An Unforgettable Evening at Modern Love in Omaha

Modern Love OmahaAs we were gearing up for my birthday weekend, David and I had a few ideas of places to go for a road trip. We talked about Kansas City or Chicago, and then a notice came up on Facebook about a preview tasting for Modern Love in Omaha. I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s first restaurant for months. (I’d been hoping we’d get to try it when we visited Omaha in May, but it wasn’t open yet.)

They announced that there would be two tasting nights with different 6-course menus the following week. I’d already peeked at their menu and salivated over the many enticing options. One of the evenings had everything on my must-try list.  Their whole opening week in August was already sold out with reservations, and so I knew their tasting night reservations would go quickly. I sent David a message right away, asking if he’d be up for visiting Omaha a few days after my birthday instead of taking a trip that weekend as planned. He wrote back quickly with an unequivocal yes. It was on.

Modern Love Omaha - all vegan, upscale restaurant in NebraskaI quickly purchased tickets for two and was glad that I acted fast. 24 hours later both days were sold out. I was giddy with excitement and felt the way that other people must feel about front row concert tickets. I could hardly wait to experience the menu for myself. Before we left, I seriously tried on several dresses looking for just the right one that would look nice but would also give me room to enjoy all six amazing courses. If only I had a set of fancy sweatpants! ;)

Modern Love - an all vegan restaurant in OmahaAfter several hours on the road and checking into our hotel, we got ready and made our way to Modern Love. It’s a small space that’s adjacent to a sand volleyball court. Inside, it feels intimate and upscale cool. It reminded me of New York-style restaurants, with people seated at long, almost communal tables.

I’d been watching as the restaurant came together on Facebook, and was so impressed to see it in person. The walls looked like they were covered in wallpaper, but instead they were stenciled on with paint. The two rooms are in complimentary colors and contrasting patterns.

Isa greeted us with a hug, and the host took us to our table.  They don’t have their liquor license yet, and so we brought in our own bottle of wine.

Modern Love - vegan restaurant in Omaha, NebraskaModern Love Omaha - corn milkAt our tables, the napkins were folded into hearts, and we both had to admire the sleek silverware.  Every touch felt thoughtfully planned.

The server brought cups of corn milk to start. The small metal cups of corn milk were drizzled with chili oil and lime and dotted with cilantro flowers. They tasted like summer corn on the cob in juice form. They were a refreshing start to get the palate ready for what was to come.

The rest of the menu for this tasting night was shared – one full-sized portion for two people to split.

Modern Love Omaha - squash blossom appetizerThe first appetizer was a panko crusted squash blossom, which was stuffed with edamame puree. This is one of the dishes I was most eagerly anticipating given my love for squash blossoms, and it totally lived up. The hot, savory puree was soft and creamy underneath the crisp panko crust. It was garnished with cilantro, mint, and pea shoots, which complimented the blossoms perfectly. There were also several charred patty pan squash and a zucchini slaw. It all played together so well – far from being garnish that is just for show. Every bite was a revelation.

Modern Love Omaha - hummus plateThe next appetizer was the farmer’s hummus. The lemony hummus reminded me of the hummus in Isa Does It, which is my all-time favorite hummus. It was served with roasted tomatoes and radishes, rainbow carrots, cucumbers, and house made seasoned crispy flatbread. Roasting the radishes took away some of their nose-clearing heat and made the tomatoes even sweeter.

We polished off this plate, and it was then I realized I’d made a total rookie move. I was now completely full, and we hadn’t even gotten the salad or entrees yet!

Modern Love Omaha - raspberry lemonadeWhile we waited for our next course, we received raspberry mint lemonade. Fresh raspberries were blended with a simple syrup for a sweet contrast to the tart lemonade. The leaves of mint gave it a cool finish that balanced the sugariness of the raspberries.

Modern Love Omaha - Nicoise saladDespite my increasing full-ness, I powered through with this Modern Nicoise salad. A bed of greens was dotted with heirloom tomatoes, olives, and green beans that were fresh from Isa’s garden. The green beans had been grilled and had a wonderful smoky flavor. The salad was dressed in balsamic vinaigrette and served with a hefty dollop of chickpea salad. Instead of being made with an eggless mayonnaise, the chickpea salad tasted like it was tossed with the hummus from the hummus plate, which is a great idea.

On the plate there were several deviled potatoes. The potatoes with their skins still on appeared to be boiled and then scooped out in the center. They were then filled with creamy mashed potatoes that had been seasoned with eggy kala namak. They were absolutely divine, and I definitely plan on recreating them at home sometime soon.

Modern Love Omaha - Mac & ShewsNext up, the first entrée – mac & shews. I made the mac & shews recipe on the Post Punk Kitchen blog a few months back and loved it.  At Modern Love, it was even better. The creamy macaroni was topped with pecan crusted tofu, fragrant barbecued cauliflower, house made potato chips, and braised kale.

