Category Archives: Cool Digs

Baby I Like It Raw

My husband took me to a romantic dinner at Elizabeth Raw this past weekend.  Elizabeth Raw started as a catering business, but eventually opened their restaurant on Friday evenings.  I’ve been dying to try this place because they specialize in raw foods.  A raw food diet is when you consume plant foods at its natural state, meaning foods that are uncooked and unprocessed.  Most raw foodists spend a lot of time chopping, blending, peeling, and dehydrating.  Although I’m not a raw foodist 2-3 of my meals on a given day are typically raw.  If I can have dinners like this every day I would be 100% raw for sure.

The restaurant looks like an art museum  – beautiful paintings, hard wooden floors, and chandeliers to create a warm and intimate atmosphere.  We were actually greeted by Elizabeth herself.

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While we waited for our table we sipped our cocktails and noshed on kale chips at the bar.

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I actually saw people come in just for these kale chips.

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Chef Jonathan Seningen comes up with a different menu every month.  We came right in time for the March menu.  There’s also a wine pairing option, but we opted out since we still had our cocktails.  We didn’t even finish our drinks at the end of the night, so skipping wine was a good idea.  Here’s what we had:

-AMUSE-
Beet Aumoniere
pistachio mousse, avocado, parsley
This is my favorite dish.  It’s a spoonful (literally), but the flavors were dancing in my mouth.    

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-START –
Warm Cucumber Soup
apple, cashew yogurt, avocado
Super creamy and I can’t believe this is raw.


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-APPETIZER-
Parsnip Choux Froid
black olives, sun dried tomato, marjoram, beets
My husband’s favorite dish.  Such a pretty plate. 

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-INTERMEZZO-
Apple & Celery Sorbet
sel gris, olive oil
This was surprisingly a great combination. 

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-ENTRÉE-
Curry Scallop with Carrot Risotto
rutabaga, fennel, saffron cappuccino
The scallops were made out of trumpet mushrooms and the risotto was made out of carrots.  Yum-O!

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-SWEET-
Banana Chocolate Semifreddo
coconut, rum, almond
This was intimidating at first because I was full, but after one bite it was soon an empty plate with leftover chocolate smears.  Yea I wanted to lick the plate, but remained ladylike for the sake of not embarrassing my husband.  I would so do it if I was at home. 

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What a phenomenal experience!  My husband and I ate slowly to savor every single bite.  We were thinking about what to do after dinner – a stroll along Georgetown Waterfront like old times?  Or grab another cocktail in the area?  Something romantic?  When you’re married you can skip all that mumbo jumbo and tune in to your guilty pleasure.  For us it was Duck Dynasty.  Yup, we couldn’t get enough of that show.  Hey we were laughing together and to me that’s romance.

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picture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_Dynasty

Eating and Running “Chi”

Two meanings of “Chi” in this post – Chi as in “energy” and in Chi-town (aka Chicago).  There’s amazing energy in the windy city, but with a relaxed vibe than the East Coast.  I definitely appreciate the wind since we’ve been suffering from crazy heat back at home, so coming to Chicago was a breath of fresh air.   Last time I was in Chicago the weather was hot with patches of thunderstorms, but lady luck was on my side this time around and the weather was gorgeous.  I was itching for a run but first things first when I arrive – food!

Chicago main staple digs are its deep dish pizzas, Chicago dogs, and Italian sandwiches.  A few people stressed this and thought it might be difficult for me to find good vegan eats around the city but au contraire.  There’s always options especially in Chi-Town.  About every menu had vegan/vegetarian eats.

I was craving for a big leafy green salad and something quick because I had a busy day ahead of me.  I was at the Willis Tower (also known as Sears Tower), so there were tons of restaurants all around me.  I made my way to Market Creations since there was a huge salad bar. Got myself spinach, red onions, tomatoes, cranberries, cucumbers, Moroccan chickpeas, bowtie pasta with artichoke and olive salad.  I only had a few minutes, but found a table where I can baste myself in the sun.  I couldn’t do that back home, so I enjoyed the little time I had with my salad and the beautiful weather.

That night I met up with a few friends who happen to stop in Chi-Town from their cross country trip.  We went to concert at Millennium Park and headed to dinner at The Purple Pig.  The ambiance there was spectacular.  There’s a patio strip where you can have wine delivered to you as you wait for your table.  We got a table outside which made it perfect.  You’re probably wondering what I was able to eat.  There’s actually a variety.  To begin my friends treated me with some champagna.

