24 January 2010

Haiku


My plan was to hit up Haiku this week to take advantage of 614 Restaurant Week. Unfortunately for me, Haiku chose not to participate in Restaurant Week for lunch. Neither Haiku nor 614 Magazine listed this detail on their Web sites, but I did fine paying full price anyway. I'll chalk it up to bad work by their PR staffs.

Haiku is a sushi restaurant with a decent amount of vegetarian options on the menu. The biggest warning for vegetarians dining at Haiku is that the sushi bar absolutely stinks like seafood. If you are bothered by the smell of ocean life, either eat in the part of the restaurant away from the sushi bar or choose another restaurant altogether.

The decor in Haiku is a modern take on Zen style. The art work is modern and Western, but the tables and chairs are somewhat of an Eastern throwback.

The service staff is capable if somewhat inefficient. While the waiter properly addressed my vegetarian concerns, the meal was put together at a sluggish pace. The server could have been slightly more attentive about this issue. Overall, he did a decent job but needed a little more attention to detail.

I started with tofu lettuce wraps. The Korean classic, known as ssam, consists of finely cubed tofu and rice noodles cooked with spinach, onions and cabbage in a garlicky brown sauce wrapped in large green lettuce leaves. The dish is surprisingly filling with a satisfying flavor.

My main course was called Tao tofu. It featured steamed tofu and deep fried tofu stuffed with cucumbers, carrots and cabbage. It is plated with orange segments and a mildly sweet brown sauce. The citrus fruit actually adds an extra dimension to the flavor profile. While the fried tofu was delicious, the steamed tofu was silken, so it turned out soggy and flavorless. There is an option of getting all of the tofu fried, and that would be the best way to order this dish.

Other vegetarian items on the menu include a variety of veggie sushi rolls, edamame, wok-tossed mushrooms, vegetable tempura, spring roll salad, green salad, seaweed salad, vegetarian udon noodles, curry noodles, pad Thai and stir fried vegetables.

Haiku features a large selection of cocktails, sake, beer and wine. Prices for drinks and food are somewhat high but reasonable.


Haiku

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21 January 2010

Mexica


The heart of Downtown Columbus seems to suffer from a shortage of options for those who enjoy Mission style burritos. There are West Coast burrito outlets like Cinco, but the quality is less than spectacular. There are also places like Chipotle in the Brewery District or the Arena District, but these establishments are not convenient for Downtown worker bees.

Mexica should easily be able to overcome both of these issues.

Located in the old Ah Chihuahua spot, Mexica features football-sized burritos as well as other favorites like tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, chimichangas and nachos. The food is made fresh in house daily.

The interior of Mexica is far more tastefully appointed than that of its predecessor. The store looks clean, and the wood-accented interior adds a nice ambiance to the restaurant.

The big caveat for vegetarians is that while the pinto beans are vegetarian safe, the Mexican rice which is included as an ingredient or a side in a few dishes is made with chicken stock. The staff was able to answer my vegetarian questions, and they quickly alerted me to the animal products on the menu.

Although the Mexican rice is part of a number of dishes, Mexica is happy to substitute ingredients into orders or to create items based upon dietary restrictions.

An added bonus at Mexica is that those who eat on site get free chips and salsa with their order. The salsa bar includes hot and mild salsa, a green chile salsa, pico de gallo, corn salsa and a creamy cilantro sauce akin to the highly addictive El Arepazo condiment.

Despite how delicious the other vegetarian options looked, I had to order the burrito. While the traditional burrito is made with Mexican rice, the regular burrito is made with lime-flavored white rice. It is stuffed with cilantro, pinto beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and grilled veggies including peppers, squash and onions. The notes of cilantro and lime complement the smoky vegetables nicely, and the fresh flavor is outstanding.

Mexica features a few authentic beverage choices, including Jarritos and horchata, a delicious drink made with rice, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar.

Calorie counters have the option of ordering their burrito in a bowl to eliminate the carbohydrates in the tortilla. Other safe options for vegetarians include guacamole, veggie tortas, and queso dip.

Mexica has $1 off specials Monday through Friday. In order, burritos, nachos, fajitas, taco salads and bowls are $1 on a given day of the week (check out the photos for details).

Although its a crowded marketplace for Downtown restaurants, Mexica should stand out. The combination of fresh flavors and fair prices should be buzzing along when the wheels really get rolling.


Mexica


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18 January 2010

Zuppa Downtown


Nestled between the hustle and the bustle of Downtown is Zuppa. The menu is made up of salad, sandwiches, pizza and of course soup (since zuppa is Italian for soup, it would be hard to operate the place without it).

The vegetarian options on the menu are somewhat limited. Zuppa typically offers one vegetarian soup per day. Check with the staff for vegetarian options.

Other veggie-friendly options include pizza and the veggie Philly sandwich, which consists of griddled veggies with cheese on a ciabatta roll.

According to the rumor mill that is the internet, Zuppa stores their meatballs with their marinara sauce, so the provenance of the marinara pasta's vegetarian appearance is debatable.

I ordered the special, which is a Southwestern veggie quesadilla. Corn, black beans, tomatoes, onions and zucchini are griddled and then stuffed into a grilled tortilla with salsa, melted cheese and sour cream. The flavor was great and the portion was filling.

I was far less impressed with the cream of mushroom soup. It was bland and lacked character. For a restaurant that has soup in the name, I expected far more.

