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.

Vegan Eats World Review & Giveaway

Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero - review & giveaway!When I saw Terry Hope Romero speak at Vida Vegan Con last year, she said that when she’s looking for inspiration in cooking, she ventures outside of the vegan realm. She reads non-vegan cookbooks, studies cuisines from other cultures, looks at restaurant trends and cooking shows. By examining what other people are doing in the world of food, she can take it and put her own vegan spin on it.

Her cookbook, Vegan Eats World, is the perfect example of that philosophy. The cookbook, which came out in 2012, offers a wealth of global options to the tune of 300 recipes. With each recipe she asks, “What if this was a vegan world? How would a culture’s traditional flavors translate to plant-based fare? Sometimes it’s a natural fit with things like vegetable heavy Ethiopian stews and sometimes it takes creative license with things like gyro-roasted seitan.

Her philosophy has certainly benefitted me. One thing I’ve appreciated about Terry’s work over the years is not only that she creates such interesting, multi-dimensional recipes but also that I feel like I get an education in other food traditions. Plus, her cookbooks consistently deliver amazing, restaurant-quality recipes that have expanded my cooking repertoire and my spice rack.

I was a recipe tester for Vegan Eats World, and so it has been a cookbook I’ve been using in one form or another for years now. So when the publisher, Da Capo Press, contacted me about a review of the new soft cover release, I felt more than equipped to handle it! (They are also offering a copy of the book to one lucky reader at the end of this post!)

The cover is different from the hardcover original, but otherwise, everything else inside has stayed the same. It is still loaded with lots of big, colorful photos of mouthwatering food.

Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero - review & giveaway! (Sauerkraut & Mushroom soup)For the purpose of a review, it seemed like a good excuse to make some of the recipes that have been on my “must try” list since the hardcover book came out. Number one on that list was Sauerkraut Mushroom soup (ShChi). I am an enormous sauerkraut fan, but I had never experienced sauerkraut in soup form. Needless to say, I was intrigued by this Russian-inspired dish!

Terry recommends using high-quality sauerkraut sold in jars in the refrigerated section for this recipe, and so I opted for my favorite sauerkraut from Gold Mine. Even after cooking, I knew it would keep its crunch. The soup is made with mushrooms, leeks, carrots, and celery in a vegetable broth with white wine. I had a chance to use a lot of forgotten spices from my spice rack like caraway seeds and marjoram.

Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero - review & giveaway! (ShChi - Sauerkraut Mushroom Soup)This soup was well balanced with a mix of flavors that reminded me of drinking a reuben. It was topped with sour dilly cream made from non-dairy yogurt, Vegenaise, garlic, and dill, which added a creamy, cool brightness to the soup. If you’d like to try it yourself, the ShChi recipe is available on Post Punk Kitchen.

Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero - review & giveaway! (Salad & Dukka)The next new-to-me recipe was for Toasted Hazelnut Crunch Dip (Dukka). I’ve had Dukka in the past, most memorably used as a topping on one of the most delicious hummus platters I’ve ever tasted. Dukka is an Egyptian blend of roasted nuts and toasted spices. I remember how it added a nutty extra dimension to the creamy spread.

The only thing that had kept me from making it was that it seemed a bit involved for something that was only going to be used as a topping. It’s typically served with extra virgin olive oil as a dipping sauce for bread. The recipe involves roasting whole hazelnuts, removing their skins, toasting spices like cumin, fennel, coriander, and caraway, and then grinding them with smoked salt.

After one bite, I was immediately kicking myself for waiting this long to make it! This recipe was so worth the effort, and it makes 1 ½ cups of dukka, which is enough to last a very long time. I had to go back again and again for one more bite of the salty, crunchy mix of varied flavors and spices.

Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero - review & giveaway (Cashew feta)I served it with one of my Vegan Eats World favorites. This Greek Village Salad with Cashew Faux Feta (Horiatiki Salad) is one that I make fairly regularly, particularly in the summer. It’s a tomato and cucumber salad that is topped with raw cashews that have marinated in lemon juice, vinegar, olive brine, minced garlic, and spices. I often make the cashew feta on its own for topping salads. Along with its marinating brine, it makes for a delicious alternative to standard dressing. While it’s not similar in texture to animal-based feta, it has a bite and tang that makes me want to grab a spoon and eat it all on its own. (And yes, I have been known to sneak bites straight out of the refrigerator.)

Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero - Review & Giveaway!  (gyro seitan)To finish off the salad, I made the gyro-roasted seitan.  It is another beloved recipe in the book.  In addition to being terrific on salad, it’s wonderful in a pita or tortilla wrap with cucumbers and tomatoes or served with roasted lemony potatoes.

Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero - Review & giveaway!As a big fan of all things tangy and garlicky, I fell for hard for this seitan that was roasted with lemon juice, white wine, six cloves of garlic, and spices. It filled the house with so many mouthwatering aromas and made it smell amazing. (I used the white seitan from Viva Vegan for this dish. Not only was it the first seitan I ever made from scratch, it’s also a totally foolproof recipe. I’ve made it many, many times over the years, and it always comes out like a dream.)

Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero - review & giveaway! (scrambled chickpea eggs)Finally, I made but’echa. I’d heard great things about the Fluffy Scrambled Chickpea “Eggs” with Shallots from lots of other bloggers. So I was eager to add it to a platter of Ethiopian wots with injera. (The other wots on this platter are from Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian.) I’d never made but’echa before, and so it was totally new to me.

Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero - review & giveaway! (scrambled chickpea eggs)I had a bit of user error as the recipe involves toasting chickpea flour, removing it from a skillet, then using the same skillet to sauté shallots and chilies with niter kibbeh (infused oil), and finally emptying the skillet again to make a polenta-like mixture with chickpea flour, water, and lemon juice. Our stovetop runs very hot, and after all of that use, the skillet was so warm that the water cooked down immediately and the flour made a very thick roux. I added more water to the skillet, but was left more or less with cooked chickpea dough balls. The flavor was still fine, but I don’t feel like I got an authentic experience of what this recipe is like. I plan on trying it again in the future and switching out skillets when it comes time to make the chickpea flour mixture, so that there is time for the flour to be fully absorbed.

Some of my other favorite recipes in Vegan Eats World include:

The Savory Baked Tofu is my one of my top choices for Asian stir-fries. Pineapple Fried Rice with a Thai Kick is a fabulous restaurant-quality recipe that is also terrific with rice noodles instead of rice. (Just toss the noodles with a smidge of sesame oil after draining to avoid clumping.) The seitan tibs simmered in berbere and wine (seitan tibs w’et) is full of richness and umami and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at an Ethiopian restaurant. The Artichoke Skillet Paella with Chorizo Tempeh Crumbles was also a big hit at our house.

These items are still high on my to-make list:

Preserved lemons, potato pierogies with fried onions, yogurt naan griddle bread, steamed barbecue seitan buns (char siu seitan bao), scrambled tofu breakfast bahn mi, French socca, and crispy plantains with chocolate mole dip.

One final note, several people have mentioned having difficulty finding recipes in the index. A person on the Post Punk Kitchen forum made an expanded version of the index that is good for referring to or even for printing out and keeping in the book for easier searching.  (You’ll have to scroll down just a bit to see where to download.)

Would you like to get a copy of Vegan Eats World for yourself? Now is your chance!  Da Capo Press is offering one copy for readers in the U.S. Good luck!

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of Vegan Eats World for review, but the opinions are completely my own.  This post includes Amazon affiliate links.

Congrats to Kelly G. for winning the Everyday Vegan Eats Giveaway!