Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pastries, coffee et al... Oh, Asheville.

Downtown Asheville has stolen my heart. It's just the kind of place that I'd love to visit, again and again. I didn't click too many pictures but the collage above should give you an idea about what we did that morning. Coffee and pastries, tea and conversation, sunshine and street musicians, olive oil tastings, lovely Thai food... now that's what Downtown should be like! Downtown Asheville has a relaxed vibe that has its own hip and casual style to it. Would I be raving as much were I an Asheville resident? Who knows! Maybe... :)

I know that the collage above is way oversized, splaying into the Comments section! But I just had to put in the higher resolution version so that you guys could get an idea of the sheer loveliness of those pastry displays... :)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Crepes and Coffee at Cork and Bean Wine Bar and Coffee House

It was a mellow Sunday morning. En route to Atlanta, we stopped at Cork & Bean Wine Bar & Coffee House in Bryson City, North Carolina, for breakfast. Actually, we had been there the evening before and had decided to stop by the next morning. How I loved that place! Actually, all of us did... Wood-paneled walls, cozy chairs and tables, high ceilings, display cases with organic baked goods, teas, coffees, crepes on the menu. A very casual and laid back cafe with a hip (hippy?) vibe.

The evening before, we got some muffins, coffee and tea, and settled into those comfortable chairs (left). I swear, I could have fallen asleep in them! Some of the other tables were occupied, people chatting, eating crepes, drinking coffee, reading. We decided to skip the crepes that evening.

Next morning, we came back, just a few minutes after the place opened. Crepes with Nutella and bananas, Cappuccino, Latte, an Everything bagel with cream cheese. P got another order of crepes with spinach and avocado that came with a side of balsamic vinegar dressing.

Disclosure: Yes, crepes contain eggs. Would you believe this is the first time I am eating them? So maybe I am not best qualified to comment on them? Anyhow, these crepes were incredibly light and airy. Bananas and Nutella are a fabulous combination. P's crepe contained baby spinach leaves and avocado slices. I would have preferred the spinach to be lightly sauteed instead. Some sun dried tomato slices and olives would have been great additions too. Oh, I forgot to mention, the crepe contained shredded beets too. The red stains on the plate (right) reminded me.

I didn't sample the bagel. I am sure it was pretty good. The Latte was good; S mentioned that her Cappuccino was fairly okay.

The glasses were made of renewable and compostable materials - always makes me happy to see that!
I felt so utterly relaxed that morning, nestled in those comfy chairs, greedily drinking the sunshine streaming in through the huge windows, relishing the sense of quiet and calm permeating the space... A memorable morning it was.

On our way out, we bought a muffin (it contained eggs) with carrot, apple, nuts and a host of other delicious ingredients. Yummy.

Cork & Bean Wine Bar & Coffee House
16 Everett Street
Bryson City, NC 28713

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Vegetarian in Cherokee Nation

Technically, we were not in Cherokee Nation but we were fairly close... maybe a mile out? The last weekend saw a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. We stayed at a hotel in Cherokee and drove out to the National Park on Saturday. Fabulous weather (cool and warm, no better combination, really!), sparse crowds, winding trails, and an interesting chat with one of the park officials (he showed us some extraordinary photographs he had taken at Midway Islands; a well traveled person with some amazing stories to share)... we were off to a rocking weekend.

Around lunch time, we got out of the park to look for a place to eat lunch. Drove around, checked out menus for various restaurants and fast food joints but there was not a thing we could find at any place. Really, not a single vegetarian item... Wow. Finally we arrived at Marco Polo's. Decided to take a chance and go see what they had to offer.

We were lucky.

A cheery place with loads of music paraphernalia strung up all over (vinyl records were actually stuck up on the ceiling - see right), graffiti scrawled on the walls, blinking light signs, huge posters, message boards with funny messages... I am sure you get the funky message. The guy behind the counter was a jolly person with a demeanor mirroring the decor. P ran into a gentleman dressed in the regalia of the Cherokee tribe. You can see them conversing in the far left of the picture (right). He carried a spear with a shiny steel tip, sharpened to perfection. He had feathers attached to his hair and clothes. It was quite a striking presence that he had. P and he spoke about the commonality between ancient Hindu customs and Native American practices. I didn't hear much of it but I bet it was an interesting discussion.

What about the food? Check below.

Good spread, huh? P got a Veggie Sandwich and a Greek Salad. I got the Greek Vegetable Sandwich which was really P's Greek Salad encased between two slices of bread. Lots of Feta cheese, Greek olives, red onions, shredded red cabbage, lettuce, cucumber slices, sprouts, Tzatziki sauce... Good stuff. I cannot recall much of what went into P's sandwich but he picked a Mango-Pineapple Viniagrette that was simply lovely. Spicy and sweet in equal measure, it was a great complement to the sandwich filling (that I barely remember).

