Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mythos on Vine

Mythos
410 Vine St.
Downtown
513-381-3675

I will readily admit to feeling as though I had lost a friend when I learned that Mythos at the Levee had closed. It was an unpretentious little place that served up excellent Greek food at reasonable prices, and prior to Reds games it was one of our regular haunts. Their speedy service guaranteed that we’d be able to get in and out quickly with plenty of time to walk across the Taylor Southgate Bridge, or catch the shuttle across the street if we were running late, and we knew we could eat well without breaking the bank.

Although their closing came as a blow, it wasn’t really a surprise and honestly I do not blame them for shuttering the Newport location. Their prime location - across the street from the Levee complex - meant that they were constantly battling with drivers too stupid to understand the signage “Customer Parking Only – Towing Enforced.” My husband and I saw countless vehicles towed away from the lot, and witnessed the Mythos staff going outside on numerous occasions to inform Levee patrons that they needed to park elsewhere. I can only imagine how tiresome that got to be.

With the closing of the Levee restaurant, Mythos opened a new location in downtown (they also have a presence on 7th St. between Walnut and Main), and there are plans in the works for a large sit-down restaurant in the old Atlanta Bread Company space on Fourth Street, opening before the end of the year.

An eat-in restaurant will be nice, because the Mythos on Vine sports only a couple of tiny tables, so basically is a carry-out location like their 7th St. location.

The restaurant boasts seven vegetarian appetizers, two vegetarian Greek salads and two vegetarian pita sandwiches, which is more than enough to keep us happy. On their appetizer menu, there is Tiropita (cheese pie), Spanakopita (spinach & cheese pie), Hummus platter, Zesty Feta, Feta & Olive Plate, Tzatziki Special (a delicious cucumber garlic yogurt dip served with grilled pita bread), and the Vegetarian Combo, which encapsulates all of the veggie appetizers onto one large platter. I cannot fault a single appetizer, and believe me when I say I have tried them all. Numerous times. Likewise the salads. I’m a huge fan of Greek salad anyway, and theirs really rock. Word of warning: the Horiatiki (Village Salad) is huge.

They get good marks for their sandwiches too. Their Hummus sandwich is tasty and can be made vegan with the omission of the hard-boiled egg. At the Levee location I usually ordered the Veggie Gyro, which consists of a pita topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, lettuce, onion, feta, Tzatziki sauce and Greek dressing. Today was no exception, and the sandwich was so fresh and full of flavor! It didn’t disappoint.

What did disappoint is their foil wrap, and that’s really splitting hairs. I am one of those people who like to eat everything with a knife and fork – and yes, that includes pizza and sandwiches. If I could eat popcorn with a knife and fork I would. I just don’t like eating with my hands and fingers. Call me prissy, but it just seems a tad uncivilized. And so that is my quibble with Mythos. To their credit, the plastic cutlery they serve is heavy duty and holds up commendably, but the foil wrapping? Not so much. One slice and I was already clean through the wrapper, with Greek dressing seeping out onto the table in an oozing puddle. It’s a little better when you order the platter (rice, fries or a Greek salad) with your sandwich because you get a sturdy container, but it’s Styrofoam, which isn’t environmentally friendly. Plus Styrofoam squeaks, and the noise it makes when combined with a knife and fork is enough to put me off of my lunch.

Perhaps bitching about their wrappers and containers is being persnickety on otherwise awesome food, but it is something that really ought to be addressed. Surely I am not the only one who has encountered this problem?
Mythos on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 26, 2007

Javier's Mexican Restaurant

UPDATE 26 Feb. 2010: Javier's has closed.

Javier’s Mexican Restaurant
100 East 8th Street
Cincinnati
513-381-EATS
No website

Situated across from the Main Library at the corner of Eighth and Walnut, Javier’s is another downtown restaurant only open during the work week, which is a real shame for downtowners and library patrons who crave authentic Mexican fare outside the 7 a.m.-4 p.m. operating hours.

Mexican restaurants can be hit or miss for vegetarians, because it’s nearly impossible to know beforehand if there is lard in the beans or how the rice has been prepared, but this is one Mexican restaurant where vegetarians may rest easy, knowing that their meal isn’t going to repeat on them the rest of the day or make them sick. Javier’s beans and rice are vegetarian.

