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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarianism in the News



July1, 2010 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

"I Found My Love in Avalon"

Quaint and alluring and only 26 miles across the sea, Catalina Island beckoned us to its shores for a three-day visit to celebrate our anniversary in mid June. Deep blue skies, billowy white clouds, bright sunshine, and gentle breezes brought a welcome change from the typical Los Angeles June gloom and smoggy skies. The weather couldn't be more perfect--a temperate high 60s to mid 70s. Most delightful are the many picturesque views of the gently curving Avalon Bay, the hills that rise behind the city, and the charming 1930s architecture.

Catalina Island We took the 10:00 a.m. Catalina Express one-hour boat ride and strolled about three blocks to our hotel, observing the other tourists along the way. Nearing lunchtime we noticed some families were indulging in ice cream cones piled high with double scoops while others were munching on hamburgers and hot dogs. Those particular foods did not stir the appetite, but we wondered what delights we vegans would find in this charming, small, bustling town known as Avalon.

Our Vegan Adventure Begins
Our hotel room was ready, so we parked our luggage in our cozy niche and walked along Crescent Avenue, the main street, to find a vegan lunch. We thought that surely with so many tourists coming to the island for the day, overnight stays, and even weeklong visits, that there would be plenty of food for vegans to eat. The internet search we did in advance hinted that we might find our familiar comfort food without a challenge.

After trudging up and down the main street and side streets, examining menus posted outside the restaurant entrances, we were feeling downhearted. There wasn't much for vegans on any of the menus, but there was plenty and then some for the mainstreamers on the standard American diet. Some restaurants didn't even have Sides that we could turn into a meal. We wondered how were we going to survive the next few days.

Our first impression was that eating vegan in Catalina was difficult, but not impossible. Determined to find treasure, we persevered and, joyfully, did find a few gems to share with others who may be lured to the charming island for a pleasurable get-away.

Divine Dining in Avalon
C.C. Gallagher Our first lunch spot was on the comfortable patio sitting under a large umbrella at C.C. Gallagher, where we enjoyed a Petite Side Salad plate of dolmas, hummus, sliced cucumbers and cherry tomatoes accompanied with delicious, crispy, fennel-flavored flatbread crackers called croccantini presented in a small metal pail. Our heaping Pear and Spinach Salad was made with organic spinach, raw pistachios, sliced cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes with a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Ordinarily, each of these items comes with cheeses, but with a few adjustments, the restaurant was able to accommodate us.

C.C. Gallagher serves Mediterranean food but is also an art gallery and gift shop with a unique ambience. Wine lovers will appreciate their well-stocked wine vault. Those with a taste for imported beer can choose from those on tap or the intriguing selection in the refrigerated case. We enjoyed an exceptional stout called Weihenstephan imported from a German brewery in business since 1040 AD. In the evenings, the restaurant employs a Japanese chef who prepares sushi to order, even some veg varieties.
C.C. Gallagher
523 Crescent Ave., Avalon, CA 90704 (corner of Crescent Ave. and Clarissa St.)
Phone: 310-510-1278

Crusing with Portobello at Portofino
Villa Portofino Ristorante is an Italian delight. A charmer open for dinner only, the restaurant features dishes by Chef Greg Wenger, a former corporate chef for Vegetarian Times. Elegant ambience, intimate lighting with tiny lamps on each table, and comfortable, well-cushioned banquettes make this a delightful place to dine. For a starter we chose the totally vegan, deliciously seasoned Minestrone made with a light tomato broth richly infused with herbs. Then we shared the Carciofi Cotti al Ferri, a grilled artichoke prepared with an exceptional balsamic glaze. It was cut in half and served with a dipping bowl of the sweetest balsamic vinegar we had ever tasted. We learned this balsamic was aged for five years--it was worth the wait! Villa Portofino Ristorante

