Back in 2009, we raved like it was 1986 about Portobello restaurant in Portland. Back then, it was a sort-of popup affair, taking over the space of a small east-side coffee shop after hours, and opening its doors to hungry patrons who usually had to book way in advance. Although our experience was stellar, we’d heard that other visitors had suffered from long waits, and the restaurant had a propensity to run out of some food items early on in the evening.
Clearly, there was a supply and demand mismatch so something had to happen. In mid-2010 we were delighted to hear that Portobello had graduated from the intimate coffee shop and had moved into a proper space of its own, with a high-budget build-out, new chefs and a much larger staff.
It was, then, with some trepidation that we made reservations to visit the “new” Portobello on a recent trip to Portland. After all, would its newfound influx of cash and staff affect its food? Would its new location lack the atmosphere of the old one? Would the gnocchi be as chewy and the bread be as crispy as before?
Well, to cut a long story slightly less long we were even more delighted with the new Portobello than we were with the old one. Yes, in many ways it’s like eating at a different restaurant, but the owners have clearly maintained what’s good about the original concept and expanded it into a broader, more capable offering that moves it several notches higher in the all-vegan fine dining league table.
The new location is in a modern strip mall in a faintly industrial area much further south than before. Across the street is a machine tool shop, and in the same parking lot is a large beer store, as well as an acupuncture clinic. Even for typically diverse PDX, this is quite varietal.
Of course, it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, but the inside is what counts. It seems that no expense has been spared to create a wonderful dining experience. Dark woods, steel and concrete and floral designs come together perfectly to create an ambience somewhere between a casual cafe and upscale restaurant…Tags: burger, gnocchi, italian, oregon, pdx, pizza, portland
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Puccini, Truffles and Chianti: Buildings, music, food and wine respectively are all synonymous with Tuscany in Italy, probably one of the most beautiful places on earth. Boasting a similar climate to Southern California with a natural beauty and centuries-old architecture and culture, Tuscany is a place that you know you’ll always go back to after you’ve been once.
I am, therefore, glad that I don’t have to travel for 18 hours to experience a little bit of Tuscany thanks to Rosti Tuscan Kitchen, a traditional Tuscan-style casual dining restaurant with two locations in Santa Monica and Encino. The owners have also taken great steps to accommodate their vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian guests, and we each have our own menu in addition to the main omnivorous menu.
Hungry for some vegan Tuscan cooking, we dropped by the Santa Monica location and were greeted by the owner, the super-nice restaurateur Kevin Goldfein who was kind enough to tell us about his restaurant concept and advise us on ordering a bunch of items from the vegan menu.Tags: encino, italian, pizza, santa monica, the valley, westside
As a boy, I would spend my summers in Rome being dragged around the piazzas by my bohemian mother. My father is an Italian chef, restaurateur and hotelier, and I suppose some of his passion for food and good service must be in my DNA. Although my food preparation skills leave a lot to be desired, I know when I’m eating good food, and getting good service. Of course, “fine dining” in a vegan sense is rather difficult to find wherever one goes – and so I was delighted to find a highly vegan-friendly vegetarian Italian restaurant in London.
Like all real Italian restaurants, Amico Bio is owned by a family, one of which is the Chef. In this case, the genius behind the restaurant is proprietor Pasquale Amico who has partnered with his cousins Bruno and Enrique to create a truly superb experience which envelopes your senses even before you walk through the door, and continues as a happy memory long after your visit.Tags: england, italian, london, uk
you’ve probably heard that dineLA restaurant week has been extended in los angeles through october 23rd…so you have 5 more days to eat prix fixe at gourmet restaurants for a fraction of the price! many of the participating establishments have vegan-friendly discount options available, so i highly suggest you take advantage.
last week for lunch, i hit up bella cucina italiana for dineLA with a few co-workers, and we were all thoroughly impressed. the upscale italian eatery is located on hollywood blvd at las palmas, but the sleek design and moody lighting will make you forget that you are dining in tourist central. the food was all top notch, some of the best italian fare i’ve had in los angeles, and they were super eager to accommodate my vegan diet.
as an appetizer, i went with the dineLA option of bruschetta classica (with no mozzarella), which was toasted bread topped with tomatoes, basil and olive oil. the slices of toast were small and slightly crispy, while the topping was extremely fresh and juicy. i realized while eating this that there really isn’t enough bruschetta in my life. something about the simplicity of the ingredients and the extreme flavors in this dish really get me going.