I started with Tomato Bread with garlic, olive oil, and sea salt.  This was phenomenal and new to their menu.  I also had the charred green  onions with romesco sauce.  Romesco sauce is a nut and red pepper base sauce from Spain.  It went perfect with the charred green onions.  We ended the night with another toast to their travels.

The day after I went to a very hip restaurant for dinner – Revolution Brewery near Logan square.  They are known for their awesome hometown beers.  I had a cool refreshing Bottom Up Wit – Belgian-style wheat beer spiced with coriander and orange peel.  I heard the Anti-IPA is also a favorite.  That hit the spot after a long day.  I was thrilled to see so many vegetarian/vegan options on the menu.  I had the tempeh reuben with sauerkraut and vegan Russian dressing on dry rye bread – held off the cheese.   I love digs like this because they offer vegan, vegetarian, non-vegan plates, and great beer – a place to satisfy everyone.

I had to take advantage of the weather, so my last day I woke up early and went for a run.  Let me just say it was incredible.  Chicago is actually known for one of the best running places in the US.  I had so much energy running through the morning crowd/traffic and tall skylines around me.  It was bustling.

As I made it to Lakefront by the Navy Pier, it was calm and peaceful with little boats swaying against the wind.  You can see the beautiful Chicago buildings and architecture from a far.  I wish I had more time but there’s always next time.  What a experience!

Before I left for my flight, I walked over to this place called Raw in the French Market.  Raw was started by two women – Polly and Carole – who is raising their awareness around health and nutrition from raw and 100% plant-based foods.  They even have sessions to show you how to creatively prepare/cook raw dishes.  I actually met Carole and she was super nice.  She let me try all sorts of tasting samples.  I had a sample of their apple pie and I totally should have gotten that.  It was so delicious and RAW.  They also had their signature hummus and garlic sticks that were also very yummy.  I decided to grab the Kale salad since people raved about this.  They weren’t wrong.  This salad was amazing.  There was a ton of super foods in this, which I believe helped me with my long run the next day.  The salad consisted of fresh kale, cucumber, zucchini, onion, red pepper, lemon, EVOO, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, jalapeno, herbs, spices, gojiberry for sweetness, and avocados so creamy that it melts in your mouth. A delicious lunch before I headed home.

The visit to the windy city left on a good note.  A couple days of beautiful weather, great company, and a bit of Chi runs & eats.

Dining Vegan

As much as I enjoy experimenting with vegan recipes, I love to dine out and enjoy the company of others.  Most of my family and friends are omnivores, so I go to restaurants they choose.  I do get questions like what do vegans eat when they go out?  You don’t need to live in LA or chomp on lettuce eating out as a vegan.  You don’t even need to go to specific vegan digs to enjoy a good meal.   I never felt limited.  You just have think outside of the “menu”.

Here’s a couple tips dining vegan:

Research.  Read the menu a head of time.  You’ll be prepared to know what to order, what to ask, and how to be creative.  If it boils down to limited choices then you’ll know to eat something before you leave, but save room for snacks.  It can get awkward if your friends are having dinner and you’re not eating, so munch on fries and have a beer.  You also want to reassure your friends that you’re fine if there’s not a lot of vegan choices.  By the way, there is always a minimum of one or two vegan items in any menu.  I love when people think about me, but rest assured this will never deter me from having a great time with good company.

Ask.  Don’t be afraid to ask off the menu.  I asked many times and gotten great suggestions.  In fact, chefs might make dishes for you because they’re excited to experiment with something new.  My family wanted to go out for Japanese ramen from Maneki Neko at Falls Church VA, but there’s only ramen with meat listed on the menu.  I asked the waitress and the chefs were delighted to make me a vegetable miso ramen.  It was spectacular!  My husband even got jealous of the ramen I got.

Remove.  There are items that can be removed and it tastes just as good.  I was recently at Peking Gourmet for Father’s Day.  My dad loves this place, so I was looking at ways to order.  I always loved Chinese pancakes, cucumbers, scallions, and hoisin sauce (despite the name there’s actually no seafood in this).  I can still enjoy this with everyone and leave the duck out.  I just filled it up with more cucumbers.

Substitute.  If I see something like vegetables on the menu I’ll ask to get that substituted for my dish.  We were at Arcadia in Richmond VA and they had beets with a meat dish, so I asked if I can substitute one of the dishes with beets.  Sure enough they were happy to do that.  I started out with the roasted turnips & beets, polenta, chive sauce, and gala apple.  It was perfect.  The beets and turnips complimented the polenta very well.

Sides.  You can have sides as a la carte or tapas style.  There are always sides that are vegan-friendly.  If that’s the case, order a couple dishes for your meal like this side salad and sweet potato fries I had at Bistro 27, also in Richmond VA.

