Saturday, September 29, 2012

Go Goatocado!

This is my final dispatch from Baltimore, a report from the Baltimore Book Festival. I love this festival for the readings and bookish delights, but usually the food options are mediocre for vegetarians. At the typical festival food stands, one is lucky to get a sloppy hummus wrap sans dairy.

Side note: The Book Fest does have some appealing food at the cooking demonstrations. One year I had some of the best dosas ever, cooked on a makeshift tent griddle. And today, Doron Petersan, from Sticky Fingers, is scheduled at the Food for Thought stage. Another festival food tip is to visit the Radical Bookfair Pavilion for Red Emma's vegan baked goods and fair trade coffee.
Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to discover a Book Fest food vendor with veggie offerings. Goatocado is Richmond-based traveling food stand that serves up freshly-prepared sandwiches. The stand itself looked promising, decorated with colorful veggies and a wood-crate theme. And their logo is cute: a goat with an avocado-shaped head. (Initially, I was worried that goat meat was on the menu. Turns out the veggie sandwiches are jokingly called "To-Goaties." Some To-Goaties feature cheese but not goat cheese.)

I had the Haberdash wrap, which is regularly vegan. Okay, it was technically a hummus wrap. But it was fresh and inventive take on the typical ho-hum wrap. First of all, the hummus was a creamy sweet potato version with quinoa mixed right into it. (What a great idea to boost the nutrition of your hummus!) The whole wheat tortilla was pressed in a panini grill, making the outside toasty and crunchy. Packed inside were healthy veggies, including spinach, red pepper, red cabbage, carrots, and squash. And avocado chunks, of course, not goat.  
Overall, this was a healthy and filling lunch. It was rather expensive, especially for Baltimore, at $9.50 a wrap. However, I've spent more on crappy "fair food" like the ubiquitous greasy spring rolls. Goatocado also had gluten-free options and iced coffee.            

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dirty Carrots opens Fells Point storefront

This past Saturday, Dirty Carrots opened their Fells Point storefront at 600 South Wolfe Street, with its entrance on Fleet Street. It is a tiny takeaway spot, offering an array of vegan sweets, mainly packed into one display case. Despite the odd moniker, Dirty Carrots bakery is my go-to source for baked goods in Baltimore. I frequent their stand at the Sunday Baltimore Farmers' Market and seek out their items at coffee shops around town. This new location has limited coffee shop hours, open daily from 7:30am-1:30pm.

There are few thrills like taking a coffee and a freshly baked vegan treat onto the street. And Fells Point is a fun area to explore while munching on baked goods. Below are photos of the brownie and coffeecake that my boyfriend and I scored and quickly devoured. The brownie, available with or without nuts, was moist and chocolaty. It reminded me a little of Sticky Fingers Bakery's Jenny's Brownie, a DC favorite. The decadent coffeecake had the correct springy texture, dense without being heavy.    

In addition to its baked goods, the new Dirty Carrots location features fresh brewed, fair trade, locally roasted coffee with a nice assortment of vegan creamers, spices, and sweeteners. They also have some "penny candy" for sale, the kind that makes PETA's "Accidentally Vegan" list. (I consult this list every Halloween to prepare for trick-or-treaters.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Indigma's grand lunch buffet

Indigma, located at 801 North Charles Street, touts itself as "the best modern Indian restaurant in Baltimore City." I must concur. What makes Indigma special? First of all, they have a romantic setting. The restaurant has high ceilings, chandeliers, colorful walls, and large windows that look out onto the iconic Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Park. (I bring all of my out-of-town visiting guests to Indigma because it is sure to impress on appearance alone.) But what's more important than looks is the food.
The best way to sample this fresh, inventive, and delicious food is at Indigma's lunch buffet, available Saturday and Sundays from 12-3pm and weekdays from 11:30am-2:30pm. This truly grand buffet offers all-you-can-eat lunch with salads, condiments (including excellent pickle), traditional snacks, desserts/fruits, and breads.

