Spent the week in New Orleans on business. Stayed right downtown, but I prefer to get off the beaten path to eat. 1) it’s quieter; 2) it’s generally less expensive than eating at the hotel. The only real work to be done was finding places that would offer some good food for a vegetarian. Here’s what I found and enjoyed while I was there:

Mona Lisa Restaurant, 1212 Royal St. Just far enough away from the crowds to give some serenity while enjoying a nice meal. The decor is, as you might imagine, all sorts of renditions of the painting of the Mona Lisa all over the walls. I had caprese as an appetizer, the mozzarella was fresh with equally fresh tomato and basil that looked like it had been pulled right from the garden. For an entrée, I had Pasta Alla Nonna. It’s a penne pasta with a wonderful tomato sauce (with chunks of tomato, just the way I like it), and the standard comes with Italian sausage, but they left that out for me. The pasta was cooked perfectly, the sauce absolutely great. The only downside in my mind (and I find this in many places), I was charged the same price as if the meat was included. I would love it if restauranteurs would think a little more about this and offer a discount for those of us who don’t eat meat. It wouldn’t keep me from going back, but it would sure be a great gesture.

SukhoThai. This was the best meal I had while in town. About a half hour walk from my hotel (which I don’t mind), at 1913 Royal St (this is not the location pictured on their website). Far off the beaten path, surrounded by typical French Quarter architecture, quiet, a great place to have a relaxing meal. They prepared vegetable rolls for me that were not fried, and served with a peanut sauce (got my peanut butter fix for the day in that sauce). Great starter. I was going to get garlic tofu for my main course, until I asked my waiter if I’d like that or one of the specials, stir fried tofu and veggies in a ginger sauce. He recommended the special. I’m glad he did. Veggies were “al dente”, tofu was cooked so it wasn’t falling apart, but also not quick fried. Had a great texture to it, looked like it had been marinated beforehand. What a great meal. I checked in there with 4square, and one of the tips listed was to try the coconut tea. Coconut tea? Never had it before (never heard of it). It was just what it said, coconut tea, I got a porcelain pot filled with water with a basket inside for the blend to steep. It was great! I would definitely recommend adding that to your meal. If you look to relax while eating by sipping on hot tea, that’s the way to go.

My last night there, I stayed in Metairie, about a 20 minute drive from downtown. Had some difficulty finding veg friendly places that looked appealing, so took a chance on my fallback position for food – an Italian restaurant (you can usually get a decent eggplant parmesan). Well, I lucked out, and went to Vincent’s, 4411 Chastant St, Metairie. What a great find this place is. Small, very friendly staff, and excellent food. I had a small house salad with a Bleu Cheese vinaigrette dressing. What great flavors to add to an otherwise plain salad starter. The eggplant parm was one of the best I’ve had. I had been in Vegas the week before for a trade show, and ate in 2 fairly high-end Italian restaurants with limited veggie choices. Had eggplant parm both places. This stood head and shoulders, far and above what I had in Vegas. What was disappointing in Vegas is that in one particular restaurant, I’m certain my hosts paid top dollar for anything eaten, including the eggplant. I suspect they don’t get much calling for it, as it was one thick slice of eggplant, and it looked as if it were an afterthought, something handed out in a school lunch room (keep that in mind if you eat at a restaurant in the Mirage). I really went into Vincent’s with low expectations, but walked away pleasantly surprised. Seeing what others were eating and hearing their reaction to it, my guess is that all their meals are prepared with equal attention. definitely put this place on your list.

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I have to say rather sheepishly that I finally tried Ali Baba. I say sheepishly because of the number of times I’ve passed by it traveling on 75 through Richardson. Mary had told me about it some time ago, because a business associate of hers told her how good it was. Can’t say what it was that kept me from exiting to go try it, but boy, am I glad I did.

I’m not sure what it was that prompted it, but getting back from a trade show one Saturday night, decided to eat there “just to say I tried it”.

Well, sorry to say, my other Mediterranean restaurant friends, I’ve found a new place to call favorite.

