Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mammoth Cafe

Mammoth Coffee & Cafe
515 Monmouth Street
Newport, KY

Now that the weather is getting nice again, Steve and I took a morning stroll through the neighborhood and wound up at Mammoth Café, a friendly, funky little independent coffee shop on Monmouth Street. That neither Steve nor I drink coffee mattered much, as we figured there would be more than just coffee available.

Mammoth Coffee & Cafe

We were right. The café not only offers a full menu of hot and cold espresso/coffee beverages, but a full line of imported teas, Italian and French sodas, fruit smoothies and frappes, as well as bottled juices, soft drinks and specialty bottled sodas.

Although the food menu is small, the restaurant goes above and beyond with their vegetarian selections. Daily breakfast offerings include a burrito stuffed with vegetarian sausage and roasted potatoes; a breakfast bagel made of egg, veg sausage and pepper jack cheese; fresh fruit and cottage cheese with a fresh baked muffin; and granola with yogurt and fresh fruit. Sometimes the quiche du jour is also vegetarian so be sure to ask. All breakfast offerings are served with home baked apples or fresh fruit.

A stylishly retro interior

I opted for the veggie breakfast burrito with fresh fruit. Although I am not a fan of mock meats, I thought the chunks of spicy vegetarian sausage gave the burrito an interesting, chewy kick, and a decorative drizzle of Huy Fong’s Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce on the side of the plate adds a little extra umph if you want it. Lunch begins at 11 a.m. and includes several salads, a veggie wrap and soup du jour served with toasted ciabatta or jalapeno cornbread. Most menu items run $6.95-$7.50.

The vegetarian sausage & roasted potato breakfast burrito

Steve chose the southwest breakfast burrito

The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired window motif, funky fiberglass chairs and hexagon floor tile indicate a flair for mid-century modern, and the restaurant offers local artists a chance to display their artwork throughout. Mammoth Coffee and Café is open Tues-Fri from 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m., from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on weekends, and closed on Monday.

A section of the café displays local art

Mammoth Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 24, 2009

Recipe: Navratan Korma

I've been trying out various korma recipes over the years and this is one of our favorites:

Navratan Korma
1 Tbs ghee or butter
1/3 Cup mixed dried fruits and nuts (cashews, raisins, sultanas etc)
3 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground chili powder (or cayenne)
1 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp garam masala
1 Medium onion, grated
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1/4 Cup milk
1/4 Cup heavy cream
3 Cups boiled vegetables (potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, peas, bell pepper, green beans)
Salt to taste

First off, I think one of the keys to a great dish is by making your own ginger-garlic paste. To do so, buy fresh ginger and two bulbs fresh garlic. Peel the ginger and slice it into small chunks, then whirl in a food processor until it forms a paste. Do the same with the garlic, then mix the two together with 1/4 tsp of turmeric and a little salt. You can store this in the fridge for a week or up to a month in the freezer. Yes, I know it is time consuming to peel all the garlic, but trust me, it's worth it.

Start with fresh ginger and garlic

Whirl the sliced and peeled ginger in a food processor

Do the same with the garlic, then whiz together with turmeric and salt to make a paste

1. Boil vegetables and set aside.
2. Heat ghee/butter and lightly fry raisins and nuts for about a minute on medium heat.
3. Add oil to the pan and fry the grated onion and ginger-garlic paste til golden.

Fry grated onion and ginger-garlic paste in oil

4. Add turmeric, red chili powder, coriander powder, garam masala to the mix and fry for a couple of minutes.
5. Add tomato sauce. Stir well for about 4 minutes, taking care not to let it stick to the pan.

Add tomato sauce

6. Add milk and cream, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until sauce thickens. For a richer taste, add 1/2 cup of heavy cream instead of half milk and half cream.

Add cream and milk

7. Add vegetables and mix well. Simmer for another 5-7 minutes or until thickened.

Add boiled veggies
Simmer together


Serves 4

For added flavor, try adding a little cardamom, clove and cinnamon to the mix. YUM!

Click for printable recipe.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kyoto Sushi Bar

Kyoto Sushi Bar
12082 Montgomery Road
Symmes Township

What better way to spend a birthday evening than in the company of friends and appletinis at a local sushi bar? It was Lauren's big day, so we fought the northbound traffic exiting the city and met up with her at Kyoto Sushi Bar in Symmes Township to celebrate.

Appletini - complete with bamboo umbrella!

