Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Breads on Oak & upcoming vegan croissants!

I am definitely one of the most food-motivated people I know. While I like to eat flavorful food on a daily basis, my insatiable drive to track down deliciousness has probably been at its most obvious (and embarrassing?) whenever I've had the chance to travel. From the moment I land in a new city, my vegan radar is on high. I've been known to go to ridiculous lengths to maximize the amount and variety of local vegan treats and meals I can experience in whatever short time I'm in new territory.

Example: On a brief trip to Montreal a couple of years ago, we went to restaurants back-to-back. As in: we ate an entire meal at restaurant #1, then traveled by foot and by metro for an hour, and then ate another full meal at restaurant #2. Then we did the same thing the next day! You might call it crazy, but I call it dedication.

Just recently, it has come to my attention that New Orleans is fast becoming a city that, if I lived elsewhere, would actually excite my inner vegan tourist. I probably don't need to tell you: this is a big change! More and more options are popping up, and some of them are even accessible by tourists staying in the French Quarter. It is one of these that I'm writing about today, a real delight of a bakery, Breads on Oak. Vegan visitors to our lovely city, rejoice! You can hop on a streetcar in the French Quarter, enjoy the scenic ride through the Garden District and uptown, admiring along the way our fair Audubon Park, as well as the not-so-humble dwellings of our local members of the 1%, get off at Oak Street, walk several blocks (just enough to make you really appreciate their new air conditioning system), and enter baked-goods-heaven.

From behind the counter, you'll be greeted by owners Sean and Chamain O'Mahoney, as well as their helpful staff. They couldn't be more charming, or their baked goods more delicious. With generous samples of everything flying left and right, and easy laughter from both sides of the counter, it will feel like a party. All the more so because Sean and Chamain know what Earth Balance is, and they aren't afraid to use it.

In fact, if you go this Saturday, Sean hopes to have some Earth Balance-based vegan croissants available for the first time. Show your support and swing by!

They've got something for just about everyone...

Vegan? Chamain herself is vegan, and the rest of us reap the benefits in the form of cakes, cookies, muffins, and more. And of course, most of Sean's breads are also vegan.

Indecisiveness is not on my side at this place.

Gluten-free? Their many options include an incredibly chocolatey brownie!

I am a sucker for both brownies and cute aprons.

Reduced-sugar? Chamain uses half-stevia, half-unprocessed sugar in many of her baked goods.

Flax, oh yes she did!

Organic? Lots of organic ingredients -- just ask!

Baked-in grapes adorn the top of this creative bread. Genius!

French? I know French bread, so let me tell you, this is great stuff. My favorite is the walnut pain au levain, which rivals one I used to eat regularly when I lived in Quebec...twelve years ago. (Some breads, you never forget!)

For someone who has shed tears over a cinnamon roll, this bakery is big news. Maybe it's a good thing for me, budget-wise, that for the summer, Breads on Oak is open only on Fridays and Saturdays. ("Like" them on Facebook for updates to their schedule.)

For you veg tourists, I recommend starting out a Saturday with a trip to this place in the morning, followed by tooling around on Oak Street, and then heading back to the FQ via streetcar, but stopping for the best vegan brunch ever at Santa Fe Tapas, a cozy restaurant on St. Charles Avenue. With these two stops alone, you'll have made great progress in your attempt to maximize your culinary pleasure on a New Orleans vacation. 

With French baking tradition behind the endeavor, Breads on Oak is a locally owned, New Orleans-style establishment whose owners have made room for vegan options. That's what I'm talking about! (Contrast this with the other uptown "boulangerie," which I avoid entering at all costs because it annoys me so much that none of the tantalizing pastries is vegan.)

Unlike at some bakeries, at Breads on Oak, vegans can feast using more than their eyes!

Don't forget -- this Saturday, a test-run for vegan croissants! Don't miss out, local vegans! This is one New Orleans staple that has been missing from our diet for a loooong time!

I can't wait.
Breads on Oak ~ 8640 Oak St., NOLA 70118 ~ 504.669.5173 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Quick suggestion: Breads on Oak, tomorrow!

The stress I was feeling today dissipated for a few minutes when I stopped in at the soft opening of a new bakery, Breads on Oak. I walked in to find a tatste-testing fiesta! Unfortunately, I was in a hurry -- I had only enough time to gobble up about eight different samples of amazing breads, muffins, and desserts, and no time to take pictures!

