Peace, Love, and Avocado for All

San Francisco is home to the original hippie, the flower child borne of the 1967 Summer of Love, though only faint traces of the counter culture movement remain today. Largely replaced by tech workers with smartphones in their pockets rather than floral ornaments in their hair, it disappoints me to no end that we don’t even have an outpost of Flower Child out in the bay area. Had it not been for a trip out to Austin, TX, I never would have even known of the peaceable chain.

During my whirlwind five-day visit, I managed to drop in not once, but twice; a real rarity for a food traveler with a bucket list of restaurants to eat at, not historical sights to see. Given more time, I might have simply taken up residence on those plush benches lining the walls instead of booking a proper hotel room. True to concept, the vibe is essential to the experience, setting it apart from other fast-casual dining experiences. Seeking harmony between all sorts of eaters, the menu is clearly labeled with abundant options for the vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, and omnivorous among us.

Vegetable-forward dishes allow peak produce to shine, like the simple heirloom tomato salad spiked with balsamic vinegar and shreds of fresh basil strewn about like confetti. Crisp cubes of watermelon sweetly contrast and provide balance overall. A rotating list of seasonal sides offers other savory treats like roasted yuzu Brussels sprouts, blistered snap peas, or curried cauliflower, depending on the time of year.

Poke bowls are a rising food trend for good reason, especially evident when the concept is applied to a fishless main. Tender cubes of marinated beets join forces with lighted brined mushrooms, both salty and umami, with all the fatty decadence of avocado to drive the combination home. Crunchy wasabi peas are an unexpected touch of whimsy in this ode to whole foods. The spicy bites are a good reminder that healthy eating shouldn’t be boring, nor are those choices black and white.

If there was a signature dish at Flower Child, the Mother Earth Bowl would be the undisputed winner of that title. It’s the one that everyone talks about in newspapers, magazines, and blogs the world over, each source breathlessly extolling the virtues of its copious components. The appeal is obvious just from a glance at the bare ingredients; roasted sweet potato and portobello mushrooms, broccoli pesto, charred onions, avocado, and cucumber, all perched upon a bed of ancient grains and lavished with red pepper miso vinaigrette. It really is like having the whole world in a bowl before you.

While I can’t get those same chill vibes out in NorCal, the flower children in the kitchen were generous enough to spread the love with this harmonious secret formula.

Mother Earth Bowl
From Flower Child

6 ounces Super Grain Mix: red quinoa, farro, and barley, cooked and tossed.
2 ounces sweet potatoes, roasted
2 1/2 ounces Portobello Mushroom, roasted
½ ounces Arugula
1 teaspoon daikon sprouts
1 teaspoon rice wine vinaigrette
1 tablespoon broccoli pesto*
1 tablespoon red pepper miso marmalade*
2 tablespoons cucumber relish*
¼ avocado, fanned
1 teaspoon hemp seeds

Broccoli Pesto:
1 cup broccoli, blanched
4 ½ tablespoons black kale, blanched
2 ¼ tablespoons roasted salted pistachio
1 1/3 tablespoons spinach
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon mint leaves
1 ¼ teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Red Pepper Miso Marmalade:
½ cup peppadew peppers, rough chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, rough chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, peeled & rough chopped
1 1/3 tablespoons miso paste
1 ½ tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
3 teaspoons tamari
3 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cucumber Relish:
1 cup cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed, and ¼ dice
2 tablespoons. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
2 teaspoon sesame chili oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
½ teaspoon mint leaves, minced
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

Broccoli Pesto Directions
1. Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Red Pepper Miso Marmalade Directions
2. Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Cucumber Relish Directions
3. Combine all ingredients and mix until incorporated.

Mother Earth Bowl Directions
4. Roast sweet potatoes and Portobello mushrooms and set aside.
5. To prepare dish, toss arugula with sprouts and vinaigrette, then spoon Super Grain mix in
the center of the bowl.
6. Place sweet potatoes on top, next to Portobello.
7. Place arugula next to mushrooms and cucumber salad next to arugula.
8. Top with pesto, marmalade, and avocado across the center of the dish.
9. Finish with hemp seeds.

