Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I love you like a 100% vegan pay-by-the pound buffet (or, veganism in British Columbia)

B. and I spent most of the past week hanging out in British Columbia, and though I pride myself on keeping this blog very focused, I feel the need to blog a bit about the vegan meals we checked out while traveling around.

Really, this was the excuse and the springboard...

A vegan reuben in a serious piece of history (a piece of history that is open twenty-four hours, and though you'd expect it to be as crunchy as a raw flax cracker, manages to have the warm and pleasant atmosphere that reminds you more of a classy tea-house than the place where Greenpeace was founded back when the street was called "Rainbow Road").

I was thoroughly pleased with the Naam, even though it was a little crowded, slow, expensive (but so is everything in Vancouver, B.C.) and they managed to add completely unnecessary dairy to everything. (A Dragon Bowl of tofu, perfectly cooked veggies and...a slice of jack cheese, really?). So the tempeh reuben of course came with Swiss, you could sub for Tofurella but our friendly and helpful server informed us that Tofurella has casein. I thought the reuben was perfectly good ultimately, with tempeh, sauerkraut, sauteed mushrooms, tomato and sprouts on a whole wheat bun. Sure, it was more like a tempeh burger with sauerkraut (I slathered it with mustard), but it was tasty. B. didn't think it was a real reuben because it didn't have any kind of dressing or special sauce. I guess Portland has spoiled us. Though the pie made from pureed dates and bananas with no added sweetener in a flaky crust blew my mind.

As for eating vegan in B.C. in general, it ran the gamut from being surprisingly easy (more on that later) to somewhat annoying (the "vegetarian cafe" with the tiny pile of tofu scramble that wouldn't let me sub something I actually wanted to eat for the non-vegan English muffin).

For the sake of public knowledge, some definite highlights (read: if you are vegan and find yourself in Victoria, B.C., you must go here) include Green Cuisine, an extensive salad and hot bar that is entirely vegan where you pay by weight. They also have some awesome vegan desserts, including in-house ice cream and baked goods. The other great find was Lotus Pond Chinese Restaurant, just a few blocks up Johnson from Green Cuisine. I felt incredibly lucky to find this place, and to be able to get lunch there on a weekday, when they have their pay-by-weight buffet, which includes, wait for it, vegan DIM SUM! The ginger broccoli was delicious and perfectly cooked, they had a couple other veggie-heavy dishes that included some soy-based meat but the meat didn't dominate, which I appreciated personally, and of course I was super-hyped to try the turnip cakes, potstickers and red bean pastry. In general I found both these joints to be way better than the equivalents in Portland -- in that the food was reasonably priced (and this in a city where it is typically very expensive to eat out), and unlike some buffets that are "all-you-can-eat," these places stock the bar with stuff you actually are excited about eating (unlike that vegan lunch buffet in Chinatown that shall go unnamed).

Even though I used to shy away from buffets where you actually paid based on quantity, the above restaurants (as well as a co-op in Corvallis called First Alternative that also has an awesome salad and hot bar) have turned me around. I've realized it's great, as a health-conscious vegan, to be able to pick exactly what you want to eat in the quantity that you want.

See you soon, when we'll have another post on vegan reubens in Portland!

P.S. Another restaurant we visited that's probably worth mentioning was a 100% vegan sandwich shop with locations in both Seattle and Tacoma called Hillside Quickie's. I wasn't too excited with what I ended up with, the Jamacian Jerk tofu, but the chili was epic, and they did have a "Tofustrami" sandwich that included pickles and raw onions, among other condiments, making it almost a reuben...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

TRUEBEN: The Red and Black

B. was a bit miffed that I delayed sampling the Red and Black's tempeh reuben for so long. He was eager to try the sandwich, and the restaurant in general, after hearing me rave about it as pretty much the inspiration for this blog. This Southeast Portland worker-owned cafe's tempeh-mushroom reuben was the first vegan reuben I'd ever had out, and it pretty much blew me away. True, it was directly after Bridge Pedal, I was famished, and I went crazy and got a side salad and a delicious cup of their vegan chili with it, so it was nearly the perfect meal. But I was afraid to review it too early on in this blog, because I truly believed it would trump all others, and sort of what's the point of continuing on if you've already had the best?

