Have you hear of the vegan restaurant Vedge? This upscale Center City restaurant does amazing things with vegetables, and is justifiably famous outside of vegetarian circles – in fact, chef / owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby have won numerous awards for Vedge, which is widely considered to be one of the best vegan restaurants, and restaurants period in the country. If you’re in Philadelphia, it’s definitely worth a visit, but even if you’re not, you can get a taste of the inventive, flavor-forward, vegetable focused menu.
I just got my copy of the new Vedge cookbook, and I’m so excited to work my way through it. I’m most struck by how simple most of the recipes are, and with not many ingredients, but the flavors really shine. For a recent fancy picnic I brought their Fingerling Potatoes with Creamy Worcestershire Sauce. This time of year, new potatoes are so buttery and perfect, and the roasting, combined with the savory mayonnaise, really highlights this Spring treat. I know that Worcestershire sauce is usually not vegan, but it is possible to find both vegan mayos and worcestershire if you would like to keep the recipe vegan. Landau and Jacoby suggest smashing the fingerlings and tossing them with the mayo sauce, but since I was looking for a finger food, I kept mine whole and served the sauce on the side.
Vedge is getting a lot of love this week, and deservedly so! Those of us who loved Horizons were shocked to see it close, and waited for what with baited breath for Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby’s new downtown vegan project. Tucked into the former Deux Cheminées, Vedge is Horizon’s more sophisticated sister – better dressed, streamlined, and with an eye for detail. I’ve yet to formally dine at Vedge, but I have enjoyed multiple happy hours at their marble bar – I’m obsessed with the Engine Room sparkling shiraz they serve at $5 a glass. Unfortunately, I sat at the darker end of the bar on an earlier darkening evening the night I took photos – apologies for the odd photo quality!
The gentleman and I were en route to the Opera, and some bites were in order. The wedge fry arrives in an order of 3, so be prepared to split that third wedge. Crispy-edged perfection with a charred onion dip and porcini salt, but certainly a “small plate.” As was the roasted cauliflower the bartender claimed receives raves. Stand mediterannean style with a tahini sauce – tasty, but nothing surprising. Since I last popped in a few weeks ago, Vedge has updated their happy hour menu for spring. I’m particularly excited to try the shishito peppers and the peel & eat fried lupini beans from their “small plates” dinner menu.
The diner breakfast is a particular art form. Nothing too fancy, cheap prices, and no surprises. Am I right? The manfriend and I spent a delightful Saturday morning at a diner in my neighborhood, at 52nd and Walnut in West Philadelphia. The Skyline is very basic – just a few stools at the counter and three tables, but we got our eggs and potatoes and pancakes in a jiffy! And they had hot sauce. Some people complain that Philadelphia, unlike its neighbors in New Jersey, has a shortage of classic diners. What are some of your favorites? What do you order?
Downtown Goshen, my hometown, has done an amazing job revitalizing it’s downtown in the last few years. I love all the reburbished facades and new restaurants, including a new Neopolitan-style pizza place started by a college friend. Venturi’s features wood-fired pizza, certified authentic (Yes, Neopolitan’s take their pizza that seriously). In a lovely renovated storefront with it’s original stamped tin ceilings and a full liquor license, I split a few of these thin, chewy-edged pies.
The above pie is (I admit I forget the name) a delicious concoction of mozzarella, roasted red pepper, garlic, capers and basil. Yum! And the below pizza is the Bianca with house-made Fior di Latte, garlic, and fresh basil. A delicious dinner (I actually ended up back there later that week!), and a great local business.
I love Vietnamese food, but often struggle at authentic restaurants to find vegetarian options. Pho Xe Lua Viet Thai, under the glowing neon train sign in Chinatown, has a HUGE menu, and I was not only able to find a couple of options, but they happily substituted out the shrimp for tofu and the soup above. The good news? Pho Xe Lua Viet Thai is very very cheap, has an extensive cheap drink list, and a huge menu (if that’s your thing). There are 10 fully vegetarian dishes on the menu, and many can be easily tweaked. True to many Asian hole-in-the-wall restaurants, it’s brightly lit and food arrives very quickly – not the best place for a romantic date, but fun, serviceable, and let me say it again – cheap. The bad news? I maybe didn’t make the best choice. I was craving a giant bowl of soup,and ordered the Canh Thap Cam house special soup. While the soup was packed with vegetables, it was a little bland.I watched the vegetarian hot pot pass my table with envy. No matter – chili oil to the rescue! If you’re in the neighborhood, and craving Thai/Vietnamese, give them a try.
Whiskey Soda Lounge! My original intention was to make it into this Andy Ricker joint for happy hour, which didn’t quite happen. But while I was waiting for a coveted table at Pok Pok, I was able to relax and get my drink on in the heated outdoor picnic room of Whiskey Soda Lounge, conveniently located just across the street. Feeling a little partied out from the last few days of hanging out with my sister, I first ordered a Som Drinking Vinegar (tamarind) mixed with soda water. If this sounds crazy to you, open your mind. Drinking vinegar tastes a bit like kombucha or other fermented beverages, but sweeter and fruity! Hungry, we decided to order our appetizer course from WSL while we waited on Pok Pok – they have the same small plates menu. Above, house roasted red peanuts with lime leaf, chili, garlic and sea salt.
The dish I LOVED and could have eaten all day was Chef Chew’s Khai Luuk Khoei – deep fried boiled egg with tamarind sauce and shallots. Regrettably, I had to share, but could have easily eaten the entire plate.
The Som Tam Thowt – deep fried strips of green papaya, carrot and long bean with a peanut-studdent sweet dipping sauce, was a little disappointing. It was pretty look at, and fun to eat, but I would have preferred the sauce to have more kick, and perhaps even a little thicker so that it’s didn’t so drench the thin, fried strips.
I did have another drink, un-photographable in the low light. Whiskey Soda Lounge has an interesting cocktail list – more savory and herbal than sweet, with southeast asian flavors and liberal use of drinking vinegars. It was hard to choose, but I eventually went with an evening special involving muddled cucumber, chili, and lime. Certainly fun and tasty enough for a casual date, WSL is also the perfect “overflow” space for your pre- (or post) dinner time at Pok Pok.
One of the first things I do when I know I’m going to visit a new city, is explore their restaurant options. What do they do best? What are they known for? What’s new and interesting? When I was planning my trip to Portland, Pok Pok immediately popped up on my radar. Andy Ricker, chef/owner of Pok Pok won a James Beard Award in 2011, and this casual dining spot is very popular. Also, it specializes in South East Asian food with a strong street food flair. My. Absolute. Favorite. I was going to Pok Pok hell or high water.
Sister and her game roommate in tow, we headed out one Friday evening. After a long wait (more about that in the future) we finally found ourselves nestled in Pok Pok’s tiny indoor space after 9pm. Sleepy, but excited, we dove into the menu. I ordered the Khoa Soi Kai, a northern Thailand coconut curry dish with noodles, fried tofu (also available with chicken), house-pickled mustard greens. The dish traditionally comes mild, though I asked them to spice it up a bit. Though the yellow noodles used in this dish are usually not my favorite, they do add a depth of flavor and reminded me of the many wonderful noodle dished I ate while traveling in Malaysia.
My sister ordered the Yam Mekheua Yao, a cold grilled eggplant salad with chilis, lime, shallots, and boiled eggs. We both fell in love with cold grilled eggplant in Marrakesh, and this salad, a restaurant favorite, lived up to expectations.