The Zenith – Restaurant Review

The building is a little hard to pinpoint from the street as it blends into the connecting residences, and it’s definitely difficult to find parking, but it will be worth the brief aggravation to experience Zenith. It’s not just a pleasure to dine at The Zenith; it’s truly a unique experience. Walking into the dizzying array of stuff will have a person overwhelmed and slightly confused. Isn’t this supposed to be a vegetarian restaurant? Yes, just keep walking through the (amusing) antique clutter and you’ll enter the equally busy dining room with one-of-a-kind chairs, placemats, and silverware. Not only is Zenith a 100% vegan restaurant offering the occasional addition of cheese, it is also an antique and art store selling anything from vintage dresses to 1966-calendar inscribed porcelain plates to World Encyclopedias (they still exist!).

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As a lover of dining out and sharing meals with friends and family, I was pleased to see how many large tables made up the dining space. There wasn’t a two-top in the joint or many tables with matching chairs, either. I appreciate this subconscious emphasis on communal dining, and I imagine it to be an instant conversation starter during the busy Sunday brunch hours.

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OK, on to the main attraction: food! I enjoyed a filling and completely comforting meal of soup and lasagna during a quiet, chilly Wednesday afternoon in the ‘Burgh. The meal started with a bowl of crusty homemade croutons and steaming hot brothy onion soup. And then came the best tofu ricotta lasagna with vegan basil cream that I have ever had. OK, this is the only vegan lasagna I’ve tried so far, but it was a winner! Creamy, herbed filling with meaty noodles, tangy-sweet marinara, and a salty, basil-rich topping. It. Was. So. Good. The leftovers were equally as pleasing 🙂

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And then there was cake and tea. Did I mention I experienced Zenith solo and made it an afternoon excursion? As if the meal wasn’t enough, I warmed up my soul with cherry almond hot tea and a piece of chocolate cake as big as your face. The loose leaf tea list was a mile long and I did manage to save some cake for later. Win, win. Who wants to join me for Zenith’s popular Sunday brunch? I’ll save some stomach room.

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The Small Guy

While we’re all familiar with food brand names like Coca Cola, Kellogg’s, and Sara Lee, it’s nice to get away from the big corporations and support the “little guy” sometimes (or most times). As my food purchasing has evolved and I’ve been exposed to all that’s available in the market, I’ve been trying to shift my food dollars to support smaller companies. I applaud their focus on making a few products the best they can rather than diversifying and saturating the market with so much of the same thing…
Of course, this isn’t true for all the small guys, nor are all the bigger ones so bad. I just wanted to highlight a couple great small companies that I’ve recently been exposed to at “foodie” conferences:

Tierra Farm – I ran across this small company based out of upstate NY at a sustainable farming conference, where they had a table featuring several of their products. They sell a variety of raw and roasted nuts, seeds, chocolate, nut butters, dried fruits, and tons more. They are USDA Organic and also run an organic vegetable farm at their headquarters. Every nut I tried at their table was delicious, but my favorite was the savory and completely satisfying Curry Cashews. I don’t even consider myself a nut person and I rarely eat cashews, but these are so addicting! My favorite part about this company is their transparency – they offered a world map to show where they source all of their ingredients. It’s refreshing to see someone that wants to showcase rather than hide where they get their raw products.

Kopali Organics – I heard the owner of this company speak at another conference (I am all over the place these days!) on a panel about getting/making your dream job. The panel discussion was great, but the samples offered were even better! Kopali provides Fair Trade and Organic chocolate covered products. My favorite are the unique chocolate covered cacao nibs…they remind me of a richer, more sophisticated Buncha Crunch! Remember those?! Anyway, I really appreciate that this company is not only organic, but also Fair Trade certified. With chocolate such a prevalent product in American society, bigger companies (and some small ones, for sure) have exploited the tropical areas where this product comes from. I like knowing that my dollars are going more towards supporting the lives of small farmers in Peru, for example.

