The Beer Plant

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Hello!  It’s like we haven’t spoken in a year.  Just when you thought we were done…here we are with a brand spanking new review!  Yes we have been busy and I took on yet another job but those are just excuses.  The truth is that we just haven’t made time for writing lately.  We did eat a lot though in the meantime.

This review in fact was a surprise.  Thanksgiving week is typically not my favorite holiday due to its carnivorous nature but since the carnivore included me in his plans I participated.  Thus I was excited on the Friday after to meet my friend at a favorite vegan restaurant of mine – The Beer Plant!  We were to meet at one in the afternoon and just 15 minutes prior I get a text from her with the dismal news that The Beer Plant did not open until three that day.  Sadly we ate elsewhere and even more sadly did I recount this disappointment to my favorite carnivore.

I must have seemed pretty sad as he surprised me on Saturday afternoon with the suggestion that we eat there for our evening meal.  I warned him that this was an ALL VEGAN establishment but he already knew and was ready to give it a go.  I immediately started to anticipate excitedly.

Upon arrival we requested a seat at the bar.  We like to sit at the bar to see the action and also maybe snuggle a bit.  Our waiter Rory greeted us and brought us drinks.  Another bartender Austin checked in with us and Larry requested his assistance in ordering.  I’m sure he will share that exchange in his portion.  I, on the other hand, pored over the menu eagerly, changed my mind around 400 times and ultimately made a game time decision.

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For an appetizer we chose one of our favorites – Brussels sprouts.  Larry tends to shy away from the spicy particularly after a sunny day of golf with a bit of wind burn on the lips; therefore we requested the sriracha on the side.  We likely needn’t have made this request as we both dipped nearly each and every perfectly cooked sprout into the well-balanced, spicy, tangy sauce.

Next our entrees arrived.  I had finally chosen the Hill Country ‘Chicken’ & Gravy which consisted of chicken-fried seitan, rosemary mashed potatoes with a crimini mushroom gravy and broccoli.  Now if I were to choose the perfect vegan thanksgiving dinner, this is what I would choose.  Hearty, crunchy, stick-to-your-ribs seitan satisfied all my comfort food and protein needs.  The mashed potatoes and gravy melted in my mouth and the broccoli helped lighten the dish, albeit only slightly.  I couldn’t finish my plate but gave it a valiant effort.  Also, the best part of an all-vegan eating establishment is that I got to sample the carnivore’s choice – ‘Chicken’ Pot Pie.  He will tell you more but all I can say is YUM!

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Overall I give this establishment five rutabagas.  I may have given fewer had the carnivore been less enthusiastic but alas, I have zero complaints.  My only wish is that I had a bigger stomach to try more.  Wait, scratch that – my jeans are too tight already!  While this wasn’t my first visit it also won’t be my last.  I’m hoping the carnivore is true to his word that we will be back!

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Greetings Everyone!  Please allow me to start with a Mea Culpa, of sorts.  Our extended hiatus is a direct result of my being too busy and/or lazy to post regularly about the vegan’s and my culinary adventures.  While we haven’t been posting prolifically of late, our readers are forever present in our discussions and plans, inasmuch as we are perpetually remarking that ”we really should blog about this place”.  It is this very fact that has me sitting in front of a computer screen on a Sunday evening, instead of watching the Green Bay Packers game.

Last night I surprised the Vegan with a random suggestion that we try a local vegan eatery cleverly named THE BEER PLANT.  (I’m ashamed to say that I just recognized the play on words with regard to PLANT in the name of the ALL VEGAN establishment.)  Kellie has eaten at the restaurant a few times, and has commented to me that she thought I would like it; however, I just recently realized that I had been too closed minded to accompany her.  It was this realization that led me to suggest that we try it last night.

We arrived at the restaurant at about 6:30 and took two seats at the bar, as is our preference.  We were greeted by a bartender/server named Austin.  A really friendly guy who shared with us that he recently was converted to veganism.  He did his best to make me feel welcome and at ease, despite the fact that I was a bit out of my element.  As we got comfortable and familiarized ourselves with the menu, I quickly noticed a few things.  1) The restaurant is higher end, as it is in the Tarrytown area of Austin.  2) The beer selection and full bar are on par with some of the better places in town. 3) If not for the absence of meat dishes on the menu, there were no outward signs that this was an all vegan establishment .  I know the Vegan will bristle when she reads the 3rd point but no one can deny the fact that vegan establishments often have a very different “feel” from restaurants that specialize in meat based dining.  Forgive me for recognizing that I felt very comfortable and not at all self-conscious of my carnivorous preferences.

So. . . . . . . We’ve already established that I felt welcome and comfortable at THE BEER PLANT .  Lets get on with the critique of the meal!  We started with a Sriracha Glazed Brussels Sprout plate off the SHARE PLATES section of the menu.   Both the Vegan and I enjoy Brussels Sprouts, so this was right up our alley.  The dish was fantastic!  In fact, I would wager that they were the best Brussels Sprouts that I have had in Austin.  The only negative critique would be that suggesting that the dish should be shared is wrong.  Next time, I’m ordering my own plate.  If the Vegan wants her own, that is her prerogative but I aint sharing!

My entrée selection was suggested by a fellow carnivore who was seated at the bar with his vegan date.  The couple heard our conversation and recommended the “Chicken” Pot Pie in lieu of the Eggplant Parmesan that I was leaning toward initially.  I decided to take him at his word and heed his recommendation.  I’m glad I did!!!  The “Chicken” Pot Pie was INCREDIBLE.  If it was vegan, I couldn’t tell.  Really, I think nothing else needs to be said on the topic.  It was so good that I cleaned the plate and would have eaten another serving if I wasn’t already full.  I can honestly say that I would order it again without any regard to the ingredients and whether or not cream might actually be used in the preparation.  Honestly, I’m not entirely convinced that it was vegan.  Did I say it was good?  It was AWESOME.

Its an interesting turn of the table inasmuch as I normally close a post by remarking how well (or poorly) an establishment did at making the Vegan feel welcome.  In this instance it is more about how well a vegan establishment did to make the Carnivore feel welcome AND sated by the end of the meal.  I am happy to report that THE BEER PLANT knocked the cover off the ball on this one.  This Carnivore gives THE BEER PLANT the highest possible mark of 5 cow faces.  I cannot wait to go back and try another vegan meal.

Postscript –  I sincerely hope that one of our carnivorous readers views this post and decides to make his or her vegan friend/partner/sibling/coworker feel special by accommodating their preferences for plant based dining.  The experience will be one that neither party will regret.  GUARANTEED!

 

TRIO by Four Seasons

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With the holidays upon us the opportunities for the vegan and the carnivore to venture out, and chronicle the details of our dining experiences, are plentiful.  As it is customary to identify the start of the holiday season with Thanksgiving, that is the focus of this post.  My approach to the holidays is quite simple.  I prefer to enjoy time with family and friends, and not cause anyone to endure the unnecessary stress of hosting parties or holiday meals.  I figure, if I am unwilling to host an event at my home, then why should I feel comfortable asking someone else to do it in theirs?  To that end, I opted to find a suitable restaurant to enjoy this year’s Thanksgiving festivities for the carnivore clan.  As the vegan graciously agreed to join me and my family for our Thanksgiving meal, the event took on a new dynamic, inasmuch as I had to ensure that her dietary requirements were not only considered but that she was also provided with a memorable and enjoyable Thanksgiving feast. I assure you, given that the traditional Thanksgiving fare – turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, etc. –   is not at all vegan friendly, this was not an easy task.   After careful consideration, I chose to make reservations at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Austin.  It is here that our Thanksgiving post begins. . . . .

