vegansaurus!

01/20/2009

Road Trip: Quiet Storm in Pittsburgh!  »

As much as it’s possible for a person to appreciate her circumstances, I appreciate how good a vegan has it in San Francisco. All we’re missing, aside from the utopia of course, is a place to get a good tofu scramble. This city is utterly devoid of good tofu scrambles.

Strangely enough, the best tofu scrambles I’ve ever had were cooked in Davis, Calif. and Pittsburgh, Penn. OK, not so strangely to find good vegan food in Davis, but what is delicious vegan breakfast doing in Pittsburgh? Well! It is waiting for you to order it at the Quiet Storm.

They serve a daily breakfast that Joel is partial to, the Nothin’ Fancy, a good amount of tofu, potatoes and toast that is very good. They say their secret is to bake the scramble, but I believe that is a lie; the secret is also in the seasonings, because you could bake a thousand tofu scrambles from a thousand Bay Area restaurants, and none would taste as good as the one from Quiet Storm.

Even better, on weekends you can have a “country” breakfast burrito featuring this amazing tofu, plus the potatoes, little mushrooms and vegan sausage. The tortilla all this goodness is wrapped up in is made warm and crispy, and then topped with onion “jam.” Whatever onion jam is, who cares, just eat it, it is delicious.

I tell you, I have never eaten a better tofu-based breakfast outside of my own kitchen. OK, I’ve never eaten a better tofu-based breakfast, period, as I do not generally go to such trouble for one little breakfast. Besides, like I said, there are secrets to making this scramble that I haven’t cracked; replicating it would be impossible.

Let’s go to the close-up:

As for matters non-scrambled, their vegan cheesecake is very good, texturally perfect if a bit lacking in tartness.  Do not, absolutely do not ask for “vegan cream cheese” to put on your toast, though; from what I could surmise, it’s cold whipped tofu, probably silken, and that’s it. Imagine taking a bite of that on your hot and toasty bagel. Are you shuddering? I shuddered. It was disgusting. This is entirely avoidable, of course, when you order your breakfast in a tortilla instead.

If you are ever in Pittsburgh, go eat at Quiet Storm. I have it on a native’s authority that they make good lunches and dinners, too, so there’s that. You should really go to breakfast, though, and Pittsburgh is supposed to be one of those big Sunday brunch cities, and Quiet Storm does that up right, too, so I’m told. Someday soon maybe one restaurant in our so-called vegan-friendly city will take a lesson from this little cafe across the country and make an edible tofu scramble, and I won’t have to keep pining for this one breakfast burrito I had this one time.

[all photos—and breakfasts!—courtesy Joel]

12/15/2008

Road Trip: CoCo’s Cupcake Cafe in Pittsburgh!  »

Update, June 27, 2010: Coco’s has closed.

Because it’s National Cupcake Day (and Thursday is National Roast Suckling Pig Day, ugh, let us not take this ridiculousness too seriously), here is a second cupcake review.  CoCo’s Cupcakes Cafe is Pittsburgh’s “first cupcake bakery,” having opened one week earlier than Dozen Cupcakes in December of 2006. Like Dozen, CoCo’s uses local sources for things like coffee and chocolate, and is located in one of the schmancier of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods: CoCo’s is in Shadyside, near a yoga studio and a Whole Foods. Adorably, CoCo’s makes neighborhood-themed cupcakes, such as this vegan margarita South Side cupcake: It certainly is pretty, isn’t it?

CoCo’s offers at least one vegan cupcake every day; when we went, they had gingerbread and red velvet. The red velvet is their daily vegan cupcake, and has what is described as vanilla frosting and a few delicate red sugar sprinkles. It was very good-looking as well, and the frosting was piled incredibly high. Although I am not the sort to just bite into a cupcake like it’s a piece of sushi (I prefer cupcake deconstruction), I had to see if I could fit the whole thing in my mouth (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID); it worked, but I ended up with frosting in my nose, and it lacked the feeling of supreme accomplishment I had expected to feel.

