Mammacoffee (Prague, Czech Republic)

Mello vibes fill the fair-trade cups lingering on the cafe tables at  Mamacoffee on Vodičkova. I order a cup of standard brewed coffee—yes, I like my coffee boring—because it seemed the thing to do; but I was really here for the food.

I’ve always liked dumplings. But the Varenyky se Smazenou Cibulkou, Koprem a Kyanou Smetanou (80czk / $3.25usd) permanently propelled me towards a lifelong infatuation. I seek these dumplings wherever I go, but have yet to find ones to match the majesty of Mamacoffee’s. A wreath of Ukrainian-style dumplings—thin tender sheets of dough stuffed with mashed potatoes and onions—come topped with a delicate pinch of minced caramelized onion and a confetti of fresh dill encircling a dollop of vegan sour cream. Even now, it’s painful to think I only order (and shared!) one serving of these. There are very few item I have 100% confidence recommending to all people—this is one. You would have to be some kind of monster who hates pure joy not to enjoy this dish.

I’m not usually one for veggie burger, yet the V Domaci Housce s Pecenymi Bramborami (135czk / $ 5.49usd) rang my bells. The spinach and barley patty comes topped with confit red onions, buttery red leaf lettuce, and a swab of soy dressing drooling off the sesame hard roll. The spicy baked potatoes come standard with garlic aioli, we sub’ed it out for hummus.

My basic brewed coffee served on a sliver tray with a dainty glass of water.  We sat along the window line, basking in dappled winter light streaming through the greens, at rest with nose-in-book students and politely gabbing girlfriends. Mamacoffee was a sheer delight that I should have punctuated with a double order of dumpling.

MamaCoffee
Vodičkova 674/6
Nové Město, 110 00 Praha

www.mamacoffee.cz

Fairouz Cafe and Gallery (San Diego, CA)

Art filled walls surround diners in San Diego’s Fairouz Cafe & Gallery, by owner Ibrahim Al Nashashibi, and numerous vegan options fill the hot and cold trays of the all day Greek and Lebanese buffet (Lunch $12.99 / Dinner $15.99).  All clearly marked and generous, the buffet makes for an easy-to-dine-together meal for difficult groups—but for those not partial to food sitting out all day, there is table service as well.

And the table service is exquisite. Cafe level friendliness with handsomely plated portions of masterfully executed Mediterranean favorites. The Hummus (Small $5.99 / Large $7.99)—rich and creamy with nutty tahini, a splash of lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil—is a lovely as can be found in San Diego. The Falafel (Small $5.99 / Large $7.99), golden and pale with more chickpea then herb, comes with marinated red cabbage and a knob of salad.


Large chunks of baked eggplant, mixed with tomatoes, parsley, and garlic, all marinated in lemon juice and olive oil make up the Mufasakh (Small $6.99 / Large $8.99). Generous and easy to share but still, I’d probably skip this dish in the future.

A Fatoosh Salad ($6.99) is a welcomed addition to any meal. A crisp pile of chopped romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, mint, and parsley with crisps of toasted pita and tossed with lemon juice and olive oil.


The Baba Ghanouj (Small $5.99 / Large $7.99) is top of the line. A luscious puree of smokey eggplant,  tahineh, lemon juice and garlic that is a must order.

Perhaps the best dish is the Dolmathes ($7.99). Brined grapeleaves rolled up with rice, chopped tomatoes, onions and parsley that taste like kisses of Mediterranean sea air in a San Diego strip mall. In fact, it may be worth getting the buffet just to gorge on this fat thumbs of joy.

Fairouz Cafe & Gallery
3166 Midway Dr
Ste 102
San Diego, CA 92110

fairouzcafeandgallery.com

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

One of the biggest fights of my life occurred after someone asked “What is your favorite cuisine?”

After a pondering pause—with pizzas, banh mis, and pad see-ew fly through the flavor pockets of my mind—I said:

“Ethiopian”

To which they rebutted, “Ethiopian is not a cuisine.”

Let the gospel rain upon that poor naysayer. Ethiopia, and Ethiopian cuisine is an insanely rich and diverse historical treasure that speaks to my eternal taste buds. If you want to know to know more about the history of Ethiopian food, I recommend checking out Harry Kolman’s book Mesob Across America.