The restaurant is in a small, nondescript shopping center just off Fields-Ertel that also houses a Dominos pizza, Cheezburger Cafe and Skip's Bagel Deli, among others. Had I been passing by without the express reason of meeting my girlfriend, I would have never given Kyoto a second glance. Why? For starters, it doesn't face the road so the only indication it's there is the small sign near the parking lot entrance, and secondly their neighbors don't exactly scream "fine food." On top of that, I'd looked at their online menu and didn't see much of interest to vegetarians, so I considered forgoing sushi altogether and just having a drink before heading elsewhere for food. Once I had stepped through the door and saw an entirely Japanese staff and the spirited activity at the sushi bar, however, I was swayed.

The nimble sushi chefs in their element

There are several vegetarian-friendly appetizers to choose from: edamame (steamed and salted soy beans), vegetable tempura, and either steamed or fried tofu, none of which run more than $5. I was excited by the opportunity to sample the tempura, since that was a favorite when I studied in Japan as a college student. My host mother could whip up the fastest, tastiest tempura ever, and I didn't think I was likely to taste anything outside of Japan that could touch hers. Mea culpa. Kyoto's batter-fried vegetables took me right back to Yoshida-san's kitchen. The delicate, crispy batter had not the slightest hint of oil residue and the vegetables (sweet potato, taro, asparagus and broccoli) had that crisp-tender crunch signifying deft technique. Very impressive and a steal at $4.95.

Vegetable tempura with tonakatsu sauce

I went slightly overboard on ordering sushi after the positive experience of the tempura. The selection of vegetarian sushi options is limited to avocado rolls, cucumber rolls, vegetable rolls (a combination of avocado, cucumber and asparagus), sweet potato tempura rolls and taro tempura rolls. Taro is a potato-like starchy tuber that is a staple in Pacific cultures, and I wasn't too sure how well it would work as sushi, but what the heck. I ordered it, along with the sweet potato tempura and the vegetable rolls.

Vegetarian selections include L to R: vegetable rolls, sweet potato tempura rolls, taro tempura rolls

These options are what is known as urimaki handrolls, urimaki meaning "rice on the outside." The handrolls are formed into a cylinder shape and sliced into six bite-sized pieces. My order of three types of handroll resulted in 18 pieces of sushi, none of which Steve was interested in trying. He opted for an order of hibachi (charcoal-grilled) chicken with rice and was gobsmacked by the size of the portion, which was too large even for his healthy appetite.

Hibachi chicken

Soup and salad come standard with each meal. The iceberg lettuce covered in ginger dressing did very little for either of us, and the miso soup was made with chicken stock, so it was left untouched. The rolls, on the other hand, were out of this world. The sweet potato rolls, which I had approached with trepidation, were by far the stars of the plate.

The ginger dressing salad was blah

The sweet potato and taro rolls combine the delight of urimaki with the exquisite subtlety of perfectly executed tempura, topped with a delicate drizzle of Japanese BBQ sauce. Terrific. Fantastic. Awesome. Words just can't do them justice. I wish I could gush about the vegetable rolls as well - and they weren't bad - but were bland little wallflowers compared to their batter-fried cousins.

vegetable urimaki rolls of avocado, cucumber and asparagus

Oishi tabemano! Urimaki rolls of sweet potato tempura and taro tempura with a heaping helping of pickled ginger

Although I do not eat seafood, I still find it easy to tell a good sushi restaurant from a not-so-good one. The best sushi bars use only the freshest ingredients; so fresh, in fact, that you'd never know you were eating raw meat at all. And if it isn't fresh you'll taste it in the rice - even in vegetarian selections - because a sushi chef's hands are constantly juggling fish and rice. I'm pleased to note that there was absolutely no hint of fish with any of my choices at Kyoto. Color me impressed.

We were surprised by how busy this little sushi restaurant is. A steady stream of suburbanites stopped in for take-away orders, and we saw three love boat specials (25 pieces sushi, 25 pieces sashimi, and a handful of rolls) being delivered to diners in the hour we were there. And this on a week night.

Nearby diners allowed me to photograph their Love Boat Special

Even though there isn't a lot for vegetarians at Kyoto Sushi Bar, I'd not hesitate to revisit. The sushi was affordably priced and superb, and the friendly staff was helpful and efficient - a bit too efficient if truth be told, as Lauren's birthday dessert arrived at the same time as the sushi and had to be sent back until the end of the meal. Little hiccups like this are easily overlooked when the food is as good as it is at Kyoto. This place is a keeper.

Red bean ice cream polishes off a fantastic meal

Kyoto on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Loving Cafe

The Loving Cafe
6227 Montgomery Road
Pleasant Ridge
Tel: 513-731-2233
The Loving Cafe has renamed itself "The Loving Hut." It's new look matches the 100 or so other Loving Huts around the country, all of which serve plant-based vegan dishes. New web address is:
The Loving Café’s mission statement is to offer affordable, healthy, vegan cuisine in an earth-friendly dining environment that contributes to a higher standard of personal, community and planetary health. They use organic, locally grown and fair trade ingredients whenever possible. It may sound idealistic, but the restaurant manages to pull it off.

