Sunday, July 26, 2009

He's got the whole Mundo in his hands.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. While Manhattan is a vegan mecca, Queens is... a lot more like any other metropolitan area. It does have a strength, though, which is its huge diversity: anyone who's been vegan for more than a week knows that pretty much any vaguely authentic Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Indian, Thai (etc., etc.) restaurant will likely have a few clean offerings. This is why my man and I can safely order delivery from about twenty different places in the neighborhood.

Luckily, though, and likely due to the fact that it is after all a part of New York City, Queens is catching on to the whole "vegan thing". We have a couple of places here in Astoria that actually use the V word on the menu. One such restaurant is Mundo, tucked just up off of Broadway on 32nd Street. We ate there once again last night, and I figure it's about darn time I tell you something about it - even if once again I completely neglected to take any pictures. While they are by no means a vegan or even vegetarian restaurant, a vegan can squeeze a more than decent meal out of them without trying too hard.

You'll notice upon entering this tight space that it is, in fact, a tight space. They've taken their cue from fast paced cousins: pack in as many tables as you can! This is possibly my least favorite aspect of the restaurant. No, that's not true. My least favorite trait, by far, is that sometimes they try to have live music. *shiver* Anyway. At least they have a really cool chandelier. The first thing you'll truly appreciate about Mundo is the fact that their menu is labeled. As in, if it's vegetarian, it tells you so, and if it's vegan it'll tell you that as well.

If you're at all a wine drinker, I suggest starting off with the sangria. It's quite tasty, and it'll make you forget how close you're sitting to the next table. If you have a large enough party order the pitcher - this is for the pitcher itself, which is usually in the shape of an animal. I get a kick out of that kind of thing. Jonathan doesn't drink wine or things with wine in it, and I can't drink a whole pitcher myself (is that Melissa on the floor?), so I have to live vicariously through others. Do it for me, wouldja?

Once you get your drink on, it's time to think about food. You'll notice that Mundo refers to its Red Sonjas as its "must-try signature dish!" They're not kidding. Now, you're going to have to trust me here, because at first you'll think I was playing a joke. The plate that will arrive at your table will hold four mushed balls of reddish stuff, mottled with white, complete with visible finger impressions, laying atop a lettuce leaf. Sounds delish, eh? But don't be fooled by the less than appetizing appearance - these things are awesome and unlike anything else you've had. The way to eat them is to squeeze on a little lemon juice, roll up the seasoned lentil paste (the mottled red stuff) into the lettuce leaf, and eat your mini-wrap with gusto. Make sure you order enough so that each person at your table has two - less than that is a tease, but more is overkill.

Another fabulous item on hand is the red lentil soup. It's clearly made of the same lentil base as the red sonjas - and that's to your benefit. They often have a soup of the day, but make sure you ask if it's vegan. It's usually not, even if it seems like it should be, because they like to do things like add sour cream. Last night's offering was a chilled mango soup. Sounds vegan, doesn't it? Nope.

Both of the vegan dips available (hummus and a roasted eggplant dip), while common, are uncommonly good. They're nothing radically different than what you've had before, but are still an enjoyable change from the standard fare you're used to at your fave Middle Eastern place. These are served with dainty and delicate pita triangles, which you'll doubtless run out of. Ask for more - I don't believe we've been charged extra for the second basket.

Other vegan items include the Egyptian artichokes and the stuffed zucchini. The artichokes are quite good, though the accompanying peas and carrots may make you think you're at Grandma's after church and the fava beans can be tough. As for the stuffed zucchini, don't order them unless you really, really, REALLY love caramelized onions.

If you're thinking about checking out the main courses, don't. While the vegetarians will find two options, for the vegans it's a complete strikeout. Not the end of the world; so we eat tapas style. Still kind of silly though, don't you think, for a restaurant that clearly knows about its vegan contingent? There's also what I consider to be the menu's main failing: deserts. Mundo doesn't offer a single vegan dessert. (I know, you're surprised I'll even eat there, aren't you.) This, in my mind, is just plain ludicrous. It's just too easy. A sorbet? A traditional baklava? Come on people. We're not asking for anything fancy. Bake me an apple with sugar and cinnamon and have done with it.

So, the final verdict? For vegans, Mundo is simply not a destination location. But if you happen to be in the area - because you live here, because friends want to go to the Beer Garden but eat out first, whatever - it's not a bad choice. It's pretty and secluded enough to be a decent date spot as well, as long as it's not prime time.

My favorite way to eat there? Two people, two lentil soups, then split the red sonjas and the two dips. Then on the way home or elsewheres, pop into one of the dozens of bakeries and pick up something awesome, like marzipan in the shape of fruits. Ta da! And everyone lived happily ever after.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ready... Set... GO!