We’re the types that typically like to sit and go slowly through a meal. There were so many things on the menu that appealed to us, we decided to start with some appetizers. We ordered the French Feta cheese and olives,  and an order of Hummus. Well, we could have stayed there for hours, having them refill just those two items for us. Because of the years we lived in Greece, we tend to gravitate to Greek Feta whenever we get it, can’t say I’ve had French Feta before. The French Feta struck me as being somewhat milder than what we experience with Greek Feta, but very enjoyable nonetheless. When combined with the olives, some black pepper, and olive oil, it’s very soothing. A winner for sure.

So much of what we eat has emotional ties, things that bring us back to periods of enjoyment. Well, the Hummus took us right back to Greece. This is without question, the best Hummus I’ve had in any restaurant, anywhere. The smooth texture, the flavors of chickpeas, tahini, garlic and the smattering of olive oil and paprika on the top blend together perfectly. Upon first taste on a piece of pita, we just looked at each other. Whoa! That was it, we were hooked.

After finishing what was in the bowl (think being a kid, and using your fingers to get the last of the frosting  out of the bowl your mom had mixed it in), we then had the monumental task of ordering something else. What to do? It all looked SO good, but surely, we couldn’t eat all we could order. Wait! We can come back! Yes, the realization that we can come back whenever we want took away the anxiety of missing something good. We both ordered a side of Falafel (we’re thinking, 4 pieces, we should both get an order). These were larger portions than what we’ve been used to getting, we could have easily shared it after what we had already eaten. The flavors just popped out on our tongues, the outside shell providing just enough crunch before savoring the flavors inside. We finished all we had.  No taking any of this home and re-heating later, just would not be the same.

Now I could just leave it off here, but we decided to go back the next day for their brunch buffet (hey, you never know, this visit could have been a fluke, right?). Oh man. I wish we lived closer (not that we’re that far away, but you know, when you want what you want, and you want it NOW, anything that stands between you and your prize needs to be dealt with), we had so many things to choose from! Salad, roasted veggies, stuffed grape leaves, Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, Tzatziki, a hot chickpea and eggplant dish that was out of this world. There were potatoes, rice, that I didn’t try, and in addition to pita bread, slices of pita covered with garlic, parsley, oil, and, and, sorry, I didn’t ask. I was too busy eating.

Check this place out if you haven’t been. Click on the name above to go to their website and check out the menu. Look at the prices. A tremendous value for the amount of food you get.

As we’ve switched to a plant-based diet in the last year or so, we didn’t try any of the meat dishes, but I will tell you, from the looks and the smells, it seems like everything that used to bring us great pleasure when we lived in Europe. You’ll have to see for yourself, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

They serve alcohol as well (again, took that out of our diets a couple of years ago).

Ali Baba. Go. As fast as you can. Here’s the website again: Ali Baba They have 3 locations, we went to the one on I 75 in Richardson. Enjoy!

I ordered a veggie burrito. Was it fresh? Yes. Was it flavorful? Yes. That’s about where it stops….

I am constantly on the road, looking for a variety of good, vegetarian, food choices. It can be depressing having limited choices and going back to the same restaurant time after time.

As I was waiting for my plane, I was walking through terminal D, and Baja Fresh caught my eye. I finished up the things I wanted to do and headed over. I ordered my burrito, pleased with the amount of things in it. A sign caught my eye – “Buy 9 get 1 FREE Entrée or Burrito*” – only I didn’t see the *. I paid for my meal and asked the cashier for a loyalty card. She said “Sure” and took out a card; stamped it, handed it to me and said “It’s only good for this location”. I said, “Really?, what’s the point of it then?” (I only go through Las Vegas once or twice a year, but am in other airports frequently). She told me that it was good for the workers at the airport.

Hey Baja Fresh. I get it. You know what, it does make sense. But perhaps there would be another way to market these promotions to the folks at the airport. I just handed over my money, haven’t tasted the food yet, and I walk away with a bad feeling before even trying what could potentially be the best veggie burrito I’ve ever had.

