Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Restaurant Review: Silver Diner, Fair Oaks, VA



My daughter posing in front of Silver Diner at Fair Oaks, VA.

One of the toughest things about being the only vegan in the family is eating out. When I first transitioned to a vegan diet, eating out was really hard to figure out. My husband didn’t understand my reasons for switching, but he, like the rest of my family, was supportive. However, they also believed they shouldn’t suffer because of my decisions. I agreed. So every time we went out I ate lettuce, lots of lettuce and didn’t complain. 

As the years passed, my husband became more supportive, more involved and more of a foodie, always making sure that wherever we went to eat, there was a good vegan option for me to enjoy; one that didn’t involve a salad. With the popularity of veganism on the rise, finding a restaurant with non-salad veg-friendly options has made his efforts increasingly easier. One of our current favorites? Locally owned, locally operated and locally sourced Silver Diner.


A little over a year ago, in one of the many newsletters I receive about the DMV area, I read about Silver Diner and their transition to become a more locally sourced restaurant  to meet the increasing demand for meals made with high-quality, local ingredients. I was extremely excited to hear about this since finding such a restaurant is rare in my area - unless I travel to DC - and since eating locally first is a very important part of my philosophy when it comes to eating and living a healthy lifestyle. I want to know where my food is coming from and Silver Diner gives you all the deets. While researching more about Silver Diner, I came across their entire commitment and mission statement which you can find here. It captured my attention and left me eager to know more. With locally sourced ingredients, a chef created seasonal menu, healthy options, and a commitment to their customers, the only question that remained was, “Do they offer vegan options?”

Michale Jackson "Thriller" : B4
When I first checked out the menu, I noticed they did offer a limited number of vegan options. Some of the non-seasonal, permanent options included a salad, veggie chili and a Mango Vegetarian Stir-Fry. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for me to go.I always say, you gotta try everything at least once! The food was tasty and satisfying. Nothing “top-notch”, too unique or gourmet that captured my attention; just comfort food to warm the soul. Even my husband admitted his dishes were a bit hit and miss. Would I say the food back then could be the only reason I would return? Probably not. But it wasn’t the food that initially created that deep desire to come back. It was the atmosphere. The nostalgic setting, the kind, warm-hearted, always happy waiters and waitresses, the fun music, and the feeling of “home” all had us leaving with a desire to return soon. We’d pass by weekly on our way home from the grocery store and repeat numerous times, “We need to go back!” even though I knew it wasn’t the food I was craving.

Then, a whole new season later, Silver Diner introduced their new seasonal menu. They had been posting pics of the new items and promoting a countdown til the release of the new menu on social media, leaving me anxious and excited to see what new menu items would be introduced. Just the promise of new “Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options” had me literally checking daily when the new menu would be revealed. As soon as it was released this past May, we automatically booked it out to our local diner and waited 30 minutes in line just to give it a whirl. The results? We were IMPRESSED! The vegan options tripled in number and my husband was head over heels to see a new, local steak available on the seasonal menu. What we tried that day was pleasing to our palates! The meals were different, captivating and good, no, great enough to say we would return for only the food! That day the place became the “perfect restaurant” for us.


So why am I blogging about it now? Well, last week, Silver Diner announced that June 19th – 22nd would be bloggers week. All chosen bloggers and a friend would have the opportunity to enjoy a complimentary meal in return for a post. Umm amazing? Yeah, I jumped quick on that one and immediately signed up! A few days later I was back at our favorite restaurant, camera in hand, ready for the ultimate Silver Diner experience! Should it have taken me this long to blog about this amazing place? No. But I’m here now ready to share with you everything that is awesome about Silver Diner.  

VEGAN DISCLAIMER: Before I continue, just a note to our vegan viewers, I will be also sharing some non-vegan meals. It’s part of my commitment to Silver Diner and I truly believe that it’s important to share with as many people as I can about the importance of eating local and the options that are available. It still deters from the use of factory farms meats, which is one of my main goals as a vegan. I am also very supportive of my husband and his decision to eat locally raised and sourced meat as much as he supports me being vegan.  I believe everyone has to choose their own journey. All I can do is influence it. I hope that you can understand where I am coming from. If you don't want to see it, I recommend that you please stop after the vegan dessert. Thank you.

