My Asian Dumpling Obsession, and a Recipe

15 04 2012

Vegetable Dumplings at HanGawi in NYC

If you read last week’s post, you got a peek at my fabulous macrobiotic meal at a restaurant named Mana. We shared two kinds of steamed dumplings, one filled with a mash of lightly curried sweet potatoes, the other stuffed with greens and vegetables. This was not my first dumpling experience in the Big City. In fact, pretty much every time there is a veggie dumpling on a menu, I order it. The photo above is of a lovely veggie dumpling I had at the vegan Korean restaurant HanGawi, just a few days before. Although they are somewhat obscured by lightly steamed broccoli florets, you can see that they are folded in a tortellini-style shape. They were filled with tender greens, and perched on a puddle of sweet-sour hot sauce.

I couldn’t stop there, and when I had dinner at The Spice Market, a Jean Georges Vongerichten restaurant, I had another version. This time, they bobbed in a tasty soup.

Fresh Pea Soup with Sweet-Pea Miso Dumplings (sorry, it was dark)

This was definitely an upscale soup, a sweet and subtle puree of absolutely fresh, shelled peas, with a few chopped greens and herbs. The dumplings were tiny and tender, filled with miso-spiked pea puree. It was a celebration of the English Pea, a seasonal and fleeting delight. It was delicious.

Of course, then came the dumplings at Mana, where we shared them, dipped in tasty soy-based sauces.

Macrobiotic Veggie Dumplings

When you come right down to it, a plump, juicy dumpling is irresistible. Little pillows of deliciousness that they are, they are like a present, specially wrapped just for you. The sauce is the bow on top. You get to eat them with your fingers, if you want, or pick them up with chopsticks, which is also pretty playful. So, if you can see where this is all leading, I thought I should make some steamed veggie dumplings when I got home.

Steamed Chinese Style Veggie Dumplings at Home

Steamed Chinese-Style Vegetable Dumplings

I’ve made versions of this recipe for years, and found that they benefit from the complexity and funk that a bit of preserved or pickled cabbage adds. I used easy to find wonton skins in the photo, which are thinner, and kind of flop over in the steamer, but are just as yummy. If you are vegan, look at the ingredients on your wrappers, many brands are actually egg-free.

1 package potsticker or gyoza wrappers
canola oil
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup szechuan preserved vegetables or kimchee, rinsed and minced (not everyone has access to szechuan veggies, but kimchee is close enough)
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups minced bok choy
1 cup chinese chives, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch white pepper
2 tablespoons shao xing rice wine or sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

vinegar, chili sauce, and soy sauce

1. Use 1 teaspoon of the oil to stir fry the vegetables until almost wilted. Add salt, pepper, wine, soy sauce, and sugar, cook until thick. Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl and cool completely.
2. To assemble, get a pastry brush and a cup of water, and a steamer or plate, and cut some parchment pieces for each dumpling. Lay out several wrappers and place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center of each. Brush the top half of each wrap and pull the two sides up around the filling, and form a flat bottom. Pleat the top edge and set each on a piece of parchment on the steamer. Cover with plastic as you go. These can be covered and refrigerated for a few hours, or frozen raw to be cooked frozen.
3. To cook, set up to steam. When the water is boiling, put the steamer over it, cover, and steam for about 8 minutes. When the dumpling wrappers are tender and the veggies are hot all the way in the center, they are done.  Let diners mix the three condiments to suit their tastes on the plate.

With a little Sriracha

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Ask For the Vegan Menu at Amazing Thailand

20 02 2012

Soft Springrolls, Sweet Peanut Sauce

I love teaching cooking classes, for many reasons. One of the fun things is that the students often clue me in on restaurants that offer alternative menus. Since I do so much cooking at home, I am usually way behind the curve when it comes to restaurants, so it’s a huge help. This strange phenomenon of the secret special menu is really quite baffling; it’s as if restaurants don’t want the general public to think they are into vegans or something, or that they make weird gluten free food, so they keep it on the need-to-know basis. When I teach gluten-free, I always learn about some new places that are hiding a whole gluten-free menu behind the counter, that my hungry attendees have ferreted out and shared through the grapevine. This happened recently at a vegan class, when I heard a rumor that one of the better-reviewed Thai restaurants in Minneapolis had an actual Vegan Menu.

