Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Au Luc Restaurant Review

by a friend

(pictures by me)

Whenever I have a craving for vegan food, I rest assured that once I get to the location, my tummy will be filled.  This is always the case unless things go awry.  Such was my experience visiting Los Angeles.  My friend lived right by the subway station which would take us to Downtown L.A.  While many Californians don't make use of the subway, as a native New Yorker, I had no qualms.  So after an eventful morning visiting some Disney Studios(or visiting the outside at least), we headed out to get our cruelty-free meal.  Fortunately for me, the restaurant was a few blocks away from the Japanese American National Museum where a Hello Kitty exhibit was that I wanted to check out.  So I could experience both, all on foot.

We got off of the subway and walked down some narrow sidewalks past ramshackle toy shops or bargain electronic stores.  Over one mile of this and we finally get to our destination--

--only to find that they open at 5pm.  Now we were stranded in the middle of nothingness with aching hunger, no vehicle to escape, and no plan B.

My friend pushed me into traffic.  I fell onto the hood of a car and continued on miles and miles until I landed at the front steps of a vegan restaurant in Chinatown.  "Now this is more like it,"I thought as I brushed myself off and ventured into Vegan Delite which serves any seitan, tofu, or tempeh dish you could dream of.  Okay, that didn't happen.  My friend asked his Siri for nearby vegan restaurants with his shaking hands, starved of nourishment and exhausted from strenuous activity. I also texted some people. Siri said "I don't understand the question but there are no vegan restaurants nearby."  We cried and sobbed and held each other for warmth.  He then suggested we walk to the Hello Kitty exhibit and get it out of the way while we strategize further.

It was so close.  If the restaurant had been opened, it would have been perfection.  A nice meal, then a brisk walk to the museum, then headed back to the subway, satiated and satisfied.  Instead my voracious friend desperately suggested we step into a Subway sandwich shop to hold us over.  "I came all the way from New York," I snapped as he turned red with humiliation. "I want to try vegan restaurants; not fast food chain restaurants that I can get anywhere."  I could see I hurt his feelings and he ran away in the opposite direction leaving me far, far behind.  Well, this last part didn't happen but we still couldn't figure out where else to eat and both of us were too fatigued to walk back to the subway without any food.  Then I got a text from one of my vegan friends who suggested I try Âu Lạc, a mostly raw restaurant that has a location in Fountain Valley and now one in Downtown L.A. which would be about a mile away.

We got to the museum. I went inside and enjoyed the exhibit while he stayed behind, appreciative of both the air conditioning and the fact that I had convinced him to get a protein bar that morning.

The Hello Kitty exhibit was super cute!

While in the exhibit, my friend looked up the location on his phone and it was a little over a mile away but fortunately close to a subway station which we'd have to venture towards anyway.  We were so hungry & fatigued, so I suggested we use an Uber to go there. Due to it being the afternoon, the rates were $35! It seemed crazy to pay that much for a 12-block car ride.  So, despite our exhaustion, we decided to walk to the restaurant, 1.2 miles away. 

And fortunately, this part of town (just a few blocks north of where we walked initially) was a much easier venture with much nicer scenery.  There was City Hall, The Civic Center, Grand Park,The Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Before we knew it, we arrived at Âu Lạc.  We had made it in one piece.

The restaurant looked upscale. The ambiance was stunning, like we had entered the lobby of an expensive hotel.  The place was entirely empty; apparently nobody waits until 4pm to eat lunch.  Our jovial hostess/waitress greeted us right away and I asked her how to pronounce the name of the restaurant -- I was told it's Aw Lock.  She said it was a Vietnemese word. When she asked if we had parked downstairs, we told her how we had taken the subway, reached a dead end with our initial dining experience, and then had to trudge back to our current destination.  She took mercy on our hunger and retreated to the back for a surprise.  She returned with complimentary Cheezy Lime Popcorn that we had seen when we looked at  the menu.  It was perfect! Salty, tangy, light and fluffy -- probably air popped.  We devoured it quickly and were appreciative of her gesture of good will.    

