• green find: the natural café

    May 11, 2010


    So there I was strolling down State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara for probably the eighth time in half as many days when my blissed-out gaze fell on The Natural Café.

    It took me a couple of minutes in the Mediterranean breeze to study the menu.  The Natural Café is, naturally, big on plant-based food sourced locally, although there’s a separate section for chicken and fish.

    I was initially swayed by names like Spiritual Spinach Salad and Buddha Burrito before the Natural Tamale put an end to any kind of indecision.  In I went.

    There’s definitely a Bohemian vibe here, and the place is overflowing with the college kids that call this town their crib.  You order at the register and then take a plastic number to your table – all the outside spaces were taken, so I nabbed one by a stack of The Independent, the city’s free local newspaper.

    Just as I was drooling at the event listings for the week – candlelit yoga, sailing lessons, organic wine tasting – my Natural Tamale arrived.

    I haven’t been this excited since I first laid eyes on Sharky’s two-taco combo late last year.  You can’t really see the scale from this photo, I know, but this was generous at $7.95 and tremendously tasty.  The brown rice was cooked perfectly, the beans were robust but not soupy, and the tamale – which was filled with chiles, pinto beans, ground peanut, and garlic – was better than any traditional one I’ve had.  I asked for it sans sour cream, which meant the ranchero sauce could shine on its own.  And then there was the perfect salad with crisp jicama.  Just beautiful.

    Check out The Natural Café’s Ten Easy Ways To Live a “Greener” Lifestyle.  Not sure what the quotation marks are for, but I can’t wait for my next tamale taste.

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  • wickedly-good airport food

    March 31, 2010


    Okay, so it may not look like much.

    But when you’re missing California Mexican food and you’ve got time to kill at the airport, this place was a gift from the heavens.

    Check it out:  your choice of beans (I went with pinto), red rice, guacamole, salsa, and a big pile of fresh pico de gallo over romaine – all with your pick of either warm corn tortillas or chips.  It’s called the Peasant Plate, and I got it for just over $5 at the Baja Burrito in Nashville’s airport.  There are other branches around the city – where the price is even cheaper.

    I know, it’s not like you can hop over to this place very often – unless, of course, you’re a Nashvillian.  Or a Nashvillain.  I like that better.

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  • southern with a side of history

    March 21, 2010

    I don’t feel the need to apologize for including non-vegetarian restaurants here since this site was never about being vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, or other.  My main purpose for starting Green Appetite was to show you how to include more plant-based food in your diet in ways that actually made you want to include them.  I think we can all agree this is a good thing.  For our bodies, for the planet.  What is generally unhelpful is labeling others – or our ourselves – one thing or another.

    And so when my Tennessean friends asked if I’d be okay with a typical Southern meal – emphasis on “Southern,” I said of course.

    Of course, especially if said meal is at a place with a name like Miss Mary Bobo’s and is to take place after our tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg.  No need to go into that experience here except to say that I think it’s one of the best-branded companies I’ve ever come across.


    In fact, I’m starting to think the whole notion of this being a “dry” county (you can’t actually drink the whiskey) is actually a very clever marketing ploy to call attention to the, well, marketing.

    The one-and-a-half hour drive from Nashville took us through plenty of green and cows munching on it.  Past Federal-style houses perched atop more green.  And by a surprising number of Mexican restaurants (stay tuned for another post about this).

    I’ll get to the meal in a moment, but my takeaway from Miss Mary Bobo’s (I’ll get that trippy name in as many times as I can), is that I’d love to spend a few months in Lynchburg researching a novel about schoolteachers at boarding houses.  This is probably never going to happen, especially as the most I’ve ever written of a novel is a single paragraph.  But the experience showed me, once again, that it’s not about the food.  And that perception really is everything.

    Miss Mary Bobo’s (heh) is an old boarding house now owned, not surprisingly, by the Jack Daniel’s empire.  Once you nab one of the sought-after reservations, you and fellow guests are seated in one of many dining rooms where meals are served family style.

    It’s not hard to be vegetarian in the traditional sense at all here – if that’s what you want to be.  Sure, there’s fried chicken and pot roast, but when I asked one of the hostesses what her favorites were, she was quick to point out the stewed apples spiked with Jack, the fried okra, and the “cabbage” casserole (I challenge you to find any cabbage amongst the sea of cheese).  “Oh, and there’s a carrot salad – if you want it,” she added almost obligingly.

    Before we sit down, there is a very important announcement: “The sweet tea is not very sweet; so feel free to add more sugar, y’all.”

    Taking our places around the table, I was downright peeved that our hostess would apparently be talking throughout the entire thing, and that she was seated – of all places – right next to me.  Yet as the lazy Susan spun around, a miracle happened.  My mind became more enthralled by her speech than by the fried whatever in front of me.

    Turns out the boarding house has been there since the late 1800s and was a place for the family-less to call home.  Day in, day out, bachelors and schoolteachers would sit around this very table for three meals a day.  They’d also get a bed – and probably their clothes cleaned – all for $14 a week.

    We never found out how long these people lived on this heavy food, but that’s not what really interested me this time.  I was curious about these schoolteachers.  According to our Miss Mary Bobo’s hostess (say that fast six times), “In those days life was hard.  If you were a woman, you were a wife, a nurse, or a schoolteacher.”  And that’s that.  Life was too hard.  Pick one or the other.  It was just a path.  Go this way or that way.  Doesn’t matter.  Hmm.  Very interesting, I thought.

