Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What is a vegetarian?

I'm not going to embarrass the person/agency who sent this email to me, but I think that it signifies just how little vegetarianism is understood. Well, either that or the sender didn't bother to read the "About Me" section of my blog.
Hello There,
My name is [deleted] and I work for [popular marketing agency] in Cincinnati, Ohio.
From your blog, I know that healthy eating is important to you.

One of our clients, [deleted], has taken an important step in offering low-fat, non-fried seafood choices with their new menu. This menu features Grilled Salmon, Grilled Tilapia and Shrimp Scampi.

I know personally since having a child and one on the way I have become a more health conscious person looking for healthier foods.

Since fish is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which benefits the heart this menu has really intrigued me along with health benefits for the heart, eyes, brain, immune system.

So I was wondering if you would be interested in trying it out for yourself. I will send you a couple of gift checks so you can do so for free.

I sent a polite reply letting her know that vegetarians do not eat seafood.

I realize that this is a slippery slope - I do know of some people who claim vegetarianism but DO eat seafood, but according to The Vegetarian Society (the oldest vegetarian organization in the world) vegetarianism can be defined thusly:

A vegetarian is someone living on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with or without the use of dairy products and eggs.

A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, or slaughter by-products.

Vegetarianism can further be broken down into those who eat both eggs and dairy (lacto-ovo vegetarians) and those who will not eat eggs but do eat dairy products (lacto-vegetarians). Those who take vegetarian a step further and eat no eggs, dairy products or other animal by-products like honey are considered vegan.

Someone who eats seafood but doesn't eat red or white meat is a pesceterian, NOT a vegetarian.

I am vegetarian: I do not eat mammals, fish or fowl, and I limit the amount of eggs and dairy in my diet. I buy only free-range eggs from a local farmer and do my best to avoid cheese with rennet - which is derived from the stomachs of calves and goats and is used as a coagulator for various cheeses. Admittedly it can be difficult to do when dining out.

For an at-your-fingertips guide of non-rennet cheeses, printing a copy of The Cheese List to have on hand is a good idea.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Kona Bistro in Oakley closing

From today's Cincinnati Enquirer:

Kona Bistro in Oakley announced today that its last day of operation will be next Wednesday. The restaurant opened at its 3012 Madison Road location in 2003.

An e-mail message to people on the restaurant’s mailing list said, “From all of the staff, management, servers, cooks, bartenders,and hosts, we want to thank you for five great years in the Oakley community.”

The message said the restaurant decided not to renew the lease on the Oakley location.

“With the serious downturn in the economy and the slow future forecasts for independent restaurants, it is much too risky to sign another five-year lease at this time. We are choosing to focus on our Oxford location (High Street) for the time being.”

“We have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of Oakley’s revitalization and we hope that you will still choose to support this wonderful community that we have grown to enjoy.”

The restaurant also announced that it is selling dining room chairs, wine racks and kitchen equipment from its Oakley location in an online auction that closes Jan. 4. Information on the auction is at www.worleyauctioneers.com.

The restaurant’s final hours of operation: today, 11a.m.-3 p.m.; Friday (closed); Saturday-next Wednesday, 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.

Kona Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 22, 2008

Claddagh Irish Pub

Claddagh Irish Pub
Newport on the Levee
One Levee Way
Newport, KY

Steve and I met up with a group of ex-pat Brits at Claddagh Irish Pub over the weekend and unbeknownst to me when we booked the reservation, the restaurant has retooled the menu in a way that completely disregards the vegetarian diner. They have absolutely NO vegetarian entrées on their menu now, and only two vegetarian appetizers – fried sweet potatoes and parsnips, and spinach-artichoke dip. Whoop-dee-do.

We hadn’t been to Claddagh in awhile, but in the past there have been at least one or two vegetarian-friendly items available – usually either a pasta or a veggie burger – but this time they pulled out all the stops to make their restaurant as unfriendly to vegetarians as possible. Way to go Claddagh.

I think the thing that restaurants like Claddagh forget is that vegetarians have non-veggie family, friends and co-workers, and when the vegetarian can’t get anything to eat the likelihood of a return visit drops to zero. We brought in a group of 15 to a restaurant that was not nearly as busy as it should have been on the weekend prior to Christmas, and who undoubtedly needed the business, but because of the blatant disregard for the vegetarian in the party, we will definitely not be recommending this restaurant nor suggesting it for future get-togethers again.

