Viva Las Vegan!

I just returned from a quick trip to Vegas and I thought I’d give you my culinary diary while I was there. From a vegan diet perspective, the choices were better than I expected. From a plant-based diet view, the choices were not exactly on plan and I’ll explain why and what the differences were.

We arrived on Sunday evening, and with a three hour time change, we were starving! Let me backtrack by saying that I did a lot of research before our trip and found the Vegans,baby  website extremely helpful in deciding which restaurants to choose.  We used a Groupon for dinner on Sunday night at SEA, The Thai Experience. SEA is located in the Bally’s Casino. We had eaten there on a previous trip, so we were familiar with the food and knew it would be a good choice. Our Groupon was for 2 appetizers and 2 entrees. For my appetizer, I chose the coconut spring roll, and I ordered the Malay Massaman Curry with Tofu for my entree. The spring rolls were fried, so probably not the healthiest choice-but it’s vacay, right? My curry dish was very good, although I did have to send it back because the spice level was too high when I had ordered it “mild”. The staff was very attentive and took care of it right away.

Day 2 of my culinary adventure brought me to Cañonita at the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. Cañonita is situated on the Canal and we had a beautiful table next to the water and throughout lunch, we were serenaded by the Gondeliers. It was lunch and a show! The menu didn’t offer too many vegan options, and I chose the Herbed Mushroom Tacos and made sure there was no dairy added. It’s very typical of Mexican restaurants to add “crema” on their dishes-so I always ask. The soft corn tortilla tacos were served with cilantro rice and black beans. If we hadn’t started our meal with the basket of chips, then this would’ve been my healthiest meal of the trip.

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After some serious steps walking The Strip (25,000+) on my step counter, it was time for dinner. Again, after consulting Vegans, Baby, I made a reservation at Stack, located in the Mirage Hotel.  Before our trip, I scanned the menu carefully and saw that there were multiple vegan offerings. When we were seated and I opened the menu, my heart sank because I didn’t see any of those menu items. Could they have changed their menu that suddenly? This is a steakhouse-clearly not what I had in mind. I quickly flagged down the waiter and asked where the vegan menu was and he brought me the separate menu (whew!). My dinner choice here was the “Chicken” Piccata and a side order of Roasted Wild Mushrooms. The “chicken” was Gardein “chicken” transformed into the most flavorful dish I’ve ever had. The chicken was served on top of peewee potatoes and cauliflower florets, all garnished with a creamy, lemony piccata sauce and lots of capers. It was delicious. My side order of roasted wild mushrooms was a very generous bowl, enough to share with my carnivorous dinner companion/husband!

And just like that, it’s our last day in Vegas. I spent most of the afternoon at the Fashion Show Mall, mostly browsing the hundreds of shops and again, accumulating thousands of steps on my step counter app. Lunch today was a little disappointing. I had high hopes of finding a really innovative and plant based restaurant at the mall, but all I found were chain restaurants that don’t exactly cater to vegan or plant based diners. I settled for a hummus and falafel wrap in the Food Court, where I had to have them re-make my salad without cheese (story of my life). The falafel was very tasty and although it was fried, it wasn’t greasy. After being refueled, I was ready to make the long trek back to my hotel and rest my feet.

Dinner on our last night was at Jardin, located in the Encore Hotel. This was my favorite meal of the trip-because of the food and the atmosphere. The decor is just beautiful.  The mid-century modern decor was what I’d call upscale Brady Bunch. The tables are white lacquer with a gold veining running through and the chairs were chunky and covered in white leather. The tables and chairs made a fabulous contrast against the bright floral mosaic tiled floor. The while ceiling and rotunda were certainly designed to bring in the light and make you feel as though you are in your own private garden.

The food was just as spectacular as the furnishings. I chose the Mushroom Tartine as my starter and the Kale and Spinach Ravioli for my entree. Our server told me that the Mushroom Tartine, was one of the most popular menu items (even though it’s vegan!). I was served with three large pieces of sourdough bread which was topped with an artisan asmod milk cheese, a marsala glaze and mushrooms with a truffle vinaigrette-it was so delicious.  My ravioli entree was a gorgeous green pasta filled with a vegan almond ricotta-topped with roasted mushrooms and pine nuts and served over a red pepper puree.  A magnificent way to end our getaway to Vegas.

As I mentioned earlier, my meals were Vegan, but not necessarily Plant-Based. I certainly met the criteria for avoiding any animal products, but most everything I ate was cooked with oil-which goes against the plant-based philosophy. I do adhere to the plant based way of eating at home, but for a vacation, I allow myself to indulge. As soon as I’m home, I go right back to my plant based plan. And I’m okay with that–it’s all about balance and enjoying your life.

I hope this helps you if there’s a Vegan trip in your future. What restaurants have you found that serve spectacular vegan food? Leave me a comment!  And I’ll see you soon in the kitchen!

Heidi

Living in a (non)plant based world

Ahhh…imagine walking into any restaurant and seeing so many choices that you couldn’t possibly make up your mind. The appetizer section has whole wheat crostini topped with a dairy free pesto and brown rice paper spring rolls filled with just veggies. For the entrees there’s bbq tempeh and seitan piccata, or your choice of stir fry with tofu. The dessert list has sorbet and fresh fruit and not a single buttercream topped cupcake or death by chocolate brownie sundae. Have you seen this place? Yeah, neither have I. This is the restaurant in my dreams! But, the tide is turning.

Last week, I was a guest at the Empty Bowls at Lakewood Ranch- a fundraising event to benefit Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee County. It was billed as the “longest lunch table” It’s mission is to unite one table to envision hunger relief together in Manatee County.  When attendees arrived  at the event (for a $30 ticket), they were given an envelope with several tickets and 3 small tasting cups. The first ticket was to pick out their bowl. Beneath a massive tent were hundreds of hand painted ceramic bowls that volunteers and board members created for the event. After choosing the bowl, you then moved on to a long table filled with soup pots from more than a dozen local restaurants. You were able to sample 3 soups with your mini cup and when you decided on your “bowl”, you turned in your ticket for your soup. In addition, there were bread slices and water to compliment the soup as well as some dessert options. Once you had your soup, it was time to join a large community table and enjoy!

This was my first time attending an event like this and I was very impressed. Initially, I was worried that there wouldn’t be any soup for me. ( I could hear the soup Nazi in my head saying “No Soup for YOU”). But, I was pleasantly surprised that I had 3 really great options in that pool of restaurants. I spoke to the man from Spacco Italian Grill who was serving Pasta Faglioli-which he promised me had no meat and no dairy and was cooked in vegetable broth. It was delicious and he also assured me that when I come to his restaurant, there are vegan options on his menu. There were two other vendors who provided plant based soup choice. There was a roasted garlic bisque from Ortygia and a healing vegetable soup from Jubilee Organics. The Pasta Faglioli was definitely my favorite!

And all of this gives me a positive feeling that restaurants are starting to take notice and offering healthier options for their guests. There is definitely a need for more fully plant based restaurants.  Let’s hope that this trend continues. If you’ve had a positive experience at a restaurant, let them know they are doing a great job. When I have a great meal and the staff is accommodating to my needs, I tell them. Let’s keep this going and hopefully someday we will see plant based foods as mainstream menu items.

See you in the kitchen (or restaurant) soon,

Heidi