A not-so-great shot of the restaurant front

A busy lunch service

The limited menu relies heavily on fake meats, of which I'm not a fan. Sure they have their place, but personally I can do without them. I’ll admit to being somewhat dismayed that the restaurant’s only menu item sans mock meat was a raw veggie salad. Since my appetite called for something more substantial than a salad, I bit the bullet and chose the Loving Café Sandwich. Consisting of veggie ham and bologna, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, pickled carrots, vegenaise and vegan pate on a crusty baguette, it was a hearty and flavorsome sandwich. The tart crunch of pickled carrots and smooth pate worked really well together and along with the addition of some other veggies would make a nice wrap without resorting to an analogue. I could have done without the generous slathering of veganaise too, since for me a little mayo goes a long way. I ended up scraping most of it off.

So you are probably wondering how the mock meats stack up to the real thing - and I can't answer that. It's been far too long since I had a piece of ham, bologna or chicken. I will say that I don't think the mock meats added anything to the Loving Cafe sandwich, and I'd have been perfectly happy without them. Those making the transition from a meat-based diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet may find this restaurant the perfect starting point, but I don't think that the sandwich I had is going to convert anyone who doesn't already want to make the change.

The Loving Cafe Sandwich

Other menu options include sloppy-joes, chik’n fillets with fried rice or greens, or baked spring rolls with fried rice. Kids meals include chik'n strips and salad, fried rice and spring roll, or almond butter & jelly on sprouted whole grain bread.

Steve got the spring roll and fried rice dinner. He was not impressed, saying there was no moisture to the rice - as though it had been sitting around awhile - and he didn’t think the rolls had much taste, even though they were filled with finely sliced vegetables and veggie ham. Maybe non-meat eaters would enjoy this dish moreso than someone who is used to pork spring rolls. The entrée came with a side salad of organic baby greens, but there wasn't a choice of dressings. What arrived was a ginger paste so thick that it stuck to the sides of the plastic container. The only way to eat it was by dipping in the fork tines first, then picking up the lettuce. I'm guessing they do not offer vinaigrette dressings because they don't want any oil going into the compost bin.

The Spring Roll Entree with fried rice

Fresh, organic greens accompany the Spring Roll entree

Ah, the compost bins. Food is served on paper plates which are added to the recycling bin after any leftovers have been scraped into a compost bin. Bins are prominently displayed and labeled with easy to understand instructions. Kudos to the Loving Café for offering this simple, earth-friendly option.

The recycling stations are prominently located

The restaurant offers a thoughtful choice of gourmet teas, natural sodas, and organic juices, as well as vegan smoothies made with chocolate Silk (soy milk) or white almond milk. If you’d rather just have water, there is a small station in the dining room with complimentary pitchers.

Mock meats aside, there are a few ambience-related issues that the restaurant should address. The florescent lighting in the back dining room is quite harsh and negates the soothing vibe being broadcast by Supreme Master TV, and the smoothie machine is JARRINGLY LOUD. We had to yell our order to the cashier at the front counter and she still couldn't hear us until the smoothie machine was switched off. Steve and I ran into Cincinnati Enquirer food critic Polly Campbell in the back dining room, and the three of us had trouble hearing each other whenever there was a smoothie being prepared. The roar of that machine was overwhelming.

The product of a roaring machine: a yummy tropical smoothie

The TV shows inspirational messages in the back dining room

The counter is chock full of delicious looking vegan desserts

I want to love the Loving Café and want to champion their cause, but this visit just didn’t do it for me. I’m pleased to see a vegan establishment in town, I think their ideals and ethics are sound, and I love the forward-thinking of the recycle and compost bins, yet their heavy reliance on mock meats leaves me feeling a bit let down. Hopefully the restaurant is still finding its way and will offer a wider selection of items in the future.

Loving Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Dusmesh Indian Restaurant
944 Ludlow Avenue
Tel: 513-221-8900

Dusmesh is located in a converted house (the old Indian Palace restaurant) across the street from Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, and the menu offers a wide selection of North Indian haute cuisine made from the finest and freshest ingredients. The sweet, comforting aroma of Nag Champa greets visitors at the front door; a first indication of good things to come. Diners are greeted promptly by friendly staff, and even first-timers are welcomed as old friends. It's very refreshing.

This unassuming building houses a fantastic Indian restaurant!