The highlight of the lunch buffet is their sambar (photo below). It is a rich, savory, and addictive stew. On a recent visit my boyfriend polished off six bowls of it. The other food items on the buffet are variable, but, thankfully, the sambar seems to be a staple. Also of note, the "spicy salad" is wickedly hot and flavorful with fresh veggies, onions, and chickpeas.      
Indigma uses a color scheme to denote which buffet dishes are vegetarian (usually green). Even more impressive, they have started posting labels for dietary preferences on each buffet dish, including the biranyi and rice. For example, the smooth and subtly spicy chenna masala gets labeled "G-F, VEG, VGN." One word of caution here is that the servers often bring a gratis basket of non-vegan naan to your table. I recommend ordering a vegan roti or chapati instead.         

Sadly, the buffet isn't available at dinner. However I have visited Indigma for dinner and the restaurant has some amazing vegan fusion dishes that are not found on the buffet, as well as killer cocktails.

Remember the moment in the film The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy hugs the Scarecrow goodbye and cries, "I think I'll miss you most of all!"? This is what I've been thinking about Indigma's grand lunch buffet, as I prepare to leave Oz for Kansas. Or rather, in my case, move from the Technicolor dining world of Baltimore back to Sepia Tone DC. (Please expect to see more DC restaurants featured on this blog soon. Because: "there's no place like home.")

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ethiopian lunch buffet at Dukem, need I say more?

I love a buffet! And Baltimore has several great ones, largely Indian and Nepalese, that I frequent. However one buffet opportunity that is still rather novel to me is the Ethiopian buffet.  I've been to only three Ethiopian buffets so far in my life and the lunch buffet at Dukem, 1100 Maryland Avenue, is a fine example of the form. Available weekdays only, the lunch buffet offers five vegetarian dishes and ample injera at an affordable price.    

It seems to me that you lose the communal nature of Ethiopian eating when dining from the buffet but you gain individual control of your plate. (This buffet style can be helpful, if you are dining with non-veg friends too). 
Photographed above is a buffet plate with mild yellow split peas, spicy berbere-flavored lentils, garlicky collards, savory tikil gomen (cabbage, carrot, and potato stew), and the requisite tomato, onion, and jalapeƱo salad. Everything on this plate was excellent. The friendly waitstaff also brought my boyfriend and I a pitcher of refreshing lemon water and even more injera. Because, of course, we had practiced bad injera management in our buffet glee.    
Baltimore's Dukem is like the quiet sister of their thriving DC location. Instead of a VIP bar scene, this Dukem has a chill atmosphere, with a wood-paneled interior and soft Ethiopian music playing in the background. They also have a rather secluded upstairs with a good view of the street below.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Something Vegan" at City Cafe

Recently I read this interview in b, in which Jared Rhine, the new chef at City Cafe, said his favorite dish on the menu was called "Something Vegan." Most chefs rarely cop to preferring their vegan menu items, so I had to check it out.

This comically titled dish seems like a response to the question that vegans often pose to chefs at modern American restaurants when they find no dining options, even at the height of summer's bounty.  "Please, can you make me something vegan?" Usually what comes back from the kitchen after this request is a hodgepodge assembly. It can be fresh and tasty, but it can also be laughably thrown together with whatever happens to be on hand.
City Cafe's "Something Vegan" sampler benefits from forethought but seemed to fall down on the seasonal focus of the restaurant. The quinoa center of the dish was the bomb!  (I'd go back to have a full plate of it. Maybe two.) The quinoa was surrounded by squash tempura, grilled tomatoes, and roasted cauliflower, which were well-cooked and most likely local. The asparagus seemed more like an appropriate springtime offering though. And the mango salsa felt out of place with the rest of the plate. Maybe if the overly sweet salsa could be swapped out for more supremely delicious grains, this dish would be a clear winner.       
Not content with one option only, my boyfriend and I quizzed the staff about the appetizers. (This restaurant is hip enough to have a vegan main dish in place but they could work on adding "vegan option available" cues for their other menu items.) The helpful staff was able to offer some fresh and tangy meatless nachos (minus the cheese and sour cream) and a nicely-dressed chopped salad with cannellini beans, squash, hearts of palm, and tomatoes (hold the feta).

So City Cafe clearly can serve more than "something" vegan and they can use seasonal veggies to great effect. Located at 1001 Cathedral Street, City Cafe is a bustling, energetic space with a large, attentive staff. It can get crowded, especially during brunch. They also have sidewalk seating, an excellent coffee bar, and a "bar bar" with happy hour specials.