk, nutritional yeast, and boiled zucchini; and second, you mix that in with some farfalle (bowtie) pasta.* And that’s it! The taste is there, too: perhaps not out of this world, but a solid pasta dish with a full-bodied vegetable flavor. I think this recipe works especially well for dinner parties where you’ll be serving both veg*ns and omnis, as it’s a very accessible dish and does not feel like a imitation of anything traditionally meat-based. And summer really is the perfect time for it, as not only is it light and fresh, it also makes good use of the surfeit of local zucchini you can currently find at summer farmers’ markets.

Though actually, I should point out that I did not in fact use zucchini when I made this dish, because it’s late August in Ontario, and as far as I can tell from my local farmers’ market, late August in Ontario seems to be the season of wacky looking summer squashes, and so I used this wacky looking summer squash in lieu of some less wacky zucchini (what can I say, sometimes I just buy vegetables that look neat):

The recipe worked just as well with this. Keep it in mind for your next vegan dinner party—I hope you and your guests enjoy it!

Until we eat again,

Willie

*Did you know? Despite the fact that farfalle is commonly known as bowtie pasta in the English-speaking world, its name is actually derived from the Italian word for butterfly, farfalla. Though one may quite naturally assume that the English misnomer is the result of an alternative interpretation of the pasta’s shape, in truth the name dates back to the early 19th century, when dried and pressed butterflies were actually worn as fashionable bowties. (Pressed moths, being slightly less extravagant, were sold as an affordable women’s brooch.)†

†Not actually true.‡

‡Though farfalla is the Italian word for butterfly.

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Toronto Café Tour: Capital Espresso

August 14, 2011

Who’s in the mood for a Toronto café review? Well I got one! Today’s location is Capital Espresso down near Queen West and Lansdowne, and it’s wonderful! Here’s why…

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Latte: Okay, so obviously this latte art is beautiful. But that doesn’t count for much. Fortunately, this latte, which cost a reasonable $3.75, was very good, despite being a bit small. I was also happy to see that Capital Espresso uses So Nice soymilk in their lattes, my preferred Canadian brand of soymilk. They even use So Nice’s speciality “Barista Blend”, although I’m not really sure what makes that different. Anyway: awesome latte.

Wifi: Yes!

Atmo: Wonderful. Several nice wooden populate the spacious inner space, offering plenty of room to work or relax. Just the sort of atmosphere I look for in a café.

Food: There were only slim pickings on their menu, and by the time I got there in the afternoon, there was nothing left in the case. Capital Espresso really seems to be more about the espresso, and that’s fine.

Final Verdict: Two thumbs up! I really couldn’t be much more pleased by my visit to Capital Espresso, and I look forward to the next time I’ll be back.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: The Communal Mule

August 13, 2011

Back again with another quick Toronto café review, this time from The Communal Mule, on Dundas West right by Trinity Bellwoods Park. Here’s what I thought…

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Latte: $4.79! $4.79 for a single soy latte! Now, they did charge 50 cents extra for the soy milk, but I’m against that on principle, so it’s no excuse. $4.79 is exorbitant. However, the latte did taste very, very good. Creamy, but with a great espresso flavor. So I didn’t feel like I got totally ripped off. But $4.79. Seriously.

Wifi: Yes! (However, I did notice it being a little slow on my smartphone.)

Atmosphere: Small, but still felt spacious. Not very crowded and fairly quiet when I was there. Good number of tables and chairs. Fairly hip, but that’s how I like it.

Food: A moderate assortment of baked goods, none clearly marked as vegan however. Looked good though. Not that I had any more money to spend after that latte.

Final Verdict: Why is the Common Mule sooo expensive?? Well, the price tag does probably limit the clientele and keep the place from being overrun, which is a good thing. But I cannot afford $5 for a single soy latte, even though theirs was delicious. But if you’re looking to splurge a bit, the Common Mule isn’t a bad choice.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Sushi Sandwiches, Vegan Style

August 12, 2011

Hi all!