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Anyone who has ever dined at the Four Seasons knows to expect an exquisitely prepared meal and a very high level of service.  The top shelf experience provided by the staff at the Four Seasons actually began a month before Thanksgiving when I called to make reservations.  The person with whom I spoke specifically asked if there were any special dietary requirements within our party.  Upon notifying the gentleman that a vegan was in our midst, he quickly and confidently assured me that this would not be a problem and that the vegan meal would be as impressive as the carnivorous options.   I don’t mind telling you that I was exceptionally pleased with myself for choosing a venue that so willingly accommodated the vegan’s needs.  Score one for Austin proper!

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When Thanksgiving finally arrived, we pulled into the hotel valet and embarked upon our Thanksgiving festivities with high hopes and considerable anticipation of a quality meal.  I have to say that neither the vegan nor I was disappointed.  The carnivorous options were AMAZING.  While I have never enjoyed beef short ribs on Thanksgiving, I have to say that it was my favorite item on the buffet.  The mashed potatoes were as smooth and creamy as I have ever eaten (sorry Mom!), and the shrimp and crab claws were a nice respite from the heavier fare that I so often enjoy.  I would be remiss if I didn’t also comment on the fresh churro  that I enjoyed for dessert.  Admittedly, the warm flaky Spanish treat seemed a bit odd on Thanksgiving Day, but who can pass up a caramel filled fried pastry?   Obviously, not this guy!

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I could end the post here because it is obvious that the Four Seasons is committed to creating an environment where carnivores and vegans (or any other dietary sects) can dine in harmony.  I honestly think that a guest could indicate that they only consume dung beetles and acorns, and the Chef would return 20 minutes later with an appropriate dish that tasted like filet mignon and pommes frites.   However, not commenting on the interaction that impressed me most would be doing a disservice to our ardent followers.  So here is what impressed me most:  When we arrived, we were seated in the ballroom and there was no indication that the vegan’s dietary needs were being considered.  I was somewhat disappointed by this apparent oversight, and voiced my concern to Banquet Director, Sylvia Wash.  Ms. Wash quickly assured me that the chef would be right out to visit with Kellie and set me at ease that my expectations would be met, and likely exceeded.   She was 100% correct.  The chef appeared and visited with Kellie about what she liked and the various options that were available to her.  Moments after that discussion, the chef delivered a meal that looked more like a work of art than merely food.  Kellie didn’t say a lot for the next several minutes because she was too busy enjoying her meal.  I will allow Kellie to give you the culinary details but, sufficed to say, the Four Seasons made the entire experience enjoyable and memorable.

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This carnivore gives the Thanksgiving event at the Four Seasons a solid four happy cow faces.  And Ms. Wash, if you happen to read this post, THANK YOU!

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So I might be dating myself a bit but ever since I became vegan back in 2006, I have worried that I would become the Chandler Bing of Thanksgiving.  Luckily my family is in Kansas and we generally wait until Christmas for any visits so I haven’t had much need for worry.  Over the years I have generally practiced yoga, ate tacos and most recently attended a few “friendsgivings” where potlucks and vegan dishes were tolerated, even welcomed!  This year however I was honored to be invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with the Carnivore and his parents.  I knew this might be tricky but when he suggested the Four Season’s TRIO as an option, I relaxed slightly as I had heard they cater to vegans on the regular.  Thanksgiving, however, is still a different situation and I urged him to double check when making the reservation that they could indeed accommodate me.  He did and they assured him all would be well.

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Thanksgiving day arrived and all dressed up we gathered the parents and headed downtown, feeling hopeful and swanky.  Upon arrival, we checked in and headed down to the ballroom.  We were shown to our seats and met our waiter who took our drink orders.  I nervously surveyed the buffet and wondered aloud how they expected me to navigate this situation.  Was I to approach the spread and guess what might be vegan?  Would somebody come to give me a tour?  Or would I be receiving some sort of plated meal?  Larry decided to find the answers to my questions and hailed down a coordinator.  She brought out the chef who guided me to the salad section where I anxiously regarded the single salad she was describing as vegan.  Either the look in my eyes or her general knowledge of the remaining options prompted her to offer me a plated vegan dish that she would make immediately.  She told me “I don’t know what it will be yet but I know it will be delicious!”.  I responded that that was all I cared about and said I would start with the salad while I waited.

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Now as mentioned in many previous posts, the “about us” section and the silly movie I made about this visit, I am NOT “just a salad” girl.  I do enjoy a nice salad…as a STARTER!  That said, I must tell you, this salad was amazing.  Just wow so good.  I think it had baby spinach and maybe arugula, roasted cauliflower and chickpeas.  I’m not sure but I ate every last leaf.  I also went to pick up some fruit and ran into the chef who informed me my main course was waiting for me at the table.

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This dish had a black bean base with a cauliflower steak and broccolini.  On top of the steak were some carrots and mushrooms.  All these fresh, simple ingredients were whipped up into something magical.  It was seasoned perfectly and cooked to just the right amount of bite.  I gobbled it down!  (See what I did there?)

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To finish my meal, I requested some coffee with soy milk which the waiter brought straight away.  I mused that perhaps there would be no dessert but another wait staffer urged me to ask the dessert crew about it.  I went ahead and asked and while there were, yet again, no options on the buffet, they did have sorbet which they brought out to me.  I ate what I could until I realized that I too was stuffed.  (Yes, I did it again)

 

TRIO did an amazing job and I can’t wait to visit them again.  I give the whole experience four rutabagas and only held back one due to my initial confusion about the procedure.  That said, I highly recommend vegans and carnivores alike give this place a try for your next holiday, special occasion or just a lovely evening out.

 

Milky Way Shakes

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Hello again!  We are still out and about but as usual life continues to get in the way of our posting intentions.  New job, travel, illness, blah-excuses.  Anyways, my new job kept me off a plane for a while which resulted in my catching a cold from riding one a couple weekends ago.  While I wasn’t up for a lot of activity as I recovered, my throat was interested in cold beverages.  So, the carnivore suggested we stop by the new Milky Way Shakes as he had alerted me to its exciting new opening a few weeks ago.  Now I am not an ice cream girl.  I typically only enjoy it in the hottest months of the year and even then, I don’t eat a lot.  I currently have three unfinished pints in my freezer that are at least three months old.  But last Saturday I happily agreed to visit this new trailer outside Spider House.IMG_1371

Due to the article the carnivore had texted me in early September, I already knew my order – the Oreo Borealis with vanilla ice cream.  Since it was no longer opening weekend, it only took about five minutes to get the shake.  I took a sip and was excited to taste the Oreo crunchy goodness.  The fudge to vanilla ratio was spot on and my only complaint was the mint.  While I love minty chocolaty desserts, particularly around the holidays, I was surprised at how minty this beverage was.  It had a peppermint flavor versus crème de menthe and I think if I had expected it I would have enjoyed it more.  That said I still enjoyed it immensely, my throat soothed and my sweet tooth satisfied.  What was most exciting was that I got to taste the carnivore’s shake as well since the trailer is ALL VEGAN!!!!  I actually preferred his order to my own but I will let him share that with you.  All this in mind, I give Milky Way Shakes a solid three rutabagas and might bump it up to four when I return with my health completely intact.

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IMG_1370Believe it or not, there are a lot of advantages for a carnivore when dining with a vegan.  The greatest advantage is that you RARELY have to share anything off of your plate.  This fact is especially true with regard to dessert.  There’s no reason for a waitress to bring two spoons when dessert is ice cream, tiramisu, bananas foster, or my personal favorite – key lime pie. I’m sorry to say that this past Saturday lessened this particular advantage quite a bit.  Read on and you will see why.  You will also discover a newly minted gem of a vegan option in central Austin.

