One of my followers the other day commented that I was “focusing on too much meat,” and by golly, I can fix that! As it turns out, I haven’t pieced together a vegetarian-styled column since the end of April, when I mentioned many of my favorite salads in town.
Whether we’re carnivores, pescatarians, vegetarian or vegan, we all need more greens and vegetables in our diet. Here are a few new, fun finds this week:
Love, Mediterranean Style
South Laguna’s AHBA is certainly one of the coolest concepts to land recently in Laguna Beach. Styled primarily around Israeli and Lebanese cuisine, their summery Fattoush Salad is fantastic. This is a sublime mix of heirloom cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, shallots, red onion, fresh herbs and a hearty serving of fresh feta. Rather than the usual fried pita chips, AHBA quick-fries sesame bread for an added nutty flavor.
In the Canyon, Oliver’s Osteria serves up one of my favorite Burrata dishes. It’s heirloom tomatoes, a healthy chunk of super-creamy Burrata, freshly made pesto and a drizzle of olive oil. While this is a common foursome for any Burrata dish, Chef Erik’s version of Burrata di bufala is, for some reason, other worldly.
I suspect it’s the use of Burrata made of buffalo milk instead of the more common cow milk solution. And, of course, no matter how often I make my own pesto (also requiring just a few simple ingredients), it never tastes like Chef Erik’s pesto. Whatever the imbedded win may be, this is a definite must for an appetizer or even as a lighter main dish.
Lumberyard’s “Yard Bar” patio extension has added new shareable appetizers, including a simply named “Almonds & Olives” starter that involves significantly more players than the two mentioned. Oddly, I’m an olive fan. I don’t know how it happened. As a child growing up, I was never a fan of the olives stuffed with pimento (my Dad’s favorite), but I’ve since ventured out into a happier world of bountiful olive flavors.
The new Lumberyard dish serves up two of my all-time favorites – Castelvetranos and Picholine olives – in a happy, jumbled scrum. (After reminding myself of the sweet, light flavor of Castelvetranos, I sought out a jarred solution to get me through the days I can’t be nibbling from this Lumberyard dish.)
The Yard Bar olives have plenty of company with fresh cheese chunks touched in the slightest lemon zest, house made smoked paprika almonds and a large scoop of the restaurant’s house made hummus dip. Several large wedges of crisped bread edge their way into the dish as a final complement.
I shared this hearty dish with a friend, adding exactly one delightful Red Crab Arancini ball to my plate as well … I was stuffed to the gills until the next day.
From our Long-Standing Stand
Zinc Cafe and Market and The Stand have always been our town’s all-vegetarian comfort zones. It was a relief to see both of them re-open with their patio seating in play.
As a rule, avocado sandwiches can be a challenge to eat because – let’s face it – avocado is a wanderer. It slides all over the place.
I love The Stand’s best-selling Avocado Sandwich. It’s been around since 1975. and has been featured as one of the top 100 sandwiches in the nation by The New York Times. Aside from its celebrity status, though, I prefer it because all those crunchy alfalfa sprouts secure the tomato chunks which, through a combined effort, fully lock down the avocado’s propensity to wander.
Each sandwich is a pile-on of sprouts, fresh tomato, avocado slices and avo schmear with a ripple of lettuce leaf, too. Choose from any number of breads, including gluten free, too
Soup’s Not For Winter Anymore
Lastly, let me remind you that soup isn’t just for winter anymore.
Brussels Bistro probably makes the best Mushroom Soup in town. It’s a crazy rich, woody-creamy treat. If you’re not into all that dairy, though, you have to try their Vegan “Beyond Meat” Chili.
I’ve written about “Beyond Meat” before when both Slice Pizza and Lumberyard began featuring this pea- and rice-protein based meat substitute. (You’ll find Beyond Burgers at The Cliff Restaurant, too, and I’m sure other entities have picked it up as well.) “Beyond Meat” is a crazy doppelganger for real beef, and it’s carried off impeccably in Brussels’ version of chili. Slow-cooked with organic beans, tomato, corn, onion and chili spices, this is a memorable, fun chili for cool summer nights.
Brussels’ Mushroom Soup and Zucchini Soup are featured on the outdoor dining menu now. You can find their Chili in their delivery menu. It arrives vacuum packed – you simply drop the bag in a pot of boiling water to heat it.
Starfish is my go-to for Pho soup on a year-round basis (top photo on this post). When I get this amazing soup as take out, I feel like I’ve received 17 gifts in a single day. The large container of aromatic broth arrives with a variety of little cups and canisters of optional add-ins for each soup.
You can order Starfish pho soup with chicken, flat iron steak or prawns, but you also have two vegetarian options available – Asian Vegetable and Organic Non-GMO Tofu. The Asian Vegetable is plenty (and I mean plenty) of broth and noodles with add-ins you choose the amounts of. This includes bok choy, scallions, snow peas, jalapeno, spinach, cilantro, onion bits and more.
Everything Here Can Be Ordered “To Go”
Remember, even if you don’t feel comfortable eating out, our Laguna chefs have your back. I’ve only highlighted a few restaurants here, but every restaurant in our city limits is offering significant take-out menus for both individual orders and family-style dinners.
As has been mandated, if you are enjoying outside dining, wear a face mask as you approach the host, as you are seated, and as you exit the restaurant’s place of business.