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before on this blog, one of my favorite vegan restaurants in New York City is the cute little café known as ‘sNice, whether it be at its Park Slope or its Greenwich Village locations. Though I’ve been there many times, I’ve never left disappointed in the least. And several months ago, they blew me away yet again, with a sandwich I had never tried or even imagined before—a sushi sandwich! What’s that, you say? Well, it’s basically your typical sandwich (so two pieces of bread) except filled with everything you’d normally find in a sushi roll: avocado, carrots, cucumber, wasabi, pickled ginger, and seaweed. It may sound weird at first, but it really works. And so, after months of inaction, I finally got around to trying my own hand at making one, and the results were fantastic: just as good as I remembered it (and maybe even a little better, given the secret twist I came up with!). So, without further ado, let me break down the secrets to the sushi sandwich, ingredient by ingredient…

The bread: The ideal choice here is some sort of thickish roll. For the one above I used a long ciabatta, but a baguette would also work. Width is important, though: you want to have a lot of surface area to fill up your sandwich with all its other ingredients!

Seaweed: Cut some raw nori sheets to fit the size of bread. Place one on the bottom slice of bread, and cut out another to top everything off.

Avocado: This was really my one original twist on ‘sNice’s version, but it was a stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. My idea was to first mash up my avocado into something spreadable (in other words, guacamole consistency) and then, to mix the wasabi right into the avocado spread. This meant that every bite of the sandwich was reliably wasabi-y, and that even when a little avocado started falling off the side of the sandwich and you had to eat it separately, it still tasted sushi-ish. I also mixed in some dulse flakes to my avocado, but those are totally optional.

Carrots: I grated the carrots for my sandwich, but I think really thin, mandolin-fine slices would also work.

Cucumber: Here I used thin spears, which worked well, but could’ve been a little thicker I think, so as to add a little more crunchiness to the whole thing.

Pickled ginger: Just find some pickled ginger for sushi (the kind that’s usually used as a palate cleanser at sushi restaurants) and lay four to six slices on top of everything else.

And that’s all there is to it! Some of the ingredients are more specialized than usual, but the preparation itself is very easy and straightforward, and the taste more than makes up for any extra effort this sandwich may require. It’s fresh tasting and a fresh change of pace from your ordinary sandwich. Try it yourself! You won’t be disappointed.

And, if you’re looking for a slightly different take on sushi sandwiches, check out this recent post from the Tofu Princess, fellow Toronto vegan blogger extraordinaire. Hers looks delicious too!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Restaurant Review: WVRST is the BST (and VGN!)

August 11, 2011

Hi guys!

If you’re a fellow Toronto denizen, you’ve probably already heard of the recently opened restaurant known as WVRST (pronounced “verst”, as in German “wurst”, as in “bratwurst”), a hip new eatery on King West dedicated to all things sausage, especially currywurst, Berlin’s specialty street food. Now, you’re probably thinking: What’s a vegan blogger doing writing about a sausage resto? Well, as it turns out, the people at WVRST were smart enough to include a couple (literally, only two) vegetarian options on their menu, in between the plethora of meat and game weiners they have for everyone else. What WVRST doesn’t tell you up front, however, is that their vegetarian sausages are also vegan, as are their plain fries, currywurst sauce, and tomato-based dipping sauces (trust me, I double checked with the waitstaff). And in my book, this is a major coup for Toronto vegans, as WVRST is great, and definitely a crowd pleaser if you need to eat out with omni friends.

I didn’t have much choice in what I could get, but I opted for the spicy vegetarian kielbasa in their currywurst sauce, served alongside a (generous) small order of their plain fries with chipotle dipping sauce. All of this was great, but unfortunately the lighting was fairly dark in the restaurant and all my photos came out looking horrible, so apologies.

(If you’re looking for some better, albeit less photographical, pictures of what WVRST has to offer, I highly recommend checking out Drawn and Devoured’s recent WVRST review!)

Anyway, I loved everything on this tray, though I also adore pepper, and everything here was very peppery. Seriously, WVRST’s vegan currywurst was better than the vegan currywurst I found in Berlin. Needless to say, I was very impressed. I think I liked mine even more than my omni friends liked their traditional sausages and duck-fat fries. Or maybe I just extra excited about food in general…

Also noteworthy is WVRST’s extensive beer list, which includes several German beers on tap. I chose this Hacker-Pschorr Dunkel Weisse:

Like all the other beer I tried while I was in Germany, I found this to be good, but not great. Also, it was a little overpriced ($9), although considering the amount they gave me, it wasn’t a horrible deal. (Also, beer seems so much more expensive after spending a few weeks in Berlin, so maybe I’m not the best judge right now.)

