I could be a vegetarian

Twice this week—TWICE!— I’ve thought to myself, “I could totally be a vegetarian.”

Not a vegan. No, not ever a vegan. I couldn’t give up ice cream and cheese. But vegetarian? I could definitely be a vegetarian.

Honestly, it’s a thought that creeps in all the time, luring me with its promises of health and skinniness, but then I smell bacon fresh out of the pan or  a take a juicy bite of a fat burger and I think no, nevermind, what was I thinking.

But then again, twice this week, I thought I could do it, based off delicious vegetarian meals (one vegan actually!) that didn’t make me feel like I was missing anything.

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American butternut squash bowl… cause not everything American is broken

Earlier in the week was a freakin’ great American butternut squash bowl from PureKtchn. Pretty much the kind of dish that begs to be Instagrammed, it was a big colorful bowl of soft butternut squash, roasted cauliflower, kale, chickpeas, lentils, walnuts and a surprise pinch of tangy, fruity sweetness from goji berries. People who force feed themselves salads in an attempt at being healthy, EAT THIS. It was good! It was healthy! There was no forcing of anything!

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Superiority Burger, sometimes vegan, always delicious

Then later in the week, a friend and I had dinner at Superiority Burger, a cramped little East Village spot whose menu tells people to ask because “everything is vegetarian, a lot is accidentally vegan.” Clockwise from the left hand corner of the picture, we shared the smashed spicy cucumber and brown rice  topped with some of the best damn croutons I’ve ever had, the Sloppy Dave, a delicious, saucey take on a sloppy Joe, the zesty and creamy tahini ranch romaine salad that made me forget how lame I think lettuce is and a rich, spicy burnt broccoli salad.

I might cut back on meat and dairy but realistically, I won’t likely ever become a vegetarian. (I’m a Libra, I’m all about balance.) But with meals like these, where I ended full and happy with not a single crumb of guilt or shame, (which isn’t the case when I polish off a pint of ice cream or a whole pizza) I can certainly keep daydreaming about it.

Going Green

Since it opened a couple of years ago, I had always been interested in Green Gables Cafe in Coral Gables, the part of Miami where I grew up and where my parents still live. But it wasn’t until last year during the Fourth of July weekend that I spent in Miami, that I realized I really wanted to eat there. My friend Cristi, whose family owns and operates the small restaurant, made a batch of brownies and brought them to a friend’s pool party and BBQ.

They were dark and chcolatey, moist and wonderfully crumbly and scrumptious.

“Oh my God, Cristi!” I mumbled, my cheeks full of soft, chewy brownie. “These are incredible!”

“Thanks, they’re vegan, black bean brownies.”

If my mouth wasn’t chock full of brownie, I’m sure my jaw would have dropped.

So a couple of weeks ago when I was in Miami, I put eating at Green Gables on my to do list, right under seeing my mom and hanging out with my best friend.

Unfortunately, this is a terrible picture of a fantastic burger. I was too distracted by its tastiness to focus on photography

 Flaneur and I went there on our last afternoon in Miami, and the only thing I regret was not having gone sooner. Cristi was there, since she now works in the kitchen, helping her mom and sister turn out more awesome vegan and vegetarian friendly eats like those black bean brownies I had last summer.

With the brownies clearly still on my mind, I ordered the organic black bean veggie burger, which came on a soft, doughy multi-grain bun. Topped with organic tomatoes and lettuce, a melted layer of gooey mozzarella, and a smooth roasted garlic aioli sauce, this burger was hands down, the most delicious non-meat burger I’ve ever eaten.  It didn’t taste like wannabe meat, and it didn’t taste like a squeaky tofu creation. Instead it was slightly nutty in flavor, with a moist softness to it and a delicious earthiness. It wasn’t slider-sized but given the opportunity, I could have eaten three of them and pretended they were minis.

Pulled chicken sandwich. In a word: awesome.

Flaneur also went with a sandwich, opting for the pulled organic chicken. On the menu it’s normally pulled turkey but they were out of it that day so it was subbed with chicken. Stuffed in a soft baguette were juicy, tender chunks of chicken and soft, buttery hunks of avocado, all drizzled with a zesty cilantro aioli  and paired with fresh romaine lettuce. The whole thing was fresh and clean tasting, with flavorful ingredients and a healthy, guilt free deliciousness.

