The Curious Palate


As a dairy-free eater, I have a hard time with sandwiches because they so often have cheese, or they seem pointless without it. But the bahn mi is a cheeseless sandwich that bursts with flavor. I think it’s one of the few successful Asian fusions out there. It’s got the lemongrass-marinated meat and pickled vegetables of Vietnam, paired with the baguette and paté of France.

The Curious Palate in Santa Monica serves a fantastic bahn mi. Is it authentic Vietnamese food? No. But it’s really, really good. The baguette is crusty and fresh, hollowed out to make room for the generous fillings. I chose the braised pork belly for my protein, and it was juicy and flavorful without being too fatty. The pickled carrots, cucumbers, and cabbage were crunchy and tangy — and there was a lot of them. There was no paté, but the chipotle aioli was a nice condiment. And of course, there was plenty of fresh cilantro.


For $17, this isn’t a cheap lunch. But considering the quality of the ingredients and the obvious care that goes into the food, it’s not outrageous. One of the things I appreciated most was that the side salad wasn’t perfunctory — it was good enough that I would even order it as a main.

So if you’re looking for a great dairy-free sandwich, head to the top floor of Santa Monica Place, the mall at the end of the 3rd Street Promenade, and try the bahn mi at the Curious Palate. You won’t even think about missing cheese.

THE CURIOUS PALATE, 395 Santa Monica Place, Suite 321, Santa Monica, CA 90401


Daiya Dairy-Free Swiss Cheese Slices


Daiya makes a lot of dairy-free products and they’re not all created equal. I like to review as many of them as I can, so you’ll know which ones are worth eating and which aren’t.

When I saw Daiya’s Swiss Style Slices, I was optimistic. I love the Cheddar Style Slices in this same product line. Swiss was one of my favorite cheeses back in my dairy-eating days — it’s the only cheese I would want in a turkey, pastrami, or corned beef sandwich. I started having fantasies of being able to eat chicken cordon bleu and double-decker Reubens.


I tried not to be bothered by the appearance of this “cheeze.” Its uniform roundness and lack of distinctive holes that Swiss cheese is known for make this stuff look like it was manufactured on an assembly line. It reminds me of Oscar Mayer bologna, that round “mystery meat” cold cut that I loved as a child. I used to fold the circle into quarters and strategically take bites out of it so when I opened it back up, it would look like a snowflake. Ah, fun with processed foods.

But I digress. Daiya’s Swiss “cheeze” unfortunately tastes as artificial as it looks. It melts as nicely as Daiya’s cheddar slices, but it has a decidedly weird, chemical aftertaste. It was so unappealing I threw out the package after trying only one slice, in a ham-and-Swiss omelet.

So much for the dairy-free chicken cordon bleu. For now.

If you’d like to read my other reviews of Daiya products, click on the Daiya tag below.

A Royal Wedding Cream-Free Tea


This Saturday, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are getting married in a royal wedding that we Angelenos are very excited about. Not only is Meghan Markle an American, she is also from Los Angeles.

Many people are planning viewing parties, and what better way to celebrate the royal nuptials than with a traditional English tea? I adore afternoon tea… the girlier and more twee the better. It’s the only circumstance under which I tolerate doilies.

Commonwealth Day Service
Do it for the royals. And by the way, that white outfit is so chic, it’s killing me.

The problem is that a traditional afternoon tea is loaded with dairy. In fact, it’s often called a “cream tea.” There’s the milk you put in your tea, the cream cheese in the finger sandwiches, the clotted cream for the scones, the pastries filled or topped with cream… The list goes on.

Being lactose-intolerant, I’ve had to forego my beloved cream tea. That’s why, on this special occasion, I set out to make a “cream-free tea.” Here’s the menu:


Madras Curry Chicken Sandwiches

Cucumber with Lemon-Mint Butter Sandwiches

Tart Cherry Scone with Clotted Coconut Cream and Boysenberry Preserves

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry

Earl Grey Tea

I should make it clear that I do use butter in my recipes, as the amount of lactose in it doesn’t bother me. But if butter is a problem for you, you can use a vegan alternative such as Earth Balance.