So then. As you're likely well aware now, I'm a proud and boastful member of the Vegan Etsy Team. What you may or may not know, though, is that we're a fun-loving team that engages in wacky challenges! Our newest challenge is the wackiest yet, and prizes be damned, all the fun is in the play. I spent the the better part of the weekend tooling around town with my man, ever a good sport (even if he does pose like a surly pirate in pictures), finding the items on the list of our SCAVENGER HUNT! Oh yes ladies and gents, prepare to be photographically amazed... with pictures of random objects most of which include a bit of my thumb. Let's go!

(Before we begin though, don't be gettin no ideas - team members only!)

Item #1: The Letter V.

Upon seeing this item on the list, I instantly knew what I wanted to use. V train! Unfortunately the V doesn't run on weekends, so I had to settle for a sign. After Jonathan took about 27 hopelessly blurry pics of me I finally just snapped one for myself, but a bit later we found a normal street entrance with a much more accessible V.

Then I found an extra-fancy blingin' V keychain - for good measure.

Item #2: A Blue Eyed Cat.

Man, was this one tough! Living in New York City, I don't actually come into contact with a whole lotta cats. Crappily enough, most apartments don't allow them. In a street fair we ran through we did come across a shelter trying to get people to adopt cats, to whom we gave all of our small bills. The kittens they had there, though, did not have blue eyes. So I had to get creative. First, I found an illustration of a blue eyed kitten, in a basket, surrounded by flowers. Awwwww. Very cute, but I was not satisfied. Next, I found figurines of white bengal tigers. You may or may not be able to tell from the photos, but the eyes really are blue - in real life too! Next there was a quite adorable blue-eyed baby leopard, which Jon was nice enough to hold up for me - incidentally he's got blue eyes too. Fourth, I found a cat-like monster with one central blue eye; as you can probably tell, Jonathan was not particularly impressed with this find, but whatev, I thought he was cool. And finally, we found what I'm affectionately calling the WonkyCat. See for yourself.

Item #3: A Brown Cow.

For as few cats as I tend to hang out with here in Queens, it's a hundred to one compared to how many cows I run into. So once again, I had to be resourceful. The first brown cow I found was on a stamp. Well sure, why not? Next, I found figures of brown cows. There was a mama, a papa, and a baby. Very lifelike! I also found a cute toddler's wooden puzzle with "farm" type images on it, which pictured a sweet brown cow wearing a bell. Now, this is a cute image, and it reminds me of childhood. But. Isn't this exactly the kind of image that taught us all as children that cows and other animals have wonderful and happy lives on farms - totally disassociating the reality of the situation? I was actually a little surprised to find it when I stopped to think about what I was looking at, but as it is indeed food for though I've decided to include it here anyway.

Item #4: A Pink Bracelet.

Something told me that this wouldn't be the most challenging item on the list, and sure enough, one little ol' NYC street fair provided me with several options. I chose two to share that each have a certain je ne sait quois - the first a box set of thirty or so hot pink bangles, and the second a nice big chunky affair fit for adornment while sipping pina coladas the tropics.

Item #5: A Green Cup or Mug.

I kept forgetting about this one, and I don't know why. I found the perfect item in the Pylones store in Grand Central, and I got the shot all lined up, and then from behind me I heard one of the sales girls say "oh, you can't take pictures." Stupidly, I did not just click the button. Grr. Oh well. I got a few other shots of less cool green mugs elsewheres. But let it be a lesson to you: take pictures now, answer questions later.

Item #6: A Vegan Beer.

No problems here people - we are a beer drinking family. It still comes as a surprise to many that there are beers that are *not* vegan. Well, it's true. Weird, and discomforting, and wildly unnecessary, but true. The main animal ingredient I'm aware of used in the making of beer is isinglass, which to my understanding is a substance derived from the swim bladders of fish and used for clarification. This evokes SO MANY QUESTIONS, the main ones being a) who the hell figured that out and why and ew!, and b) why do you need to clarify a beverage that, even in its palest state, is nothing approaching clear? The mind boggles. It is, however, not nearly the biggest "why are there animals in that?!" mystery. At any rate, my choice for a "vegan beer" for this particular challenge is Brooklyn Lager. This is a beer that, yes, is actually brewed in Brooklyn, at the Brooklyn Brewery. They make a nice selection of beers, and with the exception of one odd cask ale that for some reason uses a "fining" which may be egg or may be the dreaded isinglass, all of their beers are vegan. True story.

Item #7: A White Candle.

Gem and rock store on Madison to the rescue! Granted, the white candles are not exactly what's being featured - but the objects are certainly candle holders, and they happen to be holding white candles. Voila! Shiny, no?

Item #8: A Spotted Horse.