As I stated before, the new menu offers a wide variety of vegan options, with nutritional info. Listed below are all the vegan options currently available and my review of the dishes I have already tried.

Appetizers 

Black Bean Hummus - I have YET to try this. I plan on purchasing this on my next visit. I can already taste it! Cumin spiced black bean hummus sounds mouthwatering!

UPDATE 07/22/2013: My family and I visited over the weekend and I ordered the Black Bean Hummus appetizer with a side Summer Citrus Salad as my meal. Now I'll be honest, when I read "black bean hummus" I was expecting a black bean dip made with tahini, lemon, your typical hummus ingredients. Instead, what was placed before me was a unique blend of regular chickpea hummus, whole black beans, fresh herbs, and spices topped with olives and served with grilled ciabatta, cukes and tomatoes Talk about a surprise! Even though it wasn't what I was expecting, I actually enjoyed this new twist to hummus. It was like a hummus salsa/ hummus brushcetta. The combination of textures was addicting and the taste, nearly perfect.  My tastebuds and tummy were both very satisfied. Would I purchase this again? Absolutely, just with a request for more veggies and less bread...or a GF bread ;)


Soup

SD Veggie Chili - The chili is the only vegan soup available at Silver Diner but honestly, it’s the only one they need to offer. After you taste this warm stew you’ll understand that this chili can not be beat (except maybe by the chicken soup which my husband and daughter both claim to be unbeatable). What I love about this chili is that it’s made with whole ingredients…no TVP in this baby! The flavor comes from three things: beans, veggies and spices. Some may disagree and think it’s just a veggie tomato soup due to the “lack of real texture” but I personally find it satisfies the chili cravings just right without the "meat".  Try it and judge for yourself. You may be surprised. 


Fresh Salads

New, Warm Roasted Local Veggie Salad - This was my entree for bloggers week. I loved the combination of warm, roasted soft veggies combined with crisp greens, chewy, sweet dried apricots, and crunchy pecans and dressed in a sweetly tart champagne vinaigrette. A very playful combination! It's very tasty and a salad I could eat multiple times! I think it would have been perfect if it was topped with a few slices of avocado. Then we’d have all textures in one bite! Only thing is that I would ask for the vinaigrette on the side. The vinaigrette, which is more on the tart, acidic side, overpowered my salad just a bit. That's a minor quick fix, though.



Summer Citrus - This salad is the perfect salad for when you’re craving something bright in both colors and in flavor. Loaded with spinach, mango, and strawberries and topped with crunchy pecans and chewy cranberries, this salad is perfect for both the summer and winter. I believe this salad used to be a seasonal and is now a permanent menu item. While it does seem pretty “typical” for a summer salad in terms of ingredients, it is a nice go to when you’re craving something fresh, sweet and savory. (PS it comes with a Citrus Vinaigrette but I opted for Balsamic that day).

UPDATE 07/22/2013: I tried the Citrus Vinaigrette for the first time over the weekend and I have to say it is bursting with citrus notes. It's very bright, mildly sweet and quite refreshing. If you love citrus fruits, you'll love the vinaigrette.


Entrees

Mango Vegetarian Stir Fry - This is definitely a different kind of dish. First off, a stir-fry seems a bit out of the norm when we talk about your classic diner meals: burger, fries, flapjacks, chili, milkshakes, stir-fry..sounds odd right? It definitely sticks out, but in a good way. As one of the “Under 600 Cals” meals, the veggie stir-fry is loaded with veggie goodness. Between the tangy, oddly warm bites of mango, the crispy veggies, the hearty noodles and the teriyaki sauce, your taste buds will be having a flavor party with each bite. It was weird at first eating cooked, warm, savory mango, but I actually found it to be an enticing, unexpected twist to your typical stir-fry.  It’s a hearty dish so prepared to be full!


New, Pesto Veggie Pasta - I have yet to try this and while I have been teetering on the edges of “Eat” or “Don't Eat” due to my recent self-proclaimed sensitivities to gluten, I may, MAY give it a try. The question is, is it worth it to feel crappy for a day? Not sure. But the description alone has me drooling. Lemony pine nut pesto…mmm. Maybe they’ll have GF noodles on hand? Hmm I’ll get back to you on that one! 

