"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.
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
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 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.
Crusing with Portobello at Portofino
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.
Burrito time at the 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.
Dial M for great food
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.
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.
We Went Exploring
Breakfast in Bed
Patio dining Metropole Style
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.
Memorable Dining Our Last Evening
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.
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.
The Message to Vegan Visitors