The soup is served with a side of fresh baked bread with a whipped garlic butter. The bread is very tasty, and the garlic butter allows the slices to shine.

Despite the lack of vegetarian options, Zuppa does have a few good choices for those who eschew meat. The prices are moderately expensive based upon the quality of the food.


Zuppa Downtown

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12 January 2010

Taste of Belgium


Columbus' first Belgian eatery is a station in the North Market operated by Belgian-born Jean-Fran├žois Flechet. The name is Taste of Belgium, and the menu is an assortment of waffle preparations as well as sweet and savory crepes.

The waffles are made with a Belgian beet sugar. The flavor is sweet and creamy. I ordered mine topped with blackberries and whipped cream. The buttery texture and hints of vanilla in the aroma make for a delightful way to spike your blood sugar.

The vegetarian crepe is made with spinach, red peppers and goat cheese in a Balsamic glaze. The crepe itself is light as air, and the earthy spinach flavors in the filling are nicely contrasted by the beautiful acidity in the goat cheese and the vinegar.

There are a number of sweet crepes and other meatless waffle options on the menu. The owner and staff are friendly and helpful. They pass out free samples like other North Market vendors.

I'm more acquainted with Belgian beer than Belgian food. However, I can always buy Belgian beer at Grapes of Mirth. It would make for a full Belgian dinner at any rate.

Taste of Belgium should appeal to fans of later-than-10-a.m. breakfast and ovo-lacto-vegetarians who enjoy crepes. The waffles have great flavor. I kept the flavor simple by eating the waffle with fruit and cream. The less healthily-inclined are free to take the waffles home and drown them in syrup and butter.



Taste of Belgium

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11 January 2010

Flavors Eatery


College campuses are always an obvious spot to find unhealthy eats in the form of fried, greasy food consisting of any and all kinds of fatty, carnivore-pleasing slop. Luckily for students at Capital University in Bexley, Flavors Eatery offers fresh, healthy fare that separates itself from the empty calorie pack.

Flavors is a small chain with locations in Bexley, Centerville and West Chester (between Dayton and Cincinnati). The menu has many vegetarian options, including wraps, pizza, salads and smoothies.

The decor at Flavors screams Key West, even in the winter, with surfboards and other decorations on the bright yellow walls. Service is friendly and quick. Prices are all less than $10.

I sampled the roasted veggie wrap because of the recommendation in Columbus Alive. Broccoli, squash, red peppers, carrots and onions are roasted and stuffed into a wheat wrap with brown rice, black beans, garlic sour cream, cheese and lettuce. The taste is fresh and delicious. It is served with chips and salsa. I also got a side of hummus, which was creamy and redolent of dill.

Other vegetarian options include cheese quesadillas, pizzas made with plain cheese, mixed veggies or Greek toppings, veggie sub sandwiches, Gardein veggie gyros, and fresh fruit smoothies.

Flavors has a limited selection of alcoholic beverages, including Ohio craft beer and wine. The Bexley location is closed Saturday and Sunday.

Flavors is a great option in Bexley for those who want to support a small company with a focus on healthy dining by way of local produce. Food can be enjoyed in the restaurant, at home or on the patio.


Flavors Eatery

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05 January 2010

Locavore story in today's Dispatch

Today's Dispatch has an article about the localavore movement in the restaurant industry. According to the National Restaurant Association, the hottest trend in dining this year in dining is locally-sourced ingredients. Maybe so, maybe not...only time will tell.

04 January 2010

Cantina Laredo



Hidden within the oasis of commerce that is Polaris Fashion Place, Cantina Laredo is a fine-dining restaurant that offers more than most one-size-fits-all Mexican outposts.

Columbus has longed for a high-end Mexican restaurant since the demise of Tapatio. Although Cantina Laredo is not that level of restaurant, it definitely features flavorful fare in a well-appointed environment that rises far above the mundane level of the competition.

Cantina Laredo is a chain, but the quality of the food does not suffer because of these pedestrian roots. The Polaris location is the first in the state of Ohio.

The calling card of Cantina Laredo is the tableside guacamole. A popular dish in the Southwest and in large cities for many years, Cantina Laredo is the one of the first places to my knowledge in Columbus to feature tableside guac.

The guacamole is made with fresh avocados, lime juice, tomato, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro. The portion is supposed to serve two to four, but one hungry person could probably devour the whole dish.

Like much of the menu at the restaurant, the flavor of the guacamole is great, but at $9, the price is a little steep. If the prices don't scare you, the food is great. Just be prepared to spend twice what you spend at the everyday Mexican chain eatery.

My entree was the portabella enchiladas. Made with chunks of portabella mushroom augmented with vegetables and goat cheese in a chipotle mushroom sauce, it is an explosion of flavor. The side dish, a jicama and mango salad, is a bright contrast to the earthy enchiladas.

There are many vegetarian options on the menu. Vegetarian choices include queso dip, cranberry pecan salad, fajitas and spinach enchiladas. I was also told that many of the other enchiladas could be prepared vegetarian if they were ordered that way.

Cantina Laredo's bar obviously specializes in margaritas, available in a variety of flavors. They have a decent selection of premium tequilas, including super-premium options from Don Julio, Jose Cuervo and Herradura. Cantina Laredo also has a limited selection of wine and beer.



Cantina Laredo

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