Monday, February 27, 2012

Road Trip! Amici's East Coast Pizzeria in Vacaville

I took a drive to Vacaville last week, where I had lunch at Amici's East Coast Pizzeria, part of a Bay Area restaurant chain. I knew they had a vegan pizza on their menu, and I wanted to check it out.

But first, I really wanted to try their Artichoke Panzanella Salad, a Tuscan bread salad that included artichoke hearts, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, red onion, Romaine, basil, and capers. It was dressed with a red wine vinaigrette. The bread in the salad tasted a lot like pizza dough, thick and chewy. The salad was excellent and very fresh. It comes in large and small sizes, with the large size feeding three to four people. The small size turned out to be a fairly generous helping.

Since I had a salad, I decided to order just a mini pizza. The Asante is made with Daiya vegan cheese, baby spinach, broccoli, red onion, tomatoes, and fresh basil. It does not come with tomato sauce. The crust at Amici's is very thin and baked directly on the brick oven floor, so it was a little darker than I usually prefer, but it was still tasty.

Other vegan options at Amici's include the Chilled Broccoli with extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice, the Garden Salad, and the Linguini with Marinara. The Minestrone Soup is not vegan because it contains a small amount of cheese.

Amici's has twelve locations, with the restaurant in Vacaville being the closest one to Sacramento. More information about locations, hours, and menu options is available at

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Threat to Mobile Food Trucks

Assembly Bill 1678 was introduced by Assembly Member Bill Monning (D-Carmel) last week to prohibit mobile food trucks from operating within 1,500 feet of a primary or secondary school campus between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on school days. According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, this would mean that mobile food trucks would be off-limits in forty-three square miles of the city, affecting 44 percent of Sacramento.

The press release sent out announcing the introduction of Assembly Bill 1678 quotes Assembly Member Monning as saying, "The mobile vending of unhealthful snacks like ice cream, chips, and sugar sweetened beverages near school campuses undermines efforts to provide students with the nutrition they need."

However, this bill would not apply to actual restaurants that sell unhealthful food. As the Sacramento Bee points out, "At McClatchy High School in Sacramento, for instance, a doughnut shop, two pizza parlors, a McDonald's, a Subway sandwich spot, a taco shop and an ice cream shop are within a short walk." And the electronic newsletter "The Nooner" pointed out that the McClatchy High School cafeteria lists items such as "pizza, chili dogs, kung pao chicken, popcorn chicken bowl, beef burrito, or enchilada pie" on their menu for the month. It seems as though the food offered by some of our local mobile food trucks might be a nutritional step up from the food served in many school cafeterias.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I think mobile food trucks hold great possibilities for vegan diners. Mai Pham recently launched a new mobile food truck to carry her popular Star Ginger menu, which includes several vegan items, to the UC Davis campus. Other mobile food trucks in the Sacramento area offer vegan options as well. Wicked Wich has vegan Italian sausage or kolbassi sandwiches, and Smoothie Patrol can make smoothies for vegans by substituting soy milk for regular milk. I was told by a representative of Mama Kim Cooks at the recent Sacramento VegFest that they usually have a vegan option available at their food truck.

My first mobile food truck experience as a vegan was in 2004 with the Roots-N-Kulchah truck, where Kimba Kabaka and James "Roots" Ortiz used to serve up vegan Caribbean cuisine at the corner of 24th and K streets. Unfortunately, they had to shut down when the city passed an ordinance requiring mobile food trucks to move every thirty minutes and cease operations at sundown. This ordinance has come under fire recently as being unduly burdensome, especially in light of the rising popularity of food trucks and the growing demand for their food offerings. The Sacramento City Council's Law and Legislation Committee is supposed to be taking another look at this issue.

Legislative attacks on mobile food trucks often come from the brick-and-mortar restaurant industry because of concerns that mobile food trucks might take away some of their business. But the spokesman for the California Restaurant Association, Daniel Conway, said of Assembly Bill 1678, "Any proposal like this that treats restaurants like strip clubs or sexual predators obviously catches our attention." Hear, hear!

Mobile food trucks have enriched Sacramento's culinary scene with their diverse food options and their ability to bring inexpensive but creatively-prepared food to convenient locations. It would be a travesty if this misguided and draconian legislation were to pass and kill this budding movement. Please consider sending an e-mail to Assembly Member Monning at to let him know of your concerns about Assembly Bill 1678. Also, please ask your local Assembly Member and State Senator to oppose this bill if it comes before them for a vote. You can follow this link to find out who your local representatives are and to link to their web pages:

Monday, February 13, 2012


While my son was home from college for a few days recently, I took him to lunch at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants, Ernesto's. There are actually a few items on the Ernesto's menu that are vegan or can be made vegan, and the restaurant prides itself on its vegetarian meals. Most of the dishes do include dairy products, specifically cheese and sour cream, but those ingredients can generally be omitted.