Modern Love Omaha - seitan marsalaThe second entrée was the standout dish of the night – seitan marsala. I took one bite and then had to stop, so that I could watch David’s face as he tried it. This dish absolutely blew me away. Tender seitan tasted like it had been marinated in mushroom broth and then grilled. It was served with mouthwatering mushrooms and braised leeks atop a root vegetable mash with fresh herbs and micro greens. It was outrageously delicious. I don’t know how I will ever be able to order anything but this dish at future visits.

Modern Love Omaha - cherry pieFinally, for dessert we had a choice of options, and we went with this cherry pie with ginger ice cream. The tart-meets-sweet cherry pie had large whole cherries tucked inside of it and melded beautifully with the creamy ginger ice cream, which was dotted with candied ginger. Although I never have coffee in the evening, I made an exception and enjoyed a fragrant cup of coffee to go with the pie.  Afterwards, we chatted with Isa about the opening and she gave us some tips for places to visit before we headed out of Omaha the next day.

David and I both agreed that even though our expectations for the evening were almost insurmountably high, they were exceeded in every way. It really was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. Even the music playlist going on throughout the night was thoughtfully considered, including of course, the inclusion of Modern Love. Omaha should thank its lucky stars.

My Favorite Vegan Options in Des Moines

New World Cafe - Des Moines, Iowa vegan restaurantIn the past four or five years, Des Moines has really stepped up its game where vegans are concerned! It used to be that when I was visiting my hometown, it was a strain finding exciting vegan-friendly options. But nowadays, the choices are plentiful and growing. Today I’m going to highlight my three favorite places for vegan fare in Des Moines.

New World Cafe - Des Moines, Iowa vegan restaurantNew World Café

New World Café is Des Moines’ only all-vegan restaurant and is one of two vegan restaurants in the state. (The other is Trumpet Blossom Café in Iowa City.) The intimate, casual café is in the East Village, not far from the Des Moines capitol.

Mexican bowl - New World Cafe in Des Moines, IowaTheir menu changes daily, but there are some items that show up regularly, like the Mexican bowl made with grains, beans, roasted potatoes and yams, mixed vegetables, avocado, salsa, cashew cheese, and topped with a pumpkin seed crumble. I’ve gone to New World Café with lots of different people, both vegan and non-vegan, and the Mexican bowl never fails to impress.

Taco salad - New World Cafe in Des Moines, IowaI’m also a fan of their taco salad, which is topped with a delicious mushroom-bean-millet taco crumble along with sweet bell peppers, cabbage, onion, avocado, tomatoes, and a cashew sour cream.

Additionally, New World Café offers coffee, juices, smoothies, and shakes. To read more about them, check out my full review from last year.

Tacopocalypse - Des Moines, Iowa restaurant with vegan optionsTacopocalypse

I just visited Tacopocalypse for the first time last month. It is a Mexican/Korean fusion eatery in the East Village. Tacopocalypse is a non-vegan restaurant with lots of unusual and clearly-marked vegan options.  The vibe is very casual and a great place to pick up a quick lunch. (It was really hopping when we were there!)

Tacopocalypse - Des Moines, Iowa vegan tacosTacopocalypse - Des Moines, Iowa vegan tacosTheir vegan taco offerings include several kinds of housemade soft corn tacos with fillings like spicy seitan andouille (my personal favorite), Korean tofu topped with vegan kimchi, or vegan chorizo.

They recently moved locations, but they are still in the East Village, which is a really fun area to walk around afterwards and do a bit of window shopping.

Fresh Café & Market

Fresh Café & Market is a small vegetarian restaurant tucked inside a non-descript building in West Des Moines, not far from Toys R Us & Pier One Imports. From the outside, it looks like it could be a dentist’s office, but inside is a small seating area and that wonderful telltale scent of wheatgrass and kale being juiced.

Fresh Café offers both raw and cooked food, along with smoothies and freshly-squeezed juices.  The menu changes regularly and can be found on their Facebook page.

Some things I’ve enjoyed from Fresh Cafe include:

Raw Vegan Tacos - Fresh Cafe in Des Moines, IowaThese raw vegan tacos made with seasoned walnut, sunflower, and sun-dried tomato meat were stuffed into romaine leaves along with avocado, salsa, and cashew sour cream. They were fresh and popping with flavor.

Mango Fried Rice - Fresh Cafe in Des Moines, IowaThis mango fried rice with peppers, green beans, onions, and cashews in a mango-curry sauce had a good balance of sweet and savory but was a little saltier than I prefer.

Vegan quesadilla - Fresh Cafe in Des Moines, IowaMy friend and dining companion gave this Caribbean Quesadilla stuffed with a black bean puree a thumbs up.  It was topped with coconut-cilantro crème and served with a pineapple avocado salsa.

To read more about Fresh Café & Market, check out this full review from a couple of years ago.

I’ll be back in a future post with other Des Moines-area restaurants, specialty stores, and grocery stores that are great for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone else who loves good food.