The restaurant, located in Uptown across from Calhoun Square, is called Amazing Thailand. It’s a nice place, with dark wood booths and interesting Thai wall decor. And a special, printed, laminated vegan menu, available on request. Awesome. And, in fairness, the vegan menu is on the website, if you can get it to open. But you don’t get it at the restaurant unless you ask.

They say that once you see something three times, it’s a trend, so I am calling it a trend. I dined in Bend Oregon in a Thai restaurant that had a vegan menu, and some years before, sampled vegan options on a menu in Eugene. Veganizing Thai food is not hard, really, so it makes sense. Vegans are already into eating tofu, mock duck, and all the peanuts you can sprinkle on top. Leaving out the fish sauce and eggs still leaves you with loads of flavor and texture.

So, just grab a Thai cookbook and take a look. If there is fish sauce, use soy sauce. Sugar? Vegan sugar or agave. Curry or shrimp pastes? Well, there are vegan curry pastes, Thai Kitchen is one that has no secret fishy ingredients. Shrimp pastes are basically used for their umami, and add salt, and often a dose of chiles. Try a dab of really dark miso instead, and adjust the heat. Eggs? Just whisk up some arrowroot and water to bind things like Pad Thai and thicken the sauce. Then, rely on the flavors of lime, chile, tamarind, palm sugar, soy sauce and coconut milk for a mouthful of Thai goodness. And don’t forget the peanuts.

Spicy Noodles, YUM

At Amazing Thailand, I had the vegetable springrolls, which were pretty much the usual thing. Rice noodles, lettuce, carrots, cilantro, in rice wraps with a sweet peanut sauce. I love those. It would be nice if they offered to throw some tofu in, but why quibble. Then I ordered “Spicy Noodles” with mock duck. The description just listed the veggies in it, so it was kind of a mystery. As you can see in the photo above, the noodles, which look like tubular pasta, were a stretchy rice sheet that had been rolled up and sliced in wide pieces, some of which unrolled, most did not. They were deliriously tender and elastic, and coated in a tangy, spicy sauce. Cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, onions and chiles were swimming alongside the mock duck, which seemed to have been coated with a blend of exotic spice, almost like five-spice. I got medium, which was pleasantly sinus-clearing hot.

The Vegan menu also offers a papaya salad, which can be vegan in Thai style, but my companion got Lao style which is only different in that it has fish sauce. Here is a picture of that. All accounts were that it was delicious.

Tangy-Hot Papaya Salad

It’s interesting that with an under-served vegan market out there, hungry for dinner, so few restaurants are interested in selling them food. Take a trip to Either coast, and there will be actual all-vegan restaurants, as well as plentiful vegan options in other, good restaurants. Here in Minneapolis, we have only one totally vegan restaurant, Ecopolitan, which is also a raw restaurant.

It’s fine by me that places cater to both vegan and omnivorous customers. I get it that they are trying to keep everybody in the party happy, and stay in business. Still, vegans are out there. It’s not that hard to figure out how to make some really good vegan food, and print a menu. Praise to the enterprising restaurateurs who are making things just a little differently so that vegans can enjoy their cuisine.

Now if I only had more time to go out to eat, I could find all the secret menus.





Austin, Weird and Wonderful with IACP

12 06 2011

Veg Authors at Koriente:Ann, Me, Jill and Ellen

One of the best things about writing cookbooks is that I belong to a unique community of food professionals. We food writers can lead a strangely solitary existence, staying home to test recipes and type, or indulge in the unnatural act of photographing our food so that we can post about it.

Seriously, think about it, the correct response to a plateful of hot food is to dig in, not to grab your cell phone to snap a shot, or set up a tripod and start aiming lights at it.

But once a year, I break away from my kitchen and go to a conference with my fellow food people, the International Association of Culinary Professionals. The group is open to anybody making a living in food, so there are restaurant chefs, writers, editors, publishers, teachers, historians, TV and video producers, photographers and stylists, manufacturers of food and cookware, representatives of various foodstuffs, and more. Every year a different host city organizes a bunch of events to show off their food scene, and we converge on the city to take a big bite of what they have to offer.

