Monday, September 29, 2014

The Fourth Annual Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge Starts Wednesday

The best month to be a vegan in Sacramento is in October, which is when the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge takes place. Throughout the month, local restaurants will be offering a special vegan dinner menu that includes an appetizer or soup, main course, and dessert. Some restaurants will also serve brunch. Diners will be able to vote on dishes in a variety of categories. Bethany Davis, the organizer of this event, and her team have lined up sixteen restaurants to take part this year. Participating restaurants include some Challenge favorites, as well as a few newcomers:

* 58 Degrees & Holding Co.
* Abyssinia
* Baagan
* Blackbird Kitchen+Beer Gallery
* Broderick Roadhouse
* Capital Dime
* Capitol Garage
* Evan's Kitchen
* Fahrenheit 250 BBQ
* Hook & Ladder
* Lou's Sushi
* El Papagayo
* Pizza Rock
* The Porch
* Shine
* Tower Bridge Bistro

This is our chance to remind local chefs that there's a significant vegan community in Sacramento. If large numbers of us dine at these restaurants and order from their special menus in October, maybe more chefs will consider offering vegan options year-round.

I'm going to try to visit all of these restaurants during the Challenge, and I'll blog about them within a day or two after each meal so you'll have a chance to see what's on the menu. I hope to see many of you out there!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Roaming Spoon's Vegan Farm-to-Fork Dinner

I was really excited about Sacramento's farm-to-fork movement when I first heard about the concept. I thought it would be all about the fabulous fruits and vegetables that are available year-round from small farms in our region.

Not so much. "Farm-to-fork" seems to have morphed into what I call "ranch-to-fork," complete with pig roasts to feed the masses, while expensive meat-centric meals are served to the elite in an annual dinner that takes place on the Tower Bridge. Special farm-to-fork meals are available during Restaurant Weeks in trendy eateries all over town, but I've seen very few vegan options on any of those menus. I was beginning to think I was going to have to sleep through September, just waking up in time for the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge in October.

But then Chef Sylvanna Mislang of The Roaming Spoon came through with a six-course vegan farm-to-fork pop-up dinner, and my month was saved.

The Roaming Spoon's pop-up dinners are intimate gatherings, with no more than twelve diners sitting together at one long table. The location varies, with diners informed by email on the day of the event about where the dinner will be held. The cuisine is always vegan, and if you want wine with your meal, you bring it yourself.

Last night's dinner was held at The Mill in midtown. Guests were welcomed with a pear and champagne cocktail and mingled briefly until the dinner began. Chef Syl came out at the beginning of each course to introduce the dish that was being served.

The first course was a trio of roasted peppers, dressed with lemon and served with tiny edible flowers and a line of smoked salt. Only the bravest people at the table ate the small fiery red peppers, but everyone enjoyed the flavors of the other peppers in the trio.

Next, we had a salad of avocado, shaved carrot strips, arugula, and black salt. The produce for this and all the menu items was incredibly fresh and seemed to have been picked at its peak, probably due in no small part to the expertise of Chef Syl, who works in the produce department of Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and has built relationships with the proprietors of several local farms.

The third course was a huge favorite with the assembled guests. It consisted of zucchini ribbons, cherry tomatoes, microgreens, basil, and the pièce de résistance -- "meatballs" made from eggplant, white bean paste, and Panko crumbs. They were the best vegan meatballs I've ever eaten, and judging from the comments around the table, I'm not the only person who thought so.

Our next course was a cheese plate, with crostini slices, a wedge of deliciously creamy cashew cheese, and grapes. So good!

Our cheese plate was followed by a palate cleanser, consisting of bites of sweet cantaloupe topped with a "caviar" of tapioca soaked in watermelon juice.

Dessert was a lovely crème brûlée made of almond milk, sugar, and kaffir leaves. It provided a superb ending to a fabulous meal.

This was the second Roaming Spoon dinner I've attended, and I would happily attend many more. If you haven't had one of these special meals yet, I strongly recommend that you treat yourself to this unique experience soon.

