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Native Foods, Costa Mesa + Native Foods, Santa Monica

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I have already talked about Native Foods, but I thought that I could do multiple reviews of restaurants as I make subsequent visits.  Click here to see previous posts about Native Foods.

Every Spring, my parents and I make a joint appointment with our accountant to take care of some tax preparation.  They have been seeing the same accountant since I was a kid and used to play on the floor of his office during the appointments.  We always make lunch plans while we are in the area and last year we went to VegiLicious All Natural Vegan Cafe.  While we loved VegiLicious, we decided to try something different.  We had made plans to go to Seabirds Kitchen, but at the last minute, I listed some items on the Native Foods menu and my dad was pumped to try it.  The Native Foods in Costa Mesa is located in a shopping center called “The CAMP.”  It was so cute how every parking space had a little message of affirmation painted on it.

There were a lot of eco-friendly stores, restaurants, juice bars, and other cute establishments.  I really wish we had more time before our appointment to explore.

To start, we shared the Butternut Polenta Bites, “pesto baked polenta topped with roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions and toasted pumpkin seeds in balsamic over arugula.”  They were tasty, although a little tough to eat without making a mess.

Butternut Polenta Bites - Native Foods, Costa Mesa | A Vegan in Progress

I ordered the Twister Wrap with Crispy Native Chicken.  I had been eyeing it on my last few visits and I was excited to try it.  It was perfect.  I could eat that weekly if I had the budget.  I also got my favorite Lavender Lemonade.

Twister Wrap with Crispy Native Chicken - Native Foods, Costa Mesa | A Vegan in Progress

My dad ordered the Bistro Steak Sandwich and got a cup of the Watermelon Fresca.

.Bistro Steak Sandwich - Native Foods, Costa Mesa | A Vegan in Progress

My mom ordered the Southwest Chipotle Chop and really enjoyed it.

Southwest Chipotle Chop - Native Foods, Costa Mesa | A Vegan in Progress

I don’t see how we can get away with trying a new restaurant next year, because they both really loved Native Foods.

I popped into the bathroom before leaving and saw that they use Further soap, distilled from the waste grease from their kitchen.  That’s so clever, I don’t know why more places don’t do it.

Further Soap - Native Foods, Costa Mesa | A Vegan in Progress

Native Foods is consistently yummy.  I just wish there was one in the Valley!

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On another visit to the Native Foods in Santa Monica, I ordered the Yo Amigo Taco Salad with guacamole.  It was delicious and totally hit the spot after recovering from a quick bout of the flu.  Bonus:  this Native Foods location is one block from Viva La Vegan Grocery.

Yo Amigo Taco Salad with avocado - Native Foods, Santa Monica | A Vegan in Progress

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Tofurky Italian Sausage vs. Field Roast Italian Sausage

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Tofurky and Field Roast are big names in meat alternatives, both offering a variety of flavors of vegan sausages.  I have always been a fan of Tofurky’s Italian sausages, but on a recent trip to the Follow Your Heart market, I wondered if that was only because Tofurky was available at most grocery stores.  I decided to test the theory and pick up a package of Field Roast Italian Sausages.

Italian Sausages comparison2

One weekend morning, I cooked up a bowl of both, along with some red bell pepper.

Italian Sausages comparison

All of the Field Roast Italian Sausages were individually wrapped and I could immediately see why.  They were pretty delicate and came apart a bit as you can see in the photo above.

Italian Sausages

Here’s a photo of the sausages cooked and looking quite tasty.  My opinion was that the Field Roast sausages were heartier and more meaty and would probably be great crumbled up and used in a dish.  I still favor the Tofurky sausages, though.  They were easier to keep together when cooking and had more of an Italian flavoring.  Don’t go by my opinion, though… give them a try because everyone’s tastes are different.

Gracias Madre, West Hollywood

For my birthday this year, I told my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law that I would love to go out for lunch.  I had suggested a place with both vegan and omnivore options, but after some research, my mother-in-law very thoughtfully suggested Gracias Madre.  Gracias Madre is a 100% vegan restaurant that began in San Francisco and recently opened another location in West Hollywood.

Gracias Madre, West Hollywood | A Vegan in Progress

My first impression was that the restaurant was really pretty – very light and airy.  It was a beautiful LA day, so the restaurant was open to the patio.  The seating was very comfortable, with a variety of benches and chairs at every table, and it wasn’t too crowded.  We were seated on the patio.