Well, I'll say this. B. was not disappointed. And with a 4.5, the Red and Black's reuben does have the highest score we've awarded. But it's with bittersweet sentiment that I say, yes, there is room for improvement. And I'll also add, perhaps my vision is clouded with nostalgia, but it was a slight let down after the awesome experience I had that first time.

As you may know, the Red and Black Cafe for years was located near the intersection of 22nd and SE Division. That was where I had the reuben the first time, and I'll chalk it up to extremely experienced staff: the presentation was better and the construction and the balance of ingredients were better. But like I said, despite these two differences, the reuben we had recently at the Red and Black's new location on SE 12th was still pretty awesome.

I think the highlight is the vegan dressing; it's tart and creamy, probably chock full of veganaise. It's creaminess (not runny at all) contributes to a sandwich that holds together very well -- a trait B. continually appreciates. The protein component is great, too, a mixture of tempeh and mushrooms, nicely complementary flavors that B. noted wasn't too heavy on the mushroom taste. I was excited to see that the Red and Black now makes their own kraut, which in my mind gives them extra points and thus makes this a virtual 5 on the scale from 1 to 5. The kraut was great, refreshing and slightly sweet, I did wish there was more of it. The bread was a light rye with a taste of caraway. Very similar to the bread at Veganopolis--a really dark rye doesn't seem very common in this town. The bread was toasty and warm and was probably heated on a sandwich press or grill pan.

I found the tempeh filling a little too salty for my taste, though B. didn't seem to think so. Other than that, the only other thing I found lacking was that I felt the amount of dressing was disproportionate to the other two components---definitely would have liked more kraut, and it might have balanced the saltiness of the tempeh a little. And surprisingly, we both noted on the somewhat sad presentation when the sandwich arrived. I never thought I would rate a sandwich on how it looked, but I guess after Veganopolis and other attractive sandwiches we sampled, we couldn't help but notice the sort of slipshod arrangement. I, perhaps incorrectly, also attribute this to the somewhat new, though friendly and helpful, staff.

All in all, the Red and Black tempeh reuben still comes out on top. Though not as impressive as my first experience with it, this remains a sandwich I could eat again and again. A difference between the old and new locations that I appreciate is that the Red and Black seems to be going entirely vegan -- if reubens aren't your thing, check out their other sandwiches, salads, soups and their dragon noodle bowl. The daily special always seems like a great deal as well.

4.5 out of 5 (though really a 5, probably)

Red and Black Cafe

SE 12th and Oak
Tempeh mushroom reuben. About $7, I think. Comes with a pickle and corn chips, or add soup or salad for $2.
Worker-owned coffee shop and restaurant located a block from the vegan mini-mall. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many vegan options and mostly organic. A nice community gathering spot as well.

Friday, April 4, 2008

While I wouldn't recommend a week of reubens...

...there are enough vegan ones in Portland, if you wanted to go that path for Portland's Try Vegan Week.

The date has been set for June 7 - 14. According to NWVeg, this week will be "a large outreach event to support hundreds of people in our area who are interested in making a change in their diet. There will be mentorship partnerships arranged, lectures, dine-outs, store tours, a guide book, and even a vegan prom."

If anyone needs a mentor, I'm available! Vegan reuben contest a la Iron Chef? Vegan pub food crawl?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"Food porn" as they say...

It seems the reuben has long been the darling of the vegan food blogs, and no less so lately.

Melody over at MeloMeals gave it a try recently.

And Swell Vegan is at it again. She really just needs to add a "reuben" tag.