As for the tea itself, you can either drink it straight or use any non-dairy milk you like: almond, coconut, soy, etc. For a richer experience, I recommend using a heavier creamer like Califia Farms Better Half, a mixture of coconut cream and almond milk.

Final note: You don’t have to make everything from scratch. I bought the chocolate-covered strawberry at Gelson’s rather than dipping it myself. For the scones, I used a prepackaged mix called Sticky Fingers and spooned the batter into a Nordic Ware mini scone pan.



It’s okay to take a few shortcuts, especially when you’re making such an elaborate meal. Besides, as Carl Sagan once said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, first you must invent the universe.” Too late for that.

Below you’ll find my recipes for the sandwiches and the clotted coconut cream. Enjoy the royal wedding and your dairy-free royal tea!


Chicken salad recipe adapted from Nom Nom Paleo

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 lime, juiced
1/2 pound cooked chicken, shredded
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 slices wheat bread

In a small bowl, combine mayo, curry powder, salt and pepper. Add chicken, cilantro, and scallions. Mix well.

Spread an even layer of curry chicken on a slice of bread; top with another slice.

Using a sharp knife, cut off and discard the crusts. Cut the sandwich diagonally into quarters, making 4 triangles. (You’ll have leftover chicken.)



2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
2 tablespoons butter or vegan butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 english cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
2 slices white bread

In a small bowl combine the mint, butter, and lemon juice. Stir the mixture until well combined.

Spread a thin layer of butter mixture on each bread slice. Top one bread slice with cucumber, distributing the cucumber evenly. (Don’t pile it on too thick or the sandwich will fall apart.) Top the cucumber with the other bread slice.

With a sharp knife, cut off and discard the crusts. Cut the sandwich diagonally into quarters, making 4 triangles.



4 tablespoons butter or vegan butter, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons canned coconut cream or milk

Using an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until well combined and smooth, about 2 minutes.

Add coconut cream and continue beating until the cream is light and fluffy.

Transfer cream to a small serving dish or ramekin. Serve with scones and preserves. If you’re not using the cream right away, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated for up to 2 days.


Vromage Artisan Vegan Cheese


When I heard that a veteran cheesemaker opened up a shop selling dairy-free cheese in West Hollywood, I couldn’t wait to try it. The reviews for Vromage were fantastic. I pictured a cozy little spot like the Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City, where you can get beautiful sandwiches and salads — but without dairy!

Well, when I walked into Vromage, located in a tiny strip mall on Sunset Boulevard, I was worried. There was no one behind the counter and no menu posted on the wall or printed on paper. After several stressful minutes, a man finally emerged from the kitchen and greeted me. He didn’t introduce himself, but I deduced that he was Youssef Fakhouri, the founder and inventor of Vromage.

“Where’s the menu?” I asked him.

“Right here,” he said, pointing to himself. “What would you like?”

I didn’t even know where to begin. I’m the kind of person who likes to order my food off an iPad so I don’t have to talk to anyone. “Do you make sandwiches?” I asked. Youssef said yes. “What kind?” I asked. This was way too loosey-goosey for me. I was starting to wonder if this Youssef guy was like Willy Wonka and I was going to end up getting turned into a giant blueberry.

At last, Youssef gestured to a chalkboard behind me.


I was confused. What exactly is on this sandwich besides mozzarella or taleggio, and does it really cost $1250? ‘Cause that’s a bit overpriced, if you ask me. (Turns out there was a decimal point missing.) And why is there a paté sandwich on the menu if everything here is vegan?

