Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vingenzo's Neopolitan Cuisine

Remember I mentioned about this nice Italian place that we were planning to go to until P expressed a desire to eat something fiery and sinus-opening? So that place was Vingenzo's. And we went last evening. Short and sweet verdict: Excellent.

For a Tuesday evening, the place was bustling and crackling. Our server mentioned too that it was a busy night. The restaurant was almost full, each table filled with happy diners, relishing the last few days of 2010. Thankfully, we had called ahead and reserved a table, although I'd think that on a regular Tuesday, it should be simple getting a table even without reservations.

We started off with a plate of Caprese. It featured roasted cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. Fairly nice, I thought. The cheese was a little stringy but soft, nonetheless. The roasted cherry tomatoes exploded lightly in the mouth, a nice sweet-sour combination. They also served some balsamic vinegar (?) and salad greens to go along. 

We got the Verdure Arrostite pizza and the Gnocchi al Gorgonzola Dolce Spinach. Nice, nice, nice! We visited NY a couple of months back and ended up eating pizza at this authentic Italian place (can't recall the name but it was on Bleeker Street, maybe?). It was a Margherita, if I remember right. Tomatoes, cheese, basil on a flatbread base. The flavors were fresh, the cheese was bubbling and the base was crisp. Then P ended up going to NYC for an office trip and he came back with a gigantic slice of pizza from Grimaldi's. That was fabulous too. Fresh tomatoes, basil, red peppers, olives... if I recall correctly. Oh, it was one delightful pizza slice. Let me just say, eating pizza at these Italian joints totally ruins the experience of getting takeout from any of the regular American pizza places. Well, I do like the regular American pizza loaded with cheese and tomato sauce, all on a thick base, just once in a rare while. But when you sample a slice of pizza at an authentic Italian place, you realize that you can walk away feeling light and not like you have a stone in your stomach, weighing you down... Know what I mean?


The Verdure Arrostite featured wood fire roasted vegetables (eggplant, onions, maybe red peppers?), roasted cherry tomatoes, latte fresco mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and aged Parmigiana Reggiano. Let me say upfront that I don't know what latte fresco mozzarella is but I can say that this was one of the lightest and tastiest pizzas I have ever eaten.  I almost wish that they had a more generous serving of cheese on it... :)

The Gnocchi was rich and creamy - pretty heavenly, I thought! The potato dumplings were so nicely done, none of the "doughy" texture, and perfectly soaking up the cheese and cream. The spinach was beautifully cooked too; it didn't have the raw look-feel but it wasn't wilted at all! The portion size was perfect - Can you imagine eating a bowl of potato dumplings with Gorgonzola cream sauce and spinach without feeling like you need a couch to nap on afterward?

Dessert? Pistachio gelato (for P) and a flourless Chocolate Almond Cake for me. Pure yumminess. The gelato tasted of toasted pistachios and it was a perfect combination of rich creaminess and subtle sweetness. As for the flourless cake, it only tasted better (if that's possible even) this afternoon.

The menu has multiple options for vegetarians, an assortment of gelato flavors, a cool and casual vibe, and nice staff. I can see us going there again. And again.

105 E. Main Street, #105
Woodstock, GA 30188

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What does a vegetarian eat at a Brazilian steakhouse?

A lot of stuff, as I discovered this afternoon!

Fogo de Chão is an authentic Brazilian steakhouse that is well known for its various cuts of expertly grilled meat and the continuous tableside service. Servers walk around holding platters of meat. Each diner is given a circular card (right). If the red colored side is facing up, it means that you don't require anything, at the moment. Turn it the other way and the green side faces up. When you do that, a server walks up to you with his platter and offers you a slice (or more) of the specific cut of meat that he's carrying. All servers looked (and sounded) Latin American. Well, they could have been Central American too, I guess! They were dressed in dark blue shirts, blue-black roomy pants and boots. All very nice and elegant and formal, I thought.

So what did I eat? Fogo de Chão has a SPECTACULAR salad bar section. There must have been close to 50 items laid out and as much as I wished, I couldn't load my plate more. I resolved to go back for seconds so that I could sample more items but I was too stuffed.

