Cafe Frida – Delicious Mexican Food in New York City

November 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have found that some of the best vegan meals I’ve had are at ethnic restaurants – specifically Central/South American, Asian, and Mediterranean. I love the many spices and layers of flavor they create in their dishes – always proving to be truly satisfying. While in NYC, we had gone to the Museum of Natural History  on the Upper West Side and after a morning of whales and dinosaurs were completely ravished. I quickly scanned Foursquare to see what was nearby but nothing was looking very promising. We decided to just walk and see what we could find – one of the many joys of New York.

Just a few blocks away we could see Cafe Frida in the distance. It’s bright interior colors and the name itself called my attention. As a former artist, anything mentioning Frida is good by me. Upon entering I knew we were in for a treat. Mexican music bellowed through the speakers as the diners enjoyed their flavorful plates.

The vibrant orange and pink walls coupled with mis-matched chairs and tables created a warm, welcoming environment. We scored a table by the window and got to enjoy watching the New Yorkers pass us by.

Several items on the menu were vegetarian. They had a nice variety to choose from. If you are vegetarian, there were lots of choices. We started with a trio of salsas, but it was almost too hard to just pick three. We landed on the aguacate, pico de gallo, and mestiza. The aguacate was my favorite. It was a smooth creamy avocado salsa with a nice kick from the chile serrano. The chips too cannot be overlooked – slightly thick and golden, they were delicious and I’m afraid to say we finished the whole bucket – well mostly I finished it exclaiming with every bite, Oh my god these chips are so good, as Luis watched the bucket slowly disappear.

Luis ordered a vegetarian meal of chilaquiles. Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican dish of tortilla chips baked with tomatillo salsa, a green sauce, and topped with cheese and sour cream. On the side was a fried egg and black beans. I was a bit nervous as he ate it since he hadn’t had cheese or eggs in over a month, but he was OK and said it was one of the best meals he has had. That meal may have pushed him to want to be vegetarian instead of vegan but I can say, since returning home he’s had neither cheese nor eggs so he is still trying to be vegan 🙂

I had the vegetable fajita lunch. The lunch was a $12.95 combo (seriously, you can’t beat that in NYC!) for a salad and your entree. The salad was very nice and I think it had some kind of avocado dressing. I’ve seen recipes for this but never thought it sounded good but after trying this, I’ll definitely give it a try at home.

The fajitas were simply delish. An array of vegetables thickly coated in a nice spicy red sauce which gave them tons of flavor. Traditional Mexican rice on the side finished the dish. Needless to say I cleared my plate, even with the aforementioned empty bucket of chips 🙂


If you’re looking for a vegan restaurant in New York City or just good ‘ol Mexican, definitely check out Cafe Frida. If we lived there, I can tell you we’d spend every Friday night there no doubt – I didn’t try the margaritas, but I’m sure they’d go down easy with that amazing food!

A Vegan Oasis – Candle79

October 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

Candle79 is one of the vegan restaurants we scouted out on our trip to NYC last week. I can’t say enough good things about this place – nice staff, comfortable environment, and most importantly, amazingly flavorful and wholesome vegan food! Whether you are vegan or not – I highly recommend checking them out if you’re in NYC.

Overall the meal was fantastic. We thoroughly enjoyed all the options we had and the fact that we didn’t have to worry about what was in them. Portions are a tad on the small side – this is an upscale restaurant so with an appetizer and desert, it is perfect. Pricing was perhaps a bit high, but considering all ingredients are fresh and organic – not to mention delicious – its well worth it! They have a cookbook coming out November 1, and it will likely be my first vegan cookbook I buy it inspired me so much.

The restaurant has a quaint entrance on 79th street on the Upper East Side. The downstairs is pretty contemporary feeling with sleek lines and warm colors. We were seated upstairs in the back which was fine but next time I’m definitely asking for the front upstairs as there were booths and sweet tables by the window.

The meal started with a little treat from the chef. It was a crostini with some type of spread – I believe it was eggplant and artichoke. Whatever it was, it was amazing. I should warn you – these pictures seriously stink! I need to invest in a camera. I hate taking photos with flash but looking back at these, flash may have been better. Sorry.

We were really tempted to order the guacamole timbale as an appetizer as the next table had it. However, given that guacamole is often on the restaurant menus in Orlando, we went with the tri-colored beet salad with endive and almond cheese and kalamata olive vinaigrette. OK, first things first, I’ve never had a kalamata olive vinaigrette before but I will be figuring out how to make it because it was really delicious. I wouldn’t have every thought to pair olives and beets but it worked very nicely. Also, this was my first forray into nut cheeses. This is a common for vegans and I’d yet to try one anywhere. The almond cheese in my opinion tasted almost like a very dense whipped cream – perhaps like a mousse-like creme fraiche. It provided just enough creaminess to the dish to compliment the salty vinaigrette and hearty beets.