Kellie and I decided to try a new vegan milkshake truck located at Spider House on North Campus –Milky Way Shakes. I would like to say that my normal apprehension of most things devoid of animal goodness was lurking in the back of my mind when the vegan suggested we give it a shot, but I am familiar enough with how good coconut and almond milk ice creams are, that I was pretty amped to try their fare.  I have to say that my enthusiasm was well placed because my 100% vegan Veruca Salted Caramel shake was pretty damn amazing.  I certainly would not have known that it was vegan if no one had told me

It was on the short walk back to the car that negatively impacted the advantage of never having to share your dessert order with your vegan dining companion.  As Kellie knew that my shake was also vegan, she very boldly asked to “try a sip”  After the initial taste, she kept my shake a bit too long and continued to “try” it for several long pulls on the oversized straw.  I won’t lie, as I’m not used to sharing my dessert, I was irritated by the fact that my shake was returned back to me with quite a bit missing.  I tried to mask the disappointment on my face but I suspect the vegan knew that I was not a fan of this new development in our dining paradigm.  Next time, as I now know I will have to share, I’m ordering the large!

So, Carnivores please take note, if you have a vegan in your world, and you want to score some points for being mindful of their dietary limitations, and also enjoy a tasty dessert, make a trip to Milky Way Shakes.  Neither the vegan nor the carnivore will be disappointed. The experience earned a solid four cow faces from this carnivore.

 

 

827 Ray’s Kitchen + Cellar

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IMG_0758This past Saturday evening the vegan and I set out on a hill country dining excursion with the hope of discovering a new gem in the Lake Travis area.  Kellie had heard about a new restaurant on 620 called 827 Rays KITCHEN + CELLAR so, with the trusty Open Table app in hand, we set off to enjoy an evening in the Texas hill country.  Open Table informed us that, though the restaurant could accommodate us upon arrival, we would be dining al fresco.  As neither the vegan nor I is against dining under the stars on a pleasant April evening, we were happy to follow the host to our patio seating when we arrived.  As we sauntered through the thoroughly packed dining room, it occurred to me that we might be in for a quality experience because the smells coming from the kitchen were quite appealing.  I was anxious to get started!

We were the only patrons on the patio and were allowed to choose whichever table we preferred.  We chose a table nestled under a large Texas Oak, and just the right distance and wind direction from a small fire-pit that was recently lit and beginning to illuminate the darkening patio area.  It was quaint.  We started with the Grilled Shishito Peppers.  This was the only appetizer on the menu that vegans and carnivores could share, so it was out of necessity that we chose the dish.  I had never had grilled Shishito peppers before, and I don’t know why that is.  They were quite tasty.  There was a smokiness that really complimented the tangy, if not spicy peppers.  It reminded me of snap peas or edamame but was far more flavorful than anything you would get in a sushi bar.

As for the entrée, I struggled a bit with this one.  Our waiter, Eric, recommended the ribeye or the strip when I inquired about the steak options. Fine choices, I’m sure but I was looking for something a bit different from the standard steak that I normally lean toward.  To my knowledge, I have never had a Beef Shoulder so I decided to give it a try.  I don’t exactly know what I was expecting but it turns out that a cow’s shoulder tastes a lot like the rest of the cow.  It was a savory cut of beef and, within about seven minutes, the plate was empty and my belly was full. I was sated and satisfied that we would return for another meal.  827 Rays was definitely trending upward, in my opinion.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share the most impressive thing about the evening.  It has nothing to do with the food, or even about carnivores and vegans dining together.   It has to do with service.  I’m a stickler for good service so, when I see examples of exemplary service, I have to call it out.  You recall that I mentioned the freshly lit fire pit a minute ago.  Well, the fire pit was humming along quite nicely after a while, and patrons were continuing to file into the patio area.  Eventually a family was seated directly in front of, and downwind of, the fire pit.  The children in the party were struggling with the smoke from the pit and it was apparent that it was making the meal a bit less enjoyable than it should be.  Within a few minutes two servers walked into the area, doused the fire pit with glasses of water, and removed the fire pit altogether.  They hoisted the fire pit above their heads and quietly moved it (still smoldering) to the area behind the venue.  I was impressed that these gentlemen opted to put their guests experience above the ambiance that the fire pit created for the other tables on the patio.  And, as far as I could tell, they did it without the guests having to ask for it to be moved.  Chalk one up for customer service!

With regard to carnivores and vegans dining together in harmony, 827 Rays KITCHEN + CELLAR fared pretty well.  While they didn’t have a ton of options for the vegan, they did have a couple choices that she enjoyed.  I am hopeful that, after reading this post, Chef Brooks will feel compelled to reinforce his menu to include a couple more options that the plant eaters would enjoy.  With a pedigree as impressive as his, I am certain that he has some tricks up his sleeve.  I’m so confident in fact that I bet he could go so far as to have an “off menu” vegan option for any plant killers that stop in on any random night.  But I am a gambler after all.

827 Rays KITCHEN + CELLAR scores a very respectable three cow faces from this carnivore.  I appreciate the chef’s effort to bring quality and delicious fare to the Lake Travis area.  We will be back soon.

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Hello again!  We really try to get to a new post each week but 2017 is shaping up to be a busy one and since this isn’t yet our day job, we still miss from time to time.  Missing but not forgotten!  And this week we ventured out to somewhere “New and Hot” as OpenTable suggested.  It was Saturday night and you in Austin know it happened to be beautiful weather.  I put on a dress not knowing our plans and apparently that was enough to make sure we went out.  After some deliberation and research we decided to take the app’s suggestion and made our way to the new 827 Ray’s Kitchen + Cellar.

 

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OpenTable did clarify that there were only outdoor seats available so when we arrived we were seated on the patio.  We did enjoy seeing the inside if not just to walk through – very clean, stylish and inviting.  The patio was charming as well which included a fire pit (more about that later).  We sat and ordered wine straight away.  We also informed Eric, our waiter, about our special dining needs.  He didn’t bat an eye as he pointed out the menu item I could order as well as an appetizer that could be accommodated for both of us.  He also gave the carnivore some suggestions and answered his questions though I assume he will share more about that in his portion.

We started with the shishito peppers which they served with the aioli and cheese on the side.  The menu didn’t quite match what is online; however I believe that is likely due to its farm to table nature, serving seasonal ingredients and such.  The peppers were well cooked and would probably be perfectly seasoned with the addition of cheese and sauce but I simply salted them lightly and was very satisfied.

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For my main course, I ordered the spaghetti squash that was covered with assorted vegetables such as balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.  This dish also had some non-vegan items (pesto and cheese) but they brought it out completely vegan.  Not only was that a treat but the vegetables were cooked to perfection and the flavors were delicious.

Overall I give 827 Ray’s a solid three rutabagas.  They were amazingly accommodating not only with my needs but any patron.  At some point the fire became too smoky and the poor diners sitting nearest to it were obviously distressed.  Our waiter and another immediately put out the fire and moved the entire pit away from the area!  Now that is customer service.  My only suggestion for 827 Ray’s is that they continue to come up with more menu items (besides just one) that might appeal to the vegans.  Perhaps something with a bit of protein for more satiation – beans, chickpeas, etc. – again whatever is in season and delicious.  That said, we will definitely return.

