Friday, November 30, 2007

Ingredients (Some Assembly Required)

Ingredients (Some Assembly Required)
21 E. 5th Street
Downtown Cincinnati

Located in the atrium of The Westin Hotel in downtown, this ingenious restaurant combines fresh and healthy made-to-order gourmet meals in a grab ’n’ go atmosphere, featuring a variety of signature sandwiches, Panini’s, brick oven pizzas, salads, soups, bakery items and gelato.

Vegetarians will be able to find several options to satisfy, including a breakfast Panini of roasted veggies with scrambled egg whites, roasted veggie wraps and Panini’s for lunch, and two brick oven pizzas: classic tomato & basil, and wild mushroom. The 10 inch pies sport thin and crispy crusts that are light and tasty without overwhelming the fresh toppings, and at $7 signify good value for downtown. They also feature freshly baked breads for breakfast, as well as pastries, croissants, muffins, bagels, fresh fruit, smoothies, juices, Starbucks coffee and tea.

If salad is more your thing for lunch, their personalized gourmet salad concept is hard to beat. You choose from mixed greens, crisp romaine, iceberg lettuce or baby spinach, then select up to five toppings from an impressive list of 30 healthy ingredients. Aside from the usual suspects like tomatoes, peas, broccoli and carrots that usually grace area salad bars, Ingredients offers upscale items like asparagus, artichoke, cranberries, black beans, hearts of palm, sun-dried tomatoes and wild mushrooms, finished with your choice of dressing for only $6. Best of all for vegetarians, tofu is among the variety of proteins available for a dollar extra. Bingo! We have a winner!

The friendly employees are generous with the toppings, so if you opt for one of the gourmet salads take heed that the generosity also extends to the dressing. Don’t be surprised to see three ladles of dressing plopped into the bowl. If that’s a turn-off, be sure to request it on the side.

Ingredients (Some Assembly Required) can be slightly confusing to first timers, especially during the noontime rush, since there isn’t one central counter to place orders. Instead, there are several lines snaking around the space as patrons queue up at the salad and grill stations to place orders. Lines may be long but are fast moving - an impressive feat since the staff customizes each meal individually. Payment is via a third counter on the opposite side of the room, which means zig-zagging your way through the throng after your order is complete. It’s not as chaotic as it sounds – it’s just busy - always the mark of a good restaurant.

The restaurant is open from 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily and has ample seating in the atrium with a nice view of Fountain Square across the street.
Ingredients on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 19, 2007

BD's Mongolian Grill

BD’s Mongolian Grill
4488 Glengarry Drive
Beavercreek, Ohio

We were introduced to BD’s several years ago in Denver. Since then we have visited locations in Chicago, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Dayton/Beavercreek, and each visit reaffirms our love affair with the small, innovative restaurant chain.

BDs on The Greene

At BD’s, it’s all about choice. Their create-your-own-stir-fry concept is brilliantly simple. Just grab a bowl and fill it with whatever strikes your fancy among the four stations. There’s meat, seafood and pasta; a well stocked vegetable station (which includes cubed tofu); a sauce/oil station and a spice counter, each with a great variety to choose from. For the uninitiated there are helpful recipe cards on hand to aid the selection process, which may be daunting for those not familiar with some of the more exotic offerings. There are tiny plastic spoons available for taste tests before adding an item you aren’t sure about to your bowl.

Creation stations

Choices on the Vegetable Station

Once you’ve made your selections a grill master throws your concoction onto a giant, 600-degree Fahrenheit circular grill, gives it a couple of quick stirs with a pair of massive tongs the size of samurai swords, then slides it off the grill into a fresh bowl and hands it back to you, smoking hot.

