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!

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.

Went to Mama Pita Mediterranean Grill for dinner tonight. Mary got a groupon for it, and it’s near where we like to get some cake and coffee on Bishop Rd in Plano, so why not? There were choices of a platter, a wrap and a pita (the picture of the pita was covered with a sign saying “coming soon”). We both got the platter. Understand, I’m first skeptical whenever I go into any restaurant like this. We lived in Greece for 2 years after we were first married, so anything “Greek”, my mind goes to memories. To be fair, I have not found a Greek restaurant that compares at all to what we had in Greece. It kinda makes sense. It’s Greece. Most of the food memories come with experiences never to be repeated. No place could live up to that.

Things started off a little shaky, as the young man behind the counter seemed a little unsure of himself, and our hearing not being what it used to be, we proclaimed “I’m sorry. What did you say? I couldn’t quite hear you” a number of times. But we got through that part of the process with us leaning a bit more towards him, and he spoke slightly louder.

We were able to get a couple of dips (I passed on the tzatziki, as we make that at home, and can be cruel with our comparisons), I chose the red beet humus and the carrot humus. Then got fattouch (kind of a Greek salad) Feta cheese on top, and some orzo. We both got falafel. It came also with a warm tortilla (it could be called something else, it wasn’t a pita in my mind, as when I think of pita, I think of a traditional pocket pita). We walked away with full plates.

I was very pleased with the food. I enjoyed the red beet and carrot humus, a sweeter taste than the traditional humus (which they also have as a choice). The salad was nice, cold, crisp, and tart. I enjoyed the orzo as well. I’m usually one for warm orzo dishes, but this was a real flavorful cold side dish. The warm tortilla was nice to wipe up the humus with. The falafel had a great brown exterior that gave a great crunch when biting into it. We got tahini sauce to dip the falafel in, as well as some cilantro dipping sauce. They were both very good, the tahini done very well, and the cilantro very flavorful, although not the one I’d use to dip my falafel into (I dipped my remaining pieces of tortilla in it). Very nice.

With the groupon coupon, we paid less than $8.00 overall (including the cost of the coupon), but even without the coupon, for the amount of food we had, and the flavors in it, I think it’s a great value. We had water with our meal, but they also have teas, soft drinks and serve alcohol. I would definitely go back.

The only thing I’m at a loss about is the “coming soon” pita thing (Mary said “you’re not bringing that up are you? You’d better be nice!” I’ll be nice, I’ll be nice, I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself). Before we left, I asked one of the young men behind the counter when they expected to get pitas. He told me he wasn’t sure. I asked how long they had been open, he told me about a year. The pita is still “coming soon”. As I said, it was a great meal, and I’d go back without hesitation, but if the pita isn’t going to be “coming soon”, maybe it’s time to take it down from the menu? I like having pita pockets with my falafel and humus, pulls it all together for me, so when I go back, if it it’s still “coming soon”, I’m sure I’ll again ask “when?”

In addition to the choice of falafel there are meat choices and a veggie choice. Great meal. Enjoy.