I don’t doubt that if for some unfortunate reason I still lived at home in Coral Gables, I’d have a good amount of my weekday lunches at Green Gables Cafe. Living at home with my parents would be terrible but I would seek comfort in the warm deliciousness of organic black bean veggie burgers. And that would be wonderful.

Green Gables Cafe on Urbanspoon

No animals were hurt in the eating of this meal

Of the million-and-one places to eat in San Francisco the one I’ve frequented the most in the month and a half that I’ve been here is—wait for it… waaait for it—a vegan restaurant. Yup, that’s right. Me. Vegan. No cheese. No bacon. Absolutely no trace of pork belly. None of it.

I should probably clarify, though, that the main reason I’ve been there more than any other restaurant is because it’s just around the corner and a 15-second walk from where I live, and they take credit cards (which always wins major brownie points from me.)

Loving Hut is a national chain of vegan restaurants, and while they all have a decidedly asian slant, each one has a different menu to reflect the culture and ingredients of the city it’s in. The one I go to is in Chinatown so most of the  menu, with the exception of the somewhat awkwardly named “western” page (featuring the likes of spaghetti and vegan hot dogs), is Chinese, with other asian countries represented as well (shout out to Vietnamese pho).

This particular Loving Hut has a lunch special I always see advertised, but since I’m never around during lunch time, I never get it. (I’m usually there on weeknights when I don’t have anything to eat at home and am feeling lazy.) On Thursday, though, I had the day off so I decided to take advantage.

Eggplant and tofu, mushrooms and green beans, and white rice

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Surprise!!

Unassuming and delicious

I generally don’t like surprises. I don’t like surprise birthday parties or when people show up unannounced or any other time that life leaves me blindsided. But every now and then, I get surprised and love it.

Last night, Flaneur and I had to be at a friend’s place in the West Village at 7:30. It was 7:10 and we were right around the corner from her apartment but since we were going to a show and hadn’t eaten dinner, we wanted to grab something quick, lest we get stuck with growling stomachs till close to midnight.

“Let’s just go here,” I said, pointing to a corner sandwich shop whose name I hadn’t even read.

Inside, a large black chalkboard listed mostly salads and sandwiches, all vegetarian and a few vegan, along with a few coffeehouse drink and pastry standards.

Brie, pear and arugula

We quickly decided and gave the bandana-clad girl behind the counter our order: Brie, pear and arugula sandwich with raspberry mustard for Flaneur and roasted vegetable Panini with arugula and goat cheese for me.

The ingredients all sounded good enough but I wasn’t really expecting anything great. I mean, no preparation had gone into this on my part. I’d never seen this place (whose name I later found out from the menu was ‘sNice), no one had recommended it, I had never read a review of it, and until five minutes earlier I had no idea it existed at all.

But then, I was oh so pleasantly surprised. Pleasant actually, is too soft of a word. I was surprised in a great big awesome “WOW! This is friggin’ great” kind of way.

Our sandwiches arrived via a scruffy, t-shirt-and-glasses wearing waiter and right from the start I thought, “Oooh! These look good!”

Roasted veggies, goat cheese and arugula

Each one came with a leafy heap of salad—nothing crazy, just some good spinach and radicchio, carrot shavings and a vinaigrette dressing. The sandwiches were beautiful, served on thick baguette-style pressed loaves. The cross section of mine boasted bright colors of roasted red peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, shredded raw cabbage, arugula and creamy white goat cheese. Flaneur’s, though slightly less colorful, showed off deep green arugula, creamy beige Brie and crisp off-white pear slices.

After swapping halves so we could try both, we got to grubbing. What these vegetarian sandwiches offered in good looks, they then tripled in taste. One bite into each of our respective choices we both stopped and looked at each other , totally surprised by just how delicious these sandwiches were.

The goat cheese in mine offered a perfect tanginess to go with the soft, roasted vegetables. Combined with the warm crunchy bread, this sandwich had me hooked. The Brie and pear combo was just as delicious, and fun to eat too. The smooth creaminess of the Brie, the slight crispness of the pear, the subtle sour zing of the raspberry mustard and the crunchiness of the bread made each bite better than the last, and made the last bite one to make you wonder why oh why do good things always have to come to an end?

We wolfed them down in part because we were in a hurry but mostly because those unexpectedly amazing sandwiches were just too good to put down. Now if only all surprises were this enjoyable.