We were SO happy that we found a decent place to get a vegetarian meal without having to drive miles away. That, my dear friends, is a BIG relief especially when traveling.

Next up? How does Cork & Bean Wine Bar & Coffee House sound? I would rate this place as one of the sweetest and coziest breakfast places I have ever visited. Or a cafe. Or a hangout joint.

Marco Polo's Sandwhiches & Treats
1655 Acquoni Road
Cherokee, NC 28719

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jasons Deli... Delish.

Jason's Deli is not a place I frequent a lot. 

No specific reason really; it isn't exactly a dining place and so P and I haven't visited for dinner. At work, one time someone got me lunch from there. It was a huge Muffaletta sandwich, I remember. Only a quarter sandwich but it was H-U-G-E.

S and I went to my favorite salon in Tucker last week and stopped by at Jason's Deli in a nearby strip mall for a sandwich lunch. I got the Quarter Muff deal that comprises of quarter of a Muffaletta and a cup of soup. I picked the Tomato Basil soup (vegetarian). 

I love the combination of fresh tomatoes and basil, as is evidenced by all the posts from last summer. The Muffaletta contains grilled portabello mushrooms, provolone, organic spinach, tomatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, purple onions and an olive mix. Sounds like a helluva lot of ingredients to stuff into a sandwich, doesn't it? It really is! I wonder how they pack them all in there but a good job they do! However, eating the sandwich is a messy affair, as you can imagine.
It is a delicious sandwich. Choc-a-full with healthy and tasty ingredients, this is a satisfying lunch. It could even do well for two people, especially when combined with the cup of soup. My husband is not particularly fond of this sandwich simply because he felt rather weighed down after eating it (the one time that he ordered it). I can see that happening possibly due to the grilled mushrooms. Take them out, and you should have a relatively light sandwich. Wasn't very cheesy either.

The soup was delicious. The serving size was perfect too. Tomato, fresh basil, cream, a smattering of cheese... Oozing deliciousness.

Jason's Deli is a place I can definitely recommend to vegetarians. The menu has many other options too, and they all look reasonably priced. I am sure I'll be back there again, one of these days, sampling another one of their delicious sounding dishes.

Jason's Deli
4073 Lavista Road
Tucker, GA 30084

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Whole Foods... Sigh.

This is not a post about Whole Foods Market. I was at the branch on Roswell Road last week. S and I had stopped there for getting groceries, and I thought she would like taking a look around the store with its fabulous products, assortment of cheeses, chocolates, herbal products, snacks, etc. She loved the place, obviously. She couldn't stop gaping at the amazing array of products, aisle to aisle.

We decided to lunch at the in-store cafe. There is a hot bar, a cold bar, a fresh salad bar, a pizza station, prepared meals section. And maybe another category that escapes me. For vegetarians, the options are many, oh-so many! The soups are good (do check the ingredient list written up on the card placed before each soup pot), my favorite being the Tomato Zucchini one. Although I am not a big fan of cold foods, the cold bar has a million attractive options ranging from crispy tofu and stir-fry vegetables salad to chocolate mousse. The food is displayed attractively under low-light lamps. The only complaint I could possibly have is about the price. If I remember right, it is $7.99 per lb. of food in your plate. I don't eat here often but I'd probably pay that price, if I had to get lunch in this neighborhood.

What did I get for lunch? Unusual for me, I picked up two slices of pizza. Or maybe it wasn't so unusual after all. I had had a meager breakfast, and my tummy was making its usual embarassingly loud rumbling sounds. I picked a slice of Roasted Red Pepper and Portabello Mushroom Pizza, and another of Sun-dried Tomatoes and Basil. The sweet girl behind the counter offered to put the slices back into the oven so they would be piping hot. By the way, the display slices are placed on a heated surface anyway. I am just a little anal about the temperature of my pizza.

Excellent! It was not my favorite traditional flatbread Italian pizza but a deliciously cheesy American one it was. I managed to chomp my way through both the slices, leaving behind the thick ends of the crust. I could have done with lesser cheese but this is such an occasional indulgence for me that I let go. Besides, it was a gorgeously sunny day, the store was quietly bustling, and we had a day of good fun ahead. Who am I to resist?

Here is a picture of the fabulous display of pastries and sweet treats from the store. With such an array of choices, I am plain dumbfounded.

Whole Foods Market
5930 Roswell Road
Atlanta, GA 30328

Monday, March 14, 2011

Back to L'Thai sans Scoutmob

P's cousin is visiting us from London, and she was in the mood for Thai food. Despite the not-so-great dining experience at L'Thai Organic Cuisine and Wine Bar (I think it detracted from the food; as I read the last post, I see that I have written very little about the actual food - Sorry.), we decided to go again. It was a Saturday evening and the crowd was sparse. There was no keyboard player this time but a guitarist graced the same chair. I suppose he needed frequent cues through the evening, at least when it came to playing 'Happy Birthday' for the various diners that evening who were celebrating their birthdays with friends. I noticed the servers gesturing to him (in an almost-frantic manner!) to play along as various tables started singing the birthday song.