More information about The Roaming Spoon is available at or on Facebook at You can also follow The Roaming Spoon on Twitter at

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dad's Kitchen

Dad's Kitchen is a popular Curtis Park/Land Park restaurant that's been featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. While the main attraction for the television show was the Dad's Burger, the restaurant also offers a few items that can easily be made vegan.

I stopped in over the weekend for lunch with my husband Phil. As it turned out, brunch was being served and the only item I could eat on the brunch menu was the Veggie Burger, which was different from most of the veggie burgers I've eaten. This one is a grilled quinoa patty, served with lettuce, tomato, and bell pepper. I asked that the cheese and jalapeno aioli be omitted, and I also had them leave off the crispy onions, which are fried in some type of batter that I assumed would include milk or egg. Even without those ingredients, the burger was a very filling meal. As an added bonus, Dad's Kitchen serves kombucha on tap, so I had a cold glass of Kombucha Kulture's lavendar kombucha with my brunch.

If you're there for a weekday lunch, other menu options might include the Veggie Bean Taco appetizer without the cheese, Spicy Veggie Bean Chili, the Portabella Sandwich without cheese or aioli, or the Green Machine sandwich without cream cheese. The dinner menu includes Dad's Spaghetti with marinara sauce and quinoa balls, or the Veggie Delight (grilled quinoa on pita bread with red pepper hummus). Whatever you order, be sure to let the server know you're vegan so they can ask the chef to make the necessary adjustments.

The Dad's Kitchen location I visited is at 2968 Freeport Boulevard, and their phone number is 916-447-3237. Their website address is, and their Facebook page can be found at The restaurant is open Tuesday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. There is a second Dad's Kitchen at 8928 Sunset Avenue in Fair Oaks, and their phone number is 916-241-9365.

Dad's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 8, 2014

Coffee Garden

Every so often, I walk from my house to Coffee Garden on Franklin Boulevard. I don't drink coffee, but it's nice to sit there with a glass of iced tea and read a book or do a little writing.

When I was there last week, I checked their menu to see if there was anything for a vegan to have for lunch. I ordered the Vegetarian Sandwich, without the cheese or mayonnaise. The cashier asked if I was vegan, and when I told her I was, she explained that the bread they use for the sandwich isn't vegan, but they can substitute sourdough. She also said the chips that come with the sandwich aren't vegan either, but they could replace them with raw vegetables. Perfect!

I noticed a vegan dessert in the bakery case, so I had to order it, of course. This vegan Coconut Creme tasted as good as it looks!

It looks like other items on the Coffee Garden menu could easily be made vegan. The Greek Salad could be ordered without the feta cheese, for example, and the croutons could be omitted from the House Salad if they aren't vegan. And for those of you who are coffee drinkers, soy milk is available at an additional cost.

Coffee Garden is located at 2904 Franklin Boulevard, and their phone number is 916-457-5507. Their website address is, and their Facebook page can be found at The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., and Sunday from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Coffee Garden on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 1, 2014

Joe Caribé Bistro & Cafe

My husband Phil and I drove to Auburn this weekend so I could check out Joe Caribé Bistro & Cafe, a restaurant with Caribbean cuisine. There were a couple of menu items I especially wanted to try, and rather than choosing between them, I just ordered both and brought home lots of leftovers.

For starters, I ordered a plate of fabulous Yellow Curry Noodles. I'm not sure, but I don't think I've ever had curry noodles before. I always think of curry as a rice dish. These noodles were served in a mild coconut curry sauce and topped with snap peas, onion, dried papaya, and peanuts. They were so good!

I also ordered the Vegetarian Burrito, with no cheese. It was filled with black beans and rice, which were good, but what really made this burrito were the added whipped sweet potatoes and island slaw. I don't remember the last time I enjoyed a burrito so much.

I don't have much occasion to go to Auburn, but I enjoyed the food at Joe Caribé so much that I'll look for opportunities to go back. Maybe next time I'll try the Veggie Curry, which is served over quinoa, or the Vegetarian Curry Burrito. Either way, I know I can't go wrong!

