Restaurant Review: Vtopia [Portland]

I have never liked cheese.  Only as a slice on a cheeseburger, or on a plain pizza.  All the fancy cheeses just grossed me out.  The thought of moldy, fermented cow milk was never anything I really wanted to try.

But now, as a vegan, I am really excited to try out all these new cheeses!  They are not gross at all, and, ironically I’m learning all about different cheese now that I am vegan.

What does all this have to do with Vtopia? Well, for starters, it is Portland’s first all vegan cheese shop.  For seconders (is that a thing?) they have an incredible deli that let’s you try all their cheeses in their glory.

Kristin and I pointed the Jeep at Vtopia, and headed to NW Portland for some lunch.

The inside is simple, well laid out, and relatively spacious.  Parking was simple, with free angle parking right in front.  You are immediately greeted with a deli case of all their cheeses to take out, or you can order lunch from their menu.

We started with the Garlic Bread with marinara, and added a side of beer cheese. The bread was perfectly broiled, with little garlic chunks peppered throughout. The marinara was deece but the beer cheese sauce was where it was at. Super flavorful, warm, and lended a great texture to the bread.

For lunch, Kristin ordered the “Fancy Mac and Cheese” which is advertised as ‘special house made mac and cheese sauce topped with bread crumbs, bacon bits, Vtopian aged white cheddar, and green onions.’

I chose a panini sammich from their impressive variety of “handhelds.”  My choice was was the Camembert Bacon, with Vtopia’s macadamia and cashew Camembert with seitan bacon (they use Upton’s), arugula, tomato, housemade mayo, and dijon mustard.

The mac and cheese came out in a massive bowl, steaming and begging you to dig in.  The sauce had a traditional mac and cheese flavor which was really good. It was not traditional in the sense of the stringy, melty goodness mac and cheese, and I was totally OK with that.

Which leads me to a diatribe.

I noticed the vegan cheese businesses sit firmly in two camps: the first tries to copy dairy cheese.  Which usually ends up meaning a lot of oils, starches, and processing. The second camp seems to think “We’ll just make a delicious plant based cheese, but be original and not try to copy dairy.”

In my opinion, Vtopia is squarely in the second camp. The mac and cheese had a GREAT flavor to it and it still seemed like a healthy (albeit hearty) lunch.

My sandwich was the bomb.  The bread was perfectly toasted, and it had just the right amount of cheese – bacon ratio.  I never had dairy Camembert cheese, so I have no baseline.  But I will say it was really good.  Their cheese had a sublety to it, and I appreciate that.  I do remember a lot of cheeses can overpower an entire sandwich, and this was not the case.

My $3 additional Caesar salad was good, but the up charge seemed steep for a tiny side salad.

We decided we couldn’t have lunch at a vegan cheese establishment and NOT try a piece of cheesecake.  So we popped on a slice of strawberry which is apparently their standard cheese cake just with strawberry sauce on it.

The cake was surprisingly firm – not in a bad way, but different from some of the other vegan cheesecakes I have tried.  The cake was good, but the sauce seemed to be on the blander side, offering little strawberry flavor.

The service was top shelf, warm, and friendly.  Food was delivered promptly and was presented beautifully.

If you are ever in NW Portland, you need to swing into Vtopia for lunch.

And bring home some cheese!

Recipe: Sweet Hot Chili Fish Tacos

Summer is quickly fading away, and as the shadows get longer earlier, and the grill is in the dark faster, it is time to start thinking of ways to make fresh, hearty food.

I also can’t think of a better way to serve Gardein’s new Fishless Filets.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of Gardein Fishless Filets
  • Large tortillas

Potatoes:

  • 2 potatoes
  • Sweet hot chili sauce (3 Tbsp).

Slaw:

  • Corn
  • Cabbage
  • Miso dressing
  • Sweet hot chili sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Sesame seeds

Taco Sauce:

  • Just Mayo plain
  • Sriracha
  • Sweet hot chili sauce

Instructions:

  1. Dice and fry the potatoes, when almost done stir in some sweet hot chili sauce and fry a little longer.  Ensure even mix.  We cheated and used some frozen french fries we had in the freezer.