I took my food, couldn’t find a place to sit in the food court area, so I headed towards the gates, and found a block of seats open near a gate area. Put my stuff down, sat, opened the wrapper, put the aluminum foil and paper over my lap and started eating. I liked the taste, but also noticed that liquid had started dripping out the bottom as soon as I bit into it (not completely unexpected, that’s why I put the foil and paper in my lap). As I ate, more and more liquid came out the bottom, and then the bottom of the burrito started to give way because it was soaked and was breaking down. By the time I got to about halfway, the bottom had opened up, food had dropped out, and there was about a 1/4 cup of liquid that had accumulated in the makeshift plate in my lap.

I was thankful for 2 things:

1 – that I was on my way home and wearing jeans, and not on my way out to meet someone and wearing a suit. While the foil and paper helped, it wasn’t a plate, and while I tried not to, I inadvertently got some of the liquid on my jeans.

2 – that I had not taken it on the plane as I sometimes do on longer flights to make sure I get a reasonably decent meal, because it would probably had been a disaster.

Travelers of a vegetarian persuasion through the D terminal at Las Vegas McCarran airport take note. I liked the food, and it was priced along the lines of anything else you’d get while waiting at the airport. Just be sure to plan to eat it before getting on the plane, find a table to sit at, take plenty of napkins, and don’t bother with the promotional card (unless of course you frequent that airport terminal).

So we went to 99 Ranch Market in Plano yesterday after haircuts in Richardson. We hadn’t had anything to eat since our green goddess smoothies for breakfast earlier in the day. It was probably about 2:00 now, and we were walking around the store sampling things and saying “oh, let’s get this, oh let’s get that too!” (we actually DO know better than to shop when we’re hungry). We realized what we were doing once we stopped and looked at one of the products and said “why are we getting this again?”. We left the store to get something to eat.

It’s in a shopping center at 75 and Spring Valley, so there were a number of choices to try. We saw a restaurant called “Mr Tofu” – Korean BBQ and decided to try it, even though we had tried something with a similar name in Carrollton once and were fooled by the name. Looking over the menu, they did have some tofu dishes, with pork, with beef, with chicken, only one listed with veggies was a veggie soup with tofu. We told them “thanks, we changed our minds”, and instead went to a chinese restaurant there, Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant. What a GREAT choice!

Coming from New York to Texas many years ago, really good Chinese food was something we struggled to find. We finally did find a couple of places in Richardson that we frequent and are happy with.

We ordered Mongolian Tofu and Eggplant in Garlic Sauce (note, the eggplant was on the menu under “Tofu and Vegetables”. Other places, when we order it, it normally comes with pork, and we have to always ask for the pork to be left out. This was a nice change).

Wow. I mean, WOW. We took a few bites and were absolutely blown away. The tofu was in small bites, with a nice crunch to it, served with sautéed onions and some red peppers on a bed of crispy rice threads.

The eggplant in garlic sauce was by far the best I think I’ve had. The sauce was rich and flavorful with just enough “bite” to it after it went down. I don’t normally eat the white rice supplied with the meal, but at this sitting, it became an integral part of my meal, as I used it to sop up any remaining garlic sauce on my plate. Mary and I sat there as we were eating and kept saying how much we were enjoying it, and, after we left, continued to talk about how great it was. I don’t remember the last time a meal had that sort of effect on us.

After lunch, we went back to 99 Ranch Market, walked around mostly (we liked what we saw, by the way), and ended up not buying a thing ( reminded ourselves we absolutely MUST eat before we go shopping).

They have another location in Plano at Coit and Park (in the shopping center with Elliot’s Hardware) and we made plans to go there Friday night to celebrate Mary’s birthday. It’s closer to the house, and we’ll try something new (perhaps) I’m sure, but we’re interested to see how closely the items are made between one location to the other. From the information I’ve seen, the restaurants home base is in Seattle, and they’ve been around (in Seattle anyway) since 1992. Here’s hoping they keep a tight control on their recipes between locations. If for some reason we feel it’s not the same, we’ll go back to the one at 75 and Spring Creek, for sure.

What a great find. If you’re transplanted northerners like us and miss really good Chinese food. I would whole heartedly suggest that you try Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I wanted to congratulate all those that put in effort today to support the Dallas Vegan Bake Sale. It was held at the Beauty Bar Dallas on Henderson St from noon to 4 PM today.

