• January 30th, 2011mr meanerlondon, more restaurants (not LA)

    As a boy growing up in England, my mother used to cook a Sunday Roast every week. It was always a big performance, with lots of ingredients, interminably long cooking time and a somewhat formal consumption ritual of sitting at the big table, usually reserved for guests. Sometimes, though, (when we could afford it) we’d go out for our meal and my memories are filled with those occasions: smiling restaurant staff, large plates of food and plenty of subdued light from the London skies.

    I also look back with sadness on the cruelty that was on my plate: the flesh we so fancifully fried was quickly relegated to a meatona-non gratis as I became vegetarian and then vegan. Indeed, I abandoned Sunday Roast many years ago in despair of such meaty plates all around me.

    Fast forward way too many years for me to remember, and I can gladly confirm that the Sunday Roast is back in my life with a vengeance – at Manna restaurant in Primrose Hill. In fact, special vegetarian Sunday menu items have been served at Manna since the 1960s, and more lately their Vegan Sunday Roast delivers a traditional, yet superior (and of course cruelty-free) offering that’s to die for.

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  • January 19th, 2011mr meanerbay area, more restaurants (not LA), san francisco

    One of the greatest poets of our times, Robbie Williams, penned the now-classic song “Millennium” to commemorate the demise of San Francisco’s famed restaurant of the same name.

    The prescience of his words cannot be understated, as we witness first-hand the falling from grace of this much-hyped, over-priced restaurant:

    We’ve got stars directing our fate
    and we’re praying its not too late
    ‘Cause we know we’re falling from grace
    And when we come we always come too late
    I often think that we were born to hate

    Let’s deconstruct these inspired words:

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  • January 18th, 2011mr meaneredinburgh, more restaurants (not LA)

    I’ve long had a love affair with Edinburgh: the most Scottish of Scottish cities. When I lived in London I’d frequently take the sleeper train up late at night for the fringe performances at the Edinburgh Festival, enjoying such classic performances as “Macbeth: In Klingon” and “Live sex on stage as performance art”. Curiously, the second of those two fringe shows had a much bigger crowd than the first!

    While the Edinburgh festival fringe shows don’t remotely stereotype this amazing city, the description of Black Bo’s restaurant on their website could also apply to Edinburgh in general: “Some people call it Bohemian, some call it Leftfield, others call it rustic, alternative, quaint, eclectic, esoteric or simply – ‘That Really Nice Place We Went To 6 Months Ago And Have Never Been Able To Find Again’.”

    Situated in the heart of Edinburgh but in a quiet cobbled street just a stone’s throw from Edinburgh’s main railway station, Black Bo’s is a truly wonderful vegetarian restaurant that’s so unique in appearance, menu and vibe that I can’t think of anywhere remotely like it except, perhaps, Elf in Los Angeles.

    Upon walking into Black Bo’s, you’re presented with a lovely bar area: tables, comfortable seating, tap beer and a huge wine selection. The rear restaurant area has large windows overlooking the Edinburgh rooftops under which sit plenty of comfortable tables and chairs. We were there around sunset time just as the long shadows crept across the bare wooden floors, the perfect autumn light punctuated only by the well melted candles and reflections from the bright stucco beyond.

    After being seated at an oversized two-top table we began to peruse the extensive menu. Our server reassured us that most things either were vegan, or could be prepared as such, and that the kitchen and chef knew what they were doing. I don’t know about you, but a vegetarian restaurant that knows what vegan means is so much better to dine in than an omnivorous place.

    Baked mushrooms stuffed with "haggis" on a bed of turnip mash. ₤5.50

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  • December 29th, 2010quarrygirlLA restaurants, xiv

    time for another quick and no-nonsense reader review from D (our correspondent who wrote about the RFD thanksgiving meal last month). this time he writes about one of the best places in los angeles to get a fancy (and i mean FANCY) vegan experience, XIV restaurant. we have reviewed their vegan tasting courses a couple times on this blog, and we’re sad to report that while they still have plenty of vegan options, the default meatless tasting menu is now vegetarian instead of vegan. 🙁 D checked out the new menu recently with some friend, and here are his thoughts…

    Last year we went once or twice to XIV for some of our “special occasions” because they had an entirely separate vegan tasting / a-la-carte menu (with a wine pairing option to boot!). And it was a hip fancy Hollywood spot, so it felt like we were hip or cool or some bullshit like that.
    We were invited there last week with some carnist peeps. Here’s my 2 cents…

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  • December 28th, 2010quarrygirlbay area, more restaurants (not LA), san francisco

    today’s quick bite comes to us from greg kanimian who recently visited fancy pants restaurant masa’s in san francisco. this isn’t a vegan restaurant by any means, but the chef accepted the challenge of making greg a 4 course animal-free dinner, and apparently it was awesome. here goes:

    I don’t remember exactly what each course was since I didn’t have a menu to read off of. I was just told what I was eating as it was given to me.

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  • January 1st, 2010mr meanermore restaurants (not LA), NYC

    You can tell a classy lady just by looking at her, and the same is true of Manhattan’s Candle 79. Ensconced on a wide, tree-lined street in the affluent Upper East Side and surrounded by some of the world’s finest restaurants (and most expensive real estate), Candle 79 has incredibly sexy curb appeal and, like that classy lady, proves that beauty is not only skin deep but the real treasure is what lies within.

