Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Asia de Cuba

Continuing to take advantage of Restaurant Week specials this week, I lunched at fusion resto Asia de Cuba on Tuesday with some of my girls. Though slow service will usually knock a restaurant down a few notches, it was definitely needed as we all dished on our recent trials & tribulations in dating... this was not a lunch to be rushed!

With a glam setting, great drinks (because a mojito with lunch makes going back to work a little easier!), and dishes served family style, Asia de Cuba definitely made for a fun lunch. Unlike other restaurants that only give a small sampling of their menu, a number of Asia de Cuba's regular menu options could be found on the Restaurant Week prix-fixe menu, and depending on the number of diners, you have the option of choosing 2 appetizers and 2 entrees, as we did. The Friendly Veg was even more delighted that for once, she didn't have to pull the waiter aside and figure out what menu items could/couldn't be made vegetarian. I happily started with a Thai salad with coconut and avocado, which was a bit weighed down by a bit too much of the spicy dressing, but it was tasty nonetheless. I was also happy with my soy-lime marinated blocks of tofu, served with tamarind sauce and some shredded veggies with peanut dressing. Though overall, my meal was pretty good, it certainly didn't live up to the hype (or the prices listed on the regular menu, for that matter). And that's generally the problem with Asian fusion places- you can never go wrong with most of the dishes, but they're predictable and overdone, as they are here. At least sorbets and coconut layer cake made up for it at the end.

FYI- Asia de Cuba is extending its prix-fixe Restaurant Week menu until Labor Day; so although I wouldn't recommend coming here and paying full price for their food, it's definitely worth visiting if you're looking for a swanky place to lunch with some friends for $24.07!

Asia de Cuba, 237 Madison Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets, 212-726-7755

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Green Bean Salad

Were you one of those kids that squealed, "ewww, green stuff!" when your parents heaped the veggies on your plate? It's okay, I had those moments too. But when it came to fresh, crispy green beans, believe you me, there was not a green thing to be found by the end of dinner. The vinaigrette I use for this salad may sound grown-up, but crunching on green beans will definitely tap into your inner child all over again!

The Whats:

* 1 lb. mixed green & wax beans, ends trimmed
* 1 large bell pepper, sliced into strips
* 1/2 red onion, coarsely chopped
* 1/4 cup basil
* 3 tbsp. olive oil
* 4 tbsp. sherry vinegar
* 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
* 1/4 cup parmiggiano reggiano, finely grated

The Hows:

1) For the salad: In a large bowl, toss the beans, pepper, onion, and basil together. Set aside.

2) For the vinaigrette: Combine olive oil and sherry vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in pepper and cheese, and immediately pour over the bean salad. Toss to coat. Serves about 4 as a side dish.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Celebs Love Vegan Food!

No, really! While chowing down on dragonfly dumplings and a yummy soy chicken sandwich at Red Bamboo last night, we not only spotted Project Runway winner Christian Siriano and crew, but guitarist Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Red Bamboo is definitely one of my fave veg places in the city... and judging by how crowded it is every night of the week, it's apparently ranks high on the list of famous skinny white boys too.

If you haven't already checked it out, the New York Times featured a short list of vegetarian lunch places in their $25 And Under column- included are a falafel joint near my office, Crisp, as well as the good standby, Maoz Vegetarian.

Also, has a feature called The New Stealth Vegetarian Restaurant, which discusses the glamorizing of the typical crunchy feel of most vegetarian restaurants, and bringing vegetarian dining to a fancier and more omnivore-friendly level. The article highlights Union Square spot Pure Food and Wine, and if you're looking to impress your omnivore friends, this is another great place to visit!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Penne with Arugula and Basil

One good pasta deserves another. Lunch at Del Posto initiated a pasta kick (okay, that could very well be a lie, I'll eat pasta anytime!), and for dinner, I decided to do something light, while incorporating two of my favorite contrasting summer flavors- the sweetness of basil and the peppery bite of arugula. This recipe serves 2 to 3 people, and makes for a quick, easy dinner.

The Whats:

* 1/2 box whole grain penne
* 6 - 8 oz. package of arugula
* 1/4 cup basil leaves, coarsely chopped
* 2 cloves garlic
* 2 tbsp. lemon juice
* 1/2 tbsp. white truffle oil
* 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
* 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
* salt & pepper to taste
* grated parmiggiano reggiano, to serve

The Hows:

1) In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil; add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Wilt arugula in pan, adding by the handful, stirring occasionally; about 3 minutes total.

2) Stir in lemon juice, basil, and crushed red pepper; cook for another minute. Remove from heat.

3) Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; toss into basil-arugula mix with 1 tbsp white truffle oil. Season with salt & pepper and garnish with parmiggiano reggiano.

Del Posto

It's the most wonderful time of the year... and by that, of course, I mean NYC Restaurant Week! With $24.07 prix fixe lunches and $35 prix fixe dinners at many celebrated NYC restaurants, you can't pass up dining out.

