In my normal, South Beach-dwelling, plant-eating life, carbs play an important but purposely limited role. The best way to get fat on a vegan diet is to increase the ratio of grains to vegetables in your diet dramatically, so I try to stick to one to one and a half cups of strictly whole grains a day. It keeps me fueled but leaves plenty of room on my plate for vegetables and beans.
But on Friday I was on vacation, a central part of which was a destination race called the Tough Mudder in San Bernardino. Those two things gave me license to break my rules and soak my blood with all the sweet, delicious, and decadent carbohydrate-rich foods that Los Angeles (we drove into San B. Friday night) could throw at me in preparation for race day. Real Food Daily in West Hollywood had an eclectic organic menu that let me indulge my carb fantasies with little remorse, because the restaurants (there are three Cali locations) use organic whole-food ingredients and refrain from using refined sugars in any of their dishes. Plus, the place had a modern, inviting clean look and an incredibly knowledgeable and attentive staff. See below how mouthwatering vegan food can look.
At our server's recommendation -- nay, insistence -- we ordered a plate of "not-chos" ($13.75; add $2.50 for taco "meat"). We almost didn't do it. The appetizer had sounded kind of boring; I mean, I can easily make vegan nachos at home by tossing a can of vegetarian refried beans on top of a bowl of tortilla chips. But I soon discovered that RFD's vegan nachos were a force to be reckoned with. They were loaded with tofu sour cream, black beans, guacamole, cashew-nut cheese, and pico de gallo. We added the taco "meat" for an extra-hearty flavor. All five of the people at our table (only two of whom were vegan) devoured the plate in seconds. We thanked our server for pushing past our hesitancy and convincing us to try the dish RFD is known for.
As an entrée, I picked the vegan fettuccine Alfredo ($12.95), partially because I wanted the starch, but more because I was totally curious about how they would pull off such a cheesy, creamy dish without any cow's-milk-based cheese or cream!
Our server said they use a soy-based cheese sauce, and I think I detected a bit of nutritional yeast in there as well. In my opinion, it was an extremely convincing and rich replacement for the normal artery-clogging cheese sauce. My friend (a nonvegan and a chef) said it was not -- but agreed it was extraordinary for the lack of animal products. The dish was also loaded with big broccoli chunks, red peppers, and pine nuts. I closed my eyes as I chewed each bite. It was really sensational.
We debated about whether to get a postmeal sweet treat, but after taking another gander at the ridiculously rich desserts -- at reasonable prices -- we had to give at least one of them a go. It was agonizing to decide, but we eventually settled on what is probably the most gluttonous: the chocolate brownie bowl. The vegan brownies were rich and chunky, but not oily, and they hugged our choice of two scoops of soy ice cream -- we chose one coconut and one hemp vanilla. The whole thing was drowned in a gooey chocolate sauce. Our spoons flew in a frenzy over the dessert as we tried to get a gob of each delicious element in every bite.
So, did all of this vegan carbo-loading work? Yes, it did. My team of nine other insane people from around the world (one "mate" flew in from Australia to complete the 11-mile obstacle course with us, another from Colombia, and still others from New York and Puerto Rico) completed all 20-some cruel and unusual obstacles in between hikes up and down black-diamond ski slopes at the Snow Valley Mountain Resort in San Bernardino. We helped each other over ten-foot walls, endured electric shocks as we ran dripping-wet through dangling live wires, plunged into freezing-cold tanks, crawled through mud tunnels, dove down 30-foot free-fall water slides, and charged up a huge half-pipe slicked with unrelenting sprays of water, hoping desperately that someone at the top would catch our outstretched hands. For some of us, at least one obstacle took seven tries. But we made it all the way -- bruised and battered, but elated, and together at every step.
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Plant-based vegan foods propelled me through all of my training, fueled me through the actual event, and have facilitated a speedy recovery (it's two days later and I barely feel a thing). Like many of my fellow vegan athletes, I've found that, contrary to popular belief, the vegan diet can provide ideal nourishment for accomplishing athletic goals.
Now we're celebrating in Las Vegas. I'm curious to see how accommodating Sin City is to the vegan lifestyle.