While both of these companies have wonderful sustainability-minded ethos’ and delicious products, I understand that not everyone can afford to regularly allocate their food dollars here. But that’s the great thing about these kinds of companies for me; their nuts and chocolates are meant to be a treat, so I feel better about spending a little more to support them, while also not needing to buy more than a few times a year.

That’s just how I feel, but I hope you’ll seek out the “little guy” and support companies (food and otherwise) that fit with your values as well.

Now I’m going to nibble on some nibs….

Brasserie 33: Oui, Oui!

A completely random date night occurred like this:
Hubs- “Wanna go out to dinner?”
Me- “Yes! Where?”
Hubs- “I dunno. Somewhere in the city?”
Me- “Okayyyy….How about this French place I’ve been wanting to try? I have a Groupon!”

And just like that, we were driving to Shadyside and dining on lovely French cuisine at Brasserie 33.

The only way to start a French meal....wine and bread!

I have to say that this entire dining experience was wonderful. We were greeted at the door in (authentic) French and immediately directed to our seats at the bar. I called ahead and learned that the very few tables available (less than 15) were all reserved for this Saturday night, so we happily took the offer of up close and personal bar seats. We’re not picky.

As we sat on our stools, we were welcomed by who I’m guessing is the owner/manager of the restaurant. He explained their new fall menu with excitement, and when I asked about vegetarian options, he thought for a moment and quickly offered to make something “beautiful” with pasta, fresh vegetables….mentions of sun-dried tomatoes, all kinds of great sounding ingredients! It was so nice to see how accommodating they wanted to be by offering to prepare something not on the menu. I wasn’t super hungry, so I settled for a shared appetizer and an endive and beet salad. You know me- I love to try a little bit of everything and I LOVE me some good beets. The food did not disappoint!

To start: warm brie, goat cheese and carmelized onion tarts

Our appetizer was mild, creamy and filling. The brie flavor was enhanced perfectly by each sip of my cabernet. I just wanted a bit more of the sweet carmelized onions. I’m a sucker for sweetness!

Salade! (pronounced sah-lahd)

My salad was the perfect light meal. Crisp endive, creamy Roquefort dressing, earthy roasted walnuts and succulent, sweet beets. Seriously YUM!

And the best part? The bread! I’m not a huge “bread basket at the restaurant” type of gal, but I was really digging the fresh tasting, slighty sourdough feel of the french bread. Mmmmmm 🙂

Hubs enjoyed his boeuf bourguignon. He inhaled that giant bowl!

The only negatives I would give this restaurant are the expense – in my frugal opinion, this is not your every day eatery – and the slight lack of authenticity in French atmosphere. The food hit the spot, the hospitality was superb (which is not very French!), but the restaurant space itself was too open feeling, with a wall full of windows, for my taste. I think of French restaurants as being dimly light, congested, and full of in-depth conversations. This place was just a little off, but definitely rates in my top 5 French dining experiences overall.

4 out of 5 stars, my friends! Hopefully you’ll get to experience “la cuisine Francaise” as well!

Product Review: Kashi’s Vegan Frozen Meals

Healthy, affordable, vegan, normal-ingredient-filled frozen meals…They exist! In terms of healthier, all natural packaged foods, Kashi is a heavy hitter. I know people sometimes have issues with companies like this “selling out” to appeal to a bigger market, but I’m really happy that Kashi is making “hippie-like” food more accessible to the masses. Sorry, but we can’t all cook and eat like Tal Ronen.

I’m always scouring the frozen food section to check out what’s on sale, what’s new, and to whine over the prices of Morningstar Farms and Boca products…Through my shivering walk up and down aisle 12, Kashi caught my eye. I’m already a Kashi cereal fan, and I have enjoyed their frozen meals in the past, so I’m especially glad to see their focus on vegan meals!