Ethiopian food is a tactile adventure of sour fermented injera, the rich nose-filling spice of berbere, a protein infusion of peas and lentils, sweet turmeric hued potatoes and cabbage, and greens spanning from deeply seasoned collards to bright lemon licked lettuces. The harmonious pallet offer enough diversity to sustain daily indulgence without encouraging food exhaustion… at least for me.

While my favorite spot lives in Los Angeles, San Diego’s Awash Market holds steady at number two.

Awash Market is easy to pass by, as I did, and I did many many times. With booze, coffee, flour, toiletries in the front it’s easy to overlook the outstanding food in the back. Once I overcame my intimidation of the convenience store en suite dining room, I found a kitchen that excels at all the Ethiopian vegan classics. Regarding the vegan options, while some traditional recipes call for clarified butter, the staff here has repeatedly confirmed that they proudly use oil as the fat in all their veggie dishes.

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

Injera  – Made in house, the tender rolls of sour fermented wheat and teff are some of the freshest I’ve ever encountered. They are available for sale in the front market, and fly off the shelf for good reason. A gluten free, 100% teff, version is available if the kitchen is given a few hours notice.

Miser Wot – Split lentils and spicy red pepper brought together in a coarse and oily stew. The grease soaks through the injera base creating a sodden treat once the bulk is gone.

Kik Alicha – A mild split pea stew with onion, garlic and turmeric that tempers the palate between spicier bites.

Shiro Wot – A gorgeous slurry of ground chickpea flour, berbere, and tomato. Soft and silky on the tongue and by far my favorite dish at Awash. This treat is not usually offered on veggie combinations platters at other restaurants, so I relish receiving it as a baseline selection at Awash.

Ye’abasha Gomen – Spiced collards greens that often taste rather muddy to me at every Ethiopian restaurant. This one is no better or worst that the average gomen offering out there.

Tikel Gomen – Sweetly braised cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions with cumin, turmeric, and ginger. This is my second favorite dish at Awash.

Green Salad – Sometimes this isn’t on the platter—which is a shame. The light lemon dressing on the romaine, tomatoes and onions is notably more harmonious then the weird Italian dressing so many other Ethiopian restaurants tend to use.

Berbere – Sometimes the kitchen adds a mound of powdered and a dollop of berbere paste to accent the heat of the dish. If you like your food spicy, be sure to request these.

Awash Market (San Diego, CA)

Awash Market
2884 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92104

Vege • ta • ble (Los Angeles, CA)

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Helming the Studio City kitchen, Jerry Yu delivers vegetarian—mostly vegan—dishes devoid of mock meats and omnivorous similes. Yu relies of the breath of organic fruits and vegetable adorn with nuts whipped into luscious sauces. On paper the preparations sound simple, but they comes together like magic on a plate.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Roasted Red and Golden Beets with Reed avocado, baby greens, pickled jicama, and shaved radish in a lemon garlic dressing. The earthy beets take center-stage, supported by the buttery avocado and peppery greens. The dish makes only the lightest alteration to already perfect vegetable embracing the spirit of the restaurant’s name.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

The Cheesy Fingerling Potato with nacho cashew cheese sauce, chives, and coconut sour cream. Buttery potatoes slathered in nutty cheese pull at the parabolic heartstrings connected to the notion of comfort food.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Grilled Corn on the Cob with guacamole, brown butter, Sriracha aioli, coconut sour cream and a light dusting of chives. This dish will enviably leave one with messy hands, but isn’t wiping aioli off your face and licking the brown butter dripping down your arms part of the joy of the summer corn harvest?

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Duo of Seared Maitake and Beech Mushrooms over a red pepper creme with wilted spinach and crispy sage. Now, I strongly dislike mushrooms. I despise their very existence and squirms at the sight of every single variety, in every preparation, by everyone*. So as lovely as these are (and yes I did take a bite) this is not the dish for me. The spinach, on the other hand, was perfect and I happy gobbled that down while everyone else ate these seemingly delicious ‘shrooms.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

Teetering on the edge of being charred oblivion, the cast iron Roasted Brussel Sprouts at Vegetable continue to delight me. Their feathered fringe nearly black, these cruciferous vegetables retain a tender green core. Soaked in the juices of yellow peach and red onion, the sprouts burst in your mouth. The char is spiked with basaltic, crispy gluten free bread crumbs, and bright lime zest creating dynamic forkfuls with every pass of this dish.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

I was caution of the “healthy” brown of this artfully stacked Eggplant Lasagna. But the layers of thin eggplant, baby spinach and cashew ricotta made a plausible likeness to its pastaful namesake. Drizzled with a vegan alfredo, the stack balances on a mound of garlic sweet potato purée with pickled sweet onion and heirloom tomatoes strewn upon the balsamic painted platter.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)

This unassuming bowl of Summer Fusilli Pesto was my surprise favorite. Ringlets of toothsome gluten-free pasta curl with cream and ultra fresh basil pesto and cashew ricotta. Tossed with sunshine sweet corn, tender sun dried tomatoes, and red peppers and topped with buttery Reed avocados and fig bacon this rich bowl of summer exemplify the “Guilt Free Comfort Food” ethos of Jerry Yu’s kitchen.