Luis ordered an impressive wild mushroom squash risotto. The risotto was drizzled with cashew cream and topped with frizzled leeks. The crispy leeks were a very nice compliment to the creamy, rich but simple risotto. The risotto was just decadent enough to be truly enjoyable but didn’t leave that harsh full feeling once we finished.

I ordered the live zucchini manicotti. The “live” should have warned me this would be a cold dish but it didn’t and I was a tad surprised to take a bite and meet cold food. But despite the lack of warmth – this dish had tons going for it. The zucchini are cut very thinly to roll into manicotti and stuffed with a vegetable portobello pistou. The pistou was actually almost like a tapenade mixed with diced portobellos. The dish is finished with a tomato sauce and topped with a parsley pine nut salad. A perfect bite of all elements was bold and vibrant. I’m definitely going to use this for inspiration at home – I’ve been thinking I can even just buy pre-made tapenade and mix with some mushrooms for a quick fix similar to this.

Last but my gosh certainly not least – dessert. Dun dun dun! Aside from some delicious vegan chocolate chip cookies from the Whole Foods bakery, dessert hasn’t been on my mind in the past three months. But I couldn’t resist the tempting menu. As a mousse lover, I ordered the chocolate peanut butter bliss and boy was it bliss indeed. Chocolate mousse and peanut butter mousse are layered and covered in a chocolate shell and then finished with a tart berry coulis. Honestly all I can say is yum. And this was truly decadent – for such a small little dessert, the two of us couldn’t even finish it.

There’s no doubt we’ll be going back to Candle79 next time we venture to NYC. I’m so glad we found this little gem on the Upper East Side. We almost missed it entirely by trying to eat near our hotel in Midtown. Luckily a quick google search and scan of the yelp reviews confirmed we had to go. As a matter of fact, I just finished Crazy, Sexy, Diet which I was reading while there, and many recipes in the last chapter are from this very restaurant and we almost missed it entirely!

Until next time, I’ll be waiting for that cookbook to come out.

New York City – Museums, Parks, and Vegan Chow

October 8, 2011 § 3 Comments

I know my last post was about a vacation, but trust me, I’m not used to two vacations in a row! In fact, this one seemed to creep up on us out of nowhere and we found ourselves scrambling at the last minute to prepare for our trip to New York. I’d had two solid weeks of travel so all I craved for the weekend was my own bed and snuggling with my dog. But, we were going out of town for something very special – it was the wedding of one of my best friends. Plus, I figured there had to be tons of great vegan restaurants to explore in metropolitan NYC!

Luis had never been to New York but by the end of hour one he was already trying to figure out how we could  move there – oh, and it was pouring down rain! I’ve been to New York City probably 10+ times. I always loved the hustle and bustle but have always remembered it as being too much chaos for me to ever live with. But it wasn’t that way this time. There was still that great NYC energy, but it wasn’t overwhelming at all – in fact, I was really sad when it came time to leave.

If it weren’t for our dog Chloe, I think we’d be trying to figure out how we could make a move there work. I’m not sure she’d transition so well from her big back yard where she can “hunt” all night long to a tiny 500sf apartment. Surprisingly though I noticed there are so many dogs in the city – but where do they potty? This one question bothered me the entire time we were there. I’ve decided the sidewalks must be the lucky spots. If those dogs are happy maybe Chloe would be too?

We spent the weekend strolling through the streets of Manhattan, enjoying the energy all around us. In fact, I would have usually planned every last second but instead left it to chance and we just walked where we wanted and let fate guide us. By accident we ended up at Bryant Park and I think that was my favorite 30 minutes of the trip – just sitting and enjoying the crisp air and children playing on the green grass, even rolling in it.

Our friend’s wedding was in New Jersey. It was a wonderful evening, one of those weddings where you can really see the couple growing old together – complementing each other in every aspect and having little tears creep out the corner of your eye as you hear them say their vows. They wrote their own and I especially loved the line of “I vow to love us some kids into this world, because I know you’ll make an eccentric mom.”

It was in the backyard of the bride’s New Jersey home and had twinkling candles hanging from the branches and mason jars overflowing with flowers on the table tops. It was a perfect evening and I am so happy for them both.

On Sunday we ended up randomly at a market on Lexington while trying to go somewhere else entirely. It was that very market where I actually ate the best thing of the whole trip – street side grilled corn. Simply grilled, a little chile and salt. Hot, spicy, and juicy – so juicy in fact that with each bite a little would squirt and I’d have to make sure I didn’t hit anyone! It was seriously good. I wish I would have snapped a pic before chowing down.