I had questions. But at this point, I was feeling stupid and hungry. I asked if I could sample some cheeses. First I picked the goat, since I used to love goat cheese and I’d never had dairy-free goat before. Youssef handed me a generous slice on a slip of parchment. It was pure white and had dried herbs around the edges. I tried it. Unbelievable. It had that sharp, tart flavor I’d missed for so long, and the texture was smooth and fluffy. Not as dense as real cheese, almost mousse-like.

“Yum,” I said. “That’s really good.”

“You like it?” said Youssef. “I’ll make you a sandwich.”

And before I could try any other samples or ask him just what he was planning to put on this sandwich, Youssef disappeared into the kitchen again and I was left standing there, hoping he wouldn’t come out with a pumpernickel roll with olives and yellow mustard (all foods I do not enjoy). He didn’t even ask me if I was allergic to anything. The only way to describe how I felt at that moment is… helpless.

But when Youssef came back out a few minutes later with his mystery concoction, it looked delicious.


The sandwich contained nothing but vegan goat cheese, arugula, and sliced heirloom tomatoes on a crusty French baguette (luckily, all foods I do enjoy). An inveterate meat eater, I feared that the lack of protein would leave me hungry and reaching for a snack in an hour. But I was committed at this point, so I took my plate over to the teeny counter by the window and took a bite.

It was fantastic. Everything tasted super-fresh and the goat cheese packed enough flavor to carry that sandwich. Would I have liked some prosciutto or wine-soaked sopressata in there? Hell, yeah. But if you’re a vegan, this is as good as it gets.

And by the way, I wasn’t hungry an hour later. Perhaps the nuts that the cheese was made of provided me with more protein than I’d expected. All of the cheeses at Vromage are nut-based. They don’t contain soy.


Later I tried samples of the spicy cheddar and the brie, but neither were as good as the goat. The spicy cheddar in particular was disappointing because its texture was grainy. I also sampled the vegan “paté,” which tasted odd and nothing like real paté. Apparently, Youssef hasn’t yet perfected the art of imitating liver.

But I liked the goat cheese so much that I bought a chunk of it to take home. Vromage sells all its cheeses by weight, and most of the customers I saw that day came in to take some cheese home for their vegan cocktail parties in Laurel Canyon.

It’s not much of a sit-down restaurant — only a handful of seats and zero atmosphere. But as far as vegan cheese goes, Youssef Fakhouri is on the cutting edge. If you’re willing to hand over the controls to this eccentric cheesemonger, go for it.

VROMAGE ARTISAN CHEESE, 7988 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90046



The “Lin Special” Sandwich


In honor of my mother, who passed away last month, I’d like to share one of her recipes, a sandwich she called “The Lin Special.” Unlike most of her culinary masterpieces, this sandwich was a humble creation, thrown together with stuff she had on hand. Some of the greatest sandwiches are deceptively simple (think grilled cheese, BLT, tuna melt). This one contains only five ingredients: white bread, ham, mozzarella cheese, tomato, and onion.

Of course, the mozzarella poses a problem for us lactose-intolerant folks. Which is why I haven’t had a “Lin Special” in years. Fortunately, there are now lactose-free (and dairy-free) cheese alternatives that approximate the mild flavor and stretchy texture of mozzarella.


The one I chose for this sandwich was Go Veggie Lactose-Free Mozzarella Style Shreds. Because it contains casein (milk protein), it’s not suitable for people with dairy allergies, but works fine if you’re just lactose-intolerant.

The flavor of this “cheese” is nothing to write home about, but then, mozzarella is kind of bland by nature. It’s more of a backdrop than a star player. Go Veggie, like most fake cheeses, looks strange when it melts (see photo below), but has the proper mouth-feel and stretchiness. It would do nicely on a pizza.


There’s no wrong way to make this sandwich. I prefer it with lots of onion and heavily toasted bread, but you can make it to your liking. If you’re not into white bread, sourdough is a good alternative.

When I used to work at the Letterman show in New York, I would go downstairs to the Hello Deli, run by the now-famous Rupert Jee, and ask him to make this sandwich for me. I kept hoping he’d add the “Lin Special” to the menu, as several of my co-workers had sandwiches named after them. Alas, it never happened.