Right, fine, but what about the cupcake? Well, the cake was pretty good; too dense, but definitely worth finishing, and the flavor was nice. The frosting was texturally pleasing, and there certainly was enough of it to make me, a preferrer of frosting, satisfied with the ratio of it to cake; however, the taste wasn’t there. It was as if the person making it had forgotten to include the vanilla, because it just didn’t taste like anything. It was not a buttercream, that’s for sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I ate the whole thing! I kept waiting for it to taste better, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Luckily, we still had the special gingerbread cupcakes for dessert, so CoCo’s still had time to redeem its vegan baking skills. There’s always hope.

The gingerbread cake was equally dense, though with a more complex flavor, and really resembled actual gingerbread more than any delicate cupcake. The frosting, again, was disappointing flavorless, and again they don’t advertise it as a buttercream, so I’m still confused — what is it supposed to taste like? What is a thick vanilla frosting that is not a buttercream? Is it a shortening-only frosting? A shortening-only frosting would give great hold and allow for amazing staying power when a frosting has to battle both cold and heat, but it would also have to derive its taste from its other ingredients, as shortening has no flavor. If this is the case—and of course this is conjecture based on my own baking knowledge—then CoCo’s should really look into adding a lot more vanilla extract, because frosting that tastes like “sweet” is kind of a waste of space.

If I were in need of a cupcake in Pittsburgh again and unable or unwilling to make them myself (pardon the egoism, but I can bake better vegan cupcakes than these places), I would go to CoCo’s again, if only for the variety. Maybe their other vegan cupcakes have more flavorful frostings — we did get two cupcakes with the same disappointing flavor — and maybe next time they’ll have improved their technique. You never know! Besides, CoCo’s doesn’t have too many improvements to make to achieving a vegan cupcake worth our accolades. Furthermore the pickings are a bit slim in Pittsburgh (you can always complain about your surroundings! Once I went to a restaurant in Southeast Texas where the only vegan item on the menu was “two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for $1.50,” and I complained because the peanut butter was creamy and the wheat bread had whey so I had to get white. Always! Complain!), so as usual, vegans will have to learn to do it at home, or take what’s available on the outside. At CoCo’s, happily, what’s available is pretty all right. Not the best, but I bet with some helpful community feedback, they’ll get there.

[margarita and gingerbread photos via Cupcakefetish; red velvet photo by Joel]

Road Trip: Dozen Bakeshop in Pittsburgh!  »

This Vegansaur visited a new city recently: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ancestral home of accredited Vegansaurus photographer Joel. While we were there, it snowed several times, and we saw a few enormously fat squirrels scale crabapple trees so spindly they should’ve fallen over with the winter bulk of its furry assailants, and yet it stood strong. We also spent time with a small and talkative (babble-ative?) baby, were fed many wonderful multicourse vegan suppers cooked by Joel’s mother, including the best pie crust I have ever eaten (seriously! And it is work, too, to get it so delicate)—but my primary goal was, obviously, to take an eating tour of vegan Pittsburgh. Who doesn’t love an eating tour?

We stumbled on Dozen Bakeshop because one of its two locations happened to be along our Thanksgiving walk route. It was closed at the time—for the best!—but promised to be open the next day, so cupcakes for breakfast it would be.


Dozen currently features three cruelty-free cupcakes: vanilla on Tuesdays, peppermint on Fridays, and “Mostess” on Saturdays. Mondays are “mystery” days, so they might offer a vegan cupcake then too, I can’t say. We went on a Friday, so we got peppermint cupcakes. They also had a ginger molasses cookie, and that was the extent of their vegan goods that morning. If we’d gone on a weekend morning we might’ve tried their vegan cinnamon roll, but our weekend mornings were already spoken for, so it wasn’t to be.

The cookie was fine, if a little too sweet; the ginger pieces were good, the molasses flavor was present without being too strong. The cupcake on the other hand was tragic. The cake was a rock; not a flavorless rock, but chewy and hard and totally unfortunate. The frosting divided us. Joel thought it was too sweet, while I thought it was one of the best frostings I’d ever eaten. It was incredibly thick and rich, buttery underneath the peppermint, and because the cake was so bad I wound up eating it bite by tiny bite with a spoon. Delicious. Still, not a reason to buy an entire cupcake, seeing as how the cake part went wasted.

