Mouton is one of my all-time favorite places in Columbus, Ohio. It’s an intimate space with fun artwork on the walls and a really fabulous staff. They specialize in “vintage cocktails” and serve up a fantastic assortment of European-style tapas (my favorites are the artichoke stems and the castelvetrano olives). They also have these delicious little individual-sized cheesecakes that come in little jars (pictured above), which are super-tasty!
I always order the Chef’s Board (pictured above), which basically comes with a random assortment of cheeses, spreads, and veggies (they come with meat, but we order them without since I’m a vegetarian). I also always get a dish of olives and an order of Dan the Baker‘s bread (pictured below) because they’re just sooooo good.
On top of that, I usually don’t know what I want as far as drinks go. I’m quite a lightweight, so I can’t handle the cocktails that have 2 or 3 different kinds of liquor in them. Luckily for me, the awesome staff is always willing to humor my broad requests. Recently, I requested a cocktail with some sort of fruit juice, sparkling wine, and whatever else the bartender wanted to put in it, and the result was incredible (pictured below). I don’t know what to call it, but it was one of the best drinks I’ve ever had.
Madhatter is a remarkably fun little place in Washington DC’s Dupont Circle district. The Alice in Wonderland theme manifests itself in large full-color images from Lewis Carroll’s classic story and a giant top hat above one entrance (see picture at bottom). In keeping with this theme, our waitress brought us all a small cup of the house tea — a gingery concoction that was mildly sweetened and surprisingly delicious (penultimate picture).
I technically ordered two appetizers: the edamame (immediately above — so delicious!) and the Hatter’s House Pizza (pictured at top). These two appetizers made for a very satisfying meal. The edamame was lightly salted and perfectly delicious, while the pizza was fresh and crispy.
But I think the best thing about Madhatter was the atmosphere. It was interesting, eclectic, and really pleasant. In fact, as I was taking pictures of the cute dining area, one of the managers happened by and invited me to come upstairs to their private party space (he was showing a couple the space so they might use it for their engagement party) so I could take pictures from the little balcony that looks down into the dining area. All of the staff turned out to be really friendly and helpful, and it made for a really great dining experience.
I found the vegan restaurant Cafe Green (Dupont Circle area) on the internet, and I’m so glad I did. I went in alone on my first night in town (it was a short 5-minute walk from my hotel). What a great decision! The staff wasn’t just friendly, they were downright conversational and fun. I ordered the Mac & Cheese Platter (pictured above). The noodles were made of quinoa, and the vegan cheese sauce was creamy and delicious. It was served up with the corn bread, steamed kale (doused in lemon juice, which was incredible), and candied yams. It was really, really good. You really have to go here if you’re in town! It was so good I grabbed a mint chocolate cupcake (pictured below) to take back to my hotel room. This was by far the best dining experience I had in Washington, DC. I’ll be back next time I’m in town!
I think my favorite restaurant in Chicago is Hot Chocolate. It’s this great little place in Bucktown where they serve the best damn cup of hot chocolate I have EVER had. I started with the Medium hot chocolate, which their menu describes as “milk chocolate with a touch of dark chocolate and a hint of caramel.” It tasted like heaven. Pure heaven. Warm, with a home-made marshmallow on the side.
I also got the Napolean au Chocolate & Pear (above), which I can only describe as the best invention in the history of food. The menu describes it as “bittersweet chocolate sabayon mousse, port wine pear sorbet, almond feuillantine, 2hr dehydrated port wine poached pears, local honey cream”…also known as delicious. When we finished the dessert, we weren’t ready to leave so we got the Assortment of Artisan Cheeses. Our wonderful waiter selected the cheeses for us at our request (all we told him was that we had a preference for hard cheeses and mild but interesting flavors) and he totally delivered! In addition to the cheeses, there was a smear of fresh apple butter, a selection of breads, and some fresh fruits and veggies. This was the best, most delightful surprise. I wish I could go to Hot Chocolate every single day! (I’m not kidding….)
The Chicago Diner is awesome! I have to begin this post by apologizing for the quality of this photograph: the lighting in the restaurant was very red, and this picture doesn’t do the food justice. (In an attempt to rectify this, I’ve pasted a photo of the same dish from the Chicago Diner’s Facebook page below.) The Chicago Diner is an entirely vegetarian (and very, very vegan-friendly) restaurant in Chicago’s Lake View district. I ordered the Radical Reuben at the encouragement of my friend, who introduced me to this wonderful establishment, and I was not disappointed. It was delicious. If I could, I would return to Chicago and eat the same sandwich all over again! If you’re ever in Chicago, whether you’re a vegetarian or not, you should definitely stop by the Chicago Diner for a memorable dining experience. This restaurant is one of my all-time favorites.
While wandering around Chicago’s River North district, I ended up at the Cantina Laredo. I didn’t know at the time, but it’s actually a large national chain. Regardless, their food was delicious. We had them make their “top shelf guacamole” (pictured above) for us, and it was fresh and spicy — just what we wanted.
I also ordered a mango margarita (above), which was delicious — not too sweet, not too strong — and the Enchiladas de Avocado (below). I never would have thought to put avocados and artichokes together in an enchilada, but it was incredible! Of course, nothing was as incredible as the dessert.
For dessert, we ordered the churros, which came with strawberries and a delicious chocolate-y, caramel-y, Grand Marnier-y sauce. Oh. My. Goodness. These churros were … I don’t even have words. Crispy and fresh on the outside, warm and melty on the inside. Cinnamon and sugar dusting the outside and sticking to your fingertips. I wanted to lick the plate when they were all gone. Seriously.