Know what I had to eat? Fries, coleslaw and a side salad. Guess what it ran? More than any entrée in our group. Insanely poor value for money!

Vegetarians beware. Claddagh Irish Pub doesn’t give a flying flip about us.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Churchill's Tea Room

Churchill’s Tea Room
28 W. 4th St.

UPDATE 2009: This restaurant has closed.

There are days in the office when the vent above my head expels frigid air from around 10 a.m. onwards, and the spare sweater I keep for such occasions just isn't enough. Such days call for a nice cup of hot tea, which is why my girlfriend Laura and I decided to meet up at Churchill's Tea Room in the Tower Place Mall for lunch and a pot of their white chocolate mousse tea.

Churchill's is just inside the Fourth Street entrance to Tower Place

When our pot of tea arrived I immediately thought of the song "T USA" by Ginger Baker's short-lived stint in the band Masters of Reality, which questions the ability of Americans to make a good cup of tea.

"Now this is serious! If there’s one thing in this country that really bothers me
Is the inability of Yanks to make a good cup of tea
Instructions are printed on the teabag
But either they can't read
Or they think it's a gag

Pour boiling water over the tea
How simple and clear can the instructions be?

They bring you a cup with a lemon slice
And an unopened tea bag beside it (how nice)
And a pot of water and it may be hot
But boiling it isn't so tea you have not

Why can't we
Get our tea
We need tea
To set us free

It's boiling water that brings out tea's flavor
With a dash of milk you've a real brew to savor..."

Churchill's Tea Room should know how to make a proper cuppa - the proprietor is British - yet on the day we visited our pot of tea was definitely not hot enough for boiling water to have been poured over it. I have brewed enough pots over the years to know how hot a cup of black tea should be after steeping for five minutes, and this wasn’t it. On the upside, the lukewarm temperature of the tea made a splash of cream unnecessary, which is just as well, since we were never given a cream option. Patrons at surrounding tables had both cream and sugar for their tea, but we only had sugar. Maybe we had to specifically request the cream, but that seems a rather silly thing to have to do in a tea room.

Although I stop in every so often to peruse their selection of British goods, which are for sale in the front section of the cheery tea room, it had been well over a year since I had last eaten lunch there. I readily admit that it wasn't just the lure of a good pot of tea that drew me in - one day as I passed by I noticed that they listed a Ploughman's sandwich on their menu, and I couldn't get the idea out of my head.

The tearoom and shop

So I knew what I wanted before we were seated – but unfortunately I couldn’t have it, because they were out of some of the ingredients used to make the sandwich. I opted instead for the other vegetarian sandwich on the menu, The Veggie, which consisted of herbed cream cheese, feta, lettuce, tomato and cucumber. It sounded like a winner to me, but the bread really let the sandwich down. Although I’m pretty sure the menu stated that it was made with whole wheat bread, my sandwich came with standard white supermarket bread, and it tasted more than a bit stale.

The Veggie Sandwich with broccoli salad and tea biscuit costs $7.95

Laura ordered the chicken salad sandwich, only to be told that it too was out of stock. Her backup was the ham & cheese.

Most sandwiches run just under $8 and come with a side of their signature broccoli salad or fruit cup and a tea biscuit (cookie). The broccoli salad tasted home made and was very nice – bright bursts of orange complimented the onion and broccoli. It was delightfully creamy with hints of sweetness; not what we were expecting. The tea biscuit on the other hand was a pretty average boxed variety.

On the topic of sweets, Churchill's has a nice selection of cakes and scones. Because I was still peckish at the end of our meal, I decided to try their Strawberry Buttercream cake and am glad I did. It was deliciously moist and well worth the $3.95 price. Laura ordered the Chocolate Guinness cake but they had already sold out of the popular item, so she opted for a chocolate cookie instead.