Though most items on the menu were not vegan friendly, the Funghi Portobello was a possibility with some adjustment. This stuffed portobello is a winner and is tastefully prepared with roasted peppers, fennel, tomatoes, cannellini beans, pine nuts, and fresh herbs. The busboy brought a basket of bread and a little dish of butter that was quickly snapped up by our attentive, knowledgeable server who returned with another basket filled with vegan artisanal rosemary bread.
Villa Portofino Ristorante
101 Crescent Ave., Avalon, CA 90704
Phone: 310-410-2009

Burrito time at the Cantina
Studying the menus of the city's Mexican restaurants was discouraging, if not depressing. Toughened vegans that we are, we marched into the Catalina Cantina and asked if they could make us a bean and vegetable burrito without cheese and sour cream. They could. We were told the beans were not made with lard, but with vegetable oil. We stayed and were rewarded with a tasty lunch, sharing a gigantic burrito filled with beans, grilled veggies, tomatoes, onions, and bits of fresh jalapeno peppers that delivered a zesty kick. We also ordered a guacamole served in a black, three-legged bowl and a side of corn tortillas kept warm and moist in a covered tortilla server. Catalina Cantina

The ambience is a total blast with lively music and practically every inch of wall space covered in hanging tchochkes and beer and liquor signs. Relaxed informality prevails here with a giant wooden bar and most of the furnishings consisting of wooden tables and chairs. With only a half wall facing the street, diners sitting at those tables closest to the sidewalk could actually shake hands with passersby.
Catalina Cantina
313 Crescent Ave., Avalon, CA 90704
Phone: 310-501-0100

Dial M for great food
Our advance internet search listed M Restaurant as a possible choice for an elegant vegan meal. Shortly after we arrived on the island we made reservations for the following night. While we were getting ready to go to dinner, the hotel sent up a bottle of chilled champagne in a bucket with two champagne flutes. We poured a glass, toasted our anniversary, and headed for the restaurant.

The restaurant's décor expresses simple elegance; the food showcases elegant service as well. With white walls, a high white ceiling, and large skylights, the restaurant completes its décor with dark brown wooden furnishings and flooring. White cloth napkins and elegant flatware complete the tasteful surroundings as pleasing old jazz favorites played softly in the background. A stunning wooden bar with mirrors completed the furnishings along with fresh flowers on each table. M Restaurant

The Yellow Curry and Carrot Soup is totally vegan and truly exquisite. Thick and creamy, it was served in a large wide bowl with flared sides and garnished with sprouts and a few petals of edible flowers. Simply expressed, the flavor, enhanced with toasted coriander and coconut milk, is rich and indulgent. We selected one of the three vegan salads and shared a mound of baby lettuces hidden beneath an arrangement of marinated vegetables: mushrooms, thin asparagus, sliced tomatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes in a light dressing of olive oil and herbs.

The only vegan entrée is the Stir-Fried Tofu and Vegetables, an innovative and multi-colored extravaganza of tofu, long shreds of thin julienne napa cabbage, red cabbage, red bell peppers, red onions, and carrots in a deliciously pungent sauce of red wine vinegar, garlic, and ginger with just enough sweetness to balance the tanginess perfectly. The dish was just as delightful to look at as it was to taste.
M Restaurant
205 Crescent Ave., Avalon, CA 90704
Phone: 310-510-8404

We Went Exploring
After our dinner at M Restaurant we strolled the main street and wondered where we might be able to have dinner on our last night on the island. We studied the menu at the Avalon Grille and noticed a Black Bean Veggie Burger. Then we shook our heads. Impossible, we thought. The burger is probably made with cheese. Then a second thought brought us into the restaurant to ask what might be possible. The hostess summoned the manager and we found ourselves explaining what vegan was to Ricardo Villacorta. He listened attentively, asked many questions, and assured us he would have a delicious vegan meal for us the following evening. We left feeling quite relieved.

Breakfast in Bed
Breakfasts were not a concern because we had brought enough homemade vegan muffins to last throughout our trip. With a market two doors away from our hotel, we could also have a good supply of fresh fruit each day. It was a good thing we came prepared because of the several restaurants that specialized in breakfasts, only one served oatmeal. The rest of the breakfast dishes consisted of omelettes, waffles, pancakes, and the usual choices of bacon, ham, or sausages.

