10.31.2016

Eat the Guide: namese

Hello and welcome to the NOiG series Eat the Guide!  In this series, I explore the scores of restaurants included in the NOIG Guide to Vegan-Friendly Restaurants.  You can follow along in the guide or right here on the blog, or both of course.  See previous posts here, and enjoy!

On an unusually warm October evening I visited namese, a Mid-City restaurant that I frequent as it is my closest source of pho.  Unlike some of the New York-ish, tightly crammed, hard surfaced Vietnamese restaurants that have cropped up across town, this eatery has a warm and inviting quality - though the air conditioning will make you glad you remembered your sweater.

Appearance and Atmosphere: Full of clean modern lines, namese is an oasis on the otherwise highway-ish corner of Carrollton and Tulane Avenues.  If you like to avoid televisions, this is not your spot - there are several in the smallish interior.  You can, however, eat on the small patio out front if you don't mind the traffic.  This is particularly pleasant in the winter - should one of those ever come to us - due to heaters and chic firepits.

Hours of Operation: Monday through Saturday 11am to 10pm; closed on Sundays.

Service Style: Full table service and seating by your server.  Delivery is available in the immediate area.

Vegan spring rolls
Available Vegan Options: namese offers similar vegan options to the other vegan-friendly Vietnamese restaurants in the area.  These include vegan-labeled spring rolls, pho, tofu and mushroom bun, and the veggie sotca plate (ask for vegan broth to be served with it rather than the house soup which is a chicken base, and get the vegan vinaigrette for the side salad).  Of note, the five spice fried tofu appetizer is not vegan.  namese also has bubble tea, the fruit flavors of which (strawberry, pineapple, peach, honeydew, and mango) are vegan when made as a slushy.  Make sure to check the specials board as they occasionally have vegan specials - in the past these have proven quite delicious.

Alcohol or Espresso: Beer and wine are served.

Price Range: $6 for spring rolls to

Pineapple bubble tea (with boba of course)
My Experience: This trip to namese was a little disappointing.  My server, though he is not particularly new, was poorly versed in vegan options.  He also brought out the chicken-based house soup with my veggie sotca (I had not specifically asked for the vegan broth instead, but we had had several conversations by that point about what was vegan and I had clearly only ordered vegan items).  I have previously had outstanding service, so this is a bit luck of the draw.

Final thoughts: namese is great if you a) live in Mid-City and desperately need vegan pho delivered to your door, and b) if you really love spring rolls, as theirs are some of the best.  It is not, however, my favorite Vietnamese place in town.  Overall I'm pleased to have them in the neighborhood and I hope to see their vegan options expand in the future.

10.24.2016

Eat the Guide: Mona's on Banks

Hello and welcome to the NOiG series Eat the Guide!  In this series, I explore the scores of restaurants included in the NOIG Guide to Vegan-Friendly Restaurants.  You can follow along in the guide or right here on the blog, or both of course.  See previous posts here, and enjoy!

This week we take a look at a New Orleans staple: Mona's on Banks.  Mona's now has four locations (others are on Magazine Street, Carrollton, and Frenchmen), but Banks Street is the original.  The Banks location has a small and exciting grocery store attached.  Those of us who've been around town a while remember when it still looked like a service station.  I've loved Mona's for many years and missed it a good bit during my sabbatical in NYC.

Appearance and Atmosphere: Mona's on Banks is nice enough while remaining casual and easy to relax in.  The interior seems divided in two, with tented booths that feel particularly cozy and intimate lining the back wall of the restaurant.  There are also intriguing murals scattered across the walls.

Hours of Operation: Sunday12pm - 9pm, Monday through Thursday10am - 9pm, and Friday and Saturday 10am - 10pm.

Service Style: Full table service; you can usually seat yourself where you like.

Clockwise from top left:
lentil soup, spinach pie, falafel appetizer
Available Vegan Options: Like most Middle Eastern restaurants, Mona's offers a plethora of already vegan or easily veganized options.  Vegan-as-ordered plates include hummus, musabaha, foul, qudisa, zater bread, and falafel appetizers; red lentil soup; Arabic, green, fatouche, and tabouli salads; the falafel sandwich; and the falafel plate.  Veganizable options include the vegetarian grape leaves appetizer or plate and the spinach pie appetizer  - for these items request tahini instead of yogurt sauce.  You can also get the Greek salad or the sauteed vegetables plate by leaving off feta cheese.

Alcohol or Espresso: Turkish coffee can be served black.  Note that the Lebanese tea contains honey.

Price Range: Appetizers, soups, and salads run from $3 to $6; plates $10 to $11.

My Experience: Going to Mona's always feels a bit like coming home.  When I've been away from New Orleans I actually miss it.  It's the first place I ever ate Middle Eastern food and the only place I ate it for many years, so it just tastes "right" to me.  I am saddened that they started to put yogurt into their baba ganuj, as it used to be my very favorite menu item.  This trip was just as satisfying as my many previous visits: I ate my new favorite item, the vegetarian grape leaves plate with side salad.  (I mix the side of hummus with the salad and it is delightful.)  Service was friendly, prompt, and accommodating as always.  I left full and with leftovers.