Decadent and delicious Strawberry Buttercream cake

I haven't attended any of Churchill's popular weekend high teas, so I do not know if they are a better value than their weekday lunch menu, but I felt our sandwiches were poor value for money and rather disappointing, with the one bright spot being the fabulous broccoli salad. I can understand a vendor issue preventing stock from arriving safely and on time, but for a restaurant to serve sandwiches on bread that was clearly past its sell-by date is unacceptable. I’ll give Churchill’s a chance to redeem their tea-making, but in the future I think I will skip lunch and go right for dessert, because that is where the tea room really shines.
Churchill's Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kar-Ma Asian Bistro

Kar-Ma Asian Bistro
7418 Beechmont Ave.
Anderson Township

We met up with friends on Friday evening to check out the newly opened Kar-Ma Asian Bistro, situated next door to Carrabbas at Anderson Towne Centre. The restaurant is quite small and might be considered cozy if it was not so chilly - most likely due to the fact that one whole wall is a bank of windows, making it a difficult space to heat. On a night where the temperature dipped into the teens, sitting next to a large window with little insulation isn't ideal. Luckily it is currently fashionable to wear winter scarves indoors.

The restaurant is tastefully decorated with teak wall hangings and soothing paintings, and little red votive candles glow brightly on each table.

Since the restaurant does not currently have a liquor license, we ordered a round of hot tea to warm ourselves up. Our waiter told us that if we wanted, he would hold our table while we nipped over to Kroger to grab a bottle of wine, but we declined and said we'd remember to bring our own next time. Rather than a pot of tea, we were given bags of organic green tea to steep in our cups, which would have been fine had the water been hot enough, but by the time our bags had steeped the tea was tepid at best. We were given a glass caraf - similar to a Bodum coffee press - of hot water to top up our tea as needed, but the caraf either wasn't designed to keep the water hot, or the water wasn't hot enough to begin with. Proper tea pots or insulated carafs would be a better option.

Wanting something to warm me up, I thought I might order some hot soup, but the waiter informed me that none were vegetarian. Too bad, but at least he was well informed and knew the menu, which was a plus. Instead, I decided upon a fried tofu appetizer, while Steve opted for fishcakes and Mike and Jennifer split a spring roll and an order of pot stickers.

Fried tofu with peanut sauce

Spring roll (top) and pot stickers(bottom)

The kitchen seemed to have trouble pacing the dishes and courses - none of our appetizers arrived at the same time, and by the time all four were on the table, mine, which had been the first to arrive, was no longer hot. Despite this, I thought the tofu was very good; firm wedges lightly browned in peanut oil and served on a bed of shredded carrot with a side of peanut sauce for dipping. Before we could eat, however, we needed napkins and cutlery, which were not on the table when we were seated. Our waiter apologized profusely and rectified the mistake quickly, bringing out chopsticks as well.

Steve found his fishcakes to be rubbery and unappealing, but Mike and Jen had better luck with their pot stickers and spring rolls, which they ate with great gusto.

Fish cakes

I quizzed our waiter on which entrees were and were not vegetarian since the menu didn't specify, and was told that the restaurant does not use fish sauce or shrimp paste in their curries - a big plus for vegetarians and vegans. Since I had already had a green curry earlier in the week at Bangkok Bistro, I asked if any of their specialties were vegetarian and was told that the Pra-Ram was a completely vegan option. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try.

Pra-ram is a Thai peanut curry consisting of vegetables and lightly browned tofu stir-fried in peanut sauce and put atop a bed of baby spinach leaves. When the first two dishes arrived (as with the starters, the kitchen hadn't coordinated the timing of all four dishes correctly) the server who brought out the food incorrectly identified Jen's chicken-ginger stif-fry as my Pra-ram. As we sat waiting for the other two meals to arrive we pondered over whether or not the dish sitting in front of me was indeed praram, since there wasn't a hint of spinach to be found, and the "tofu" looked suspiciously like chicken. Steve tried a small bite and announced that it was definitely chicken, which was when the other two dishes arrived at the table and the heaping dish of tofu and veggies over baby spinach was placed in front of Jennifer. We swapped plates and tucked in.

Ginger chicken stir fry - incorrectly identified by the server as pra-ram

Steve and Mike tried the Paad Thai, which got mixed reviews

Kar-Ma's heat scale for their dishes ranges from 1-3 and, feeling adventurous (plus I was still attempting to get warm), I went for broke and ordered mine as a 3. Three might be the hottest on their scale, but I found it to be rather mild - more like a three on a scale of 1-10. Steve and Mike both found their paad thai entrees to have no heat whatsoever. Even without the heat, I found the pra-ram full of peanut-y goodness and would certainly recommend it, as there was a nice juxtaposition of warm, crunchy veggies, chewy tofu and fresh baby spinach. Personally I thought there was a little too much peanut sauce in this dish, but not enough to detract from the overall taste.