The restaurant is a real success story. Javier Villaneuva originally hung out his shingle in a tiny little space on East Court Street, serving up delicious, authentic dishes that were wildly popular amongst the lunchtime crowd. So popular, in fact, that it was nearly impossible to get a table, and trying to place or pick up an order was mildly chaotic. Javier had little choice but to expand to his current location.

It can still be a little chaotic – you order in one line and pick up in another - and the queue still snakes back to the door, but at least now there is ample room to sit back and enjoy your meal without patrons constantly bumping your chair as they wait their turn at the counter.

Javier’s offers a variety of vegetarian options and all of them are worth trying. There are nachos, of course, and they do a vegetarian taco filled with rice and beans. There’s a mushroom quesadilla with your choice of veggies and toppings, a rice and black bean-filled burrito smothered in toppings, a kick-ass vegetarian black bean soup, and Plato Mexicana Vegetariano, a rice and black bean dish topped with your choice of mixed vegetables, cheese, sour cream and salsa. All are incredibly fresh and filling - the restaurant doesn’t skimp on the helpings - and everything on the menu is $6.50 or less.

There are several daily specials, and vegetarians should take note that Tuesday’s special is a really scrumptious Vegetales en Salsa de Guajillo, oven-roasted vegetables simmered in guajillo pepper sauce and wrapped in a 12” flour tortilla with shredded lettuce and sour cream. So good, and so filling! Javier’s really goes above and beyond for the vegetarian diner – a welcome change in a city nicknamed Porkopolis.
Javier's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fresh

Fresh
36 East 4th Street
Cincinnati
513-421-1020
http://www.greatfoodgreatlife.com/

UPDATE: November 18, 2008 - this restaurant has closed.

I want to like Fresh. No, let me rephrase that: I want to LOVE Fresh. I already love the concept – fresh fast food made with organic ingredients, independently owned and operated. What’s not to love?

It’s got nearly all the makings of a vegetarian’s dream: an assortment of veggie sandwiches, a variety of baked potato options and made-to-order salads with organic fixin’s.

Thing is, the concept is sometimes better than the execution at Fresh. First of all I wouldn’t exactly call it fast food. Either they are permanently understaffed or their team takes breaks at the most inopportune times, but nearly every time I stop by for lunch (they are only open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. M-F) the queue is long and slow, with only one employee on hand to prepare your made-to-order sandwich or salad. It is a testament to the number of people who want healthy, organic food in downtown, but it is equally frustrating for those of us on a tight schedule.

Fresh offers an innovative selection of vegetarian sandwich options from their wide-ranging menu. On the Deli Classics Menu you will find
Fresh Vegetables and Hummus – sliced avocado, cucumbers, ripe tomatoes, shaved red onions, basil and house-made hummus. This is a really nice sandwich, although when they are out of avocado they substitute guacamole in its place, which overpowers the delicate balance of flavors. It also makes the sandwich bread soggy, which is a big turnoff for me.

On their Toasted Melt Menu they list a Fresh Vegetables and Cheddar sandwich, consisting of ripe tomatoes, green peppers, shaved red onions, basil and melted cheddar cheese, and on the Specialty Menu there is the Caprese, a sandwich comprised of ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves. Since a sandwich isn’t a sandwich without bread, Fresh offers honey oat, honey white, ciabatta, multi-grain, salted rye or wheat, all of which are fresh baked, hand-sliced and all-natural. You also get a choice of side: all-natural pretzels, kettle cooked chips or an apple.

Their stuffed potatoes are interesting as well. You can get the bog-standard potato with sour cream and chives, or a cheesy potato filled with shredded cheddar, parmesan and sour cream, or you may opt for something called Veggy-Light, which consists of chopped tomatoes, green peppers, red onions, roasted broccoli, cheddar cheese and light sour cream. The lady ahead of me in the line today ordered this, and while it looked really good, the overworked staff member informed her that while normally he’d roast the broccoli, he couldn’t do it today because there were too many people in line behind her. She was cool with it, but she’d been waiting for a long time too, and it didn’t seem fair to slight her order, but that’s what happens when the restaurant is understaffed.

