Vegan Wines in Haute Cuisine

Taste Tester, January 24, 2014, No comments
Categories: Great Food, Near and Far
Tags: , , , ,

Encountering organic and sustainable wines in Oakland

Vegan wines were once seen as a quirky novelty, an esoteric indulgence enjoyed by eternally fastidious vegetarians who somehow taste a gamey edge on a pinot noir from Burgundy, notes of bacon fat from wines extracted from the Syrah grapes of the northern Rhône, and just plain old meatiness from Argentinian malbec wines. Indeed, the very existence of vegan wines might come as an odd surprise for most people; after all, wine is essentially fermented grape juice. Apparently, there are quite a few animal-derived products involved in making wine, specifically in the filtration (or fining) process. As a matter of fact, bull’s blood was traditionally used as a fining agent until it was banned by the European Union (EU) after the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease) crisis. Meanwhile, a number of animal-derived products are still permitted in the winemaking process; some of the most prevalent are isinglass (fish bladders), gelatin, casein (milk protein), and albumen (egg whites).

Fortunately, the Oakland vegan food scene is in full bloom, with a diverse variety of restaurants offering vibrant, hearty, and utterly delicious meals with wines made from organic and sustainable practices. That means no added sulfites (also known as sulfur dioxide, a preservative that is widely used in food manufacturing), no genetically modified organisms, and no harmful chemicals such as weed killers, fungicides, and insect repellents. The Encuentro Café and Wine Bar, located at 202 Second Street in Oakland, is one of the first wine bars to exclusively pair vegan and vegetarian food with organically grown and vegan-friendly wines from small, local, and old-world vintners such as like Owen Roe Sharecropper Cabernet Sauvignon, Dashe Dry Creek Zinfandel or Navarro Gewurztraminer. Interestingly enough, sustainability in winemaking has also spilled over to the big leagues. UK-based retail giant Marks and Spencer has also released the first-ever carbon neutral Beaujolais Nouveau, in addition to a 2009 Altos del Condor Sauvignon Gris from the Trapiche Vineyards in Argentina, crafted by the veteran winemaker Daniel Pi.

With a booming vegetarian food and wine community in Oakland, San Francisco, and the rest of the Bay Area, it’s encouraging to see a deeper appreciation for vegan wines.


Ferraro’s (Wailea, Maui)

Ken, July 02, 2011, No comments
Categories: Near and Far
Tags: , , , , ,

3900 Wailea Alanui
Wailea, HI 96753
(808) 874-8000

Ferraro'a Rating

Ferraro’s at the Four Seasons was simply off the charts. We made a special trip to dine at one of our favorite places, and it turned out to be the best meal of the trip.

The setting is relaxed and unhurried, outdoors alongside the pools of the Four Seasons and facing a sunset view over the Pacific, with the island of Khoolawe across the strait. Somehow, Ferraro’s is sheltered from the strong afternoon winds that bear down on Wailea on summer afternoons.

The menu is Italian inspired and Maui-fresh ingredients infused. Vegetarian and vegan options are always available, and it’s the kind of place that could likely accommodate any request. Everything took a while to come, so I had a chance to snap a few photos just for fun.

Dinner at Ferraro's

Oil and Water, KAGoldberg

Dinner at Ferraro's

Fantastic ciabatta bread, KAGoldberg

Kathryn dove into the ciabatta bread, which had a perfect crunchy crust—though she wouldn’t know, since I’m the only one who eats them!

First came my tomato fennel soup. I’m sometimes wary of tomato soups being too acidic, or made with cream— this one was neither. A vegan soup smoothed and mellowed by fennel puree. I’ve never had a tomato soup I liked more.

Tomato Fennel Soup

Tomato Fennel Soup

My main course was this quinoa spaghetti with pesto. The spaghetti was al dente with a flavor that shone through the light pesto. The tiny Kula tomatos were flavor bombs at the peak of ripeness.

At Ferraro's

Quinoa Spaghetti with Pesto—Amazing, KAGoldberg

Kathryn had this asparagus risotto with black truffles. When she ate her fill, I finished the rest. One word, Wow!

Asparagus risotto with black truffles

Asparagus Risotto with Black Truffles

With great restraint, we skipped dessert, but they had other plans. Since it was a wedding anniversary dinner for us, they brought us a special plate with a variety of small chocolate truffles. With the sun setting over the sea, it was the perfect way to end a perfect meal.

View from Ferraro's

View from Ferraro's


Cozmic Café & Pub (Placerville, CA)

Ken, May 14, 2011, No comments
Categories: Near and Far
Tags: , , , , ,

Cozmic Café & Pub
594 Main Street
Placerville, CA 95667
(530) 642-8481

Cozmic Cafe Rating

Looking for a place to stop for lunch between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, Happy Cow helped us find the Cozmic Café & Pub in Placerville. What a great place!