Vegetable (Los Angeles, CA)
Key Lime and Sweet Potato Pie mason jars with Peanut Butter and Fig and Rosemary Ice Cream. I LOVED the Rosemary accent!

Vege•ta•ble
3711 Cahuenga Blvd W
Studio City, CA 91604
vegetablela.com

Instagram: @vegetable.la
Facebook: Vegetable

All food hosted.

*There is one exception to this personal rule: @panchopalmera. He spikes his mushroom with some sort of magic and I’m completely under his spell.

Make Out (Culver City, CA)

In the shadow of the Culver Hotel, the wellspring of Matthew Kenney’s Make Out quietly places vegan—mostly raw—foods in a glass front case for viewing.  The shelves offer a colorful selection of huge rolls of green, tiny rolls of carrots, flatbreads, and bowls of kelp noodles. Further back, stainless steel holds two daily soups. Samples of both were offered to us and the velvety Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup—drizzled with cashew creme and crunchy pepitas—leaped to the top of our order.

In heyday of NYC’s Pure Food and Wine, Kenney dazzled me with his dehydrated jicama pine nut sushi rice rolls. So I couldn’t pass up his new rendition, the Spicy Carrot Rolls,  with jalapeno cream cheese and shredded carrots. Stuffed with red bell pepper, cucumber, avocado, and young pea shoots these cool and crunchy bites almost lived up to expectation.

Wrapsespecially collard green ones—are the crutch dish of vegan cafes. So I was least excited by the Cobb Collard Green Wrap. But my trepidation was unfounded, this wrap is exceptional. A massive collard husk filled with crisp romaine, sweet and smoky coconut bacon, meaty portobello, creamy avocado, and ranch. I would definitely order this sucker again.

Make Out: Everyday Plant Food
9426 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
makeouteveryday.com

Instagram: @makeouteveryday

Chennai Tiffins (San Diego, CA)

I always thought North Indian food was my jam, but I’ve quickly fallen head over idli for South Indian cuisine! Chennai Tiffins is now my favorite Indian restaurant in San Diego. The food is simple, made with mild hands but with a soft complexity that comes through if allowed. Plus they are always super accommodating when I ask for my food to be prepared without ghee.

I love to start with an order of Idlis (steamed lentil and rice cakes) with sambar (unlimited and free!) and an array of chutneys. I’d come here for the chutneys alone! Rich bowls of tomato, peanut, mint, coconut, and ginger that span the range from sweet and mild (coconut) to punchy and hot (ginger)… although none are over the top spicy.The tomato is my favorite, but there is something here to please all palates.  

The Spring Dosa—a fermented lentil and rice crepe stuffed with tomatoes, onions, cabbage, carrots, cilantro and chilies—is my top pick. The light balance of the crisp veggies against the soft tang of the crepe suites me greatly. If you order this be sure to emphasize no ghee…this wasn’t one of the dosa the waitress originally offered me as vegan-friendly but I pressed her on it because it’s my favorite combination. When she brought it to the table she proudly proclaimed “With no ghee!” and gave me a reassuring smile.

The Poori with Bajji, one of the vegan as-is dishes floats to the table on air-filled pillows of deep fried bread with a cup of potato curry. It’s great option for those who think Indian food is too spicy.

Anahre Kara Dosa is a simple lentil and rice flour crepe slathered with red chili paste. The slow burn of the chili lets the fermentation of the dosa shine.

When I’m extra hungry I also order a plate of Samosas. The two peaks arrives sprinkled with cilantro, chopped red onion, and kala namak (black salt) and are finished off with a squeeze of lime. I never thought to add lime to a samosa, but the fresh acidity deeps the earthy spices within.

Special Rava Dosa with potato masala is also favorite of mine. 

Or there is the simple the Onion Rava. This crispy sheet of editable lace made of rice flour and cream of wheat, flecked with sharp and sweet red onion, is addicting. 