Digs to satisfy both parties.  If you have the option to choose a restaurant go for Asian, Mexican, Italian, and Indian.  They will have vegan options for you, so both you and your friends can enjoy.  For instance, my husband asked me to choose a place for lunch while we were in Tampa.  I was interested in Taco Bus because number one it was on the Food Network and it had vegan and meat options.  My vegan taco was so delicious my husband had one too.

As long as your creative there are no limits dining vegan.

Mama Chiang

Meet my mom.  She’s so adorable. In celebration of Mother’s Day, I wanted to dedicate this post and Yum-o section to my mom aka Mama Chiang.  I get my foodie inspiration from her.

Before we get into all the yummy food we had for Mother’s day, here’s a couple things to know about my mom that will make you think of eating and cooking food differently.  Every time I’m home I’m amazed to discover something new in Mama Chiang’s kitchen:

My mom is very intricate about her cooking.  She made me a lotus salad and I had no idea she peeled a lotus root piece by piece with an itty bitty knife.  She taught me that cooking requires patience, which is why her meals are made with lots of love.

She measures by eye and taste.  You will not see any measuring cups or spoons in her kitchen, but she’ll use Chinese bowls and soup spoons to measure.  When she teaches me how to cook she’ll tell me something like, “Cut the ginger as big as your pinky finger.”

Before coming to Mama Chiang’s house, she will ask a million questions on what you like to eat, what you can’t eat, or what you are allergic to.  It brings her joy when people are enjoying her food.  This is such good practice for anyone.  People are always grateful when you ask.  It means they’re thinking of you.

Every time I’m home I see exotic vegetables or fruits on the dining table, like these miniature mangos.  They’re smaller than my palm, but so very sweet.

My mom will make use of every ingredient she has.  Nothing goes to waste.  For instance, she will lay orange peels across the kitchen window to ward off any insects.

There’s a smorgasbord of treats when you come to Mama Chiang’s Household.  I found this Vietnamese dessert known as Che Bau Mau in the fridge the other day waiting for me to nosh.  It consists of mung beans, red azuki beans, tapioca pearls, peanuts, and coconut milk.  A blend of salty and sweet flavors.  I just have a small helping because there’s a lot sugar in this.

Now for Mother’s day – We didn’t want my mom in the kitchen, so we ventured to some cool digs.  For brunch we went to Eden Center, the mecca of Vietnamese cuisine in the DMV area.  We went to Lacay Cholon where I got this veggie spring roll – shiitake mushrooms, vermicelli noodles, lettuce and tofu wrapped in rice paper with a side of peanut sauce.

When we got back from shopping I found another exotic item on the dining table – dried red mangos from Hawaii. They’re very different from regular dried mangos.  First of all they’re a vibrant red color, not yellow, and they are slightly sour.

After some gardening and house chores, my mom and I noshed on Chinese crepes (Chang Fun) from China Boy in DC.  You typically see these on dim sum carts and it could be wrapped with a variety of different ingredients.  I like mine plain.  One of the best Chinese crepes I had growing up – soft and chewy.  I like to cut them up and season it with tamari sauce.

Then we shared a vegetarian bun my mom got from Phuoc Loc Bakery & Deli.  This one had cellophane noodles, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, and tofu.  Delish!

For dinner we went to Duangrat’s Thai Restaurant.  It has a funny name, but it’s been there since 1987 and they received several awards.  We had no idea this restaurant existed, but now it tops my Thai food list.  We started with Plantain Tempura (coconut & sesame batter).  I’m not a big fan of tempura or plantain, but loved this one.  It was crispy on the outside centered with a warm and soft plantain.

I ordered the vegetarian drunken noodles.  We all enjoyed it.  By the way, every time I go out with my family we always make it family style.  I love this because we are sharing our entrees with each other so we are getting a little bit of everything.

It was a glorious day with good eats around town.  I’m so lucky to have an amazing mom.   It warms my heart to see her happy on this beautiful Mother’s day.  You’ll see more posts on Mama Chiang.  I’ll even document what’s cooking in Mama Chiang’s Kitchen, so you’ll know her unique cooking techniques.  My mom is also prepping her garden, so I can’t wait show the vegetables, herbs, and fruits she planted.

April NYC Digs

It was a gorgeous spring weekend visiting my sister in nyc.  My sister took us around of course and I looked up a couple places I’ve been dying to try.  I go to nyc often but we were only able to hit a few places from our research. I think we were very successful this time around.  We stayed in East Village – a place full of organic markets and vegetarian restaurants. We also ventured out to the meatpacking district and Brooklyn to discover a couple new digs.  If your vegan/vegetarian I’ll show you how to order at restaurants that mainly serve meat.  There’s always an option. You just have to be a little creative like Sally from the movie When Harry Met Sally.