Chickpea salad, butter beans, hearts of palm, sweet red peppers, roast potatoes, cucumbers, button mushrooms, tabouli salad, beets, salad greens, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, cheese, endives... and possibly some other delicious items I am forgetting? Oh yes, I saw some jumbo asparagus and mozzarella balls that I passed fully intending to come back to them later. Alas, that didn't happen... :(

This was my first time eating hearts of palm. Tender and juicy, they were slightly tart (probably due to the brine/marinade?). The sweet-spicy red peppers were gorgeous - I wonder what they are called?

The servers also bring you an unending stream of the sides namely, pão de queijo (delicious little cheese bread pockets - YUM!), crispy polenta wedges, mashed potatoes with garlic and cheese, and caramelized bananas. I missed taking a picture of the polenta and the mashed potatoes. They were excellent too!

I had to steel my heart and not eat any more just so I could sample dessert. One of the items was Fogo de Chão's signature Papaya Cream. Then there was the Creme Brulee which I generally avoid because it contains eggs. Now I know what you're thinking - you are dining at a steakhouse and you want to avoid eggs? Yeah, ironic, I know, but you get my drift, don't you? I went ahead and ordered the Molten Chocolate Cake that's essentially a chocolate cake with a fudge center, served with vanilla ice cream. Just as the server was going to turn away, I changed my mind and asked for the Papaya Cream. Good decision, I think.

Wonderful! The perfect combination of creaminess and sweetness and richness... fabulous.

I would go back to Fogo de Chão in a heartbeat as long as no one laughs at me for being the girl who ate a huge plate of salad at an authentic Brazilian steakhouse. Well, I need to taste the Molten Chocolate Cake anyway.

Oh, the reason I landed at Fogo de Chão for lunch one afternoon? My generous boss treated us to a Christmas lunch and he picked this place knowing that even as a vegetarian, I would be able to eat well here. So sweet.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fuego Mundo

Fuego Mundo is a place I have been wanting to go to for a long time now. Finally, the stars were aligned perfectly this weekend and we ended up going with M and family. Fuego Mundo is known as a South American wood fire grill. I really like the decor of the place. The colors are warm and sunny, classy decor, lots of glass and light... all in all, a cool vibe. The menu has some vegetarian options, not a lot. Another visit, and we would be done sampling all the vegetarian menu options, I think.

We ordered the Yucca Fries and Dip to begin with. They were really nice. Yucca is fairly starchy but thankfully, the fries were not too greasy (in case there is a connection between starch and oil retention?). I am not sure what the dip was. It tasted like garlic ranch (and I hope it wasn't!) but it was not very tart or garlicky.

I got an order of the Soup of the Day. It came with a side order of quinoa, black beans and baked plantains.

It was a pretty good combination. I love plantains (fried, steamed, baked, roasted!) and these were really sweet. Normally, I am a little wary about black beans (much flatulence ensues... sigh) but these felt fairly light. Quinoa also is a grain with a very "light" feel plus it has a great crunch and is so nutritious to boot. So that plate made me happy. The soup was nice and hot. It was made in a broth of water and featured carrots, cooked corn and some other vegetables I can't recall. Fairly okay. I mean, nothing spectacular, no outstanding flavors or spices. A regular soup.

P got an order of the tofu steak and a side of the Veggie Lover's Stir-Fry.

Both dishes were great. The Tofu Steak was tender (obviously!) and nicely flavored. Of course, the crunch of the plantain chips provided a great foil to the steak as well. Most stir-fry dishes are so ordinary but this one was good! Probably the nicely sauteed onions provided that additional spice element. All in all, a nice combination.

Couldn't pass up dessert, right?

The Gourmet Mango Pie was a good choice. M got the Tres Leches. I need to find out more about this dish but it was sweet and rich without being too cloying.

Nice and light flavors, very clean tastes, relaxed and chic decor... A place I could recommend easily.

Fuego Mundo
5590 Roswell Road, Suite A120
Sandy Springs, GA 30342

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Back to Udipi!