Well, for those of you who never got a chance to try the “Lin Special,” here is my mom’s recipe. Enjoy. She would want you to.

The “Lin Special” Sandwich Recipe

2 slices white bread
4 slices ham
4 slices tomato
handful of thinly sliced red onion
handful of lactose-free (or dairy-free) shredded mozzarella

Layer the bread slices with ham, tomato, onion, and mozzarella. Place both slices, face up, on the middle rack of a toaster oven. Toast until the “cheese” is melted and the bread is lightly browned. Remove from the toaster oven and put the slices together. Cut the sandwich into triangles, if desired.

Lee’s Sandwiches


Last week I wrote about how happy I am when I find dairy-free sandwiches that taste good, and how nice it is to not have to say, “Hold the cheese.” Well, that’s why I was so excited about Lee’s Sandwiches, an Asian sandwich chain that specializes in bahn mi.


Bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich filled with flavorful meats such as grilled pork, beef, or lemongrass chicken and vegetables like pickled carrots, daikon, cucumbers, jalapeños, and cilantro. Reflecting the French colonization of Vietnam, bahn mi is served on a baguette and sometimes contains paté and a mayo-based spread like aioli.

What bahn mi sandwiches never have is cheese!

Sometimes I pick the seeds out of my jalapeños. Yep, I’m a pussy.


I’ve been to the Lee’s in Van Nuys twice, since it’s near the pool where I go swimming. I have to say their bahn mi isn’t the best I’ve ever had — not even close. It’s more the idea of Lee’s that I’m in favor of. You walk in and there’s a whole section of the menu labeled “Asian Sandwiches” with almost as many choices as their “European Sandwiches” menu.

It’s like the Subway of bahn mi.

They also have boba tea, coffee drinks, smoothies, and even house-made Italian sodas. I had the lychee iced tea and I had to ask them to adjust my drink to make it less sweet. However, I found an actual lychee fruit in my cup, so that was cool. I wouldn’t recommend a special trip to Lee’s for boba tea, but I do like that I can get one when I order a bahn mi. One stop shopping is always a plus.


Are there better places to get a bahn mi and boba tea? Absolutely. But in this section of Van Nuys, Lee’s is temptingly convenient and cheap takeout. Most of their 10-inch bahn mi sandwiches are only $4.49 — a steal compared to Nong La, my go-to Vietnamese place on Sawtelle, where an 8-inch pork bahn mi costs $7.

Know of a good bahn mi place in Van Nuys? Or in West LA? Let me know in the comments section!

LEE’S SANDWICHES, 16900 Sherman Way, Lake Balboa, CA 91406

The Loose Teas Café and Gifts


One day, looking for a boba place in Monrovia, I came across The Loose Teas Café and Gifts in a strip mall on Huntington Drive. This is not your typical boba place. It’s more of a traditional tea shop, specializing in a large selection of fine loose teas. I ordered my usual — lychee iced tea — and had to send it back because it was too sweet (this happens a lot with me). But the barista adjusted it until I was happy. And I was thrilled by the boba: super fresh with just the right amount of chewiness.

Since then, I have become a big fan of The Loose Teas Café. They make tea the right way: by brewing each cup fresh to order. And for those of us who don’t eat dairy, they offer soy and almond milk, rather than the non-dairy creamer that most boba shops use (yuck).



Last week I ordered an unsweetened iced tea latte made with rose black tea and almond milk.  It was totally on point. Most boba shops that make rose iced tea use rose-flavored syrup that tastes artificial and sickly sweet, instead of tea that’s flavored naturally with rose petals. This makes a huge difference.