although none of the dineLA entree items at bella cucina were vegan-friendly, the server immediately pointed out several options on the menu that i could veganize and still eat at the discounted price. the policy at bella was super flexible, unlike at susan feniger’s street where they would only modify existing dineLA items. i am a HUGE fan of egg plant…so when i saw that bella had an egg plant appetizer, i asked if i could i could get that as my entree. the waiter assured me that it would be no problem at all, and even said he would ask the kitchen to double the portion so i would get my money’s worth. SCORE.
when the melanzane al forna arrived, it was absolutely massive. the dish looked like a huge breakfast entree, except with eggplant rather than pancakes and rich tomato sauce rather than maple syrup. the eggplant was deliciously crispy around the edges, yet warm and fluffy inside….while the sauce was perfectly oily and filled with italian flavor. one look at this entree, and i thought it was way to much to eat in one sitting. however, the thing was so damn good that i had no problem putting it all away!
when our server brought the dessert menus to our table, he profusely apologized and told me there wasn’t anything that could be made vegan. without me even asking, he offered to give me an coffee instead. i know that a coffee isn’t as rad as a vegan dessert, but at least it’s something. and hey, it’s more than street offered (which is nothing, until we asked for a discount….and then they offered berries). i took bella up on their coffee offer, and it wound up being quite delicious indeed. to be honest, i was way too stuffed to eat dessert anyways.
overall i had a great dining experience at bella cucina. the service was friendly, the atmosphere was chill, the food was delicious, and they were super helpful when it came to veganizing meals for dineLA. the best thing about restaurant week is that we have the chance to eat at so many different establishments that we wouldn’t normally try. bella cucina wasn’t even on my radar before dineLA, and now i can’t wait to return for some damn fine vegan italian food.
bella cucina italianaTags: bread, bruschetta, dinela, egg plant, hollywood, italian, restaurant week
1708 n. las palmas avenue
hollywood, ca 90028
If somebody would have told me that some of the best Italian food I’d ever eat would be both vegan and served in a coffee shop, I’d have thought they were nuts. Fact is, Portobello in Portland has some of the most scrumptious Italian food anywhere, is entirely vegan and somehow transforms a space that is a coffee shop by day into an intimate and upscale Italian Trattoria of the highest order by night.
The only advice you need before a visit is to call ahead and ensure you have a reservation. The tiny restaurant seats very few people, fills up almost as soon as it opens and stays full until it closes. So what’s the big deal? Why so popular? Simple answer: THE FOOD.
Portobello’s compact menu (just twelve dishes on the evening we went there) is clearly focussed on doing a few things right rather than trying to be all things to all people. What the menu lacks in choice it certainly makes up for in diversity, freshness and portion sizes (many dishes are available in a half order so you can share and sample as much as you like). With the smiliest, friendliest service you’ll find, a great vegan wine selection and rich vegan deserts you are in for a throughly pleasurable evening.
The menu is split into two main sections: “To Share” – appetizers and finger food that you can distribute around your table and “To Hoard”, aptly named because the main dishes are so good you’ll want to keep them all for yourself.
To start with we ordered the “Little T Slab with Olive Oil”. As it had the word “Little” in its name and was only $3.50 we figured we’d need something else as well, so we decided to get the “Artichoke-Mushroom Crostata”. Only when a huge amount of food arrived at our table did we find out that “Little T” was the name of the bakery that baked the amazing Focaccia, and not an indicator of the size of the bread portion being anything BUT little! Also, the Crostata (soft pastry cup filled to the brim with spicy mushrooms, artichokes and creamy sauce) was more than big enough to share.
Along with the food we ordered a bottle of wine from a small independent winery called Hip Chicks Do Wine. I can’t vouch for their hipness, but I CAN vouch for the fact that they Do Wine really well. The ’06 Cabernet we ordered was incredibly tasty and the perfect compliment for the wonderful food we were about to eat.
For the main course we spent a good deal of time debating what order, as everything on the menu looked so amazing. In the end, after two hearty appetizers and an anticipation of desert looming, we opted to go for two half orders: the Portobello Steak with Polenta and the Potato Gnocchi with Spicy Ragu. We were throughly blown away with the taste and texture of both dishes. Portobello and Polenta are individually terribly difficult to prepare, and uniting them in one dish did, I’m sure, present a major challenge to the chef, who clearly knows what he or she is doing. The greens were just this side of crunchy and the red wine sauce was a perfect balance of tangy and smooth. What an amazing dish this was.