There was a week when we visited Udipi Cafe twice. Let me recall. Yes, we were planning to go to this nice-sounding Italian place but P had had such a bad case of sniffles and sneezes that he really wanted to slurp up some spicy tomato rasam. That is one delicious way to open up your sinuses, for sure! Now I have been battling a bad case of Pitta aggravation since some days now. I am no expert on Ayurveda but this is a familiar situation for me as it isn't the first time. Long story short, tomatoes are a major cause of Pitta aggravation. So also is tamarind. Suffices to say that I wasn't sure what I would find to eat at an obviously South Indian food place. But I agreed to go along (also I hardly ever say 'No' to anything P asks for - my weakness, obviously.)

So we landed up at Udipi Cafe, Smyrna. I don't know what it is about many Indian restaurants and service. As the server ushers you in, how difficult can it be for him to have a smile on his face? Seriously, the guy who showed us to our seats was glowering. I have had the same experience at Udipi Cafe, Decatur as well. It's truly odd. Let me not get started about how they always have the cleaning supplies in full display of the restaurant. Who wants to see spray bottles and dish cloths while eating delicious food? Not me.

Ok, let me get on to the food. P ordered the Pongal-Vada combination and I ordered a plate of Pesarattu-Upma. Pretty soon, we switched.
Pongal is a traditional South Indian preparation of rice, dal, whole black peppers, cashews, lots of heavenly ghee. It is comfort food at its finest and healthiest. And it is panacea for my Pitta-aggravated soul and body. P offered me a taste and then the entire plate itself. The sides were sambar and coconut chutney. I pretty much cleaned up the coconut chutney but the sambar, as delicious as it looked, I had to avoid. Tomatoes + red chillies + tamarind is a lethal combination for me, at the moment. The Vada was delicious too! Not greasy at all, it was very nicely spiced and had the perfect "crunch" in your mouth.

The Pesarattu-Upma was a good combination too. Now I have been making a lot of Pesarattu in the last few weeks. It is basically a batter of soaked whole moong dal, spiced with cumin, ginger and green chillies, that you make dosas out of. Very delicious and healthy, indeed. These dosas were fairly decent although they lacked that freshness which I have come to associate with this preparation. Well, it isn't homemade - so maybe it's too much to expect.

I honestly don't recall much about the Upma. Or did we order the plain Pesarattu? I can't recall.

I like the food served at this place. The service is decent too. I wish they'd move the cart of cleaning supplies someplace out of sight. Maybe ask the servers to smile a little? Is that asking for a lot?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thai House, Roswell

Thai House (Roswell, GA) is a place I have visited multiple times before. I enjoy the food there. They have a separate menu section for vegetarians, the decor is nice, and they have some interesting menu items.

This time's visit was a little different, though. The servers were terribly rushed. I think there were just two of them serving a bunch of tables. The food was fairly okay this time but I thought I'd write about the place anyway since I have visited so many times and liked the food every time.

So what did we order? We began with a soup, the Vegan Coconut Tofu Soup, to be precise.

It was wonderful! A great combination of light coconut milk, lime juice and lemon grass, it came with tofu, baby corn, water chestnuts and carrots. I love the hot pot presentation too. A great refreshing start to the meal, as cliched as it sounds!

For the entree, we ordered Basil Sue-Yi and Vegetable Fried Rice. I didn't explain about the Sue-Yi, did I? Ok, Thai House offers a couple of variations of Tofu namely Sue-Yi and Sue-Gai. As per the menu online, Sue-Yi is essentially made from seaweed, ginger, salt, soy bean, soybean fiber & vegetable oil. Similarly, Sue-Gai is made from soy bean, vegetable fiber, flour, soy sauce & vegetable oil. I have ordered both of them in multiple dishes and enjoyed the tastes thoroughly.

Very tasty indeed! The flavors were bright without being very strong, the vegetables retained the crunch and thankfully, there was none of that overwhelming scent-taste of garlic that drowns all other flavors.

The Vegetable Fried Rice was a disappointment. Ok, let me rephrase. What they got for us afterward was disappointing. When they first brought it, we noticed flecks of fried egg scattered all over. So we sent it back. The version they sent us the second time tasted dull. Hardly any flavors in there; some crisp broccoli florets and some tofu, possibly? I wouldn't recommend ordering this one.