Gracias Madre, West Hollywood | A Vegan in Progress

We were offered a water as well as sparkling water and were brought a carafe of both.  It took a while to order and I think it was for a couple of reasons.  For me, I’m not used to being able to order literally anything on a menu, but for Eric’s family, I think it was a little foreign for them to be navigating a vegan menu.

We started with a couple of appetizers – the Gorditas and the Papas al Horno.  The Gorditas, described as “potato-masa cakes topped with warm salsa verde, avocado, and cashew crema,” were wonderful.  I loved the potato-masa cakes and the toppings were very fresh.  The Papas al Horno, described as “roasted potatoes with olive oil and garlic topped with chipotle cashew nacho cheese,” were cooked well and tasted fine, but not worth ordering them again unless you love potatoes with cheese.

I ordered a Tamal because I have always loved tamales and don’t get to have them often since they aren’t usually vegan.  Their tamal is a “stoneground heirloom masa steamed in the husk filled with sautéed butternut squash, poblano peppers and onions, served with beans and escabeche.”  The tamal was the right texture, with flavorful filling, but there wasn’t enough of it.  Mostly, I tasted masa and the salsa I topped the tamal with.  The beans that accompanied it, though, were creamy and delicious.  My sister-in-law ordered the same thing and liked the dish as well.

Eric got the Enchiladas con Mole, “spicy mole enchiladas topped with mushrooms and cashew cheese, served with sautéed greens and beans.”  He absolutely loved them and let me have a bite.  I’m definitely not a fan of mole in regular circumstances, I don’t really understand using cinnamon and chocolate in a savory sauce.  However, this stuff was amazing!  I could taste every little thing in the sauce, kind of like when I had a bowl of Emeril Lagasse’s gumbo from his Steakhouse in my pre-vegan days.  Next time we go to Gracias Madre, I may order this dish for myself!

My mother-in-law got the tacos, “three corn tortillas topped with seared cauliflower, grilled calabaza verde, and mushrooms. Topped with cashew crema, served with beans.”  I had a bite and thought that they were very tasty, but I’m not a huge fan of mushroom texture.  However, I think I might order these in the future, they were that good.

My grandmother-in-law ordered the El Plato, which was a little of everything and came with tortillas.  The menu describes it as “butternut squash, cashew nacho cheese, plantains, cilantro pesto, escabeche, rice, pico de gallo and beans.”  She really enjoyed her fresh and plentiful dish.

Overall, I was very impressed with Gracias Madre.  The service was very good and timely throughout the meal and the food was all very fresh and well-prepared.  The prices were also decent for the upscale feel of the restaurant.  Despite having ordered fresh-squeezed juices and appetizers for a party of five, we spent only about $30 more than the time that three of us dined at Mohawk Bend.  I will definitely be back to Gracias Madre!

Slow Cooker Moroccan Eggplant and Artichokes

This is a slow cooker recipe with good flavor that adds some variety to our standard evening meal rut.  It’s from Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson.  My only complaint is that I’m not a fan of slow cooker recipes that require 30 minutes of prep and cooking before even putting the food in the slow cooker.  It’s not absolutely required, but the cook book says that cooking it in advance gives it the best flavor.

Moroccan Eggplant and Artichokes | A Vegan in Progress

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice or cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups thawed frozen artichoke hearts or 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and halved
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/2 cup pitted and halved kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins or chopped dried apricots (I didn’t add these)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, for garnish (I didn’t have any)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, for garnish (I didn’t add this)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked chickpeas (optional – I am definitely adding those next time)

 

Directions:

  1. For the best flavor, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 1 minute longer.  Add the eggplant and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle on the coriander, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and cayanne, and stir to combine.  Alternatively, omit the oil and saute these ingredients in a few tablespoons of water or combine them in a microwave-safe bowl with a little water, cover, and microwave for 2 minutes.
  2. Transfer the onion mixture to the slow cooker.  Add the artichokes, bell pepper, olives, raisins, and chickpeas.  Stir in the broth and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook on Low until the vegetables are tender, 4 to 5 hours.
  3. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.  Serve hot, sprinkled with the lemon juice, parsley, and lemon zest.
  4. Serve over couscous.

Vegan at Disneyland – Hungry Bear Restaurant

I have posted about Disneyland before and will continue to update as I try different vegan options in both Disneyland and California Adventure.  Click here to see all posts about Disneyland.  Eventually, I plan to put together my own comprehensive list.