The owners are great people, the breads are fantastic, and you'd never guess the brownies are gluten-free and the muffins are sweetened with half stevia!

Go tomorrow -- you won't be sorry! I'll do a full write-up soon.

P.S. I put in a plug for croissants and pains au chocolat made with Earth Balance! Let them know if this would float your boat, too!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vegan-friendly New Orleans coffee shop

Okay, mine was admittedly a mean April Fool's joke! But surely one day, a vegan diner will grace this great city of foodies. And maybe that's not so far off in the future -- it IS amazing to see how quickly the vegan scene is expanding here in New Orleans! Since I haven't been out and about much lately, I've had to settle for experiencing it in my imagination as I scroll through Facebook postings of decadent meals and desserts...what torture! However, I'm happy to report that I have recently had a couple of real life experiences at a new coffee shop in town, one that is welcoming us vegans with open arms, Krewe du Brew.

It's a lovely place owned by Eugene Anderson, Adrian Guy, and John Hagan.

My first visit was a few weeks ago, and this was the treat that awaited me that day:

Apricot-Almond Streusel Bar

It was a corner piece, so I got some crusty, some chewy, some gooey, and all delicious.

John said that if there's enough demand, they'd like to start carrying gluten-free options as well. So far, though, no one is asking for it. So if you'd be into that, please mention it when you go in! The pastries at Krewe du Brew come from Shake Sugary, a new bakery on St. Claude Ave. that is open to the public on weekends.

I let a couple of weeks go by, then dropped in at Krewe again this past Friday. I was really excited to find not just one, but THREE vegan options:

Top to bottom: frosted banana chocolate chip bread, brownies, chocolate salted pecan bars

Showing immense self-discipline, I ordered only two of these, a chocolate salted pecan bar and a piece of banana bread. The banana bread was good -- it had chocolate chips and icing, which were a nice touch. But the bar was out of this world! It deserves an up-close shot:

Gooey, crunchy, sweet, salty, chocolaty, nutty, caramel goodness. Why am I not eating one of these right now?!

Krewe du Brew gets props for always having at least three vegan options -- What is this word, "options"? the vegans among you may be wondering. Like me, you're probably used to being surrounded by melt-in-your-mouth, non-vegan pastries which could have easily been made vegan. "Um, we have a plain bagel and you can put jelly on it!" ...or worse, "I'm sorry, we just sold our last plain bagel. If you call ahead next time..."

Speaking of which, I stopped by Velvet (on Magazine) the other day, without calling ahead, for one of their much-talked-about vegan pop tarts. As luck would have it, all they had was non-vegan ones that day. And it doesn't look good for the future; the guy said the vegan pop tarts just don't sell all that well. Funny how people will get turned off by the mere idea that no eggs or milk are involved in a dessert. If they'd just try it, most wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Go get one of the treats pictured above if you don't believe me!

Krewe du Brew ~ 1610 St. Charles Ave. ~ NOLA 70130 ~ 504.522.1530

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fluffy vegan pancakes in the middle of the night, anyone?

I know, I know, it's been forever since my last post! But I'm trying to make a little more time for personal projects like blogging these days. The reason I've been too busy to post? I hope you're sitting down for this...

Seriously, sit down. It's a good idea.

...and get ready for NOLA's first all-vegan, mostly organic, gourmet diner!! We've been working our tails off to secure a location, and we are thrilled with what we finally signed a lease on: a cute former burger joint on St. Charles Ave. near the Garden District. We are currently doing some minor renovations, as well as tweaking menu items, and should have our hands in the tofu scramble by the end of May!!!

We are planning to start with modest hours of operation and work up to being open 24-7... keep an ear out, because we will likely start hiring within the month.

Another blog entry is in the works, so no more waiting-four-months-between posts, I promise!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

This little piggy had spinach and mushrooms for supper...

My beloved friend Jenni came into town a couple of weekends ago and was interested in trying out Cochon. She really didn't want to drag us vegans there, but I assured her it was worth it to me to go -- after all, I have a blog to update! So Johnny and I tagged along to see how this renowned, porky restaurant would measure up in the vegan-friendliness department.

I'll give you three guesses.

I know what you're thinking -- I should have known better, considering the name of the place. I'd be inclined to agree, but I had read a comment some place online a while back that a vegan tourist had scored an incredible meal at Cochon. I dared to dream that it would knock my socks off, too, and I'd have good news for my readers. It was at least worth a shot. When I made the reservation and mentioned that a couple of us were vegan, the person on the phone acted like it was no big deal at all. Yea!