Another challenging Italian dish to prepare is gnocchi, especially large pieces as with this dish. I don’t know how this was cooked, but the gnocchi was slightly crispy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside. The ragu was heavenly – again no idea what was in there, but a deep tomatoey spiciness delivered the perfect compliment to the starchy gnocchi.
Did somebody say desert? We’d heard that the deserts at Portobello were excellent, so we ordered the Tiramisu — always my favorite Italian desert as a vegetarian. In common with everything else we’d eaten the tiramisu was excellent. Soft and sweet with an impeccably creamy texture and smooth brandy-infused spongy cake makes this the best vegan tiramisu I’ve eaten, and I’m becoming quite a connoisseur, I think!
We ended the evening replete with some of the best Italian food we’d ever eaten and are counting the days to until our next visit to Portland so we can rush back to Portobello for a Liitle T, some Hip Chicks and Tiramisu. YUM!
Finally, I’ve heard that Portobello has a habit of running out of certain food items later in the evening. I guess there’s only so much Gnocci you can make in the kitchen of a coffee shop. If you have your heart set on a particular menu item, get an early reservation so you can be sure to get what you want.
PortobelloTags: gnocchi, italian, pdx, portland
2001 SE 11th Avenue
May 12th, 2009LA restaurants
Everybody in America knows Buca Di Beppo… The down-market chain of pseudo Italian-American diners with ebullient servers and over-the-top Italianate décor has won its place in the hearts and minds of many cities – 90 locations, to be exact.
The very first Buca di Beppo I visited was in Seattle. My mother (a fluent Italian speaker who lived in Italy for many years) was quite enchanted by the place. She pointed out pictures of Frank Sinatra, The Pope, Sophia Loren (who bears an uncanny likeness to my mother in the 60s…. Not now, though, for sure) and was overjoyed to be greeted by an Italian-speaker who led us to our table via the kitchen, then handed us our menus. My mother, who LOVES to speak Italian (given the most minute opportunity) immediately engaged with our server in his supposed native tongue. He became a little flustered right away, and I realized after a few back-and-forths that they had began to speak in SPANISH (yeah, my mother is also fluent in that). It turned out that Giuseppe from Napoli was actually Marco, from El Salvador. A very pleasant medical undergrad from UW who had grown his moustache out to look “more Italian”.
Yes, like Marco, every single thing about Buca di Beppo is completely, 100% and absolutely not what it appears to be. From plastic statues to Plexiglas windows to bulk wine served in a fancy bottle – the farcical nature of the place cannot be under (or over) estimated. The menu is rather diverse – everything from “garlic olive oil bread” to “seafood pasta”, so a splendid time should be guaranteed for all.
I ended up at the Universal City Walk outlet a couple of weeks ago with some rather drunk omni friends. I’d researched all the restaurants in advance, and Buca di Beppo was the only one to have several websites glorifying their vegan options, with pasted emails from the management as proof (not to mention the blessing of a trusted iPhone application). So, it was with grand aplomb that we showed up there, rather inebriated, around 10pm on a Sunday night.
I had my entire meal planned out – I was going to get a couple of orders of “Garlic Bread” (without cheese), which is allegedly entirely vegan – bread with no milk or egg additives, olive oil and fresh garlic. The dudes I was with got various horrific and non-vegan dishes, but I must admit the garlic bread was pretty good. Not as good as the old-style bread they used to do (which came in a round cake pan) but still very tasty.
Continuing the olive oil theme, I was craving for green vegetables, so “Green Beans” sounded amazing. And, indeed they were. Crunchy on the outside, smooth as silk on the inside they alone would have been a very nice entrée. BUT, neither of those offerings are particularly “Italian”, so I also ordered the “Spaghetti Marinara” which was completely, 100% predictably boring but nevertheless filled a gap.Tags: chain dining, italian, the valley
basically any foodie will tell you that THE place to get a pizza in los angeles is pizzeria mozza. the sister restaurant to the upscale italian eatery osteria mozza has been open for years and it is still nearly impossible to get a reservation. mozza’s thin-crusted and crispy italian-style pizzas are so popular that every day before the restaurant even opens, several wannabe customers line up outside, hoping to grab a seat at the bar.