Finally, a few quick notes on the atmosphere and service: WVRST is clearly consciously trying to be hip, which is fine. Honestly, they’ve done a pretty job at it—the space feels very welcoming, lively, and fun, although the music was a little too loud for my taste, making conversation much more difficult than it should’ve been. Our servers were also really great, especially the one who so politely checked on all my pestering vegan questions. Service, however, was markedly slow, and the restaurant wasn’t even half full when I was there. In my estimation, it took about twenty-five minutes for our food to arrive, which is borderline unacceptable, and definitely unpleasant. I don’t know if it was just a slow kitchen that night or if WVRST is always this slow, but I do worry how it’d be on a weekend night when they have a packed house.

Nonetheless, I’ll gladly return to WVRST the next time the opportunity arises, even though I’ll basically have to order the same thing. It was seriously that good. Vegans, rejoice: WVRST is for us, too!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Toronto Café Tour: El Almacen Yerba Mate Cafe

August 10, 2011

So I’m back today with another Toronto café review, picking up my summer series from where I left it before I left for Berlin. Today’s café is a little place I’ve been meaning to check out all summer: El Almacen, a yerba mate cafe on Queen West. Thankfully, my experience exceeded my expectations! Here’s my quick rundown…

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Maté: I’ve usually been getting soy lattes at the cafés I’ve been visiting, but for El Almacen I needed to break with tradition and try out their specialty: yerba mate in the gourd! For those that don’t know, mate is a South American tea drink that (I think) tastes great and is also super high in caffeine (but in a good way—no tummyaches!). I’ve had bottled mate and mate lattes before, but this was my first time having it in the gourd, which is its traditional preparation. One of the barristas at El Almacen was kind enough to show me the ropes, showing me how high to fill the gourd and pour the water in through the walls, and how (not) to use the straw. It was a really easy process in the end, and it came out delicious! This little gourd runs for $3.75, but I easily got five gourds-ful of mate from this, and probably could’ve had more if I didn’t have to split. So, yeah: awesome.

Wifi: Yes ma’am!

Atmosphere: Really good. Lots of comfortable chairs and decent working tables, yet not cramped. The music was perhaps a little too hip-hop-y and distracting for my tastes the day I went, but really wasn’t all that bad. I would definitely come back here to work.

Food: They have a small selection of empanadas and the like on their menu, none of which (I assumed) were vegan, although they did have a vegan soup on offer the day I was there.

Final Verdict: I really loved El Almacen: the mate is superb, and the atmosphere is just about exactly what I look for in a café. So good job, El Almacen! I will be back. You should check them out too!

Until we eat again,

Willie

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The Best Vegan Restaurants in Berlin

August 9, 2011

(Update: Since I wrote this post in 2011, I’ve visited Berlin again and now my opinions are a little different! Check out 2012′s list for my freshest Berlin vegan picks.)

Dear fellow travelers,

As I detailed in my last post, I just recently got back from a two-and-a-half week stint in Berlin, and one of the highlights of my trip was definitely all the amazing restaurants I got to try. Berlin is home to plethora of vegan, vegetarian, and veg*n friendly restos, and I took full advantage of all the city had to offer while I was there. And now I’m here to report back and share my assessments with you!

First off, if you’re traveling to Berlin in the future, the best vegan resource I found is the aptly titled BerlinVegan website. It has a very helpful catalogue and map of all the vegan restaurants in the city, organized by the vegan-ness of their menus (be advised, however, that it is all in German!). This was how I discovered most of the restaurants I went to, and my time in Berlin wouldn’t’ve been the same without it.

But enough talk: let’s see some food! To begin, here is my…

Best of Berlin

1. CHIPPS (multiple locations, Mitte)

Somewhat surprisingly, my favorite restaurant in all of Berlin is not 100% vegan or even 100% vegetarian: it’s a hip little omni (but very vegan friendly) outfit known as CHIPPS. Far too often, omni restos, even the accommodating ones, can leave vegans with slim pickings. Not so with CHIPPS, whose vegan options are both plentiful and delectable, embodying the philosophy I strive for in my own cooking: simple yet innovative uses of whole foods, prepared so as to best let the vegetables shine and sing out. I visited CHIPPS no less than four times during my short stay in Berlin (including my “last supper”), and was never disappointed. My favorite dish though was definitely this (sorry about the smartphone photo):

That’s a potato rösti served over a beet mash and topped with green beans and bread chips. So good! And as if the food weren’t enough, the atmosphere of CHIPPS is also excellent, accentuated by the open kitchen in the center of everything. Anyway, I really can’t say enough to recommend this place. If you’re in Berlin, check out CHIPPS!