Did we have dessert? If you know me, you'd know that I always give dessert a chance. So we went ahead and got Bananas in Coconut Milk. Maybe that isn't the exact name of the dish.
Our server explained that these banana fritters were deep fried in a rice batter containing coconut milk, then drizzled with sugar and honey. I LOVED them. I must mention, this is a HUGE dessert. As much as I would have loved polishing the plate clean, I had to regretfully admit that I couldn't. This dessert can be shared by 3-4 people. Can I say it again how much I liked this one? There was something almost Indian-tasting about this one. Probably the taste of rice and coconut milk.

Not a very satisfying visit but I'll go another time, for sure.

Thai House
1227 Alpharetta Street
Roswell, GA 30075

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A cool recipe + picture

Until I find the next cool vegetarian place to write about, I thought I would share a picture from my kitchen yesterday. Well, day before, to be precise.

To the left is a dish that I have never cooked before: Dum Aloo. Roasted baby potatoes in a cashew-tomato-onion based gravy, spiced with cumin, nigella seeds, dried fenugreek leaves (also called Kasuri Methi) and garam masala. And garnished with fresh cilantro leaves too.

This recipe is a keeper. I always err on the lesser side when it comes to salt. Really tasty, nonetheless.

I picked the recipe from One Hot Stove, one of my favorite blogs. Nupur's approach to cooking is very similar to mine and I always love cooking out of her blog. Here is the original recipe.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sweet Potato Bisque from Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's is a favorite store of mine. I love their product assortment and how it keeps changing through the months. They have a decent array of vegetables and fruits, not-every-expensive Medjool dates (YUM!), excellent range of cheeses (some vegetarian and some not - you need to check the ingredient list, as always), lots of delicious stuff to nibble on... the most decadent one possibly being Lacey's chocolate cookies. Chocolate, honey, caramel...? Maybe. They are such a treat.

As always, I digress. What I wanted to share with you was TJ's brand of sweet potato bisque. After pouring the soup into a pan for warming, I threw the packet in the trash. And then went right back to take a picture. But P forbade me to post a picture of the trash can. So here's the soup.

It simply needs to be warmed before serving. Surprisingly, this one contains no onions or garlic. Carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, salt. Maybe some other ingredients that I don't recall.

I threw in some basil leaves while the soup was on the stove. Added some freshly ground black pepper and shredded Parmesan cheese before serving.

Excellent soup. The texture is rich and creamy and it tastes mildly sweet. P loved it totally and said so. Again and again. Well, I had made a fresh batch of pesto that he ladled into his bowl. I think that's what he really loved, the combination of fresh basil pesto, root vegetables, Parmesan cheese and black pepper. I didn't taste that version but I can take his word for it!

Next time, I'll take a picture of the packet before I throw it in the trash!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Yogli Mogli

Summer is on its way out. Temperatures are dropping, light fades fast, leaves are changing color... Not many days remaining to eat popsicles or frozen yogurt. One day last week, it was really hot and I stopped by at Yogli Mogli.

This is a self serve frozen yogurt chain that I discovered this summer. The yogurt contains no gelatin (yeah, I asked that the first time I visited) and comes in flavors such as Georgia Peach, Cookies-n-Cream, Strawberry, etc. Many of the options are low-fat/zero-fat too. This time, I picked the Georgia Peach flavor.

There are two kinds of toppings. One kind (as you can see on the left) includes gummy worms, M&M candies, licorice candies, cookies, etc. Most kids make a beeline to this section. Who could pass up all that sugar? Sigh. Well, I have. I have never stopped at this section. My favorites lie ahead.

How can you possibly resist plump lychees, tiny blueberries, juicy mangoes and peaches, cranberries and kiwi fruit? Absolute yumminess. I generally load up on fruits, piling them high into my bowl.

That bowl (on the right) cost a little over 4 dollars.

I have got frozen yogurt from Yogli Mogli so many times. And loved it. This last week was good too but the yogurt had a watery texture. I am not sure - did I select non-fat? But it missed that yummy creaminess that sets off the fruits perfectly. Hopefully, it will be nicer next time although I am not sure if that next time will be anytime soon.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lunch @ Cafe Momo

Lunch today came from Cafe Momo. A busy cafeteria nestled inside Peachtree Center, the place has a bunch of vegetarian options, as I discovered today.

