Because I don’t eat meat, I’m frequently limited when I travel. When I visit many other countries or cities, I don’t expect to eat the regional delicacy — and I’m respectfully OK with that. But on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised that I’ve been able to eat very, very well in places I didn’t expect that would be possible.
One such place was Austin, where I assumed I’d find a city overflowing with pulled pork and steak or whatever kind of barbecue meat eaters eat. (#Clueless.) Such was not the case. I found plenty of barbecue, of course — but that included a vegetarian barbecue sandwich I’d gladly pick as my sole desert-island food. It also included a huge selection of light and health-minded fare, including an impeccable peach salad and melon soup, just right for the 100-degree heat. And of course, it included some pretty epic dessert (which I approached in totally unrestrained fashion because vacation.)
So if you’re a vegetarian in Austin, or going to Austin, I present for your consideration a few of my favorite things in town:
It’s now officially three months since I delivered my twins, and alas, I’m not quite ready for my bikini Us Weekly cover. It turns out — wait for it — stars are not just like us.
While I’ll resist a tirade about the dangerous nature of our cultural body-after-baby-in-five-minutes obsession, I can say that I am fully cleared after C-section to resume most excercise (with the exception of things like crunches that could exacerbate my diastasis recti — but that will be a topic for another post). And I’m back to eating right after, shall we say, several months of ravenous appetite indulgence related to creating two human bodies inside my body. And, yes — I have a few (ahem) more pounds still to lose before I’m back at my pre-pregnancy weight.
Only thing is I’m working full time and have the two teeny humans mentioned above to look after. So there’s not the time there used to be to devote to grocery shopping, recipe hunting, cooking, counting calories, focusing on portions, and all that jazz.
So I’m back to my old standby: The Fresh Diet.
I’ve been a vegetarian for so long (20-plus years!) that I don’t experience any sense of active compromise when I’m quickly scanning menus for the limited dishes I can eat. And certainly when I travel, I don’t necessarily expect to eat that nation’s specialty, and I don’t bemoan it if I can’t. I’m very used to this, and I like to think I’m low maintenance in that regard, though I do actively seek out vegetarian restaurants when I travel if it’s a possibility.
You’d think that a babymoon in Europe (France, Italy, Spain) would be kind of a perfect scenario for a pregnant vegetarian: first-world cleanliness practices, and tons of bread and pasta and cheese as national specialties, available anywhere from street corners to fine dining rooms (especially compared to some of the more far-flung or meat-loving places where we’ve traveled recently, like Indonesia, Istanbul). Easy peasy, right?
Totally wrong, as it turns out. American pregnant women are not advised to eat unpasteurized cheese (or milk, or juice), and it turns out Europeans are not real big on pasteurizing their stuff. Ironic, right? Given that Louis Pasteur‘s birthplace was indeed France.
Is the “36 Hours in…” phrase trademarked by The New York Times? I hope not, because I had only that amount of time in town last weekend, and I want to tell you what I did:
This may be obvious to most people, but it wasn’t to me: Restaurants don’t really want your group of 20 on a Saturday night without a pre fixe menu or per-person minimum. This is understandable—you don’t want to overwhelm the staff, and you don’t want the kitchen to run out of ingredients—but I thought I could turn up a venue in Los Angeles that would nevertheless be eager to accommodate our sizable group in honor of my husband’s birthday.
We found $35-per-person minimums, with pre-set menus, wherever we looked. We weren’t hosting the dinner (that is to say, we were gathering the group, but not picking up the tab), and we hate to impose on our friends’ wallets. Some drink, some don’t drink, some just nibble a nosh, others are hungry for a full dinner, some have cash to spare, others are between jobs — why should everyone pay the same? Causing stress and resentment among friends isn’t hospitable. I searched and searched but by Friday before the party, I was still without a confirmed location and I was starting to sweat it, mini-panicked that I was losing my detail-minded-group-leader-knows-the-hell-out-of-Los-Angeles-venues touch.
And then I stumbled upon the perfect place! All of this is to say, if you’re encountering a similar problem, I have a great solution for you: Yxta Cocina Mexiana in downtown Los Angeles.
When I married my husband in 2010, we agreed that travel would be one of our very top priorities over the first couple of years. With only two blank pages left in my passport since then, I’m proud — and totally thrilled — at how many incredible places we’ve seen. And in the process of travel, we’ve been privileged to stay in some of the most jaw-dropping hotels in the world. That said, it takes kind of a lot to blow our minds these days.
Tuesday night (after a fatiguing day of travel that began in Nha Trang, then Saigon, Kuala Lampur, and finally Denpasar in Bali followed by a 90-minute airport transfer), we were introduced to the Viceroy Bali — and I was promptly rendered speechless.
A short, hourlong flight from Saigon landed us in the southeastern town of Nha Trang for the beach portion of our trip (pause to note I hardly find a trip worth taking if I don’t find a beach on some part of it. You can take the girl out of California, but…)
Quick backgrounder on Nha Trang: it’s a vacation destination populated by tons of international tourists, largely Russian (on account of the communist connection? Not totally sure). It’s also a huge draw for backpackers, and though we are beyond our backpacking years (no, wait, I was born past my backpacking years), it has a fun, youthful, lively energy. You will also find at night a healthy (“”) selection of bars offering “buckets,” basically copious amounts of cheap alcohol designed to inspire bad decisions among 22 year olds for under $1 US.
Also, remember those zillions of motorbikes that threatened our demise in Saigon? Oh man, did Nha Trang also have its share. Cross the street at your peril. Think more Vietnmese Miami than sleepy beach town. Totally alive.
You can’t top the view from the roof of the Seven Hills Hotel, 360 degrees of sweeping vistas that include Istanbul’s most important monuments. My husband and I mused that everyone seemed to want to sit on the Bospherous side of the terrace, when you can have a waterfront view in tons of cities—but where else in the world can you feel like you’re levitating above the magnificent Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia? (So I recommend sitting on that side instead.)
This may be a controversial viewpoint, but here’s only my own perspective. I’m a vegetarian, so when I travel internationally, I don’t expect to get to sample all of the flavors of the country. I am often relegated to sides. So my expectation of, say, amazingly fresh fish was not a factor on our visit to Sea Satin Market. I had some tzatziki and the like, which was actually pretty amazing and reasonably priced. But whatever. Here’s the draw: We went at sunset and sat at absolutely the most pristine oceanfront table I’ve ever laid eyes on—even superior to any table we had on our Bora Bora honeymoon. Gorgeous, simply dressed candlelit tables open to the twilight air as the waves lap at the rocks below and the sky changes Crayola colors. It’s a don’t-miss for the view and location alone. The funny thing is that we showed up without a reservation at about 8:15 p.m. and got the best table in the house (which would have been an impossibility in a place like our home town of Los Angeles). There was nearly no one there yet. Like most places in Mykonos, it doesn’t start buzzing until after 10 — after which I hear people have mad crazy fun dancing on the tables. But if like me you’re an early riser versus a night owl, go for the sunset and you will not be disappointed.
I feel guilty writing a tepid review of this or any property without this preface about my predisposition: I love the sun. My husband jokes (fairly) that I have a solar battery. If it is not charged up, I am depleted. Happiness and comfort wane immediately. So please consider this review of a hotel located in a so-called “cloud forest” through that filter.
Ahem, now then.