Veganomics

A post-gluttony regimen that actually tastes good

Every year, despite my best intentions, and despite the warnings of my inner Jenny Craig, who wags a finger to remind me that excessive consumption on Thanksgiving is invariably the first slip down a giant shame spiral that bottoms out around Presidents Day, landing me in a pair of generously proportioned elastic-waist pants, I overdo.

It starts innocently enough -- a modest portion of white meat, a modicum of stuffing, a dollop of gravy. But then, after the last bite of creamed onions and the five forkfuls of stuffing sneaked in the kitchen between helpings, I find myself on the sofa, belly distended, toes rosy with the first blush of gout, and a sound approximating "Uhhhhumphhhh" whistling unwittingly from my puffed-out cheeks. With the urge to purge washing over me in waves, I vow that next time I will simply give thanks and have a glass of Slim-Fast.

Well, as Dubya might say, good intentions are for losers, and hindsight is 20-20, which is the same size I'm usually wearing by New Year's, so this year I'm fighting back with a post-gluttony regimen -- après-Thanksgiving meals that might mitigate the most egregious waistline and aortic damage.

Short of a high colonic, that means fresh vegetables, and lots of 'em. A few years back it would have also meant doing time at Raw Living Foods, a restaurant where your burrito came wrapped in a cabbage leaf and your sushi was made from rice that had been soaked rather than cooked. The place had buzz among extreme greens, but it never caught on with the mainstream, in part because the food didn't taste all that good, and the textures -- like sun-baked pizza crust -- were frankly unpleasant.

I expected much of the same at Urban Forage (561 Valencia, 254 Fillmore, and 415 Castro; www.urbanforage.com), a relatively new group of restaurants that serves vegan, organic, and mostly raw foods. Armed with a printout of my cholesterol count, I sat down for what I anticipated would be variations on a bowl of wheatgrass. I was met instead with a long and surprisingly appetizing-sounding menu, on which raw ingredients (vegetables, spreads, sauces) were sensibly offset with cooked ones (brown rice, legumes, soup broth). Alongside such predictable items as mushu vegetable wrap and sea vegetable salad were offerings like coconut kimchi fried rice, stuffed portobello mushroom with walnut-fennel pâté, and the "manwitch" -- a black bean burger on baguette with caramelized onions and dulse (red seaweed) dressing.

On my first visit, I opted for the Zen Bowl, hot brown rice topped with marinated tempeh, vegetables, and raw hoisin sauce. Pretty good, but the hoisin sauce was cloying and overpowering. The next day, I went for the Magik Mushroom, a grilled portobello mushroom on millet and quinoa, with marinated kale, onions, and creamy garlic sauce. Also quite tasty, but the kale was chewy and the garlic sauce a bit bland. Then, on the third day, I hit holistic pay dirt with the Dragon Bowl -- spinach leaves, marinated daikon and carrots, and homemade kimchi (spicy, pickled cabbage) tossed together with hot sauce and peanut sauce, served over two scoops of brown rice. Here, spicy, salty, and sweet; crunchy and chewy; nutty and grainy; raw and cooked all worked together to present a fair and balanced view of the vegan spectrum. The peanut sauce, light but full-flavored, complemented the kimchi, which added zest to the neutral vegetables; the brown rice grounded the dish in something hot and substantive. I stood up feeling physically and philosophically vindicated, my conscience and arteries cleared just enough to rationalize leftover turkey casserole for dinner.

 
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