Joe Caribé Bistro & Cafe is located at 13470 Lincoln Way in Auburn, and their phone number is 530-823-5333. Their website address is and their Facebook page can be found at The restaurant is open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Joe Caribe on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy Hour at Downtown & Vine

Lately, when I've wanted to go out with friends for drinks, I've discovered that it isn't that easy to find restaurants with vegan options on their happy hour menus. Tapa the World and Kasbah are vegan-friendly, as is Capital Dime, but most happy hour menus seem to have nothing for vegans.

Last week, when I was searching the Internet for a suitable place to meet my friends Cathie and Bonnie for happy hour, I came across Downtown & Vine, a wine bar on K Street. They didn't have an actual happy hour menu, but their regular menu included several small plates with vegan options. The first thing we ordered was Kate's Hummus, which was served with a beautiful assortment of raw vegetables. We also ordered a side of baguette slices to go with it.

We also had Marcona Almonds and Bruschetta. Other vegan items we could have ordered included the House Olive Mix, Baguette & Round Pond Olive Oil, and Kettle Potato Chips.

If you're looking for something more substantial, they also have a very nice Vegetarian Sandwich, made with hummus, roasted eggplant, red pepper, artichoke, and arugula.

If you're wondering whether the wines are vegan, the resource I use is Barnivore. Unfortunately, most of the wines served at Downtown and Vine haven't been checked out yet by Barnivore. The Domaine Carneros (Taittinger) sparkling wines are listed as vegan-friendly, however, so I had a lovely Brut.

Downtown & Vine is located at 1200 K Street, Suite 8, and their phone number is 916-228-4518. Their website address is, and their Facebook page can be found at The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from noon to 9:00 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from noon to 10:00 p.m.

Downtown & Vine on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 18, 2014

Can Healthy Soil Save Us from Climate Change?

Recently, I attended an event at Sun & Soil Juice Co. to hear from author Kristin Ohlson about her new book, The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet. The event was a fundraiser for Green Restaurants Alliance Sacramento (GRAS), which, among other things, collects green waste for composting from local restaurants through its ReSoil Sacramento program.

I settled in with one of Sun & Soil Juice Co.'s delicious Royal Turmeric Bomb smoothies (orange, banana, mango, coconut milk, coconut oil, turmeric, and ginger) and listened to Kristin Ohlson talk about carbon farming, the practice of building up carbon in the soil to create a healthier environment for plant growth. The plants then pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which helps to reduce and mitigate the effects of climate change. In her research for The Soil Will Save Us, Ohlson visited farms and rangelands in several U.S. states, Zimbabwe, and Australia, and saw firsthand the results of various strategies to create healthier, more carbon-rich soil.

The scientists, farmers, and land managers she spoke with had discovered that many common agricultural practices contribute to the degradation of the soil. I think most vegans are aware of the problems caused by monoculture farming and the use of pesticides, but even seemingly benign actions such as tilling the soil or applying fertilizer destroy the microorganisms that are essential to the creation of healthy soil. According to Ohlson's sources, better options would include no-till planting, sowing a variety of cover crops, rotating animal grazing plots, and spreading the residue from the previous year's planting over the land to reduce erosion and to nourish the soil. The farms Ohlson visited that followed these practices had less need (or no need) for pesticides and fertilizer, and thrived even during times of limited rainfall.

Following Ohlson's talk, the GRAS and ReSoil Sacramento staff led the event's attendees on a walking tour to demonstrate the steps they are taking to help create healthy soil. ReSoil Sacramento picks up kitchen scraps from local restaurants like Sun & Soil Juice Co. and takes them by bicycle to an Earth Tub composting unit at Hot Italian.

When the compost is ready, ReSoil Sacramento delivers it to various local farms or community gardens. The one we visited on our walking tour was a large backyard garden called Midtown Freedom Farm, where partners Adam and Jehfree welcomed us with homemade refreshments and a tour of their garden.

Both the talk and the walking tour were very enlightening for me. As someone with no gardening talents, I tend to forget how much work goes into producing the food we eat, so I appreciated the hands-on demonstration the walking tour provided.

I was especially uplifted, though, by Kristin Ohlson's optimistic view that something as basic as healthy soil could help to save us from the dangers of climate change. The Soil Will Save Us provides a fascinating and forward-looking perspective on a subject that's vital to our survival. I recommend it to not only those who work with the land, but those who care about the future of our planet.