At Jamba Juice, Non-Dairy = Dairy

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Now we all know about the farce that is non-dairy creamer, right?  For whatever reason, non-dairy creamer is allowed to contain, um, dairy.  Makes total sense.  Something silly about removing the fat and then, voila, it’s no longer dairy.  Uh-huh.

Well, The Consumerist has uncovered the ingredients that are part of Jamba Juice’s proprietary “non-dairy” formula:

Water, Grade A Nonfat Dried Milk, Grade A Whey, Grade A Whey Protein Concentrate, Splenda, Sodium Alginate, Maltodextrin, Pectin, Carrageenan, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Natural Flavor, Annatto.

Feel free to contact Jamba Juice and let them know that this ain’t cool.

Restaurant Review: Vegetarian House

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Vegetarian House
22 NW Fourth Ave, Portland, OR (Chinatown)

Vegetarian House

During my recent trip to Portland, I had planned one evening to visit the Nova Queen Cafe. Before I left the hotel, I noticed that there were almost no references on the web to this restaurant except for Citysearch.com. I figured this wasn’t a good sign and, sure enough, the restaurant didn’t even exist (and if it did, it was a long time ago). So, I wandered around a bit, looking for another place to have dinner. I saw the gates to Chinatown and figured, “There’s gotta be something in there.” Indeed, the second restaurant I stumbled upon was Vegetarian House.

To start, I ordered some fried veggie shrimp. The breading was nice and while the shrimp were hot, they were kind of crunchy, like they weren’t cooked all the way through or thawed completely before frying. They tasted OK, but I’ve had better. I had some leftover and microwaved them the next day; they actually tasted better then.

For my main course, I ordered lemon glazed chicken. The glaze was so thick, it looked like a giant had sneezed on the chicken, but it actually tasted really good. It was one of those “it tastes better than it looks” moments. The chicken’s texture was a little spongier than other faux chicken I’ve had in restaurants, so I asked if they made it there. They used a prepared chicken, so I guess it’s just different than I’ve had before. I was told by the waitress, though, that they also have a chicken that’s “shaped like a chicken” and that that one has whey in it (though the owner said everything is vegan)… so, just ask before you order. None of the products have egg, so you just need to check on possible dairy.

The following day, a friend and I headed to have lunch at Tao of Tea, but decided against it when we were told we first had to pay $7 each for admission to the garden before getting food. We wound back up at the Vegetarian House where we had the buffet. It was slightly above average, with some tofu, fake beef, fried rice, and other Chinese buffet staples.

So, while the Vegetarian House isn’t the best place I’ve ever eaten, it was perfectly adequate. And two days in a row, it was in the right place at the right time.

The Curse of Mock Meats

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Last night my wife and I ordered out for Chinese food. It’s not exactly a huge event, but considering it’s probably the first time in eight years that we’ve ordered out for Chinese, it felt pretty significant. Neither of us really care for most of what passes for Chinese food around here, especially when there are so many good Vietnamese and Thai places around. But, a new restaurant had opened and we were feeling lazy, so we gave it a shot.

The good part: they were happy to make sweet and sour tofu for Huyen even though it wasn’t explicitly on the menu. The not-so-good part: instead of giving me the vegetable/bean curd lettuce wrap that I ordered, they gave me Kung Pao Chicken. Yes, with real chicken. And I ate a piece.

Granted it was only the tiniest of pieces, about half the size of a pea, but I still felt all gaggy when my wife said definitively, “This is chicken.”

And this is the curse of mock meats — they’ve gotten so good, so convincing, that a trusting vegetarian may find themselves eating away at something they thing is just a really good seitan/soy imitation when, indeed, it’s flesh. It definitely makes me wary of ordering anything even semi-meatlike from any place that also serves the real thing.

I returned the chicken and got the proper food in return. Not much of an apology, though, just a “sorry for the trouble.” But this wasn’t a “you gave me the wrong sauce” problem, it was a “you gave me dead animal” problem. We won’t be ordering from there again (I’m forgiving of the occasional mistake made by my regular haunts but when it happens during my first visit, there’s no second chance). It’s kind of a shame because the food wasn’t totally awful.

Anyone else ever run into this problem? How did the restaurant resolve it?

Macaroni Grill’s vegan options

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I rarely eat in chain restaurants. Not just because the food is usually lame and inventive, but because I prefer to give my money to small, local businesses battling against the Evil Chains. But every so often, I have to eat a chain. Whether it’s because I’m eating out with friends or co-workers, it’s unavoidable. The best I can hope for is that we don’t wind up at Sweetwater Tavern (where, as one former co-worker put it, the only thing vegetarian there is the napkins).