Iced tea latte with rose black tea and almond milk

Most boba shops have snacks like popcorn chicken, Taiwanese sausage, and spicy fried fish balls. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some spicy fried fish balls, but they’re a sometimes treat. The Loose Teas Café makes super fresh, healthy sandwiches. They have a turkey sandwich called the “Flaming Bird” that doesn’t come with cheese and yet still tastes great, thanks to their seasoned mayo and house-made hot garlic chili flakes.

I don’t know about you, but I love not having to say, “Hold the cheese.”

Look at those chili flakes! Sprouts, cukes, avocado… heaven!

THE LOOSE TEAS CAFE AND GIFTS, 666 W. Huntington Dr., Monrovia, CA 91016

Go Veggie Lactose-Free Cheese Singles


I had called off the search for a dairy-free alternative to American cheese after I tried the one made by Follow Your Heart. But the other day when I was shopping at Ralphs — which doesn’t carry as many health foods as Whole Foods or Sprouts — I happened upon Go Veggie Lactose-Free Cheddar Style Singles. Although it says “cheddar” on the package, it’s more like American cheese — exactly like it, in fact. I have to say it’s as good as Follow Your Heart’s, even better in terms of how it melts.

The ultimate test for an American cheese is how it does in a grilled cheese sandwich. I’ll let these photos speak for themselves:


The cheese melts beautifully and has a smooth, gooey mouthfeel.

I also tried it mixed in with scrambled eggs. Again, the cheese melted perfectly.

Finally, I tried making nachos with it, the kind my brother and I used to make when we were kids. Every day after school, we’d spread a bunch of Doritos on a paper plate, lay a few slices of Kraft American cheese on top, and nuke it until the cheese bubbled. This time I used tortilla chips instead of Doritos, and Go Veggie slices instead of Kraft Singles. Voilá! Transported back to childhood — without the lactose.

After adding some salsa to this, it was a pretty rad snack.

The only downside to Go Veggie is that it contains a lot more ingredients than Follow Your Heart, some of which sound a little questionable. It also contains soy, which I usually avoid, but I was able to digest this cheese without a problem.


I also discovered upon researching Go Veggie that they make this cheese in a vegan version and a lactose- and soy-free version. The Ralphs I go to only had the lactose-free. But it’s encouraging to see mainstream grocery stores like Ralphs carrying any dairy-free alternatives.

Hey, in times like these, we’ve got to celebrate the little things.

Follow Your Heart American “Cheese”


That’s right, another blog post about dairy-free cheese… ’cause I found one that rocks! When I came across Follow Your Heart American Cheese at a Sprouts grocery store, I decided to give it a shot since I had a good experience at their health food restaurant in Canoga Park. The night we went there for dinner, I wanted coffee but didn’t want to have trouble sleeping. I asked our hippie waiter whether Teeccino, a caffeine-free coffee substitute, was any good. His answer was, “Well, some people like it. Personally, I like to drink real coffee, stay up all night, and have good conversations with people.”

But I digress. This blog post is about the cheese.

The first thing I love about it is that it doesn’t contain any weird ingredients. It’s not trying to make something (like nuts) into something it’s not (cheese). The main ingredient is coconut oil — simple and good for you.

I tasted the cheese straight up, right out of the fridge. Not so great. Definitely better melted, as I discovered when I cooked some up with scrambled eggs.


The flavor is mild like American cheese, and best of all, it has a nice smooth mouthfeel. No grainy or chalky texture. No artificial aftertaste. I was so excited that I started putting the stuff on everything.

My dairy-free alternative to the Egg McMuffin.
Image 4
Turkey nachos with square (but tasty) cheese.
Image 2
Grilled cheese and tomato soup make me feel like a kid again.

Note that when melting Follow Your Heart cheese, it doesn’t look melted the way a real cheese does. The little squares of cheese I put on the nachos never lost their square shape. The grilled cheese didn’t get that gooeyness like in a Kraft ad. I kept wondering if it needed more heat. But it was actually melted, and tasted so.

Big thumbs-up for Follow Your Heart American cheese. I’ll be getting this one again.