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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

13...bad luck or bad management?

I’ve only been here a month, but ever since I even thought about making a move to New O., a restaurant by the name of “13 Monaghan” (shortened in conversation to just the number) has popped up here and there as the place to go for an unexpectedly vegan-friendly menu. Since we were in the Quarter tonight, Johnny and I decided to take a break from Bennachin’s (actually, we were out of cash, so it wasn’t an option) and give 13 a try. As much as I hate to say this about any place that caters to vegans – we won’t be going back anytime soon.

Walking in, it seemed that, in this restaurant too, someone had forgotten to turn the vent hood on…the whole place was filled with smoke from the kitchen. We started to sit at one of the high tables with bar stools, but then thought better of it and hunkered down at a regular table in an attempt to stay below the fumes. To no avail.

As our waiter handed us the menus and I asked my usual question about vegan menu recommendations, he replied with “I recommend that you not be vegan.”

Huh?

Now I'm the first to give a guy the benefit of the doubt, and so I wondered briefly if it was a playful jab. Wait for it…wait for it…there was a fantastically awkward pause as he watched for my reaction (probably thinking, “Did I just say that out loud?”) and I stared blankly at him, waiting for him to crack a smile and say he was just teasing.

Being vegan, I know how to take some teasing.

But he didn't, so we eventually stumbled over his comment and, after browsing the options, ordered a couple of BBQ tofu po-boys. Then the wait began.

And continued. On and on. I think the smoke inhalation didn't help our patience levels.

Finally, no less than thirty minutes later (with only one other couple being served before us, and their two dishes arriving fifteen minutes apart) – the long-awaited po-boys arrived. Yes, they were good. But good enough to put up with no vent hood, terrible service, and fonky ketchup (yes, I said FONKY, as in NAYS-ty, which you should be sure to rhyme in your head with "pasty")? No way.

By the time we left, my eyes burned, but unlike at Bennachin’s, there were no spices to blame – it was just greasy kitchen smoke. I asked our waiter what the deal was. He said they used to keep the door open to air the place out, but the health department said it was against code. And the employees haven’t been able to convince the owner to ventilate the restaurant otherwise.

Fortunately, the only after-plan we had was to walk down Bourbon, and if there's any place you can smell like two giant tater tots and not have anyone notice, it's there.

13 Monaghan ~ 517 Frenchmen St. ~ 70116 ~ (504) 942-1345

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Vegan + Bennachin = Woo-hoo!

The other night we dined at Bennachin and all I can say is THANK YOU AFRICA FOR YOUR LACTOSE-INTOLERANCE!!* I assume that this is what’s behind the absence of dairy throughout the menu, with the exception of dessert. So far we’ve been twice. There was a bit of a downside to the first trip – the folks in the kitchen had forgotten to turn on the vent hood, as I found out after the fact. Our eyes felt a little burn from the time we walked in, but then we made the mistake of ordering the curry. We had the furthest seat from the kitchen, but by god that spice travelled! It was clear when the curry was set on our table that it was the source of our eyes’ woes. We ate some and then took turns going outside to air out our eyeballs. I waited too long, until they were screwed shut and squeezing out a steady flow of tears. I stumbled outside, down the steps (thank goodness there were only two, because I couldn’t see a thing) and waited a while before going back in to eat the rest of dinner. We didn’t finish the curry. I think it’s one of those dishes you have to be a native to enjoy.

But for the rest…I cannot begin to say how much I love this food!! What a great restaurant! The jama-jama (spinach) is dreamy, the fried plantains heavenly. The vegetables over couscous were surprisingly delicious, and the coconut rice didn’t really taste like coconut, so Johnny enjoyed it too. The ginger drink is AMAZING – there's nothing like ginger's sweet punch in the throat! And I also loved the red tea. The best part is leaving there feeling like I’ve eaten something more nutritional than not – a rarity in the restaurant experience. Wish this place accepted some form of payment other than cash, but them’s the breaks.

* I received a comment from someone who was offended by this remark. I wish he/she had left a more specific criticism so I could respond appropriately, but I'll just have to make do with what I've got. First, I certainly did not intend to seem ignorant by referring to a link between Africa and lactose intolerance; for the record, I am aware that 1) not every adult in Africa is lactose-intolerant and 2) Africa is not the only continent on the planet with a high prevalence of lactose intolerance. Indeed, only a small percentage of the world's population can digest milk sugar in adulthood. Check out this map I found of the percentages of lactose intolerance in different places (from Wikipedia):
And here's an article about how lactose intolerance is truly the norm, rather than a disorder that should be treated (as the dairy industry would have us believe):
http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2002/june/lactose.htm

By the way, if this had been a review of a Chinese restaurant, I would have just as readily thanked Asia for its lactose intolerance.

I try my best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, so I ask my readers to do the same for me. When I make a faux pas -- let me know, but please be nice about it. I'm doing the best I can.

**Update: Bennachin now accepts credit cards!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

NOLA vegans on the inside

Last night Johnny and I were finally victorious in our quest to try out Basil Leaf, an uptown Thai restaurant located at the corner of S. Carrollton Avenue and Jeannette Place. I say “finally victorious” because this was our third attempt to eat at the seemingly often-closed restaurant. (I thought to call ahead this time!) But our two previous trips had not been in vain – each ended with a jaunt across the street to make the acquaintance of Lebanon’s Café, which turned out to be such an awesome find, it is deserving of a tangent. I asked our server there what she would recommend that we could eat, and almost fell out of my chair when she said she was vegan too! There’s nothing like that to put a couple of vegan diners at ease. In our two trips thus far, we’ve taken her advice and ordered the musaha (a deliciously spicy appetizer of sautéed vegetables), the vegetarian grape leaves (decent, I thought), the vegetarian plate (satisfying renditions of hummus, baba ganuj, tabouleh, and falafel served with pita bread - the kind of stuff vegetarians get tired of, but it was still good), and the lentil soup (SCORE!). And it was super-reassuring to be able to get a thumbs-up from a vegan on the inside. You’re probably thinking, Duh, it’s hummus, the one food that can’t NOT be vegan, but a Middle Eastern restaurant in Dallas ruined that delusion for me. If you're reading this, Ali Baba on Abrams Road, putting yogurt in hummus is a sacrilege!

So we couldn’t believe our luck last night when our server at Basil Leaf turned out to be vegan too. My first reaction was Omg! Infiltration is underway! My next reaction was Wow! Check out this guy's hair! "Jeremy" assured us he would guard against fish sauce in anything we got, so we ordered soup, veggie spring rolls (which we dipped in an exotic plum sauce and a scrumptious peanut sauce), and mussaman curry. Overall and with the exception of the sauces, we weren’t too thrilled with our choices, and especially since everything was a little pricey. It was nice to have a sympathetic server, though, especially one with a fabulously funky hairstyle. If someone else is paying next time, I'll try the panang ($17!).

Conclusion du jour: Every restaurant should have an in-house vegan!

Basil Leaf ~ 1438 S. Carrollton Ave. 70118 ~ (504) 862-9001
Lebanon's Cafe ~ 1500 S. Carrollton Ave. 70118 ~ (504) 862-6200