I Love Fern Restaurant in North Carolina

I just got back from a delightful week at home in North Carolina.  One might think it would be a challenge to eat vegan in a state where pulled pork and cheese grits are the local specialties but I never have trouble finding awesome meat-free food.  Brixx Pizza, my constant hangout spot in high school, and Mellow Mushroom have had vegan cheese on the menu for the past few years and this past trip I came across an awesome quinoa burger at the otherwise non-vegan Big View Diner.  There have been a couple vegetarian restaurants in town but Fern, which opened this past year, is the new star of the show.  I was only able to squeeze in one visit there this trip but I will be back the second I land in Charlotte next December.  Disclaimer: sorry in advance for the bad photos–I was using my mom’s crappy camera.

Fern’s menu clearly indicates what is vegan and what can be made so.  The chefs are truly commited to serving local produce–we couldn’t order the Squash Blossom Hush Puppies because the restaurant couldn’t find a local vendor to supply the squash blossoms in the winter.  So my mom and I split the amazing Indian Tacos for an appetizer.  We had the kitchen swap the cheddar out for vegan cheese.

Indian Tacos: Traditional Fry Bread Topped with Pinto Bean & Squash Chili Fresh Tomatoes, Onions, Crisp Lettuce & Local Sharp Cheddar.  $10

The “shell” was awesomely puffy and light–almost donut-like.  Despite being listed under “Small Plates” on the menu, this portion was closer to an entree size.

My mom, being on a perpetual hunt for the world’s best veggie burger, ordered the Om Burger.

House-Made Crispy Burger with White Beans, Tofu & Hemp Seed
Finished with Pickled Fennel & Smoked Tomato Chow Chow
Spicy Jalapeno Aioli on our Whole Grain Bun.  $10

The burger was delicious and held together very well but I couldn’t pay it too much attention because I was busy stealing all the quinoa salad that came on the side.  I’ve had many a quinoa salad and they are always good, but this one was so damn zesty and flavorful.  If I still lived in Charlotte I would order a batch of this stuff and bring it to every potluck I was ever invited to.

For my entree I ordered the Sweet Potato Gnocchi in a Spicy Tomato Curry.  It’s a challenge to get the texture of vegan gnocchi right but Fern has evidently mastered the art.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Spicy Tomato Curry with Roasted Vegetables & Toasted Cashew Nuts.  $14.

The curry flavor in the sauce is very subtle.  I was in heaven eating this dish.

Fern had a couple vegan dessert offerings, one of which was a giant slab of chocolate cake which the table next to us was devouring.  Being a pair of booze-hounds, we opted for the Beer Donut Holes with a Chocolate Stout Sauce.

Beer Batter Donut Holes with Chocolate Stout Sauce.

The donuts themselves were a little chewy for my taste but my mom, a donut connosieur, said the texture was perfect.  The chocolate stout sauce was rich and beer-y and was sent over the top with the chocolate pop rocks that were mixed in.  Did you even know chocolate pop rocks existed?  I didn’t but apparently pop rocks are used often in fancy restaurant desserts where they are referred to as “pastry rocks.”  I know because I just ordered some off the internet, woo!

The food at Fern is incredible and the space is beautiful.  Again, this crappy photo doesn’t do the place justice, but just picture a cozy eco-shabby-chic room with a giant herb pouch holding real ferns on the back wall.

The food at Fern is some of the best vegan food I’ve had and the restaurant has easily secured it’s place in my top 5 veg restaurants outside L.A.  If you ever find yourself in N.C. you must check it out.

Fern, Flavors from the Garden
1323 Central Ave.
Charlotte, NC  28205

We’re coming back!

Happy New Year’s Eve, pal!  I took a little (well, pretty long) hiatus from blogging but I plan to be back with a vengeance in 2012.  I wasn’t away for any particular reason…just got caught up in real life.  You know how it goes.  2011 was another fabulous year in Los Angeles but I am really looking forward to 2012, especially because I think this is the year the Dodgers will dominate in the playoffs!

If you are looking for a quick treat to whip up for whatever New Year’s festivities you may have on tap tonight, I highly recommend these rum balls that I have made many times this holiday season.  The recipe comes from this book but I saw it on Spabettie’s blog.  I replaced the bourbon with rum and the honey with agave nectar.