Taste of Ethiopia

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To all the HCHV readers, it has been a while!  But as an old but clever marketing ploy once touted, good things come to those who wait.  The beginning of 2017 has been quite a busy and rather stress-filled time for both the carnivore and I.  We have tried to post and while we have enjoyed several meals, we just couldn’t get our posts done with all the chaos.  After a particularly challenging week, Larry offered to take me somewhere special.  Now I’m sure he will describe his feelings going into this endeavor but I will add that he was definitely going out of his comfort zone by agreeing to take me to my all-time favorite place, last meal-worthy, Taste of Ethiopia.  Obviously I have been here before, actually I have come for years, converting friends one by one into lovers of this cuisine.  While I’m not successful 100% of the time, my friend, Woinee, owner of Taste of Ethiopia, has helped me convince the majority.

So we decided on Saturday evening and I began to plan my intake for Saturday.  Let me warn you that while the stereotypes abound for Ethiopian cuisine, this is not light food.  It is real whole food that fills your belly and warms your soul; therefore I ate lightly all day to prepare.  I prepared the carnivore with a description but when we arrived, Samson “Sam”, our server also gave him the rundown.  All the food is served family style on a circular platter lined with injera.  Injera is a spongy bread made from the Teff grain, reminiscent of sourdough.  He explained that the food would be served with rolls of injera that would be used in lieu of utensils.  Luckily I had prepared my carnivore and he was unshaken.  I did warn Sam that my carnivore would be partaking in meat and that we would need a bowl barrier to keep any meat juices from migrating into my territory.  Sam was happy to accommodate and we ordered.  I, of course, knew my order by heart.

When the food arrived, Sam arranged it beautifully on the platter as you can see in the photo.  I took a roll of injera and demonstrated my honed skill.  Larry followed suit.  I started with my favorite, the Yemisir Wot, lentils in berbere sauce.  Oh sweet nectar how have I stayed away so long?!  I hardly know how to describe it other than spicy goodness.  Berbere sauce is not like any other cuisine.  Personally I would like it extra spicy but Woinee has shared that the average diner can’t handle that much so we have to cook that for ourselves.  Next I dug into my second favorite, Ater kik, yellow split peas with spices namely turmeric.  These are very mild and the carnivore liked them quite a bit (yes I shared!).  Finally as a vegan I still must have my veggies from time to time so I dug into my third course, Fesolia.  This is string beans and carrots with onions and more seasonings (turmeric, ginger, etc.) and trust me they go together better than peas and carrots, cooked to perfection with the right amount of bite.  I continued to switch amongst the three while sneaking a bit of salad in as well because even that with its lettuce and tomato lightly dressed was absolute perfection.

I give Taste of Ethiopia five rutabagas without a second thought.  I knew that before going in.  Honestly I was just hoping we wouldn’t have to get a cheeseburger for the carnivore afterwards.  And not only is the food amazing but the hospitality is too as both Sam and of course, Woinee, always available for kind words, a smile and hug, made us feel right at home.  This is likely why she opened her second location down in South Austin, to spread her love.  I look forward to returning as always and bringing not only the carnivore back but anyone else who wishes to try something new!

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Hello friends,

It has been awhile since our last post; and for that, I owe you an apology.  Work and life got in the way for a bit, and I am sorry that we fell short of our goal of at least one post per week. Nevertheless, we are back in the game and anxious to share our most recent dining experience.  I must warn our loyal readers that this post is a bit outside my comfort zone because anyone who knows me well, knows that my palate is not a fan of ethnic foods of which I am unfamiliar.  However, when my vegan cohort shared with me that, in the event she had but one meal left to eat on this earth, only Ethiopian food would do, I knew I owed it to her to open my mind to the experience. So, after an especially stressful week, I chose to surprise her with a night out on the town that began with a trip to her favorite Ethiopian restaurant – Taste of Ethiopia, in Pflugerville.

Sufficed to say, I have never had Ethiopian food.  I had no idea what to expect but I did have a fear that it was going to smack of curry and other pungent spices of which I am not a fan.  I am happy to say that, though there were certainly flavors that I had never tasted before, curry was not one of them!  The quaint and presumably authentic restaurant smelled of peppers, cumin, onions and I think, Jasmine.  Walking inside made me very aware of the fact that I was out of my element, and I was somewhat uncomfortable for about 30 seconds.  Then we met Woinee.

Woinee and her husband Solomon are the owners of Taste of Ethiopia. Woinee is not only the purveyor of fine Ethiopian foods, she also possesses one of the sweetest smiles I have ever seen, and is the giver of a fantastic hug!  Apparently, I am not special because it is said that every customer gets the opportunity to bask in the warmth of Woinee’s smile, and nearly every customer gets to feel the genuineness of Woinee’s embrace.   While that may be the case, I prefer to think that Woinee deemed me worthy of her hug, and that is why she chose to give me a goodbye squeeze.  I am special!  And no one can tell me otherwise.

Back to the meal. .  . . . it was different.  I ordered the Siga Tibbs – tender tip pieces of marinated beef sautéed with peppers, onions, jalapeno, rosemary and other traditional spices.  The food is served family style atop a large sourdough like “pancake”. Apparently you can’t find a fork or spoon in Ethiopia because you eat with your hands and little pieces of bread called injera.    You tear off a piece of the rolled dough and snatch up bits of the meat or lentils from the communal platter.  This was odd for me but the food was tasty so I was more than willing to partake like the locals do.  I enjoyed the food a lot.

As the restaurant is the Vegan’s favorite eatery, there is little surprise that they have quality vegan options.  In this instance, it was the carnivore that was out of his comfort zone so the shoe truly was on the other foot.

Our server, Sam, was wonderful.  He made me feel comfortable and was very patient as I asked questions about the menu.  And when I vehemently declined the lamb option, he did a great job of hiding his inability to understand how I could possibly not like the taste of a young sheep.  What can I say?  This carnivore is not a fan of baby sheep.   I give Taste of Ethiopia a very respectable three cow faces.  I have to say that I am proud of myself for agreeing to try something 100% new and I will surely return with the vegan in tow.  The smile on her face as she devoured her meal, coupled with Woinee’s hospitality toward each and every guest is enough to make me want to visit again soon.  And I especially want to try a cup of the fresh Ethiopian coffee brewed in house.  According to the vegan, I have to try that before 3:00 pm or risk being awake for two days.

Snooze An A.M. Eatery

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Last weekend HCHV went on the road again for a quick trip to Denver.  After seeing the sights and dining with lovely friends, we had to eat one last time before boarding our flight home Sunday.  Snooze was not only recommended by said friends but was also on my list to take the carnivore as we have a location in Austin and I had already experienced the deliciousness on a work trip in Arizona.  So we decided to go for it and plotted our next review. 

Upon arrival we noticed a line, not unusual for Sunday brunch.  Just as I reached the host to put our name in, Larry spotted a bar seat and we jumped in them quickly.  Already this was going well.  We promptly put in drink orders and again while this is not a drinking blog I must say we were both quite impressed with our drinks.  Mine was the drunk and dirty chai so really how could that not be the best?

Our waitress/bartender (Lisa) returned to take our order and was a delight to speak with.  I’m sure you will hear more about her on the carnivorous review.  I ordered the Snooze Classic, vegan style.  This means with tofu instead of eggs.  I added avocado at her suggestion and also the “faux meat” soyrizo.  I was excited to see so many options just as I had remembered from my Arizona experience.img_0454

The food arrived and I was pleased to see my two plates as I was quite hungry at this point.  I dug in to the tofu scramble immediately.  Oh my!  Let me preface the following commentary by saying that this vegan has seen her share of tofu scrambles.  Not only that but, as you know, I have eaten a lot of vegan food in non-vegan establishments.  One of my biggest criticisms of these scenarios is that many establishments neglect to season their veggies and/or tofu enough.  They fail to understand that veggies need more than their animal counterparts.  Snooze, however, is not in this camp.  The chefs clearly understand the need for seasoning and do so quite well including my favorite, nutritional yeast!  Such a difference it makes.  And the addition of creamy avocado topped it off nicely.