The entrance is via this pint-sized addition on the right side of the house

As with most local Indian buffets, there are several vegetarian dishes alongside meat-based dishes. The difference with Dusmesh is in what they offer - on the day we visited the vegetarian offerings included aloo gijjar (a gorgeously tasty potato-carrot dish laced with coriander and onion), and egg bhurji (scrambled egg masala). I haven't seen these at other local buffets, but more importantly both had a complexity of flavor not found elsewhere around town.

The choices on the buffet bar are impressive
The cheery lunchroom

Another difference between Dusmesh and other local Indian restaurants is their light-handed use of chillies, letting the other ingredients shine. That isn't to say that none of Dusmesh's offering are fiery, but most dishes are gentle and pleasing. Steve and I were both astonished by the depth of flavor in the navratan korma (meaning "nine jewels," it's nine vegetables in a lightly spiced cream sauce). The interplay between the coriander, turmeric and garam masala with the cream and vegetables was a symphony for the tongue. I've had mixed veg korma plenty of times, but here this dish is taken to a completely different level. By far is the best I've ever tasted.

Navratan Korma, rice and Aloo Gijjar (in bowl)
Another helping of navratan korma and rice, this time with egg bhurji and hot pickle (in side dish)

I tried every vegetarian offering on the buffet bar (although not all of them photographed well enough to be shown), and my only quibble is that the temperature of two of the dishes was tepid at best, possibly due to faulty warmers on the bar. Considering just how phenomenally good the food is at Dusmesh, this is an issue they should sort out sharpish.

A plate of appetizers clockwise from top: tomato soup, veg samosa, veg pakora and turnip masala

The lunch buffet is daily from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and runs $8. Dinner service runs until 10 p.m. and vegetarian fare is well represented; the restaurant offers 24 dedicated vegetarian dinner entrées, as well as a number of veg appetizers, soups and tandooris.

The desserts at Dusmesh should not be overlooked. Alongside buffet staples like kheer (rice pudding) and fresh fruit, on the day we visited there was also a lovely grated carrot pudding. This delicately sweet dessert meshes carrot with cardamon, sugar, milk and ghee (clarified butter) for a taste similar to baked sweet potatoes slathered in butter and brown sugar. Oh my, I could have eaten the entire tray.

Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot pudding) is a satisfying end to a fantastic buffet meal

Dusmesh Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Trattoria Roma

Trattoria Roma
609 Walnut St.

I met up with a friend for lunch recently at Trattoria Roma, a nice little Italian place across the street from the Aronoff Center. The restaurant is dimly lit and looks bigger than it is, thanks to a strategically placed wall of mirrors on one side of the full-service bar. Although I've never visited during dinner hours I imagine that it can get very busy, considering its prime location. Lunch is served from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays and dinner runs from 5-9 p.m. M-Th and until 11 p.m. on Fri and Sat, although times may vary based on Aronoff show times. Best to call ahead.

Conveniently located across from the Aronoff

The restaurant wasn't very busy on the day we visited, yet we felt we were being rushed to make our menu choices. Our server didn't have a very good grasp of English and couldn't tell me if the soup of the day was vegetarian or meat-based, and didn't understand what I was asking when I wanted to know if the tomato sauce was vegetarian. The menu doesn't specify vegetarian items, so I cast my fate to the wind and hoped for the best.

As with most Italian cuisine restaurants, there are several items on the menu that are vegetarian when prepared with marinara sauce: calzones, pizzas and two pasta dishes - tortellini alla panna (tortellini in cream sauce with artichoke hearts and peas), and penne with broccoli and sundried tomatoes. Luckily the tomato sauce at Trattoria Roma is a vegetarian-friendly marinara. I figured it would be, but not knowing for sure and not having a server who could tell me was exasperating. It would be nice if the restaurant noted vegetarian items on the menu, or at the very least listed the marinara sauce as vegetarian.

The pasta dishes come with a side of soup or salad, and since I was unable to suss out the ingredients in the soup, I opted for the safety of greens. We were served a basket of warm rolls when our salads arrived, but the accompanying butter pats were nearly frozen and had to be warmed up considerably before they were useful. My penne was cooked correctly - I would expect no less from an Italian restaurant - but the sauce was watery and didn't have much flavor to it. I would have expected some garlic, or some basil and oregano at the very least. Instead the dish relied on commercial parmesan to carry it.

The Trattoria Roma side salad

Penne with broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes

I think the problem with this restaurant is that there is no "wow factor" on the menu - at least as far as vegetarian items are concerned. There are plenty of standard dishes, but nothing exciting and certainly nothing that I can't do a better job of creating at home. I want to like Trattoria Roma, but after this visit the jury is still out.

Trattoria Roma on Urbanspoon