Monday, September 24, 2007

A fancy pizza party

Pizza is a great equalizer in a veggie/carnivore crowd. Even meat eaters like cheese pizza, so there's almost always a veggie option when there's pizza ordering going on in a group (I'm thinking mostly of work right now, when we get 15 pizzas delivered for a meeting). And then most people like onions, peppers or mushrooms, so those are pretty standard pizza toppings and some good dependable toppings for vegetarians.

Ah, but there's a whole world of fancy-pants vegetarian pizza out there beyond the cheese, none more satisfying than at Emma's in Cambridge. I really devoured the #3 sweet potato pizza, with caramelized onions, goat cheese and spinach, and lots of delectable rosemary leaves too. My friends went carnivore for our other pizza, so I didn't have to share too much of my tasty veggie-friendly pie.

I do like my classic cheese pizza, though, so I could have used a bit more grease and saltiness than Emma's provides. It feels more like going out for dinner than going out for pizza, so I'd stick with standard pizza if you're having a craving.

Restaurant review: Delfino

I am a little afraid to gush about Delfino, because it is so delicious and close to my house, and I want to keep it a delicious secret. But really, everyone should eat at this fantastic Italian restaurant in Roslindale Square. The bread alone, served when you sit down and dipped in their olive oil, is enough to make me weak in the knees.

The vegetable antipasto appetizer is very share-able for a group, but plan ahead to save some bread to dip in the cheesy olive-y oil that's left on the plate. The best appetizer, I think, is the broccoli rabe sauteed with garlic and olive oil. It's just a plateful of perfectly cooked greens in perfect oil. For this, too, ration your bread, because the oil left at the end is superb. To avoid any too-much-of-a-good-thing syndrome, I like to share this app too.

There are probably four or five vegetarian pasta entrees on Delfino's menu at any time, since they change their menu slightly every few months. My favorite standby is pasta puttanesca with no anchovies. That's followed closely by pasta rounds, which are like manicotti tipped on their side in a puddle of tomato sauce. After that, when I'm trying to mix it up a little, I go for the ricotta gnocchi in whatever vegetarian incarnation is on the menu.

OK, so I have obviously eaten at Delfino many, many times...but after lots of happy meals, I can honestly say they've earned their five stars with consistently flavorful and satisfying (pants-expanding) food. The only negative last time was a probably new waitress who wasn't as helpful as other waitstaff usually are in making slight changes to dishes -- anchovy-free puttanesca or leaving tomatoes out of a dish.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Orinoco flow

Not really a full-on review, just a recommendation for a place to try -- Orinoco: A Latin Kitchen. This cute-as-a-button corner spot in the South End (on Shawmut) comes complete with cute-as-a-button waitstaff. I arrived on Friday night in a group of four and all the inside tables had just been filled, but we were allowed to sit and order food at the bar counter. (There was also outdoor seating, but one of our party was without jacket.) Most of the options, which sounded capital-D Delicious, were animal-flesh-based, but there are several vegetarian arepas ("traditional Venezuelan grilled corn pocket sandwiches"), and the verde empanada, which I ordered, was simply scrumptious -- filled with wild mushrooms and other delights, and served with a fabulous salad. I supplemented with a side of rice and smoky, smoky black beans and it was a perfect light dinner. This would be a good spot to try with your non-veg friends. (Warning: You WILL get Enya stuck in your head.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Restaurant review: Bar Lola

Veggie friendliness: Three stars

So this place is sort of a faint imitation of Newbury Street restaurant Tapeo, both in food and decor. Bar Lola is a few blocks over on Commonwealth, and it offers a smaller version of Tapeo's menu. The two restaurants are really very similar, though Bar Lola has fewer veggie options than Tapeo. It still has the basics, though--cheesey vegetable puffs, the classic Spanish tortilla (omelette), cold artichoke hearts and roasted peppers, and warm potatoes with garlic and olive oil. Bar Lola also had a dish of roasted vegetables and mini veggie-stuffed cannelloni in a tomato-cheese sauce.

The tapas satisfied me, for the most part, and there were enough vegetarian options to provide a good variety for dinner. A few dishes, though -- the roasted vegetable and tortilla -- were so salty that my mouth felt almost turned inside out. I love salty food, too, so I think the salt level must really have been overboard.

A group of us shared the chocolate torte dessert, which was so rich. The dark chocolate part was almost as solid as a bar of chocolate, and the white chocolate top was light and creamy. Just a few bites was enough. Bar Lola's sangria was fine, though unmemorable and without any fruit in it -- according to the waiter, the restaurant was completely out of fruit.

Restaurant review: M.J. O'Connor's

Veggie friendliness: One star

This pub near Park Plaza is great for group gatherings, drinks outings and watching the game. Not so much for the vegetarian crowd, however. This is a strictly salad-and-french-fries establishment, and the salad I had wasn't even that tasty. The lemon-basil vinaigrette mostly just tasted like oil and some of the lettuce was suspicously on the verge of not-so-freshness.

