Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Thoreau Restaurant

I recently had dinner at a new B.Y.O.B. in Philly Thoreau (1033 Spring Garden Street, 215-232-9001) which bills itself as a "vegetarian grille." But it's really much more than its name suggests. Not only are the portions (both appetizers and entrees) very generous in size, but they are enriched with unique flavors borrowed, in part, from Latin American, Indian and French cuisines.

I started out with the sliders, which feature ratatouille in basil pumpkin seed pesto, creamy Spanish manchego cheese and red pepper aioli pressed between small buns that are topped with very crisp and very thin Belgian frites. The starter alone could substitute as an entree. The flavors are both sharp and sweet.

Other appetizers include a Buffalo blue blini with mascarpone cream and tangy carrot chile; green curry mango summer rolls with fresh mango and a curry glaze; as well as the macadamia black bean cakes and plantains serrano with tostones and avocado-red lentil roasted corn.

There are also several salads available, which tend to get overlooked given the range of more exotic dishes. Vegetarians, on the whole, end up ordering a lot of salads in restaurants when meat-free alternatives are missing. In this case, I was more interested in sampling the heavy hitters, which led me to the wild mushroom risotto as my main course.

Soaked in an ancho chile marsala broth, this hearty dish is perfect for when there's snow on the ground. It features creamy pumpkin-green apple Arborio rice risotto with basil mascarpone and wild and exotic oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Rich doesn't even begin to describe the flavor.

Meanwhile, my dinner guest opted for a special shepherd's pie (pictured above) that was like no shepherd's pie I have ever seen. It was served with creamy, whipped potatoes rising out of a green avocado and coconut milk stew of vegetables, potatoes and spices. While it didn't look anything like traditional shepherd's pie, it had an earthy taste, thanks to very fresh, thoughtful ingredients plucked from the chef's backyard garden - an interesting anecdote to most of the dishes on the menu. The ingredients are farm fresh and organic.

After such a memorable dinner, I'd be interested in trying the restaurant's more casual fare for lunch, including a Dagwood Cubano made with cucumber, roasted peppers, sharp provolone, Catalina mayo pressed between focaccia and served with baby greens in maple-mustard vinaigrette. Thoreau also serves blue corn asparagus tacos and more traditional falafel.

The only criticism I have of the restaurant is its lack of interior charm. While the decor is pure and sparse with white cloth tablecloths and napkins (a must since entrees start at $20 each), the lighting is brighter than necessary and the modern, angular art doesn't really relate to the richness and earthiness of the menu. The tables (which are very small) are also too close in proximity, making it difficult to navigate or to share a private conversation. A bright street lamp shines onto the window tables, which also detracts from any potential ambiance.

Thoreau is also presently a B.Y.O.B., but it's awaiting a liquor license that will allow wine and beer to be paired with seasonal dishes.

Overall, this creative eatery is a much-needed addition to a neighborhood struggling for an identity (Thoreau is directly across the street from the unfortunately named Spaghetti Warehouse). I'd suggest stopping into the nearby Prohibition Taproom (501 N. 13th Street, 215-238-1818) for a before or after dinner drink. The bartenders know their craft beers and classic cocktails.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Going Vegan

Paper magazine (I'd read Paper religiously--the good people at the tiny Waldenbooks shop at my local mall would special order it for me) has been posting blogs from Mickey Boardman, the pub's bespectacled editorial director, who has gone vegan the same way characters in Norman Rockwell illustrations have gone fishing. His forays into the world of veganism is pretty amusing, enlightening and, at times, challenging, especially as he embarks on a trip to Paris. Will he forgo rabbit? I intend to stay tuned whatever the decision.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Horizons in Philadelphia

Horizons is one of my favorite vegan restaurants in Philadelphia. Visit hungry because the gourmet menu is bulky, starting with the Cream of Kale and Green Chile Soup with toasted pepitas and pickled chayote and the Vietnamese Tacos with crispy lemongrass tempeh, Sriracha mayo, daikon, cilantro, carrot and chile (those are just the starters).

I always order my favorite comfort food dish of Grilled Seitan with Yukon mash, grilled spinach, horseradish cream and roasted red pepper tapenade or the Pacific Rim Grilled Tofu with spicy gochujang glaze, edamame potato puree, Japanese eggplant and pea leaf salad for the entree with a side of Wasabi Peas made with seaweed caramel and nori.

Horizons also serves vegan desserts like Chocolate Stuffed Beignets with marshmallow cocoa and Saffron Creme Brulee with pistachio biscotti, as well as adult beverages that includes an interesting beer selection.

Have a favorite vegetarian restaurant? Tell me about it.