The bakery is very nice inside—we went to the Lawrenceville location—and the staff were friendly and helpful, and they have free refills on house coffee, which is a huge step ahead in customer appreciation in comparison to every bakery/coffee house/cafe I have ever patronized EVER at home here in San Francisco, where you have to pay over 50 percent of the price of your first cup of coffee for every refill, despite most coming from the same push-lid carafe that keeps the stupid coffee hot-to-room-temperature for four-to-five hours before staff refreshes it. Point to Dozen Bakeshop for recognizing that despite serving savory baked goods and having free wifi, no one is going to hang around a bakery all day, so there’s very little risk of losing money on moochers staying for the coffee refills. Not that, you know, a business is in dire risk of losing hundreds of dollars a day in revenue giving out under a dollar in filtered hot water.

OK, the summary: For a vegan cookie and coffee (note: ask for milk substitute, they don’t put anything out there for you), Dozen is a nice place to go. For vegan cupcakes, it is a waste of time; I can make better cupcakes at home and if you can’t, come to me. The end.

[photo by Joel]

10/06/2008

Review: Maggie Mudd!  »

One time when I thought I was giving up sweets for Lent, before I realized that because no one holds me to particular religious beliefs anymore, I don’t have to go through the motions of abiding by the behavioral dictates of a particular time of year (sorry, Jesus; I’m done), my boyfriend took me to Maggie Mudd for one last stomach-filling sugar binge, ostensibly to tide me over until Palm Sunday.

During dinner, I had the aforementioned epiphany, leading my boyfriend to note that this was not getting me out of an enormous ice cream sundae. As if I needed to be talked into it. What’s up, gluttony. We ate at a mediocre Italian place up the street (review to come later, mediocre Italian place with a misleading menu), and then walked down the Cortland Street hill a bit to the teeny little nook that is Maggie Mudd’s storefront.

We walked in, and we stared. We stared and stared and stared. Look, I said, Look at all the sundaes they can make vegan! Look at all the varieties of soy- and coconut-milk ice cream! O the anticipation. Nationally available vegan ice cream is generally, well, off. If it doesn’t have a weird soy aftertaste, it’s grainy, or more icy than creamy, or any other of the myriad problems you can have with food imitation. The best soy-cream product I’d had before our venture to Bernal Heights was Tofutti Cuties, and those things are so full of weird chemicals and saturated fats you might as well be eating Kraft Dinner with a bacon spoon.

Right, so, the flavors, they seemed limitless. The sundaes, decadent. I had the Tarmack, a peanut-butter-chocolate-cookie bits concoction with peanut butter and chocolate syrups. I couldn’t finish it, though heaven knows I wanted to. I let my boyfriend slurp up the last melty bits of it and wished I were as bottomless a pit.

Their lemon-poppyseed coconut-milk-based ice cream is perfection in the realm of non-sorbet frozen citrus desserts. They make the (blessedly) vegan waffle cones in front of you so they are hot when you get them and cool and harden in your hand while the ice cream gently melts.

Minus points for the “non-dairy” whipped topping, which seemed suspect. Of course it could have been the gorging that gave me and my boyfriend both upset stomachs, but you never know with dairy. It’s sneaky and totally out to get you. Plus points for the pints being (nearly) as good as the ice cream in-house. Minus points to every grocery store that doesn’t carry it, though I don’t think that’s Maggie Mudd’s fault. Minus points to their in-store packed pints costing an exorbitant $7—is a pint of a commercially unavailable flavor like fresh blueberry worth that much? A million billion plus points for their cakes, which are endlessly customizable, reasonably priced, and quite lovely.

[photo by Friend of Vegansaurus Melisser, the Urban Housewife!]

10/03/2008

Road Trip: Ubuntu in Napa!  »

Sometimes you just want to get the fuck out of dodge. On occasion, we’ll feature different veg-friendly places to visit and dine that are within an hour or two from SF. Let’s start with Napa because I’m a classy drunk. LET’S GET WASTED! SHOW ME YOUR BRA! WOO!

I’ve been to Ubuntu three times and look forward to a fourth visit like it’s my job.  

