Zen Cha Tea Salon in Columbus, Ohio’s Short North district is one of the best places to go on a snowy winter day. It’s warm and steamy inside, and the staff is always helpful and friendly. It seems that every time I visit Zen Cha I’m offered a free sample of the day’s featured tea, complete with a brief but illuminating explanation of its flavor and benefits. I usually linger for a few hours working, socializing, or both, and the staff is always pleasant and nice. They never try to hurry me along, and appear to be quite happy to host me for as long as I stay.
The tea selection at Zen Cha is hard to beat. They have Chinese, Japanese, Indian, French, and English teas (And more!) and a delightfully creative menu to complement this selection. I’m a fan of their hazelnut chai, personally, and get it almost every time I’m there.
This time, I also ordered the Earl Grey Apple Brie sandwich (above), which comes with tea-infused apples, cinnamon, cranberry compote, walnuts, and lettuce. It was absolutely incredible: warm, sweet & savory, and flavorful without being overpowering.
For dessert, I split the Tea Cookies (a set of 2 for $2.50, pictured above) with a friend. We got 1 lavender cookie and 1 chai cookie, and they were well worth the small cost.
It’s taken me a few years, but I finally made it out to Third & Hollywood in Grandview, Ohio. As soon as I walked in, I loved the place. The lights were dimmed, and the warm glow of candlelight and rich woods gave the place a romantic and cozy feel. The classic lounge music (c. 1940) also contributed to the great ambiance. Good thing I was there on a date with my husband! We started our order with an order of the Cheddar Herb Biscuits (pictured above), which were indescribably delicious. My mouth is watering just remembering them. You can see the light layer of melted butter on top of these biscuits, and the flavoring was just heavenly.
I also ordered a house-made ginger ale, and while the bar service was on the slow side, the drink was well worth it. It had a pronounced ginger flavor that managed to still be mild, and had a nice sweetness to it that kept the drink from being too dry. For my entree, I ordered the Hollywood Burger (a fairly standard cheeseburger), but I had them substitute their house-made veggie patty to make it a vegetarian dish. They were happy to do this for me and automatically subbed in the bell peppers for the fries (not something I’d asked for or necessarily wanted, but it was okay because the burger was soooo good). I know some Columbus locals will probably get mad at me for saying this, but their veggie patty was even better than the one they make at the Northstar Cafe (and that one’s pretty damn hard to beat). I’m not sure if it was the perfect amount of smoky flavoring from being cooked over an open flame (I’m assuming) or what, but that veggie patty is amazing. It looked so much like meat I made my non-veg husband take a bite first, and when I tasted it I was blown away by the texture and the complete lack of crumbliness. I’ll be back, I can tell you that much.
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….
So technically, Nugget is a grocery store in Davis, California, not a deli. That doesn’t stop it from being my absolute favorite deli of all time. I’m not kidding. I love Nugget. I make a point of stopping in whenever I’m even remotely near Davis (or Sacramento, Woodland, Vacaville, etc. where they have other locations). This particular location — the Covell Road location in Davis — is my personal favorite. Their ingredients are just so good — super fresh, top quality, and they have a huge variety of toppings. They also toast the sandwich for you if you want, and that makes the whole thing all warm and delicious. I sat outside in the sunshine to eat this sandwich, and it was a wonderful lull in my travels. If you’ve never been to Nugget, you absolutely must go in — for groceries (esp. artesian cheeses and chocolates), for beverages, and definitely for a sandwich. I’d move back to Davis for this store alone!
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.
It’s always a treat to discover a good restaurant that is super veg-friendly, and that’s just what the Urth Caffé in Santa Monica, California is. I ordered the Urth Tamales, and they were incredible. The ground corn was sweet and fresh, and the cheddar and green chillies were the perfect filling — not overkill on the cheese, nice and spicy with the peppers. I ate this so fast it was literally gone in the blink of an eye! I also enjoyed a Green Matcha Boba Tea (pictured below) which I split with my sister. It was light and refreshing, and we got it with the vanilla flavoring, which made it even more tasty.
My sister ordered the Mediterranean Platter (pictured below), which I sampled liberally as we ate. Everything was fresh and light, and the spices were excellent — not too heavy, but full of flavor. The olives (a personal favorite of mine anyway) were particularly fabulous. This is one of my all-time favorite restaurants, and I am already looking forward to the next time I’m in the area so I can visit one of the 4 Urth Caffé locations!
Once again, the Northstar Café in Columbus, Ohio came through for me. This vegan tomato soup with olive tapenade and bread was served up as a daily special at the Northstar located in Easton Town Center. In the background, you can see the winter salad I enjoyed (and boy did I ever enjoy it!). Notice the hearty chunks of butternut, the modest cubes of beet, and the nice mixed greens. This place never disappoints!
Photo by Anne Jansen
The Tip Top is one of the most popular downtown restaurants in Columbus, and for good reason. The Spicy Vegetarian Corn Chowder is a real treat — it’s rich and creamy, and packed with flavor. It’s one of those vegetarian dishes that makes you do a double-take and wonder if they’ve slipped you something with meat in it (the flavors are so strong). But it’s 100% vegetarian, and boy is it ever delicious! The Tip Top may not look like much from the outside, but it’s really cute inside (tin ceilings, beautiful wooden bar, and cute booths…not to mention the theater-themed art on the walls. The food and the decor are both a real treat!
Photo by Anne Jansen
This is the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had. Leave it to the Natural Cafe to take a simple dish and make it both more nutritious (it has freshly sliced tomatoes in it) and more tasty (three types of cheese). The Natural Cafe is a great place for herbivores and omnivores alike, offering dishes that are light and tasty — and very affordable (which is a real accomplishment in Santa Barbara). It’s one of the restaurants I miss the most, and one that I try to go to every time I’m in town. This is a must-try if you’re ever in the area!
Photo by Anne Jansen
I’ve been to the Cambridge Tea House for afternoon tea, but the last time I went there I went for a regular ol’ lunch. I ordered the crêpes, which I’ve had before, but I also got to sample their delicious cucumber melon soup. The soup was served chilled, and was the most refreshing blend of sweet and not-sweet. The bits of onion celery chopped up and sprinkled into the soup were a nice touch, and I have to admit that this is the best soup I’ve had in a long time. As a cold soup, it was especially scrumptious.
Photo by Anne Jansen
I’ve been to the Cambridge Tea House for their afternoon tea, but until recently I hadn’t explored some of the other menu options. This cucumber melon soup, served chilled, was a sumptuous and tasty delight. It was a daily special, and special is definitely the word to describe it. Refreshing and light, this soup is a testament to the chef’s culinary talents. In addition to their creative and ever-changing scone menu, the Cambridge Tea House’s daily specials are something to look forward to!