The waitress suggested we start off with the eggrolls as appetizers(not really egg, don't worry). She returned shortly with them and explained that they are best when wrapped in the lettuce and mint, then dipped into the accompanying sauce.  [note: now it explains why Lan Cafe always gave mint & lettuce with their spring rolls.. I never had any clue!) She showed us how to roll it.  When we dipped them into the sauce, wow… the combination between the crispy hot eggless rolls and the crispy cold lettuce and mint, dipped into sauce was amazing.

Now it came time to order our entrees.  My friend was balancing his time between Shazaam-ing every song that played in the restaurant (something he is notorious for) and looking up reviews on Yelp to get a sense of what to order.  He was interested in the Ito Burrito because he really liked the vegan burrito he had had at V Spot in Brooklyn… but then remembered that this was a raw restaurant and it would be a different experience altogether.  We then both decided we wanted the Sweet & Spicy Tempeh but I didn't want to get the same thing because with two separate dishes, I could experience them both.  I picked a dish that came highly recommended on Yelp -- the Curried Rice.
The dishes arrived shortly and the Curried Rice was so cute, in the shape of a heart!  My friend tried some bites of his tempeh and he seemed enamored, too.  It was exactly what he had been in the mood for so he chose correctly.  On the side of his plate was a jalapeño pepper which the waitress warned him about.  He promised to at least give it a try at some point in his meal.

Halfway through savoring every bite, he decided to take a bite of the pepper to live up to his promise.  And then everything changed.  He spit it out almost immediately but the heat and flavor had altered his tastebuds.  Now whenever he took a bite of tempeh, the texture had changed for him, as did the taste.  It was hard for him to swallow.

Hooray for me!  We switched plates and I finished off his tempeh while he much appreciated the lighter, creamier curried rice.  
When the waitress returned, I commented on how the pepper had changed his palate and she said it happens all the time.  It's so odd something very, very minuscule in size can have such an effect.  The entire thing seemed to have completely altered his perception of the meal which he had initially loved so much.
I wanted to try some dessert and couldn't decide, despite their being limited options -- Baklava, Gelato, Choconut X-tasy, and Tirawmisu (all raw versions of the popular desserts).  Every Yelp review warned not to get the tiramisu and my friend even reminded me of this.  My friend isn’t a fan of coconut so that took the Choconut off as an option.  When the waitress returned and tried to help me decide, I spontaneously decided on the Tirawmisu.  He seemed optimistic about the choice despite it clearly being disliked by all reviewers online. 


When it came, we finally learned that the reviewers were correct -- the entire thing had a weird texture and wasn't very tasty in any capacity. It was made with macadamia cheese. It wasn't creamy and rich like you'd expect, nor was it chocolatey, Our favorite part was the beautiful presentation.
Our meal was now completed.  I took in the stunning atmosphere, appreciated the savory meal, and was thankful for the attentive service.  Âu Lạc was a high quality yet affordable vegan dining experience.  It made me want to rush back to Los Angeles to take the subway to experience it all over again -- fortunately, the restaurant is right by the subway since we walked a mile east to get to our first location and then a mile west to get back.  So if you live along the Red Line in Los Angeles, you can get there in no time.  Bypass the traffic!  Escape the $35 Uber fees!  But if you're up for a walk, by all means, work up an appetite.  We did.  And it made Âu Lạc the perfect place to get a vegan meal.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review- Lyfe Kitchen

I pass by Lyfe Kitchen often, but I'm always on the way somewhere and never had time to stop in, until last week. It's located on 55th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue.

 Always like seeing this on the outside.
 How cute! A fork to open the door with
 They have their menu up on this wall, on a sign in the window, on the wall when you come in AND paper menus! haha  I always like reading paper menus because I find it easier for some reason, than reading a board.

This place is not all vegan, but it clearly marks what's vegan, what's gluten free and what contains nuts.  It also lists the calories and the amount of sodium.  Definitely have never seen the amount of sodium listed. I was thinking of getting the Thai Red Curry Bowl, but that has 950mg of sodium!! Yikes! I decided I'd get several things, and went with the Sweet Corn Chowder (though now I see it's 953mg of sodium haha I must have looked that over at the time! Yipes.) , Roasted Brussels Sprouts, a side of their Garlic Lime Tofu and a Chocolate Chip Cookie, which is listed as "still warm, fresh out of the oven", that was definitely not a hard sell! Drool.

