29 January 2012

chilam balam.

the official second stop on "halley's 2012 chicago top chef restaurant tour" was chilam balam, chef chuy valencia's super tasty mexican spot. unfortunately, the chef was not there the night we went... but that doesn't mean the food wasn't absolutely delicious.

this menu isn't that of a typical mexican joint... so i was a little concerned about what might be vegan... but our waiter, luis, was very careful that nothing i ate contained any animal products... so i felt very comfortable with everything i sampled. here's what i had:

chunky guacamole with classic garnishes and crispy tostadas.
the guac was delish... it had a bit of a kick to it, which i loved (of course). 

young greens, roasted poblano dressing, jicama, oranges, avocado and pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
a great salad. the dressing was outstanding. i think there were some other roasted items in there too... maybe carrots and pears? it was great either way.

corn masa memelas, black beans, arbol salsa and dressed shoots.
mmm. the salsa was super smokey : another favorite flavor of mine. 
i had never had memelas before... and i think the ones at chilam balam were the perfect introduction. 

sweet empanadas, peanut butter filling, fig compote, oaxacan chocolate.
luis assured me that these were dairy free -- which i was super excited about because they were fantastic. like really truly deliciously fantastic. i could have eaten about 20 of them. the one food group i think is lacking most for vegans is dessert... in my opinion, it's just hard to make vegan desserts taste the same as non-vegan desserts. that being said, these empanadas blew me away. 
a bit of saltiness in the empanadas + peanut butter + thick chocolate syrup = amazing. 

chilam balam was fantastic... and i will certainly be back... if only for the peanut butter empanadas. tan rico!

28 January 2012

vegans & chicagoans are funny!

i'm sure that everyone has seen the various videos of "shit _____ say" ... starting with girls and leading to liz lemon, oklahomans (?) and even what dogs would say.

recently, a couple of videos surfaced that featured (using that term lightly) two of my favorite things : vegans & chicagoans. so here they are...

"shit vegans say" 
"are you sure these are vegan?"
we've all been there before.

&

"shit chicagoans say"
"no!"
even vegans in chicago know you don't put ketchup on a hot dog.

25 January 2012

lou malnati's pizzeria.

my family has always had a tradition of ordering pizza on friday nights... a tradition that josh very much appreciated. but for the two of us, ordering pizza for dinner became much less frequent... and basically stopped once i became vegan.

here's where the story gets interesting... 

josh's favorite pizza place (chicago or elsewhere) is lou malnati's... so when he was craving it one friday evening, i decided to do a little research.

lou malnati's is known for their "buttery crust." so i just assumed that their crust was not vegan. however, a quick google led me to believe that there actually is no butter in their crust! umm... !!!

i called a couple locations (to ensure accuracy!)... and not only did both sites know what a vegan is without me explaining, but they also confirmed that their regular deep dish crust is vegan! very exciting news around our house.

**basically, unless you request a butter crust... it doesn't have butter. so to be safe, i would still specifically ask for no butter and no cheese (specify both mozzarella and parmesan)  for future ordering.

so i decided to order a small deep dish pizza... spinach, black olives and their delicious chunky tomato sauce... no butter, no mozzarella, no parmesan.

the results: 


it's been a long time since i've had lou malnati's (besides their house salad : one that actually is delicious!)... so my excitement may have affected how great i thought it tasted. i very much enjoyed it.

all in all... it most certainly satisfied any craving i may have had for chicago deep dish pizza... josh is glad to have pizza fridays back! and so am i.

***update from a lou malnati's employee ... "i can confirm, as someone who works for lou malnati's, that the dough is vegan. that is for the deep dish dough. the thin crust dough already has butter added to the crust. you can, of course request to have it without." there ya have it. 

***a second update ... the lou malnati's gluten-free crust is NOT vegan. sorry, gf vegans! 

22 January 2012

girl & the goat.

since chef stephanie izard opened girl & the goat in the summer of 2010, it has been one of the hottest restaurants in chicago... so much so that we were only able to get a 5pm reservation on a sunday several weeks in advance. (and when we got there, it was packed!)

so josh and i visited girl & the goat last week.
and let me say... it. was. incredible.

not only is this restaurant naturally accommodating to vegans (with the usual : no cheese, no butter), but chef stephanie izard was also kind enough to create some specialty vegan items for me that weren't on the menu... and send out a couple experimental items we didn't even order. our neighbor patrons asked what our dishes were... twice!

