Reviews written by Anna Karan

Registered on Mar 21 05
 

Chicago Diner in Chicago, Illinois
Mar 21 05

rating star

Sometimes the food from the Diner is tasty, others it's extremely mediocre. Brunch especially always strikes me as overpriced; I'll happily pay >$50 a plate for a good meal at an elegant restaurant, but neither the food nor the atmosphere here is elegant. It's a diner. Better vegan french toast can be had down the street at Pick Me Up Cafe; the diner's featured crusty whole-grain bread for a lot less taste and a lot more chewing required. The gyros were very good; a burger was OK. The Diner Wellington is fantastic and festive, a good choice for taking home and heating up for a special vegan meal. Things may have changed in the past 3-4 years, but when I tried a blueberry tofu cheesecake I was decidely not impressed; it may have been nonhydrogenated but it wasn't cheesecake! (Since trying a Sticky Fingers cheesecake I don't think I'll be able to return to those tofu pretenders.)

On the whole, I want to like the Chicago Diner. The menu is so vegan-friendly for a Chicago restaurant, the employees and owners seem like nice people. However, with so many other good food options in the neighborhood, I can't say I feel compelled to go back much.

Leona's in Chicago, Illinois
Mar 21 05

rating star

Leona's stands out because it is one of few places where my non-veg father and I can both be happy. The food is always huge, more than filling. There are lots of vegan options. It's not gourmet, but it's fun, friendly, and one of the best options in some parts of the suburbs. I like the big fat vegan burger (avocado and roasted garlic for me!), the hummus pizza-esque appetizer is good (although it's so similar to the actual hummus vegan pizza that I've never ordered the pizza). The psychedelic salad is huge and offers lots of options for individual tastes. The veggie sides are good, particularly the lemon broccoli.

It's not the kind of place that's worth making a special trip for during a vacation to Chicago, but it is the perfect place to take a mixed crowd when you want to hang out and catch up.

Opera in Chicago, Illinois
Mar 22 05

rating star

I was pleasantly surprised with Opera, a vegan friendly pan-Asian restaurant in the South loop. They serve what may well be some of the most elegant vegan food in the city. An entire separate vegan menu, with dessert, is available, and our server was very conscious of the different dietary needs at the table. Many side dishes on the regular menu can also be made vegan.

Unfortunately none of us saved room for dessert, but the food was filling, tasty, and well presented. The atmosphere is trendy, something of a pleasant departure from typical chicago veg friendly restaurant surroundings. The lychee martinis were especially delicious. This would be a great place in Chicago to take a vegan date.

Blind Faith Cafe in Evanston, Illinois
Mar 21 05

rating star

As the first all-vegetarian restaurant at which I ever ate, Blind Faith still holds a special place in my heart. I first tasted seitan in their seitan ceasar salad and thought they were brilliant. After becoming vegan and travelling a little more, my opinion of the restaurant has lessened a little. What passes for gourmet vegetarian food has changed dramatically in the last few years, and it's about time Chicago gets infused with some of the culinary brilliance that has appeared in New York, San Fran, and the Northwest these past few years.

The menu hasn't changed much in the ten years I've been eating there, save a recent subtraction of my favorite dish (a wonderful Thai curry with tofu and jasmine rice on the side). I heard rumors the new head chef was trying to make things a little more elegant there, but I'm still waiting for these fabulous new additions to the menu.

The menu is varied, with a healthy dose of tofu and seitan (with which they are indeed gifted) thrown in. Lots of different ethnic flavors are available, especially for ovo-lacto vegetarians. The lemon seitan and the seitan marsala are very good, although the side dishes are a bit bland; steamed broccoli, pureed squash, and plain rice seem to prevail at the cafe. The fajitas are great and filling. The Indian curry was tasty, but nothing special. The cheese ravioli is very good (but what about us ravioli-deprived vegans? Why not stop serving the butternut squash on the side and make us some ravioli with it?).

One reason to go, though, is the multi-tiered, super-rich vegan peanut butter chocolate cake. If that won't satisfy your chocolate cravings, nothing will.

The Blind Faith Cafe is a good local restaurant where I can reliably find something good to eat, but I'm hoping that in the future the cafe succeeds in elevating itself to something more. It's about time for Chicago to get some gourmet vegan food!