We went. I don't make it out much these days, so it felt special, even more so because we had Jenni along. Have I told you I lived in Dallas for a few years? Well, I did. And Jenni is one of the things I miss from there the most. No worries, though, I was never ever for a single second a Cowboys fan!

A picture of the pig on the wall was hard to ignore. It was a big female pig with milk-filled piggy-breasts for her babies. How do people slaughter animals? Obviously I'm not musing about the technicalities. What I mean is, how can someone shut out the commonalities that we share with animals effectively enough to do the job? And then, how can someone ignore the obvious suffering and yearning for life? And not just once, but over and over again? This is something I can't wrap my mind around. I'm sure many of you have wondered the same thing. It's a question I always come back to.

I was glad they hadn't fixed any appetizers for us, since I figured the entree would be enough of a splurge by itself; all the meaty entrees on the menu ranged from $15 to $23 each. As usual, there was nothing vegan on the menu, so we left it up to the chef.

The positives: Our entree was a creative dish -- a spinach-mushroom gratin topped with panko breadcrumbs. It was creamy with a crunchy top, and had great flavor. It was also attractively served in individual cast-iron skillets, which I just realized were probably seasoned with pig fat, WOW, I did not think of that until just now, UGH.

My complaint at the time was that the dish was entirely too small, and then entirely too expensive for its size and ingredients. I usually keep my negative comments to myself until blogging time, but when I saw we were being charged $22 EACH for this little dish, I felt it was necessary to offer the most genuine feedback possible -- the spontaneous kind. I told the waiter that it was so little food that we were going to have to eat another whole meal once we got home. I emphasized that $22 was a ridiculous amount for a small dish made of a few vegetables that they already had in their kitchen. Imagine, their top meat entree costs $23, and our vegetable dish was $22.

I do appreciate that the effort was made to serve us something creative and tasty, but the price felt like a slap in the face because it was so disproportionate to the amount of food and ingredients (vegetables and rice -- no beans or other significant protein source).

If anyone from Cochon reads this, here is the point I'd like to make to you:

First, thanks for reading!

Our waiter -- who was great -- said that he serves two or three vegetarians every night. He also said that the best part about it was that no two vegetarian dishes were the same -- the chef comes up with something different every time.

I think it's awesome that you have chefs that can (and are willing) to do that. Our dish clearly had some thought behind it. It needed some work in the nutrition department (it was too lightweight to be considered a main dish), but it was prepared with care, creativity, and skill.

But I happen to disagree that variety in the form of "coming up with something different every time" is a good thing. I don't much like guesswork when I go out to eat at a non-vegan place. I like to have some idea of what I can get, and how much it will cost me, in advance. This is equally true of your non-vegan patrons -- that's why you have a menu, and why prices are listed on it.

If you have vegetarians (and sometimes vegans) eating at your restaurant every night, why not make room for them on your menu? You obviously have talented chefs that know how to create great flavor without the animal products. How about adding a vegan appetizer and a vegan entree to the menu? If you prefer not to tie yourselves down to any particular dish (if your chefs love playing with the endless flavor possibilities that exist in vegan cooking, and it seems they do), you could still make room for a "vegan entree based on seasonal produce" or something of the like, and list the price next to it. That way, someone looking at your menu online will know in advance what to expect. (And just a tip, if you want fewer of us pesky vegetarians dropping in, keep that price at $22.)

Johnny and I got off easy that night because Jenni very kindly footed the bill. Thanks Jen, for gracing us with your visit, AND for helping me satisfy my curiosity about this place! Next time I'm in Dallas I'll treat you to all-you-can-eat at Spiral Diner :-)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Carmo addict

FINALLY -- I made it over to Carmo for the first time a few weeks ago! I'd had it on my to-do list for months, ever since receiving a comment on my blog from Dana Honn, who owns the restaurant along with his wife, Christina. I met them briefly when I dropped by their booth at Veggie Fest; they were advertising a dish involving rice, beans, and vegan sausage. I admit I almost didn't order it because I make a lot of rice/bean/vegan sausage dishes myself, and I thought, how different can it be? Thank goodness I ordered it anyway -- HELLO TASTINESS! I'd give you the details, but I don't remember them now. All I remember was that the underestimated rice and beans cradled a sprinkle here and a drizzle there of varied, unexpected punches of flavor.

So my trip to Carmo felt long overdue by the time I finally set foot in the door.