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But wait, there’s more!  Not only did I have the scramble but it came with sides.  First I will discuss the hashbrowns.  Hashbrowns again can be ho hum if not executed properly.  Often the insides are too raw while the outsides are too crunchy and all the while lacking in flavor.  These were the exact opposite of this description.  Clearly they know their breakfast potatoes and well earn the title of A.M. Eatery.  The soyrizo was yet another success.  In fact, soyrizo is moving up in the world being embraced by those beyond the vegan persuasion.  It was so flavorful!  Finally the toast which can again sound less than exciting.  This toast came dry since butter was not an option with a side of blueberry jam.  I was never told the type of jam but it was so good I knew immediately.  It had whole berries and everything.  In fact, after seeing mine, the carnivore ordered a side of his own.

I give Snooze a solid four rutabagas.  The service was great, the food was delicious and dining harmony was easily achieved.  We will definitely return in our hometown, Austin, location.  Really the only room for improvement would be adding the vegan dairy options such as butter and cheese.  Even without, this place is a gem.

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On The Road Again . . . . . it’s more than just a wonderful Willie song!  This past weekend found the vegan and I once again taking the show on the road to the majestic and beautiful Denver Colorado.  From the snowcapped Rocky Mountains to Red Rock Amphitheater, we are both enamored with the city.  Some would think us crazy for jumping on a plane and flying to another state for a couple of meals and not much else.  But is it all that different from driving to Dallas for a weekend?  I think not!   So, Saturday morning had us wheels up and Denver bound.  We did a little shopping, enjoyed a bit of craft beer and some pretty great pizza at Hops & Pie on Tennyson Street, and swapped stories with some good friends that live in the area.  We headed home on Sunday afternoon but it was Sunday morning that left an indelible mark on this carnivore.

With a bit of a haze still lingering from the night before, we opted to try a breakfast joint that was born in Denver and has recently made its way to the great state of Texas. SNOOZE A. M. EATERY.   We chose SNOOZE because we had been wanting to try the Austin location but just hadn’t fit it into our schedule.  We figured we would dine in Denver and see if it was worth a second visit once we were back in Austin.  To say we will be visiting the Austin site soon doesn’t do justice to how much I LOVE this place.

We arrived at about 11:30 and found a significant line of anxious patrons winding its way out the door.  We waited patiently to put our names on a list that undoubtedly would’ve required 45 minutes to an hour of wait time, and at least a round or two of Bloody Marys.  As we approached the hostess taking names, I eyed a couple gathering their jackets and preparing to leave their seats at the bar.  We conspicuously hovered for a moment and soon snagged their seats.  SCORE!  The morning was certainly looking up.  We were soon greeted by a lovely server/bartender named Lisa and inquired about the drink options.   As Lisa discovered that I am a lover of all things bourbon, she recommended a cocktail aptly named the Boss Hog (think Bloody Mary with a taste of Colorado bourbon infused with bacon). To say I was skeptical doesn’t do justice to the doubt that I was feeling.  See, I am a traditionalist when it comes to bourbon.  If it isn’t made in Kentucky, then it just isn’t bourbon.   Its American whiskey.  Just the same, I did my best to hide my bourbon snobbery, and I am glad I did.  I am officially a fan of this new found breakfast libation.  It was especially well complemented by the smoky bacon flavor that any carnivore will enjoy.  It was really tasty and worthy of my praise.

I’m only a breakfast food eater on rare occasion so I was happy that we were nearing the lunchtime hour.  I explained that I was more interested in lunch than breakfast, and Lisa quickly steered my eye toward the Peter Paul Ruben sandwich – mounds of locally made corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese with house 1,000 isles dressing upon a plump pretzel roll.  This feast was right up my alley because I LOVE Reuben sandwiches but abhor the rye bread upon which it is traditionally served.   The pretzel roll as the default choice of bread was GENIUS!!  It was the best Reuben sandwich I have had outside of New York City.  The corned beef was tender and juicy.  The kraut was tangy and flavorful.  And the dressing was thick and sweet.  I truly cant get over how wonderful the sandwich was!

As you can well imagine, SNOOZE was firing on all cylinders at this point so the only remaining critique has to do with the ability for carnivores and vegans to dine in harmony.  I am excited to say that SNOOZE maintained a near perfect showing in this regard as well.  The menu has several vegan friendly offerings and the staff is extremely knowledgeable about the manner in which dishes are prepared.  Kellie enjoyed her meal almost as much as I enjoyed mine.  In all fairness, how could she possibly enjoy hers as much as I enjoyed mine?  I had a bacon flavored beverage and corned beef and sauerkraut for goodness sake!

Now to the all-important matter of assigning a rating for the dining experience.  I waffled (GET IT?) between a four and five cow face rating but I truly cannot find a reason to not bestow the perfect five cow face honor on this establishment.  The food was fantastic.  The wait staff was awesome.  The drinks were intoxicating, And the experience was spectacular for both the carnivore and the vegan.  Ring the cow bell!!!   It’s a perfect showing.  Thank you Denver Snooze!  We will see you in Austin soon!

The Rotten Bunch

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img_0395One of the things that the vegan and I enjoy most is discovering a rare gem within the dining world.  The discovery is even sweeter when the restaurant is off the beaten path or tucked away in the suburbs, far from the hustle and bustle of downtown.  We hit the mother lode last weekend when we visited The Rotten Bunch Wine Bar + Kitchen, in the Avery Ranch neighborhood of northwest Austin. The restaurant’s proprietors – Arik Skot Williams and Alan Thomas – take pride in delivering “great food, great wine, good value and no pretense”.   And they do all of this in a space that is approachable, laid-back and filled with employees that truly seem to enjoy their jobs.  To say I am a fan of The Rotten Bunch is an understatement.  Keep reading and you will soon understand why.

The restaurant opened about a year ago and the vegan and I had frequented it once prior to last Saturday.  We would have blogged about our initial visit but that was before Kellie and I set out upon our journey to discover dining harmony for carnivores and vegans.    I mention our first visit because, unbeknownst to the vegan and I, that is where our second visit to The Rotten Bunch begins. . . . .

When we arrived at the restaurant last Saturday evening, without a reservation on the books, the place was busy but not packed, and we opted for a seat at the bar.  Kellie and I often choose bar seating because it affords us a better chance to visit with our server, take pictures of our meals for our posts, and get a better view of the operation without disturbing other guests.  As we took our seats we were greeted by a friendly server named Jen.  This is where the magic of The Rotten Bunch begins.  Jen welcomed us as a server normally does and then, with a look of recognition on her face, she flashed a giant smile and said “I’m so glad ya’ll came back to see us”.   I figured this was a remark that she makes to nearly every table she sees, in an attempt to make her guests feel welcome and appreciated.  In fact, that wasn’t the case whatsoever.  She actually remembered us from the first visit so many months ago, and went on to remind us about the slight mishap we encountered with the appetizer (Brussels sprouts & fingerlings)  coming out after our entrees had arrived.  At my realization that she not only recognized us, but actually recalled the smallest details of our experience, (which Kellie and I had totally forgotten) I was amazed!  Talk about making a guest feel welcome and appreciated!   Jen knocked it out of the park and set the tone for what was certain to be a memorable second visit.