My sister and I were looking for a new vegan place to try on our recent trip to Disneyland, so we consulted the impressive 23-page Vegan Cowgirl guide to vegan options at Disneyland.  It’s dated 2013, so the information is pretty current.

We went over to the Hungry Bear Restaurant (located near Splash Mountain and the Winnie the Pooh ride) to try the Fried Green Tomato sandwich.

Hungry Bear Restaurant, Disneyland | A Vegan in Progress

It’s cornmeal crusted fried green tomatoes, layered with heirloom tomatoes and jicama-mango slaw and served on a multigrain roll.  Just make sure to order it without sauce or cheese.  Unfortunately, even though I said the exceptions twice, she didn’t get that I didn’t want cheese, so I had to wait for them to re-make the sandwich.

Fried Green Tomato Sandwich - Hungry Bear Restaurant, Disneyland | A Vegan in Progress

It was worth the wait, though because this sandwich was tasty!  I loved the fried green tomatoes (never had those before!) and the batter was a little bit salty, which went so well with the rest of the sandwich.  I was worried that without sauce or cheese the sandwich might be dry, but it was actually really moist because of the tomatoes.  It tasted really fresh and was filling without being heavy.  The fries were fine, especially with some barbeque sauce.

Bonus points for being less expensive than the Vegan Gumbo at Royal Street Veranda and the Tofu Rice Bowl at Lucky Fortune Cookery in California Adventure.  There’s also a cute little area to sit and eat, with a view of the Mark Twain riverboat as it goes by.  It’s never all that crowded on this end of the park, whereas finding a place to eat your gumbo can be a nightmare in New Orleans Square.  I will definitely be ordering this one again, particularly on warm days since it’s not too heavy.

Vegan at The Counter

I have been to The Counter, a burger chain restaurant in the past, but it was before I went vegan.  Early in my vegan days, I did some online searching and found that their veggie burger patty wasn’t vegan (I believe it had egg in it), so I didn’t think about going back until I heard recently that they now offer a Vegan Veggie patty.

Eric and I were out shopping and passed a location of The Counter, so we stopped in on a whim to try it again.  I tried to quickly look up if any of the buns were vegan, but their website isn’t very mobile-friendly.  I asked the waitress and was told that none of the buns were vegan.  I was initially really irritated.  What is the point of having a vegan patty if you don’t offer any vegan buns?  Buns don’t need animal products.  I just don’t get it.  They’ll be getting an email from me about that.

UPDATE:  The always knowledgeable Insufferable Vegan has since let me know that the ciabatta buns are vegan.  The CEO of The Counter has confirmed it.  I knew I had seen this information somewhere, but we just stopped in on a whim, so I didn’t have time to check into it in advance.  Good move, The Counter, offering a fully vegan burger option!  However, I have to say that my husband has told people since our visit that you just get so much more food when ordering it in a bowl and I have to agree that it was pretty great that way.

I opted to have my vegan burger in a bowl (this costs an extra $1 – what the hell, The Counter?!) with organic mixed greens, tomatoes, roasted corn and black bean salsa, roasted green chiles, roasted red peppers, and housemade guacamole (a premium topping for $1.25 extra) with Sweet BBQ sauce.  I ended up with a sorta Tex-Mex BBQ salad.  Scroll all the way to the bottom of the post for a list of all vegan options.

Build Your Own Burger, The Counter | A Vegan in Progress

It was actually very tasty and extremely filling.  The patty was warm and had visible pieces of veggies in it.  You can see what looks like spinach, red pepper, carrots, black beans, and corn in the second photo.  The patty was really hearty and immensely preferable to the microwaved veggie patties at Red Robin.

Eric and I ordered large fries to share, which turned out to be way too much.  They were shoestring cut and I commented that they were well cooked, since shoestring fries tend to be floppy or burned.  Eric said that it’s because they are twice-fried.

Large French Fries, The Counter | A Vegan in Progress

The burger in a bowl option is really tasty and I look forward to trying their ciabatta bun on a future visit!

FYI:  the allergens are listed on their website, and the following items are marked as vegan.