2. Using a cookie sheet, cook the fishless filets per the instructions.

3. Make the taco sauce by mixing the vegan mayo, Sriracha, and           sweet hot chili sauce to taste.

4.  Slice the cabbage in long pieces, and stir in the corn, sesame seeds, sesame oil, and miso dressing to taste.  Do not over saturate!

5. Remove fishless filets and cut lengthwise, in half.

6.  Spread some taco sauce on a fresh tortilla and place fishless filet segments on the tortilla.  Add some potatoes and top with slaw.

7.  Wrap like a taco and enjoy!

Product Install: Redneck Ram Hydro Assist Kit + Synergy Sector Shaft Brace

I always wanted to add hydro assist to my Jeep but questioned the PSC kit’s price point.  Being a simple system I figured others would work just as well or better.  Enter Redneck Ram from West Texas Offroad.

I found myself once again calling my buddy Dirk to help lend his expertise with this somewhat complicated install.

This was a two day install, as we could only work nights.

First things first, we put the Jeep on the lift, removed the front driver tire/wheel, tie rod, and sway bar links.   We also removed the pitman arm from the drag link (leaving the passenger side connected).

Continue reading Product Install: Redneck Ram Hydro Assist Kit + Synergy Sector Shaft Brace

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Yuan Su Vegetarian [Portland]

When it comes to vegan sin food, look no further than a steaming chinese buffet to quench your carby-starchy-salty cravings.  And, no two Chinese vegan joints are ever created equal.  There are upscale locations and, well, downscale too.  Which was honestly what I expected as we pointed the Jeep to Portland’s “felony flats” to try out a new Chinese place.  And boy was I wrong.

Yuan Su is located in a large building at the corner of 112th and Powell with ample parking.  Once inside the huge wooden doors, the place is well lit, clean, and very spacious.  I was surprised to see a stage there, but figured it was just part of the building’s history.

The service was warm and humble and quickly brought us water, house soup, and discussed the new business.  As we pored over the immense menu (I honestly do not know how they can sustain such a huge menu) we decided on some options.

Continue reading RESTAURANT REVIEW: Yuan Su Vegetarian [Portland]

Restaurant Review: Lovin’ Spoonfuls [Tucson]

On a recent trip to Arizona, I checked out the Happy Cow app to help me find some local vegan restaurants and was stoked to see a place called Lovin’ Spoonfuls.  After reading a few reviews I decided to head over and check it out.

The location is simple, but nice, nestled into a strip mall off Campbell Avenue.  Parking was simple, and I found a spot right in front.  They have a nice covered outdoor seating area and on this cool evening, I decided to eat out front.

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Once inside, there is a really nice seating area with a dessert case, small retail section, and some information on animal rights and activism.

Continue reading Restaurant Review: Lovin’ Spoonfuls [Tucson]

2016 Tillamook Jeep Jamboree

Well it has happened again – a hoard of Jeeps from around the country descended upon Tillamook, Oregon for the 2nd Annual Jeep Jamboree.

I was invited to trail guide for the Archer’s Firebreak trail which coincidentally is my personal favorite in the TSF trail network.

The first day we arrived, we setup our tent trailer and camp, got vehicles checked in and evaluated, and signed up for trails.  In the evening, we had our Trail Guides & Gunners dinner at Shilo Inn.

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Mark and the Jamboree staff hold a mandatory Trail Guide/Gunner meeting.

Continue reading 2016 Tillamook Jeep Jamboree

Recipe: VEGAN “Joadan Maash” Blueberry Muffins

Any Massachusetts native worth their salt knows about Jordan Marsh and their amazing blueberry muffins.  For people in the other 49 states, here is a summary:  Jordan Marsh (pronounced in Mass. as Joadan Maash) was a department store in and around New England.  There is some interesting history here. And here.

Some stores had bakeries inside (like Nordstrom’s today) and their blueberry muffins were sought after.  Not too long ago, the baker that made the muffins leaked the recipe, so I knew we had to veganize it!

Continue reading Recipe: VEGAN “Joadan Maash” Blueberry Muffins

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