The french fries with curry sauce were yummy, though, and there was also a cheddar cheese sauce option with the fries. I think this is a good place to satisfy a french fry craving and have a beer, and meet up with friends, since the restaurant is enormous and well situated. Otherwise, though, eat dinner elsewhere. Also, the service was barely passable.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Summer harvest in the city

Roslindale Square hosts a modest farmer's market every Saturday during the summer and into early fall. I usually walk over there, or at least pass through, when I'm home on a Saturday. The highlight of the farmer's market (aside from the live jazz band that plays there from time to time, and Boschetto's pizza) are the shaded crates of fruits and vegetables from a suburban farm stand. MacArthur Farm pulls up their truck every week and brings us city folk all kinds of fresh produce, lots of the veggies with dirt still on them, which I love. Today the ripe tomatoes filled several big crates -- they were huge, and uniformly red, with some cracked and overflowing with sticky juice and seeds. The cucumbers were the biggest I've seen there all summer.

Brookwood Community Farm, a new (that I've noticed, anyway) farmer's market participant had a table set up today. They sold colorful heirloom tomatoes and exquisite, shiny little peppers of many varieties -- this list of vegetables covers their offerings. The Black Cherry tomatoes looked like red grapes on steroids, and the Sun Golds were teeny. I added to my veggie loot with a few of Brookwood's tomatoes. The guy working the table explained Brookwood's scheme -- the recently started farm near the Blue Hills sells shares to stakeholders, who then get a box of vegetables each week during growing season.

Here's what I did with the tomatoes for dinner:

Just olive oil, red wine vinegar, basil from our Boston Organics box, parsley, salt and pepper, and slivers (sort of thick slivers) of Parmesan on top.

This fleeting harvest always feels to me like a harbinger of the dreary, flavorful-tomato-free New England winter to come. I know, we still have all of wonderful fall with pumpkins and apples, and I bet even another few weeks of these perfectly juicy tomatoes--but this tomato bounty is so precious when I think of waiting a whole year before tasting such late-summer deliciousness again.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Tappin' the Tapas

So Tapas Corner in Beverly, MA (trying to be friendly to the North Shore veggie people), is by far the best veggie-friendly, modestly priced place I've been to so far. It's not exactly a fine dining experience (we usually take our Tapas to go) but there are some tables outside so eaters can people-watch in downtown Beverly. Basically, tapas is a 'smaller portion' or 'sampling' -- which is the way the Spaniards (and most Europeans) eat. Of course, you can order small portions at Tapas, but personally, I get the larger size. The food comes in bowls, called 'Tapas bowls' which you can fill with essentially anything you want -- hummus, baba gahnnouj, taboulie, tofu, stir-fried eggplant, fried plantains, a variety of cheeses, crazy vegetables that only vegetarians have heard about, etc. It's either served over fresh greens or brown or white rice and is cooked in one of a million different sauces they make. It's all super healthy, but for the more health-conscious (or the boring eater) you can get everything steamed in spring water. One of my favorite things about Tapas is their daily Specials board, which features the most crazy, delicious concoctions ever. Average large tapa bowls are between $7-9, and are extremely filling. Oh, and the tomato lime soup and vegetarian chilie are out of this world. ~~Que coman bien!

In the zon

Another good veggie-friendly restaurant in Jamaica Plain: Zon's. It has a cozy-hip-romantic atmosphere and is relatively inexpensive (relative to Ten Tables, I guess; entrees under $20). I dined here last night and must admit I shared a non-veg special with my main squeeze -- salmon with grilled asparagus, horseradish cream sauce and tomato-basil risotto. (The risotto would have made a great dish on its own. YUM.) But Zon's always offers a couple of delectable vegetarian options -- last night they had an eggplant parmesan dish with spinach that sounded great. I've also had a kind of veggie sampling plate there with little grain cakes and sauces and things. The comfort food contingent is high -- try the homemade potato chips with onion dip app or the ice cream sandwiches for dessert (both cookies and ice cream homemade).

Only drawback to this place is they don't have a liquor license, but if you aren't in the mood for beer or wine they offer a selection of wacky liqueur-based bevs like the "Venetian spritzer" -- Campari and prosecco. Bitterlicious.

Recipe: Linguine with Carrot Ribbons and Lemon-Ginger Butter

Mmm, mmm, this stuff is good--a really simple and unique pasta dish. The first time we made it, Brian and I dubbed it an Instant Classic. We made it again the other night and it was even better, since the first time we forgot to reserve some cooking liquid, which left it a little dry. The ginger is one of those ingredients we never have in the house, so I got a big hunk of it, chopped it all up and put it in a bag in the freezer to have on hand.

4 long carrots (about 9 oz.), peeled into long ribbons
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 tbsp. packed, finely grated lemon peel
1 tbsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
2 yellow or orange bell peppers, cut lengthwise into skinny strips
8 ounces linguini (fresh is best)
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Melt butter over medium heat. Add lemon peel and ginger; stir one minute. Add carrots and bell peppers. Saute until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling salted water till just tender. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of cooking liquid.
Add pasta, 1/4 cup reserved cooking liquid, cheese and lemon juice to skillet. Toss until sauce coats pasta, adding more cooking liquid if dry. Season with salt and pepper.