In addition to apparently having the memory of an elephant, our server also possessed significant wine selecting skills.  She asked a couple questions about my preference in wine, and made a suggestion that I was skeptical about at first.  She offered a tasting pour, and I was hooked at the first sip.  I believe it was a Pinot/Syrah blend, and it was FANTASTIC!!    Like our first visit, Kellie and I chose the Brussels sprouts and fingerling appetizer to start our meal.  Bear in mind that, since we share the appetizer, the dish is devoid of butter, bacon, cheese, etc.  In other words, I didn’t really expect to enjoy the appetizer all that much because none of the wonderful carnivorous tastes that I enjoy were present.   I was floored at how tasty the vegan friendly dish was.  I honestly think I enjoyed it more than the vegan at the table.

My entrée was off the specials board and was simply a 5oz filet coupled with mashed potatoes and asparagus.   I believe it was offered with a truffle oil topping but I despise all things truffle, so I opted for a “naked” steak cooked medium.  I specifically chose this dish because I wanted to test the chef to see if he could deliver a quality cut of beef cooked perfectly, and not masked with flavors from a sauce of any sort.  The chef delivered the best tasting steak that I have eaten in quite some time.  It was cooked EXACTLY as I had asked, and was tender enough for me to cut it with a butter knife (which I actually did).  I didn’t even have to add salt and pepper.  The accompaniments were wonderful, especially the mashed potatoes.  Another call out for Jen’s wine selection; it paired perfectly with the beef.

And finally, the ever present question about carnivores and vegans dining in harmony.  Obviously the carnivore side of this coin is an easy and anticipated positive note.  The difficulty lies on the vegan side.  While  The Rotten Bunch sufficiently accommodated the vegan’s dietary needs on this visit, the vegan friendly options, without the need to custom order, are few (There was only 1).  This is always the case, as the ratio of vegans to carnivores is so significantly skewed to the carnivores favor.  I would challenge The Rotten Bunch to add a second vegan friendly dish on the standard menu.  I am confident that the Austin vegan community would welcome the modification and it would result not only in repeat business but in a positive word of mouth recommendation amongst the plant eaters in the area.    All that being said, this dining experience was better than most, in every regard.  This carnivore awards The Rotten Bunch with four cow faces and the sincerest of thanks for a quality dining experience.

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Last weekend was fairly dreary and as the reality of January set in, the weekend was a welcome distraction.  Looking forward however, we realized we have so many places to eat and so little time so we decided to review a place nearby, one we had once visited prior to our blogging days.  This Cedar Park restaurant, The Rotten Bunch, is one to which we often refer using several pet names – “The Hateful Grape”, “The Naughty Vine”, etc.  I suppose it’s because we are getting older (Happy Birthday Carnivore!) and just can’t remember sometimes so we play it up as cute so as not to highlight this fact!  That said, it deserves remembering as we had a wonderful experience.

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We were seated by the bar and our server/bartender (Jennifer) remembered us immediately as she had been our prior server.  What a memory!  She discussed some wines with us and even brought us a sample as we perused the menu.  Having had the vegan discussion with her last time, I knew what I wanted to order.  To start, we ordered the Brussels sprouts and fingerlings sans reggiano.  The carnivore and I agree that Brussels are pretty much the best and order them frequently.  These Brussels are served with a creamy toasted walnut puree and sweet golden raisins which balance sweet and savory beautifully.  The fingerling potatoes added a hearty and starchy quality that pleased us both as well.  In fact Larry had to double check that he was allowed to eat this since I often get first dibs on the veggies and I almost told him no!

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For my main course I ordered smoked chickpeas and kale which I am proud to announce is vegan as is!  I love that.  I can’t speak for all vegans but honestly I really hate “special ordering”.  While I do it and am not shy about asking for what I want, I hate the judgement that frankly often comes from my dining companions.  That said, I must commend my carnivore as he has NEVER made me feel this way.  In fact he will often speak up for me and advocate for my needs when I don’t.  Anyways back to the food.  I happen to love chickpeas any way shape and form but these were cooked to the perfect consistency in olive oil and seasoned well with paprika and garlic.  My proof?  Larry was not offended by my scent after and he’s not one to hide his anti-garlic stance!  Also I am not a kale fan (gasp!).  Have I mentioned this before?  It just doesn’t do it for me.  Perhaps I don’t know how to make it well.  The only times I enjoy it is when a restaurant cooks it well for me.  This chef managed to do just that.  Also it was just enough kale without overwhelming the dish.  So I thank you, Rotten Bunch, for helping this vegan eat her greens!  And protein.

I rate the Rotten Bunch four rutabagas.  This was tough for me as I waffled between three and four.  I would love it if Rotten Bunch could add a few more items for me but the service and possibly the wine ultimately pushed them to four.  But please consider my request as I know we will be back!

Cozumel

¡Prospero año Nuevo! The reason we haven’t been writing lately is because we got out of town this holiday season – way out!  As a recently certified diver I wanted to try out my new skillz and so based on extensive research (AKA asking diving friends) we chose Cozumel.  Following Santa out at the butt crack of dawn on Christmas Day we began our journey.  Two flights, two holiday movies (Elf & Gremlins, much to the carnivore’s dismay) and a couple of cocktails later we landed in Cancun.  A taxi, a ferry and two more drinks later we arrived in Cozumel.  Now you might be asking, why aren’t we creating a separate post for each restaurant we deemed worthy of reviewing?  Well the answer is two-fold.  First we didn’t think there would be more than one that was truly worthy.  Second we are lazy!  But really, it was amazing what hospitality particularly I was shown in this country that I had suspected might be difficult to navigate with my needs.  I did predict (accurately) that I would eat a lot of guacamole.  And there’s nothing wrong with that (shut up waistline, you don’t know!)img_0328

🍠🍠🍠 Okay enough of my ramblings.  I won’t go into detail of every restaurant as we were there four full days.  Consider this a highlight reel of the restaurants.  Our first morning of diving was spectacular and while I knew immediately it was my new love, I also realized that I would be voraciously hungry afterwards.  We cleaned up quickly and took a taxi to the one place I had seen on one of my favorite local blogs (Lazy Smurf), Playa Azul.  It took a bit to figure out the place I had read about as the beach café looked at me like I had a second head when I asked about vegan options.  I knew I had found it though when the menu had its own “vegano” section (it’s the inside restaurant).  I excitedly ordered the quinoa tacos and munched on chips and guac while I waited.  They are quite literal in the description “with tomato and coriander”.  These tacos reminded me of great Spanish rice that often comes as a side with beans in our typical Tex-Mex restaurant in the states.  They were tasty but I felt I needed more substance and flavor so I added guacamole and some hot sauce that came with the appetizer.  This helped quite a bit.  I give Playa Azul three rutabagas for having a special vegan section to their menu and for the meal being filling.  I may have ordered poorly but my feedback to gain a higher rating would be to add some more flavor, possibly some beans?  Perhaps that is my American girl side showing.img_0326

