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 Treats Aplenty in Omaha, Nebraska

Saint Cecilia Cathedral - Omaha, NebraskaLast weekend David and I took a brief trip to Omaha for a friend’s wedding. Other than driving through while traveling across country or using their airport, I hadn’t spent much time in Omaha. We’d been hoping to make it more of an extended weekend, but with a kitty still under the weather, we had to make our trip brief. Nevertheless, we crammed a lot of fun into our time there!

The ceremony was at Saint Cecilia, a huge cathedral with high ceilings, stained glass, and lavish flower arrangements. It was a beautiful wedding, and the bride and groom were overflowing with happiness. It’s always such a boost to be around people who are at the beginning of a great adventure with optimism and excitement for what is ahead.

There was an hour and a half break between the ceremony and reception, and we knew there wouldn’t be much on the buffet line that was vegan-friendly. So we ventured downtown to Block 16.

Vegan options at Block 16 - Omaha, NebraskaVegan options - Block 16 - Omaha, Nebraska

After perusing their menu online, I had planned on getting the gyros, but then David spied a reuben on the menu. Obviously my choice was made. I read online that Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who lives in Omaha, helped them with their seitan recipe.

Vegan reuben at Block 16 - Omaha, NebraskaThe thick pieces of seitan had a nice, chewy bite to them, and you could tell it was made in house. The sandwich had slices of pickled beets, which I worried I wouldn’t like since I tend to be anti-beets. However, they didn’t have any of that telltale dirt beet flavor. They just tasted pickled with a faint sweetness.

Vegan reuben at Block 16 - Omaha, NebraskaThe messy sandwich, dripping with dressing and sauerkraut, was a risk while wearing a special occasion outfit, but I made it through unscathed!

Veggie burger at Block 16 - Omaha, NebraskaDavid ordered the veggie burger, which was topped with a choice of traditional burger fixings or pickles and peanut butter. David was intrigued by the peanut butter idea and chose that option. The sandwich was pressed until the peanut butter was warm and melty.

I had to have a bite of it, and it was really good. I was surprised that the peanut butter was chunky, but it was fun having a little crunch in the sandwich – kind of like when you added potato chips to sandwiches as a kid. It definitely got my wheels turning for other peanut butter burger ideas, like a Thai burger with a peanut satay sauce… I’ve got to make this happen!

Wedding receptionWith full bellies, we returned to the reception for drinks, toasts, and celebrating with the bride and groom.

Even though it was only an overnight trip, it wouldn’t be one of our vacations without a trip to a natural grocery store. We wanted to have provisions for a late night picnic back in the hotel room, along with a couple of episodes of Episodes. (Do you watch that show? It’s the series with Matt LeBlanc of Friends fame, playing a parodied version of himself in a comedy about two British writers who have their TV show produced in Hollywood. The show offers a hilarious take on the perils of the entertainment industry. Episodes’ third season was finally available on iTunes, and we just finished it. So good.)

Hotel picnicWe picked up some baked tofu, kale salad, and blackberries. We also grabbed chips and guac-kale-mole, which is guacamole made with kale! I’d never heard of such a thing, but for a person who madly loves both kale and avocados, it was a big hit. I’m definitely making my own version of that this weekend.  (Update:  I did it!  Check out my own version of guac-kale-mole here.)

Vegan options at Benson Brewery - Omaha, NebraskaThe next day before heading out of town, we visited Benson Brewery. We got there around 11 am, not realizing they have a different brunch menu on the weekends. We’d both really wanted to try their buffalo seitan strips, but they aren’t offered on the brunch menu. However, David asked the server about them, and they were able to make them for us anyway!

Benson Brewery vegan options - Omaha, NebraskaVeggie Brew Wing Basket (buffalo seitan) - Benson Brewery - Omaha, NebraskaWe split all of the dishes, so that we could try a bit of everything.  The Brew Veggie Wing Basket came with a choice of hot sauce, spicy mustard, or both. We chose both and I’m glad we did. Buffalo sauce is so crave-able and tasty, but the hot mustard might have been even better. It had undertones reminiscent of wine and a rich umami flavor that was really lovely.  We also split an order of french fries dusted with tarragon and sea salt.

Tofu sandwich at Benson Brewery - Omaha, NebraskaThen we shared the battered tofu sandwich, which was spread with a thick layer of tartar sauce and citrus coleslaw on top.  On the side was a green salad with dried cranberries and a mustard vinaigrette that was particularly good.

(I noticed as we were leaving that they also have malt vinegar for fries and tofu sandwiches! I always have malt vinegar with my fries at home, and so I was bummed I missed an opportunity to have it. Take note if you go to ask for the malt vinegar!)

Even though Omaha doesn’t have a vegetarian or vegan restaurant (yet!), they have lots of really interesting vegan-on-purpose (as opposed to accidentally vegan) options that were terrific. There were many more possibilities than we were able to try on our short trip. However, I’m sure we’ll be back later on in the summer when Omaha’s first vegan restaurant opens, Modern Love Omaha.

One more thing: On Fridays I post over at Feelgood Style, often with entries about natural beauty and style.  Yesterday I shared my thoughts on aging with a post called, How young were you when you became old?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic!