Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Babbo and Overbooking - Time to Find a New Pasta Restaurant in New York?

Babbo has long been one of my favorite restaurants in New York.  They do wonderful things with pasta and have a pasta menu that can be made vegetarian.  I have dined there four or five times over the last two years and enjoyed it, up until recently.

Recently, I made a later-than-usual reservation after the New York Century.  I figured after riding my bike 100 miles through New York City, a late reservation seemed a good idea.  When I arrived, the host said my table was not ready and I could to order a drink at the crowded bar, at my expense.  My guest and I did not order a drink.  The thought of waiting for a table I had reserved and paying for drinks to do so rubbed me the wrong way, so we stood with many others in the entry and waited.  After about 15 minutes, the host brought us each a complimentary glass of champagne. My guest and I were seated about 25 to 30 minutes after our reservation time.

We had a lovely table upstairs in the corner, but by this time, I was tired and the pasta tasting menu no longer sounded appealing so I had a salad and called it quits for the evening.  A hoped for celebratory evening came to a lackluster end.

I thought this was a one-time occurrence as it had not happened previously.  But last week, I again had a late reservation (confirmed by the restaurant with three calls to me), showed on time only to be told I would not be seated for about 25 minutes.  The host tried to pass this off as a one-time issue.  He tried to blame it on weather that did not exist.  I said this was the second time I had experienced this in the last two visits.  He appeared surprised by my response.  Feeling a bit stuck (where else was I to go at this time and I had already spent $20 on a cab), my guest and I waited.  We watched as others were told the same lines.  A party of four with reservations were led to a table for two in the noisy and cramped bar area.  After 30 minutes my guest and I were seated.  The host did come by with a blood orange salad as an apology gift.  Again, we ordered less than we otherwise would have.  What would have been a $500 check became a $250 check, but Babbo filled an 11:00 pm reservation slot they likely otherwise could not have.  Was it worth it to them? Perhaps.  Babbo is a hot ticket.  Jennifer Aniston was in the night before.
I have been to hot restaurants including Noma, Fat Duck and French Laundry and have never seen one that  could not manage their reservations.  I've not seen this at low-end restaurants.  To err once is a possible mistake; but twice shows disrespect for customers.

There are other Italian restaurants in New York and many are better. Scarpetta http://www.scarpettarestaurants.com/menus/new-york-menus/ does a very nice vegetarian menu. Dovetail http://dovetailnyc.com/pdfs/Dovetail.MondayVeg.pdf  though not strictly Italian is another nice alternative.  Unfortunately, Babbo and I need to call it quits.

ABC Cocina Has Fluency of Latin-American Fusion Down Pat

I have long been a fan of ABC Kitchen, the Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant that takes up space in the ABC furniture store.  ABC Cocina http://www.abchome.com/eat/abc-cocina/  is no less satisfying with its unexpected fusion of flavors that appears to work every time. The only thing that didn't work for me was that I was so distracted by the wonderful blend of flavors, I didn't take pictures.

ABC Cocina is suitable for vegetarians. Vegans won't find much.

Dishes are served tapas style and the server recommended five plates for two people.  My guest and I ordered three savory dishes and a dessert and found that to be plenty.  We started with the sweet potato and smoked cherry pepper empanadas with lemon yogurt.  I did not think the next dishes could get better, but they did.  The patatas bravas were served with the lightly spiced aioli.  The best of all were the soft mushroom tacos with mole, cashews, kale and lime.  Dessert was warm vanilla fritters with Mexican chocolate.  The meal was sublime and ran about $100 for two with a carafe of house-made red hibiscus sangria.

The restaurant has been open for not quite two years and is still a glamorous place to be seen.  The noise level is a bit on the high side, but it's still comfortable enough to chat.  Be sure to make reservations in advance. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco to close April 30

Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco, a temple to vegan fine dining, announced today that it will serve its last meal on April 30.  The closure comes due to the hotel it is in being sold and the hospitality company not wanting a restaurant on site.

I wanted to share that Millennium was more than a restaurant for those of us plant-based eaters in the Bay Area.  Millennium became a part of my family.  I seldom ate in the main dining room, but often came for the monthly winemaker dinners, where chef Eric Tucker paired his dishes to the the wines of fabulous small winemakers throughout the area.  Through these dinners I made lifelong friends - people I have to my home - winemakers, wine reps and people who share my interests in great food, wine and travel.  I got to know the staff.  It felt so comfortable.  It was a place to go be with like-minded people and laugh and share good times over great food and wine.  I met the delightful owners while sitting outside in a farm in Sonoma sharing yet more great food and wine.  Millennium had a stack of awards, but it was all unpretentious and fun - just good people getting together to share good things.

I look forward to good things coming and hope for many more good times to come. Best to all. 

 The closing letter from Millennium's FaceBook page is below.

After more than 20 years in business, and with the end of our lease, we
will serve our last meal as Millennium at 580 Geary St on April 30,
2015. We are so grateful to our co-workers, family, farmers & friends
who have made the experience of running this restaurant unforgettable.

The Hotel California was recently sold to Pineapple Hospitality, a
Seattle company. They will be doing an extensive renovation and we have
been notified that they do not wish to continue to have a restaurant as
part of their hotel.

After 20+ years Larry and Ann Wheat, the principal owners of Millennium,
have decided to retire from the restaurant business after Millennium
closes on or about May 1, 2015. They have made a significant
contribution to the success of Millennium and consider it their
contribution to the vegetarian movement. They have said that they will
miss the staff and customers they have met over the years.

Eric Tucker, Millennium's executive chef since inception and co-owner of
Millennium, will be opening a restaurant with Millennium's General
Manager Alison Bagby. They have worked together for the past 8.5 years
and will continue to serve organic plant based cuisine. In Eric's words,
"we want to keep this thing going". They are currently evaluating
potential locations and looking for investors. While the prospect of
closing is a sad one, they both see this as an opportunity to improve
upon Millennium's dining room and location.

The cost of running a restaurant in San Francisco, using the best ingredients possible
and making the entire menu from scratch daily, combined with our shared affinity for 
the East Bay have us leaning in that direction but we are also actively 
looking in San Francisco.

To everyone who has become part of the Millennium family--we could not
have done what we did for so long without you---THANK YOU.

Please visit us in the next 3 months and stay tuned for Eric's
Kickstarter campaign. If you are interested in investing, please contact us HERE

Gratefully Yours,
The Millennium Family

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Maui ... Where Being Vegetarian or Vegan is Easy and Fun

January through March is the perfect time to head to Maui.  It makes for a nice respite for the cold weather in much of Northern Hemisphere and whales can easily be spotted from shore. It's also less humid than in the summer months.

Maui is also a wonderful place for vegans and vegetarians - from some of the best markets, to farm-to-table feasts to upscale elegant dining.

In Kahului, a few minutes from the airport, is the first Whole Foods to have vegan raw chefs on staff.  There is a refrigerated section that when I last visited had freshly prepared raw vegetable pastas, salads and Mexican dishes as well as several desserts.  I dislike grocery stores, but this is one of the few I like.  It's filled with vegan and vegetarian goods to provision your hotel room with for snacking.  There is also a section labeled with organic and veg wines.

Also in Kahului is Hawaiian Superfoods.  Not a fancy place and not easy to find, Hawaiian Superfood is in a light green modest office building.  Walk through the office building and around the back.  There are two tables outside and a couple more inside.  The menu has smoothies that include coconut milk, banana, cacao nibs, and mesquite (left). A quinoa burger came topped with all sorts of fresh vegetables on a bed of kale leaves for wrapping (right).  I ate it like a salad. Check restaurant.com for coupons.  http://hawaiiansuperfood.com/

On Saturday nights, there is a farm-to-table dinner at Ahimsa Farms in Haiku (above). This dinner is advertised as vegetarian, but it was vegan the night I went.  Call in advance to check.  The farm is on beautiful grounds above the ocean. The family runs a sustainable farm with wind and solar power.  Prior to the dinner, farm tours are provided for an extra charge.  The dinner uses vegetables from the farm as while as other organic produce.  The night I went there were about six courses, featuring farm-fresh produce.  There were taro burgers (above right)) and sprouted salads (above left).  The herb tea that is the farm's own blend was fantastic.  The dinner is a bargain at $25 per person and there is live music afterward from the owners' sons and anyone else who happens to drop by.  Feel free to bring your own wine. http://ahimsasanctuaryfarm.com/farm-table/

Not far from Haiku, is Mana Foods in Paia. This amazing market sells organics, fresh prepared foods with a Hawaiian twist and a great selection for vegans and vegetarians at relatively low prices. The aisles are jam-packed and when it comes to marketing, think the opposite of a slick Whole Foods, but you will not regret stopping in to provision either for prepared food or to stock your kitchen if you've rented a condo.  A few stores up on the same street Mana Foods has just opened Maka by Mana, a raw foods restaurant.  I've yet to visit, but have heard it is great.  It's closed Mondays and Tuesdays.  http://www.makabymana.com/

For more upscale dining, Ko at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea has raw and vegan menus. It's truly a treat to find upscale restaurant that have more than one vegan or vegetarian item on the menu. It's not inexpensive, but it is nice to be in lovely surroundings and have that option. I started with the vegetable tempura (left), which included Kabocha pumpkin, Mokokai sweet potato, Maui onion, carrot and asparagus for $17. 

The harvest salad had Pohole fern shoots, heart of palm, Kula baby lettuce, macadamia nuts and passion fruit vinaigrette for $14.

The buckwheat soba stirfry (left)came with mushrooms, edamame, and baby bok choy for $31.  http://korestaurant.com/cuisine/dinner-menu/

There is much more vegetarian and vegan on Maui. If you have favorites you'd like to share, please do so in the comments.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Green Zebra: Elegant Vegetarian Food That Doesn't Drain the Wallet

Green Zebra
1400 West Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60642

Green Zebra is one of the most delightful vegetarian restaurants in the United States, filling the void between $200-a-plate veg tasting menus at high-end restaurants and the casual salad-focused cafe.  Green Zebra has a casual elegance and terrific food that doesn't drain the wallet.

Chef/owner Shawn McCain earned a string of culinary awards while heading Trio in Evanston. He earned further awards for his seafood-based restaurant Spring, also in Chicago. In 2004, he opened Green Zebra, receiving even more awards.  He has since opened Sage at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas.

Green Zebra offers a nightly five-course chef's tasting menu for about $60, and an a la carte menu.  There is a good selection of vegan and vegetarian items.  The best value seems to be to order four to five plates off the a la carte menu to share amongst two people.

Grilled Corn Tamales with sauteed chanterelles and blueberries
At a recent dinner, the Hen of the Woods Mushroom Pate with Vidalia onion marmalade and herb butter ($11) had good flavor and texture.  The Grilled Corn Tamales with sauteed chanterelles, blueberries and poblano peppers ($13) was the disappointment of the evening as the flavors fell flat and, despite the interesting ingredients, was bland.  The Tomato Tart with roasted fennel ($13) featured wonderfully sweet tomatoes.  The most enjoyable dish and a restaurant specialty was the Lady Duck Farm Egg with smoked potato puree ($12.50).  This dish arrives looking underwhelming, but the fresh egg broken and combined with the creamy puree makes for a perfect composition of flavors.
Tomato tart with roasted fennel

The restaurant can be loud and reservations are a must. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Healthy Food With a View in Bagan

Green Elephant

Yamonar (River View), Thiripissayar Quarter, New Bagan.
Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) (061) 65182 (09) 204 3463

When Cherie Aung-Khin started working in Yangoon, Burma, she wanted something healthier and safer than what she was finding in food carts. That led her to hire a chef to make foods for her that were healthy and not too oily. Those beginnings led to the successful Green Elephant restaurants in Yangoon, Mandalay and the amazing temple-filled town of Bagan.

The Bagan restaurant is down a long, winding driveway and situated on the river. (There is a similar named restaurant that is nearby that appears to have been reviewed as being the Green Elephant by several on TripAdvisor. Those reviewers say the restaurant is not on the river. Green Elephant is on the river. Make sure you get to the correct restaurant.)

Burmese cuisine is inspired by Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisine. You will find curries, but generally with less spices than in Indian curries.

Green Elephant has a wide variety of items, most not vegetarian. But there is enough to select from and many can be made vegetarian on request. Some of the vegetarian items that were quite good include tempura vegetables, vegetarian spring rolls and bamboo shoot salad.  

Green Elephant is a lovely place to enjoy the river and the food between temple visits. Is it touristy? Of course. There likely isn't a restaurant in Bagan that isn't intended for tourists. Who else can afford a restaurant there? Be aware that in peak season you may not get in without a reservation. Your hotel or driver can make one for you, and specify the need for vegetarian items.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

State Bird Provisions

Plenty of good vegetarian dishes at US' hottest restaurant
1529 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

The line starts forming well before the 5:30 PM restaurant opening time.  To get into State Bird Provisions, which Zagat has named among the 10 hottest restaurants in the world and Bon Appetite called one of the best new restaurants for 2012, takes patience.  Reservations fill up six months in advance and from then on it's stand in line and hope.  Get lucky and you may grab a table from a no-show.

Once inside, the casual restaurant is well worth it.  For all the acclaim, there is no pretense or snobbery, just good food that comes out spontaneously from the kitchen.  The owners, former chefs at Rubicon, frequently send guests off with sincere inquiries as to how the meal was and if there were enough vegetarian options (there were). The actual menu is short. Most dishes are not on the menu, but are based on what was available and fresh that day. Waiters bring the dishes by on trays with tags noting the price.  They are all small plates.  The options for vegetarians are tasty ranging from spiced tofu skins or yuba to quinoa and miniature pancakes. 


Yuba with almond pesto.
Burrata on fried bread.
Signature pancakes of sourdough, sauerkraut, Pecorino and ricotta.