Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Crepe Escape

There may be more than one location for the Crepe Escape -- I know that there are more creperies in town that you can shake a stick at -- but this is in regards to the one at 57th and H.

There was a large number of vegetarian dishes on the menu, but I was so displeased with my breakfast that I don't think I'll go back to try any others.

I ordered the Zeus omelette, a typical Greek omelette with tomatoes, spinach, feta, and black olives. The tomatoes were flavorless and the feta mediocre, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was that my eggs were significantly liquidy. I mean, this thing was seriously undercooked. I have few things in life that really gross me out, but undercooked eggs is definitely one of them.

The potatoes were unusual, too. There was some flavor I couldn't put my finger on -- not entirely unpleasant, but now something I'd go back for, either. I was having flavor deja-vu, and I couldn't help but wonder whether it was some flavor from my long-forgotten meat-eating past, like maybe they had been cooked in pork fat or something.

I had heard that they had large portions, and that was true -- my child and I both ate from one plate, which was a good thing, as my total with a cup of coffee came to nine dollars, or nearly what I would have paid for a much better breakfast at Tower, Cafe Bernardo, or Fox and Goose.

Conclusion? I wouldn't bother.

Sunday, 28 June 2009


Mom and I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of OneSpeed, since it has been billed as a neighborhood restaurant, and it's right in our neighborhood!

The owner, Rick Mahan, owns the successful downtown restaurant the Waterboy, which I actually don't like. Not that I didn't have good food there -- quite the opposite -- I just didn't like the atmosphere. It felt cold and stuffy. But as I read interviews with Mahan about his plans for OneSpeed, it sounded like he was really focused on fresh, local. slow food, and on a friendly neighborhood atmosphere.

It appears to be a success so far! On a few occasions, my mom has driven by and seen lines out the door. We ate there tonight at 5 o'clock and left at about 6:20, by which time every table and every seat at the bar was taken.

On to the food: Mom and I decided to order a number of small plates. Part of the reason was that none of the pasta entrees appeared to be vegetarian, but part of it was that the small plates just looked delicious!

We had a selection of olives, which were quite nice Then our server brought us our salads, mixed greens to which we added blue cheese and hazelnuts. They were refreshing little salads that also included tomatoes and thinly sliced radishes in a nicely balanced vinaigrette. Then we got marinated pequillo peppers, artichokes, and fennel. The plate also included cauliflower, and all of it was nicely seasoned with oregano and chile oil. The peppers had just the slightest bite. Everything was done to perfect tenderness. We also got our bufala mozzarella salad with tomatoes and basil. It was nicely seasoned and the tomatoes were perfectly fresh and ripe. Then our crostini came out. They were perhaps my favorite dish of the night. They included Bellwether crescenza (a soft, melty cheese that tasted a bit like fontina crossed with brie), pepperonata, olive tapenade and basil. I had thought about ordering the focaccia instead, but I'm glad we went with the crostini. We also got roasted beets with feta, pickled onions, orange, and mint. I am not the world's biggest beet fan, but I enjoyed these, especially the mix of flavors with the fresh mint.

And the atmosphere? Very friendly and welcoming. We had great service. I even liked their high chairs. I can't wait to go back and try their pizzas! They have two vegetarian pizzas -- the margherita (a classic favorite) and a four cheese that includes blue cheese, apples, and radicchio. I also noticed another table near us who asked for substitutions and the kitchen was accommodating. The other vegetarian small plates included gnocchi (which could be ordered either with browned butter, sage, and parmesan or pesto and cherry tomatoes), green beans (with walnuts, lemons, and goat cheese), and herbed french fries.

They also deliver, and if you're within a 1.5 mile radius, they'll deliver by bike! I love that option, and I fall in that area.

As a final note, I used to go to Cafe Milazzo pretty regularly (for pastries on the way to work), and they've really done a lot to change the interior. It's very warm and open, and it's a completely different space. Theyr'e going to start offering breakfast sometime soon, so keep an eye out. I would definitely recommend OneSpeed to my vegetarian friends, although I will have to update you after we've tried the pizza.

Sunday, 25 January 2009


As we drove up to Tre, Mom told me that Chevy's, TGI Friday, and El Torito used to be known as the venereal triangle. I'd been to that El Torito, and I wasn't expecting the ambiance we encountered in the new Haines brothers restaurant, Tre. It was beautiful inside! There was a scotch bar, a cigar lounge, a dance floor, a wine bar... I also really liked the decor in the main eating area, with long curtains providing some privacy between tables and lovely glass orbs hanging from the ceiling.

I was anxious to try it, because I love 33rd Street Bistro. Then there was a good review in the Bee. I decided it would be my brithday dinner with my mom... and my dad! On both visits, they had to get the high chair from the back -- it was clearly not intended to be a family restaurant. Still, they were very solicitous of us and the baby on both visits.