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Silent Saturday: Leftovers from Austin

(As I begin packing my bags for the next great adventure, it’s becoming clear that if I don’t share the last roundup of photos from my time in Texas now, I probably never will. There are still many more photos from my time in the “friendship state”- If you’re interested in seeing the full set, browse on over to my Flickr album.)

Vegan Breakfast Platter with Vanilla-Pecan Pancakes from Kerbey Lane Cafe

Garden Breakfast with Tofu Scramble from Bouldin Creek Cafe

Vegan ‘Harvey P’ Rueben from Shhmaltz

Beet Mushroom Walnut Burger from Counter Culture

Avocado Carpaccio and Black Bean Taco from Tyson’s Tacos

Vegan Crab Cakes with Smoked Vegetables from Lady Luck

The Classic Vegan Cheese Detroit-Style Pizza from Via 311

Spicy Veggie Prawns with Collard Greens from Nice-N-Ful

Cauliflower Steak with Curried Lentils and Caramelized Onions from Hyde Park Bar & Grill

Jackfruit BBQ Plate from Unity Vegan Kitchen

Silent Sunday: Sweet on Austin

Zombie Sundae (with Chocolate-Chai and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream) from Sweet Ritual

Austin Cream Pie Donut from Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich (with Chocolate Chip Cookies) from Moojo

Currant Scone and Iced Chai Tea from The Steeping Room

Chocolate-Dipped, Coconut-Covered Frozen Banana from Bananarchy

Birthday Cake Cupcake (Strawberry Cake with Almond Whipped Topping) from Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop

Nada Moo Vanilla Chai Sundae, Ice Cream Social Hosted by Counter Culture

Chocolate, Carrot, Lemon, Coconut, Cookie Dough, and Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Sugar Circus

Dreamsicle Cupcake from Capital City Bakery

A Better Bistro

“Elevated cuisine” is not the bill of fare one might expect to come out of a shoe-box of a food trailer parked in the outskirts of east Austin, and yet Bistro Vonish seems determined to defy such preconceived notions. Redefining the category of fine dining through the lens of a classically trained vegan chef, Craig Vanis isn’t your ordinary line cook either. Propelled by a basic desire to feed others and express his creativity, his true inspirations are diverse, interwoven into the tangle of modern food politics and nutrition. “Food touches everyone, more than just micro nutrients,” he explained to me over a plate of three sisters ragu, a vibrant melange of summer vegetables crowning crispy seared polenta cakes. Clearly, none of this philosophy clouds the flavors in world-class dishes like this one, presented with equal flare on the ever-changing menu.

In sharp contrast to his current surroundings, Chef Craig first found himself in Texas to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer in the oil fields. Laid off after the 2009 economy collapse, that marked a turning point that began in Houston kitchens and ultimately led him back for professional training at the Natural Epicurean School in Austin. This complex path is perhaps what gives the food at Bistro Vonish such a clear and unique voice; there’s no one else with the same formative experiences, and certainly none quite so fervently determined to pursue their passions in the food industry.

Showcasing more than just impeccable cooking skills, the local, organic, seasonal produce dictates the daily offerings. Weekend brunches are a distinct treat, featuring pillowy french toast with homemade fruit syrups, and savory tofu scrambles that would put a plate of eggs to shame.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg, and only the start of greater aspirations for Bistro Vonish. Chef Craig plans to expand into a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant as soon as possible, enlivened with tempting menus that echo the successes of supper clubs past. While it will be difficult to wait for this upcoming new chapter in the Bistro Vonish saga, Chef Craig was generous enough to share his recipe for Grapefruit Panna Cotta; a sweet finale to tide us over until the next meal.


Photo by Craig Vanis

Grapefruit Panna Cotta
by Chef Craig Vanis of Bistro Vonish

1 (13.5-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Agar Powder
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1/2 Grapefruit
1/2 Cup Grapefruit Juice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
6 Ounces Silken Tofu
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Simmer the coconut milk with the agar powder and sugar for approximately 10 – 15 minutes, to thoroughly cook and dissolve the agar. Blend the simmered liquid with the rest of the ingredients until creamy and smooth. Pour into lightly greased molds or ramekins to set; at least three hours or until firm. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Gently remove from molds and serve with the accompaniments of your choice. Suggestions include candied and fried sage, orange liqueur syrup, and tuile cookies.

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