The grilling area

In the time it has taken you to make your selections and get your dish cooked, the wait staff will have dropped off bowls of brown and white rice to your table, along with soft, warm tortillas for building wraps. It’s so easy and so delicious, which is what makes BD’s so popular. Whereas most restaurants have recipes they adhere to, and a request for “no mushrooms” or “no onions” may or may not be heeded, at BD’s diners don’t have to worry about that because you choose what goes into your meal. You can add as much or as little of items as you wish, and it’s all one price. A single trip runs $6.99, or unlimited trips run $11.99 for lunch and $14.99 for dinner.

Grillerz in action

Because everything is cooked together on the massive Mongolian grill, vegetarians will need to inform the grilling squad of their dietary restrictions prior to their bowl getting bunged onto the grill so that a section can be cleaned and cordoned off with stainless steel railings. This indicates to the team that the dish is vegetarian, and they will use a fresh set of tongs to stir-fry your dish instead of using the same ones they use for meat-based dishes. It’s well thought out and greatly appreciated. BD’s also runs specials on draught beer from their full-service bar, offers a soup and salad bar for the less adventurous, and has a nice assortment of dessert items if you can find room after filling up on stir-fry.

Rails keep vegetarian meals from mingling with non-veg

Steaming stir-fry hot off the grill

Although BD’s doesn’t yet have a presence in the Cincinnati area (plans are in the works for a Deerfield Township location), do not confuse Mongo’s on Tylersville Road with BD’s. Their concepts may be similar, but BD’s ensures that all their items are bang-up-to-the-minute fresh, whereas I found Mongo’s vegetables to be of the frozen and/or canned variety. I’m sorry but rubbery celery and mushy green peppers are just plain nasty. There are pretenders to the throne, but BD’s is king of Mongolian style grilling. Accept no substitute!
Bd's Mongolian Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Andy's Mediterranean Grille

Andy’s Mediterranean Grill
906 Nassau
Walnut Hills

Ethnic restaurants nearly always guarantee plenty of choice for vegetarians, and Andy’s Mediterranean Grille in Walnut Hills has them in spades. Perched on sloping Nassau Street just off Gilbert Ave., Andy’s is an unassuming building that belies the casually sophisticated, deceptively cool atmosphere inside. The cozy, chock full of character restaurant is the creation of brothers Majed and Andy Hajjar, natives of Zahle, Lebanon, who originally opened it as a deli in the late ‘90’s. The enclosed, heated patio is suitable for both winter and summer dining, and the terra cotta floor tiles, abundance of honey-colored wooden walls, and intricately painted ceilings give the space a hip, friendly feel.

Enhancing the hipster vibe is a unique collection of hookahs (large pipes for smoking flavored tobaccos after your meal), including a massive one balanced on the edge of the inviting bar. There are daily lunch specials on offer, a weekly ladies night with live music, and on the weekends it’s all about the belly dancers.

We visited the restaurant on a weekday afternoon and took full advantage of the 3 items for $10 lunch special, which consists of your choice of appetizer, salad and pita wrap. I reveled in the bounty of appetizers – all very tempting, and all vegetarian. There is Red Lentil Soup, fries, olives, Spinach & Feta Pie, Vegetarian Grape Leaves, Baba Ghannouj (eggplant and tahini), Hummus with Tahini, Labneh (Lebanese yogurt spread with garlic) and the Mediterranean Sampler, made up of hummus, baba ghannouj, labneh, tabouli and olives. My dining companion highly recommended the hummus - a pureed spread of chickpeas and garlic with freshly chopped herbs swimming in a puddle of olive oil – which came with fresh-from-the-oven pita bread. It was divine.


The house salad came with a deliciously zesty dressing, made from an authentic family recipe. There are a number of scrumptious salads to tempt, including Tabouli (bulgur with diced parsley, green onion, tomato, olive oil & lemon), Greek Salad, Fatoush Salad (crisp lettuce, fresh vegetables and toasted pita with olive oil & vinegar), Lebanese Salad (crisp lettuce and vegetables), and the Ultimate Tabouli Salad (diced lettuce, tomato, cucumber and green peppers with tabouli, olive oil and lemon juice).