To start off with, we ordered a plate of Por-Pia-Tod or L'Thai Spring Rolls. They come, three in a plate, each roll resting in a cute shot glass filled with the sweet-spicy dipping sauce. Smart presentation, I thought. The rolls were nicely done too, with no additional grease dripping, and a good crunch to them. The filling is made of finely shredded vegetables and bean threads, all organic. S ordered a plate of Pak Tod (Vegetable Tempura) that came with its own sweet citrus dipping sauce. I picked a mushroom from that plate that released a LOT of water. Thank goodness that it wasn't oil! As good a plate of Vegetable Tempura as any, I would think.

We got two orders of Tom-Kha (Galangal Coconut Soup) with tofu. Delicious! I love the texture of this soup preparation, light yet creamy. Coconut and lemon grass is a great combination that results in a refreshing play of flavors, one rich and another tangy. The downside of the wide bowls was that the soup ran cold pretty soon. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that we lavished much time and attention on the pretty appetizers and dipping sauces!

P ordered a plate of Pad-Kee Mow (Drunken Noodles) and Jungle Curry (cannot locate the actual dish on the menu) for the two of us. S ordered a curry with shrimp in it. I am guessing it was Priaw-Wharn Goong (Sweet and Sour Shrimp). She said that it was nice but fairly spicy. I think she asked for a spicy preparation but didn't think that it would be this hot! The Jungle Curry was spectacularly spicy. Make that spicy and spectacular. The dish featured green peppercorns that added a special degree of heat to the dish. I found myself entranced by them, and served myself a generous portion of the curry. Yum, as spicy as it was, it was delicious. The Drunken Noodles were good too. Juicy and crisp, sweet and sour, a great one-pot dish of noodles is this one. I wish the portion size was larger, though. An old complaint, right? But come on, guys... this is dinner when the prices are higher and the portions tend to be larger - no?

Dessert was a plate of fried bananas with three scoops of ice cream - Mango, Coconut, Strawberry. The ice cream was great, the bananas not at all. Unripe bananas that lacked sweetness of any kind could not be salvaged by the ice cream, as tasty as the flavors were. A dish to be avoided, for sure. But at least, I gave it a shot!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stuffed Pita Breads

Scene from dinner tonight: Toasted whole wheat pita bread stuffed with chopped Roma tomatoes, slices of Ackawi cheese, red pepper hummus, zatar and olive oil mixture.

Pure yumminess.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

L'Thai Organic Cuisine and Wine Bar

One of the Scoutmob coupons that came this week offered a 50% discount at L'Thai Organic Cuisine and Wine Bar in Smyrna. The last time I visited L'Thai was in 2009 when Mom and Dad were visiting us. I have faint memories of the place but I remembered that the food was excellent and well-presented, and they had lots of options for vegetarians. So off we went, P and S and P and I... :)

Unfortunately, many others had the same idea, and so when we got to L'Thai around 8:50 pm on a dull Friday evening, there was a wait time of at least 40 minutes, the hostess told us. As per S, she might as well have said, "You guys better find some other place tonight!" We debated on it and decided to wait. A little later, the hostess called to us, "10 minutes more!" before whizzing away. I loved what she was wearing (red sarong, flowered top, sandals) but she looked oh-so harried. Soon after, we were shown to our table. A keyboard player played his solitary melody as the water fountain gurgled on behind his seat, illuminated by a giant red disco-globe.

So much for describing the space! The menu at L'Thai is long and elaborate with a separate section for vegetarians. Proudly inscribed at the top of every page is 'Our ingredients are 95% organic," or something along those lines. S wondered if we should order a plate of Por-Pia-Pak-Sod or Fresh Organic Basil Rolls. But it was past 9 pm already (way past anyone's dinner time, really!) and so we decided to give the appetizers a skip. We ordered a plate of Basil Fried Rice (minus egg) and Mat-Sa-Man Curry (also known as 'yellow curry?'). We also ordered another dish whose name I cannot recall (or find in the online menu) but it mentioned 'Thai Chilli' in the description. Then we waited.

We waited.

It seemed like ages before the food began to arrive. It was a busy night, and our server told us that he wasn't even supposed to be working that evening. The food was fairly tasty. I have a grouse with most (if not, all) Thai restaurants about the lack of vegetables in their dishes. Sure you'll have carrots, daikon radish, cashews, potatoes, snow peas, broccoli, peppers, some baby corn (maybe), mushrooms... spread across all dishes. So if you order 3-4 vegetarian dishes, you would have probably sampled every vegetable from the pantry.