    On our recent visit, we were treated to some of the finest cuisine we’d ever experienced, in an atmosphere that rivals only Sublime in Fort Lauderdale (the East Coast’s only other vegan fine dining establishment). Probably because we reserved for 6pm and arrived a little early, we lucked out with a great table (actually, a large booth beside the cocktail bar).

    Our very attentive server ran over over the menu with us, explaining that the restaurant is entirely vegan, and if the menu said “cheese” or “ice cream” the ingredients were, in fact, vegan. Clearly, this explanation was somewhat reassuring! He then took our drink order, which was a reasonably priced bottle of organic Côtes du Rhône that arrived with a couple of small and complimentary appetizers of sliced zucchini, with a spicy vegetable-infused cream cheese combination atop. They were each gone in one scrumptious bite, and set a realistic expectation for the meal that was to come.

    It took us forever to decide what to order as everything on the menu looked astounding. In the end, we mixed up the flavors by going for a Mexican-style appetizer followed by American and Italian-style entrees.

    The appetizer was “Angel’s Nachos”, an incredible creation that tasted better than I remember vegetarian nachos being. Here in LA, we have a similar dish from Real Food Daily, which not only costs a few bucks more, but uses chips FROM A BAG (yes, the kind you’d get in a grocery store). Not at Candle 79, as these were freshly fried (one could taste the warm oil), and crunchy. Combined with the the vegetables and seitan created an amazing mouth texture, especially when mixed up with the layers of Daiya cheese, fresh guacamole, salsa and tofu sour cream. These are far and away the best vegan nachos we’d ever eaten, and are worth a trip to Candle 79 alone. Even if you have to walk all the way there from Downtown.

    Angel's Nachos: corn chips, cheddar and mozzarella, tomatoes, refried pinto beans, chili-grilled seitan, guacamole, salsa, tofu sour cream, romaine lettuce. $16

    Next up were the two entrees. We opted for the black-pepper grilled seitan, in honor of New York’s legendary prowess as the steak capital of the world. Oh, and this was amazing. I’d never had anything grilled with a balsamic base before, and this turned me on to a whole new avenue of taste. The texture of the seitan was very “grill-like”, with burned edges and a soft, succulent interior – rather like the descriptions I found online of high-end fillet steak.

    Black Pepper & Balsamic Grilled Seitan: sautéed haricots verts, leeks, almonds, cornmeal crusted onion rings, celeriac purée. $23

    This, combined with green beans, and a celery mashed potato-style base, all drizzled with a tasty and tangy sauce was an incredible mash-up (no pun intended!) of taste. I would be remiss not to mention the onion rings, which were perfectly crunchy and had a cornmeal batter, making them rather interesting, and a perfect compliment to the tasty seitan.

    So, after paying vegan homage to NYC’s steak-house history we decided to move things up a notch and go for something Italian-style, as Italian food is usually better here than in Italy itself (go ahead, argue in the comments). Our Italian-style entree was a mixture of succulent vegetables (mainly wild mushrooms) and porcini crusted tofu sauteed up a treat in a smooth and slightly sweet red wine sauce with a layered cheese and root vegetable gratin, all on a bed of spinach, soaked in the red wine sauce.

    Porcini Crusted Tofu: sauteed spinach, root vegetable gratin, wild mushrooms, red wine sauce. $22

    Again, an amazing intersection of taste and textures with perfectly cooked ingredients coming together in just the right way. The layered cheese thing was out of this world – I wish I knew exactly what it is as I’d be most interested in trying to create it myself. Not that I could, but it’s nice to pretend.

    Finally, for desert, we continued the Italian theme with a warm cannoli, filled with vanilla cream and topped with chocolate chip ice cream. The server also bought us some complimentary home-made ice cream (see later for why we got it for free), which went down extremely well with the cannoli. I think one of the successes of a vegan desert is that it should not taste “vegan”, and none of this stuff did. The vanilla filling was like a heavy-cream and powdered sugar filling in a non-vegan cannoli, and the ice cream tasted just like, well, very nice ice cream you’d buy in an up-market ice cream parlor. The desert was amazing, and we were very full upon leaving the restaurant.

    Cannoli: vanilla cream filling, vanilla chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate drizzle. $12

    On this visit, the service was excellent, but being early the place was only starting to fill up as we left. We tried to visit Candle 79 a year or so before, waited 30 minutes for our table (even after our allotted reservation time was up), got the shittiest table in the place and finally walked out after another 20 minutes as nobody came to serve us. Also, even on this trip, we did find the staff a little snooty – I don’t think they appreciated my bright yellow bobble-hat I wore upon arriving out of the 20 degree cold. When we ordered dessert, the server asked if it was our first trip to Candle 79, and we recounted (politely) our experience the first time around. He apologized, and kindly gave us some free ice cream “for your inconvenience last time”. See told you they were a little snooty, but this gesture was much appreciated.

    Homemade Ice Cream & Sorbet Sampler: chef's daily selection. $9

    Also, our server neglected to tell us they had any specials, and I listened to several other customers getting a run-down of some amazing-sounding specials. Not that I’m really upset as I liked what we ordered, but it would have been nice to have the same choices as the other guests. Maybe he was just too much in shock about my bobble hat…?

    So, to sum up, if you’re lucky and you get a nice table and a good server you will have one of the finest vegan dining experiences possible. Yeah it’s was pricey (our bill came to just shy of $150 with tip), but, like a classy lady, Candle 79 really is worth every penny.

    Candle 79
    154 East 79th Street
    New York, NY 10021
    (212) 537-7179

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