The food was fantastic. On my first visit, we tried the portabello mushroom with grilled halloumi cheese as an appetizer. I love halloumi cheese, a thick Greek cheese with a lot of texture. It was topped with a bright chimichurri sauce. My meal that evening was a vegetarian lasagna, which tasted fresh and authentic. On my second visit we had the mushroom appetizer again, as well as deep-fried lotus root chips with "Asian guacamole." I didn't love the chips -- they were cut so thin that it could have been deep-fried anything, and instead of all being crisp and separate, some were clumped together and rubbery. The flavor of the Asian guacamole was pretty good, but I couldn't tell exactly what it was. Not avocado, I don't think. That evening I had the risotto with root vegetables. It was very good. It was topped with cheese, and I believe there was cheese in the dish as well. The menu said something about "red rice" and the dish was red in color.

On that visit, I also had dessert, a flourless chocolate cake. I really enjoyed the cake, but the raspberry sauce that accompanied with it was a little on the sweet side.

The third vegetarian entree on the menu was another Italian dish, a pasta, which strikes me as a little unadventurous. But with the quality of the food, I'd say it's definitely worth a trip.

There were lots of choices for your non-veggie companions. My mom was very pleased with her hangar steak, which she said was cooked perfectly and didn't need the two sauces that accompanied it.

We also had really friendly, prompt, attentive service on both visits.

So great ambience, good service, and good food -- I have a new restaurant to add to my favorites list. In the venereal triangle.


I've been hearing good things about Lucca for years, but it just never made it onto my list. I went last summer with co-workers, but just for appetizers and drinks, so I still hadn't eaten a meal there until tonight.

But man, tonight was good! I was intrigued by a pasta on the menu, the only vegetarian entree, I think -- there was an ingredient I didn't recognize and I would have asked about it except that the small plates sounded so appealing. Mom was my dinner companion and we decided just to make a whole meal of small plates. We began with a baby spinach salad with apples, bleu cheese and candied walnuts. It was dressed with a light, tangy vinaigrette, and we both enjoyed it. This was also the beginning of our excellent service: knowing that we were splitting everything, the waiter brought us the salad split onto two plates. There was also good bread on the table.

Next came our sweet potato soup with apples and pomegranate. The soup itself was good, although I considered adding salt or pepper until I tried a bite with the tart diced apples in it. They were piled in the middle, and really highlighted the flavors of the soup. I didn't detect the pomegranate, but it didn't matter. The soup was quite good.

Then the waiter delivered our polenta pizetta, broccolini, and myzithra flatbread. The flatbreat was served with a lentil-based hummus-type dip that was a little bland, and a green olive tapenade that more than made up for it. It was also served with a small dish of marinated mixed olives, which were delightfully lemony. The broccolini was good, although it was served with bread crumbs that felt extraneous. It was described as having chili flakes, and while I didn't see them, I did taste a bit of heat. The polenta was my favorite. It was a round cake of polenta with fontina cheese and baby greens on top, and it was so light and fluffy I wondered whether it had eggs in it and was made like a quiche. I would order that again in a heartbeat.

We were stuffed by the time he brought the dessert menu, but we made a deal: if they had a chocolate ice cream or gelato, we'd try it. Well, they did have one -- dark chocolate, our favorite. It was delicous, easily as good as any ice cream I've made at home (and I love homemade ice cream). It was also a very generous portion. Between the two of us we didn't finish it!

The service was great all night. Our waiter brought things at a good pace for us, smiled and cooed at the baby, promptly brought a high chair, checked in with us frequently, but not too frequently, and even made an effort to place our food down on the table out of the baby's reach.

There were many non-vegetarian options as well, but there were enough vegetarian options, particularly in the small plates, salads and soups, that we had trouble deciding. I think you'd have a harder time as a vegan.

It was a fine meal with good service, and I'd definitely go back. I also enjoyed getting the small plates and would recommend it.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Cafe Bernardo

Cafe Bernardo is one of my favorite Sacramento restaurants. It's good food, it's consistent, and it's easy to find vegetarian options. The only complaint I hear from others is that it's too loud, but apparently my years of concert-going protect me here, because it's never bothered me.

The entrees sometimes change seasonally, but they generally have three vegetarian options -- a portobello sandwich, grilled polenta triangles, and a fettucine. The sandwich is among my favorites, with thin-sliced cucumber, fresh tomatoes, red onion, and greens. I wouldn't mind a heartier bun, but that always seems to be my problem -- I'm a whole-wheat junkie. It also comes with a pickle spear. If you want fries, order them on the side. They're great. Also available from the sides menu are mashed potatoes, potato salad, and sauteed spinach.

The grilled polenta triangles are my second favorite. The grilling leaves a nice crust on the outside of the triangles, which provides a nice textural contrast with the creamy polenta. The sauce is a hearty, chunky marinara, and the whole dish is sprinkled with fresh parmesan.

I don't generally have the fettucine, but I never regret it when I do, as it's always made with the freshest seasonal produce. Actually, Bernardo focuses on local, seasonal produce.