This year, we traveled to Austin Texas, where a thriving alternative food scene co-exists with Texas barbecue and longnecks. “Keep Austin Weird” is a local slogan, and I’m all for it. One of our speakers was Jim Hightower, http://www.jimhightower.com/an outspoken populist who counts food activism as part of his mission in life. I’ve always been a fan, and he delivered a funny, heartfelt talk about the importance of fighting for our food supply. His humorous one-liners and wry way with absurdity kept the crowd laughing at the early morning session, even as he talked about sustainable food and regulating the corporations that make our food supply less safe. I even got to ask him about the NRDC lawsuit I wrote about in last weeks post, and he was optimistic that the effort to ban antibiotics from animal feed could be won.

Jim Hightower, Fighting For the Common Eater

Another seminar, a panel lead by Kim O”Donnel, author of the Meat Lovers Meatless Cookbook, centered on the Changing Place of Meat on the Plate. This was a discussion about sustainable meat, more than vegetarianism, although Meatless Mondays and cutting back on meat were definitely promoted. Panelist Ralph Loglisi, from the Center for a Livable Future, was there to bring the facts about our unsustainable levels of meat consumption to light. He blogs here: http://www.livablefutureblog.com/

I also went to lots of seminars on things like how to do a good TV spot, demonstrated by Ellie Krieger, how to be a good radio guest, with Kathy Gunst, how to edit video for blogs, with bloggers Chef John and Average Betty and videographer Daniel Klein http://www.theperennialplate.com/, and more. There was a seminar on the new electronic world of cookbooks, and there were cooking demonstrations by John Besh and Jacques Pepin that were entertaining and inspiring.

A favorite moment was when a blogger told Jacques Pepin she was glad to see he had a twitter account, and he replied, “I do?” and after the laughter, she asked how he adapts to the new world of social media, and with his Gallic nonchalance, he replied, “I don’t.” Of course, Jacques will be fine, letting someone else write his tweets and letting the brave new world of e-books and apps court him, while the rest of us have gotten the message that the internets and social networks are a vital part of reaching our audiences, so we gladly attend seminars on blogging and tweeting.

And in between all this, I got to spend time with some of the smartest, funnest people I know, the collection of dear friends from all over the world that I have connected with at IACP for years now. There were dinners at gourmet destinations like Parkside and Fonda San Miguel, a food truck party, a reception at the Art Museum with local fare, and I even got to make a break to the Austin Farmers Market.

Locally Grown Seaweed

A unique offering was this stand, where a young man with a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology, named Lewis Weill, sells cultivated Ogonori, a variety of sea vegetable. The fine, crisp strands of ogonori were a revelation, so unlike the dried kinds of sea vegetables that I have always loved. Lewis has a day job as a biologist, and in his spare time, grows this nutritious veggie in tanks of purified water enriched with salt and minerals to to make a cleaner version of sea water. He is an unassuming visionary, who wants to save the oceans and also provide a clean seaweed that isn’t bathed in the pollution that has become a problem in wild-harvested sea plants.

One lunch that I organized was to bring together the vegan and vegetarian food writers for a veg meal. I invited Ann Gentry, chef and owner of Real Food Daily in Los Angeles and author of Vegan Family Meals, Jill Nussinow, the Veggie Queen, author of The Veggie Queen, Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment, and The New Fast Food, The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 Minutes, and Ellen Kanner, author of the Hungry Ghost and Edgy Veggie, who pens a Meatless Mondays column for Huffington Post, a syndicated column  The Edgy Veggie, and freelances for publications like EveryDay with Rachel Ray Bon Appetit and Culinate.

We walked over to a wonderfully weird little spot called Koriente, where a Korean cooking style blends with a whole foods approach, and most of the menu is vegan, although meat and fish are available. We all really enjoyed the brown rice and fresh veggies, and Korean hot sauce and nori.

a Summer Roll with Hummus

Brown Rice Bimibap

Brown rice and veggies really hit the spot after a few days of rich food, and sitting with these stars of the veg world was a rare treat. This small group of women who live, write and cook to promote a plant-based worldview are usually operating thousands of miles from each other, and it was great to get these moments to share. These are changing times, and we are all seeing the interest in vegan and veg food growing, and that is cause for celebration.

Thanks Austin, and thanks to all my IACP brethren for a good time. I’m inspired and educated, and most importantly, connected to some amazing people.

Oh, and my publisher, Chronicle Books, threw a lively party to announce this years new releases, and I got to see the cover of my upcoming book!

Yes, It's Big!