Our table was surprised with two complimentary desserts, possibly to make up for the uneven service we had received, and those two plates more than made up for the chilly surroundings and poor timing.

Mango sticky rice with coconut reduction - YUM!

Banana-butterscotch rolls drizzled with chocolate and peanuts

The restaurant, owned by the same family that runs MeKong Thai in Sycamore Township, is still trying to find its footing, and I hope that they do.
Kar-Ma on Urbanspoon

Kaldi's is closing at the end of 2008

Kaldi’s Coffeehouse & Bookstore, “the living room of Over-the-Rhine,” has announced that it will permanently close the doors at its current location at the end of December 2008. Although owner Jeremy Thompson has been searching for a new location for some time, it has not yet been decided where the concept might reopen.

Building renovations have led to a discontinuation of the bar/restaurant’s lease. Earlier this year, those same changes claimed Kaldi’s kitchen and half of its available seating.

Kaldi’s catering services will continue to be offered, and its operations at the Art Academy of Cincinnati will not cease. Although much of Kaldi’s appeal was its atmosphere, setting and physical space, Thompson still hopes to set up shop elsewhere.

For the time being, Kaldi’s is generally open at noon daily. It closes at midnight on weeknights, and 2 a.m. on weekends.
Kaldi's Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bangkok Bistro

Bangkok Bistro
3506 Erie Ave.
Hyde Park

Friends know I love a good, spicy curry, and they also recognize my love for vegetarian sushi, so for my birthday this year they surprised me with a visit to Bangkok Bistro, located in the little square that also houses Cumin and Haps Irish Pub. I’ve been to this block of restaurants and shops dozens of times, yet for some reason I’d never really even given Bangkok Bistro a thought.

The restaurant is bigger than it appears from the shop front, comprising a bar area and two dining rooms, yet still has a cozy, intimate vibe. There are some nice touches; the menus are wrapped in rich golden organza, an antique hutch is filled with intricately detailed china, and dragon sculptures textured with glass seed and bugle beads decorate the space.

Perusing the menu, I noticed that they didn’t have a separate vegetarian area, nor were any of the dishes marked as specifically vegetarian. So I asked. On the appetizer menu, the spring rolls, vegetable tempura and edamame are vegetarian. One of my friends had never tried edamame, so we ordered it to share.

The edamame was delicious - but it's difficult to mess up steamed soy beans, isn't it?

Sadly the restaurant’s spicy hot & sour soup has a fish base, as does the miso and egg drop soup, so those are best avoided. I opted against getting a soup on this visit, but I’ve filed away the vegetable coconut soup to try another day. It and the regular vegetable soup are safe for vegetarians.

The restaurant has an impressive sushi list, including six vegetarian rolls: cucumber, avocado, seaweed & cucumber, tamago (egg), asparagus, and vegetable. Each order comes with six rolls, so for $4.25-4.95 that’s a pretty good deal. We chose the vegetable and cucumber rolls as our sushi course. With sushi, presentation is key. I found the Bistro’s to be a little messy, and the rolls didn’t hold together as well as they should have. On top of that, I thought they skimped a little on the pickled ginger, but perhaps that is because I really love the stuff and could eat my weight in it. Still, the rolls were tasty, and that is ultimately what matters.

Vegetable rolls and cucumber rolls

Bangkok Bistro offers a variety of noodle, rice and curry dishes, most of which feature seafood or duck, although a few list tofu as an option. I wanted to get my heat on, so I ordered the Thai Green Curry, which ranges in heat from 1-10. To be “safe,” I ordered a 7, since I’d never eaten there and wasn’t sure what to expect. It was pleasantly hot without searing my tongue to a crisp, but I am pretty sure they use shrimp paste in the base, even though I was told it was vegetarian. It certainly smelled “fishy” the next day when I reheated the leftovers. Luckily it didn’t make me ill, but next time I will question the staff more thoroughly than I did on this occasion.

Thai Green Curry w/ tofu: not as vegetarian as it sounds!