I got there late (but I got there!), and there were a number of items remaining to get. I picked up a few, donated $20.00 (gave 5 bucks more, because I took a little extra!), couldn’t tell you how anything tasted yet, I promised my wife I’d wait until she got home from work before I tore into the goodies. They all looked absolutely wonderful, I’m certain they’ll taste great (that tends to happen with things made with love, huh?).

I spoke with Jade Degrio for a few moments (pictured below, holding up the paper bag), she told me she believed they had raised nearly $3000.00 to be donated for Japan relief.

An enthusiastic Jade behind the table

I was excited to be there and be a part of this. As a recent convert to a plant-based diet, I search out things like this to be around like-minded individuals. I also like to be around folks such as this that are younger than I am (quite a bit younger), because you can’t help but get swept up in the enthusiasm.

While it’s been made quite easy for all of us to contribute online to those in need (no small number), I like what’s been done here. It speaks of a community coming together to rally around something much bigger than themselves. In this day and age, it’s encouraging to see.

I know that many (particularly in my age group) still view vegans with a wary eye  (“those anti-war nuts”; “those people who just eat salad”). It’s sad to me. Sad because, after so many years of thinking a certain way, we don’t allow ourselves to be open to listening to other ways of thinking. It’s difficult at times for sure. We need to be willing to accept ideas that are probably very different from ours.

I loved what I saw today. People helping people. I’m going to be watching for more, and finding ways that I can be a little more involved. I’m not giving up my past, just looking forward to what’s ahead, and pretty sure it’s not going to be the same old thing.

I spend a good deal of time in Austin for work these days, and get “tweets” from all over the country. I see things like this many times over in other places. It’s time for Dallas to step up its game. Jade and all these other folks involved should be proud of themselves, I know I am.

Oh yeah! And since I contributed what I did, I got a raffle ticket! Maybe an additional goodie as well!

When you see this - keep walking

Went to Earth Day Dallas this afternoon. Took the train there so as not have to deal with traffic. Was a nice ride. Only mistake was that we didn’t eat before we left, so we were hungry when we got there.

Walked around some, with an eye towards finding something to eat. We didn’t see much to begin with, so when we saw Freebirds World Burritos stand, we figured we were in good shape. Not so much. They advertised a “veggie burrito”. Shame on us for not asking what was in them. They were $5 each, and $3 for a bottled water. We sat in the shade, and took off the aluminum foil wrapper. The tortilla itself was a nice green color, I figured cilantro lime or something of that nature. I hadn’t ever tried their Burritos before, so I was hopeful I had another good choice for a vegetarian meal. I bit into it and got white rice and some black beans, a piece of cilantro. Bit into it again, got white rice and some black beans. My wife said , “well maybe the sign said vegetarian burritos”. I said I didn’t think so. She was having the same experience. I was hungry and continued to eat. Got another bite of sticky rice and even less beans than previously. I HAD to say something.

I went back to their stand, and said to one of the ladies behind the counter, “these burritos don’t have any veggies in them”. She said “that’s right”. I said, “But I would expect veggie burritos to have veggies in them”. She said “Oh, well not everybody likes that.” I mumbled “What?” She said something to the effect that they have to appeal to many people, and not everyone like veggies in them. I said “vegetarians do, that’s why we get veggie burritos”. She then started to tell me something about “the standards”, and that they can’t offer them with veggies. I was getting completely confused. “You see,” she continued, “we can’t put everything in them, like some people don’t like onions, so we don’t put them in, because we have to please a lot of people”. I’m sure I had a pretty stupid look on my face at that point, as I couldn’t believe the nonsense she was passing on to me. I muttered an “ok?” and walked away, throwing the rest of it in the garbage.