Spicy BBQ Chik'n on a Stick

You don't have to light the backyard grill just to get a taste of summer when there's snow on the ground. It's easy to sample one of my favorite warm-weather dishes in a fry pan or counter-top grill. Spicy BBQ Chik'n on a Stick has become a favorite among family and friends (even the ones who swear they'd never sample vegan fare). You won't want to wait until the pool's open just to enjoy this simple lunch or party meal.

When I first started making these vegetarian kabobs I used a non-meat protein called Veat (which has since been discontinued). I was told by one meat eater at a party that it should be called "Cheat" because she didn't know the kabobs were meatless. She thought she was eating chicken.

Fortunately, there are plenty of meat substitutes on the market. While I favor Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Chik'n Strips you can also use meatless and soy-free Quorn Chik'n Tenders or any veggie protein without a breaded coating.


2 bags of Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Chik'n Strips

1 large red onion

1 green pepper

1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

1 orange pepper (the colorful peppers are to create color on the kabob)

1 large container of cherry tomatoes (or two small containers)

10-12 skewers for kabobs

Extra virgin olive oil

BBQ sauce (I favor Stubb's Spicy Bar-B-Que Sauce or you can make your own using a recipe of tomato paste, tomato sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, olive oil, garlic cloves, onion, dry mustard and cayenne pepper)


Chop the onion and peppers and place them into a very large mixing bowl. Add the Chik'n Strips and cherry tomatoes and mix with BBQ sauce. Add water to loosen thick sauce so it covers most of the ingredients. Cover bowl, place in refrigerator and let stand overnight (if you don't have time, try to allow the mix to marinade for at least a few hours. The skewers taste better that way). When you're ready to make your kabobs, add the veggie "meat" and vegetables to each skewer in a colorful way, mixing up flavors and textures. Make sure to leave about an inch or more at the top of the skewer to handle in the fry pan or on the grill. When the skewers are made, collect the excess sauce and use it to baste in the pan or on the grill. If you're cooking in the house, add a little olive oil to the pan on low-to-medium heat and place several of the kabobs in the pan (it's also best to spray the grill with oil so the kabobs don't stick). Turn the kabobs when they start to brown, basting them with the extra BBQ sauce. When they're fully cooked, serve the kabobs family-style (still on the stick) on a platter. For the ultimate picnic experience, serve with potato salad, pasta salad or your favorite sides.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chik'n Cordon Bleu

Try Quorn's Gruyere Chik'n Cutlets for dinner (only 200 calories per cutlet!). It's easy to make Chik'n Cordon Bleu by baking each cutlet with a Smart Deli ham-style vegetarian protein slice on top.

Beefless Beef Stew

I made this dish recently and it's given me a new reason to invite friends over for dinner. Even the most finicky beef eater wouldn't guess this is actually a very hearty vegan dish.

Sweet Potato Soup

One pot meals are my favorites in the winter, particularly ones that can simmer on the stovetop long enough for seconds. Very recently, I wanted to make potato soup for a sick friend, but wanted better nutritional value than what my usual Irish potato soup recipe yields (I also wanted to avoid mucus-making dairy). So I grabbed some sweet potatoes (they're high in fiber and vitamin A, and are a great source for antioxidants) and started peeling.

The original recipe that inspired my dish suggested spicy chorizo, which I changed to Italian vegetarian "sausage." The sweet and savory tastes in this soup are terrifically well-balanced.


2 large sweet potatoes peeled and diced

1 large baking potato peeled and diced

4 Italian veggie "sausage" links chopped in 1/4-inch slices

2 teaspoons of vegetable base Better Than Bouillon

2 carrots diced

2 garlic cloves minced

1 red onion chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or extra virgin olive oil

fresh rosemary

cayenne pepper


1 handful of fresh spinach chopped


Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook until brown, stirring often. Put sausage aside and add onions and garlic to pot and cook until translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add all potatoes and carrots (sprinkle with cayenne pepper and nutmeg to taste) and cook until they begin to soften, stirring often, about 12 minutes. Add vegetarian broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Using a hand-held mixer, mash some of the potatoes in the pot. Add browned sausage to the soup. Stir in spinach and simmer for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Welcome to Vegenation!

Another food blog? Not exactly. While Vegenation will feature plenty of food reviews and recipes, I'll also share stories, links and other anecdotes related to meatless eating. You may want to bookmark this link if you're interested in innovative content about eating healthier and more creatively, whether you're a hardcore vegan or an adventurous carnivore.

Things you should know: I am a fan of cheese (but many recipes are vegan or can be substituted with dairy-free ingredients). And I recreate lots of traditional, meat-heavy recipes into vegetarian-friendly dishes, which has become easier than ever thanks to tasty veggie proteins from Gardein, Morningstar Farms and Tofurky, three of my favorite brands.

What you won't find here: Politics on the dinner plate. I'm an animal advocate, but not a political one. I welcome meat eaters, vegans and vegetarians alike.

I also welcome comments, questions and suggestions.