I am not optimistic in all areas of life, but when it comes to eating out, I tend to automatically expect things to be awesome. I'm not sure why this is...especially since my hopes have been dashed more often than not. It's silly that I continue to set myself up for disappointment (I know it's a steak restaurant, but they said they could do something "special" IT'S GONNA ROCK!).

So anyway, it's nice that every now and then, a restaurant experience is just as amazing as my imagination-run-wild has predicted. That is what happened that day at Carmo.

First of all, there's the friendly vibe and artful, inviting space:

I love the colorful decor and produce on the counter.
L-R: Pamela Stedham, Dana Honn, Matthew McNamara
This wall takes me back to my trip to Lascaux II, the replica of Lascaux.

That first visit, I ordered the special -- Potatoes Timbale -- how great is it that they make vegan versions of their specials?! It was delicious. The rest of my family all ordered the famous Rico. The Rico is a breadless sandwich -- I know, what? But don't question it; just GET IT. Don't judge it by its breadlessness. If you must, tell yourself that it's not a sandwich at all, that it was accidentally placed in the sandwich section of the menu...because if you're like me, you're usually all about the bread. Let me tell you, though, you won't be missing it here. The delightful vegan version of the dish comprises a plantain patty, Daiya,  vegan "smoked pork," salsa fresca, and, as they put it, a "tangy-sweet-spicy 'Rico' sauce" ...You know, there are some dishes that shouldn't be described in terms of their ingredients. Sometimes words limit imagination. Like the words "rice and beans." So just try it!

Anyway, dedicated eater that I am, I had finished most of the meal before I remembered I was supposed to take pictures. (I promise I will get better at this!) I did get a couple of shots of our desserts:

Caribbean banana cake -- moist and sweet.
Pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread, made with Daiya) -- Crisp, warm, fresh!

Johnny and I have been back a few times already, and everything has been delicious. This past week we ordered a grilled vegan ham and cheese sandwich, as well as the special du jour, the Caruru (imagine a Brazilian twist on gumbo):

Yes, we'd already taken bites out of the sandwich before I remembered to take a picture...

In addition to making room for vegan food on the menu, Carmo's owners source as many local and organic ingredients as possible, and they plan to grow much of their own produce in the near future. Upstairs from the restaurant, they are working on building a solarium and a second kitchen (which may be used for cooking classes, among other things).
A final thing we love about this place is the owners' dedication to the arts. It's no coincidence that Dana and Christina bought this building (called "L'Entrepot") on Julia Street to start their dream cafe; they're using other parts of it to support the arts community. When you go by, be sure to check out their multi-purpose studio space next door to the cafe:

Hope you go to Carmo for lunch soon if you haven't made it yet -- I give this place a BIG two-thumbs-up for vegan foodies!

Carmo ~ 527 Julia St. ~ New Orleans 70130 ~ 504.875.4132

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hong Kong Food Market

Do you love grocery shopping ? But do you get tired of going to the same old grocery stores?

(This sounds like an infomercial!)

What you need is a trip to Hong Kong Food Market on the Westbank! If you usually shop American-style, you've got to check it out. For inspiration, here are a few pictures from my recent visit. P.S. I've decided to celebrate the fact that I just learned to use captions. Hope your eyes are good!

Tons of tofu...

...even fresh, unpackaged tofu!

Faux seafood (some of it vegan, some of it made with whey or egg)

This is faux lobster, in case you couldn't tell.
The vegetarian "meats" stretched out before us...

Canned faux meats abound.

This interesting vegetable matter looked like little green animals trying to swim around.

Our purchases (starting on the left, going clockwise): Rambutans, sweet potato flour, vegan ham, and a short, fat type of plantain.

Rambutans are related to lychees.

If you need something that feels like eyeballs (you know, like if you're hosting a Halloween party), buy a bunch of these and take the shells off. You'll have to be motivated though -- it's work getting to the inside of these things!

Once upon a time, a couple of my Taiwanese ESL students threw me a vegan Chinese dinner party that was out of this world. The dish that most struck me was the "ham." They had bought one like the one you see three photos up, and they taught me to dip it in sweet potato flour and then pan-fry it. It's not something I eat often, but it sure is tasty! If you want to try it, check ingredients before choosing a brand of veggie ham...some of them are only vegetarian, not vegan.

Happy shopping!

Hong Kong Food Market ~ 925 Behrman Hwy ~ Gretna, LA 70056 ~ (504) 394-7075