2. Yellow Sunshine (Kreuzburg)

Located in the hip neighborhood of Kreuzburg, Yellow Sunshine—along with its sister restaurants Vego Foodworld in Prenzlauer Berg and Yoyo Foodworld in Friedrichshain—is Berlin’s vegan fast food hotspot. Its menu includes a wide range of incredibly tasty vegan burgers and sandwiches, and although this isn’t generally the sort of vegan food I crave, Yellow Sunshine does it well, and most importantly, this is where you have to go if you want to have some vegan currywurst while you’re in Berlin!

(For those that don’t know, currywurst—traditionally, sausage in a curry ketchup sauce—is Berlin’s most famous specialty dish, despite its street food roots.)

3. Yorck52 (Tempelhof/Schöneberg)

A little off the beaten path, Yorck52 is a newish vegan cafe, offering a small menu of delectable delights and a welcoming atmosphere (also, free wifi!). I went here for a brunchy type meal one day and really loved it.

This breakfast plate included an incredible variety of breads, fruits, and vegetables. I could’ve done without the faux meat, but it wasn’t bad or anything. I wish I had had time to go back!

4. Lucky Leek (Prenzlauer Berg)

More on the upscale side of things, Lucky Leek is a very nice vegan restaurant, featuring careful preparations of interesting and tasty vegan dishes. Their menu changes with the season, but when I visited I was treated to this mushroom consommé…

…followed by BBQ tempeh with potatoes and sauerkraut…

…and finished my meal off with this nougat tart!

All yummy! Lucky Leek is definitely recommended, especially if you’re looking for someplace a little nicer.

Honorable Mentions

1. VUX (Neukölln)

VUX is a cute litte vegan café in Neukölln, a neighborhood which is still relatively lacking in vegan options. Their savory menu is small—just bagel sandwiches—but their sweet offerings are numerous and excellent. Lots of good coffee drinks as well.

2. Nil (Friedrichshain)

Moving to the opposite end of the fanciness spectrum, Nil is a tiny little Sudanese shop in Friedrichshain that only does a couple things, but does those things very well. Their “tofu Madagascar” pita sandwich is particularly recommended—I still don’t know exactly what all’s in it, but it’s excellent. Their vegan platter isn’t bad, either.

3. Maja’s Deli (Prenzlauer Berg)

A good vegan restaurant with a decently sized menu, offering lots to choose from on both the sweet and the savory side of things. I wasn’t blown away by the Überraschungsalat (“Surprise Salad”) I ordered—sauteed mushrooms AND strawberries? I guess that works?—but their desserts were divine, and I’m sure some of their other lunch items would be better.

4. Viasko (Kreuzberg)

I only went here for their Sunday morning AYCE brunch, but judging by how awesome that was, I’m confident that Viasko would be an excellent choice on other days of the week as well.

Not So Recommended

La Mano Verde (Charlottenburg)

LMV is, as far as I know, Berlin’s only raw vegan restaurant, and probably the most upscale vegan resto in the city. And for me, it was way too upscale, especially considering the quality of the food coming out of their kitchen. Don’t get me wrong—nothing was bad. But it was very disappointing to see that the whole menu was just raw takes on Italian dishes, all of which were ridiculously overpriced. It might look like a good idea, but unless you’re searching for somewhere to have an extra fancy meal, I think you’d do best to just avoid La Mano Verde.

Something Sweet

To wrap things up, here are some dessert recommendations! If you’re looking for some vegan ice cream, the best place you can go is probably Eissalon Tanne B in Kreuzberg, which usually has five or six vegan flavors on offer, and vegan cones to boot. However, my favorite frozen treat shop was definitely Eismanufaktur in Friedrichshain. They don’t have any vegan ice cream, but their sorbets are to die for. So good.

And that’s my report on the Berlin vegan restaurant scene. I hope this helps some fellow vegan travelers. And if you know of any other great vegan places in Berlin, be sure to let me know! I’m looking for more excuses to go back.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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