I decided to try something that I don't recall seeing on the Ernesto's menu before, the Whole Bean Soup (frijoles de la hoya). This soup is listed in the Soups section of the menu rather than the Vegetarian section, so I double-checked with the server to make sure that it was vegetarian. It was, and after I asked that the cheese garnish be omitted, it was vegan as well. It's made with whole pinto beans, and small dishes of garnish are served on the side (so if you forget to ask that the cheese be omitted, it should come in a separate dish anyhow). The other garnishes listed are cilantro and onions. Since I don't like onions, I asked that they be omitted as well, and I ended up with a small dish of shredded cabbage instead, which was really delicious in this particular soup. This large bowl of soup comes with homemade flour tortillas, so it was quite filling and I had leftovers for lunch the next day. I really enjoyed this soup, and will definitely order it again.

Other options for vegans include:

• 100% Natural Soup -- mushrooms, zucchini, rice, carrots, onions, and avocado in a vegetable tomato broth

• Enchiladas Sauté -- sautéed mushrooms, zucchini, and bell pepper (without the optional cheese) served in a corn tortilla and topped with enchilada sauce

• Navajo Bonanza -- mushrooms, zucchini, onions, and bell peppers sautéed in a spicy citrus chile ancho and chile pasilla sauce, then rolled in a flour tortilla and topped with avocado slices

• Taco Salad Sauté -- sautéed vegetables over Romaine lettuce with diced tomato, beans, guacamole, black olives, and jalapenos (hold the sour cream) in a flour tortilla shell

• Frida's Fajitas -- marinated zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and bell pepper sautéed with authentic spices and served with guacamole, pico de gallo, and homemade flour tortillas (again, hold the sour cream)

Since some of these dishes may come with a side of beans, you'll want to request that no cheese be used to garnish the beans.

There's not much, if anything, in the way of breakfast or dessert options for vegans at Ernesto's. But I could easily substitute one of their fabulous margaritas for dessert anyhow, and I'll just have to eat breakfast someplace else.

Ernesto's is located at 1901 16th Street (at the corner of 16th and S). Their telephone number is 916-441-5850, and their website address is They are open Monday through Wednesday from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday from 11:00 a.m. to midnight, Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sacramento VegFest

I attended the Sacramento VegFest at the Artisan Building on Del Paso Boulevard this weekend, and was excited to see what a great turnout there was for this event. Hundreds of people were there to check out the demonstrations and the exhibits, which did not disappoint.

I got there right at 11:00 a.m. when the event started because I wanted to hear the presentation by Chef AJ of Chef AJ's Healthy Kitchen, who advocates a whole food vegan diet. She made the important point that just because something is vegan doesn't necessarily mean that it's good for you. Chef AJ said that although she has been vegan since 1977, most of the food she ate during the early days of her vegan diet was junk food, especially junk food containing sugar. However, after she was diagnosed with colon cancer, she switched to a whole food vegan diet, which basically consists of unrefined vegetables, fruits, and grains, along with limited amounts of nuts and seeds. She stopped eating sugar, salt, and fat and, as a result, she says that her colon was healed without the need for surgery.

Chef AJ recommended a few books for people who are considering switching to a vegan lifestyle:

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David A. Kessler, which talks about how our brain chemistry has been taken over by foods containing the ingredients we love the most: sugar, salt, and fat.

The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II, which is described on the book's cover as "the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted." It examines the relationship between the consumption of animal products and various diseases, such as some forms of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health & Happiness, by Douglas J. Lisle and Alan Goldhamer, which explains why we make the choices we do, even when they're detrimental to our health, and what we can do get out of that trap.

Chef AJ also has a new book available, Unprocessed: How to Achieve Vibrant Health and Your Ideal Weight, which includes information and recipes about how to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet.

Several vendors attended this event with samples of their products. I would have to say that the tastiest food item I sampled was the Red Curry Squash Soup prepared by Mama Kim Cooks. It was sweet and flavorful and delicious, and I could eat it all winter long. Mama Kim Cooks has a mobile food truck, which didn't have much in the way of vegan offerings when I asked about their menu at the Chalk It Up festival over Labor Day weekend, but I was told at the VegFest that they generally have something vegan available. So I'll be watching for the food truck in the future with the hope that they'll be selling more of their fabulous Red Curry Squash Soup.

The Pecan Sandies offered by The Green Boheme, a raw vegan restaurant on Del Paso Boulevard, were also quite delicious. I don't know what all the ingredients were, but there were generous amounts of pecans combined into some kind of sweet mixture resembling dough. Yum!

The stretch of Del Paso Boulevard between Arden Way and El Camino Avenue seems to be turning into a kind of vegan hub, anchored by The Green Boheme restaurant and with the Artisan Building serving as an event venue for vegans or those who are vegan-curious. The Sacramento VegFest was the second vegan event I've attended there in the past several months, the first being the appearance by Dr. Neal Barnard in September to promote his book, 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart: Boost Metabolism, Lower Cholesterol, and Dramatically Improve Your Health. In both cases, the building was filled to the point of feeling crowded, which would seem to indicate that the number of people who are interested in the vegan lifestyle continues to grow. It would be great if more Sacramento restaurants would pay attention to this trend and add a few vegan options to their menus.