We drove into town on a bright and shiny Saturday morning, and found a really happening downtown with a lively a.m. farmers market right across the street from The Cozmic. Nestled in a 1859 historic building with a gold-mine in the back (?!), The Cozmic cafe is a fun place for a veggie lunch with people-watching.

Placerville's Cozmic Café & Pub

Placerville’s Cozmic Café & Pub, KAGoldberg

I ordered the Tofu Scramble, which was light and fluffy with mushrooms, and onions on a bed of spinach leaves, with a side of wheat toast and a Mixed Berry Smoothie.
Tofu Scramble

Tofu Scramble, KAGoldberg

K got the The Righteous Rice Bowl, with organic rice, organic balsamic beans, carrots, cabbage and cheese, under salsa and more with a few avocado wedges on top.

Righteous Rice Bowl

Righteous Rice Bowl, KAGoldberg

We loved our meal so much we stopped there again and had the same thing on the way home from Tahoe.


Jyun Kang Restaurant (Ukiah)

Ken, December 31, 2010, No comments
Categories: Near and Far
Tags: , , , , ,

City of 10,000 Buddhas
2001 Talmage Road
Ukiah, CA 95482
Jyun Kang
(707) 462-0939

Jyun Kang Rating

A vegan restaurant in Ukiah? Don’t act so surprised. Ukiah (actually Talmage, just east of town) is home to The City of Ten-Thousand Buddhas, which, according to Wikipedia, “is one of the first Chinese Zen Buddhist temples in the United States, and one of the largest Buddhist communities in the Western Hemisphere.”

So we made a special trip on our way home from Mendocino this Winter. (Note that they’re closed on Tuesdays, so we missed them on the trip up and ate there on the way back.)

At the end of Talmage Road, we entered the campus through a two-story, ornate yellow gate. We stopped at the administration building on the right to check-in and sign the guestbook.

Gate at City of 10,000 Buddhas

The restaurant is just a two blocks further, past some amazing murals and statues.

Jyun Kang

We arrived about 12:40, just before a big rush, and every table was soon full. They have about 50 different things on the menu, there’s quite a selection—all vegan.

Menu at Jyun Kang (small)

Menu at Jyun Kang (click to enlarge)

Delicious Tea

The tea came right away. I’m not an expert, but it tasted like a barley tea, similar to the Korean teas we’ve had. We decided to sample a few things and order more than we could eat in one sitting. We ended up with. . .

Steamed Dumplings (a.k.a. momos)

Steamed Dumplings (a.k.a. momos), KAGoldberg

Golden Tofu Seaweed Rolls w/ Plum Sauce

Golden Tofu Seaweed Rolls w/ Plum Sauce, KAGoldberg


Fried Japanese Style Noodles & Mixed Vegetables

Fried Japanese Style Noodles & Mixed Vegetables, KAGoldberg

Actually the noodles took a long time to come. I think they forgot about us, until K prompted them for our order. They were very apologetic!

The Golden Tofu Seaweed Rollshad a great texture and a really strong seaweed taste. Unscientifically, it was twice as strong as an equivalent sushi roll. I liked it, but K found it a bit too fried for her taste. The carrots and crunchy sprouts were excellent in the plum sauce.

The Japanese Style Noodles were peppery and excellent. Again, I enjoyed this dish more than K did. All of the flavors were different than we’re used to, and for me that made it more special. We have sort of a "split decision" on the food, but there were so many things on the menu that looked interesting, I would certainly try it again the next time I’m in Ukiah around lunchtime.


Monsoon Fine Cuisine of India (Gaslamp, San Diego)

Ken, December 31, 2010, No comments
Categories: Near and Far

729 4th Ave
(Gaslamp District, between F St & G St)
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 234-5555

Monsoon Restaurant Rating

Another one of Shraddha’s great recommendations for us was Monsoon Fine Cuisine of India. I actually got our meal to go and we ate at the hotel. Here’s the photo I took while waiting at the elegant bar.

Fully stocked

Fully stockedKAGoldberg

Perhaps predictably, we ordered the Chana Masala, Sag Aloo, and a Garlic Naan. The entrees come with basmati rice. All of it was fantastic. What I couldn’t finish, I ate for breakfast the next day!

You can download a PDF of the Monsoon menu.

At the time of this posting, I can see that there’s something of a Yelp! war going on between Monsoon, and the other Indian restaurants in the neighborhood. I can say that in Summer 2010, Monsoon was the most highly recommended, but we didn’t try the others.

Once more, thank you Shraddha for the great recommendations.