Rounding out the 3 for $10 menu are wraps, two of which are vegetarian: Falafel (vegetable patties rolled in pita bread), and Hummus & Falafel (hummus wrapped with vegetable patties). Both are bursting with flavor and unexpectedly filling.

Falafel wrap with labnah on the side

Andy’s entrées are also vegetarian friendly. There is a Falafel Platter for $15, a Vegetarian Trio, consisting of a large house salad with hummus, baba ghannouj or grape leaves for $16, and Vegetarian Kabobs (two veggie skewers of zucchini, onion, tomato, green pepper, mushrooms, garlic and lemon) served over rice, also $16. In the evenings Lebanese pizza, consisting of Lebanese flat bread with a spread of herbs and spices, topped with diced tomato and feta cheese, is also on hand.

The restaurant has an extensive wine list, a full service bar, a laid back, friendly wait staff, superb food and a fantastic vibe. The meals are delicious, filling and well worth the money spent. I can hardly wait to visit again.
Andy's Mediterranean Grille on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pacific Moon on the Levee


Pacific Moon on The Levee
1 Levee Way
Newport, KY

Perhaps the recent news items regarding local sushi restaurants serving up tilapia in lieu of red snapper stuck in my head, or maybe it was simply a case of having been too long since my last visit, but I got a real craving for Pacific Moon’s Vegetable Lover Vegetarian Rolls the other day, and nothing else would do.

Situated on the Riverwalk level of Newport on the Levee, the locally owned and operated Asian restaurant caters exceedingly well to vegetarians, offering many options within their vast menu.

The restaurant has a clean, modern look with a pale blue glittering floor and lots of glass and rattan, but the lack of soft furnishings does make the space echo loudly and neutralizes the calmness of the room, which is a real shame. Likewise the flat screen television over the sushi bar. On the night we were there they had the channel set to Animal Planet, and patrons were subjected to an unusually gruesome episode of Crocodile Hunter. We really could have done without that, thank you very much.

When I was an exchange student in Japan, I always felt moments of trepidation whenever the lunch menu called for a bento box, and whenever I had no choice but to use lacquered chopsticks. I note with great pleasure that Pacific Moon has ceased with their sleekly polished chopsticks, troublesome even for a seasoned veteran such as myself. They now opt for an upscale version of disposable wooden sticks, a change that is greatly appreciated. My sushi rolls can no longer escape.

Ah, the sushi. There are three vegetarian rolls on the sushi menu: Asparagus roll, Avocado roll and Pacific Moon vegetarian roll, which includes avocado, cucumber, asparagus, radish and fried tofu inside a rice roll. You get 6-8 pieces of sushi per order, with wasabi paste on the side for the more adventurous and slivers of pickled ginger to help cleanse the palate between bites. At only seven dollars, it's a real bargain.

Their menu is broken into several segments: Little Pleasures, which encompasses a variety of appetizers, soups, and salads; Big Pleasures, a range of entrees that include "Skinny Buddah" (low-cal) versions of popular dishes; Long Noodles; Fried Rice dishes and Good Karma Sides, a selection of side dishes, all of which are vegetarian.

On the Little Pleasures menu they list a hearty seven vegetarian selections: Cold Sesame Noodles, Alex’s Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps, Seaweed Salad, Steamed Vegetarian Potstickers, Crispy Tofu, Mini Veggie Rolls and my favorite – Edamame. The edamame (soybeans) are boiled inside the pod with a coating of sea salt and brought to the table piping hot, to be enjoyed by using your teeth to coax the beans from the non-edible pods, which are discarded in the spare dish provided. There are other places in town that serve edamame, and it is such a simple dish that it is difficult to get wrong, but I think Pacific Moon’s are the tastiest around.

