July 29, 2010

Seattle vs. Madison | The Green Owl | Saigon salad

Fresh and sweet from the farmers market


Seattle.................vs................Madison
too much rain..............................too much snow
too little heat................................right amount of heat
too little sun.................................lots of sun
long growing season....................short growing season
family members...........................no family members
very few friends :(........................lots of friends
no mosquitoes..............................mosquitoes
no fireflies.....................................many fireflies
large city (too large!)....................medium-sized city (just right)
heavy traffic..................................light traffic
hard to navigate............................easy to navigate
mountains.....................................small hills
many veg restaurants....................one veg restaurant (many ethnic restaurants)
high cost of living..........................moderate cost of living
high-rent house.............................paid off house
damp cold......................................dry cold
cars stop for pedestrians...............cars try to run over pedestrians
adorable granddaughter................no granddaughter
farmers markets............................easily accessible farmers markets

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The Green Owl Cafe: vegetarian and vegan cuisine

In my previous post I reviewed our lunch at The Green Owl, and this post will be about the dinner we recently shared there with friends. Entrees come with a choice of a small salad or cup of soup; my dining companions chose salads, and I chose soup. The salads were pretty standard mixed greens and I didn't photograph them. My soup of the day was a very thin, extremely salty version of split pea. It was tasty but so salty that I actually didn't finish it. I'm used to restaurant food being salty, but the soup surprised me with the intensity of the salt flavor — almost as if someone had spilled too much salt into the pot. I think diners at restaurants should give feedback on the food but I'm always too self-conscious to do so, myself. Do you tell the waitstaff when something is too salty or otherwise not up to par?

Mary had the vegan schnitzel ($13) with porcini mushroom sauce, broccoli and oven-roasted potatoes, and she said she really enjoyed her dinner.

Ken had the stuffed red pepper ($12). It was stuffed with quinoa, lentils and slivered almonds, covered with a Moroccan tomato sauce, and accompanied by steamed broccoli. The pepper filling was sweet rather than savory and tasted of cinnamon. Although it looks large in the photo, the serving was modest but filling. Ken liked it a lot and said he'd order it again.

My vegetarian jambalaya ($12), described on the menu as "a smoky mixture of rice, red beans, vegetables and marinated baked tempeh," came with steamed kale and roasted red pepper cornbread. The jambalaya was very flavorful though I wouldn't have described it as "smoky." The wonderful kale was perfectly cooked to a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, and tasted very fresh. I'm a kale fanatic, and this made me very happy. The real surprise was the cornbread, with its almost creamy texture and full-corn flavor. It was the one food that didn't seem to over-rely on salt for its flavor. I was too full to finish the jambalaya though I did enjoy all of the kale and cornbread.

Allen chose the special of the day, and the only non-vegan meal at our table, the "fish" fry. It came with coleslaw and oven-fried potatoes. He said he enjoyed it, but after dinner we talked about our meals, and salt kept coming up. Both Allen and Mary (not vegetarians, by the way) have cut way back on salt, and both found the food a little salty. Allen commented that the potatoes were particularly salty. We were all feeling somewhat thirsty as we left the restaurant. Extra salt is something one can add at the table so it seems unnecessary to present over-salted food. (Not everyone is sensitive to salt, and of course I understand that restaurants usually cater to the majority, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.)

Overall, dining at the Green Owl is a very pleasant experience, with attentive waitstaff and comfortable surroundings. As a vegan, it's great to be able to order food without having to ask a dozen questions and wonder if my dinner is really vegan or not. I'd love to see the restaurant depend less on salt, more on plants, for flavor. I hope Madison vegetarians will come out to support the restaurant and help it to be a success. I'll certainly eat there again soon!
note: As I mentioned in my lunch review, a gluten-free menu is available upon request.

addendum: I received a very nice note from Jennie Capellaro, owner of The Green Owl, explaining and apologizing for the extremely salty pea soup. She said, "Andrea, I like your blog a lot and wanted to apologize for the split pea soup. It was too salty. The kitchen staff who prepared it had followed my recipe but used table salt instead of kosher salt and that resulted in a soup that was, as you tasted, too SALTY. I was glad to read that you still feel fairly positive about us after that experience. I've made it clear in all the recipes which salt to use and re-emphasized the rule to staff that everyone needs to be tasting things and not simply blindly following recipes. So, hopefully you won't encounter something like that again and, to repeat, I'm really sorry you had that experience. Please try us again and don't be shy about letting your server know if there are any issues. We are very nice about stuff like that. Take care."

I want to emphasize again that although I complained a little about some of the food, I would definitely eat there again, and encourage anyone living in or traveling to Madison, to give The Green Owl a try.

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Taste of India
We had dinner at Taste of India with our neighbors Marsha and David. I had the same thing I always have at Indian restaurants, aloo gobi. I'm not kidding about always having the same thing. I've tried other dishes but have settled on this one as my favorite, and it's what I always order. My husband usually orders vegetable biryani and we share, but he must have been feeling adventurous because he chose vegetable mango. I didn't get a photo but he said it was very tasty. (Very tasty is the limit of his verbal enthusiasm, and indicates he liked the dish a lot. If he only liked it a little he would have said it was good.)