Admittedly, the Friendly Veg can be overly critical of Italian food- when you grow up picking fresh tomatoes and basil from your own backyard, anything less doesn't make for quality Italian cuisine. But having been previously impressed by Mario Batali's authentic Italian menus as well as several delicious vegetarian options at Lupa and Otto, I happily continued working my way through the Batali empire, and had lunch at Del Posto.

Del Posto is certainly more formal than other Batali restaurants I've been to; but if you're looking to impress a date, this is the place to be. It's an unusual contrast of simple Italian food and a grandiose dining atmosphere. The prix-fixe lunch selections looked deliciously unpretentious (if you're looking for Batali's fancier dishes, go for the dinner menu), and as I'd hoped, easily made into vegetarian ones. I started with a cold minestrone soup, garnished with a basil pesto- and after walking to Tenth Avenue in humid weather, this dish was perfect. None of the secondi dishes were vegetarian, but the server offered to serve the garganelli verdi with their pomodoro sauce. Though the sauce was just a tad saltier than I would've liked, the spinach pasta was perfectly al dente, and yet melted in my mouth. Amazing. And just as amazing was my dessert- barra di gianduja, a hazelnut mousse with a dense chocolate cake-like base, with a citrus syrup and hazelnuts. I'm a girl with an ongoing love affair with desserts, and I can't possibly rave about this enough, or the bite of ricotta cheesecake I stole from my friend's plate.

Sure, Del Posto has the Michelin stars to coincide with the decidedly formal feel of any fancy French restaurant in the city. But ultimately, when you're looking for a sure bet in fresh, innovative dining and fabulous service to boot, Del Posto is a must, even if you can't take advantage of the Restaurant Week prix-fixe specials.

Restaurant Week runs now through August 1st, excluding weekends.

Del Posto, 85 Tenth Avenue (@ 16th Street), New York, NY 10011, 212-497-8090

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vegan Drinks & Bike Tours

I love sharing; after all, they do say sharing is caring. And since I care about my dear readers, I'm usually excited to spread the news about cool events or services catering to vegetarians, vegans, and the eco-conscious. Though I think we all bemoan the lacking veg-friendliness in our society from time to time, I'm continually surprised by how many networking events, tours, and parties happening around the city, and how fun they sound.

So vegans, mark your calendars- next Thursday, the 31st, is VeganDrinks, a social networking event for vegans from all walks of life, and newcomers are always welcome. It will be held at Angels & Kings, 500 E. 11th Street between Avenues A & B, from 7pm to 9pm, with $3 domestic beers and $4 imported beer specials.

And for those adventurous vegans that actually do like to eat something other than salads or peanut butter when on vacation (don't laugh, sometimes you've gotta go on a trip prepared, and this includes peanut butter for emergencies), you can find cool trips where you also do your part for the environment- vegan bike tours! Check out the Outfitter Tours link and sign up for some exciting bike tours and self-guided climbing tours through France & Italy, all while reducing your carbon footprint and enjoying French/Italian vegan cuisine- you can have your vegan cake and eat it too!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

and if ya don't know, now ya know...

Now this may or may not be news to you, but should your inner OCD seize control and force you to ponder how many rats might possibly be scurrying through the kitchen of your local greasy spoon, you can easily find this information on the web. Though navigating through the not-so user friendly Department of Health website is usually the first place to look, I'm posting a link for NYC's EveryBlock restaurant inspection page that breaks down restaurants by neighborhood in all 5 boroughs, and helpfully highlights those neighborhood restos that have been cited and what for, as well as links to the DOH page where you can see the restaurant's violation history. Check it:

This Astoria resident was disappointed to learn that her fave place to get salads, Avenue Cafe on 30th Avenue, had 6 violations just this past April and needs followup. Damn. Am I sure that's really tzatziki?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Too Cute Tees!

If you are what you eat, then you may as well rock a cool T-shirt that says so! FoodTees is selling the cutest T-shirts for $20 a pop and the proceeds go to three food education organizations. Awesome! And while you're on the DietDetective site, you can browse around for more information regarding nutrition, as well as quizzes and interviews.

I'm partial to the "Locally Grown" tee. It's all too appropriate for the native New York vegetarian!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Easy-Peasy Spring Rolls

Laugh at the blog title, but when I tell you to put away your julienne peeler and simply toss your ingredients together in the wok, that chuckle will quickly disappear, just like those minutes of prep time it would take to thinly slice all those veggies for spring rolls. Instead, use all your fave pre-shredded ingredients- you can find shredded broccoli, cabbage, and carrots in your local grocery store, and customize your spring roll mix with cellophane noodles, sprouts, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, tofu, leafy greens, or whatever else sweetens your chili sauce.

