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Friday, March 23, 2012

Meh-ze 119, Vegan Flan, and Low-Quality Cell Phone Pics, Oh My!

Yesterday was a super-fun day, and a much-needed day after a stressful work week. I couldn't find the charger for my little point-and-shoot camera, and didn't want to lug around my "nicer camera," so I went camera-less (Gasp!). And wouldn't you know, there were many photo ops that presented themselves, so I did something I never do:

I took food pictures on my crappy cell phone.

And now I'm about to do something else I have never done before:

Post said cell phone pics on this blog.

You'll forgive me, right?

So I was in St. Petersburg that morning, helping my friends with their Ethics of Vegetarianism presentations at a local high school, which was an interesting experience / outreach event. (How cool of a public high school to bring in that kind of information!) Since I was in St. Pete, it only made sense to go to the beach afterward. My friend Amber drove out to meet me and we headed to nearby Treasure Island. This brings us to the first cell phone pic (and the only one I took at the beach).

I'd been talking about an absolute NEED to get to the beach for WEEKS now, so I sent this pic to a couple of friends with the caption, "Achievement Unlocked." Some time at the beach was so badly needed. We got some sun, jumped in the waves, and laughed at sand pipers and the reactions of men upon seeing The Lady in the G-String walking around.

Amber and I lost track of time (time flies at the beach!), but we had a plan to get to Meze 119, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant in St. Pete. I hadn't been there yet and since I rarely find myself in St. Pete, I wanted to make the most of this visit.

For starters, Meze 119 is tiny. Much tinier than I was expecting. They have a decent-sized menu and most of their vegetarian dishes can be made vegan, usually by just omitting cheese.

Their drink selections are... interesting. The only iced tea they offer is mint-green. It's unsweetened, but it comes with a sugar cane stick.
I did not like the sugar cane stick. I did not find that it offered a drop of sweetness. Our server said that some people chew on them, and I overheard another server saying that to other people a few times, too. I tried it, but it was... awkward. I started chiseling away at the stick with my straw, making it look like a hamster had been gnawing on it, but that didn't make a smidgen of difference, either. I asked if they had any agave nectar, and I never got the answer. They have a house-made lemonade (also with mint), bottles of natural sodas, coffees and hot teas (which did not appeal to me since it was 94 degrees that day and we had just spent 3 hours in the sun), and... Pepsi products. Yes, at a restaurant that prides itself on high-quality ingredients for their vegetarian and vegan fare, you can still get highly-processed, high fructose corn syrupy, artificially colored carbonated water. Does that seem strange to anyone else?

Let's move on to appetizers.

Meze 119 has a 'bourekas' puff pastry appetizer with fillings that change daily. Amber had said that the last time she was there, the bourekas weren't vegan, and they were pre-made, so they couldn't be veganized. That night's bourekas happened to be vegan, but the filling was strange: butternut squash, vegan sausage, and jalapenos. Still, we wanted to try the bourekas, and they happened to be vegan, so we went with that. Their hummus of the day was onion and rosemary, and rosemary in hummus just didn't sound terribly appealing. Plus I'm picky when it comes to onions.

And then our bourekas came with a rosemary tree in the middle of them!

Three decent-sized puff pastries, steaming hot when they arrived to our table. Steam spilled out of the stack as soon as Amber pulled the rosemary tree out. The triangle shape is nice for presentation, but the filling is only in the direct center of the pastry. The corners are just flaky pastriness. It took a couple of bites to get to The Moment of Truth.

Now, I love butternut squash, and I'm neutral about jalapenos, but I'm not the biggest fan of mock meats. Because this was labeled as including vegan "sausage," I was expecting something in a crumblier texture. What it actually was, was more like vegan "ham," which threw me off. Amber didn't like it at all, and I would have liked it better minus the ham and maybe with something else in its place. Kale? Black beans? White beans? Some kind of cheesiness, either with nooch and/or cashews or Follow Your Heart or Daiya?

These bourekas left a lot to be desired.

Amber and I both love falafel, so we each ordered a falafel dish. She ordered it pita-style and I ordered the falafel salad. What I received was a surprise: 10 pounds of salad with 4 falafel balls.

Seriously, there must have been an entire head of cabbage shredded onto this plate, with just a little bit of tomato, cucumber, and Romaine lettuce tossed in.

Amber said she only had two falafel balls in her pita. There was a serious lack of falafel going on here. The falafel itself was pretty good, though. The insides were a little mushier than I prefer, but the flavor was nice and even had a little kick to it.

They had a vegan dessert on their specials board that night -- banana cheesecake -- but Amber was already running late for a meeting, so we actually had to get to-go boxes within a few minutes of receiving our food. (I couldn't even fit all of that cabbage salad in the to-go box. Seriously.)

So, my conclusions on Meze 119: Overall kinda disappointing. I love and support meat-free, vegan-friendly restaurants, and I would still go back and try COMPLETELY DIFFERENT dishes and NOT expect a tasty beverage, but there are other restaurants I'm more interested in trying out before I return to Meze 119.

Because the timing was right, I was able to zip over to a volunteer meeting back in Tampa, taking place at Loving Hut (which is Tampa's ONLY 100% vegan restaurant). The last time I was at Loving Hut, I made a mental note to get the flan, once I realized that it was on their menu. As soon as I got to the meeting, I ordered that and a Thai iced tea. I was very pleased with both.

The flan was smooth and not just creamy, but downright SILKY. The sauce is SUPER SWEET, so I actually avoided that, but the custard itself? Magnificent! My friend, Lisa ordered one, too, and also enjoyed it.

And the Thai iced tea was perfect: sweet, creamy, smoky perfection. What a sweet way to end a day filled with activism, sunshine, new foods, and friends! Life is good.

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