I wasn't aware of it until this evening, but their salads are also available without chicken and with tofu instead. I tried the Thai noodle salad, and was very pleased. It came with shredded zucchini and carrots, a sweet, peanutty sauce, and peanuts and tofu cubes. It was really lovely.

I love Cafe Bernardo for breakfast, too. My favorites include the Amaretto French toast, which is two fat slices of Bernardo's own crusty, fresh bread, covered in butter and sliced almonds. I'm also a sucker for the two egg breakfast, which comes with well-seasoned potatoes and more of that wonderful bread as toast. The jam on the tables is a delicious seedy berry jam (raspberry, I think). I also love the huevos rancheros, which don't really remind me at all of the huevos rancheros I've had at Mexican restaurants, but it hardly matters. The eggs are served on whole black beans with loads of a spicy, tomato-based sauce and topped with cotija cheese.

Oh, and finally, they have good desserts. I can personally speak for the ice cream, the chocolate cake, the black bottom cupcake, and the fruit cobbler. They also have delicious coffee drinks.

My meat-eating companions have either the skirt steak (gosh, I think that's right), a turkey sandwich, turkey burger or Niman ranch burger. Actually, my most regular meat-eating companion (my mom) usually has a salad or the polenta.

The service is cafe-style. You order at the counter, then they bring you your food. Even so, we almost always have attentive servers who stop by to ask how things are and whether we need anything else.

A note

I've decided to get rid of the tomatoes rating system. I suck at it. I want to be nice and give every decent place at least four tomatoes, but not be so effusive as to give them five tomatoes, which leads to Malouf's and Fresh Choice getting the same number of tomatoes. Which is clearly ridiculous. Go to Malouf's. It's way better than Fresh Choice. No more tomatoes -- just read the review and decide whether you want to go there. That is all.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Fresh Choice

Fresh Choice is a glorified salad bar that I stayed away from for about ten years, but there are reasons to go.

I stayed away because I thought it was overpriced, but it's only $7.99 for pretty much everything (drinks are extra), which is really very reasonable. I started going again because my Mommy & Me group goes almost every week.

When you start out, you can get a prepared salad like a Caesar (I don't get this, because although it doesn't list all the ingredients, classic Caesar dressing contains anchovies) or another salad of the day (once it had strawberries and feta, today it had mozzarella balls and tomatoes), or you can make your own. I prefer to make my own salad, and you can choose between mixed greens, romaine, or spinach. Next up are the "extra proteins" (mostly not vegetarian and for an extra price, so I just slide on by). Then they have a few composed salads, like rotini pasta, couscous salad with black beans and corn, and quinoa salad with fresh peppers and other veggies. These tend to be quite good. They also list the ingredients on a small card, so it's easy to see whether they're vegetarian at a glance.

Next up are the toppings for the salad. There's a huge variety, including your standards (cucumbers, tomatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, peas, cheese) and some slightly more unusual choices like tofu and edamame. There are a ton of choices, including both raw and blanched broccoli. There are about eight salad dressings to choose from, several of which are fat-free or low-fat.

You pay after getting your salad, but then there are a number of other options as well. There are soups, breads and muffins, pizza, pasta, fruit and desserts. The soups and pastas all have a descriptive card that lists whether they are vegetarian or vegan, and there are at least a few of each. On two occasions, the vegan soup was pho, and it wasn't bad at all (you had to ask for the vegetarian broth). On another occasion there was both lentil and potato leek. The pastas include a plain marinara sauce, and on at least one occasion there was a ratatouille with squash and mushrooms.

I haven't tried the pizza, so can't comment, although there is a plain cheese pizza. The breads are many and varied, including a sourdough, a "brown" bread, several muffins, brownies, and the like, and are accompanied by several compound butters.

The fruit is limited, and usually includes honeydew and cantaloupe. Next to it is a dairy-free soft-serve. Yep, vegan ice cream right there at the Fresh Choice. And it's tasty, not weird. If the sign hadn't indicated its non-dairy-ness, I'd never have known. There are several toppings for the soft serve as well, like sprinkles (or "jimmies" if you're an East Coaster). There is a selection of puddings as well.

As for the atmosphere, well... I wouldn't want to go there on a date. But for the Mommy and Me group, I have to say we've gotten excellent service. They always find room for our big group, including many strollers, and they jump to offer to carry our trays for us as we wrangle the babies. Really, I can hardly say enough about the great service, so I think that offsets the big noisy cold atmosphere.

Meat-eating companions seem to be happy with the selections of soups (including clam chowder) and the pizza (pepperoni), and some of the composed salads like Chinese Chicken. Overall, though, it's exceptionally vegetarian-friendly.

I am surprised to find myself reviewing a Fresh Choice -- as surprised as I was to return to it after many years -- but I'm even more surprised to give it a positive review. Four Sackatomatoes out of five, with a special nod to the great service.