Monday, January 27, 2014


Mother, Chef Michael Thiemann's eagerly-awaited vegetarian restaurant, opened in Sacramento last week. According to the restaurant's website, "Mother is a vegetarian restaurant built by and for omnivores with the aim of offering great food that just so happens to be meatless." My husband and I were there for lunch on opening day and found a steady stream of customers lining up at the counter.

The menu available on opening day didn't identify the vegan options, so I had to ask the staff for more information about the menu items. My first and second choices turned out not to be vegan. Since a line was starting to form behind me at the counter, I didn't want to slow things down by quizzing the cashier about all the other options, so I decided to just go with the Napa Cabbage Salad.

This beautifully-presented salad was a tasty mixture of cabbage and other greens, soy beans, watermelon radishes, carrots, sprouts, marigold petals, black sesame, grapefruit, and fried tofu, with a white miso-based dressing. I especially enjoyed the combination of the tofu and the grapefruit.

When I got home, I sent a message to the restaurant staff asking which of the menu items were vegan. They said they were reprinting their menus to indicate which dishes are vegan or gluten-free, and they sent me a copy of the new menu. The Carrot Nut Burger is listed as vegan, even though it comes with honey mustard, but they can substitute agave mustard or a harissa-based option instead.

I went back the next day, but didn't have the new menu with me and somehow managed to inadvertently order a dish that wasn't vegan, so I won't blog about that item. I did order a vegan dessert, though -- a Pineapple Mousse that was listed on the Specials board. It was silky and delicately-flavored, topped with candied cashews, chopped mango, puffed quinoa, and toasted sage. I wish it were on their regular menu instead of just being a special because it was superb!

Since the opening of an upscale vegetarian restaurant in Sacramento is kind of a big deal, I made one more visit with my friend Cathy before finishing this article. This time, the reprinted menu identifying the vegan options was in the restaurant, making ordering much easier. I decided on the Split Pea Soup, which Blair Anthony Robertson, the Sacramento Bee's restaurant critic, had dubbed "an instant classic." Creamy and delicious, it was garnished with carrot harissa and a falafel crouton, which really made this dish.

I also ordered the Fried Okra, seasoned with lemon and chili. Rather than cutting the okra in horizontal rounds, which is the way I usually see it, the okra was cut vertically before it was fried. It was a nice flavorful little snack.

The Pineapple Mousse was still listed on the Specials board, so I ordered it again. This time, chopped grapefruit replaced the chopped mango, but I liked the dessert just as much as I had the first time I tried it.

Since the current menu is labeled "Winter," I assume it will change seasonally. I can't wait to see what creative options will be on the menu for spring. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to trying the Eggplant Gumbo and the Romanesco and Broccoli very soon. Look for pictures from my future visits on my Sacramento Vegan Facebook page.

Mother is located at 1023 K Street, and their phone number is 916-594-9812. The website address is, and their Facebook page can be found at Last week, they were open for lunch only, but according to their Facebook page, they're going to start serving dinners this week. Lunch will be served Monday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and dinner will be served Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. I don't know what the lines will be like for dinner, but if you're going for lunch, it's best to arrive right after the restaurant opens or later in the afternoon because the line is out the door during the noon hour.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Shine has been open in the Mansion Flats neighborhood for a few years. I used to check the menu from time to time to see if there were any vegan items, but never found much.

Then I saw a couple of things online that made me take another look. First, I read that Shine was going to start offering baked goods from Sugar Plum Vegan. Next, I saw a picture of their hummus sandwich, and it looked great. I found out that Shine has new owners, one of whom is vegan, so the restaurant has suddenly become very vegan-friendly, offering sandwiches, salads, soups, and small plates.

I headed over for lunch last week and ordered the Veggie-Hummus Sandwich, consisting of house-made hummus, shredded carrots, sliced cucumber, greens, avocado, and vegan mayonnaise on organic whole wheat bread, served with an organic side salad. I really, really enjoyed that sandwich! I don't know what made it taste so good. Was it the filling, which was a little bit tangy? Or the fresh, crisp vegetables? Maybe it was the delicious bread. Whatever it was, I left the restaurant thinking that the Veggie-Hummus Sandwich had just become my new favorite lunch item.

But then I went back a few days later and ordered the vegan Pepper Jack Grilled Cheese Sandwich. I don't think I've had a grilled cheese sandwich since I went vegan more than eleven years ago, so I was very excited to try this one, made with Daiya Jalapeno Garlic Havarti, spinach, and sliced tomatoes on sourdough bread. It was fabulous! So now I'll have a dilemma about what to order every time I go back.