Before heading to dinner my sister came over and gave me the most beautiful flowers.

My sister took us to Scared Chow, a very trendy vegan restaurant in Greenwich Village. We got a perfect seat by the window.  This adorable dig is known for their vegan tapas.  We ordered six delightful plates – a combo of 3 for $18.  The portions are quite large and heavy for tapas, so choose wisely.

We started out with the Sunflower Lentil Pate with crostinis (plate pictured on the bottom).  The consistency was very much like pate – thick and rich.  It was full of flavor with a crunchy bite.  My top 3 favorite plates of the night: Sautéed Shiitake Mushroom w/South Indian Dip (middle left) – The sauce made this dish.  It almost had a buttery taste.  Growing up I ate plenty of shiitake, but never with such a unique sauce.  Root Vegetable Latkes w/Indonesian Date Butter (top right) – Ok, so this is hands down my favorite of the night.  It was perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside but you can still taste the flavors of the vegetable root.  Korean Tofu Cutlets w/steamed kale (top left) – It was sweet and spicy, but not over-powering flavors like most Korean dishes.

We were much too full for dessert but we walked to St. Mark’s where my sister purchased the best gummy bears ever – Crown Natural Gummy Bears from Saint Mark’s Market.  They were soft and chewy tropical flavors.

The next morning my sister took us to a French bistro for brunch, Patis, located in the meatpacking district.  The brunch menu contained mostly diary and eggs, but here’s where you can get creative if you are vegan.  I opted for the granola and berries w/o yogurt, which was absolutely delish even without yogurt.  They gave us a fresh bread basket and jam.

Ok, so this is the highlight of my trip.  I always been a fan of Top Chef and when I heard that one of my favorite chefs opened a new restaurant I had to go.  Dale Talde was from season 4 and made an amazing comeback on Top Chef Masters.  He’s known for his Asian Fusion cuisine.  I went to Buddakan last year to look for him, but no luck.  Everything happens for a reason.  It just so happens he opened his own restaurant – Talde in Brooklyn.  Let me just say it was phenomenal.

What an experience!  We headed to Brooklyn early because the wait can be up to two hours.  Got there 5 minutes before it opened and the restaurant filled up quickly.

The place is bigger than I expected and we were seated at the best spot, right in front of Dale.  I love restaurants that open the kitchen up so you can see the chefs cooking.

Pretzel Pork & Chive Dumplings with spicy mustard – Heard it really does taste like pretzels.

Perilla Leaf – Perfect dish to cleanse your palette before the main course.

Hawaiian Bread Buns – There were three: Filipino Pork, Crispy Long Island Fluke, and the Market Vegetable.  The Market Vegetable bun melted in my mouth.  My sister claims that the vegetable bun was actually the best one.

Tofu & Kale Salad – The best salad I ever had in my life.  It was a bed of kale served with beets, tofu, and fresh water chestnuts mixed with cider ponzo dressing.  Every bite had a subtle and creamy crunch.  I still dream about it.

Short Ribs – My husband couldn’t find anyone that can make short ribs like his dad, until now.

Halo-Halo – I had halo-halo before, but not like this.  This one was special.  I heard people guess what’s in this dessert.  Here’s what I think it is: shaved ice, coconut milk, bananas, mangos, pear, jelly cubes, tapioca pearl, and drum roll….Captain Crunch cereal.

As you can see my sister thoroughly enjoyed this.

The finale – Dale came over to our table to greet us.  I was such a creepers staring at him all night, so I was star struck when he headed to our table.  He is such a humble person and appreciated how we enjoyed his food, nothing like what he seems on TV.

Later in the night we passed by Pommes Frits.  I heard this on the food network and didn’t mind a late night snack.  We got the sweet mango chutney.  Seriously, the best fries I ever had.  When I took a bite for the first time there was complete silence.

Our last day in NYC – My husband wanted to get a pastrami sandwich from Katz Deli for lunch, so we decided to go there first and then go to this vegan café afterwards.

His lunch came with pickles, so I was noshing on that while my husband finishes his sandwich on a bench we found outside.

My turn – we went to Altas Café.  This is a hole in the wall, and the menu caters to all vegan/vegetarians.  I got the Vegan Mediterranean Crepe.

What’s inside is full of deliciousness – tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, onions, tofu cheese.  I savored every bite.

I also ordered the peanut better layered bomb cake to-go.  It was so good I didn’t even notice it was vegan.  A perfect way to end my trip.