vegansaurus!

03/09/2012

Guest post: Santa Cruz’s best kept veggie secrets  »

Santa Cruz: Foggy Redwoods, beautiful beaches and lots of hippies! You know what that means? Lots of organic and vegan-Friendly dining options in this funky little city nestled along the Monterey Bay. You can pretty much go anywhere here and you’re bound to find some decent veg options; even better, you won’t get a confused look if you tell the server that you’re vegan. While SC has a few popular veggie restaurants, I want to focus on two lesser known establishments of theAsian persuasion: Charlie Hong Kong and Pearl of the Ocean.

Charlie Hong Kong

Santa Cruz is a pricy place. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on delicious AND nutritious grub. Charlie Hong Kong is a local hotspot that provides quick, cheap ‘Organic Asian Street Cuisine’ to busy (and lazy) Santa Cruzans. Known for their rice and noodle bowls, they also have Vietnamese sandwiches and other small dishes like salad rolls and soups. All of their bowls are vegan, with local and organic veggies, with the option of adding on ‘toppings’ if you so choose. Toppings range from sweet tofu, marinated mushrooms, as well as a couple to satisfy the omnis which will remain nameless. But whether you’re craving curry, peanuty, spicy or sweet, you have plenty of options at CHK. For about five bucks, you can get a fast, warm, DELICIOUS meal filled with veggies, and we’re not just talking a few pieces of crummy lettuce.   We’re talking broccoli, chard, mushrooms, cabbage, and usually a nice helping of peanuts! If you’re like me and go for the peanut sauce, you won’t be disappointed, TRUST. Their Pad Thai (pictured) is a local favorite, with a delicious sauce that really packs a punch. The icing on the cake? They sell BEER and VEGAN COOKIES!! I mean, what else do you need?   

Pearl of the Ocean

If you have a little more cash on hand, do yourself a favor and check out this amazing little restaurant, Pearl of the Ocean—arguably Santa Cruz’s best kept secret. If you’ve never experienced Sri Lankan food before, you’re missing out! Imagine if Indian food and Thai food had a delicious food baby. That’s the best way I can describe the amazingness that is Sri Lankan cuisine. The most flavorful, sweet and spicy curries, elaborate salads, fancy soups, as well as a great wine selection, makes this place a treasure trove of exciting vegan dishes. Pearl is owned by a sweet and motivated Sri Lankan woman, dedicated to serving healthy and organic meals to locals and visitors alike. As newbies can be a little thrown off by the Sri Lankan style of ordering, which typically includes multiple small dishes, the employees are always willing to help and provide suggestions. With the exception of a few unfortunate items, the menu is almost entirely vegan. I can NOT get enough of the Spicy Mango Curry and Kale Mallam, while my husband could eat their Garbanzo Curry for every meal, of every day. Each dish comes with ginger or brown rice and a mild yellow dhal, the perfect compliment for mellowing out your taste buds in between those spicy bites. Top it off with a creamy Soy Mango Lassi, or if you’re feeling fancy, a Kiss of the Island Princess cocktail. I’ve always said this would be my ‘Last Supper,’ you know, if I’m ever on death row or Top Chef. Until then, I will be shamelessly and unsuccessfully trying to recreate these meals at home. Next time you’re in the SC area, be a little adventurous and check them out! Your belly will thank you.      

Alicia Guzman Sadler lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and two crazy cats. She spends her days writing, gardening and cooking, and her evenings plotting to take over the world. Keep up with her culinary adventures at Vegantopchef.posterous.com

03/02/2012

Guest Post: The perfect vegan honeymoon!  »


I recently got married (yay!) and luckily, planning a vegan wedding wasn’t that difficult for us in San Diego. Finding the perfect, vegan-friendly honeymoon spot, however, proved to be much more of a challenge. After first deciding against the idea of a “normal” honeymoon on a “boring” island for a more adventurous, multi-destination tour, I had an epiphany. Drowning in wedding-planning stress, I realized, “Oh! THIS is why people want to be thrown onto an island, with an endless supply of booze!” Sign my ass up.

