Friday, January 29, 2010

Old Country Buffet

It happened surprisingly easily: I was driving through Factoria with an easy-earned $125 in my pocket and a growing hunger in my belly. I felt weird and dreamy and passed by the restaurants of misc Asian flavor that would usually tempt me. When my car parked, I realized I had been mysteriously guided to the Old Country Buffet in the semi-deserted Factoria Mall.

I have talked about standard all-you-can-eat buffets from a vegetarian or vegan perspective in the past: They tend to more or less suck. It is hard to feel like you get your money's worth, and the quality protein options tend to be pretty limited. In addition, the buffet also has a pretty substantial unappetizing element that includes an excessive number of people touching, breathing on and fidgeting with your food before it becomes yours.


Something about this grossness and the simplicity of the food and the all-you-can-drink soda machine (who the hell is writing this???) were really a turn-on to me today.

And so I had a very leisurely solo, all-I-could-eat grossout lunch. I started with a big salad made out of spinach, garbanzo beans, sun flower seeds, Parmesan cheese, carrots, baby corn and radishes. I foolishly dressed it (thank god very lightly), in a "light ranch," that tasted about like spermy corn syrup.

For my main course, I somehow bypassed the endless pile of joe-joes and big vat of velveeta mac and cheese, and got some smoky stewed pinto beans from the "build your own nachos" bar, with a little nacho cheese sauce on top. I was excited to see the tray of "Steamed green Cabbage," and piled that on my plate, and also got half of a perfectly crispy, buttery velveeta grilled cheese sandwich.

As somebody who is generally pretty darn saddened by food waste and unnecessary over-abundance and people of unhealthy weights and processed food and nutritional ignorance and on and on, I was feeling pretty good. In fact, the largest stress I had as I ate was a pang that something was going to run out and I wouldn't be able to get seconds if I wanted to. And even that resolved into the relaxing realization that EVERYTHING WOULD BE REFILLED and I'd feel giddy and wonderful.

Usually I am an "eat what I take" type, and often suffer from "adventurous choices" that turn out disgusting and I feel emotionally stuck with eating them as the consequence. Not so today!

By dessert time I was well into the mindset of the OCB and I took a small sample of each of the desserts that appealed to me: cheese cake, coconut cream pie, peach cobbler, hot fudge cake, brownie, apple crisp and an albino turd of soft serve to enjoy at my leisure.

I took small bites, ate what I liked, and let the rest be whisked off by the fast moving AARP senora who did a great job of discerning the active plates from the duds.

Regarding the desserts: this might have been obvious to somebody in a sensible state of mind, but the only edible desserts were the apple crisp and the ice cream. All the rest tasted like fluffed crisco or extreme artificial flavor in one form or another.

You see a lot of interesting behaviors at the Buffet:

1. Kids dipping, dragging, smearing their fingers through anything they can reach
2. Grown ladies somehow justifying to themselves that discretely (I saw you!) serving themselves the ENTIRE crust off of a communal baked dessert is reasonable
3. Grown men in suits pissed that the non-fat-sugar-free-fro-yo machine isn't working.

After my meal, I sat in my booth for some time waiting for appetite #2 to roll around, but I just got fuller and fuller as I sat there and started to get grossed out as I watched kids abusing the butterscotch pump at the soft serve station. It became clear that the magic was wearing off, and I took a timely and gracious leave.

Old Country Buffet (Bellevue) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jhanjay Thai

After a recent morning of trying on wedding dresses (don't get excited, I was the oppinionator not the bride to be!) a friend and I wandered down 45th St in Wallingford in search of a good lunch. I was rather excited to see the magic words, "Vegetarian Thai Cuisine," and our decision was settled: Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai.

Jhanjay endeared itself to me right off the bat by making tofu (fresh or fried) the default protein, and charging extra for the substitution of fake meat (many vegetarian restaurants do this the opposite way). It is such a pleasure to go into a restaurant and have full menu access, and it was really hard to choose between the Green Papaya salad (no fish sauce!), the Tom Yum and Tom Kah soups (no fish sauce or meat broth!), the curries (no shrimp paste!) or the variety of delicious savory noodles, veggies, rice and other dishes.

Little bowl of glistening soup to greet us

We ended up ordering a red curry and the "Garlic Pepper" stirfry to share. Both were outstanding: savory, spicy, complex, fresh and packed with deliciousness, but without the enjoyment-reducing stress of wondering if they were truly vegetarian (vegan in this case).

Nice size bowl of red curry packed with tender crisp veggies

The tofu was my favorite kind: slick, gelatinous and very fresh.

It is really exciting to find a source of vegan Thai curries, and I am happy to report that this is a great option. It seems a bit unbalanced that Wallingford/Fremont has multiple good vegan curry opportunities while the rest of the city seems to have none, but c'est la vie!

Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mawadda Cafe

A message to the south enders (heck, a message to everybody!): Did you realize that we have an outstanding falafel/kabab restaurant down here in Hillman City/Rainier Beach? I'd driven past Mawadda Cafe, in the somewhat unappealing mini-strip mall at Graham and Rainier, many times and just recently decided to stop in.