Romano’s Macaroni Grill is one place I end up a few times a year. And, truth be told, it’s not that bad. Their peasant bread loaf (vegan!) is hella tasty and they actually offer up a decent selection of pastas, including whole wheat penne. A co-worker, though, told me that when he asked the local Macaroni Grill what was vegan, he was told that nothing was and that even the capellini pomodoro (basically pasta with fresh tomatoes) wasn’t vegan because they used chicken stock. This made me wonder… chicken stock in what part of the process? I don’t get it.

So, I e-mailed corporate to confirm that the local manager was just a dimwit and to get a full rundown of their vegan options. Here’s a trimmed version of their response (I took out the lacto-ovo stuff and just left in the vegan stuff):

October 18, 2005

Dear Mr. MacMichael,

Thank you very much for taking the time to send us an email and for your interest in Macaroni Grill. We do have several options available for vegetarians. Since there is no single vegetarian eating pattern, our company dietitian has compiled the list below of suggested menu options for various levels of vegetarian diets. Please be aware that none of our food items are certified vegetarian, however.

We hope that you will find the list below helpful during your next visit to our restaurant. If an item you desire does not appear on the list below, please keep in mind that our chefs will gladly try to accommodate your special dietary needs by custom-preparing a meal using any ingredients that we have available in our kitchen. Prior to placing your order, we strongly suggest that you speak with one of our managers about your dietary needs as they are happy to assist you with menu recommendations and to ensure that special attention is given to the preparation of your meal. Please be aware that many of our recipes contain meat, fish, egg and dairy products and normal kitchen operations involve the sharing of cooking and preparation areas, including common fryer oil. Therefore, it is possible for any of our food items to come into contact with animal products. Additionally, please be aware that our tomato sauce contains butter.

Based on our supplier ingredient information, the menu items you may consider are as follows:

Suggested Menu Options for Vegans (contain no meat, dairy or egg):

  • Tomato Bruschetta – order with No Cheese
  • House or Garden Salad – order with No Cheese or Croutons
  • Salad Dressings: Balsamic Vinaigrette, Italian, Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette
  • Capellini Pomodoro – available through February 2006
  • Penne Arrabiatta – order with No Cheese; available through February 2006
  • Any Pasta with Garlic and Oil

Should you have any additional concerns or inquiries regarding our menu items, please contact Melinda Safir in our food and beverage quality assurance department at 972/980-9917 or email her at [email protected]

Macaroni Grill
Guest Relations

Not bad. Though, while I’ve resigned myself to “regular” restaurants sharing preparation space, I am a bit bothered by the part that reads “including common fryer oil.” It’s unclear as to how much this would affect the items being ordered by vegans.

It should also be noted that since all of their pasta is vegan (it’s probably a safe bet that most chain pasta doesn’t contain egg since generally only fresh pasta does), they have a “build-your-own” option that lets you choose the vegetables and sauces to include. There are, indeed, quite a few vegan options at the Macaroni Grill.

Especially if they don’t use chicken stock in making their pasta.

The Most Vegan-Unfriendly of Chains

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I don’t eat at chain restaurants often. Once every few months, I’ll get something from Panera. If I’m on the road at 10pm and have no other choices, I’ll suck it up at go to a Subway. But, generally, I’ll stay away from chain food because nine times out of ten it sucks. And I’m not just talking from a vegan perspective, but from an overall perspective. There are those times, though, where it’s unavoidable, usually when eating out with a group, especially since I tend to avoid voicing my opinion too loudly when it comes to such things as deciding where to eat. Such was the case this weekend when I ate at IHOP.

Now, IHOP. It’s the International House of Pancakes. And while pancakes are fine for lacto-ovos, they ain’t kosher for vegans (well, they can be, but you know they’re not at IHOP). Still, though, I figured they’d have a few vegan options, even if I had to opt for a plate of fresh fruit.

Let me warn vegans even thinking for a second about eating there: IHOP does not have any fresh fruit. The closest thing they have is “fruit compote,” essentially “mushy fruit in heavy syrup.”

So, I had to made due with apple juice, fruit compote, and watery-grits-hold-the-butter-please (which they didn’t do the first time around). What a crappy meal.

Dearest IHOP, thanks for nothing, jerks. Would it kill you to have some fresh fruit?