Thursday, September 6, 2012

24 hours in NYC, Vegan Style

Cafe Blossom's Raw Beet "Ravioli"
What do you get when you have a vegan who spent the past 4 days in a small town with very limited vegan options, and then put her in New York City for 24 hours?? A LOT of good eats, that's what. I'm being completely honest when I say that my first stop after landing at JFK was Lula's Sweet Apothecary to try vegan soft serve, and it wasn't even remotely on my way to my crashpad for the night. What can I say, a girl's gotta eat ;-)

Warning: this is a word-heavy post, but I promise to try and make it worth your while ;-)

I was traveling the ENTIRE week last week. I love going to new spots and connecting with friends I haven't seen in a while, and just plain exploring. But the first part of the week was all work- I was in Columbia, South Carolina, to attend a conference, so the adventurous side of me had to chill for a few days. And after 4 days in that little town, I was definitely itching to move on to my next stop- no offense to anyone from there, but I didn't love the running (think incredible heat and humidity and not very scenic routes), and the vegan options were pretty limited (think day-old tasting veggie sushi, over stuffed unhealthy tasting burritos, and iceberg lettuce salads). So, yeah, I was pretty darned psyched for the next spot: NYC baby.

I had a fairly long list of places I wanted to go, from friends' recommendations and reading a few other blogger's reviews. Here's a sampling of the spots I wanted to go: Lula's Sweet Apothecary (cashew-based vegan ice creams raved about recently in VegNews and CCK), V Note (a friend's favorite, with an incredible looking menu), Candle 79 (described as "NYC's premiere vegan oasis" and also a friend rec), Gobo (another friend recommendation; this place has an insanely long menu, filled with "global" veg food), and Blossom (a blogger and friend fave with another inventive, fresh-looking menu). Yes, those are all vegan. Yip yip!!

Now, I know. I only had 24 hours. There weren't enough meals (or time, for that matter) to squeeze in all those places, and I wasn't about to attempt to become the female version of Man vs Food and shovel in as much as possible. I reminded myself we have lots of friends in NYC, so I'll just have to go back ;-) And then I prioritized...

MUST have: vegan soft serve. Why haven't I found this where I live yet?? I headed straight to Lula's Sweet Apothecary. As mentioned, it wasn't quite on my way. But I hopped right on the subway, bags in tow, to the East Village. When I turned the corner from Avenue A to 6th Street, I was a little worried. I was expecting some large sign, a huge awning, heck, I don't know, arrows and bright lights pointing to vegan dessert heaven. I *almost* panicked- what if it was closed? What if the address I entered into my phone was wrong?? And then I saw it- a totally unassuming little hole in the wall type place, a small black door and large glass window. In I went- my bag barely making it through the door. The space wasn't large, but it had that cute, old fashioned ice-cream parlor feel. The friendly guy behind the counter asked me what I wanted and I stared at the menu. Luckily, he offered free samples - as many as I wanted. I knew I was going for soft serve, but while I was there, I had to sample another favorite: cookies and cream. I gotta be honest, I wasn't blown away. It just wasn't the best I ever had. I felt a little worry creeping in: what it this place wasn't all it was cracked up to be?

Despite eying a few other ice cream flavors, I told the guy I had to try the soft serve. Cake batter, please. And what the hey, why not add some of that vegan caramel sauce?
Vegan Cake Batter Soft-Serve with Caramel Sauce
Oh. My. God. There are no words. Ok, since I didn't take enough pictures, I'll have to rely on words. Seriously, this is the best thing I've had in a really, really, reeeeeeally long time. The texture was.... perfection. Smooth, with that kind of ever-so-slightly bit of grainyness that makes really good soft-serve stand out. You would never guess this stuff is made with nuts, or whatever it is it's made with. It tastes just like the best soft serve I remember. The flavor was awesome- sweet sweet but not overwhelmingly so, like licking your Mom's vanilla cake mix bowl while she's not looking, but a colder, better one. And HEY-ZEUS the caramel!!!! It was smooth, sweet, and thick.

Let's see that again, because I really was sad when it was gone. 

Sigh. Moving on...(reluctantly)...

MUST have: dinner out with friends. I went big, and chose Candle 79, based on the stellar reviews, the interesting, inventive looking menu, and... well, ok, they had cocktails and V Note was only beer/wine (but I do still want to try V note!).

Yes, apologies for my pictures (all iPhone, quickly shot so my friends wouldn't snatch bites before I could get to them myself). You'll have to devour my words instead.

We started, of course, with cocktails: the Reforestation and a few Kind of Blues. Refreshing, tasty, and boozey both ;-) Before I go on, I should stop here and admit something: I was slightly disappointed I wasn't (fully) controlling the menu choices. I hate to say it, but when I ask, "Hey, you guys want to share a bunch of things?" What I really mean is, "There are far too many choices on this menu and I can't make my mind up, so how's about you let me order a bunch of things and then we all sample them? Good? Good." Youngest child, what can I say. But my friend's wife, who yes I love, is adorable and impossible to say no to, and she just happens to really like meat. Luckily, she is totally game for vegan food, but also likes fake meat. I'm not really one for pho-meats (seitan, soy-isolates, and whey flavored and shaped to be like animal meats... I am vegan, afterall!) - so I wouldn't have made some of the menu selections we did, but despite that, I did like everything we ate. I just didn't love the pho-meat stuff... and would've added a few more of their raw dishes, which looked really yummy (and which the non-vegans were slightly wary of).

So, now that that's cleared up, here's what we got: For appetizers, it was the Steamed Dumplings (ahem) and the Beet & Watermelon Salad. Holy non-cow goodness, that salad was incredible. There were microgreens, there was a mix of fresh baby lettuces (Toto, I don't think we're in South Carolina anymore!), and there was that almond cheese. That almond cheese caused a revolution in my brain: Vegan Cheese can be delicious. Yes, that just happened. It was smooth, it was creamy, it had an amazing flavor. I wanted to roll in it with my mouth open. Ok, that's gross, I didn't want to do that. I just wanted to lick it off the plate. It was surrounded by pickled watermelon (!) and a light, fresh vinaigrette for a combination of flavors and textures that would make any salad- hater want to eat this salad at every meal. Yes, it was a good salad ;-) The dumplings were also good- completely fresh, and filled with ground seitan- not my fave but the soy/sesame/ginger sauce was totally light and delicious and I loved that.

The main course dishes we shared were the Tempeh Vegetable Tamale (my choice, and what a good one it was), the Grilled Kale (a salad chock-full of kale and lentils- we wanted more veggie veggies!), a pasta special with a creamy sauce and fresh spinach (ahhh-mazing!), and the Seitan Piccatta and a side of wheat balls (you can guess who picked those). The Tamale rocked. I KNEW it would- how can you go wrong with fresh Mexican flavors, homemade gauc, and vegan sour cream that actually tastes like sour cream? But what really made the tamale delicious is that it didn't rely on those items as a crutch- they were in small doses as light compliments to the quinoa pilaf, fresh watermellon salsa, and chocolate mole. I could have devoured the whole thing if not for the other items I wanted to test out. The creamy pasta was also really good- smooth and as creamy as any alfredo, and the spinach was whole fresh leaves that I wanted to hoard all to myself. Surprisingly, I did like the wheat balls - I said like, not love- and the tomato sauce they were in was really, really good. The seitan piccatta was my least favorite, but still good. The meat-eaters loved that one- it was thin and breaded and tasted like... some kind of meat. And the kale salad was kaley, lentily yumminess, though it didn't blow me away. I would have rather ordered the Live Tomato Zucchini Lasagna, but my friends were scared of the "live" description.... seriously, did they think this was going to turn into Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? Silly meat-eaters ;-). In any case, the meal left me in complete bliss. There was no room for dessert, sadly. We will just have to come back!


MUST have: lunch with my aunt. How convenient, Cafe Blossom was right around the corner from her apartment. SCORE.

We started with some fresh iced teas (yummy green tea mint!) and the Beet "Ravioli" appetizer (pictured above, first pic of post) to share. This dish was so inventive!! So AMAZING! The herb tofu ricotta cheese was hands-down the best nota-ricotta I've ever had. I must try and make this. Micro greens, fresh carrot noodles, citrusy dressing, and delicious juicy red beets cut into little squares, on top of that creamy ricotta. LOVED this dish. It was also a great one to share, though, because the ricotta did seem filling.

I'm not usually in the habit of having appetizers and mains at lunch, but I'd only had a banana for breakfast and I was of course trying to sample as much as possible! So moving on to the mains, I had the quinoa salad (even though I usually try and order things I can't imagine being able to make, I couldn't help myself- it looked and sounded too good) and my aunt had the Soy Filet sandwich (with fries, although you can also get the sandwiches with sauteed greens, salad, or sweet potato fries).
Cafe Blossom lunch
My quinoa salad was filling, satisfying, and purely heavenly. Creamy delightful dollops of MANGO (yes! MANGO!!) guacamole, perfectly cooked, flavorful quinoa with fresh herbs, black beans, crisp fresh sweet corn, and both sunflower and pumpkin seeds, fresh crunchy lettuces, all mixed lightly with a kick-ass poblano dressing. Did I just make you hungry?? :-) Loved this salad, and I loved the addition of the pumpkin seeds for a little more texture and for their flavor. Surprisingly, I also really liked my aunt's choice of the Soy Filet (I snagged a bite, just to see!) -it had a kind of "chik'n" patty texture/taste (which, of the pho-meats, is the only one I really like), but minus the breading - and with an AMAZING vegan mayo and vegan cheese slice. Yes, I liked the vegan cheese slice! I think it was also the combo with the citrus dressing, greens, and rosemary focaccia that made this sammy so delectable.

Blossom also has some pretty killer looking milkshakes, cookies, and even more salads and entrees... too many choices! Must come back.

Oh my goodness, I am still reeling from the amazingness that is New York City. Yes, I've been there many many times before. But I don't think I ever appreciated what a culinary wonderland NYC is until I went there as a vegan. Ironic, much?

In addition to all this yummy food, I also managed to squeeze in some shopping (shhh, don't tell the hubby!), and a totally delightful run in Central Park. 

Why just 24 hours in NYC? Well, this was a multi-purpose trip: work and friend's wedding. And whenever I head back to the East coast, I try to see as many friends as possible, since moving to the West coast has limited that a bit. So it sometimes ends up being a little bit of "East Coast Tour" - and this was definitely one of those trips: South Carolina (work), NYC (friends and food), Boston (family and friends), and then Newburyport (friend's wedding). Phew. I'm ready to veg in my own house now.... or, I'm ready for more NYC ;-)

Til next time, Big Apple!!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a busy trip! Good that you were able to squeeze in at least a few of the places you wanted to try though. Everything sounds so inventive - I'm like you where I try to only order things that I couldn't make myself at home, and the Candle 79 menu definitely seems that way!
    That ice cream looks amazing too - soft serve is my favourite!


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