I entered with the intent of ordering a falafel sandwich ($5.99) but immediately got distracted by the veggie combo ($9.99), which I ordered to go. There were quite a few vegetarian options on the menu, including falafel, dolmas, spanakopita, salad, hummus, and a veggie patty made with eggplant, zucchini and potato.

When I got home and opened the box, I was delighted to see all of the (made from scratch!) components of my combo: two falafel patties, two dolmas, a big well tucked triangle of spanakopita, a container of hummus, a warm pita, a container of cucumber yogurt sauce, a container of garlic sauce, and a big pile of salad. And I was even more delighted, upon tasting each item, to realize that everything was absolutely delicious, possibly even the best versions I'd ever had. Everything was perfectly spiced and bursting with fresh flavor. The spanakopita was packed with lemony spinach and cheese and was notably fantastic.

The falafel had a most exquisite crust. I've never had anything quite like it... it was highly textured and fried to a delicious brown but didn't feel greasy. The inside was moist and well seasoned. Unless you live really close by, I'd recommend eating at the restaurant (rather than "to go") so that you can experience the falafel hot.

There were all kinds of goodies on the menu that I'd love to try, including homemade chai and four different types of middle eastern pastries (baklava, busma, burma and baluri). The refrigerated drink case had a few interesting beverages in it too, including a mint flavored yogurt drink and mango lassi.

What a great discovery!!

Mawadda Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 11, 2010

Naam Thai

Naam Thai is a new Thai restaurant in the Madrona neighborhood. I went recently for lunch.

I began with my usual Thai restaurant inquiries about the restuarant's ability to make various dishes, especially curries, without shrimp paste or fish sauce. And like most Thai restaurants, with the glorious exception of the super vegetarian-friendly Tawan Thai in Fremont, Naam Thai is not able to make their curries vegan. No problem, there were plenty of other tasty dishes that could be made sans sea creature.

I ordered the Pad Bai Ka Pow, which was tofu (or whatever meat) with veggies and fresh basil in a chili sauce. My dining companion ordered a dish called, "Absolutely Garlic," which was a similar thing but in a "rich garlic sauce."

My dish, kindly made with fresh tofu instead of fried

Our lunch orders came with a variety of extras: rice, a small salad of sprouts and cabbage, phad Thai and a greasy vegetarian egg roll. Naam Thai makes two types of Phad Thai: one with a tomato base (what we commonly get around here), and one with a tamarind base. For some reason my request for an omission of fish sauce and egg landed me the Tamarind based version, which was a nice variation that I liked more.

$1 extra for brown rice. Dining companion splurged, I wish I had too.

Both of our meals were quite delicious. The main dishes came in small bowls with plenty of very flavorful sauce that was thin enough to feel almost light.

The ambiance was modern, clean and light. There were a few special raised platforms with low tables with seating cushions that looked like fun.

Perhaps not the absolute greatest Thai place for a vegetarian because of the curries, but the food that was vegetarian was satisfying.

I should also mention: I ordered my meal 4/4 stars spicy, and found it to be pleasant (not overwhelmingly spicy). If you really like your food spicy, don't be afraid to go for the stars.

Naam Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Copper Gate

The Copper Gate is a bar in Ballard that was once a dive and is now a hip eatery/purveyor of interesting drinks.

I recently went and met two friends, a vegan and a vegetarian, who were waiting at a table snacking on a big plate of french fries. Turned out the french fries were the only vegan food option on the menu, and they were, by my standards, quite spectacular. They were cooked until deep brown on the outside, but maintained a soft, creaminess inside. They were sprinkled with salt and fresh dill and served with curried ketchup.

For a vegetarian, there are a few more food options including a cheese plate, cauliflower soup, and an escarole beet salad. There was a distinct lack of a "main course" type dish for a vegetarian.

To drink, I had a salty, sweet licorice vodka with an interesting name that I can't remember. I love licorice, and the saltiness was a pleasing dimension of the drink.

Copper Gate on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Spice Room

The Spice Room is finally open and I am so excited to have a Thai restaurant in Columbia City! I went for lunch today to check it out.

The waitresses were friendly and happy to talk with me about the possibilities of omitting fish sauce and shrimp paste from the various dishes. Turns out much of the menu can me made vegan, with the exception of the curries. I ordered the "Drunken Noodles," which is described as wide rice noodles with vegetables and herbs stir fried with a basil chili paste. Each dish included the option of either fresh or fried tofu as the "meat."

The menu failed to mention that this dish also includes egg, much like Phad Kee Mao. If you don't like egg, be sure to ask about it before you order; I spent much of the meal picking stringy egg bits out of my otherwise tasty dish. I ordered 3/4 stars, which was mild enough that I got to use the chili tray, which I very much enjoy.

My dining companion ordered the pork phad see lew, and said it was really delicious.

The ambiance was great. Half the restaurant is lined with bench seating, and the other half with semi-private booths separated with sheer hanging cloth. Everything is made out of shiny dark wood and the whole place feels clean, hip and modern.

I look forward to returning and ordering a little bit more carefully. In the meantime, I say go check this place out, I'd love to hear what you think. I suspect there are more than a few south enders thrilled to finally have a Thai restaurant down in our neck of the woods!

The Spice Room on Urbanspoon