First visit
A really wonderful, super-romantic dinner. The food was delicious and perfect, especially the coconut watermelon basil soup. That soup is ridiculous. It will change your life. It’s better than the sex (that you have, most likely. Not me, I am amazing at sex). It is like drinking the blood of virgins. Eating it is what winning gold at the Olympics must feel like. The wine list is filled with sustainable, organic and biodynamic (wtf does that mean?) wines. The prices were totally reasonable based on quality of service and food. I didn’t see one heifer doing yoga. Just the thought of a Skinny White Bitch running around with a yoga mat under one arm and a little crop-top (YARG) that says “namaste” on it is enough to make me lose my shit/lunch so plus-multiple-stars for that. I cannot hang.

Second visit
Holy shit, why am I impossible to take out in public?  I did quite a bit of wine-tasting with my friends Maria, Ed and Suzanne in downtown Napa before (including one place that I thought was a free tasting room but was actually a bar! Oops, we have to pay for that?! Thank God I have fabulous slut friends who are willing to exchange numbers for many bottles of free wine!) and so wasn’t entirely prepared to enter a classy establishment for dinner.

DO NOT INFORM THE HOSTESS THAT YOU ARE DRUNK WHEN YOU ARRIVE. You will be rightly cut the fuck off.  it went a little like this:
Hostess: Hello!
Laura: I’m DRUNK!
Hostess: OK, what’s the reservation under?
Laura: I’m DRUNK!
Maria: It’s under “Ed.”
Laura: HE’S DRUNK TOO!!! HAHAHA!
…and so on and so forth. Don’t worry, I hate me too.

Once seated, we were politely and tactfully informed that we were being cut off because of my outburst and the, you know, being openly intoxicated in a nice restaurant thing. the wait staff and management at Ubuntu handled it VERY well. They never made us feel unwelcome or called out or anything like that.  and the food helped. I swear, everything tastes even more amazing when you’re drunk. That is, it tastes amazing until you want to die. I wanted to die right before dessert so I headed out to the car to take a power nap. It felt so good, I can’t even tell you. We then headed back to the city and don’t worry for my safety and for the safety of others, kind Vegansaurus readers, I didn’t drive! Ed was sober sister and is an excellent driver and made an amazing mix CD.  if you’ve never seen Maria and Ed perform Usher’s “Love in This Club,” you are missing the fuck out. You have not lived until Ed has looked you in the eye and told you he wants to set you free, sexually, emotionally, mentally, physically. Or however it goes [Ed.: “physically, mentally, sexually, emotionally”]. It’s hot, trust me. I think they’ll be doing it tomorrow at Temple bar, in fact. You should totally be there.

Third visit
To celebrate my friend Joel’s recent entrance into adulthood a good 10 years before his time (i.e., buying a house at 25. OVERACHIEVERS! UGH!). The food was equally as delicious this time and I remember it all very well. The soup remained the star of the menu—who knew that coconut and watermelon and basil and edible flower = magical magicallity. Well, I guess I do now and so do you. We had more of the delicious chickpea fries, the creamy polenta was delicious as was the farro (far less saltier this time, I wonder if they’d gotten complaints?) and finished it off with the super-tasty almond milkshake and yummy mini-vegan carrot cake cupcakes.

The cupcakes are not on the regular menu so make sure to ask for them—beg if you have to! Actually, they only have ONE vegan dessert on the regular menu and it’s some whack shaved ice shit. I mean, it’s good but COME ON. One vegan dessert at a vegetarian restaurant* isn’t enough. I guess that’s my only complaint. That and the soup isn’t endless, like at the Olive Garden (those people are geniuses!).

In conclusion: Ubuntu. Delicious when sober. Delicious when drunk. Delicious for dinner. Delicious for lunch.  Please someone send that into the New Yorker poetry editor, kthx!

*sorry, “vegetables” restaurant! they don’t like the term “vegetarian,” I guess it turns off the snob foodies and the snob foodies LOVE this place. It annoys me that they don’t embrace “vegetarian” but hey, the New York Times named it one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country. I’m sorry but that’s fucking awesome for a vegetables restaurant.

UPDATE 10/5/10: Not so much enamored with Ubuntu anymore. We sad.

[interior photo via yelp; food photos by Joel, of Joel and Nibbler]

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