One of the things I love about Kashi products is knowing I will get a good dose of fiber and protein in. The vegan frozen meals did not disappoint with around 8g fiber and 8g protein and only 260-340 calories each. And, in case you were wondering, I did not find myself asking “Where is the cheese?” 🙂

Pros:
Taste – creamy, flavorful, well spiced
Choices – hopefully they’ll come out with even more, but I’m digging the flavors: Tuscan Veggie Bake, Black Bean Mango, and Mayan Harvest Bake. I didn’t see the Veggie Chana Masala at my local grocer, but I hear that’s also available for your Indian food needs.
Price – $4 a piece is a bargain for a healthy, yummy, and quick vegan lunch
Ingredients – a short, readable list of ingredients full of whole grains and veggies

Cons:
Fullness factory – at around 300 calories a pop, I’m not expecting this to hold me over without a nice side of greens and/or fruit!
Cooking time – I know it’s already super convenient, but my tummy was kind of upset to wait 8 microwave minutes to cook (and the box suggested I not use my work’s toaster oven :-().
Sodium – as with most packaged foods, the salt factor can be astronomical. These meals weren’t so bad at 29% of my day’s worth, but it’s still something to be mindful of, so I try not to have more than two packaged meals or soups in a week.

Overall, I was very satisfied with Kashi’s vegan (and many vegetarian) frozen meals. I’m really happy to have this lunch option in my arsenal of quick and easy meals. Hope you enjoy, too!

Black Bean Cuban Cuisine

Near my workplace is a cute tucked away eatery featuring Cuban cuisine and a hidden dance floor in the back room. It’s a great lunch spot because it’s quick, quiet, and cheap (I wanted another ‘q’ word, but alas….).

Order from the bar

I liked the veg-friendly menu, although the veg icon placement can be misleading on the menu (next to a sandwich filled with ham and turkey?). I ordered the veggie wrap with black beans (duh), swiss, and a signature sauce. It was lightly pressed panini style and very filling!

messy but yummy!

On the side, my friend and I shared the yuca con mojo – boiled yuca topped with a sauce of sour orange juice, garlic and onions. I really liked the subtle sweetness and tartness that amped and lightened up this super starchy side.

yum yum yuca!

I’ll be back for more Black Bean! And apparently, those of you in northern Florida can also enjoy this small chain restaurant that has 3 locations in Tallahassee and Jacksonville. How did Pittsburgh fit into that mix? Hmmm…

Product Review: Greens+ Omega3 Chia

 

 

I got this bar on sale for $1.60 at Plum Market while visiting the D.
It’s not truly vegan, as it contains honey and royal jelly (also a bee product), but it has plenty of benefits: organic, made with living superfoods, high-energy, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and plenty of vitamins. I also love that it has 6 grams of fiber. I will not waste my calories and money on supposedly healthy energy bars unless the fiber and protein contents are relatively high compared to calories. This bar has 250 calories with 6 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.

Pros:
– Reasonably priced meal supplement (when on sale)
– Natural, pleasant taste (not metalicky like other energy/protein bars)
– Not a junk food disguised as health food
– Kept me satisified longer than most energy bars (2 1/2 hours)
– Portable
– Mostly organic

Cons:
– Not vegan: not a deal breaker for me, but if I’m going to eat a meal replacement/supplement bar, I’d like to find vegan versions as well.
– Chia seeds got stuck in my teeth- slightly unpleasant sticky feeling (but this always happens with chia, so it’s not specific to the bar).
– Price when not on sale. They’re selling a box of 12 for about $36. $3/bar is too steep for me.

I had a hard time thinking of things I didn’t like about this energy bar. I’m always skeptical when trying these “health foods,” but I would have to say that this is the best tasting, healthy energy bar I’ve tried so far. Of course I wish it was cheaper and kept me full longer than 2 1/2 hours, but it’s a great portable snack that’s good every once in awhile, especially when traveling.

Dozen

One sunny, uncharacteristically nice Saturday in early May begged for me to be outside, perusing this new city of mine. I ended up browsing, shopping, and eating my way through Lawrenceville during their annual Blossom Tour. Many of L-ville’s local businesses offered free seed packets along the way as part of the Tour. How nice! If only I didn’t have a black thumb. Anyway, more shopping and eating stories…
I spent what felt like hours pouring over clever cards at WildCard. I walked by favorite dining spot Tamari. I peeked into art galleries galore. I sampled a Parisian delight at authentic bakery La Gourmandine (cute French-accented pregnant lady included!). And I was intrigued by the unusual selection of knick knacks at Divertido.
And then, I stumbled upon Dozen. Ok, ok, I’ve seen this place before and it’s a local Pgh cupcake chain, but I’d never been to the Lawrenceville location. Truth be told, I once had a disappointly dry and sad cupcake from Dozen before, so I second guessed my decision to eat lunch there. But I think almost every place/thing is worth a second chance, and I’m certainly glad I didn’t walk away from Dozen for good.
Who knew Dozen Bake Shop also offers brunch and lunch eats? I decided on a bbq seitan wrap for my meal.
Mmmm wrappy goodness!
And I couldn’t walk into a cupcake shop without a special treat. A vegan treat, that is!

Vegan "Mostess" cupcake

One thing I love about Dozen – vegan food offerings and daily vegan cupcakes. OK, that’s two things…sorry. I chose the right day to come in and try their vegan “mostess” cupcake. It was the perfect amount of chocolate, creamy filling, and ganache topping without being over the top. I’m a big sweets person, but I usually don’t hop on the cupcake bandwagon; however, this was totally worth it. I might have to come back on a Thursday to try their vegan coconut key lime, too. Yum!
 
Plan your week accordingly friends 🙂
All together it was a perfect way to spend a solo Saturday afternoon.

Lunch, dessert, book, water, and perfect outdoor eating weather. What more does a girl need?!

Salty

Girls night out. Fantastic idea! What’s even better…girls night out at Salt of the Earth.
What’s not to love about this place? They offer a rotating seasonal menu with local fare, fantastic veg options that omnis will also love, unique cocktails, and oh yeah, AMAZING food. The worst part is probably the wait you’ll have to endure on a Friday or Saturday night. Just go on a Tuesday, like I did!
You’ll dine with other eager eaters at elegant, cafeteria style tables, while cooing over culinary combinations beyond your wildest dreams. Exhibits A, B, C and D:

Smooth. Boyd & Blair, Creme Yvette, rose, elderflower

Lettuce wraps with tofu, sheep’s yogurt, pickled ramp, lemon

Seitan baguette with mushroom pate, pickle, cilantro, jalapeno

White chocolate, lavender, honey, argan, pistachio
 
And my life is complete. SO ready to go back. Who’s taking me? 🙂
 
P.S. Chef and owner, Kevin Sousa, is currently gracing the cover of Pittsburgh Magazine. Yep, he’s amazing.
P.P.S. OK, the real worst post about dining at Salt is the crick in your neck you might get from reading the giant menu board. Eh, you’ll get over it. Just pull up the menu on your smart phone (they even write the link on the board!)
🙂

Abay: The Ethiopian Way

It’s been awhile since I’ve had the pleasure of tasting Ethiopian food. My first experience in the ‘Burgh was at a friend’s recent birthday lunch, and boy am I glad that she chose Abay. It’s a small-ish restaurant craftily hidden (from me) in the East End between giants like Whole Foods and the soon-to-be Target. The restaurant was quiet and calming and the servers were very helpful. I mean, how many people really know what injera is anyway?

Our group of 8 (with 3 veggies!) ordered 2 combination platters- one veg and one meat. I was already a happy camper knowing that I would get to try a little bit of everything on the veg platter…a personal smorgasbord of Ethiopian goodness! I sampled: Kay Sir Dinich (Potatoes and fresh beets stewed and blended with garlic, ginger and onions), Shiro Wat (Finely ground split peas, lentils and chickpeas simmered in berbere and a combination of seasonings), Tikil Gomen (Lightly spiced cabbage, carrots, onions and tomatoes stewed in a mild sauce), and Ayib Be Gomen (Fresh collard greens blended with Abay’s homemade cheese). 

Clockwise, from top: Kay Sir Dinich, Shiro Wat, Tikil Gomen, Ayib Be Gomen surrounded by rolls of injera bread

I loved all of our choices, but my favorites were the thick and spicy Shiro Wat and the perfectly stewed and bright purple Kay Sir Dinich. I LOVE me some beets, especially when I don’t have to prepare them! I truly appreciated that all of the unique flavors our tastebuds encountered really balanced each other well. The injera fit in so nicely and sopped up the Shiro Wat perfectly. Oh, I left with a full and h.a.p.p.y. belly!  

P.S. I love that the bottom of Abay’s menu page reads: Abay is a non-smoking, BYOB establishment. Since wine may provide certain medical benefits and may lead you to believe the person you are with is more attractive or engaging than he or she actually is, drinking it responsibly with your meal is encouraged. A corkage fee of $2.5 per bottle will be assessed.

And yes, we did enjoy some lovely white wine with lunch and the company around the table did become more attractive throughout the meal 🙂

Taste Love Cupcakes

I promised you a little food porn recap from my visit to Detroit. That place is really stepping it up…on to the restaurants and CUPCAKES!!

Vegan Brunch!

Inn Season Cafe was at the top of my “restaurants to visit in Detroit” list. Sunday brunch was a perfect choice…I met a friend to chat about her upcoming wedding(!) and feasted on a vegan omelet made with tofu, chickpeas and Daiya cheese, roasted potatoes, cornbread, and maple smoked tempeh. This was my first experience with a cheese alternative, and while I liked the texture and melty-ness, the taste just wasn’t quite there for me. The maple smoked tempeh was awesome! It was sweet and salty and just a little bit smoky, and brought everything else on the plate alive. I seriously need to learn how to make tempeh taste delicious at home. It’s a tricky food to master, but I’ll get there 🙂

Korean BBQ Veggies & Tofu

Bro likes Pei Wei's complimentary orange slices and fortune cookies

Pei Wei – bro is a big fan, as you can see. Even though this is a chain, we don’t have Pei Wei in Pgh, so I was happy to meet him for lunch at this fast casual Asian spot. I love the simple menu and ease with which I can find a delicious lunch, with plenty of leftovers for another day. I enjoyed korean bbq veggies & tofu with brown rice. They have some seriously delicious baked tofu!

Noble Fish – the cutest Japanese grocery store with the best little sushi hideaway. I started with seaweed salad (it’s delicious, just try it!) and then savoured kampyo (squash), umeshiso (plum cucumber) and shiitake mushroom rolls. Veggie yum yum!! This was my first experience with Japanese squash and plum…the squash was deliciously crunchy and pickled and the plum was interesting…sweet and tart, but not quite there for me. At least I tried something new 🙂
I also picked up a few fun snacks on the grocery side. It’s not everyday I’m in an authentic Japanese store!

CUPCAKE TIME!

Taste Love Cupcakes is a brand spankin’ new cupcake shop in my former haunt, Royal Oak, MI. The decor is minimalistic, pristine white, and clean. The cupcakes are AMAZING.

They offer a daily vegan cupcake option 🙂

My friend and I shared vanilla chocolate (left) and sweet potato (right) cupcakes

I really liked the marshmallowy chocolate frosting on the vanilla cupcake, but I loved my dense but not too heavy, perfectly spiced, fresh out the oven sweet potato cupcake. It was still warm when I cut into it and made the frosting all gooey. O.M.G. what a special treat!

Drooooool

P.S. Love the little red velvet heart that adorns each cupcake!

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