    Now I was actually taking time away from my plate to ask my neighbor a question.  “So, it sounds like being single then didn’t have the stigma it has today?”  And of course my requisite follow-up: “I wonder how many of these wifeless businessmen got it on with the schoolteachers.”

    To my surprise, my hostess had never heard these questions before.  Not from any of the thousands of tourists who had come through those pristine white doors.  “Excuse me,” she politely says.  “I need to get the historian.”

    “Oh yes, life was hard then,” the smiley historian repeats, “Married women couldn’t be schoolteachers.”

    Sometimes, it’s just not about the food.  And that tea was like candy.  As for those boarding-house hook ups?  The case continues.


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  • green nosh in nash

    March 15, 2010


    The Music City isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think vegetarian, but The Wild Cow is here to set the record straight. This Nashville restaurant’s staff say they love cattle so much they want them to be as free as the honky tonks that dot the town.

    It was my first time in Tennessee, and I was staying with my good friend Jamie, a self-confessed fussy eater who has given up bread for Lent.  That means a quick glance over the hummus and pita before settling on the tortilla chips and salsa ($3.25) – a generous, fresh rendition of the dynamic duo.

    We both order the Grilled Tofu Salad ($8), and Jamie surprises me by eating almost all of it, praising it as the best tofu she has ever had.  I concur, and I’m not much for tofu these days.  Tofu is a highly-processed product, and I stick by the theory that it is overused in the West.  I used to be a big soy consumer, but today I eat it only occasionally and prefer to have it as they do in the East: sparingly and fermented in the form of tamari or miso.

    The Wild Cow dishes out a preponderance of mock-meat items, something my fellow dinner Liz calls the restaurant on.  “If you’re eating vegetables, why do you want to be reminded of meat?”  I agree with Liz and think the plant kingdom has too much to offer to be disguised as anything but its glorious self.  However, I also know, as Jamie pointed out, that these types of dishes have a rightful place in “transitioning”.

    I’m a little perplexed by the necessity of a “What’s Tofu?” section on their website, especially since a quick Google search brings up a handful of veggie establishments in the Nashville area – there’s even a Woodlands Indian Vegetarian, for crooning out loud!

    Cheatin’ chikn aside, if you’re roaming East Nashville then The Wild Cow is definitely worth a graze.

    Stay tuned for more Tennessee tastes later this week, including my pre-flight fuelling deserving a round of applause.

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  • and the top taco award goes to…

    January 5, 2010

    After having spent six years in London wishing and hoping for some good Mexican food, now in California I’m running into as many taco places as I did pubs.  And I’ve tried a lot of them.  I’ll limit this list to the chain restaurants, not just because you can find most of them all over California and beyond, but also because they’re actually surprisingly good.  All of them come with a salsa bar as standard.  I’ll start from the bottom up.

    In third place, my taco temptation is Chipotle.
    I like Chipotle’s clean, modern look and overall lack of fiesta theme that all too many Mexican restaurants succumb to.  Decent veggie options here, including the tortilla-free burrito bowl in case you’re watching your weight (or your gluten).  The website’s pretty impressive, too.

    Oh, but who am I trying to fool?  My taco number two goes to Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, with a decor as Monterey Jack cheesy as you can get.  They have a grilled portobello and poblano “gourmet taco” that comes with the all-important corn – not flour – tortilla.  My only beef (or should I say tofu?) with Rubio’s is that they use extra-tick tortillas.  It’s just a bit OTT.

    Which brings me to my newest and coolest discovery, Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill.  When I ordered my two-taco combo plate made with grilled veggies, I was a little worried about how little I would get and how much it would cost – $5.99 that, believe it or not, is expensive in taco territory.  But when my plate was delivered (yes, you get table service here), with real plates and cutlery, no less – I was staring down at a massive meal of two over-flowing corn tortillas per taco, a nice helping of non-oily tortilla chips, and the kind of red rice and beans you’d find at a restaurant, not a fast-food joint.

    Sharky’s bites on every point: organic rice and beans (served without cheese just for asking), ambience, price, and, most importantly for our purpose, the choice of either grilled veggies or tofu in almost every menu category.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so: the people sitting next to my table on Saturday were at the same table when I returned on Monday.  Amigos, Sharky’s has shaken up my world.

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  • i am not entirely convinced

    October 28, 2009

    I had heard about Café Gratitude through the raw-food blogosphere, so when Liz asked if I wanted to go to the San Francisco branch, I couldn’t resist.  However, her first and only experience there had not been very friendly, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be in for Café Attitude.

    I found the opposite: an ebullient staff making sure the restaurant’s feel-good concept echoed everywhere.  Before you even place your order, you’ll be asked the question of the day.  “What do you have faith in?” says the waiter with a beatific smile.  Liz thinks he looks like the comedian Carrot Top.

    All the menu items are written in affirmations. Our live pizza – a salad, cashew cream, and tomatoes atop a sprouted buckwheat base with the biggest sprouts I’ve ever seen – was dubbed “I Am Passionate”.

    Had I first encountered Café Gratitude – or any other live-food restaurant – a few months ago, I would have been all over the idea.  But now the heavy emphasis on nuts and seeds turns me off and feels too heavy.  I know that these foods helped me transition to a high-raw diet; but once I did, my food choices became very simple.  Live food?  Spare me the dehydrating and elaborate nut concoctions in favor of simple foods that really let you live.  Personally, if I’m going to have something cooked-like, I’d rather just have it cooked.

    That said, the nut-free coconut cream pie, aka I Am Devoted, was worth the visit.

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