Appetizers (including soup and salad dishes) range from $4-$9 and entrées run $11-$17. Bangkok Bistro also has a good selection of saké and wine, and a better than average list of beer, including Asian classics Kirin, Sapporo, Tsingtao and Asahi. My non-veg husband fell head over heels for their crispy paad-thai, which comes with shrimp and chicken and isn't available as a vegetarian option.
Bangkok Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Recipe: Vegan Curry Burgers

Yesterday I had a lot of mushrooms that needed to be used up and I wanted to try something different with them, so for inspiration I visited The Veggie Table, which is a very handy vegetarian resource web site filled with helpful hints, recipes and forums.

Usually when I have a lot of white button mushrooms I either do a stroganoff-type noodle bake, a risotto, pasta of some description or a vegetarian shepherd’s pie, but when I saw the recipe for curry burgers I knew I had to give it a try.

The burgers were easy to make and the combination of spices really complimented the mushrooms and made the house smell heavenly. I didn’t have any fennel seed on hand so I substituted garam masala powder, which includes ground fennel in the mix. Here is the recipe:

2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 med onion, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp fennel seeds (I was out of both fennel and anise seed so I substituted 1 tsp garam masala instead)
1 ½ Cup white button mushrooms, chopped
1 ½ Cup cooked and drained chickpeas
4 med carrots, grated
¼ Cup walnuts, chopped
3 Tbs cilantro, chopped (I didn’t have fresh cilantro at hand, so used 1 tsp dried)
½ tsp salt
Black pepper to taste
Flour (for dusting your hands while forming patties)

1. Heat 1 Tbs oil and sauté onions over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about two minutes. Add coriander, curry and fennel (or garam masala) and cook for three minutes, then add mushrooms. Continue cooking and stirring for five more minutes.
2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and add chickpeas. Process in brief spurts until well chopped, but do not purée.
3. Pour into a large bowl and add carrots, walnuts, cilantro, salt and pepper. Mix well.
4. Flour your hands and shape the mixture into five patties. I put mine on waxed paper.
5. Fry in 1 Tbs oil over medium heat for four minutes each side, until golden brown.

Yield: 5 patties

I prepared two of them and froze the other three patties for later use. I was impressed with their flavor and they held together better than I thought they would given their crumbly appearance. I think the next time I make them I will add chili powder in place of black pepper, just to give them an added kick.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Paula's Café

Paula’s Café
41 East 4th St
Downtown Cincinnati

First things first: it took me ages to try the Garden Burger at Paula’s Cafe because every time I tried to get in I couldn’t get a table and didn’t have time to wait for one to open. Plenty of people will wait, however.

My friend Jennifer and I made plans to meet up for lunch recently and, knowing we’d never get into Paula’s during the noontime rush, decided to meet up at 11:30 a.m. and hope for the best. We were lucky – we grabbed the last table available, and within minutes the few remaining stools at the counter were also gone. After that it was standing room only, with a couple dozen people waiting around for tables and/or carryout. There is no distinction between those ordering takeaway and those waiting for tables, which can lead to confusion, and if you have the misfortune to sit at a table near the front of the restaurant – as we did – the crowd of onlookers waiting for your table give off a distinctly vulture vibe. Craziness for sure, but luckily the food is worth the hassle.

Another busy lunchtime at Paula's

The restaurant makes everything from scratch daily, and the quality is evident with each bite. Their Garden Burger was certainly was juicy and flavorful, although as a vegetarian offering it is fairly pedestrian. More sassy and interesting is their quiche – which tends to fly out the door at an alarming rate – so be sure to either phone ahead for carryout or get there early.

Paula's side salads come with home made dressings!

The Garden Burger with a side of chips

As well as the Garden Burger and the quiche & salad special, Paula’s also offers a cheese sandwich - Amish Swiss or American served hot or cold with a variety of fixin’s – and on Thursdays and Fridays their soup of the day is vegetarian. Thursday’s special is hearty vegetable and Friday’s is tomato bisque, with a cup running $2.95 and a bowl $5.25.
Paula's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Andy's Mediterranean Grille

This just arrived in my email in-box from Andy's:

Their M-Sat 3-course Lunch Special has plenty of vegetarian offerings:
Choose one from each list:
Course 1
House Salad
Course 2
Lentil Soup
Course 3
Falafel Wrap
Hummus & Falafel Wrap

Happy Hour runs from 4-7 p.m. Monday - Saturday with half off all appetizers and half price on all alcoholic beverages.

For a full review of Andy's, click here.