being somewhat obsessed with pizza, of course i’ve always had an interest in trying out mozza. but the thought of fighting with the crowds and dealing with the whole scene for some “highly modified to be made vegan” pizza was a bit of a turn off. plus, i’m just so used to big, take-out, new york style pies. the personal-sized expensive pizzas served at mozza with toppings i can’t pronounce all seemed a little to fancy for my comfort zone. luckily, i was jolted out of my reticence by my vegan friend and fellow pizza fiend who called me one day and exclaimed, “holy shit, dude! we gotta go to mozza! i have been dying to try that place and i just got confirmation their sauce and crust are vegan! what are you doing tomorrow?” we headed over to mozza the next day, lined up outside 15 minutes before they opened, and just managed to get a seat at the bar. what followed was epic pizza.
we ordered a couple pizzas and then swapped slices, and my friend definitely chose the better of the two. she got the rapini, cherry tomatoes, anchovies, olives & chiles…sans anchovies and sans cheese. when the bartender heard her modifications, he asked if we were vegans and then assured us our food would be handled with different utensils. excellent.
the pizza tasted delicious without cheese and came with so many fine vegetables, the mozzarella wasn’t missed. the succulent rapini and and tiny tomatoes were perfectly prepared and sitting on top of the most amazing crisp yet tender crust. thin in the middle and bubbly on the edges, the crust was seriously out of this world. baked in an italian-inspired wood-burning oven, it’s miles away from any pizza i’ve ever tried.
the pizza i chose was a bit more boring, but i loved it all the same. oddly enough the pizza you see pictured above came as is, with no modifications. it’s naturally cheeseless and topped with only tomato, extra virgin olive oil and sicilian oregano. the oregano was phenomenal, but i couldn’t help but laugh when the waiter plunked the plate down in front of us and my friend was all, “DUDE! it looks like there’s WEED on your pizza!” and indeed it did. haha, it tasted great though…nothing like marijuana, i swear! the lack of toppings gave me the opportunity to really taste the amazing crust on its own and reaffirmed my feeling that this is the best fucking crust i’ve ever eaten.
while the seating at the bar is kind of tight, it was rather enjoyable. i would definitely go to mozza again and line up for 15 minutes to snag a spot. they only have one beer on tap, but it’s a damn good one: moretti. if i didn’t have to get back to work, i could have definitely thrown back a few pints of this stuff.
we also shared a small salad and while mixed greens tend to be kind of boring, in true mozza fashion this was exceptional. the leaves were perfectly coated with salt, pepper, and a light tangy dressing, making for total salad awesomeness. the bartender also brought us some complimentary long and crunchy bread sticks, the perfect accompaniment to damn good salad and beer.
because the pizzas are pretty big, way more than enough for one person, i ended up with half a pie to bring home with me. when i went to heat up my barren, tomato sauce covered crust that evening i decided to throw on some vegan cheese to see how it tasted. because this pizza crust was so special, i decided to use some of my all-time favorite vegan cheese on top…CHEEZLY. cheezly (winner of the best vegan cheese pizza challenge) is so hard to come by, and it’s expensive as fuck. i order online at veganessentials.com and use it only on special occasions. but hey, what is more special than having a pizza from mozza to reheat?
mozza crust with melted cheezly on top is so amazing, i can’t even describe it to you. since becoming vegan, i’ve never tried anything that tasted so much like real cheese pizza. you are probably looking at 6 bucks worth of pizza in that picture, just for a tiny slice…but man oh man it was worth it. vegans, if you miss pizza, seriously give this a try. go to mozza, get the plain pizza to go, and cover it in cheezly when you get home. just a few seconds in the microwave got the cheese melted all over the crust, and it tasted in-fucking-credible.
thank you mozza and cheezly for returning the joy of pizza to my life.
and i also highly recommend dining in at pizzeria mozza. get there a little bit before they open, or a little bit before they close and you should be able to grab a coveted bar seat. seriously, this place deserves all the hype.
641 n. highland avenue
los angeles, ca 90036
open everydayTags: cheezly, hollywood, italian, pizza
12pm – 12am
for us vegans in los angeles, there sure aren’t very many pizza options. a lot of places have a soy cheese option, but that usually contains casein…some places do offer vegan pizza, but the fake cheese never melts quite right. lucky for us, though, a new all-vegetarian and vegan-friendly pizza parlor has opened up just 30 miles away in cerritos, and dude, it is so worth the drive. we headed out to that’s amore over the weekend and had vegan pizza so good, it tasted vegetarian.