Fresh also offers seasonal fresh soups, but I have no idea what they are because they don’t seem to be posted anywhere in the restaurant, or on their take-out menu, or on line. Must remember to ask on my next visit.

My favorite item on the Fresh menu is the Build Your Own salad, although even that has disappointed me on recent occasions because while they used to offer mouthwateringly delicious baked tofu as one of their protein options, they have since omitted it from the menu, much to my chagrin. Vegetarians can still get their protein by requesting chick peas or white beans, which are two of the tossings you can add from their 15 item list. Keep in mind, however, that you may only choose three tossings from the list, and cheese is extra.

Their beverage list is pretty cool: Alongside the standard fountain drinks are Fiji spring water, Vitamin water, Izze sodas, Nantucket Nectars and an assortment of hot or iced teas. Nice!

Fresh should be all kinds of awesome, and it does offer a number of veggie options to keep us happy. Their food and the concept are excellent, but the slow service really hurts.
Fresh on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Keystone Bar & Grill

The Keystone Bar & Grill
313 Greenup Street, Covington KY
http://www.thekeystonebar.com/


My husband and I awoke to a lovely, sunny morning and decided to make the most of it by joining in the tail-gating action prior to the Bengals-vs-Jets game over at Paul Brown Stadium. We wandered down to the Levee area in Newport and were surprised to see next to no action at all in the parking lots along the riverbanks. The single indication of it being Game Day was a parking attendant sitting in a lawn chair by the Hooters parking barrier, chatting on his cell phone.

As we continued along the river it became obvious to us that the game was not going to kick off at 1 p.m. as we had thought. A quick call to my brother confirmed our suspicions. It was a 4 p.m. kick off. So with plenty of time to kill, we ambled on into Covington and decided to check out The Keystone Bar & Grill, which we had watched being renovated during our trips to Jean Robert’s Greenup Café across the street.

If only all restaurants could be as veggie friendly as The Keystone! This is a restaurant that gets it right on all counts. It is surprisingly light and airy inside, with classic black and white photos on the wall and groovy stained glass panels behind the bar, and nice touches like fresh bouquets in the restrooms and single stem flowers in modernist vases on the tables. On game days there are beer specials, including a sweet Bitburger special in a keepsake earthenware stein. Very cool. If you are a beer aficionado, you will rejoice at the selection of microbrews, craft beers, imports and draft. Over-the-Rhine Pale Ale? Check. Flying Dog in Heat Wheat? Check. Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale? You know it. Unibroue Maudite on draft? Coming right up! They also offer an excellent array of single batch bourbons and a good wine list. Obviously this isn’t your average bar and grill.

And one look at the number of veggie options on the menu confirms that. Seven out of ten of their appetizers are vegetarian – that’s impressive. Most are fairly common, like Spinach and Artichoke Dip, Potato Skins and Beer-battered Onion Rings, but others, like the Slow Roasted Garlic Bulbs, Hand-breaded Cheese Wedges and Red Onion/Roasted Red Pepper Quesadillas are a nice improvement. They also offer an intriguing Beer Cheese Bowl consisting of warm, homemade beer cheese served with bread and chips for dipping. Yum!

They boast a nice selection of salads too, all of which can be made vegetarian with the omission of bacon bits. For the non-vegetarians in the group, grilled chicken or grilled steak can be added to any of the salads for few dollars extra.

The Keystone really shines, however, in their selection of sandwiches and entrees. They offer three different vegetarian sandwich options: Grilled Cheese (made with cheddar, Swiss and gorgonzola cheeses), a Veggie Burger on whole wheat, and a Veggie Wrap stuffed with roasted red peppers, avocado, lettuce, tomato, Roquefort bleu cheese and honey mustard. At $5.95, that’s seriously good value for money. All the sandwiches come with Keystone’s homemade potato chips, or for a couple of bucks you can substitute any number of sides.

The main reason we decided to visit The Keystone, however, was the Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie entrée, which we’d seen on the menu posted in the window when the restaurant was still undergoing renovation. A veggie Shepherd’s Pie! Can you believe it?! Me either and I knew I HAD to try it.