Chocolat Cremerie (Gaslamp, San Diego)

VegBlog Admin, December 31, 2010, No comments
Categories: Near and Far
Tags: , , , , , ,

509 5th Ave
(Gaslamp District)
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 238-9400

Chocolat Rating

Shraddha, the elegant and all-knowing concierge at the Westgate Hotel recommended a few places for us to try in the Gaslamp District, and they were all great. Chocolat was so good I went there three times in four days, twice for lunch and once for dinner.

From the name and the decor, you might mistakenly think that this is just a fancy ice cream shop. Yes, the gelato looks amazing, and that seems to be what most people get, but I came for the food. Chocolat makes a great, light, Italian-style flatbread pizza which they were happy to make vegan at my request. It was several months ago that I was there, but I remember well the perfectly tangy thin layer of tomato sauce and the roasted vegetables on top—like it was just this morning. We sat in one of the tables outside, to people-watch in the late afternoon. The pizza was served on a cutting block. The photo is of K’s pizza (zucchini, asparagus, portobello, tomato sauce, & mozzerella.

Flatbread Pizza at Chocolat Cremeria

The next day, I came in at lunch and got a Grilled Panini. And the day after that, I brought some work colleagues there for lunch, but they were out of the pizza, so I had another kind of sandwich. It was small but totally delicious.

I’m not so much into the dessert end of the dining spectrum, but they have lots of special crepes, Pasta and all kinds of sweets.

Thank you, Chocolat, and thank you again, Shraddha.


Rama Thai Restaurant (Gaslamp, San Diego)

Ken, December 31, 2010, No comments
Categories: Near and Far
Tags: , , ,

327 Fourth Avenue
(Gaslamp District)
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 501-THAI (8424)

Raja (San Diego) Rating

Shraddha, the elegant and all-knowing concierge at the Westgate Hotel recommended a few places for us to try in the Gaslamp District, and they were all great. Raja was a huge standout—a very special Thai restaurant with a modern, rich, and exotic interior, techno-music, and amazing food.

We came relatively early for dinner and were led to a generous booth, deep in the expansive back room, with a waterfall, hanging curtains, and dim, romantic lighting.

The service was professional and it was no problem ordering a complete vegetarian meal. We ate there several months ago, but I can still remember that we got Spring Rolls and the Eggplant entree. The flavors were subtle and sublime. Everything was done perfectly.

I will absolutely go back.


Yeti Restaurant (Glen Ellen)

Ken, September 26, 2010, No comments
Categories: Near and Far

14301 Arnold Drive
(South of the main part of town)
Glen Ellen, CA 95442
(707) 996-9930‎

Yeti Restaurant Rating

I had a relaxed, fantastic weekend lunch at Yeti Restaurant, a Nepalese and Indian place in Glen Ellen. We sat outside on their nice patio, just above Sonoma Creek, and the late-September weather was gorgeous. Inside the place is decorated to the hilt in Nepalese style.

Samosas at Yeti

The samosa were excellent and very large, but my entree was off the charts. From Indian cuisine, I’m a huge chana masala fan, and pretty much anything with garbanzo beans works for me. Yeti has chana pindi, which I had never tried before. Rather than tomato and onion, chana pindi is spiced with mango powder, and has a very light purple-red gravy. The beans were perfectly cooked, and I almost ate the entire serving.

Chana Pindi at Yeti Restaurant

The restaurant is in an out-of-the-way spot on Arnold Drive (I think it’s called the "Jack London Village?"), but it’s really just a minute south of Glen Ellen’s main intersection. There are lots of vegetarian selections, so I’m sure I’m going to be making a special trip back to Yeti soon. It was that good.


Zut! On Fourth (Berkeley)

Ken, September 04, 2010, No comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany
Tags: , , , , , ,

1820 Fourth Street
(Near Hearst, half a block south of Peet’s)
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 644-0444

Zut! on Fourth, Rating

Zut Alors!

We’ve got a great new place to eat on 4th Street in Berkeley: Zut! When I saw the menu online—with plenty of veg options—I went online right away and booked us a Friday night res. through I’m really glad I did because the place was great—and it was packed.

Zut! is just south of Pete’s and around the corner from Sur La Table. It just opend at the end of August 2010.

They have created a terrific modern space with several different zones and a great atmosphere. Walk in and to the right there’s a very cool bar, with an interesting yellowish backlighting that shows people in silhouette. To the left there’s a lively cafe-scene mural covering a three walled room. Up the middle there’s a quieter section with a curved white ceiling and copper-colored mirrors at seated-eye-level that expand the small room. But enough about the ambiance, we came for the food.

Zut!’s webpage says “regional Mediterranean dishes prepared with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.” In my mind, that could mean almost anything in this town, but I wasn’t prepared for how creative and different our selections would be.