🍠🍠🍠🍠 For the rest of the trip we were at a disadvantage as that was my only researched option and without the internet at the ready (we were wifi only down there) it was a bit of a challenge.  But by George we rose to it!  That evening after a little siesta time in the room we were ready to explore and most importantly eat again.  We sauntered from street vendor to street vendor, perusing menus and refusing their insistent pleas for our patronage.  Finally we found what we began to refer to as Pizza Hut street (now I know it was Calle 3 Sur).  Pizza Hut street was a great street that was perpendicular to the coast and was less difficult to navigate as you traveled inland.  I believe this is why we had such good luck here.  We passed a modern looking restaurant called Sal D Mar and some English speaking folks outside assured us that they had just eaten there and that we should try it.  A humble fellow ushered us in and showed us a menu.  I didn’t see much and when we shared my dietary restrictions, he quickly rushed off to check with the chef that they could accommodate my needs.  He returned with the good news and seated us.  It turns out he was our waiter and his name was George.  Or Jorge.  I’m not sure how to spell it but he pronounced it like the American version, George.  He took the carnivore’s order, my drink order and left us to observe the beautiful, obviously new, modern atmosphere.  I got to enjoy a clean restroom break and was excited for my dinner.  It was a gluten free noodle dish with vegetables and a spicy sauce that I can’t quite explain but I’ll do my best.  It was not the typical Asian spices that its appearance suggested but rather a possible Indian or Middle Eastern flair of all-spice nature.  Whatever it was, it was tasty!  I give them four rutabagas for accommodating so well, particularly George, and also for the lovely experience.  Oh and the prices were amazing.  They would receive a five if they added this dish and maybe another with vegan indicators on the regular menu.  Seriously check this place out!img_0340

I have two more restaurants to discuss but first I must take a break, a coffee break.  You will be happy to know that there is a Starbucks in Cozumel and while it did not appear that they have the almond milk just yet, they certainly had soy (soya) of which I took full advantage.  However a taxi driver also informed us of a little place on Pizza Hut street, actually right next to it, called El Coffee Cozumel.  This became our regular afternoon stop and they stocked Silk Almond milk for your coffee drinking pleasure.  They also had chai which I enjoyed frequently.  They only take cash so make sure you hit up the Cashola machine before you go or better yet, hit the atm before arriving in Mexico to avoid the fees.img_0350

🍠🍠🍠 Okay back to food.  On our second set of dives we dove at night which meant we were out late.  It was important to get food quickly as the carnivore had some mask challenges and was needing sustenance asap.  Back to Pizza Hut street we found a little bistro called Cielito Lindo.  They seated us quickly and when I questioned the server about vegan options (vegetarian was clearly marked) he seemed confused.  The more confident English speaker server came over and clarified with me and I ended up ordering vegetable tacos off menu.  They were amazing as was the guacamole.  The guacamole around town was often quite simplistic and even bland but this was seasoned deliciously.  The tacos had a variety of vegetables including cauliflower and mushrooms.  I left very sated and give them a solid three rutabagas for accommodation and flavor.

img_0346🍠🍠🍠 Finally I will share one last experience.  On our last dive we met some Americans who had been away from home for a while and shared that after like five days in a row of tacos they were ready for something else.  While normally I would shun this talk declaring blasphemy, the carnivore was intrigued and admittedly I was feeling a need for something different.  They spoke of a place called Del Sur Parilla Argentina and how they enjoyed a delicious burger.  Now to be fair, this did not sound vegan friendly but I knew Larry was itching for a burger and so I helped him find it with my eagle eye.  When we arrived for dinner I checked the menu out and then called the waiter over to begin my questioning.  Again he was wary and went to get the manager who spoke with me about options.  I ended up ordering a corn empanada as an appetizer, then grilled vegetables and papas fritas for my main meal.  While this sounds hodge-podge I must say it was a delight to have something different.  The corn empanada was light and delicious with just a bit of spicy chimichurri dipping sauce.  The roasted vegetables were well seasoned, in fact almost too much so which is rare for veggies.  And the fries, oh the fries.  They really hit the spot.  They even brought us ketchup.  Also on a side note, this was the best sangria in town – I highly recommend it.  For these reasons, I give them three rutabagas.

img_0367Overall this trip was amazing and not just for the dives (Thanks Deep Blue!) or the hotel (Thanks Casa Mexicana!) but also the hospitality of the people and how they were up to the challenge of meeting a hungry vegan’s needs.  We cannot wait to return.

Well, it’s official!  Him Carnivore Her Vegan is international!!   (hint hint Travel Channel)  The vegan and I took the show on the road this past holiday season, and visited our neighbors to the south for some Mexican eats and fun in the sun.  As this was our first venture outside the US for critique and commentary, we opted to chronical the various eateries enjoyed during our trip, and to also make a summary judgment about the opportunities for meat eaters and plant killers to dine in harmony on the island of Cozumel.  Candidly, I was leery of how successful our quest would be but I am pleased to say that, on multiple occasions, my skepticism was proved unnecessary, if not flat out wrong.  The following is a series of vignettes about some of the Mexican restaurants we tried and enjoyed during our trip. img_0331

🐮🐮 Playa Azul – The vegan sourced this location via a vegan friendly website that she follows – “Lazy Smurf”.  We had been advised that this was a quality choice inasmuch as there were “vegano” options identified on the menu, and the food was reported to be quite tasty.   While Kellie had some sort of a plant based taco concoction, I opted for fish tacos since the restaurant was no more than 50 yards from the water’s edge.  My tacos were fine.  Not much more to say about my meal then that, it was fine.  The staff was rather unengaging but, since we were dining late in the afternoon, I got the feeling that the A-team wasn’t working that shift.  Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm also has something to do with the fact that we were seated downwind from The Marlboro Man and, though the fish in my tacos was not smoked, by the end of the meal I smelled more like an ashtray than the salt water in which we had frolicked all morning.  I’m disappointed to say that Mexican culture still has not shaken itself from its embrace of the cancer stick.    Playa Azul is awarded two cow faces.

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On our second night on the island we opted to stroll along the tourist laden streets and pick an eatery on the fly.  If you’ve never been to Cozumel, I assure you that this approach is not for the faint of heart.  The streets are lined with “hawkers” trying to entice you into their respective shops or restaurants, and they are nothing if not persistent.  I understand this is their job, and they do it with a sense of sincerity for the most part.  The locals understand that their livelihood, in large part, depends upon the tourists frequenting their location, so they beseech each passerby with a welcome greeting and a brief explanation of their shop or eatery.  I found this charming, at first. . . . . .

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🐮🐮🐮🐮 It was on a side street that we came upon our second notable dining experience, Sal D Mar .   I mention the “street hawkers” only because we chose this restaurant without an employee asking us to come inside.  Rather the enticement came from a random group of three American customers who had just eaten and were leaving the restaurant.  They saw the vegan and I looking at the menu and remarked how wonderful their meal was.  Upon receiving an unsolicited recommendation from a satisfied trio of patrons, we felt obliged to give it a shot.  I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I am that we did!  Sal D Mar appears to be one of the newer restaurants in the area – modern amenities and architecture – and the staff was as helpful and inviting as they could be.  Our waiter was a gentleman named Jorge, and he did an excellent job serving us.  When we asked him about the vegan options, he left us for a moment to chat with the chef.  Upon returning, he assured us that the chef could accommodate the vegan’s dietary needs and was anxious to ensure that we were 100% satisfied.   After considerable input from Jorge, I settled upon the pork spare rib with mellow rice.  It was fantastic!!   The meat was succulent and rich, as though the tasty pig had been bathed in honey milk before being placed over the fire.  It’s been three weeks since we ate there, and I am salivating as I write this post.  It was AMAZING.

The hospitality and service provided by Jorge, coupled with the delicious food gets Sal D Mar four cow faces from this carnivore.  This one is a MUST TRY for anyone visiting Cozumel.