And it is well worth trying, although be forewarned that it is heavy on the potato topping and skimpy on the veggie mince. As someone who has prepared a LOT of vegetarian shepherd’s pie over the years, I consider myself something of an expert on the dish, and I’d give this one a 5 out of 10. The mince/vegetable mixture should comprise at least half of the dish, not three quarters potato to one part mince as this one was. A small quibble, but at $10.25 there should have been a lot more mince and a lot less potato in this dish. I would also have liked to have seen vegetarian gravy offered alongside the pie, because the over abundance of potato made it rather dry. I would have gladly taken veggie gravy instead of the melted cheese topping that covered the potato.

Don’t get me wrong- it was a very tasty dish, all in all, and one that only needs a little bit of tweaking to be a real show stopper. I give them a 10 out of 10 for offering a unique vegetarian option to their menu, and they get full marks all around for the excellent selection of beer on offer.

We’ll be going back. I can hardly wait to try to Veggie Wrap next!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hofbrauhaus Newport Update

Eric Haas from Hofbrauhaus Newport responded to an email I sent regarding the omission of a vegetarian entree on the revamped menu, and he said that he and his staff are going through the menu this week and they hope to reintroduce the Veggie Burger, and possibly other vegetarian options to the menu in the near future.

I'll report back soon on their progress.

Please see updated 2009 post.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hofbrauhaus Newport

Please see updated 2009 post.

Hofbrauhaus
200 E. Third St.
Newport, KY
http://www.hofbrauhausnewport.com/

Newport’s Hofbrauhaus is certainly a fantastic choice if you like beer. They brew everything in-house and offer a choice of light lager, premium lager, tasty weizen and a delicious dunkel, plus a fifth seasonal special that changes each month. Their Bier Garden is wildly popular, as are the massive litre steins being hoisted about in the Bier Hall as patrons sing along with the traditional German polka bands.

As you would expect from an authentic German restaurant, the menu is heavy on schnitzels, wursts, and other assorted meat-based fare. Normally this would put me off of even wanting to visit, but the lure of good beer is a strong motivator.

My husband and I have been to Hofbrauhaus numerous times, as we live within staggering distance of their front door. We have taken countless friends, family, and out of town guests with us to experience the jovial atmosphere, good food and excellent beer.

On every past occasion I have been able to order their tried and trusted Garden Veggie Burger sandwich platter, which, while not the most exciting of vegetarian options, was a vegetarian option nonetheless. While those around me enjoyed their sauerbraten and jagerschnitzel, I at least had something I could enjoy too…at least until our most recent visit last week, when we discovered a revamped menu that no longer includes the Garden Veggie Burger.

I realize that vegetarians are a minority to the restaurant world, and I can understand Hofbrauhaus’s reluctance to cater to a small percentage of the population, but it was greatly appreciated by those of us in that minority- especially when that minority wanted something solid in the stomach before imbibing a litre of Munchen Weisen. A salad just isn’t going to cut it.

However, apart from a side salad and a couple of starters there is very little to keep a vegetarian happy, filled litre steins aside. Now don’t get me wrong, those pretzels with bier cheese are pretty much the chippity-chomp, and in a pinch they can be used to cushion the intake of seasonal Prince Ludwig Oktoberfest special brews, but they aren’t exactly a well balanced meal. We vegetarians are normally quite adept at cobbling together starters to make a meal, but the price of the pretzels, plus the salad and hey, why not throw in some deep fried pickles while we are at it, and suddenly we’ve got a bill doubling that of our companions, who have opted for the schnitzel cordon bleu meal with potatoes and vegetables on the side.

It honestly seems as though vegetarians are being penalized for having to order ala carte items in an attempt to make a meal, when all that could be alleviated with a single vegetarian entrée. The creamy mushrooms with bread dumplings, for instance, or how about the Allgauer Kasepsatzle listed so prominently on the Las Vegas Hofbrauhaus web site? Heck, I’d even settle for the Garden Veggie Burger and fries option that they used to have in Newport.

But until they revamp their recently revamped menu, we are forced to eat elsewhere and visit the Newport Hofbrauhaus only to enjoy a refreshing beverage while taking in the lovely view of the Cincinnati skyline from the Bier Garden.