Horsie! Need I reiterate the lack of wildlife in my neck of the woods? I considered snapping the horses ridden by the police around the park, or those that draw carriages. But as both of those activities bother me immensely I opted neither to seek them out nor to spread images of them. Instead I looked for toys! And I found them, because man do people love their horses. At first I kept finding spotted cows and brown horses - frustrating. :-/ Eventually though I spotted several horses (ha ha HA), and one of them was even blue!

Item #9: A Leopard Print Hair Tie.

Did you know that leopard print is back "in"? (For reals, along with ankle bracelets.) Yeah, I can personally vouch for the fact that the back side window displays of Bloomingdales at the moment feature almost nothing but leopard print. Yup, the 90's are back. So, alright. I don't know precisely what's meant by "hair tie". I'm pretty much thinking 0f what I refer to as a scrunchie. One of those I did not find. I did, however, find a furry leopard print "party animal" party hat - with ears! - as well as an elastic bandanna hairband thingy. So hey, that's gotta count for something.

Item #10: A Red Guitar Pick
Oh, how this item is plaguing me! It keeps me from (something approaching) perfection. And for a perfectionist, that is just not cool. After a long Saturday of searching, this is the only item that I'd not
even gotten a whiff of. The closest I'd gotten is this red guitar toy attachment thingy... and this funny XKCD comic. Neither of which count at all, but both of which may be entertaining?

**Addendum from second day - Aha! Today we made it to Sam Ash before they closed - not like yesterday, when we got there just as they were pulling down the security gate. Behold! Red guitar picks a-go-go, even some that look like aliens!

Item #11: Pink Hair (on any person or thing).

There's one good thing about living in a big city. OK, there's many good things. But one of them is that you don't have to look around long before you find some seriously unnaturally colored heads. Before I found this smashing hot pink mohawk, I saw a lavender lovely, a bit of mauve mayhem, a purple green and something multicolor massacre, and a bright blue bolt. (Later I ran into the pink headed dolls and couldn't resist. And on Sunday I also saw a girl with the most wonderful curly puff of cotton candy pink hair in the Apple Store, but she and her mohawked man were very involved in a purchase and it would have been rude to disturb her, and conspicuous to photograph her... oh well.)

Item #12: A White Bird.

OK. Now I know what you're thinking, but seriously, for a pigeon that bird is really white. If you take a look at his buddy, the gray one? Well that's a much more normal color for a pigeon. Now, I chased these fellows around a few square feet of sidewalk for a good five minutes or so, and in case you've never done it that's a pretty long time to chase a pigeon around. (Don't worry, I wasn't harassing them. They's city birds; they don't mind people.) And I took like twenty pictures. And this one, where I had my lil' sign upside down? Yeah, by far the best shot. White bird bonus: the stone owl and parrot from the gem shop.

Item #13: A Herbivorous Dinosaur from the Jurassic.

That's right people, we're getting specific. Not just a dinosaur. Not just a veggie loving dinosaur. But a Jurassic era veggie loving dinosaur! This required a little research. Yeah, I've taken a few courses in paleontology, but I was always more into the invertebrates. Ask me anything you want about Canidaspis perfecta. Aaannyyway. I decided the best candidates were the stegosaurus, the brachiosaurus, or the apatosaurus (f/k/a brontosaurus). I was all ready to roll on up to the American Museum of Natural History for this one and get y'all the fo reals. But the AMNH is pretty pricy, and it's also uncomfortably full of stuffed animals (and I don't mean teddy bears). Luckily that turned out to be unnecessary - two outta three ain't bad! (Thanks bus stop girl for letting me photograph your tote bag! You rock!)

Item #14: Drawing of a Sunset over Water.

Dude. I'm spending Thanksgiving weekend in Jupiter. (Florida, that is.) Oh, yes.

Item #15: A Black Dress.

Sure, I own black dresses. At least two, maybe three... hell, maybe more than three. I'd have to check. I wear a lot of black. So I suppose I could have just photographed one of those. But where's the fun in that? My first attempt was to capture this adorable tea length sun dress worn by a girl on our very crowded car as we made our way into the city on Saturday. As you may imagine, it's rather difficult to take pictures of people on a very crowded subway, and the pictures came out accordingly. But ah, patience is a virtue. In that good old street fair, that coughed up so many goodies for us (falafel!), I spotted this mother-daughter team BOTH sporting cute black dresses. Love it.

So there you have it! OK, granted, maybe not a perfect score. But a fun time was had by all - I can vouch for that much. I really enjoyed this challenge - it makes you actually look at the world to seek out such seemingly random items. I am an observer, to be sure, but I also have a tendency to walk the same streets day after day, and to do so while reading a book. (Yeah, really.) This weekend it was like having my eyes open to the city again. I went places I never go and talked to people I never would have approached otherwise. So, it must be said - Thanks for an awesome challenge, team!