I sauntered through the aisles checking out the warm/cold salads, pastas, meats, greens, etc. before going up to the made-to-order items menu. 

Was almost going to get a Roasted Veggie Quesadilla before I changed my mind and ordered a meatless sandwich on multi-grain bread. It contains fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, fresh basil and spinach with sun-dried tomato spread. I also asked the guy to throw some honey-mustard on top.

 End result? Pretty tasty, actually. The mozzarella was not very soft (I really wonder how fresh is "fresh") and the tomatoes lacked the fresh juiciness that I have been raving about on the last few posts. However, the basil and spinach added a nice chewiness to the sandwich. Also, the sun-dried tomato spread was a great sweet-sour combination that provided the perfect foil to the mozzarella. If the sandwich could have been recreated with fresh seasonal ingredients, it would have been a total killer.

Oh, I asked for the sandwich to be toasted. I like those burnt grill marks plus I am not the biggest fan of cold sandwiches. All in all, a decent lunch.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Samosas... YUM.

Samosas are truly beloved in the Indian snack world. Imagine a deliciously spiced mix of potatoes and green peas encased in a triangular shell of flour and then deep-fried in golden oil. What emerges is a true favorite, the stuff that love stories are made of, at least love stories like mine where food played a big role. P's aunt is well known for her lip-smacking samosas. I, for one, have never even entertained the remotest thought of making this at home. How could I, a mere upstart of a cook, even dream of tackling the mighty samosa?

Well, it's not all that scary making a samosa, I am sure.

Enter Deep Frozen Samosas. Now I am most certainly not a fan of frozen food. Most frozen foods lack praana, the essential life force energy that we derive from food, water, air and so many other sources (meditation being one of the most vital and also my favorite one). But I can make an exception especially when delicious samosas are in question.
These samosas don't contain onion or garlic but they have the perfect blend of spiciness for my palate. Also, the packet contains 2 pouches of chutney. P is confident that the chutney is a mix of coriander-green chilli type and the regular date-tamarind type. Hmmm, I am not so sure because I couldn't discern much of a sweet flavor in there. Anyway, we took the frozen samosas out, thawed them for a bit (probably 15-20 minutes?) and then baked them. 350 degrees, 30 minutes.

Voila, you have the perfect snack for the dull and rainy evenings! And possibly the best accompaniment to your steaming cup of masala-mint chai.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Basil Pesto

I am a late entrant to the basil pesto fan club but I am a loyal fan now. Think of basil pesto as an Italian take on the ubiquitous mint-coriander chutney that is so common in Indian cooking. In fact, I can match ingredient for ingredient between the two recipes! Let's try that out...

Coriander and mint leaves == Basil leaves
Roasted peanuts == Roasted pine nuts
Garlic == Garlic (Well, garlic isn't really a mandatory ingredient for coriander-mint chutney)

Ok, the standard pesto departs from coriander-mint chutney at this point but the important points are covered, don't you think?

So, you start with fresh basil. I picked a bunch from Harry's Farmers Market. The packet mentioned that it's grown hydroponically (not sure what that means), and if I keep the roots submerged in water, it'd last longer.

Chop it finely. Put in the mixer jar. 

I didn't have pine nuts at home. So I roasted some walnuts on a skillet (be attentive to the skillet or else you'll end up with a bunch of burnt walnuts!) and used them instead.

Next chop up some garlic and throw that in there as well. Most times, I don't have garlic at home. But this time, I did and so I used it. I am sure purists will disagree but I have made pesto before without any garlic and it tasted perfectly wonderful.

Pesto also contains cheese (mostly Parmesan or Romano, as this recipe mentions). I had paneer at home, and so I used that instead.

Pulse it all together. Don't forget to add salt and pepper. Pour in some olive oil while it's getting pulsed. I bought this brand from Dekalb Farmers Market. You can also see the smaller bottle of chili oil next to it, the Braggs bottle behind and possibly the can of sesame oil towards the right of the picture. Hmmm, just giving a mini-tour of the oils and seasoning cabinet for all of you... :)

You can also add the oil later after the pesto is made. You end up with a shiny and creamy fresh basil pesto that's pure YUMMINESS.

Slather it over toast, toss it with noodles... any other ideas? Let me know in the comments.