Friday, October 12, 2007

La Tea Room Cafe

La Tea Room Café
151 W. Fourth Street
Downtown Cincinnati, 45202
513-651-2465
www.latearoomcafe.com (web site menu not up to date)
UPDATE: THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED

This little gem is geared toward the office crowd and as such is only open for business M-F from 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m., but if you have business in downtown or are visiting during the day for a convention or ball game, La Tea Room Café offers a couple of veggie options that are well worth mentioning.

First up is The Veggie, a made-to-order sandwich with myriad ingredient choices. You can opt for white, wheat or rye sandwich bread, or pretzel bread, French baguette, ciabatta or croissant. Fillings include your choice of cheese, avocado, tomato, lettuce, onion, green pepper, cucumber, pickle, banana peppers and sliced egg, and they offer a wide variety of spreads, from mustard and mayonnaise to sun-dried tomato vinaigrette and Italian dressing. Breads can be toasted on request.

Next on the list is the baked potato. It is offered several ways to appeal to both veggies and non veggies alike, but word of warning – they go quickly. Best get in there early if you are craving one for lunch. Another potato option on hand is baked potato wedges. These tasty spuds are free with any sandwich- a pleasant change from the usual potato chip. If you aren’t in a starchy mood a small salad may be substituted instead.

La Tea Room also offers at least one vegetarian soup daily. Usually it is a hearty vegetable soup, but depending on the season you may also find a vegetarian broccoli-cheese soup or three bean soup on the menu.

Of course there are salads on the menu, and there is a Light Meal deal which consists of your choice of half a sandwich, small salad and soup or potato wedges or baked potato. It’s a pretty good deal and one I take advantage of quite often.

A very popular lunch dessert is their freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, which are roughly the size of a dinner plate. Seriously! They actually have a variety of sweet treats on offer, but usually by the time I escape the office and dash over there they are long gone, a testament to their deliciousness.

La Tea Room, as the name suggests, also offers a good variety of teas and coffee, as well as a limited selection of early morning snacks such as cereal bars, oatmeal and fresh fruit for the worker on the go. They serve Coca-Cola fountain drinks and keep a chill cabinet fully stocked with an assortment of juices, bottled fizzy drinks, and water.

The friendly staff is patient with first-timers and enjoys ribbing and cutting up with regulars, and at lunch the queue can reach to the door. If you don’t see any seating when you go in, be sure to have a wander down the hallway next to the cash register. It opens into a sizable dining room with free newspapers, magazines, books and game boards for those not in a rush- and it’s ok to fire up the laptop, because they offer free (non-secured) wi-fi service to customers.

It’s the little independent places like La Tea Room Café that make- and keep- vegetarian customers very happy. Viva La Tea Room!
La Tea Room Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rock Bottom Brewery

Rock Bottom Brewery
10 Fountain Square
Downtown Cincinnati, 45202
513-621-1588
Rock Bottom Brewery

After the debacle at Cadillac Ranch, we picked our way through the construction on Fountain Square and wound up at Rock Bottom Brewery. In past visits I have always been able to find something veggie on their menu - their yummy Brewery Nachos are a mainstay – but one is always hopeful for new vegetarian additions.

Happy Hour was still in full force when we arrived and the bar area was very busy, but we located a booth tucked away in a corner near the bar and sat down. We had mild concerns that we’d never get noticed due to the crowd of hipsters blocking us from view, but our fears were unfounded as the server got to us in a timely manner and we were able to squeeze in a beer order just under the wire.

It may sound really lame, but I felt dizzy with joy as I perused their revamped menu – there was more than one veggie option! Faced with an actual choice made me positively giddy, and no, it wasn’t the beer, regardless of what my husband believes.

So here we are.

Vegetarian appetizers:
1. Ball Park Pretzels with spicy spinach cheese dip
2. Flatbread Brewschetta
3. Spicy Spinach Cheese Dip served with veggies, tortilla chips and focaccia
4. Brewery Nachos served with vegetarian refried beans, melted cheese, tomato, onion and jalapeños.

Four options. FOUR! What a delight to see four vegetarian appetizers amongst the ten choices at a chain restaurant. Four out of ten – heck, that’s nearly half, isn’t it?