**note : since some of the items weren't on the menu, i'm doing my best job in determining their components.

here's what i had:

a flatbread pizza :
red onion, a bit of hummus, lentils, kalamata olives and water cress.
one word : yum. 
unique toppings are my kind of pizza. 

kohlrabi salad with fennel, toasted almonds, pear and ginger dressing. 
also : yum. it was interesting... i had never had kohlrabi before... and when i saw this, i expected the big slices to taste like apples. not at all! either way, the flavor combo was fantastic.
(also, apologies. can't get this photo to rotate properly... still new to this.)

 chef izard's creation (from what i could deduce) :
masa, frisée, chickpeas and mint salsa.
this was my favorite dish. it was definitely indian inspired -- which was perfect. it contained all of my favorite indian elements... chickpeas à la chana masala, some crispy deliciousness in the form of masa and a new take on the traditional mint chutney (my absolute favorite indian sauce). mmm. perfect! i could eat this all the time.

roasted cauliflower, pickled peppers, pint nuts and mint. 
 cauliflower can either be amazing or super blah in my book. when i lived in spain, my señora once served me a plate of plain steamed cauliflower and said, "it might need some salt" as she handed it over. needless to say, it did need some salt... quite a bit. now this plate of cauliflower was the exact opposite. girl & the goat normally prepares it with butter, but olive oil was used for me. when i say it was the best cauliflower i've ever had, i'm not lying. i loved each wonderful bite.


another specialty creation : tempura veggies with a sweet chili sauce.
 i haven't had tempura in sooo long... so this version definitely hit the spot.
fried crispiness + veggies = mmm. 

funny story : at this point, we had finished eating and were pretty stuffed... but there was still some cauliflower and tempura left... our fantastic waitress, taylor, asked if we wanted to take the rest home... my question : "do people do that here?" as josh rolled his eyes... taylor responded that yes, people frequently take leftovers. so yay! dinner for the next day.


and for dessert : pear sorbet with a bit of jalapeño. 
a perfect finale to the night. super light and very textural for sorbet (if that makes sense). 

girl & the goat was, in one word, amazing. i'm very much looking forward to another trip.

19 January 2012

bloomington, indiana.

this weekend, josh and i are making the trip down to bloomington, indiana to visit our alma mater, indiana university. and since we don't live there anymore, we will be eating every meal at a restaurant, bar, cafe, etc.

bloomington is not a typical small town... so eating vegan should be a breeze. i was a vegetarian my last two years of college, so i know how to work it out down there for the most part... but i've already done some "pre-checking" of spots i'd like to hit that never got crossed off of my culinary to do list while in school.

so be looking forward to a few out of chicago posts featuring bloomington, indiana!!

*ps - go hoosiers! 

18 January 2012

irazu.

irazu is chicago's only costa rican restaurant... and a frequent favorite for lunch at my office.

to be fair, i've only had one actual meal item at irazu...

the vegetarian tacos, which are actually vegan.
black beans, yellow rice, tomato, lettuce and avocado... 
very basic - but so flavorful and delicious. always very fresh.

irazu also makes a fantastic green chili salsa... 
 it's also got that super fresh taste to go along with it's incredible spiciness. 
i basically douse my tacos with it everytime i eat here. it's that fresh, healthy spiciness that i love!

the patacones are also vegan and quite delicious... 
 what's not to like about fried plantains and a garlic oil sauce?

before ordering from irazu this most recent time, i emailed them to ask what other items (besides what is above) are vegan. here is the response i got from the restaurant:

"the patacones, yuca, guacamole and the vegetarian chifrijo are all wonderful vegan-friendly appetizers. the veggie burrito and taco (if requested dairy-free) are vegan, and the veggie paella, veggie salad, palmito salad, veggie sandwich (without cheese), and the veggie casado (if requested without egg) are all vegan."

amazing!

when i tell people how much i love irazu, i always get asked what the difference between mexican and costa rican food is... in my opinion, irazu's costa rican food tastes simpler (in a good way!) than most mexican food i've eaten.

basically, irazu a great place for several delicious vegan options.
(and it's super affordable, too!)

15 January 2012

prasino.

i recently went over to wicker park to try out prasino, whose website describes it as "an eco-chic neighborhood restaurant."

like sable kitchen & bar, they know what a vegan is and include several vegan items on their menu.
plus and plus!

we started off with the hummus.
it was good, basic hummus.

for my main dish, i opted for the miso glazed tofu with brown rice, julienned vegetables and ginger carrot sauce.


i'm a big tofu girl, so i really enjoyed this. when josh and i were at sable (which was actually after my trip to prasino), i realized that chef heather terhune's sauce and zucchini and carrot salad on the crispy red lentil cake reminded me a lot of the sauce and julienned carrots and zucchini on my tofu at prasino... the dishes were so different though, it was interesting that both worked so incredibly well.

i didn't have any of their specialty drinks... so i can't speak to any of their "craft beers, sustainable wines, small-batch spirits, and fresh juices" ... but i would certainly try prasino again.