Patio dining Metropole Style
On our third day, we discovered Café Metropole, a gem of an eatery that's only open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week. Weekend brunch is Thursday through Saturday is 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The cafe is located in Metropole Marketplace but the entrance is actually on Metropole Street. We placed our order inside, and found a table on the large, patio outside under the numerous shade trees.

Cafe Metropole A lovely setting, the patio was surrounded with tourist shops and a variety of birds that found the place as charming as we did. The vegan soups that day were Southern Greens Soup and Eggplant with Black Bean. We began with one of each so we could taste them both and found them well seasoned, delicious, and generously packed with veggies. The Falafel Plate included two falafel patties spread with tasty, thick tahini sauce, and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and slivers of sweet onion all piled into a soft, Greek flatbread. The Vegetable Sandwich was a grilled delight with chunks of eggplant, onions, green and yellow zucchini, carrots, green peppers, and fresh basil leaves stuffed into a multi-grain roll dotted with crunchy millet.

One does not have to be vegan to appreciate the excellent quality of the well-prepared homemade food. The cafe is a veggie lover's experience. We also shared a refreshing Strawberry Raspberry Smoothie. With an effort to leave a lighter footprint on the earth, the restaurant serves everything in eco-friendly, biodegradable plates, napkins, cups, and utensils made from potato starch. The menu, though not all vegan, did offer a number of vegan items that were all freshly prepared.
Café Metropole
202 Crescent Ave., Avalon, CA 90704
Phone: 310-510-9095

Memorable Dining Our Last Evening
Our last night left us with warm, lingering memories. Our lovely experience instilled a strong feeling that vegans will now find the Avalon Grille a great place to dine. Ricardo, the manager, escorted us to a raised, cushy banquette along the wall. The tall tables match the height of the huge U-shaped bar that dominates the center of the room that was once an information center for the island. The well-conceived restaurant is all about comfort, well-prepared food, and excellent customer service.

Ricardo explored the internet the night before to find out what vegans eat, and WOW was he prepared! First came a heaping bowl of Brussels sprouts, generously sprinkled with cranberries and toasted chopped almonds prepared in a well-seasoned, pungent mustard vinaigrette sauce. It was totally addictive and irresistible. Our host brought us a bowl of deep fried onion rings battered in panko with ketchup on the side for dipping, all vegan, of course. This course was followed by a tiny bowl of marinated, thinly sliced, tangy and lightly sweetened cucumbers reminiscent of Japanese sunomono. Another bowl arrived, this one with sweet potato fries and fresh mustard vinaigrette made with Dijon--a dream of a sauce that paired perfectly with the sweet potatoes. By this time we were reaching capacity, but the meal was not over yet. Avalon Grille

The entrée arrived on giant size oval platters with a large vegan hamburger bun piled high with the most stunning medley of grilled vegetables: Chinese broccoli, green bell peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, roasted red bell peppers, and marinated artichoke hearts. Also on the platter was a bowl filled with deep-fried, lightly battered plump green beans and dipping sauce. Served a meal to please royalty, we were only humble peasants made to feel like kings. We had an opportunity to chat with Ricardo and stressed the value of placing vegan items on the menu or adding a V to indicate items that could be made vegan.

We left with hugs for Ricardo and a deep appreciation and gratitude for the effort he and Chef Rob Dalzell made that night. It was truly memorable.
Avalon Grille
423 Crescent Ave., Avalon, CA 90704
Phone: 310-510-7494

The Message to Vegan Visitors
The message we feel important to share is that good communication in restaurants is a valuable tool. Even if nothing appears possible on the menu, make your inquiries in a soft, pleasant manner and with a smile. Restaurants are in business to make money and are eager to please. They really don't want to turn customers away. Often vegans will look at a menu and simply walk away if they see nothing plant-based, but that's a mistake. The more vegans approach mainstream restaurants with reasonable requests, the more aware restaurateurs will become. Some will go out of their way to welcome vegan diners. Good communication can be a teaching tool and the ideal way to open the door to more vegan options.


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