that’s amore is a pure vegetarian pizza kitchen with a large menu full of of entrees, pizzas and sandwiches that can ALL be veganized. seriously, it’s a dream come true. if this place were closer to my house, i’d be there several times a week. i know it sounds too good to be true, so check out there menu here:
my husband and i took a detour to that’s amore last weekend, on our way home from long beach, and seriously…the food was not to be believed. although the menu was massive and tempting, we opted for the build-your-own pizza option, and settled on a pie with vegan cheese, tofurky sausage, mushrooms and tomatoes. wow, can you believe that order? vegan cheese, vegetable toppings and tofurky sausage?!?!?! i don’t know anywhere i could get such a vegan feast, other than my own kitchen. almost all the food at that’s amore is vegan, except they do have a normal cheese option. other than that, you can close your eyes and point at random shit on the menu, order it and be fine. i can’t even express how wonderful this is to me. they also clearly state on the menu that “vegan dishes are cooked with exclusive utensils.” there ya have it: no cross-contamination worries.
our pizza came out of the oven in record time, the thing was bloody huge, and the crust was amazing. definitely the most authentic new york style crust i’ve ever tried since becoming a vegan: thin, chalky and oh so tasty.
not to mention, the VEGAN CHEESE! this shit was melty-ist, most wonderful vegan dairy-style concoction i’ve ever tasted. the super-friendly server told us they use follow your heart cheese, but i assure you, it tasted much better than that. in my experience FYH cheese is pretty stubborn when it comes to melting, but that’s amore somehow gets around the problem. maybe it’s their oven, or the way they shred it…either way, this stuff melts and has the texture of real fucking cheese. amazing.
when you fill up on pizza from that’s amore, ask your sweet and helpful server about the dessert options. we inquired and wound up with an incredible, freshly-made vegan cannoli. de-lish! they should really add this stuff to the menu, it would be a tragedy for sweet-seeking vegans to leave that’s amore, never knowing they have incredible desserts.
that’s amore makes me want to move to the oc, full stop. the food is killer, it’s all meat-free, and everything can be veganized. oh oh oh, and they serve wine and beer, what’s not to like?
…well…um….ok, if i wanna get nit-picky, the ambience leaves something to be desired. it’s in a strip mall, the lighting is so bright that it’s annoying, and they play a rotation of 8 really corny italian-themed rat pack songs nonstop, turned up to 11. if i lived in cerritos, that’s amore would definitely be the perfect place to get a pizza to-go. i would only eat in because i live about an hour away, and i would rather put up with a less-than-perfect atmosphere than a reheated pizza.
overall though, that’s amore is incredible. head out to cerritos as soon as you can, and try everything on the menu. it’s gotta be the best, authentic, new york style vegan pizza i’ve ever had.
that’s amoreTags: cerritos, follow your heart, italian, orange county, pizza, tofurky, vegan cheese
13349 artesia blvd.
cerritos, ca 90703
as you may or may not know, i’m a huge fan of native foods. it’s a westwood vegan establishment with several original options whose ingredients i completely trust. imagine how delighted i was on my coachella vacation last weekend when i looked up the nearest vegan restaurant to my hotel in palm springs and found a native foods just 2 MILES AWAY!
latino lover pizza: mexican marinara, soy taco meat, salsa fresca, corn, avocado, cilantro, and vegan sour cream. he cha-cha! $13.95
yes, luckily my parents happened to be in town, and i definitely owed them lunch for saving my ass. so what better place to treat them to a meal at, than the quarrygirl.com approved native foods?
now, while i LOVE native foods, my only problem with this restaurant is the ubiquitous unadvertised bell peppers which DRIVE ME MAD and are sprinkled all over most dishes. no matter what i do, i can’t seem to remember to ask for my meals without them. i digress. back to the wonderful food!Tags: coachella, fusion, italian, mexican, palm springs, pizza, summer
There comes a time when one has to make a choice about a superlative that will stay with one for the rest of one’s life. “Best” is right up there with “Worst” as an all-encompassing word that leaves the recipient in no doubt about your opinion.
It is with this post that I tackle the “Best Salad in the World?”. I put the question mark at the end as it’s the best salad for ME, but it might not be for you. But it probably will be if you make it.
There’s a nice northern Italian restaurant on the ground floor of a building in West LA that I used to work in, and one day I ended up eating at my desk, yet forgetting about a lunch meeting at the restaurant (called “Il Moro”, pidgin Italian for “Tomorrow”). So, upon ordering at the restaurant, I decided to eat light and ordered a salad called the “Garga del Moro”. I enjoyed it so much that I set about creating it at home. Here’s my version of the “Best Salad in the World”. NO ifs, ands or buts.Tags: Il Moro, italian, salad