Category Archives: Reviews

A Venture to Mary’s Secret Garden

After much harassment and forced tears over the tedium of my life, I got my boyfriend to agree to a little summer trip to Southern California. These days we eat out about, oh… zero times a month. It was time to splurge aimlessly on vegan food.

On our way down US-101 Thursday evening, we stopped in Ventura for dinner at Mary’s Secret Garden, a place I’d seen good reviews about on Yelp. And their online menu grabbed my tastebuds’ attention.

Interior and ceiling of Mary's Secret Garden

As I entered, the size and decor provoked a mental response of: “Oh, great. Little hippie place.” But I want food to speak for itself.

Although without reservations, we were seated right away at one of the little tables. Our server was very pleasant and attentive. My boyfriend got a $7 pistachio-mint smoothie. That’s a steep price for a non-alcoholic beverage, but it was big and was it ever good. I thought I made great smoothies, but I could learn a thing or two from that rich blend of almond milk, mint, pistachios, bananas, and agave.

He ordered the Secret Burger, while I went for a raw salad. (Yes, we really are that sort of man-and-woman couple. Guess who picked up the check.) I was really impressed by the flavor of that burger. I’ve never had a meat imitation burger that I felt was so nicely… well, meaty. The texture was not beyond any other veggie burger, and it came on a bun with plain fixings. I thought the quinoa on the side was an annoyingly healthy, unimpressive accompaniment.

My salad, though, was something else! I’d sell my friends to get the recipe for that sun-dried tomato and balsamic dressing. It was drizzled over some lovely fresh spinach salad, tomatoes, and onions. Rich macadamia “cheese” with dollops of pesto sat atop the tomatoes to round out this great choreography of flavors. A little nut “Parmesan” sprinkled all over made every bite even better.

I really have no regret over the amount spent (by my boyfriend) on my dinner, so I hate to end with a disapproving note. He just couldn’t resist a chocolate-peanut butter cake. And I would not let him feel uncharitable by not sharing it with me. It was just a piece of cake, though, and not worth $8. How special is sugary peanut butter? And after the last few chocolate chips are gone, there’s nothing to console me. Oh well.

I hope to return, but I’ll certainly trade dessert for a smoothie.

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Vegan Chocolate Reviewer: The Tea Room Maté & Cacao Nibs Chocolate Fusion

Product: The Tea Room Maté & Cacao Nibs Chocolate Fusion
Price: $3.49 for 1.8 oz at Cornucopia (local health food store)
Type of chocolate: 72% cacao European chocolate
My notes: Very smooth, silky texture with a even dusting of crunchy bits (sugar? cacao?) like fine sand throughout. Soft snap. Sweet and citrusy flavor with a weird, almost coffee-like note that I assume is the yerba maté. Definitely detected the licorice-y star anise. Interesting.
Note to self: Just because it’s pricey, you don’t have to buy it.
Overall rating (out of five stars): ***

Beautiful. I wish my skin were as smooth as this chocolate.

Did my palate luxuriate in the flavor medley? I guess.

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Vegan Chocolate Reviewer: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Wedges

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Life is being a distraction right now. But chocolate is a nice distraction from life.

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Product: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Wedges
Price: $3.49 for 3.5 oz at Trader Joe’s
Type of chocolate: 70% Belgian cacao
My notes: Aroma of cocoa. Shiny, plasticky surface. Very soft and chewy bite, uncomplicated rich chocolate flavor.
Overall rating (out of five stars): ***

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See how my teethmarks sank smoothly into the wedge before it broke? That’s a soft bite.

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Don’t forget that there’s a second layer of wedges under those, making for 16 per tin.

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Vegan Chocolate Reviewer: Alter Eco Dark Mint Chocolate

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Product: Alter Eco Dark Mint Chocolate
Price: $3.99 for 3.5 oz at Whole Foods
Type of chocolate: at least 61% cacao from Bolivia
My notes: Strong mint scent upon opening wrapper. Smooth and dark appearance. Fairly soft snap and bite, but it was a hot day. Very light, almost like aerated chocolate, with fine grainy texture nearly like Taza stone-ground chocolate. Initially mild mint flavor that fades to pure chocolaty-ness. Addicting.
Overall rating (out of five stars): ****

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Read about Alter Eco’s take on practicing Fair Trade.

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Vegan Chocolate Reviewer: Chocolove Coffee Crunch in Dark Chocolate

chocolove coffee bar

Product: Chocolove Coffee Crunch in Dark Chocolate
Price: unknown price (bought for me) for 3.2 oz at Cornucopia (local health food store)
Type of chocolate: 55% cacao chocolate from Belgium
My notes: Smooth and glossy appearance. Soft bite with pleasant crunchy coffee bits. I expected a mocha-like taste, but actual flavor was mild chocolate with an intense coffee accent. For a dark chocolate, the cacao content was low and I was reminded of a cheap candy bar, but better. Couldn’t tell if my subsequent “high” was from the coffee or chocolate.
Note to self: Coffee and chocolates alone would make an excellent brunch.
Overall rating (out of five stars): ***

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Every Chocolove bar comes with a love poem printed on the inside of the wrapper. I never enjoy it as much as the chocolate.

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On the Daiya Bandwagon (with Pizza)

Seemed like every vegan out there on the web had tried Daiya vegan cheese except me. Well no more! I nearly jumped out of my Calvins when I saw that my local Whole Foods Market had begun to carry pint-sized plastic containers of the seemingly mythical substance. At $8.99 per pound, I got around 2 packed cups of the shredded Italian blend for $4.58 and a little less shredded Cheddar-style for $3.15.

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Thus a dinner of two pizzas was born, using a quick and tasty pizza dough recipe from Yeah, That “Vegan” Shit. Throw this together just 15 minutes before you want to bake a pizza, and you’re good to go.

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While possessing a “vegan cheese” texture when unmelted, Daiya is wonderfully full of flavor and can usurp its dairy counterpart in any traditional recipe requiring melted cheese. It makes lovely pizzas, quesadillas, and cheese sauces that my dairy-eating family went for with enthusiasm. But you can just selfishly snack on it straight from the package if you’re only human. This is currently my favorite of all vegan cheese products I have tried.

The price seemed a little steep to me, but after tasting it I don’t believe I will hesitate to buy more.

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Vegan Chocolate Reviewer: República del Cacao Dark Chocolate: Manabí Province

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Product: República del Cacao Dark Chocolate: Manabí Province
Price: $2.79 for 1.76 oz at Whole Foods
Type of chocolate: 75% cacao from Manabí Province of Ecuador
My notes: Slightly fruity aroma. Hard snap, but so smooth and melt-able in mouth. Taste is sweet and fairly fruity, not at all bitter.
Overall rating (out of five stars): ****

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Have a whole bar for each person if you’re sharing this chocolate, or you will be left wanting more.

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This is a chocolate to daydream about. You daydream about chocolate too, right?

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