These are very boozey so be alert–if you don’t want a super rum-y taste, you should cut back on the amount of liquor a tad.  I sent a tin of these with my friends going to a 49ers game and they were devoured at the tail gate.

Happy New Years from me and the pup!  See you in 2012!

BAD NEWS: Pure Luck closed. GOOD NEWS: They’re re-opening for 3 days!

This, my friends, was my last supper at Pure Luck.  Well…at least I thought it was.  That is until Quarrygirl revealed on her blog today that they would be open 3 additional nights starting today!  I might just try to hit up the joint all three nights.  Maybe I will stock up on Tortas and freeze them.

I have so many fond memories at that place so it truly breaks my heart that they are closing.  <<I just spent a good 3 minutes between typing that last sentence and this one playing a mental montage of all the fun Pure Luck times I’ve had.>>  One of my favorite things to do with guests from out of town was bring them out for carnitas burritos and follow up our lovely meal with a visit to Scoops across the street for some vegan gelato.  It was the ultimate foodie power combo.  To check out an awesome adios to Pure Luck see this post on Cute and Delicious.

For my last Pure Luck meal ever (or so I thought,) I wanted to stray from my usual order.  So I ordered the Baja Fish Tacos with a side of potato pals.  Believe it or not, this Pure Luck fanatic had never had the potato pals!

The pals were fluffy and rich at the same time.  They totally lived up to the hype.  The fish tacos were amazing as always.

For my real last Pure Luck meal ever, I am going to order my usual: Kristen’s Carnitas wrap with sweet potato fries, please.  Oh, and some fried pickles and a Mexicoke to start.  Get your butt to Pure Luck this weekend so you too can indulge one last time!  If you do, I also recommend by other stand-by–the beet salad.  I have many shirts with beet juice stains to prove my love for that dish.

Restaurant Review: Sage Vegan Bistro in Echo Park

Ohhhhh man.  I am so excited about Sage in Echo Park.  The menu is a great mix of both light and indulgent items all made with good whole foods.  I am so excited that I am going to write this post despite the low quality photos (I was having some camera issues.)  I just can’t wait to share this food with you all.

On my first visit to Sage I was accompanied by two friends from out of town.  We started with the Beer Battered Zucchini with Almond Crusted Fried Cheese.  Unfortunately this was by far the weakest dish I’ve had at Sage.  I mean deep friend anything tastes good but these little zucchini slices and cheese (Daiya, I think) balls were underwhelming to say the least.  At $7.95 they are outrageously overpriced.  For perspective, the cheese balls are about the size of a golf ball.

I was sorta worried at this point about the rest of the meal.  But my fears were put to rest when the entrees came out, preceded by this simply but lovely salad:

I ordered the Green Bean and Portabella Casserole at the waitress’ suggestion.  She told me it would not be what I was expecting and she was right; It was more of a goulash than a casserole.  The menu doesn’t even mention the pasta which is one of the main components of the dish.  Whatevs–I scarfed it down like a champ, despite the inaccurate naming and description.  The gravy was so flavorific it tasted like it had been stewing for days.  I would order this again in a heartbeat.

My friend Craig cautiously ordered the Almond Ricotta Ravioli.  I say cautious because he is not the most adventurous eater and the “fennel lavender marinara” scared him.

This ended up being everyone at the table’s favorite dish.  The lavender in the sauce was an incredible touch and the cheesy filling had a great ricotta-like texture.  I definitely licked the last sauce remnants off Craig’s plate (it’s ok we go way back so I can do that.)

My other friend ordered the Smoked Soyrizo Burrito.

It’s very difficult to make a bad soyrizo burrito but this one was really elevated by the slew of components.  The sauteed jalapeno is a particularly genius inclusion.  The potato salad that came as a side was also delish.

At this point we were all totally stuffed, but that didn’t keep us from ordering a ginormous dessert.  Perhaps the most awesome thing about Sage is that it is owned by the fine folks at KindKreme, everyone’s favorite raw, vegan ice cream joint  They even have a little mini KindKreme outpost right there in the restaurant.  After sampling practically all the ice cream flavors, we ordered a waffle sundae.  I was imagining an Eggo-sized waffle but holy guacamole this thing was big.

Of course the ice cream was good (our flavors were something like mocha, coconut, and banana with chocolate swirl) but the waffle itself was incredibly fluffy.  This is an epic treat that should be atop every vegan’s To Eat list.

A mere two days later, Craig and I summoned Kirby Von Scrumptious to join us on another trip to Sage.  This time we ordered the Argentinian Bruschetta with Chimichurri appetizer.  Did I mention that you can awesomely order from either the lunch or dinner menu during dinner hours?  I wish more restaurants would let you do that.

I’m not sure what all the components were in this dish but basically it was an array of tasty things piled upon lightly toasted bread.

Craig liked his bite of the tofu burrito so much from our last visit that he ordered it on this go around.  Kirby opted for the Jack Daniels Barbecue Jackfruit.

This was a knock-out sandwich.  Our only complain is that it was too spicy.  Kirby can handle spice much better than I can but even she was chugging water the whole meal.

I went for the French Grain Bowl which is a melange of grains, lentils, and veggies.

I absolutely loved this dish.  It was simple but really flavorful.  I didn’t even bother using the orange fennel sauce (it tastes basically like straight up OJ and I didn’t want all that sweetness to drown out the other flavors.)  The artichoke puree atop the little toast was super scrumptious and I am already looking up recipes to figure out how to duplicate it.  According to Lex at the Healthy Vegans, the chef will even prepare you a fat-free version of this upon request.

In lieu of dessert, I picked up a pack of KindKreme’s raw chocolate truffles to take home.  Rich, silky, decadent, and full of super chocolate super powers..  that’s all I need to say about them…except this: BUY THESE AND PUT THEM IN SOMEONE’S EASTER BASKET.  The recipient will love you for life.

I am essentially head over heels for Sage Bistro.  The only problem with my two visits there was the service was incredibly janky.  Our first night my friend ordered a soup that never showed up.  On the second night, our food took over 45 minutes to show up–including our appetizer.  This was actually quite a pain as Kirby was aching with hunger pains and I, for one, like my appetizer to come out ASAP.  But Sage just opened and I think it is a rule somewhere in the International Food Critic’s Guide to Restaurant Reviews that you can’t fault a restaurant for bad service until they have been open for over six months.

I am more than happy to give Sage some time to work out the kinks in their service.  I am dying to try their brunch which looks absolutely epic.

Vegan Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies

I was intrigued by these Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies when I saw them on Baking is Hot in November.  Then, on the very same day, Veggie Alchemy just happened to post her recipe for the ultimate Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies.  It was simply serendipitous.  I didn’t get a chance to bang out the veganized version of the fake meat and peanut butter treat until the Super Bowl came ’round and I was in need of a gluttonous dish to rival the other unhealthy dishes one finds at such an event.

I had to consider which type of fake bacon would best serve these cookies.  Tempeh bacon is too soft.  Lightlife’s bacon kinda grosses me out.  Coconut bacon would be incredible, but these cookies are already loaded with fat so I didn’t really want to exponentially increase it with saturated-fat-laden coconut.  I then remembered that classic Bac-Os are vegan.

It seemed like the perfect fit because they are already in little crumb size pieces.  Their nutritional profile is not ideal what with the hydrogenated oil (read: trans fats) and Red 40, but when you are eating meat-laced baked goods you shouldn’t be expecting a healthy snack.

To make these, I just whipped up Veggie Alchemy’s recipe and sprinkled in Baco’s until I thought the ratios looked about right.

Things were looking good when I couldn’t stop shoveling spoonfuls of the dough into my head.  At this point the Baco’s were still really crunchy which was delightful.

Also delightful was the final product.

The ultimate cookie judge for the day was my roommate, whose entire diet consists of peanut butter sandwiches and 7-11 hotdogs (I wish I could say I was exaggerating.)  When he gave these two thumbs up, I knew they were a success.  Further proof was the complete lack of any leftover cookies after our Super Bowl party.

I also made a batch of the peanut butter cookies sans bacon and they really were perfect…soft and chewy, just like I like ’em.  This will definitely be my go-to peanut butter cookie from now on.

I highly recommend you try this recipe out for yourself.  In the meantime, you should check out this vegan bacon soap I came across while doing my bacon research.  Wonders never cease!