Chennai Tiffins
9474 Black Mountain Rd.
San Diego, CA 92126

chennaitiffins.com

Maccheroni Republic (Los Angeles, CA)

Hefty plates of fresh  housemade pasta fill the dining room of downtown Los Angeles’ Maccheroni Republic. Chef Antonio Tommasi and Jean-Louis de Mori, the founding team behind Italian mainstays Locanda Veneta and Ca’Brea,  dialed back the swank to create a breezy trattoria tucked away from bustling Broadway. For a traditional setting, the menu—with prices in touch with reality—is surprisingly vegan friendly. A handful of standard (or easily modified) vegan items litter the  menu, plus at least one hand written special can be found on the chalkboard. With pride, the menu boldly state that all their pastas (except squid ink) are vegan.

 

After cracking into a bottle of bottle of red, we started off with the Insalata Della Casa ($7.95). A crisp simple salad of carrots, radishes and cucumber with a light vinaigrette served on the side. I totally appreciate the dressing on the side as restaurant salads are usually overdress for me.

I’ve eaten a billion pounds of pasta pomodoro and primavera. So the Spaghetti ai Quattro Sapori ($13.95) caught my attention immediately. Rarely do I see omni restaurants offering a vegan protein in a pasta dish (yes Pasta e Fagioli is common, most restaurants muck it up with chicken broth or prosciutto). Tender strands of vegan spaghetti are slathered with garlic, roasted tomatoes, spinach and robust lentils. It’s total vegan comfort food and should be on every Italian restaurant’s menu.

The dessert menu only offers one vegan option, the Limoncello Sorbet. This delicate  and creamy soft serve compliments the generous pasta serving—with generous portions of its own. This is the small.

Steady and strong since early 2013, Maccheroni Republic offers a satiating vegan meal in a heavily omni setting. It’s the perfect downtown LA  gathering spot for blended groups of vegans and non-s to enjoy a meal together.

Maccheroni Republic
332 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
213-346-9725
maccheronirepublic.com

Instagram: @maccheronirepublic
Facebook: Maccheroni Republic

Flavors of East Africa (San Diego, CA)

Immigrating from Kenya, June Owino came to San Diego a hopeful accountant who liked to cook. Happenstance brought Owino in front of the stove then out into the streets of the Farmer’s Market as Flavor’s of East Africa. The city embrace his stewed veggies and wafting spices—his booth remains one of the most popular of the San Diego Farmer’s Market scene—and so in 2011 a permanent store front opened in University Heights.

If you’re making your first visit to Flavor’s of East Africa, a sambusa is a must—these are the staple of Owino’s repertoire. The triangle folded pastries, stuffed lentils, potatoes or spinach, make a great handheld treat at the farmer’s market—but when I hit the restaurant I like to order food I can dig into with a knife and fork.

The thick cut Marsala Fries stand  at the top of my appetizer recommendations. Slathered in tangy tomato, the fries arrive to the table still crispy as the robust sauce soaks into the skin.

The Sukuma Wiki is my favorite dish on the entire Flavors of East Africa menu. Lightly sautéed cabbage and collard greens are spiked with fresh herbs and garlic. These crisp greens pair perfectly with the Dengu—lentils stewed garlic, onions, curry and coconut creme. The scoop of carrot flecked wali (a fragrant rice) far exceed the dry flatbread—the only disappointing item I’ve found from this kitchen. Despite the brown pockmarking, these taste like raw tortillas.

The other large vegan offering is the Biringanya. Chopped eggplant stewed in a creamy tomato sauce with “African spices.” It was a touch mild for me on it’s own but makes an excellent counter part to the Sukuma Wiki for those willing to share (me, always).

On my last visit, the waitress had a bit trouble with the concept of vegan (“I couldn’t live without peanut butter” she stated after we said no milk eggs or butter…). But I eventually got assurance that ALL the vegetarian menu items are vegan, so eat away!

Flavors of East Africa
2322 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92104
619-955-8778

flavorsofeastafrica.com
Instagram: @flavorsofeastafrica

Breaking the VeganEgg: Follow Your Heart Launches a Plant-Based Egg Replacer

Update: Word in the street is that Follow Your Heart Market & Cafe will start carrying the VeganEgg starting Saturday November 7th

Update: Your can pre-order the VeganEgg through Food Fight Grocery. Anticipated release is November 11th

It’s a big deal!