De Bolhoed in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Mar 21 05

rating star

De Bolhoed is a pleasant vegetarian restaurant on Prinsengracht, one of the closest vegetarian sit down restaurants to the center of the city. It has a neighborhood restaurant flavor, and while the service can be slow by American standards (not really a point against it since this is true of almost ANY dutch restaurant), I always have a pleasant meal there.

The vegan daily special (which, unlike the other reviewer, I've never had the misfortune to learn had run out; we usually come around 6 though) is always a huge plate of food, usually including a salad, a couple of veggie sides, and a few ethnic specialties. One day it was classic Dutch food, great to have the opportunity to try vegan; I loved my kale stamppot (a mashed potato-ish dish), although the veggie burger patties were a bit too...whole grain...for me. The next time it was thai, with curries and rice dishes. Usually some parts of the daily special are mediocre, others are incredibly tasty. The presentation is a little homey - expect to get a plate overflowing with different dishes crammed together on your plate - but there's always something deliciously tasty on it.

The desserts are some of the best vegan desserts I've had in Amsterdam, which unfortunately isn't saying that much, but they're not bad. In general the vegan cuisine has a ways to come in Holland, but here the cuisine is something like good home cooking with a completely unrushed atmosphere. There's no idea here that the servers need to turn over n tables an hour. Don't come unless you've got a few hours to savor conversation and company with your dining companions, but for those times when you do want to linger and catch up, it's great.

De Vliegende Schotel in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Mar 28 05

rating star

Before and since visiting, I've read very positive things about Vliegende Schotel. I was exceedingly disappointed. By now I'm used to service in restaurants being a bit slower than in the US, and have learned to set aside a few hours for a restaurant meal...but this place is ridiculous. We waited two hours for our entree to arrive, and when we did get it I received the wrong dish. (a tofu kebab instead of the seitan dish I'd ordered) After that kind of a wait, though, I was disinclined to ask for a new meal.

The evening began well enough with a delicious lentil soup alongside tasty drinks (house wine and a local beer). Their cat was friendly and sat on my lap a bit between walking over the tables, which I didn't mind but allergic, etc. diners might want to avoid.

The Vliegende Schotel isn't actually a vegetarian restaurant; some dishes contain aquatic animals. This itself didn't bother me that much except that I couldn't choke down my tofu-veggie kabob because I was convinced from the taste that it had been grilled on the same surface. The dish came with a typically mediocre dutch side salad and, if I recall, some other sort of vegetable side. I couldn't eat most of it, it just wasn't good. They do get 3 points for the tasty soup and the friendly neighborhood hangout atmosphere. We didn't stick around for dessert (although I don't recall seeing much of vegan interest), choosing instead to pick up takeout desserts at another local veg restaurant (De Bolhoed). Should've gone there instead in the first place.

Green Planet in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Mar 21 05

rating star

Green Planet is a casual yet elegant vegetarian restaurant in the center of the city that dishes up some of the best vegan food in the city. The Spuistraat location is an easy walk for us, but we'd travel farther for it. Recently the restaurant has added an inexpensive daily special, which includes a small salad and a dish of the day; sometimes this is naturally vegan, sometimes not. I haven't inquired yet if obviously nonvegan daily specials can be veganized. The restaurant helpfully codes its regular menu items as vegan - (V) - or available vegan on request - ((V)) - and the menu, like most places in this part of the city, is in English and Dutch.

The strudel is worth the trip, and remains after several trips my favorite dish there. Back in the US I didn't see European flavors translated to vegan dishes very often, so it is always a treat to run into this. I'd always written off German cuisine because of its nonveganfriendliness, but this single dish is making me reconsider. Potatoes and tofu flavored with caraway fill the flaky strudel, which is served alongside an applesauce made dinner-worthy with horseradish. The presentation is elegant and the atmosphere is peaceful. The lemon tofu cheesecake is not the best, but the apple pie, whipped cream withheld, (apple desserts are a common dutch specialty, but it's a special treat to be able to find vegan ones) was excellent. Another favorite, which has since disappeared from the menu, was a pumpkin coconut soup. I hope they bring it back come fall! The vegan crostini, while perhaps less food than might be expected for the price, are a delicious starter to an elegant meal.

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