Chain Restaurants Mainstream The Veg Option

3 04 2011

Home of the Balsamic Tomato Bruschetta

Veggie Diners have always had challenges in getting a good meal in a restaurant, especially a mainstream chain restaurant. Things got markedly better when salad bars became popular, if you can remember back that far. My meatless life used to mean choosing between fries or a shake, back in the late 70’s in a small town. Even now, a social event at a chain restaurant may mean politely noshing on a few onion rings or a side salad just to enjoy the company.

But according to Restaurant News, casual dining chains are making the bold move of offering a vegetarian option. Places like the Hard Rock Cafe, Stonefire Grill and California Pizza Kitchen are now putting a few meatless dishes on their menus, in response to customer requests.

We can thank the Meatless Mondays campaign, which has given flexitarian dining a hook.

Many of the chain restaurants cite the Meatless Mondays campaign, and are now offering more meat free dishes for customers who want to have that flexitarian choice. Customers have also made their voices heard by requesting gluten free and lower fat options as well.

It’s high time. Those of us who live in metropolitan areas may forget how hard it is to eat healthfully in the chains and small town restaurants that the other half of America has to choose from. These changes didn’t come about to serve 1% of the population that call themselves vegetarian. These menu items are for the crossover crowd.

It marks a shift in thinking, which has been a hard one to achieve. The idea of going out and not eating meat is really hard to get people to accept. Even people who might not eat it every single meal at home see a trip to a restaurant as a splurge. Triple-stacked burgers with all kinds of bacon, cheese and mayo are way more than most people would make at home, and that is their appeal.

So what are the new menu items, designed to tempt the flexitarians on Mondays? Don’t expect anything less mainstream than the rest of the menu, with veggie burgers, grilled veggies, veggie pizzas and lasagnas and simple tomato bruschetta. Pasta is always easy to make veg friendly. Vegan, well, there is another story. You might be able to get some of these with no cheese, no mayo and see what happens.

Still, it’s a good step in the right direction. Maybe if these things keep selling, we will see some more creative, more vegan-friendly choices in casual dining. And don’t forget, these changes come about because customers ask for them. Ask for whole grains, and meatless options, and who knows, the menu may change for the better.

A Link to the Restaurant News Article:

http://www.nrn.com/article/vegetarian-dishes-crop-menus?utm_source=streamsend&utm_medium=email&utm_content=13619321&utm_campaign=Food%20News%20Wednesday%2C%20March%2023





Great Chefs Cook Vegan, Linda Long’s Labor of Love

2 02 2011

There are those books that arrive one day, and you think, “it’s about time.” Somehow it just captures the zeitgeist of the moment and pushes past to change the way we see something.

In this case, a book appeared that changed the face of Vegan Cuisine.

Great Chefs Cook Vegan

That book is Great Chefs Cook Vegan, by Linda Long.  The day I pulled it from the shelf and started leafing through its glossy pages, I thought, this is like the French Laundry Cookbook, for vegans. With its sexy photos and enticing recipes, it magically elevated the whole vegan book section to the status of gourmet, food porn worthy delicacies. Great Chefs Cook Vegan unequivocally says: plant based food has arrived, get used to it. And get a fork.

Linda Long, Author, Food Photographer and Vegan

Long is a 30 year vegan who lives in New York City, so her idea for the book sprang organically from her experiences dining there. “I was at Jean-George Vonderichten’s restaurant, enjoying a delicious vegan dish that he had made for me of pumpkin dumplings. I said to myself, I should do a book and call it Great Chefs Cook Vegan. When I told Jean-Georges, he immediately said, “I’ll be in it!” Then I went to eat at David Burke’s restaurant, and he said the same thing, really quickly.”

Living in one of the great dining cities in the world, Long is surrounded by talented chefs, and had been taking full advantage of their abilities by requesting vegan menus in their restaurants. Her meals, custom made just for her, were always creatively prepared and exciting. But they were not available to the rest of the world, often improvised in the moment, never to be made again. Long saw the gap between public perception of plant-based dining and the reality of what was happening on her plate. “My idea was to connect the mainstream with the vegan culinary world. I wanted to publish the stamp of approval of some of the most respected chefs in the world for Vegan.”

And if the response of the chefs is any indication, vegan is the next Big Thing. Some chefs feel lost without their standard proteins, but not these folks. “These chefs are the cream of the crop, they have no problem working vegan. Their minds go crazy with all the things they can do. When Jean Georges agreed to do it, he asked “you mean, I can use everything in the plant kingdom?” and I said yes, and he got so excited and said, “there’s so much to choose from!'”