Final Thoughts: Head to Mona's with a friend or several whenever you want a filling, delicious meal that won't break the bank.  Get the mint tea if you can have the caffeine.  TRY THE SPINACH PIE.  Then pop next door to the store and buy some to take home - they're made on premises and keep well in the freezer.  When you need a quick economical meal, try the falafel sandwich (which is really a wrap) - you really can't beat it.


10.17.2016

Eat the Guide: Canal Street Bistro

Hello and welcome to the NOiG series Eat the Guide!  In this series, I explore the scores of restaurants included in the NOIG Guide to Vegan-Friendly Restaurants.  You can follow along in the guide or right here on the blog, or both of course.  See previous posts here, and enjoy!

After a couple of weeks of super-low-key outings, we took it up a notch with a proper dinner at Canal Street Bistro.  Since the weather is finally getting a little cooler, we were able to walk to the restaurant - living in Mid-City has its perks. 

Appearance and Atmosphere:  Canal Street Bistro seems slightly confused.  Contained in a house the way so many charming New Orleans restaurants are, its interior is lovely and appears upscale.  There are even a couple of canopy chairs nestled into corners that would be rather fun to sit in on a special occasion like a birthday.  But the music they were playing on Saturday would be more fitting of a burger joint.  The flashing, multi-colored OPEN sign in the window too smacks more of a bar than of fine dining.  The table settings were neat and attractive, but had a distinctly summer feel to them which is a bit weird for October.

It's just as if the restaurant can't quite decide what it is trying to be.  Is it upscale or laid back?  It perhaps is trying to be both and it isn't working.  At least there are no televisions.  Before this visit I would have said go ahead and bring a (somewhat) fancy date here, but now I'm not sure.  There's nothing wrong with it per se; it just comes off as disjointed.

Hours of Operation:  If you do go out to dinner here I hope you're hungry early as they close at eight; it's more of a brunch spot.  Hours are as follows:  Wednesday - Friday 11am-8pm, Juice Bar 'till 6pm.  Saturday 9am-8pm, Brunch 'till 2pm.  Sunday 9am-2pm.  Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Service Style:  This is a full table service restaurant, including waiting to be seated.  Anticipate that brunch times will be busy.

Grilled Vegetable Napoleon
Available Vegan Options:  The Bistro seems to have given up on its old tofu offerings, which admittedly were not all that exciting.  Current vegan-as-ordered menu items include the grilled vegetable napoleon starter, the quinoa and avocado salad (the dressing contains honey but is unnecessary and can be put on the side), the sweet plantains side, and the Asian cole slaw side.  There are also a large number of dishes that are easily made vegan by removing the dairy, including:
  • roasted red pepper and carrot soup
  • guacamole
  • esquites
  • house salad
  • spinach and walnut salad
  • spinach almandine side
  • grilled squash side
  • poblano pepper side
So really, as long as you're comfortable alerting your server to your vegan needs, you can have a real feast here.

Alcohol or Espresso:  A full bar and wines are available.  Fresh juices and smoothies are also on order until 6pm.

Price Range:  Starters range from $5 to $9, salads $12 to $15, and entrees go way up from there but none are vegan.

Quinoa and Avocado Salad
My Experience:  When we arrived I was put off by the above-mentioned inconsistencies in the feel of the place.  However, the service turned our evening's experience from mediocre to excellent.  Our server Katua, taking interest in our vegan inquiries, struck up a conversation with us about veganism after getting detailed answers as to available vegan options. (Fear not - we were his only table so he wasn't neglecting anyone.)  He spoke highly of Chef Guillermo, and indeed the food did not disappoint.

We split the vegetable napoleon and the quinoa and avocado salad.  Of note, the salad is more of a quinoa and black bean plate with a sprinkle of greens and other vegetables.  It is substantial and delicious, and pairs perfectly with the balsamic-roasted vegetables of the napoleon.  We finished up with the sweet plantain side, which was just the right amount of sweetness to round out the meal.

Final Thoughts:  I'm torn.  Based on the food alone, I definitely recommend this restaurant.  It could be a great option when dining out with omni companions - though do expect that their meals will be more expensive than yours.   And I could easily be being too picky with my atmospheric complaints.  My best advice is to try it out with a trusted companion and see how it feels to you.

Sweet Plantains

10.10.2016

Eat the Guide: Yummy Yummy

Hello and welcome to the NOiG series Eat the Guide!  In this series, I explore the scores of restaurants included in the NOIG Guide to Vegan-Friendly Restaurants.  You can follow along in the guide or right here on the blog, or both of course.  See previous posts here, and enjoy!

Last weekend Jonathan and I visited Yummy Yummy, a humble but tasty Chinese restaurant on Carrollton near Canal Street, just across Canal from Theo's and Juan's and just doors down from Brocato's.  While we typically order delivery from this economic spot, we were pleasantly surprised with the experience of dining in.