I’m a huge art buff and still can’t believe we left without visiting a single art museum – but we had too much fun just walking and taking it all in. We did pay a visit to the History Museum which was fantastic. Highly recommend the marine and blue whale room on the bottom. In fact, it was pretty hard visiting this museum as a vegan. Some of the content was a bit much for me. I wonder if all museum workers are vegetarian?

I was really looking forward to this trip for the food. Not the usual NYC pizza I would have usually stuffed myself with but good, wholesome, vegan food. I was actually quite surprised at how hard it was to find vegan options in the city. There are certain pockets of town that have more vegetarian options but we always seemed to be in the wrong area. And as always is the case, the vegetarian options were often loaded with cheese making them not vegan friendly. We made it work though. Except for the wedding, I was able to eat vegan the rest of the trip and Luis didn’t do too bad either.

Some of the great meals we had were at Candle79, Cafe Frida, Gallo Nero, Ess-a-Bagel and the aforementioned corn 🙂

Soaking Up the Last Few Days of Summer – Gazpacho

September 11, 2011 § 9 Comments

September is upon us! I see many pumpkin cookies and spice lattes in my future (vegan of course – I’ll be experimenting). But for now, I’ve been soaking up the last few days of summer. We went away for Labor Day in an attempt to unwind and finally get a tan! Nothing like waiting until the last minute 🙂 We spent several days relaxing on the beautiful beaches of the Boca Raton Resort, where I got so relaxed I managed to stop checking email and in doing so lost my phone! Whether it got lost on the beach or was outright stolen while I lay dozed off in never never land is up for grabs. So, for the remainder of this post, I’ll just have to taunt you with sun drenched beaches instead of vivid veggies. I’m sure you’ll manage.

I had been such a good wife and stocked the kitchen full of delicious vegan lunches for my hubby’s second week of his vegan challenge, but sadly have nothing to show for it now. Before we left I also made gazpacho which is basically the epitome of summer. I’ve been ordering it wherever I can but had never made it myself. I remember my mom used to make it a lot when I was a kid and I didn’t like the cold soup she put in front of us – boy has that changed! I searched through recipes and settled on this one as my guiding light. However, as always, I can’t stick to a recipe. I always end up fussing with it and changing it up. While I really enjoyed the recipe I created, I want to go back and try this one fully one day as it looked so good.

So, I can’t show you this gazpacho, but I can tell you about it. I started by grilling the tomatoes – or more accurately trying to – which was a total waste of time. I often grill on a pan indoors (not always the best choice in the summer heat) so this was most ineffective with tomatoes. I was hoping for a smoky flavor, but it just didn’t work out. However, the onions and peppers grilled very nicely and lent enough of the grill flavor I was looking for.

As you blend the beautiful red tomatoes they turn a lush pink – it’s so pretty and decadent looking. Next blend the peppers and onions with the garlic, basil, olive oil, and some vinegar of your choice. Traditional gazpacho calls for sherry wine vinegar which I didn’t have so I used red wine vinegar like my mom does. The onion does add a strong flavor so if you’re not a fan of raw onion leave it out.

Season with salt, pepper, and paprika and that’s it! If you haven’t tried gazpacho at home yet you definitely should. It’s so easy and good for you, especially if you decide to make it all raw. I liked it with a little drizzle of very good olive oil and fresh cut basil or, which may be my favorite, served in a bowl over a handful of tortilla chips. Either way it’s delicious, cooling, refreshing, and will have you dreaming of gardening or sinking your toes in the sand.

Ahhh, goodbye summer, until next year…

Gazpacho

Inspired by Farm to Table Geek

Ingredients

  • 5 very good tomatoes
  • 3 red peppers
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1/2 jalapeno (or whole depending on your taste)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup very good olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp spanish paprika
  • 12 basil leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
Directions
  1. Grill vegetables if desired.
  2. Prep all vegetables by slicing into chunks that will process easily in the blender or food processor.
  3. Blend tomatoes and pour into large bowl. Blend remaining ingredients (may require two batches) and then mix in with tomatoes.

Vegan Shmegan

August 11, 2011 § 3 Comments

I live in a black and white world. Things are either good or bad, right or wrong. I’m either successful or not, skinny or fat, and the latest…vegan or not vegan. I’ve always struggled with the grey zone. But the reality is, the world we live in is very grey. Things are not always as they first appear and what you think is true one day can turn out to be false the next.

I spent the last few days in Seattle for work. Being a vegan on the road hasn’t been easy – but I’ve managed. This trip luring me in with seafood probably caught the same day was just too big a temptation and I was anxious about how I’d cope and what I’d decide. I know it seems petty that this made me nervous but I was almost to 40 days and really determined to keep going. In my eyes, if I caved, I failed – it was all black and white.