Long traveled the country, shooting all the photos herself with no crew, save an occasional busboy or friend to hold a reflector. “We did all the photo shoots in two hours. They all used white plates and tablecloths, and sent the food out in courses, and I set the lights and used reflectors to light each individual dish. I didn’t need to style the food, since the Chefs all had composed it how they wanted it. ” If you have ever tried to shoot food, you will hopefully appreciate what an amazing feat this was. Most food shoots take hours just to compose a dish, and hours more to light and shoot each one. Long was a one woman guerilla photo crew-shooting the Chef’s portraits, as well.

She had no problem enlisting the top chefs in the country, from Cat Cora and Marcus Samuelson to Daniel Boulud and Charlie Trotter. They all wanted to play in the plant food garden, and strut their skills with no meat, cheese, eggs or honey. Dan Barber’s recipe for Cauliflower Steaks (on page 70) was reprinted in many magazines, and remains one of the most requested ones in the book.

Her project has had an influence beyond her readers, as many of the chefs involved realized that they should work in a little more vegan food in their menus. “Eric Blauberg, former Chef at 21 Club, is now a restaurant consultant. He told me that the first thing he tells a restaurant is to put a vegan appetizer, entree and dessert on the menu, and don’t say it’s vegan. In every case they sell 150 a week of all of these things.” She’s also heard back from Steve Wynn, owner of 20 restaurants in Las Vegas. He has ordered all his chefs to put something vegan on the menu. “He said that when I shot the book there two years before, I had the vision and now he is trying to catch up.”

Bravo!

Linda also produces videos for http://www.veganhotspot.com, where you can find an insiders guide to the vegan dining in the top restaurants. http://veganhotspot.com/about.html





Heaven in the Clouds

28 09 2010

The Pilgrim Hike

I may seem like the same person, but in a small, barely perceptible way, I am not. That is because I just spent a week at a transformative place.

I’ve just returned from Rancho La Puerta Spa, where I spent the week alternating between challenging mountain hikes and exercise classes, relaxing pool time and massages, and things like birdwatching. Three times a day I hot-footed it to the dining hall for world-class vegetarian spa fare. Of course, two days of that included teaching some cooking classes, but they were so fun that it hardly seemed like work.

For vegetarians and omnivores alike, the food is at the center of the rejuvenation and healing that Rancho La Puerta offers. Perched in the mountains of Tecate Mexico, the Ranch enjoys a Mediterranean climate, and can grow much of its own food. In fact, a four -mile hike featuring a tour of the immaculate organic garden is a big hit with most guests, even if they don’t till the soil at home.  Head gardener Salvador Tinajero tends six acres of gorgeous farmland, striped with bright flowers of pollinator rows, intended to draw beneficial insects.

The blossoms call out to bees and hummingbirds

The cooking classes all start with Salvador’s tour of the garden, and students get to pick some of the produce that will be used in class. We pulled some leeks, but the exciting part was picking the perfect, ripe strawberries we would use to garnish our dessert. I know I ate as many as I put in the basket. Local and sustainable is the mantra for food on the Ranch, so I put my menus together based on what would be in season.

Strawberries in September (and kitty)

The classes are hands on, which means that the guests dive in and cook the dishes themselves, with the guidance of the instructor and three assistants. It’s really a blast, as everybody gets caught up in turning the garden’s bounty into a tasty dinner or lunch.

My talented sous-chefs

Pear and Apple Salad with Nasturtiums

But what was absolutely the most relaxing thing about the Ranch was the fact that someone else made me three delicious, satisfying organic vegetarian meals every day. I didn’t so much as pass a grocery store or slice a banana. I’m still looking for my sliced papaya every morning-the tree ripened, deep orange fruit was served alongside a breakfast buffet of fruits and muesli, and it was a world apart from the papaya we get here. Hot cereals, little omelets and an array of other goodies helped us fuel up for the day. Lunch buffets served up beautiful compositions in salad, bowls of veggie soup and things like tostadas or a light “local cheese” sandwich with caramelized onions. Dinner was fine dining, with beautifully plated salads, lush soups and carefully garnished and composed main courses. Perfectly portioned desserts closed the meal, on white plates dabbed and drizzled with colorful sauces.