Appearance and Atmosphere:  Yummy Yummy is unassuming, the kind of Chinese restaurant that has lit pictures of the house specials up on the wall over the ordering counter.  Its booth seating area is comfy and clean, and seems to be set up to cater to the lunch buffet crowd.  This is as casual as eating out gets.

Hours of Operation: 10:30am to 10:30pm every day, except for Sundays when they open at 11.  A lunch buffet is available from 11am to 3pm Monday through Saturday, vegan options unknown.

Service Style:  Ordering is done at the counter, and most business is either for take-out or delivery outside of the buffet.  Food is brought out to your table if dining in.  Possibly my favorite aspect of this restaurant is that you can order delivery online.  It's like magic.

Family Style Tofu
Available Vegan Options:  The "Vegetarian" section is almost all vegan - just make sure that no egg is added.  Options include vegetable fried rice, lo mein, and chow mei fun; steamed mix vegetables with our without bean curd; four kinds of fried tofu; and three kinds of stir-fried vegetables.

Alcohol or Espresso: Nope.  You'll have to go down the block to the Red Door for a drink or across Canal Street to Monkey Monkey for coffee.  Or if they're closed already, up to the Bean Gallery...

Price Range:  Prices range from $3.55 for a pint of vegetable fried rice to 7.50 for the most expensive fried tofu.  This is eating out on a budget.

General Tso's Tofu
My Experience:  As usual, the person at the counter was friendly and helpful.  We ordered vegetable lo mein, Family Style Bean Curd, and General Tso's Tofu.  The food came out hot and delicious, with crispy fried tofu and perfectly cooked broccoli - such a difference from receiving delivery (though the delivered food is always very good).  We got way too much food for about $20, and both ate our fill of dinner and had lunch on the leftovers the next day.

Final Thoughts: Yummy Yummy is the best stop in Mid-City for cheap Chinese.  The tofu is excellent and makes great leftovers.  And did I mention that you can order delivery online?  Nothing could be better when you're sick, tired, or just need a treat.

Is it... tofu?

10.03.2016

Eat the Guide: Angelo Brocato's

Hello and welcome to the NOiG series Eat the Guide!  In this series, I explore the scores of restaurants included in the NOIG Guide to Vegan-Friendly Restaurants.  You can follow along in the guide or right here on the blog, or both of course.  See previous posts here, and enjoy!

This weekend I visited one of my favorite spots in the city: Angelo Brocato's on Carrollton.  The shop was originally located in the French Quarter but relocated to Mid-City in the 1970's.  (You can still see the separate ladies' and men's entrances tiled on Ursulines Street.)  The focus of Brocato's is its Sicilian pastries and gelato, but there are vegan treats hidden here.

Appearance and Atmosphere:  Brocato's is positively charming, or maybe it just strikes me that way because it is such a favorite spot of my family.  This is certainly casual, but go ahead and take a fancy date here after dinner for a little whimsy. 

Hours of Operation: Easiest said with a picture...

Service Style:  Be prepared to stand in line for a little while to order your goodies at the counter; this is a very popular spot.  Don't let the Catholic school girls who almost exclusively staff the store pass you by - flag them down if they accidentally skip you.  Order your cookies and/or Italian Ice (see below) and collect them at the register.  Then take a seat at a cafe-style round table with darling heart shaped wire chairs.

Available Vegan Options:  Brocato's vegan options are limited but, in my opinion, worthwhile.  First of all, there are always at least three flavors of Italian Ice on hand: lemon, raspberry, and a seasonal flavor.  These are made in house and are always delicious.  Then there are a variety of hard cookies that you can take home to enjoy with your morning coffee, including Biscotti Regina (mild and covered in sesame seeds, my mother's favorite), chocolate pastines (these melt in your mouth a bit), Biscotti Inglese (slightly orange), and Scadalina (very hard and flavored of clove, also called dead man's bones).  Check the packaged foods for accidentally vegan delicacies like marzipan.  And don't skip the Roman Candy, which is always on the counter.

Alcohol or Espresso:  There is a fancy old-fashioned espresso machine here, but only dairy milk to temper the drinks with.

Price Range:  Cookies start at around fifty cents each and a scoop of Italian Ice will run you about three dollars - this is a cheap treat.

My Experience:  I just love being in the space that Brocato's is.  It makes me feel connected to my Sicilian New Orleans heritage - my grandfather loved this shop and could easily have been distant cousins with the family that has always run it.

Final Thoughts:  Go to Brocato's for a uniquely New Orleans experience.  Look at the gorgeous pastry and imagine a world where we'll have a case that looks like that full of vegan treats.  Wait in line, maybe even outside the store, because this place is iconic and extraordinarily popular.  Expect some hollering kids having a wonderful time on the family outing.  Swipe the last available table that just happens to be the one nestled by the front window.  Savor the Italian Ice, and bring home a little bag of cookies to dip in your coffee for the next few mornings.  And if you happen to be around, go by on March 19th for St. Joseph's Day and get you a lucky bean.