Sauces

  • Apricot Sauce
  • Dijon Balsamic Dressing
  • Ginger Soy Glaze
  • Habanero Salsa
  • Lemon Vinaigrette
  • Red Relish
  • Sweet BBQ Sauce

Sides

  • French Fries
  • Sweet Potato Fries
  • 50/50 – Fries/Sweet Potato Fries
  • Side Salad
  • Grilled Vegetable Plate

Patties

  • Vegan Veggie Burger Patty

Buns

  • Ciabatta (according to the CEO, but not yet listed on their allergens page)

Toppings

  • Baby Spinach
  • Bermuda Red Onion
  • Black Olives
  • Carrot Strings
  • Dill Pickle Chips
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Grilled Onions
  • Grilled Pineapple
  • Jalapeños
  • Lettuce Blend
  • Organic Mixed Greens
  • Roasted Chiles
  • Roasted Corn & Black Bean Salsa
  • Roasted Red Peppers
  • Scallions
  • Sliced Cucumbers
  • Spicy Pepperoncinis
  • Sprouts
  • Tomatoes

Premium Toppings (extra charge)

  • Avocado
  • Housemade Guacamole
  • Sautéed Mushrooms
  • Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Beverages

  • Fresh Iced Tea
  • Still/Sparkling Water
  • Soda – All

That’s the entire list from their website as of 2/8/14.  I haven’t left anything out, anything I didn’t list isn’t vegan.  You can use this post as your mobile-friendly cheat sheet since their website doesn’t work well on mobile devices.  You’re welcome!

*Marinated Artichokes is oddly listed as not vegan, but it doesn’t say what’s in it.  It might be worth clarifying with the staff if you’re interested.

Follow Your Heart, Canoga Park

I’m very lucky to live near one of the best vegetarian health food markets in LA.  Follow Your Heart is a vegetarian market with a restaurant as well as a yoga studio.  The company is responsible for the many popular Follow Your Heart products including as Vegenaise, Vegan Gourmet Shreds, and various vegan salad dressings.

FYH Exterior | A Vegan in Progress

The first time I visited Follow Your Heart, I wasn’t vegan.  I went with my younger, longtime vegan sister and I had a hard time finding anything I wanted to order.  I was a little less than willing to try new things.  I don’t know if I ordered something that just wasn’t all that good (I don’t remember what it was) or if it was because I went in with a bit of a closed mind, but I was not a fan.

However, my sister very graciously invited me to dinner after staying over at our place and she loves Follow Your Heart, but doesn’t live close enough to dine there regularly.  So, I was looking forward to trying it again, this time with an open, vegan mind.

Be warned if you happen to visit, when you walk in to Follow Your Heart, you will feel confused and lost.  You enter in the market, near the registers… just walk past them and all the way to the back.  In the back corner is the entrance to the restaurant.  It is even tinier than the market.  Don’t let that discourage you, it’s perfectly fine that way.  In fact, this just means that you will be in closer proximity to the celebrities who dine there.  Seriously, one time Allison and I saw Travis Barker and his son there.  We were led to the patio out front, which was nice.

I ordered the Nutburger, vegan.  It’s described as “A Nut and Vegetable Patty on a Toasted Whole Wheat Bun, Baked with Raw Rennetless Cheddar Cheese, and Topped with Sprouts, Tomato, Pickles, Vegenaise, and our Special Sauce.”  It tasted great, especially with the Wizard Sauce (request it – that stuff is tasty).  The nut and vegetable patty was not very firm.  It wasn’t sloppy, but it did fall apart just a little bit.  I’m not usually a fan of big piles of sprouts, but they went really well with the burger.

Allison always wants us to look like we are insane diners for blog photos.  Don’t mind our insanity.

Allison ordered the Organic Tempeh Tacos, vegan.  They are decribed as “Two Organically Grown, Stone Ground Corn Tortilla Shells, Filled with Seasoned, Grilled Organic Tempeh, Jack and Raw Rennetless Cheddar Cheese, Tomatoes and Fresh Cilantro. Served with Organic Spanish Rice, Organic Black Beans Guacamole, Sour Cream and Lime Wedges.”  She loved it, especially with some added Wizard Sauce.

We both ordered the vegan chocolate shake, after confirming that it doesn’t contain bananas (I’m allergic); Allison ordered extra chocolate.  I found them really bland, not all that creamy.  I’ve made better vegan chocolate shakes myself (check out the post on that), so I don’t think I’ll order that again.

Vegan chocolate shake, Follow Your Heart | A Vegan in Progress

I’m will definitely be dining at Follow Your Heart again if Allison has anything to say about it!  I’m also likely to stop by to pick up hard to find vegan products since the market is on my way home from work.  Definitely worth stopping in if you’re in the area!