The only vegetarian salad option was the side salad, a simple affair but larger and tastier than those of similar price at comparable restaurants. The salad lists bacon bits amid the ingredients, but those are omitted easily enough when the salads are made to order, which they are at Rock Bottom. The baby greens were fresh, the balsamic vinaigrette was tasty, and the salad was piled high with shaved, curly carrot strings. Even dear hubby, who isn’t really a fan of salads, couldn’t resist a few forkfuls.

Best of all, there were vegetarian entrées – several, in fact, which was so surprising that I had some difficulty deciding what to order. There was a Grilled Portobello and Fontina Melt Sandwich served on fococcia with rosemary mayonnaise; a Risotto Caprese with roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, spinach and roasted asparagus; and on top of that any of their burger creations can be made with a Veggie Burger substitution. Eureka, we’ve hit the goldmine here.

It was ever so exciting to see actual vegetarian choices on the menu rather than having to cobble together a meal out of a variety of starters or sides. Rock Bottom has always had something veggie on their menu, but this was a real eye-opener, and one certainly hopes they continue this trend.

I opted for the most expensive veggie item on the menu - the risotto, which at $12.99 was a dollar higher than my carnivorous partner’s choice of meatloaf. Although I’m not sure it warranted that sort of price –it is, after all, just a creamy rice dish with vegetables- it was tasty enough and more than I could finish, so it’s not a bad value. Add to that the mouth-watering, unique beers brewed right on the restaurant’s premises, and you’ve got the makings of a great evening for veggies and non-veggies alike. The Rock Bottom Brewery is definitely a keeper.
Rock Bottom Brewery on Urbanspoon

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch
41 E. Sixth Street
Downtown Cincinnati
http://www.cadillacranchcincinnati.com/

After work yesterday I met up with my husband at Cadillac Ranch, one of the newer restaurants to open in downtown Cincinnati this past summer, to enjoy Happy Hour and sample the menu. We entertain a lot of out of town guests and make a point of familiarizing ourselves with all the local eateries so that we can offer informed choices to our guests, and Cadillac Ranch was one of the few we hadn’t yet tried.

Three months after opening, the web site is still under construction, so their menu wasn’t available, but we decided to give them a try anyway and see what they had. Although their smoking patio was doing a brisk business, the cavernous restaurant itself was nearly empty when we were seated by the hostess, which surprised us. Usually restaurants are very busy during Happy Hour.

I wish I could say I was shocked to discover, upon opening the menu, that there was not a single vegetarian entrée on the list, but I’ve gotten over being shocked and surprised in Midwestern restaurants. I’m used to opting for a salad and a hot appetizer or side dish, while my meat-eating companions enjoy an overabundance of choice. I try not to let it bother me too much, as restaurants in general have gotten better about offering at least one or two veggie choices, which is a far cry from what it was like when I first became vegetarian nearly 25 years ago.

Thing is, at Cadillac Ranch there wasn’t even a hot vegetarian appetizer on the menu! The only choice available to vegetarians was chips & salsa, and the only other vegetarian item on the menu was a small salad. I noticed that there was a baked potato and several hot vegetable options available as side dishes free with an entrée purchase, and I took note that on the kid’s menu there was a “pasta with marinara” choice listed. If a server would have come over to our table I would have inquired about the possibility of ordering one of the entrée sides on its own, and I would have asked if the marinara sauce was vegetarian – as it is usually a good bet. HowEVER, we sat in our booth, directly across from the bar, for over ten minutes and no one bothered to introduce themselves, nor take our drink order, nor offer a list of the night’s specials, nor even look our way – nothing. It wasn’t for lack of staff, as we saw at least four hanging around the bar laughing and cutting up, but we couldn’t catch their eye and the bartender, who looked our way several times, seemed indifferent. We didn’t feel it was our job to chase down the wait staff, so we informed the hostess of the problem and walked out. Life is too short to patronize uninterested restaurants.

My frustration over the lack of vegetarian options paled in comparison to the apathetic and unresponsive wait staff. We certainly won’t be revisiting this restaurant, and needless to say it will not be recommended. If this is the way Cadillac Ranch runs their business, they don’t deserve to be around by next summer. It’d be no big loss as far as we are concerned.

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