Chiles Rellenos, RLP-style

Of course, having someone make low-fat veg food and then portion it out to create a 1500 calorie day means you can just enjoy the heck out of it and not even think. The Ranch has a nutritionist on staff to analyze the meals, and Chef Gonzalo Mendoza has a talent for making sure the food leaves you not just satisfied, but happy. The plates are a feast for the eyes, and a deft handling of textures and flavors transforms the just picked foods into genuinely gourmet treats.

A week of this pampering left me relaxed and invigorated. Everyone is so happy at the Ranch, from the people who work there to the guests, and there is nothing to do but be good to yourself.

So, if you want a great spa getaway, check out the Rancho La Puerta. From what I hear, it’s one of the best values in the world of spas. If that is not in the budget, take a look at the Rancho La Puerta Cookbook. You can always decide to eat spa for a week at home, and nourish yourself just like spa-goers do.

Now if I could bring Mount Kuchumaa home, then I would be all set.





Vegetarian On the Road

21 03 2010

My book, New Vegetarian, is the very good reason that I didn’t blog last week. I was in a two week-long period of travel, starting with a tour of Texas and ending in a stint in New York City. I had a great time cooking and demonstrating, and came back ready to take vegetarian to a new level.

Traveling, though, can be a time when you need your old hunter-gatherer instinct. Getting a meatless meal on the road can be a challenge, depending on where you go. From the disappointing airport options (cinnamon buns and pizza, anyone?) to the crapshoot of hotel restaurants, you end up spending some time scouting it out. I try to think of the time I spend checking out my options at the airport as aerobic activity, as I patrol the entire food zone, dragging my bag and sporting my stuffed laptop backpack, seeking something acceptable to eat.

Sometimes the Luna Bars in the backpack are the best option.

But when you get to your destination, you have to start scouting. This time around, I came up against a familiar question. Do I go to a place that calls itself “vegetarian”? Or do I go to a well-reviewed, well-respected restaurant and check out the veg option? Sadly, most of the time places that are dedicated veg are less interesting to me. I’m glad to relate that eating vegetarian was easy at all of the above.

Cosmic Cafe, Funky Vegetarian with a Texas Accent

My first foray was in Dallas. A little place called Cosmic Cafe was just around the corner from my hotel, with a funky paint job and a yard full of Indian statuary, it proclaimed its vegetarian status proudly in a city known for beef.

The outside, as you can see above, says Indian food. A safe haven for meatless diners, Indian restaurants are usually good bets, even when they don’t say anything about the v-word. Cosmic Cafe, though, is not really an Indian restaurant, as I came to find out. There in the home of Tex-Mex, much of the menu consisted of tacos, burritos and pizzas, all with Indian accents. The heady aroma of curry spices wafted from pots simmering on the stove, so I hoped for greatness. My pizza, built on a nan bread and bathed in sort of curry flavored tomato sauce, was loaded with vegetables and scattered with croquettes of a lightly spiced black bean burger.

The fusion of Dallas, India and vegetarian was a little odd, but it was a satisfying and tasty lunch. Vegetarian places always seem to be trying to stay afloat, and in Texas, making everything into a burrito must be a strategy for making the food familiar. Funky, cheesy, and often rebellious, veg places like this one are always unique and creative.

Fast forward to another vegetarian restaurant. In New York City, close to the famed Kalustyan’s spice shop, I had lunch with a friend at Pongal, an Indian place that proudly proclaimed its vegetarian status.

My Gujarati Thali Plate

Here, in the city that never sleeps, the chefs at Pongal have no need to update their vegetarian traditions. There were no burritos or pizzas, only authentic dishes from Southern regions of India known for their meatless cuisine. The food was excellent. One thing that stood out was that the fried foods were wonderfully un-greasy. Usually the deep-fried breads are a decadent treat, and once they cool you realize just how oily they are, but not here.

Can't you smell the dosa?

My dining companion had the Pongal thali, and we shared with abandon. Steamed Iddly, fried poori, carrot chutney, and medu vada, the little fried lentil donuts, were making their way across our table as we feasted. No melted cheese, no meat, nothing but pure Indian vegetarian, and it was delicious.

In the end, it is hard to compare restaurants, especially in far distant corners of the country. Each speaks to its community-Cosmic Cafe to the local yoga and veg crowd, comfortable with something a little more familiar. Pongal was crowded with Indian-Americans, and the serious ethnic diners that populate one of the most international restaurant cities in the world.

There is a place for both, the sincere and the authentic. The hippie and the immigrant, the political and the nostalgic.