Here's Marsha looking pretty happy after her meal. She also had vegetable mango.
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Saigon salad à la Zoa

So, with all this eating out, do we ever cook? The answer is yes, but not much. We did make a terrific summer dish called Saigon salad that I found on The Airy Way. Zoa said this salad was so yummy she could eat it every night, and she's right about it being that good. We had it two nights in a row, and I believe I'll be having it for lunch. (Alas, no lunch dates arranged for today.) We made ours with stir-fried marinated tofu, and the addition of shredded raw zucchini and leftover corn cut from the cob. Actually, my husband assembled the salad, and he's not really into presentation — go look at Zoa's blog here and here for her versions.
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First corn
of the season

Our first corn of the summer, bought at the farmers market and cooked shortly after purchase, was the best of the best — tender, and so sweet it tasted like someone had added sugar to it. We enjoyed it lightly steamed, straight up. It needed nothing added to enhance the flavor.

16 comments:

  1. That salad looks beautiful and very delicious!
    Sorry your food was too salty at the restaurant. I have no problem letting the server know if there is a problem with my meal, especially when all of your dishes were real salty.

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  2. I too am always too embarrassed to give feedback on food in a restaurant. But, I think it's an excellent indication of a restaurant's interest if the waitstaff is trained to check in with you and specifically notice/inquire if you are sending something back untouched. I'm a leftover fiend, so if something isn't being wrapped, there's a reason.

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  3. I'm like you...very shy about giving feedback/sending stuff back in restaurants...but I think reasonable feedback given respectfully can only be a good thing for the restaurant...maybe there's a restaurant assertiveness course somewhere that we could sign up for :)

    Like your comparison list btw Seattle and Madison. I'm surprised that the growing season is shorter there...but if it's warm and sunny all summer, stuff probably grows faster.

    I guess there are pros and cons about anywhere...but it sounds like your family tips the balance...any chance you could convince them to move back?

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  4. PS: just wanted to say also: fireflies are so adorable!

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  5. I love the restaurant food pics. Especially the stuffed peppers--for some reason I always think stuffed veggies are so adorable! Haha. And that corn looks perfect... wish I had some :]

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  6. Clearly, Madison wins out :-)

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  7. Tehehe--I love your comparison of the cities :-) I felt the same way when I lived in NY for a while and would go back to MN to visit...I had family in NY and none in MN, but MN just feels like home!

    I always order dal at Indian restaurants--I am with you and like to stick to what I know I will like :-)

    Courtney

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  8. Dreaminitvegan,
    Zoa's salad was a perfect summer meal — refreshing but filling. Maybe I should take you with me next time I go out to eat, just in case anything's amiss. :)

    Abigale,
    The waitstaff was very attentive and asked how everything was but I lied. Next time I'll try to be more honest.

    Rose,
    Maybe Phinney community center will offer a restaurant assertiveness class...

    MAdison can have a late last frost and an early first frost, making the season short. But, things do grow really well and we had tomatoes in our garden on July 16 when we arrived here. And we have lots of fireflies. And mosquitoes.

    Diana,
    The pepper was beautiful in person — very vibrant. And the corn was fantastic.

    Anonymous,
    Are you by chance a Madison resident?

    Courtney,
    Minnesota is a beautiful state and Minneapolis is a great city!

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  9. Ah, I *never* give feedback at restaurants. Why not? Honestly,I guess, out out pity, because I just assume they can't cook as well as I can! Not that I'm such a fantastic chef or that everything I make turns out perfectly, but restaurant meals are in my experience so often tragically flawed, like your soup. But then, too, I don't eat out all that much, so couldn't call myself a conoisseur. That said, my pea soup rocks and if by chance it had turned out too salty I would darn well have fixed it before serving it to anyone else!

    Thanks for the link and the mention! That Saigon salad really is awesome, and your husband's presentation is excellent!

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  10. Zoa,
    I never give feedback either. I just assume that restaurants cook for the majority, and the majority prefers food that is more fatty and more salty than I do, especially when dining out. I prefer my food to be both delicious and healthful, which is why I usually eat at home. When I indulge in restaurant food, I usually accept the health compromises (I may cringe a little) as long as it tastes good (and doesn't make me feel sick). I think though, I may try answering honestly when asked how everything tastes, to see what kind of reaction I get, and to get my opinion heard. :) The pea soup was really off the charts, and deserved a comment. The other food was very good, though more salty than I would have preferred. But one person's "too salty" is another person's "too bland." It's tough to be a restaurant cook.

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  11. So much good food! The stuffed pepper looks absolutely amazing!

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  12. Cars stop for pedestrians...cars try to run over pedestrians. i was really struck by this on my recent visit to NY (my former home) vs. Chicago, where I now live. Guess where they try to run people over?

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  13. Mihl,
    I've always loved stuffed peppers and once we're back to cool weather, I think I'll try to make one like this.

    Susan,
    Chicago? Really, this question has me intrigued, and I've asked several people about it. So far, Chicago is winning.

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  14. Good brief and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you seeking your information.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  16. Salt is so tricky. I went to my favorite vegan restaurant once and I guess they had a new chef because all of the food was so salty, I could barely choke it down. Glad to know that The Green Owl has a staff and chef who cares, though! I wish I would have known about this place the last time I was in Madison.

    Also, that corn looks seriously delicious!

    ReplyDelete

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