New, Santa Fe Roasted Veggies - This was the very first meal I tried on the new menu! It’s the dish that made me stand and give a monstrous applause to Silver Diner for stepping up their game and offering some more “gourmet like” vegan meals. I mean, I went from “Everything’s OK” to “I’m impressed!”. This dish includes one of the newest trending ingredients: quinoa. Nestled on top of a bed of properly cooked quinoa are chipotle roasted veggies, oaxaca black bean salsa,  chopped dried apricots, sunflower seeds and a drizzle of tangy salsa roja. Some of the ingredients sound similar to the roasted veggie salad right? I was a bit worried that the salad and this dish would taste the same but they proved that you can take some of the same ingredients and make something completely different! The flavors in this dish are just bursting. Root veggies plus santa fe ingredients equals must try dish - one you will truly appreciate.


Side Dishes

SW Quinoa - Now you know this stuff is good when my husband and daughter both love it. I have never been able to get either one to taste quinoa but somehow Silver Diner could. Restaurants *sigh*. The quinoa is tossed with fresh cooked veggies and black beans and lightly seasoned with aromatic, southwestern spices. I personally think it could have used some extra spice and seasoning, but overall a good and healthy side dish.


Garlic Spinach - Yeah, what else do I need to say? If you love garlicky greens then you'll love their garlic spinach!

Roasted Veggies - I believe these would be the same veggies as the ones used in the salad and santa fe dish.

Edamame Beans and Brown Rice - Haven’t tried these yet!

Vegan Coleslaw - I was excited to learn on our first visit to Silver Diner that the coleslaw was vegan! It came with my husband's burger and I stole it right away to grab a taste. Crunchy, sweet and creamy…it’s pretty similar to the non-vegan version. I’ve never been a fan of coleslaw but this one I could eat a time or two.


Shakes and Desserts

New, Soy Dream Sundae and Chocolate Raspberry Shake: For my trip on Saturday, in honor of Blogger's Week,  I decided to taste the sundae first. I figured the shake would be similar (just blended) since the same ingredients are used in both. The Sundae was simple yet decadent and satisfying. I rarely buy ice cream for home and I can’t remember the last time I made a sundae, so this was a real treat. The highlight of this dish was the raspberry sauce which I could easily tell was made with real raspberries due to its chunky texture. This sundae was the perfect end to my meal.


As for the two omni’s... My daughter is in love with the kids pancakes, strawberries and nitrate-free, locally made maple pork sausage which her and my husband both claim to be “really good and flavorful”.  She devours her meal every time. She's usually the first one to ask if we can back to Silver Diner. She just loves this place!


As for my husband, he can’t seem to escape Silver Diner’s new Local Flat Iron Steak with crispy onion straws, mashed potatoes, scallions and sautéed garlic spinach. Without the blue cheese butter, it is, in his words, the perfect well-rounded meal. He states the steak is well seasoned and always cooked to his desires. The mashed potatoes are creamy and as he says, “just like you make them”, which must mean homemade-esque and the onion straws, deliciously crunchy and always guarded by his fork. As for the garlic spinach, I think he could eat an entire plate of that stuff alone. He’s a garlic addict.



And apparently a vanilla milkshake addict too.


Silver Diner has become one of our favorite places to go as a family. Everything from the atmosphere to the food to the diner’s ideals and commitments always leaves us satisfied with our decision to dine at the Silver Diner. Plus, nothing makes me happier than to know that the meal I just purchased supports local farmers and not the Big Ag. Take that!

Want to meet the farmers they source their ingredients from? Check out this awesome interactive map I just discovered!
I’m curious to know which dish would YOU want to try?

*Beth*

Silver Diner is a locally owned and operated restaurant with a commitment to “Buy Fresh and Local” ingredients whenever possible. It started in the late 1980’s as your typical modern diner and has grown into a purveyor of local food and drinks. For more information as well as locations near you, please check out their website at www.silverdiner.com. I want to send a huge thanks to the staff at the Fair Oaks location! Thank you for dealing with my photographing craziness. You guys are always the best!


P.S. Even though this meal was provided to me for free in return for my review, this in no way influences my honest opinion. Trust me. 

 Here are a couple more fun pics: