Sunday, March 30, 2008


2605 E Cherry St
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 860-1724

Meskel is one of a large handful of Ethiopian restaurants on the stretch of Cherry between MLK and 23rd, and is quite possibly one of the most aesthetically pleasing of the bunch. It sits high off of Cherry, and is separated from the street by a raised terrace patiently hibernating until summer.

Inside, the restaurant is clean and intimate with rich colors and African art. Water was served in a wine glass with a slice of lime. We sat against the bank of windows looking out onto Cherry, and it felt cozy and homey and entirely lacking the dinginess that many Ethiopian restaurants sometimes have.

The vegetarian combo makes it easy for a vegetarian to eat here. The combo consists of a big round platter lined with a piece of moist, spongy, sour injera bread that is covered in colorful blobs of vegetarian delights... red lentils, yellow lentils, greens, potatoes, salad, tomato fitfit... each of which was deliciously spiced (though none were spicy in a hot way) and gave the impression of slow cooking. A basket of extra injera and a bowl of mild white cheese came along side the main platter.
It all tasted good, but I found the entire meal to be too salty. Certain elements were more salty than others (the greens were exceptionally salty while the tomato fit fit was less so). Even the injera, which was perfect in every other way, tasted like it was packed with salt. It felt a shame in this cuisine of fragrant and pungent spices to fall so heavily on the salt.

Ethiopian food tends to be entertaining and easy for a vegetarian, and aside from the saltiness, I enjoyed the atmosphere and experience of this particular restaurant.

Morning After Update:
All three of us developed unpleasant stomach symptoms. Not serious, but not fun. Maybe it was a coincidence, but probably something good to consider when choosing a restaurant before an important or inflexible day.

Meskel in Seattle

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pho Hoa

4732 Rainier Ave S
Seattle, WA
(206) 723-1508

Had a bit of an embarrassing experience at the Columbia City Pho Hoa on Rainier Ave. Went to the busy restaurant for lunch. Was seated and given ice water and menus. Looked through the menu once, then twice, for something, anything, vegetarian.

I don't mind eating the occasional boring or nutritionally incomplete meal for a dining experience, but even that wasn't an option. Double checked with the waiter, and he confirmed.

Folded our menus, apologized profusely, and under the amused eye of a restaurant packed with people slurping down noodles strewn with various beef accessories, left.

Pho Hoa (Rainier Ave. S.) in Seattle

Monday, March 24, 2008

Shanghai Garden

524 6th Ave S
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 625-1689

Went to the Shanghai Garden in the International District for some noodle sasification.

The atmosphere was spacious and included a large fish tank and windows in angular frames that made looking out onto the street feel like a peep from a submarine.

The menu was large, and included many varieties of home made noodles including mung bean and barleygreen. There was a reasonably large section of the menu (maybe a dozen items) devoted to tofu, and plenty of vegetarian vegetable dishes.

We ordered the Barleygreen hand shaved noodles with vegis, and the Crispy Bean Curd in Szechuan sauce.

The barleygreen noodles, described on the menu as "High Nutrition, increases potassium, amino acids, chlorophyll, and lowers blood pressure," came to the table glistening with the thick, rough cut, slightly twisted promise of chewy goodness. They were lightly coated in what tasted like a soy based sauce, and sauteed with carrot, water chestnuts, snap peas, onion and a couple different types of mushroom. Plus, they were a festive light green, perfectly in step with the pastels of spring.
I very much enjoyed the noodles... it's hard not to love home-made Chinese noodles... and these certainly fit the bill. At times I thought I was perhaps tasting a little hit of flavor from the barleygrass, but I'm not sure if I was imagining things. I would love to do a blind taste test and check it out sometime.
The Szechuan tofu (I still seem to be on a quest to get this satisfied, to the exclusion of other Chinese options) was good too, though still sweeter than I like. It came with broccoli and bell pepper and snap peas all mixed up with the tofu chunks (more in a minute) in a garlicky, slightly spicy sauce. The sweetness, the bane of the Szechuan sauce in my humble opinion, was present, but somehow less offensive given the complexity of the other flavours involved. I enjoyed the sauce as it was up until the very end, at which point the sweetness became overwhelming.
The star of this dish was the tofu, which really was a treat. It appeared to be quickly fried, such that only the outside formed a crispy browned layer, too thin to be called a skin, even. And the inside was so silken it was creamy, almost like a custard.

I'm glad to have discovered this place as a tasty and vegetarian friendly source of Chinese noodles. Will indeed go back for more.
Shanghai Garden in Seattle

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Green Ginger

9851 SW Bank Rd
Vashon, WA 98070
(206) 463-7788

A recent trip to Vashon Island coupled with an extreme craving for Chinese food led me to Green Ginger, the one Chinese restaurant on the island.

The restaurant was really clean and spacious, and true to the Vashon vibe had plenty of vegetarian options. I chose the Szechuan tofu, but there were other tofu dishes too, including the tempting Salt and Pepper tofu.

I ordered my food to go, and was a little bit disappointed to find (once home) that the dish didn't include any rice. It did consist of a copious amount of sauce, to the soupy degree, with lots of silky tofu (the good kind... I requested soft tofu instead of the standard deep fried) chunks and a few pieces of steamed broccoli.

The sauce, which was supposed to be spicy, wasn't spicy at all to my palate, and was in general sweet and oily. It was saucy enough to remind me in appearance of MaPo tofu, but without the spicy richness of MaPo.

I was hungry enough (and sufficiently mentally fixated) to eat every last bite, but hope for the sake of the friendly vegetarian Vashon residents that the other vegetarian menu items are better.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Triple Door

216 Union St
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 838-4333

The Triple Door is great in theory... I love the idea of a live show coupled with a lingering evening of food and drinks. But in practice, it is lame lame lame for a vegetarian.

The Triple Door has a menu that is smaller than, but related to the Wild Ginger upstairs. The entrees are mostly in the mid teens to 20's range in dollars, which feels spendy.

We were out for the full night on the town experience, and it went like this:

Appetizer: Much discussion with the friendly and attentive waiter over what was vegetarian. Answer: One thing. Salad rolls with pineapple sauce. Not in the mood for this, we tried for a salad appetizer. All of the salads had meat. We settled on a version of the Green Papaya salad specially made with pineapple sauce instead of the usual (which includes fishsauce). It was decent... better than I expected given my distaste for sweet sauces, and was presented in an ample pile that made the price feel almost justified.

Main course: The waiter checked with the kitchen to see what could be made "vegan". The "vegan" vs. "vegetarian" label was tricky here, as they viewed both shrimp and fish sauce as vegetarian-friendly. There weren't many choices on the menu that were even close to vegetarian, and of those that were listed as vegetarian (squash curry, some tofu dish with peanut sauce, "vegetarian" phad thai), none could be made without some sort of sea-animal-flavouring. He said that they could, however, make the Seven Spice beef with tofu instead of beef, and that became my easy choice.

It arrived and was a grand disappointment. I had the choice between fried and not-fried tofu, and chose not-fried. What arrived was a large plate with a scoop of slightly off tasting brown rice, a bed of beansprouts and barely-cooked onion pieces, and a big pile of my absolute least favorite type of tofu... it was the variety that is extremely dense with an entirely homogeneous and rubbery texture. The meager quantity of sauce glossed off the unmarinated cubes, leaving my palate the rather daunting job of choking them down without much to distract. The beansprouts and brown rice weren't able to take up the slack either.

We also ordered a side of Sechuan greenbeans, which were delicious and are, I believe, the redeeming factor of this restaurant. They are a little bit spicy and garlicky, not too salty. I could have eaten them all night. (And they are truly vegetarian.)

Ordered dessert too, somewhat against my will given the guilt I was feeling over the growing bill for an unsatisfying meal, but was hungry enough after barely eating my dinner that I heeded the urge to fill my belly. Ordered a rolled up carrot cake, which, apart from the too-small portion size, was quite good, if sort of spiced for the masses. It was really moist and had a thick ribbon of orange flavored cream cheese frosting swirled inside. The top was sprinkled with some sort of roasted nuts and really delicious candied pineapple. The cake sat on a little swirl of slightly bitter orange caramel sauce.

Didn't have any cocktails tonight... everything else felt too poor in value to warrant it to my frugal pocketbook. But people were slurping them down all around us, and they looked delicious. I believe most were under $10.

I think the thing to do for a vegetarian headed out for an evening at the Triple Door is to eat elsewhere. Then sit back and have a fancy drink while you watch your show.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Old Spaghetti Factory

2801 Elliott Ave.
Seattle, WA 98121

The number of good restaurants owned by good people making good food is overwhelming in this city... so much so that there is hardly any excuse for intentionally paying to eat something mediocre. With that said, there is one highly mediocre, national chain restaurant that will always hold a piece of my heart, and still manages to tempt me to it maybe once every year or two: The Old Spaghetti Factory.

After a recent day of skiing, a ravenous hunger spurred thoughts of the Old Spaghetti Factory on the drive home, and the wispy little dreams that were around exit 50 had grown into intense and concrete needs by time we crossed the I-90 bridge. Parking is often tricky at the Old Spaghetti Factory, as there are not quite enough spots in the lots to accommodate the loyal mangeurs but street parking reasonably easy to find. Stuffed the skis in the cab of the truck and stretched our tired legs on a walk to the gigantic brick fortress that is the Old Spaghetti Factory.

As it has been for as long as I can remember it, the restaurant was really busy. The large front lobby, ringed with antique looking arm chairs and love seats, looked like a scene from an old and deserted mansion, save for the hoards of noisy kids and chubby middled adults and others (such as those wearing ski underwear) who really didn't seem to be giving the olden days their proper respect. No matter... the hostess was friendly and handed us a little piece of technology that would vibrate and flash when our table was ready. We slumped down into red velvet chairs and watched as a steady stream of other waiting patrons stepped onto the lobby scale and obtained their entertaining and ephemeral pre-dinner weights.

For the amount of people waiting, the wait itself seemed rather short. We soon found ourselves sitting at a glossy wooden table looking menus. The reason, I know, that I hold a tenderness for the Old Spaghetti Factory is that for relatively cheap (under $10), they provide you a many course meal. There is something so lavish and resplendent about a many course meal, even if it is coming from a self-proclaimed factory.

I ordered the spaghetti with marinara, my dining partner ordered fettuccine Alfredo. In an un-necessary but indulgent move, we splurged on a large order of broccoli, steamed lightly and seasoned not just with olive oil, but with browned butter and mizithra cheese too. It came as an appetizer before the real production of the meal began. It was tasty, and a surprisingly large portion that was perhaps intended for a larger family than two.

The real part of the meal begins with a choice of milk, iced tea, or water. Then comes a salad... a joyous little iceburg salad with shredded carrots and their most delicious creamy pesto house dressing that hasn't changed in taste or texture for as long as I can remember.

Next comes the really dangerous part of the meal... the private loaf of warm, fresh baked sourdough bread served up on a thick wooden cutting board with a bowl of soft whipped garlic butter. Even with our broccoli pre-appetizer, and salad appetizer, and knowledge of a main course coming, it was really hard to resist ripping into that loaf... thin chewy crust, gluten-y sour insides, and devouring the bowl of butter.

This is the time in the meal where you start thinking that perhaps they ought to just wrap up your spaghetti to go and call it a night while you can still walk yourself back to the car.

But no.

There isn't anything especially remarkable about the pasta, but it comes in a big pile and tastes good enough. By this time in the meal, any notions of eating healthy are gone and the carb gluttony is in full effect. We mixed our dishes together into an orgy of delicious creamy pink sauce on the two shapes of pasta. In retrospect, I wonder if the Alfredo sauce was completely vegetarian, or whether it had chicken stock or bacon fat in it somewhere.

After eating to the point of near burst, we got a box to wrap up the leftovers, and a choice of spumoni or vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. We both chose spumoni, and it arrived in classy silver petaled cups. The ice cream portion seemed much larger than I remembered it though... I was actually surprised (a surprise both good and bad) at the heft of the large densely packed scoop.

With iced tea and salad and our own loaf of bread and big plates of pasta and obese balls of spumoni and tax and tip and a mounded plate of tri fat seasoned broccoli, we still left the restaurant for under $30.

Skipped the scale on the way out, waddled back to the car cursing myself for pushing beyond the point of dining pleasure and into the realm of unbridled gluttony. Needless to say, it is easy for a vegetarian to eat here. In fact, the old spaghetti factory could be the love den for the unfortunate new vegetarian eating style that relys too heavily on pasta and bread.

To anybody who wonders how a vegetarian could become fat, look no further.

Old Spaghetti Factory in Seattle