Two vegetarian soups grace the menu , each served in either a generous-sized cup ($3) or a bowl ($5). Because I love spicy soups, I tend to gravitate toward the Hot & Sour Miso each time I visit, and trust me here - this one will certainly open up your sinuses. If heat isn't your thing, however, give the Chinese Vegetable Miso a shot, as it is flavorful and chock full of veggies and tiny cubes of tofu. The Little Pleasures menu is rounded out by two vegetarian salads, Grilled Eggplant with a Sesame Glaze, and Tossed Mixed Greens.

The Big Pleasures menu includes two Skinny Buddah vegetarian selections (vegetable or tofu) served over steamed brown rice or white basmati rice for $12, and seven vegetarian entrees: Orange Ribs, Vegetarian Kung Po (a vegan version of the classic, made with wheat protein), Poached Tofu & Vegetables in a black bean sauce, Garlic Green Beans with Crispy Tofu, Eggplant and Green Beans, Wild Mushroom Pad Thai, and a Mushroom Trio of shitaki, oyster and enoki mushrooms sautéed in lemongrass ginger white wine sauce on a bed of asparagus. Is your mouth watering yet? It should be! These are some seriously tasty dishes, all of which cost less than $16.

The restaurant is open until 1:30 a.m. nightly, dishing up quality dining to late night revelers and those eager for a sample from the list of exotic mixed drinks from the bar.

Oh yeah, be sure to take a gander at the groovy restrooms too - the frosted glass stalls may seem daunting at first glance, but rest assured that they are inpenatrably opaque.
Pacific Moon on the Levee on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Café de Paris

Café de Paris
17 Garfield Place
Downtown Cincinnati

Situated across from leafy Piatt Park (also known as Garfield Park) in downtown, Café de Paris is the type of place that entices you to relax and linger over café au lait while the rest of the world rushes by one block to the east. When the weather is nice a smattering of bistro tables adorn the sidewalk outside, and unlike other downtown restaurants offering al fresco dining, customers at Café de Paris do not have to contend with a lot of traffic fumes and noise. Tables get snatched swiftly, but benches in the park make it easy to enjoy a sandwich or salad with the rest of the nine to five crowd.

The cozy restaurant fills up quickly at lunch, and with good reason. The superb French fare is served up fast, friendly and fresh. The cheery “bonsoir!” you hear upon entering is owner Khaled Atallah, oozing French charm and class as he buzzes around the counter, jotting down orders.

The inviting café is a vegetarian’s dream. They serve up fresh fruits, baguettes and bagels for breakfast, as well as Egg a la Mediterranee, a toasted bagel topped with a steamed scrambled egg, tomatoes, olive oil and cumin, served with a side of hummus. Each weekday finds several daily specials - one of which is always vegetarian, served with a side of pasta salad, green salad or fruit for only $6.45.

There are seven vegetarian salad specials, including a homemade hummus plate served with chopped vegetables and pita bread, and their specialty – Salade de Chavignon, which includes fresh greens with tomatoes and cucumbers, garnished with thin baguette slices topped with toasted goat cheese. It is gorgeous.

It is their sandwiches, however, that keep me coming back again and again. Le Vegetarien is brimming with avocado, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, onions and your choice of swiss, cheddar, havarti, brie or boursin. The Sandwich au Fromage sports brie cheese with lettuce, tomato and alfalfa sprouts, and Croissant Foure aux Epinards is a delicious toasted croissant stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. All are served with tiny gherkins on the side, but for a little extra you can add pasta salad to any sandwich if it strikes your fancy.

Le Vegetarien

I am fairly picky about bread, having fallen in love with freshly baked European breads on my many travels overseas, and most of our local restaurants offer what I would consider to be an inferior product. No so Café de Paris. Their baguettes are divine, as are the croissants. Each bite is a little bit of heaven for me, and when you factor in the fresh vegetables and mouthwateringly good cheeses on offer, well, it’s a wonder I can tear myself away from the counter and return to work.

The restaurant is open M-F 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. It is well worth repeated visits. Vegetarians will not be disappointed.
Cafe de Paris on Urbanspoon