I remember a trip we made to Washington DC a couple of years back. For dinner, a few of us stopped by at a small Thai restaurant. There were very few customers that night and only a couple of servers. But the food was absolutely fabulous. What I remember the most is the abundance of vegetables in the curries. Not your usual carrot-snowpeas-daikon-tofu combination but so many other vegetables too! I wish I could remember the name of this place... :(

Back to L'Thai... the flavors were great even if they seemed to repeat from one dish to another. But the portions were too small. For dinner, the serving size was meager! We realized that we would need to order another dish. We asked for a plate of Pad-See-Ew (flat noodles, carrots and broccoli in a soy sauce) but I think what we got was a plate of Drunken Noodles. It contained basil, peppers and mushrooms (not part of the original dish). When we asked our server about the tiny portions, he remarked that we should have ordered two plates each!

Cheeky waiters and flavorful food aside, this experience has put me off the Scoutmob coupon frenzy. Terrible service and measly portions for overpriced dishes - Why would I want this experience again? Besides, all the Scoutmob coupons cleverly disguise the fact that there is a cap of $15 on the discount amount. You need to read closely to know that there is a cap of $15 on the discount amount. At most of these places, it is infinitely simple to get a bill topping $40. You do the math.

Oddly enough, all I could retrieve from my IPhone was the one picture at the top of this post. I wonder where the others disappeared...

 L'Thai Organic Cuisine and Wine Bar
4500 West Village Place, Suite 1017
Smyrna, GA 30080

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ackawi Cheese + Peach Butter

My Dad once traveled to UK for work. He came back laden with loads of chocolates (where do you think I got my sweet tooth from?), an assortment of cheeses, nifty kitchen implements and some other knickknacks that I can't even remember. Maybe I should ask Mummy about them. He was gone for a long while and my younger sister fell sick during that period. I have a hazy memory of those days... I was probably 7-8 years of age. I wonder how my Mom handled it all by herself. But she's one of the coolest people I know; she made running a home PLUS managing two kids without any daycare/help PLUS working full-time look like a breeze.

I remember that I was so fascinated by the cheeses that Daddy got back with him. There was a huge block of cheese with a red rind. Mildly smelly with a creamy texture... maybe it was a Gouda? Or Edam, as this link tells me. Then there was probably a wedge or two of Cheddar. Any others? Wish I could remember! I am not a fan of stinky cheeses; I still have some reservations about Feta. I suppose it could have something to do with my Pitta aggravation issues. Cheese is one of the food items that can definitely trigger a Pitta imbalance since it is made by way of fermentation. As much as I would love to sample new varieties of cheese, I am held back by a couple of things. One, use of animal rennet and second, the level of sourness.

So, when I peered into the freezer at Jerusalem Bakery and saw so many kinds of cheese, most of them made using non-animal rennet, I was happy. But I still had to get past the sourness factor. I picked up a packet with 'SWEET CHEESE' written on it. I thought it would be similar to paneer and figured that I couldn't go wrong with it. The guy at the counter informed me that it was a sweet variety used to make desserts. He recommended that I get Queso Blanco instead. I wasn't convinced - why would I get Mexican cheese from a Middle-Eastern bakery? Finally, I picked a wedge of Ackawi cheese, all the while praying that it would taste good and my money wouldn't be wasted. Almost $6 for a packet, I wanted to be sure.

I need not have worried. Ackawi tastes mild and has a creamy texture. This morning, I toasted a slice of rye bread, slathered on some Peach Butter and added a few shavings of Ackawi Cheese. The sweet-spicy (not so spicy, actually) Peach Butter cut the creaminess of the cheese very well. This could be the beginning of a great cheese plate - add some crackers, toasted garlic bread, peach butter dip, little blocks of Ackawi.

This is my first time getting Peach Butter too. Many of these preserves and jams contain citric acid and vinegar, both of which can be Pitta aggravating. Not this one. Will write a review about it later.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chilled Tomato Gazpacho from Metrofresh

Above is the Chilled Tomato Gazpacho from MetroFresh that I had as part of lunch yesterday. This is my first time eating Gazpacho. I have heard much about this category of chilled soups (wonder if that is a good definition of 'gazpacho?') but never ended up cooking one or ordering it either. Anyway, first impressions? Tastes like a liquified version of tomato salsa, and I don't mean that in an uncomplimentary way at all! It's just my layperson way of describing the taste. The tomatoes weren't too tart but they weren't sweet either. As tomatoes come back into season, I suppose the gazpacho would be far sweeter. Mild taste of onion and garlic, and there probably was some cilantro added but I couldn't see it. I liked the texture of the dish; how do you achieve a uniform texture with tomatoes and onions that still feels like soup?

P mentioned that it should have contained cucumbers as well. Not this one - I don't think it did.