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🐮🐮🐮 Our third night found us wandering the streets of Cozumel with a purpose.  We met a group of Americans on our dive boat that morning and they raved about an Argentinian restaurant that happened to be walking distance from our hotel.  It took a little exploring to locate the address but we soon came upon Del Sur Parilla Argentina.  Please believe me when I tell you that you have never enjoyed an empanada until you have one of the tasty pastries from this establishment.  It truly was the best thing I ate on the island.  Perhaps even more enjoyable than the empanada was the sangria that they made fresh for us when we ordered.  It was tart yet sweet.  Tangy yet smooth and filled with chunks of fresh fruit that tasted as though it was picked that very morning.  The staff was gregarious and fun, and quick to explain the subtle differences between Mexican and Argentinian fare.   It is here that I must share with you the mistake that I made while dining at Del Sur.  The scuba divers that referred us to Del Sur were nice guys and they insisted that the hamburger (yes, hamburgers) at Del Sur were the best they had ever eaten.  As I find it difficult to resist a good burger, I decided to follow their recommendation and give it a try.  I was disappointed.  This is NOT an indictment of the restaurant.  Rather it is a sad statement about my inability to embrace the culture that surrounded me and let go of my American habits and preferences.  The next time I go to Del Sur (and I WILL be back) I will try one of the many Argentinian dishes that they offer.  Based upon the empanadas and sangria, I know the traditional fare will be remarkable.  I was and am disappointed that my closed mindedness likely kept me from truly discovering a gem on the streets of Cozumel.  Del Sur receives a very respectable three cow faces.  Imagine how many it would receive if I had ordered the right meal!!img_0335

I also want to give a shout out to our hotel – Casa Mexicana.  While not a beach front property – this was a work trip, and not a vacation, after all – the accommodations and staff were wonderful.  Very friendly and happy to assist two Americans as we learned a bit about their culture and traditions.  One especially noteworthy aspect of our stay at Casa Mexicana was the breakfast that they offer each morning.  I looked forward to it every day because the food was fresh, hot and served by a team of people who truly seem to love their jobs.  Of course, the fact that the migas were the best I have ever eaten didn’t hurt either.

VIVA LA MEXICO!!!img_0364

 

Paul Martin’s

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Are you missing us yet?  We have been having so much fun that we are behind on our write ups.  But now that 2017 is upon us we would like to catch up and get back to it.  First on deck is the meal we enjoyed on Christmas Eve’s Eve in the lovely new Rock Rose area of the Domain.  We chose Paul Martin’s on a friend’s recommendation and they did not disappoint.As a vegan, I truly appreciate a restaurant who indicates vegan on their menu.  While Paul Martin’s has few (two for dinner) vegan options, they are very clear.  This is what I noticed immediately upon being seated.  Now a little secret that we also learned from our friend.  Paul Martin’s is on Open Table which also puts them high in regard as I hate waiting.  Anyways back to the meal.  Our waiter arrived and gave us food and drink menus.  When he returned to get my drink order, I asked for a Pinot Noir suggestion and he shooed me away from the Willamette variety I know and love.  He instead suggested a California style, less expensive, and promised me I would love it.  He was right!  I know this isn’t a wine tasting blog but this girl does love her wines and it goes to show the level of service here.img_0305We ordered and since we were extra hungry the Carnivore requested an appetizer.  The only one we could share was the Castroville Artichoke which the waiter assured me was only non-vegan due to the dipping sauce (aioli) and that if I avoided it would be fine.  It arrived shortly and we dug in.  Now you must understand how to eat an artichoke if you wish to order this.  You take a leaf (dip if you can/want) and scrape off the tiny bit of vegetable at the bottom with your teeth.  Our waiter shared that someone once came and ate the whole thing!  Holy fiber overload batman!  It tasted fresh and yet smoky but ultimately it is kind of a pain to eat with little reward.  That said, since the New Year is here, if you wish to lose any holiday weight, this is probably the equivalent to eating celery – negative calories when you factor in the effort to eat it.

For my main meal I ordered the Warm Quinoa Bowl.  Now if you read our blog, you know that the carnivore calls this kwin-o-a!  I never tire of this joke.  Also you might realize by now that I am not a salad girl.  If a place only offers me a salad, I am unlikely to give high praise; however, this was not a salad but a warm bowl.  It did still have a lot of nutritious elements such as the nutty quinoa, creamy avocado, delicious roasted cauliflower, crisp snow peas and amazingly tender sautéed spinach.  All of this was topped with a tangy blistered tomato relish which seasoned and finished the bowl beautifully.  I ate the entire thing!

img_0304This meal was a solid three rutabagas.  One of my favorite parts is that Paul Martin’s makes everything in house and it certainly tastes it.  Also it is a lovely dining experience overall.  To get a higher score it would be wonderful to add more vegan options in the future.  Also it would nice if the wait staff was more knowledgeable about vegans as that makes us feel more welcome.  Our waiter was nice but self-proclaimed lacking in knowledge other than the specifics of the menu.  That said, I know my carnivore and I will return for another delicious experience.

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Happy New Year to our loyal readers!  As 2016 came to a close and Christmas rapidly approached, the vegan and I ventured out to The Domain for a nice holiday meal on the 23rd of December.  We had heard wonderful things about a relatively new establishment called PAUL MARTIN’s AUSTIN GRILL, and were keen to put it to the test of vegans and carnivores dining in harmony.  The proprietors – Brian Bennet and Paul Fleming – are on a mission to “make the food America loves set to a higher standard—always without hormones or antibiotics”.    This mission falls right in line with my vegan cohort’s passion for the humane treatment of animals and the fresher more wholesome foods that are tough to find set upon the tables of the average restaurant.  So Kellie was especially anxious to review this one.  As for me, I heard the food was great, and they have a quality bourbon selection, so I was down for the critique as well.

Since it was a Friday night, we made a reservation with Open Table and arrived promptly at the chosen time.  We were seated without delay, and a gregarious server named Mo greeted us quickly and warmly.  He inquired of our drink selection and made a quality recommendation for the vegan’s Pinot Noir.   The bourbon selection did prove to be better than average, and I enjoyed a quality pour.

As I have explained in previous posts, I often inquire of the server’s recommendation at new restaurants.  I asked Mo for the most popular dish on the menu and he answered without hesitation that the “Brick” Chicken was undoubtedly the best choice.  I was glad to hear this because it was exactly what my friends had told me to order.  Score one for consistency!   The entrée is free-range chicken, mashed potatoes, za’tar croutons, herb jus.   While I prefer beef over fowl, I opted to give it a shot and hoped that the decision was a good one.  It proved to be a quality selection and, though I have no idea what a za’tar crouton is, the flavors complemented each other exceptionally well.   Over all the meal was delicious and I would recommend any chicken lover to order this dish.  That said, my next trip to Paul Martins will be to try the Braised Short Ribs.  I mean, a humanely treated cow has got to taste better than most, right?  A happy cow is a tasty cow, I’d bet.

Now for the real meat and potatoes of the experience – the ability for carnivores and meat eaters to dine in harmony.  I’m disappointed to say that, while Paul Martins does a great job for the meat eaters, the options for plant killers are lacking.  I think there was only one option on the menu that fit a vegan’s unique needs.  I understand that the vegans are few, relative to the rest of us, but two or three options doesn’t seem too unreasonable.  Another point of contention for me has to do with our server’s lack of knowledge of the dietary limitations encountered by vegans.  I get that not everyone has a reason to know exactly what a vegan’s food limitations are, but to not understand the most rudimentary facts – no dairy, meat, eggs, fish, etc –  about what represents a vegan food choice seems the least that a server at a quality restaurant should know.  If nothing else, it is a learning opportunity for the staff to become better informed about the varied guests that frequent their restaurant(s).  I think the servers would welcome this knowledge, in an attempt to ensure that EVERY guest has the best dining experience possible.  Their gratuity does depend on it, after all.

Paul Martins Austin Grill scores a respectable three cow faces from this meat loving carnivore.  If the vegan options and/or staff knowledge were greater, the rating would quickly reach four.