Friday, October 25, 2013


The cheery sign at VG's front door

Paris is experiencing an interesting culinary trend: Burgers. What's so special about burgers, you ask? Well, I'm talking about veggie burgers. They're EVERYWHERE! First, there was MOB, then East Side Burgers. And next month, HANK opens in the Marais. October 2013, however, belongs to VG.

I met Celine, VG's gorgeous, super-friendly owner, at Paris Vegan Day. She had just opened VG a few days earlier and expressed a bit of worry that no one would show up to eat her delicious food. "I'll come!" I said. I don't think my words offered much comfort, but today, I held true to my promise anyway.

VG's owner, Celine, and her husband Suri

If you arrive by bicycle, you can pedal along the La Fayette velo piste right to VG's front door. (Otherwise, Metro Poissonniere is two minutes away.) Outside, a few bistro tables and a sandwich board let you know you've come to the right place. Inside, it's a family affair: Celine, her husband, and her belle-mere share the culinary stage, slinging burgers, chatting with customers, and otherwise making vegetarianism friendly and accessible.

Vegan carrot cake!

The menu fuses traditional burgers with imaginative items inspired by Celine's Spanish heritage and her husband's Laotian background.

Diners choose from the a la carte menu or one of several daily formules. On this day, the menu options spanned a handful of continents: American burgers with Mexican condiments (guacamole); Southeast Asian Pad Thai; and even Spanish-style potatoes and roasted peppers. I went for the edible equivalent of the missionary position: A burger and fries. Not necessarily the sexiest choice, but then I've never been able to resist the words "frites maison."

The fries are thin and tasty, and served with a biodegradable bamboo fork. The burger was equally delicious, and slathered in a cumin-spiced guacamole. Warning to non-French folk who come expecting burgers of McMansion proportions: That's not what you'll get here. Instead, count on perfect, we're-not-getting-fat, but-we-are-getting-full size. My meal left me sated, so much so that I couldn't squeeze in even one bite of the very tempting vegan carrot cake. ((Vegan Carrot Cake!))

So excited to discover this green Tabasco sauce on a neighboring table. I recommend splashing it over everything you order (except the carrot cake).

Miam! My burger with guacamole and vegan cheese on a sesame-seed bun.

Celine plans to expand the VG menu over time to include more items with Spanish, Asian, and world-cuisine influences, and she'll soon begin offering artisan buns made by a local boulanger. Just yesterday, she launched a fancy new vegan burger, and to kick off the fun-in-a-bun, there'll be a guess-the-name-of-the-burger contest on their Facebook page in a few days.

Also: Hurray! VG is a late-breaking addition to my next book, Vegetarian Paris, published by Vegetarian Guides. (Advance copies for sale soon!)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pie Love You

Three of my favorite things: Bread, fresh produce, and vegan cookbooks!
I first met Dynise Balcavage (aka The Urban Vegan) years ago--maybe 2006?--when I worked at VegNews and she pitched an article on Buenos Aires. I accepted her proposal straight away. Why? Because it was everything an editor wants: An enticing snapshot of the article to come (Tango! Outdoor markets! Vintage hotels!) accompanied by great clips and a way-better-than-average cover letter.

Throughout that first collaborative experience, Dynise proved herself to be the consummate professional, not only submitting her story and gorgeous photos on time (a rarity--believe me!), but more importantly, delivering a quality story interwoven with interesting facts, fun anecdotes, and information that the reader could actually benefit from.

Perpetually pretty and loaded with talent, too!

In the years that followed, I interviewed Dynise for various stories I'd written for other publications, and called on her culinary expertise when the situation called for it. Two years ago, we finally met in the flesh at Paris Vegan Day, and I wasn't the least bit surprised to learn that Dynise is as delightful in person as she is with the written word. Her blog is something I always look forward to, and I've always loved the diversity of her recipes and the straightforward, relate-able tone that permeates everything she produces.

In a stroke of luck, I received a copy of Dynise's latest book, Pies and Tarts with Heart, and an invitation to join the Pies and Tarts with Heart blog tour. Hells yes! The only thing I like more than pies and tarts is slavering over delicious visual representations of them. This book is loaded with gorgeous photos taken by a photographer Dynise knows well: Her talented bf, Paul Runyon. Nice work, Paul! But it's the recipes that are the real stars of this book. Not only are they simple enough for baking amateurs like me, but they're creative, intriguing, and (yay!) vegan.

Urban (Parisian) Vegan
Seeing Dynise at this year's Paris Vegan Day gave me the opportunity to thank her in person for producing this I'm-about-to-lick-the-page tome, but also to catch up with her in a relaxed, non-professional way. Yesterday, over a leisurely lunch at Cafe Pinson, we yakked and yammered over colorful bowls of grilled vegetables and fluffy falafel cakes (I forgot to take a photo!), and discovered we had more than a few things in common, including a love of foods that marry salty and sweet.

"I'm freaking out over that recipe with peaches and sea-salt," I professed.

I would definitely win any pie-eating contest that required diving face-first into this salty-sweet masterpiece

"You mean the Peach Pie with Salted Agave Drizzle?" she asked.

"Yes--that one!," I said, swooning--and possibly drooling a little bit. "And the Chocolate Peanut-Butter Pie, AND the Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan Pie!"

The conversation quickly shifted to the salted-chocolate tartine spread her comrade-in-cuisine Fran Costigan made at PVD, then veered off into directions of love, fashion, health, hobbies, heartbreak, previous careers, and other juicy, real and relevant topics.

Dynise and her culinary comrade Fran prep for their presentation at PVD '13 
Like me, Dynise is at a crossroads, plotting her next act. Will she continue her reign as a revered blogger and cookbook goddess, or will she surprise us all by reinventing herself into something entirely new? I can't wait to find out. And in the meanwhile, I'll be baking pies.