While normally I'm a fan of fresh veggies that don't come in bags, you can find fresh, organic mixes at Trader Joe's, for example. And since my last blog entry blasted cholesterol, a simple way to cut most of it out of your recipe is to use the Vietnamese summer roll wrappers, made from rice flour- you can find these in many grocery stores, or in any Asian supermarket. Just soak 'em and wrap 'em- if only everything in life could be this easy-peasy.

The Whats:

* 1 bag of broccoli slaw
* 1 bag shredded carrots
* 1 bag of Chinese bean sprouts
* 1 oz. Thai cellophane noodles
* 2 tbsp. sesame oil
* 2 tsp. grated ginger
* 3 cloves garlic, crushed
* 3 tbsp. soy sauce
* 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
* 2 tbsp. sweet chili sauce
* 1 tbsp. lime juice
* 1 tsp. chili paste (you can omit this if you can't take the heat!)
* 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
* about a tablespoon of mint leaves, finely chopped
* 1/2 tsp. black pepper
* 15 to 20 spring roll wrappers, depending on how much you stuff those rolls!

The Hows

1) For the cellophane noodles: bring a pot of water to a boil, and cook noodles for 5 minutes, or until softened. Drain; rinse in cold water, then drain again. Set aside.

2) In a large skillet or wok, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for one minute. Add the broccoli slaw, carrots, and sprouts with 1 tbsp soy sauce and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly softened.

3) Stir in the remaining soy sauce, rice vinegar, sweet chili sauce, lime juice, chili paste, cilantro, mint, and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, tossing occasionally with tongs. Remove from heat; stir in rice noodles.

4) To wrap & roll: Fill a large bowl with hot, but not boiling, water. Soak each wrapper for about 1 minute, until softened and translucent. Place on a flat surface. Place two tablespoons of the spring roll mix in the center of the wrapper. Fold the lower part of the wrapper over the filling; fold the two sides over the filling; then roll the wrap away from you until it is sealed. Because the wrapper is already wet, you won't really need to add extra water to seal the roll. Serve immediately with sweet chili sauce, or refrigerate for an hour or so for chilled spring rolls.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

it's a sad, sad thing...

Cholesterol drugs being recommended for children? Can that really be the sad reality of American kids?

The sad news that the American Academy of Pediatrics is now pushing for cholesterol screenings in children as young as age 2, with the introduction of cholesterol drugs by age 8 if their levels don't drop, hit all the major media outlets this week. The fact that 30% of American kids are considered overweight or obese is terrible, and the plan of attack, while seemingly necessary, still doesn't actually resolve the problem.

I don't think I'm alone here in my disdain for statin drugs. While some people can blame high cholesterol on genetics, the idea of putting a child, who can still get accustomed to an active lifestyle and a healthy diet, on drugs with bad side effects that won't actually cure him/her, I mean, that's like saying all is lost. People get on these drugs, and unless they're really working to change themselves, they never come off them. And that is our problem, dear readers. Sure, drug companies want to profit off our disbelief in our body's ability to heal itself, but the whole notion that some kids need these drugs and can't turn their health around is just sad too.

Of course, it's probably more complicated than the way I've broken it down, and yes, there are a number of other issues that arise from this AAP recommendation as well. But with plenty of studies praising the value of a good diet, superfoods, and daily exercise, parents really need to get their act together and watch what they feed their kids. Chances are, if your parents eat crappy, you likely will too. For shame.

If you don't believe in the power of your diet (obviously, the Friendly Veg is a strong believer that changing your diet can change your life!), I recommend that you check out two other related articles that were published in The New York Times in the last two weeks:

Eating Your Way to Lower Cholesterol

The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating

and check out Cutting Cholesterol, An Uphill Battle

It's not easy and it can be slow going, but something as as easy as switching to a breakfast of blueberries & oatmeal is a tasty (and my fave!) way to keep your body in balance!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Espinacas con Garbanzos

You've definitely seen a version of spinach & garbanzo beans in spicy sauce at your local Indian joint, but this lil selection is actually a Spanish tapas for two. Putting together this light dish is beyond easy, and you can make it even more of a meal by serving it over rice, or serving it with pita or tortillas.

The Whats:

* 1 bag of spinach (I had a 6 oz. bag)
* 1 15 oz. can of low sodium garbanzo beans, half drained
* 3 tbsp olive oil
* 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 3 tsp cumin
* 1 tsp coriander
* 1 1/2 tsp paprika
* 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (you can use less if you like, I love everything spicy!)
* 1/2 tsp salt

The Hows:

1) In a medium pan over medium heat, saute garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes. Add spinach into pan by the handful and stir, until each handful slightly wilts. Add chickpeas and stir. Add cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt, and stir.

2) Add 3/4 cup of water and mix into spinach & beans. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until there is a little bit of thickened liquid at the bottom of the pan. Serve hot.