I ended up at The Purple Pig when I went to Chicago last month, and it was the happiest culinary surprise! All I wanted was something light and delicious, and that’s exactly what I got. I sat outside on their cute patio, at one of their oversized communal tables. It may have been mid-March, but it was also in the mid-80s and it was the ideal day for patio dining. I ordered one of the smears (I have now forgotten which one, although I remember it being sweet and delicious…pictured above), the marinated olives (which came with some really yummy pickled veggies…pictured below) to start.
Then I ordered the best, and most surprising, dish of all: the Salt Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese & Pistacio Vinaigrette (below). It was amazing. This was a delightful find, and if you find yourself in Chicago, just north of the Chicago River along the Magnificent Mile, be sure to stop in at The Purple Pig for “cheese, wine, and swine” (as their subtitle proclaims)!
The new Cup O Joe and MoJoe Lounge in downtown Columbus, Ohio, is a great place to do some work and eat some quality, inexpensive grub. I have been bringing my work there on Fridays, and have found the staff to be friendly and laid back, and the food surprisingly good. I ordered the house salad (which comes with a wonderful lemon vinaigrette dressing that’s the perfect blend of sweet and tart) on the side of a grilled cheese. The salad was light and refreshing, and not skimpy like some side salads can be. The sandwich was made with three kinds of cheese (none of that weird American cheese junk), and was pleasantly non-greasy — a difficult feat for some grilled cheese sandwiches. The lunch rush isn’t too bad, and the floor-to-ceiling windows and clean & contemporary decor (see some of my photos of the place here) makes it a pleasant place to while away those workday hours.
I met up with a good friend at Milk & Honey Tapas in downtown Santa Barbara, California, and the entire dining experience was a pleasant surprise. Our waitress was helpful and enthusiastic, and the place has got some great ambiance. Candlelight, contemporary furniture, interesting stone and wood textures on the walls, and bright red pillows to add a splash of color (and comfort!) to it all. I was in love at first sight…and then I saw the menu. Oh, the menu! There’s an entire page dedicated to vegetarian options (11 of ’em, and with 22 non-veg options, that makes the vegetarian choices an entire 1/3 of the menu!), and they all looked amazing. Not to mention their fun and funky names! I ended up going with the Nutty Goat (pictured above), which consisted of multigrain crackers accompanied by a goat cheese, orange basil cranberry sauce, candied pecan, and honey spread served warm. OMG. So good! (Apologies for the graininess of the above photo — the romantic atmosphere translated to dim lighting that I was unwilling to disturb with my ridiculously bright flash.) I couldn’t walk away without dessert, so my friend and I split the Amor y Chocolate (pictured below), which was basically a warm and rich “molten” chocolate cake with fresh raspberries and whipped cream. Just writing this, I wish I could go back. Too bad it’s almost 2500 miles away….
I don’t even know where to begin with San Francisco’s Fly Bar & Restaurant. I went to their Sutter location with a small group of friends, and it was a good experience. First off, the restaurant is really cute — they have some really interesting mirror and bottle cap wall-art, they have some great exposed brick walls, and their menu is really creative. We ordered the Hummus & Tapenade plate (pictured at bottom) to start, and our server was more than willing to bring us extra pita bread at no extra charge when we ran out. For my entree, I ordered the Southwestern Pizza (pictured above) which comes topped with black beans, corn, roasted red peppers, onions, pepperjack cheese, and cilantro. It was surprisingly light, even with all of those toppings, and the flavoring was really nice. Finally, for dessert I just couldn’t resist the homemake chocolate chip cookies (served warm) and glass of milk (pictured here). Overall, it was a delicious meal with friendly service and a nice atmosphere.
I love the Blue Angel Cafe in South Lake Tahoe, California, and I was really excited to get to eat there again this winter. It’s been a couple of years, and I missed their innovative and veg-friendly menu. This time, I ordered their Butternut Squash and Walnut Ravioli (pictured above). It was really good, with just a light butter sauce and some walnuts and parmesan flakes on top. The ravioli were filled with the butternut squash, and the whole dish was very flavorful and mild. To drink, I got the hot cocoa (pictured below), which (like their coffees) comes from the Alpen Sierra Coffee Roasting Company — just one example of Blue Angel’s dedication to local, natural, and organic foods. The food and service were so good that I went back the next day and got…
…the buffalo mozzarella, tomato, and avocado sandwich (pictured below) with a side of the quinoa, served cold. It was just as delicious as it sounded, and I really enjoyed the quinoa salad. If you’re ever in South Lake Tahoe, you really should try to get in to Blue Angel. They won’t disappoint you, and they have the friendliest staff around. Plus, there’s a stone fireplace and some couches where you can get some work done if you find yourself needing a place to hole up and hop online.
Some friends took me to Chow Food + Bar in Lafayette, California, and I loved it. To start with, while we waited for our table, they had a little grocery area with all sorts of great cheeses, desserts, baked goods, and beer for us to look at (and we got some beer while we waited). It was so much better than sitting in a waiting area or, even worse, wandering around outside in the cold with one of those stupid vibrating coasters in your pocket. When we were seated, we ordered the Arancini (pictured below), which were absolutely delicious. They were perfectly moist inside, but still nice and crispy on the outside…and not too rich, as arancini can be. For my entree, I ordered the Organic Vegetable Noodles with tofu, squash, and broccoli in a chili-citrus-miso-sesame sauce. I couldn’t really imagine what that sauce would taste like, but it was truly a taste adventure. It was sweet and spicy, and warmed me through and through. I so badly wanted to keep eating even when I was already full because it was just such a creative and interesting flavor explosion. Most of Chow’s menu was really innovative, and they use a lot of organic and natural ingredients, which I always appreciate. If you’re in the area and are looking for a unique and fresh meal, you should swing by Chow and give ’em a try.