11 January 2012

ra.

ra is a sushi bar in gold coast. i've been a few times before... and i've never gotten sushi there.

i love sushi joints because it's pretty easy to eat vegan.
(give me an avocado roll with brown rice and some gomae from rise and i'm set. more on them later.)

but instead of going the route of normal vegetable sushi rolls, when at ra, i like to mix it up.

we started off with some edamame. 
an oldie, but goodie at any japanese restaurant. 
*note : i know this has nothing to do with my dining experience at ra, but if you like to make edamame at home, i love to put garlic salt on them instead of regular salt... it's delish!

 next came the shishito peppers.
they are super hot, which i happen to love. 
you can see the bit of sriracha on the side of the plate, so be warned if you don't like spicy.
they are sauteed in sesame oil with other asian seasonings.

and finally, the nutty tofu salad.
silken tofu (fried in sesame oil), avocado, mandarin oranges, edamame, cashews and some wonton strips on top of mixed greens with a rice wine vinaigrette. 
it's actually called the nutty grilled chicken salad, but you can see where i made the substitution. this salad is seriously delicious. the mixed greens play the smallest role here, which is something i love in a salad... this one has got so many flavors, but they are perfect together. i obviously haven't had the chicken version, but the girls i was with thought they would also prefer tofu to chicken in this dish. overall, just really tasty... and lots of protein (in the edamame, tofu and cashews)! 

if you're in the mood for something different, but asian inspired, ra is definitely a great place to go for delicious vegan options. 

08 January 2012

vegan eating in the news.

my dear friend, joelle, informed me that on friday, the chicago sun-times published an article featuring some of the best vegan dining spots in chicago...

while i prefer to focus on "non-vegan" restaurants, this article has some great tips for where you can find some great vegan food in the city.

if you're interested, take a look here:
"vegan dining a delicious, healthy way to kickstart 2012"

sable kitchen & bar.

as a huge top chef fan, i was excited to see so many chicago chefs on the show this most recent season... and of course, i knew i'd want to try out some of their restaurants...

sable kitchen & bar immediately stood out as we watched chef heather terhune on the show. so i decided to make it our first stop on "halley's 2012 chicago top chef restaurant tour" (official name pending).

i became even more excited when i read their website's homepage:

"sable kitchen & bar knows that everyone has different tastes and dining preferences. in order to accommodate every restaurant guest, we are glad to offer vegan and vegetarian dishes in addition to our new american menus."

amazing!
off to a great start.

here's what we ate:

we started off with the warm marinated cerignola olives... super delish.
no photo though, oops.

next, we had a flatbread from the specials menu:
half vegan, half not.
roasted baby tomatoes and zucchini and a balsamic glaze on my half. 
my favorite dish we had. 

followed by the crispy red lentil cake:
i may have forgotten to take a photo before digging in. 
it was also very tasty... long shreds of zucchini and carrot shreds, a curry coconut milk sauce and some peanut bits. 

we ended with some housemade sorbet:
lemon & thyme. incredibly flavorful.
there were two other balls of sorbet that we ate too quickly, because... 

chef terhune brought our dessert out to us! 
i'm pretty sure she could tell how excited i was...
she was super friendly and asked if we enjoyed everything. basically, it was awesome. 
it's that excitement that caused us (me) to snarf down the sorbet.

sable is my kind of restaurant... i love to get a little bit of everything with my meals, so a variety of small plates is perfect. 

we are definitely looking forward to a future visit there! 

apologies for the lack of untouched plate photos... hey, i'm new to this! 

06 January 2012

a vegan & an omnivore.

as i begin to share more of my chicago dining experiences, i think it's important to give a bit of info about who i share the majority these meals with: my husband, josh... meat eater extraordinaire.

in my opinion... for an omnivore, being married to a vegan must be loads of fun all the time! [sarcasm.]
 1. i don't cook meat or dairy... so two separate dishes must be prepared for every meal (if we do cook).
 2. he has to endure the never ending modifications i make to my order when we eat in restaurants.
 3. his monthly intake of lou malnati's pizza has gone down significantly since our nuptials due to their butter crust and only somewhat decent salads.

that being said, josh is a fantastic dining partner...
he's willing to go to pretty much anywhere in the city to eat... whether it's a well known spot or a hidden gem.

so i am pleased to introduce you to josh... omnivore, secret foodie & dining partner of the chi city vegan.



our next restaurant visit : sable kitchen & bar.