The vegan world is buzzing with word that progressive food research and development groups are perfecting the egg-less scramble, a formally unattainable vegan dish. Hampton Creek has been the public face of the quest, then earlier this year The Vegg released The Vegg Scramble and now Follow Your Heart  is the first second to deliver a product: VeganEgg™ !

Follow Your Heart founders Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin based their egg on algal flour and algal protein. “When we discovered that microalgae are a highly-sustainable source of nutritionally rich ingredients, we immediately knew they could help us make better plant-based foods,” said Mr. Goldberg. They go on to explain that whole algal flour and protein naturally contain high levels of healthy lipids, carbohydrates and micronutrients. These nutrient-dense microalgae also contain all essential amino acids and are a great source of dietary fiber. Or in in more familiar terms:

I got my hands on four “eggs” to run a cooking and taste test on. I don’t have any video of my scrambling, but it looked exactly like this:

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Everyone been asking “What is it?” Well, it’s a powder! A dusty pale yellow pile of the following: Whole Algal Flour, Whole Algal Protein, Modified Cellulose, Cellulose, Gellan Gum, Calcium Lactate (Plant Source), Carrageenan, Nutritional Yeast, Black Salt.

The power itself is mild (yes I ate some raw) with faint nutty undertones from the nutritional yeast and sulfuric sharpness from the black salt. It is also:

  • Gluten-Free
  • Soy-Free
  • Dairy-Free
  • Non-GMO

The VeganEgg™ officially launches in late October/early November and will initially be available online through Amazon.com for $6.99 – $7.99 per 4 oz. package—each of which is equivalent to a dozen eggs. This product will change the world of vegan breakfast, but at this price point I’d recommend sticking with older egg replacers (such as Ener-G) for baked goods and batters.

First Impression: It really looks like a pile of scrambled eggs! The VeganEgg™ is spot on in texture. It creates a soft, milky, curd and has the delicate firmness of perfectly prepared scrambled eggs. Because it cooks slower then an egg it’s easier to get it juuuuust right—no overcooking to dry rubbery bits. The flavor is neutral, almost non-existent, without apparent sulfuric tones despite including black salt in the mix.

Dish #1:

After trying a VeganEgg™ scramble unadorned, I wrapped up the rest in a Breakfast Burrito with plain Chao, sauteed tomatoes, peppers and onions and tempeh bacon. The texture of the VeganEgg™ performed splendidly but the flavor got lost in the mix. I found a touch of salt (black or sea) after cooking goes a long way in bringing out their presence.

Dish #2:

Next up: Fried Rice! I sauteed brown rice and barley with peas, corn, carrots, garlic, baked tofu, soy sauce and scrambled egg! This time I added some additional black salt directly to the raw egg to bring out the flavors. I also tried cooking it a few minutes longer and found the curd stayed tender throughout. This non-breakfast dish suggestion came from the brilliant minds of Thug Kitchen… seriously, they are brilliant!

Dish #3:

On dish number three, Herbed Scramble, I got a little lazy.The instructions make clear that the power is to be mixed with Ice Cold Water. Instead, I used Cold Water. At first, the egg broke into a bubbly watery mess, then set quickly into a sort of pancake which I attempted to scramble. While cooking, I mixed in fresh sage, Good Taste Farm’s garlic chives and fennel seeds—a flavor combination based on one of the egg dishes I miss most, the Simple Tuscan Omelette at Lil’Frankie’s in NYC. You can see the scrambled quality on this batch was not as lovely.Still, the delicate combination of herbs are perfect with the VeganEgg™  which still tasted good despite my water temperature mistake.

Dish #4:

In the final round, Vegetable Tartines, I thoroughly iced my water and added herbs directly into the raw egg. The VeganEgg™ set beautifully, with a loose delicate curd flecked with garlic chives. Plated atop Prager Brothers Multi Grain Bread, Heidi Ho Black Lava Cashew Cheese, garlic sauteed kale or Good Taste Farm tomatoes… I felt like I was eating eggs again.

Bravo Follow Your Heart!

Quick Tips:

  • Use Ice Cold Water, it really is important to the food science going on in these things.
  • Stick to gentle flavors (like herbs) to compliment the delicate VeganEgg™
  • A little black salt will help up the eggy flavors… if you are into those flavors.
  • There are more cost effective options where the egg is not the star, but when you need a egg-less scramble that will stand on it’s own, the VeganEgg™ is the new go to!