I paid and the woman gave me a buzzer and said my food would be brought to me.

 Seating area.  There's also some counters in the front and more seating upstairs.  I was going to go upstairs to see what it looked like, but was lazy haha

Love these quotes at some of the tables

After waiting about 15 minutes, a woman brought my food to the table.  The buzzer didn't go off or anything so not sure exactly how that works..maybe it's used more when it's crowded..not sure

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Squash and Cranberries.  Of course, typical vegan worry.. "what's that sauce? it looks creamy" I was pretty sure it said vegan on the menu, but now wasn't sure.  I went up to the counter and she told me it was dijon vinaigrette, and sure enough, my initial thought that it said vegan on the menu was accurate.

side of the garlic lime tofu.  Tasted it on it's own and it was super flavorful! The woman at the counter told me she add it into the brussels, & so I decided to copy her idea

SO tasty!! Really loved this.  Although, it was cold, and I expected it to be warm and think it would have been better if it was warm.  I mentioned it when I was leaving and the woman thought it was odd and said it should have been warm. hmm.  Nonetheless, it was really yummy.

 Sweet Corn Chowder soup, which is made with cashew cream.  This was also delicious

& last, but certainly not least:

This was also really good!  It was crunchy.
Everything was so good here!! Really enjoyed my meal! Was a bit full, as everything was really filling.

Total calories: 772
Total sodium:1,678

A bit excessive for one meal.  I think I'll definitely ask them next time, why some things have SO much sodium in them..

I'm definitely going to come back here though.

They even have their own little garden! How cute

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Chocolate that I'm in Love with

I've never been a huge chocolate bar person, until now.

A few weeks ago while I was at Whole Foods, a woman was sampling Vita Chocolate , she had a few flavors, but she wasn't the friendliest, so I only sampled two.  The goji berry and the orange almond chocolate.  I really liked both, but at $4.99 a bar, I wasn't sure if I should buy one, two, or both.  I wandered around the store and kept thinking about it & after a short while, decided I'd buy both!  

 (yes I took the photo after opening it and after finishing the goji one)

This is what they look like. Yum Yum Yum.

I really love both of them. They're so tasty!!! I only eat a few pieces at a time, so they last me a few days.  I usually don't love super dark chocolate because I find it bitter, but these aren't bitter at all despite being 72% cacao. Since these bars use raw cacao, they're super high in antioxidant. Many people know that antioxidants are good for them, but they don't really know what antioxidants are. Antioxidants are nutrients in food which help prevent or slow the oxidative damage to our body. When our body cells use oxygen, they produce "free radicals" which can cause damage. Antioxidants help prevent and repair the damage.  Some people say they help prevent cancer and other diseases.   

I've been alternating with which bars to buy each week.  In the orange one, I love the flavor combination of the chocolate with the orange.  In the goji bar, I like the combination of the chocolate and the chewy goji berries. Goji berries are one of the highest foods in antioxidants, the combo of the cacao and goji berries, make this one super filled with antioxidants!  Both bars have only 5 ingredients. The orange almond has 7.5g of sugar in 1/2 a bar and the goji berry has 9g in 1/2 a bar, not bad at all!  I don't feel guilty at all about eating these, especially because there are some health benefits too! I do want to try some of their other flavors at some point, especially the peanut butter since I love mostly everything that's peanut butter and chocolate. I also noticed they come in a package of mini sized pieces[instead of a bar], but it's the same price.  I guess it just depends on the shape you like of your chocolate! 

Here's their store locator, and if they don't have them in a place nearby, you can order them online!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Vegan in New Jersey

I recently traveled to New Jersey to check out 2 new all vegan restaurants with my friend.  The first was Positivitea, which is in Verona, NJ. Turned out it has been opened for about a year.  I had only heard of it in the past few weeks.

