Sunday, June 29, 2008

Native Foods

Right down the street from the luxurious South Coast Plaza mall (the third-largest mall in the United States) is "SoBeCa District" which includes The Lab (aka the Anti-Mall) and The Camp. Although I have shopped at The Lab on occasion, I visited The Camp for the first time upon invitation from my vegan friend to try Native Foods.

In addition to having a fire ring, which I thought was appropriate for a place called "The Camp", the plaza includes a bicycle shop, an outdoor/camping supply store, a scuba school, a vegan and sweatshop free clothing store, vegan/vegetarian and organic restaurants, and other natural resource shops.

I think it's also very appropriate that there is a dog on site, since The Camp also has a shop which sells cosmetics and beauty products which are not tested on animals. As you can see, the dog's presence comes with your training at the scuba school. I wonder if the dog has its own scuba gear...

Native Foods offers organic and vegan foods, providing those who adhere to a vegan diet a variety of options without having to worry about whether the dishes follow their vegan guidelines or asking the chef to make substitutions. They have seating both indoors and outdoors on the patio.

Upon entering the restaurant, we picked up a menu from the stack just inside the doors and asked the man at the register if we could look over the menu at one of the tables and also order from the tables. He insisted that we look at the menu and also order at the counter. Luckily, my friend already had in mind what we should order, so we didn't have to stand too long perusing the menu. We were handed a number and proceeded to a table.

The dining area of Native Foods resembles a yurt and has a large propeller-like fan in the center. I ate at Native Foods on the afternoon of a relatively hot day and unfortunately noticed that the fan moves too slowly and its arms are too thin to generate a cooling breeze.

Although there was no breeze, what I found pretty cool was the plastic deer head mounted on the wall since a vegan restaurant wouldn't put a real deer on its walls (one goes to Cabela's for the real thing). The animal friendly theme runs throughout all of the restaurant's decorations and is even present on the menu. Some menu items include: Chinese "save the" Chicken Salad, "Save the Chicken" Wings, and BLTease (made with veggie bacon).

We had The Mama Mia, a cheese-less pizza topped with portobello mushrooms, tomato sauce, pesto, basil, roasted garlic, sausage chunks made out of seitan, and caramelized onions. This had a lot of flavors going on and the ingredients tasted very fresh. The seitan sausage chunks were chewy but retained a lot of oil, so the only flavor I could discern of the seitan sausage was that of oil. I was hesitant to bite into the whole roasted garlic cloves because I thought the spicy garlic flavor would be too powerful, but I discovered that roasting the garlic cloves significantly reduces the sharp taste of raw garlic and even adds a hint of sweetness to the garlic. Except for the addition of the seitan sausage, this pizza tasted similar to any other pizza loaded with vegetables. I didn't even notice this pizza doesn't have cheese until I got home and looked at the photos! I'm not a big fan of meat substitutes because they tend to fail horribly in texture and flavor, so I probably would have liked this pizza more if it didn't have the seitan sausage, especially since the sausage substitute didn't add much flavor.

The Peanut Butter Parfait was silky smooth and had the texture of pudding. As a sucker for anything peanut butter, I found the parfait to be very delicious, especially with the addition of carob chips and chunks of Boogie Bar layered on the top and bottom of the parfait. Boogie Bars are also sold separately and are made from wheat flour, almonds, oats, coconut, carob chips, and vanilla. The desserts are all prepackaged in individual servings.

Although it looked moist, this Elephant Chocolate Cake ended up being on the dry side. Luckily, the cinnamon peanut butter icing on the side was very thin in contrast to standard cake frosting and tasted almost like chai. Given the option, I would definitely choose the Peanut Butter Parfait over this chocolate cake, anytime.

Sam's Native Cheesecake unfortunately did not have very much cheese flavor and was quite bland. The texture was a bit stiff instead of creamy and was very reminiscent of tofu. Much of the flavor came from the accompanying berry sauce, which was fresh and sweet instead of tart. The graham cracker crust had a nice toasted flavor, but again, I would much rather have the Peanut Butter Parfait.

Native Foods
The Camp
2937 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fried Rice Restaurant Style and Honey Walnut Shrimp

My mother doesn't cook, but my grandmother definitely cooks, a lot, and all day long; you have to when you're feeding a family of eight. My Oma cooks Indonesian food because that's where she grew up, although we are Chinese. Unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure of learning how to cook from her, so I kind of have to wing it on my own when I want to eat dishes reminiscent of my childhood.

This is definitely not my Oma's nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) which is sweet from the kecap manis and has chicken, pork, and sometimes shrimp. Deviating from the familiar fried rice that I grew up eating, I used the Fried Rice Restaurant Style recipe that I found on AllRecipes and altered that recipe even further by using brown rice and cooking it in vegetable broth. Although the recipe takes about half an hour from start to finish, I cook the rice the night before and then refrigerate it overnight to prevent the rice from getting soggy. From making this dish several times, I learned that using freshly cooked rice to make fried rice leads to clumpy and unevenly seasoned fried rice because of the moisture content of the fresh cooked rice. I love making fried rice because the dish is incredibly forgiving; you can put anything into it and it will usually turn out pretty good. In the version above, I tossed in whatever frozen vegetables happened to be in the freezer at the time, a crushed garlic clove, and an egg or two. Also, precise measurements aren't terribly necessary, as adding soy sauce and sesame oil is best to personal taste. Sesame oil is very potent in flavor, so I only add a very light drizzle at the end to provide flavor rather than using it to actually stir-fry the rice.