04 January 2012

the salad.

people frequently ask me, "don't you get sick of eating salads all the time?"

there are 2 answers to this question...

1. no. i'm a vegan. vegetables are what i choose to eat.
and come on people, they are super delicious and healthy! 

2. i don't only eat salads... even when i'm at restaurants.

a rise in the popularity of eating healthy combined with an increase in dairy allergies (along with a slew of others) have made eating vegan in restaurants significantly easier than it used to be.

i went to morton's steakhouse a while back and had an incredible medley of steamed, sauteed and roasted veggies. our server didn't even blink an eye at my request.

so while there does come a time when i order a chopped salad with no bleu cheese, no chicken, no bacon, extra tomatoes, extra onions, etc., etc., etc. ... that's just not the only option out there anymore.

unless you are at portillo's... then yea, that (or the garden salad, blech) is about it.

03 January 2012

alinea.

go big or go home, right?
a perfect first official restaurant post. 

alinea is arguably the best restaurant in chicago... and one of the best in the country.

head chef grant achatz is known for his deconstruction of food and flavors...
the phrase i hear most frequently is "molecular gastronomy." sounds yum, right?

well it is. alinea offers two vegan menus - one with honey and one without...
while i do not categorize myself as a non-honey-eating-vegan (simply because i don't come into contact with it very frequently), i went with the honey free menu on this occasion.

** side note: they also offer a vegetarian menu and will customize the "normal" menu for individuals with allergies or other miscellaneous food preferences. for example, one person i was with does not eat pork... they easily substituted those dishes with their vegetarian counterparts. don't you love these kinds of places?

now, i'm not going to list off the whole menu - i don't want to ruin any surprises for people who might be headed there... that being said, the menu is incredibly seasonal and i went in the fall.

i truly loved it all (besides the mushroom dishes), but here are a select few:

oyster leaf
this little leaf was served in a cleaned oyster shell... but the actual part you eat is completely vegan. everyone at my table received the same dish. it was literally just a leaf that tasted like oyster... now, i've not been a vegan, or even a vegetarian, my entire life... but even in the past, i'd never had an oyster. for me, it just tasted salty and a bit fishy... which i am assuming is what an oyster tastes like. the saltiness i loved, the fishiness, not so much. it was neat and everyone at the table enjoyed it. 

parsnip
this was just a portion of one dish... the broth for agedashi tofu. as the only non-meat eater at the table, you'd think i'd enjoy the tofu the most, right? nope ... everyone else got tofu... and i got a chunk of parsnip prepared the same way. i must say, it was the best agedashi tofu i've had yet!

snow
made from yuzu, an asian citrus fruit. they took the essence of yuzu and turned it into a fancy snow cone... it was incredibly tasty. my only complaint: there wasn't enough of it! the device they served it on was suuuper cold. they told all of us not to touch our tongues or lips to it... we all tested it out, of course.
 
 lemongrass
this was basically an alcohol free test tube shot (yes, taken in one big gulp) filled with lemongrass, dragonfruit, thai basil and finger lime. it was by far the most flavorful and delicious item we enjoyed.  again, i wanted more after my sip!

dark chocolate
 ah, the pièce de résistance... 
dark chocolate, sweet potato, lingonberry and stout (according to my menu, not sure where that fit in). basically, artwork made of dessert all over the table... the best part: just dig in! no utensils required! i'd say one of the things i miss the most about eating vegan is dessert. needless to say, i was satisfied for several days after this. the vegan portion is the one at the top of the photo. you can see that the ice cream is a bit darker, due to the soy milk, i suppose.

of course, i don't have a photo of my favorite savory bite: a fried ball of butternut squash, apple and shallot served on a maple tree twig. 

i think i could eat those little squash balls every day and not get tired of it. 
actually, i could eat all of it every day.

chef grant achatz - a friend to vegans and non-vegans alike!

photos : p. riggio.

02 January 2012

about the chi city vegan.

my name is halley...

i'm a vegan.
but i'm not one of those vegans that likes to experiment with cooking... or cook at all, to be honest.

i'm also a foodie.
i prefer to have my meals prepared by professionals... at the delicious cafes, restaurants, sandwich shops, bakeries, etc. throughout chicago. i love trying out new hot spots... and visiting the old favorites that make chicago the great food city that it is.

a vegan foodie... sounds like a contradiction, right?
but it's not... and this girl is out to prove it.