We started with two great appetizers. Huge, braised white beans were served with tiny roasted peppers, cooked-down spinach and a tangy goat cheese, with olive oil at the bottom of the plate. K called it a highlight. We also tried the Fry Bread, but don’t let the name fool you. It has nothing to do with the Native American specialty. The chef-selection bread of the night turned out to be thin pita slices, arranged under thin fennel strips, delicate greens, and tiny orange Early Girl tomato halves. The bread was crispy and bore a taste reminiscent of savory won tons.

The food went really well with a glass of biodynamic Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendocino, whose name I wish I could recall.

For our main courses we ordered a fresh mozzarella pizza with a light crust and a bright, tasty tomato sauce, and a Summer Vegetable Tangine which blew my socks off. I have to say, sometimes a dish with couscous and squash at a fancy restaurant can be an utterly bland culinary afterthought. (Note to restauranteurs trying to throw a vegan bone to your veg. guests: Thank you, but even if you throw in a few olives, it’s still bland.) This, however, was a dish of a different breed.

The slow-cooked tangine arrived at the table piping hot, in a wide, yellow ceramic bowl capped with a tall conical lid that the waiter removed at the table. The aroma told me I was in for a real treat. All of the couscous formed a moist starch underlayer for the vegetables—and fruits!—on top. There were squash, thin, light-green peppers, eggplant, and cooked-down tomatoes. But there were also several tasty apricots that came to life in this wonderful dish. I counted a few luscious figs, and several green olives. I’ve never had anything quite like it. Huge compliments to the chef for creating a bold and different vegetarian entree that really impressed me.

At a place so good, we had to try the dessert. We chose a chocolate torte: a rich, gooey chocolate cylinder with a dusting of powdered sugar, and a moat of concentrated, reduced ripe berries all around. Wow.

I’ll have to wait until my next trip to try the all-veg “sides”: french fries with aioli, roasted summer vegetables, and braised summer greens.

Let me highly recommend this welcome newcomer and give them huge props for offering up great vegetarian fare.


Udupi Palace (Berkeley)

1901 University Avenue
(At the corner of University and Martin Luther King)
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 843-6600

Udupi Palace Rating

Udupi Palace is a great South Indian Vegetarian Restaurant at the busy intersection of University and Martin Luther King, in Berkeley, across from the Trader Joe’s construction site, and also the Chaat Cafe. Billing itself as "A place for dosas…" how could I resist?

You walk in and immediately notice that it smells wonderful. We went on a Friday night, a little on the early side, and there was a pretty good crowd—some couples and a large family.

I was very pleased that I chose to get the Samosa: a pair of yummy tetrahedrons; light and flaky (i.e. fried) on the outside, with curried potato and peas on the inside. It’s a rare fried delicacy for me.

Udupi Palace Samosas

A pair of crispy Samosas

The real hard decision was the dosa menu. Dosas are rice and lentil flour crêpes stuffed with something delicious and soft, and rolled into a tube shape that overflows the plate. There were a dozen or so different kinds of dosas, and nearly as many uthappam which are rice and lentil pancakes. Combinations included potato, onions, peas, vegetables, even cheese, and different seasonings. All come thali style with a small bowls of spicy sambar (a lentil soup) and a coconut chutney that I really enjoyed.

But what’s really remarkable—and I’ve been saving this comment for the end because I wasn’t sure you’d believe me—is that the masala dosa that I ordered was as long as my arm, if not longer!

Udupi Palace Masala Dosa

Masala Dosa longer than my arm

Seriously, this thin, light, lentil-flour crêpe was as delicious as it was wide. I tore through it pretty quickly and was rather proud of myself to boot. Kathryn was amazed to see it go. She got a spinach masala dosa which was a nice twist on the theme. The crêpe was green and maybe even more delicious than mine, with a slightly bitter spinach kick.

Near the edges, where there’s no stuffing, the dosa dough is dry but fluffy, yet it’s sort of hard to cut with the dull knife I had. I don’t have any idea whether or not it was radically uncouth, but I picked it up and ate the last tasty bits with my hands, burrito style.

Now here’s the crazy part. For a samosa appetizer and two huge dosas, the bill came to about $16.75 with tax, before tip. Check it out!

2/27/2010 Update—I went back to Udupi Palace with a big group of work colleagues, and I got to see a lot more of the dishes. Just about everyone got a dosa. The Spring Dosa looked fantastic. The Paper Dosa, be forewarned, is gigantic but is not stuffed. There’s nothing inside. The dosa wrapper is dipped into the sambar and coconut side dishes. I think that I would find it unsatisfying.


About the Authors

Ken and Kathryn are the authors of VegJapan, a vegetarian TravelBlog in Japan.


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