Okay, so my Oma never made Walnut Shrimp because it's a Chinese dish commonly found in Western-influenced and Hong Kong restaurants. In any case, I thoroughly enjoy Walnut Shrimp, which was not so good for my health when I worked at a Chinese restaurant during high school. So as I planned our weekly menu, I figured, "What would go better with the Fried Rice Restaurant Style than Honey Walnut Shrimp from AllRecipes?" I am not sure that the Walnut Shrimp I enjoyed while working through high school were battered and fried, but I decided to follow the recipe on my first attempt to make Honey Walnut Shrimp. The batter in the recipe was extremely thick and I think I went a little dunk-happy, so the fried crust was almost as thick as some of the smaller shrimp. The next time I make this recipe, I might just lightly dust the shrimp in mochiko flour or forgo the batter entirely to enjoy the full flavor of the shrimp and to make this very rich dish somewhat more healthy. Additionally, I don't particularly enjoy Walnut Shrimp that is too sweet, so I will cut in half the amount of honey that the recipe calls for. The creamy, mayonnaise-based sauce seems strange paired with shrimp, but I can never resist ordering it whenever I see it on a menu.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gulf Coast Grill

As a native San Diegan, it has become a tradition for me to attend the Earth Day festival held every April at Balboa Park (an indication of how backlogged are my posts). Since I moved to Orange County four years ago to attend UCI, the Earth Day festivities have extended to the night before the fair, allowing me the opportunity to catch up with my friends in San Diego. This year, we stayed with friends who live in North Park and they suggested we try a restaurant they had heard positive reviews about.

Gulf Coast Grill offers fare that has "Louisiana roots, California style" and offers happy hour nightly from 4:30pm to 6:30pm. We decided to heavily partake in Gulf Coast Grill's happy hour because of the half-price appetizers and drinks and because our friends only live a block away from the restaurant.

A forgettable sliced roll and mini cornbread muffins were immediately set on our table when we were seated. I was eager to try the cornbread muffins, but they ended up being flavorless and kerneless.

With many of their regular appetizers half-priced for happy hour, I figured it was okay to order everything I wanted to try rather than limit ourselves. The warm Cornmeal Crusted Brie was served with toasted baguette slices and a lightly dressed mixed green salad. The salty brie was soft enough to spread on the baguette slices and was complimented by the sweetness of the candied pecans. Brie is one of my favorite cheeses and I really enjoyed the medley of flavors and textures, the sweetness paired with the saltiness, and crunch paired with the soft cheese.

The Sweet Corn Hushpuppies were freshly fried and served with a creamy house remoulade sauce. The balls of cornmeal were fried to a dark brown and biting into the crisp shell revealed a soft interior with a hint of spice. I especially enjoyed mopping up the slightly spicy and tangy remoulade sauce with the fluffy hushpuppies.

Also served with the house remoulade sauce were their Fried Oysters. The oysters were first coated in cornmeal and then deep fried. The cornmeal crust provided a hearty crunch that contrasted with the meltingly soft oysters within. I was surprised that the oysters retained their moisture and brine through the deep fry process, rather than dripping with grease from their hot oil bath.

Luckily for me, some of my dining companions had an aversion to seafood, so after a taste of the oysters went around the table, I was left with three and a half large fried oysters to myself. I was able to make a meal of the appetizers while my dining companions shared the rather large entrees.

Gulf Coast Grill
4130 Park Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92103

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Spinach Quiche and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

When I found this recipe for Spinach Quiche on AllRecipes, I anticipated that it would taste very similar to spanakopita, one of my favorite Greek foods.

The quiche had the requisite ingredients of spinach and feta that are found in traditional spanakopita, but was missing the crisp phyllo dough of true spanakopita. Even with the 6 ounces of feta and 8 ounces of cheddar cheese this recipe requires, the bitterness of the spinach was very prominent. I love spinach, but it seemed the ratio of spinach to eggs was too high, even though I used a deep-dish pie crust. I would have preferred more egg flavor and texture, as the egg only seemed to present itself as a thin layer on the top of the quiche.

My family never ate brussels sprouts as I grew up, so when I saw them at the grocery store, I was enchanted by their cute appearance; they look like miniature heads of lettuce! I love lettuce! Additionally, the recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts that I found on AllRecipes had great reviews, so I scoffed at the tales I had heard of children and adults alike hating brussels sprouts. Lo and behold, they are actually quite bitter, even roasted, but the very roasted pieces that bordered on being completely burned were quite tasty. They tasted similar to slightly burned potato chips, the little gems that I search for on the occasion that we have a bag of potato chips.

Unfortunately, it will be awhile before I try my hand at making brussels sprouts again, especially when there are so many other vegetables that I already know I prefer. I don't think Devin would like me to try making another spinach quiche, but if I did, I would reduce the amount of spinach and increase the amount of egg so that it tastes like an actual quiche instead of spinach pie.