Here's the menu.  There were several booths, counters by the window and a bunch of tables.  Several things sounded good, but since I knew I wanted dessert, I decided to go healthy & went with the Garden of Vegan:  Spinach wrap, chickpea patty, kale, romaine, onion, cucumber, pickles and vegan mayo (I said no tomato).  The burgers said they come with chips or kale slaw, the wraps didn't mention it.  I asked for a side of kale slaw and I wasn't charged, so I guess it's included with the wraps too.

The kale slaw was really watery and not super flavorful.  The wrap was good, though I tried the chickpea patty on its own and it was flavorless.  I think without the vegan mayo, this wrap would have been super bland, but the mayo helped it.  It was very light and healthy.

My friend got the Bean Jr. Burger on a pretzel bun!

This was really flavorful! (It comes with special ahi sauce, whatever that is, vegan mayo, miso spread and vegan cheese, as well as the black bean patty and veggies)  I think the sauces etc made it very tasty!  If I come back here, I will definitely get this! and the pretzel bun was very tasty too. I was a fan!

Cute signs and art.

Next up was dessert!  They offer vanilla soft serve (which after asking, found out they use Temptation from Chicago Vegan Foods).  They offer milkshakes as well as sundaes.  They have a bunch of options with all sorts of toppings.

My friend went with the Cookie Munster (yes spelled that way)

Vanilla ice cream, chocolate chips, chocolate sauce and cookies, & YES you see that currently! There are toppings in the middle! They put the ice cream in, add the toppings, then add more ice cream! Love this idea!

Here's mine:

Peanut Butter & Jelly!  Vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, jam, & graham crackers.  Neither of us were sure of what she put on top..but I think it was either maple syrup or agave.  Think agave.

Super yum!!

and here's a photo of the pretty bathroom wall art & the neat mirror

I would definitely come back here and recommend checking it out!

A few hours later we went to Killer Vegan, which is in Union, NJ. They have only been open since September.  I had been excited about trying when I first heard about it, although less excited when I saw a photo of their limited menu.  Nevertheless, we decided to give it a try with an open mind

The space inside is HUGE! & my friend and I both wondered what was there before.  The first thing my friend noticed was that they had a sign that they were out of milkshakes.  I wasn't too upset as they use Kleins ice cream.  Ick.

Once inside we chatted with the woman working about the menu and a customer who was taking a bunch of food to go and he recommended what we should get (which was basically everything.  He was head over heels with the place).  The woman working was very nice and friendly.  Their menu is very limited (a few sandwiches, salads..)  They were having tacos for dinner, but they weren't going to be ready for 30+ minutes, those sounded like they would have been really good.  My friend and I both decided to get the Sausage and Peppers.  I got mine with a side of kale salad and she got hers with roasted brussels sprouts.

The kale salad was very tasty, much better than the kale slaw at Positivitea and the roasted brussels sprouts were also very good.  I really liked the sandwich as well.  I'm not a huge fan of sandwiches, but I enjoyed it.  The woman working told me they make their own sausage..which is a mix of wheat, beans..and now I can't remember what else (I should start writing things down so I remember these things!) I especially liked the ends which were crunchy (oddly my friend wasn't a fan of the ends and gave me hers)

We also got mac and cheese to share, after both the man and worker said the mac and cheese is a must

The texture was great.  The taste was not.  It was smokey, and there was no mention of it being smokey anywhere.  If you're a fan of smoked food, maybe this mac and cheese is for you, however I very much dislike smokey so I didn't enjoy it & my friend got to eat most of it.  She also felt there was another weird taste that she couldn't pinpoint.

We each got a chocolate chip cookie to go 
Lots of chocolate chips! but didn't think it was anything special..

Due to its very limited menu, I wouldn't go back to Killer Vegan.  Both my friend and I agreed after we left, that we wouldn't know what to get if we were to come back.  However, they do have all you can eat brunch I think twice a month and I might come back for that.  The owner told me they have pancakes, french toast, biscuits and gravy, tofu scramble, steamed kale, rice and beans..(odd, though I know when I was in Costa Rica people ate rice and beans for breakfast lunch and dinner), and coffee/tea. She did say to get there early because people like to go and not leave.  I recommend giving this place a try though, especially if you're in the area.