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Desert Companion

Creatureless comforts: Vegan delights in the valley

On the hunt for vegan treats in Vegas? Here are some great graze spots. (No animals were harmed in the chronicling of this deliciousness)

Even in buffet-jammed, steakhouse-stuffed Sin City, there’s growing interest in vegan eating, what with health, environmental and spiritual concerns ever-mounting. So what keeps the merely curious among us from committing to a vegan lifestyle?
Admit it: Fear. Fear of losing the good things in life — like, say, pastries. But now we can have yummy cakes and eat them, too, thanks to a couple of vegan hotspots. Over at Red Velvet Café (7875 W. Sahara Ave., 360-1972), Chef Aneesha Tolani works with a simple principle in mind — be aware, offer choice.
“I consider myself to be a very health-conscious person,” she says. “I decided to go with a concept that helps people with different lifestyles have a choice about what to eat, whatever the reason, health or otherwise, might be.”
From Tolani’s vantage, that reason is often food allergies. She considers Red Velvet Café, which opened in 2008, as a venue that assists kids suffering from allergies and parents who don’t have options when they think of dining out.
They’re all vegan: whole wheat cinnamon rolls, tres leches cake, brownies, carrot cake cookies, and Tolani’s signature red velvet cake are all included in the menu, as well as vegan ice creams. I sampled each, and they’re uniformly tasty and don’t leave you feeling sick to your stomach afterward like super-processed, over-sweet, kiosk-created desserts. (Cinnabon, ahem.)

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“Having variety is what got me interested in creating a menu for everyone,” says Tolani, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, Calif. “Vegan and healthy desserts are designed to complement the experience they have here.
“Vegan pastries are a staple of our customers’ diets,” she adds. “We have many customers who enjoy dessert first, and then dinner second—that way they make sure to get their vegan dessert in.”
Which brings us to the underlying philosophy of Red Velvet Café: to help people understand the importance of living and eating healthy — while also showing them that vegan options can taste great.
Tolani was also inspired by seeing her close family and friends, many of whom are vegan and vegetarian, have a tough time when dining out. Desserts arrived Godzilla-sized, often requiring four people to finish a single plate, so rich and so over-the-top. Healthy desserts? Few choices. Environmentalism is a factor for her, too.
“I think we should be focused on and dedicated to improving the direction we’re heading,” she says. “I think every single one of us needs to be aware of what we eat or consume day-to-day. I advise people to at least devote two to three days a week to being vegan or vegetarian. Doing so also helps the environment.”
She’s also eager to share her knowledge and experience about making vegan pastries. And don’t worry — it’s not all about putting tofu into everything.
“There are many different ingredient alternatives, not just tofu, although tofu is wonderful,” she says. “There are other choices, like bananas and egg replacer. For dairy substitutes, almond, rice and soy milk are popular.”

Ronald's Donuts

Killer frosting
Speaking of popular, over at Ronald’s Donuts (4600 Spring Mountain Road), owner Janie Kang has been serving up vegan donuts so good and for so long — about 20 years — people don’t even realize they’re vegan. Indeed, the establishment doesn’t even bother advertising the fact, because it won’t matter. Once you try them, you’ll never settle for a corporate coffee sinker again. But it’s Kang’s killer (but not artery-killing) frosting that makes all the difference.
“It’s just sugar and starch,” she says. “I can’t give away our exact recipe, though!”
Kang’s vegan customers continue to spread the word. Her husband, Henry, switches on the fryer and begins making icing right at midnight nightly. She shows up at 3 a.m. to brew coffee and get things in order before the doors open at 4 a.m.
“We often sell thousands of donuts in a day,” Kang says. “But we put care into every one we make. If we didn’t, people would never come back.”
Judging by this morning’s queue, which trails out the door and onto the sidewalk, quality isn’t an issue when it comes to vegan delights.

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