I had Kombucha Kulture's excellent kombucha on tap for both meals, and I ended each lunch with a delicious Sugar Plum Vegan Peanut Butter Creamie, a chocolate chip cookie sandwich with a creamy peanut butter filling. Yum!

Samples of Shine's vegan chocolate almond smoothie were handed out to the restaurant's customers during my first visit. It was very tasty. They have several other vegan smoothies on their menu as well.

Shine is located at 1400 E Street, and their phone number is 916-551-1400. Their website address is, and their Facebook page can be found at The restaurant is open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Tuesday and Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. They have live music a few nights a week.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ethics Question

My purpose in starting this blog a couple of years ago was simply to identify vegan options in local non-vegan restaurants. I've used the blog to discuss food policy issues from time to time, but mostly, it's still just a resource for vegans who want to know what they can eat when dining at a Sacramento restaurant.

Occasionally, however, questions come up about the ethics of patronizing restaurants that are vegan-friendly from a menu standpoint, but where the chef or owner is identified with behavior that's anathema to vegans.

Let me give you some examples:

• Lucca Restaurant & Bar offers a wonderful vegan menu, but the restaurant's owners also own the ranch where they get their beef. Does owning a ranch make Lucca less worthy to serve vegan customers than other restaurants that offer beef on their menus?

• Broderick Roadhouse has several creative vegan menu options, but they post disturbing (to vegans) pictures on social media of whole animals being roasted. Is that somehow worse than the pictures of steaks, bacon, or chicken that other restaurants post?

• The chef at Mother, a restaurant opening next week that offers no meat on its menu, doesn't want the restaurant to be thought of as "vegetarian" because he believes a stigma is attached to the word. He was also one of the chefs seeking to overturn California's ban on foie gras, and he threw a foie gras party at Pangaea, another local restaurant, just before the ban took effect. Should discomfort about the chef's culinary views cause vegans to forego what promises to be an exceptional dining experience?

Everyone needs to draw their own ethical line, of course. If something about a restaurant offends you, by all means add it to your personal "do not patronize" list and dine instead at an establishment that better reflects your values.

From my perspective, making more vegan options available in non-vegan restaurants can only be a good thing, regardless of the motives of the restaurant in offering them or the personal philosophy of the chef preparing them. The more that non-vegans are exposed to well-made, high-quality vegan cuisine, the more likely they'll be to realize they don't need meat or other animal products in order to enjoy a satisfying meal.

On the other hand, if people don't order vegan items in these restaurants, they may be dropped from the menu because of a perception that there's no market for them. By patronizing these and other restaurants offering imaginative plant-based menu options, vegans can make the point that we're here to stay and we expect something more interesting to eat when we dine out than a microwaved veggie burger or a lackluster house salad.

What are your thoughts? Under what circumstances, if any, would you refuse to patronize a restaurant even though it makes a point of providing vegan menu options?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dine Downtown Restaurant Week 2014 -- Ella Dining Room & Bar

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a good holiday. I returned last weekend from three weeks with my husband and son in Panama, Colombia, and Argentina, an experience I hope to blog about soon.

This past weekend, my husband and I had dinner at Ella Dining Room & Bar for Dine Downtown Restaurant Week. I don't think of Ella as being particularly vegan-friendly, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that their special Dine Downtown fixed price menu included only vegetarian items. Just one item on the fixed price menu was vegan, but with help from the server, I was able to piece together a three-course vegan meal.

For my first course, I ordered a salad consisting of mixed chicories and mache, grapefruit, and walnuts. The dressing that comes with the salad is apparently not vegan, so my salad was dressed with lemon juice and olive oil instead. I love grapefruit, so it was a nice treat to find it in the salad.

My entree was an heirloom bean cassoulet that included celeriac, pearl onions, tomato confit, and herb breadcrumbs. It was flavorful and filling, although a little on the salty side for my taste.

Neither of the desserts on the fixed price menu were vegan, so the server brought me a sorbet trio, with one scoop each of chocolate, some kind of berry, and what tasted like grapefruit sorbet. Each flavor was good, but I especially liked the chocolate.

Dine Downtown Restaurant Week will end Friday, January 17th, so you still have time to check out these vegan items at Ella. The cost of a three-course meal on the fixed price menu is $31, a dollar of which will be donated to the California Food Literacy Center. According to Sacramento Business Journal's Ed Murrieta, fourteen participating restaurants are offering vegetarian entrees, a few of which appear to be vegan. I guess if you can only charge $31 for a three-course meal, it makes sense to offer vegetarian options rather than more costly meat items.

Ella Dining Room & Bar is located at 1131 K street, and their phone number is 916-443-3772. Their website address is, and their Facebook page can be found at The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.