Then my wife went over. She tried to explain to them how she felt that the way they had advertised it was misleading, and while she was sure they wouldn’t change it, they really should. At that point, a man that was in the booth next to them talking to someone else (I guess he was someone in authority, as he was wearing a “Freebirds World Burritos” T-shirt) spoke to my wife for a few moments. She left, came back over to where I was (tweeting to my massive 89 followers to be sure not to eat there if they went to the festivities) and threw the rest of hers away. The man came over to us and offered to give us our money back. “You see, in the store, people can choose what to put on them”. I told him that really wasn’t the point. I wasn’t having any of it. I told him I appreciated his effort, but I pay for what I eat, and that my disappointment was over the top as a result of this, and getting my money back wasn’t acknowledging what was going on. My wife told him again that while she was sure they should change the way they advertise them, she was pretty sure they wouldn’t. He didn’t say one way or the other, but just wanted to try to make it right. I thanked him again, but told him no thanks. He politely said, “well ok, enjoy the rest of your time at the event”. We thanked him and moved on.

Freebirds – I guess technically having beans in the burrito makes it a “veggie” burrito. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make it that  in my mind, or in the minds of many other people I know.  Please also take the time to train your people on site how to respond to complaints like this, rather than have them ramble on about something that I’m guessing they don’t understand themselves. It certainly made no sense to us.

You’re in business to make money – I get that. Don’t take advantage of a situation like this and sell something that for all intents and purposes is not what it’s advertised. Heck, if you can’t bother to do it right, don’t do it at all. I wasn’t looking for a mouthful of sticky carbs, I was expecting some sautéed vegetables.  Was it worth it to you for the 10 bucks? It wasn’t for me.  

The good part is, that before we left, we went to Chipoltle and got what we wanted – for less money.  

Earth Day Dallas is open tomorrow, Saturday, 4/23/2011. If anyone reading this happens to be going, if you see this booth in the picture above, do yourself a favor and keep walking by. About a block up there is an area with food trucks with much greater choices. If you do stop at their booth, please be sure to tell them that I DIDN’T send you there.

Check out this article from One Green Planet

As I write more and more, I find myself reaching further inside to share. I said in the beginning that this was to be about the path, not realizing that this journey is not so much about “a path”, but more so about the multiple paths taken, and just how much those paths affect one another. I also am more aware, as I’m going forward on these paths, just how much time I spend looking in the rear view mirror.

It started after a trip back east over Thanksgiving 2008. We had gone back to visit family. It was a chance for us to eat all the things we missed living in Texas. White Castle (not re-heated frozen, fresh off the grill); Ben’s Kosher Pastrami, matzoh ball soup, hot dog, fries; veal cutlet parmesan sandwich and rice balls from an italian salumeria; bacon and egg sandwiches on a true kaiser roll (with extra butter of course); Dunkin Donuts (there was none near us at the time). A real food fest. Put the Thanksgiving meal on top of that, lots of red wine, italian pastries, and the drive back and forth from Texas, man I couldn’t tell you how much weight I added to my already overweight body. Didn’t give my blood pressure or cholesterol any consideration, because, “hey, I’m taking medication for that”. Then there was all the food and drink leading up to, and on, Christmas day.

We had breakfast out the day after Christmas, and boy, that breakfast sat poorly with me all day. Didn’t feel like eating the rest of the day, although I did munch on snacks. Started drinking wine early, as it usually would help with my indigestion, no idea why (think it was an excuse to drink?). I got to a point where I still didn’t feel any better, and didn’t want to drink my wine (that’s incredible on its own).

I’m not sure what clicked, but something flipped that night.

My wife and I talked about it, and we decided to try to change. That included changing the way we ate, and taking alcohol out of the equation. She was working with a website trying to help her to lose weight. I checked it out, and found it provided me with tools I needed to help myself as well. I had tried losing weight on my own, as well as with Weight Watchers, to no avail. My mind was not “right” previously either, this time there was something different.

As an aside, I would recommend this site to anyone else looking for a different way to help themselves with regard to weight loss. It’s completely free, and the tools for tracking your food intake, support groups, exercise help, etc, are invaluable. It’s called sparkpeople – check it out if you’re so inclined.

Our first test? New Years Eve. We were determined. No alcohol. We passed! That was over two years ago, the new beginning, the first step on the path that brought us to the point we are today.

Hang in there, if you keep checking back, I promise I’ll spill my guts about the myriad of obstacles, both internal and external that threw themselves in front of us on our journey (if that intrigues you in some small way). 🙂