I missed lunch the first day so when dinner came, I was ravenous. I was with a friend and we went to a kinda French / Cajun place – his favorite restaurant in the city. I was a tad nervous all day – if I ate fish, I wouldn’t be able to call myself a vegan. We sat down in this gorgeous restaurant with beautiful decor and a stellar menu. I was instantly excited. Everything looked delicious – surely they could make me a fabulous vegan meal in this place. I wasn’t even tempted to get fish. Reminder: looks can be deceiving.

The waiter came and I explained I was vegan to which I got a nervous and somewhat perplexed look back. I asked if he would talk to the chef and see if they could make me a vegan meal to which he said something along the lines of, “the kitchen is really busy, the chef doesn’t really have time for that.” I was flabbergasted and embarrassed. I really wanted to stand up and leave. Was I the only vegan to ever step foot in this restaurant? Apparently so. I regretfully ordered a salad (again I had NO lunch) and some green beans and while they were good I was left with a sour taste in my mouth.

But just when you think things are down, they can turn around. Wednesday was my 40th day being vegan. And I made it! I lucked out and the catered lunch had plenty of salad, steamed asparagus, and rice. It got even better when we ended up at a wonderful Mexican place for dinner and I had the most delicious and outstanding vegetable fajitas. I went to bed satisfied and content.

Then Thursday I found myself at Pike’s Market, world famous for fish – oh and they had lots of tempting French bakeries. I got to meet up with my cousin for lunch and we stopped at a little oyster bar. I’m not into oysters anyways but the salmon caught my eye. Everyone says you have to have salmon in Seattle. I waited and rationalized to myself that I had made it 40 days, that I could be a vegan that has the occasional piece of fish (have I mentioned I’m hard on myself?!) The salmon finally arrived and while it was good – was a bit of a let down. All that stress, anxiety, and over-analyzing for a dry piece of salmon. Story of my life.

Moral of the story? Things can change in an instant and it isn’t always greener on the other side. In everything we do, we romanticize what life on the other side is like – in another city, another culture, a more exciting job, as a non-vegan 🙂

But we often find ourselves looking back and saying, “you know what, that wasn’t half bad.” Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. And looking back – that fish had nothing on a great platter of sautéed veggies, but the next place might be better. Next time I see a great piece of fish, who knows, maybe I’ll eat it, maybe I won’t.

So vegan shmegan…I need to loosen up and find happiness in the grey zone. But lets be realistic, one minute and day at a time…

Traveling Vegan

July 22, 2011 § 4 Comments

Well this week was the ultimate test to my 30 day vegan challenge. I lucked out and had no travel since starting this so I had pretty good control over my food options. Traveling is whole different story though. No refrigerator stocked full of fruits and veggies, no coconut milk creamer to cut the black coffee, no vegan ice cream to satisfy sweet cravings…but in the end it all worked out well – in fact, it worked out great. I had no shortage of food this week. Granted it all wasn’t super healthy but for being a vegan on the road I fared quite well.

In the mornings I was able to have oatmeal with fruit. The black coffee wasn’t the easiest but it was better than the alternative – falling asleep during my presentations. I brought my team a delicious cake full of yummy frosting and resisted taking even a single bite. They assured me no one would know and tried their hardest to get me to celebrate with them but I held strong.

For lunches I fared well too. I was able to snag some veggie enchiladas without cheese at a really good Mexican joint. I got the Mediterranean Veggie sandwich at Panera without feta which is so good and I get all the time even off this diet. And yesterday surprisingly at the airport no less I managed to eat quite well at Friday’s with a new fruity salad loaded with mango, avocado, and peppers.

Dinners were even more exciting! I was especially nervous about this as I knew I’d be with a group and didn’t want to be a complete pain. But there was no need for worrying as both places had great options.

The first night we went to a little Colombian restaurant. Luckily they had a vegetarian plate full of plantains, yucca, rice, beans, and arepas. Now, this was probably a starch overload but it was good! I didn’t touch the beans as I wasn’t confident they were free of chicken stock so I focused on everything else. The delicious salsas they served on the side made everything exciting.

The last night we went to this awesome little restaurant, Dive Coastal Cuisine. It was soooo good and cute! I definitely will return there after my challenge. But in the mean time there was so much for a vegan to choose I could barely decide. We started with delicious dips – I was able to partake in the white bean hummus and tomoto garlic ones. I had a veggie wrap for my entrée which came with a fabulous pesto that gave it tons of added flavor. And there was an amazing coconut rice that I could barely resist. Given my starch intake in the last few days though I limited it to just a few bites.

So there you have it, success as a traveling vegan. Who knew.

Update: See how my 30-day vegan challenge ended and see how I’ve done traveling since then. 

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