I wanted to find a place that wasn’t too cheesy or packed with tourists, and offered a decent menu. After reviewing so many menus of meat, fish, cheese, meat, fish, cheese, I FINALLY found a place that seemed to meet all the criteria: Jade Mountain, on the Carribean island of St. Lucia. JM is actually a mini-resort within the larger Anse Chastanet Resort. Booking at JM gets you access to both. While the pictures were beyond gorgeous—rainforest and beach—and they offered tons of activities, what REALLY sold us was the vegetarian restaurant and organic garden. Really? Vegetarian restaurant? That settled it. We informed them we were vegan when we booked our trip, and they acted like it was no big thang, and they could easily accommodate us. Off to a good start!      

When we arrived, they sent a chef to our “sanctuary” to discuss our favorite foods. What?! This must be what rich people live like. He invited us on a tour of the organic garden, and let us know that they were delighted to cook vegan for us and we can pretty much ask for anything we want if the menu they provide doesn’t please us. UM, OK!

During our first dinner at the Jade Mountain Club, the chef brought us a sampling of local fruits from the garden, hearts of palm salad, and pumpkin tofu curry. It was all amazing! Was this real? The next day the menu had fettuccine “alfredo” made with soy milk. I couldn’t believe it. We were in Vegan Heaven. Every meal was better than the next, and the friendly servers all knew our sitch and would warn us if something wasn’t vegan. We had delicious soups, lentils, eggplant, leeks, polenta, quinoa—you name it. And it was all SO tasty! Definitely the most gourmet vegan food we’ve ever had. This is in addition to the RIDICULOUS view the restaurant boasts, with an infinity pool and a “Celestial Terrace” for wine-soaked sunset-watching and star-gazing. Even in our room, we always returned to bento boxes in the fridge, full of vegan deliciousness—tofu bean dips, fresh veggies, and the best fruit I’ve ever had. It felt like we were on a vegan foodie honeymoon (if there’s no such thing, there is now!). 

The vegetarian restaurant at Anse Chastanet was a nice option, and definitely the least crowded restaurant in the whole resort—fine with us! While not all vegan, they still had decent veg options, most of which could be made vegan. We had fried sun-dried tomato gnocchi—not the healthiest thing in the world, but it was sure tasty! This place isn’t as fancy as the JM Club, but it was still a treat to be in a vegetarian restaurant.

We had assumed we’d be eating at Anse Chastanet all the time, but since the JM Club was so accommodating and nice (and included in our package), we ended up eating the majority of our meals there. But even the regular beachside restaurant had a veggie burger that blew my mind! I expected something like a Boca, but it was a fresh patty made from mashed potatoes, carrots, and other ACTUAL vegetables! We were totally surprised and stoked.

When we wanted a break from the frou-frou stuff, we had to check out a local Ital place we heard about in town—Jah Lamb’s. It’s run by a cool Rastaman out of the tiny kitchen in his house. We befriended a local who took us through the town of Soufriere, as we probably wouldn’t have been able to find this place on our own. We were served empanada-style pockets filled with dhal or potatoes, and the juice he served us was the most delicious tropical concoction I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Not only was the owner SUPER-friendly, the food was fab, and this place had an awesome vibe. And really, hanging out with the locals was probably one of the coolest moments of my life. 

On top of the gorgeous grounds and suites, the warm Caribbean sea and lush tropical rainforest, as well as some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, Jade Mountain was a vegan dream come true. We all know how much food can SUCK for vegans, especially when traveling. Nothing pisses my husband off more than not being able to find something to eat on a menu (seriously, watch out!). Spending the week eating iceberg lettuce and french fries just wasn’t going to cut it this time.

Now, this place was definitely pricy, but well worth it. It was easily the best week of our lives. The food was a highlight of the trip. I was totally happy to go small on the wedding in order to make room for this. No regrets. Especially because in this economy, there’s no chance in hell we’re getting back there anytime soon! If you can find a way, I guarantee you an awesome trip that will satisfy even the pickiest of vegans! Do it!    

Alicia Guzman Sadler lives in Santa Cruz with her new husband and two crazy cats. She spends her days writing, gardening, and cooking, and her evenings plotting to take over the world. Keep up with her culinary adventure at vegantopchef.posterous.com.

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