This is from Bon Appetit, which isn't a notably veggie-friendly magazine, but once in a while has a good find. That's where I stole the above picture from too.

Restaurant Review: Lolita

Veggie friendliness: Four (out of five) stars

Lolita is a fabulous Mexican bring-your-own-tequila restaurant in Philadelphia. It's funky Mexican, with sides like smoked hominy and green apple-grapefruit salsa, and plantain and thick corn chips alongside the jicama guacamole. It gets four stars for veggie friendliness primarily because there's an all-important asterisk at the end of many of the entrees, which means that pan-seared tofu can be substituted for the meat. This is key, because otherwise there aren't any meat- or fish-free options. The four stars are also for general deliciousness.

I got the tofu substituted for a duck dish, with jicama slaw and fried plantains on the side. The flavors were so interesting -- a little spicy, a little Caribbean -- and the tofu was nice and crispy on the outside and seasoned well. The fresh margarita mixes are phenomenal. The first time I went to Lolita a few years ago, we had a blood orange mix that I have actually craved many times since then. During the most recent visit, in August, the nightly mix was watermelon, which was also delicious with the brought-our-own tequila.

Brian and his sister got meaty things, so I didn't try anything other than the wicked yummy guacamole and my tofu entree. Brave Brian tried an appetizer with huitlacoche, a scary-looking corn fungus that I'd recently read about in Edible Boston--check out the summer cover for the picture. I know that fungus is technically vegetarian, but seriously--it has a life of its own (yes, I'm talking to you, Quorn).

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Restaurant review: Ten Tables

Veggie friendliness: Four (out of five) stars

My disclaimer about Ten Tables is that I've only been there on one of their fixed-menu nights, which they have once a week. I didn't see a regular menu when I was there. But everything I had was excellent, and I got an extremely veggie-friendly vibe from the whole experience. I've also heard that they have a vegetarian fixed-price menu available every night in addition to the regular menu, which is very cool.

I'm usually wary of fixed menus, since my biggest restaurant fear is being brought unspecified plates of things. There's too much mushroom risk involved. But at Ten Tables, the waiter actually asked me what ingredients I didn't like, and if there was something special I was in the mood for. That is serious veggie friendliness, and personalized dishes just taste that much better. I got four courses in all: a salad with jicama and other crunchy parts; a pretty carrot risotto; a crispy and cheesy potato galette; and a caramel-y fruity dessert. It was satisfying, and it was actually fun to get four different surprise courses without fear of mushrooms.

This place feels fancy, like we could have been celebrating an anniversary, but the price was decent--I think it was a $35 set price for the food and wine too.

So, four stars to Ten Tables, and a place I'll definitely go back to.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Veggie Friendly puts down virtual roots

Last night I was eating dinner in Bermuda, at a restaurant called the Swizzle Inn (the one on the South Shore), and for dinner I had a salad and french fries.

I think my fellow vegetarians may understand that a salad-and-french-fry dinner means only one thing: There were no other veggie-friendly options. To be fair to the Swizzle, there was another option -- a veggie quesadilla. But, the description of this quesadilla mentioned that it had mozzarella cheese, and that didn't sound quite right to me. I like my quesadillas with more, you know, Mexican-sounding cheese.

So it was a Greek salad, decent, with good dressing, and a basket of very hot but not salty enough french fries. Not a bad dinner, really. I think the reason the salad-and-french-fry dinner was so unsatisfying was because the first thing I had seen on the menu was a tasty-looking veggie burger. The ingredients mentioned had included lentils, mild curry, and caramelized onions on top. that sounds like a veggie burger that's worth its place in the burger world. However, the veggie burger is only available at the Swizzle before 6 p.m., inexplicably. And, it was close to 8 p.m., and we came back home to Boston today, so it looks like it'll have to wait till the next trip. The tantalizing, unavailable veggie burger certainly made my salad and french fries just a few degrees less appetizing than they were anyway.

And while I was eating, I was thinking how much I would have loved some kind of warning that it would be one of those nights, where my restaurant dinner options would be a salad and french fries. I'd especially like to know how veggie-friendly a restaurant is here in Boston, where I eat out much more often than I do in Bermuda. So, here goes: my blog about vegetarian eating in the Boston area (and other places I go sometimes).

OK, so this post can serve as my first review: I give the Swizzle Inn three stars. I thought I'd go with two stars, but in retrospect, I think it deserves three stars instead of two, mostly because of the mere existence of the lentil/curry/caramelized onions burger. Also, the hummus added at least half a star, as did the waiter's shared bafflement about the unavailability of the burger after 6 p.m.

However, on another, non-veggie-related note, the service was really, really slow. I'll probably chalk that up to the whole island time thing.