Saturday, May 28, 2011

Karyn's Cooked, Chicago

For our last dinner in Chicago, we headed to Karyn’s Cooked. I love, love, love this place! We started off with Jerry’s pizza, which is Karyn’s husband’s favorite pizza. This appetizer pizza is on a thin, crispy cracker crust. The wild mushrooms are sautéed in olive oil and topped with Daiya cheese. Because I am a mushroom lover, I felt it needed more mushrooms and less cheese, but it was great just the way it was as well.

For our entrées, I ordered the stuffed eggplant, which is like an eggplant rollatini. These thin slices of eggplant were rolled around this amazing tofu ricotta, which had more of a ricotta texture than any other soy ricotta I’ve ever had. How do they do that? I wish I had the recipe. The ricotta had some poblano and red pepper in it as well, which gave it a little sweetness. It was topped with a red marinara sauce. All in all, it was very good.

Zach ordered the BBQ ribs made of a mixture of seitan and tofu. The ribs are very dense and filling. Again, I wondered how they even made these – so unique! It came with a side of corn and coleslaw, which was nice as it needed something else.

For dessert, we had the chocolate silk pie, which was okay, but I think another pie or cake might have been better. Their dessert list is extensive and somewhat overwhelming. Most of the desserts are carob based, which is unusual to see nowadays. We went with the silk pie, but next time we may try something different.

Karyn’s restaurants are the best vegan restaurants in Chicago. I’ve also eaten at Karyn’s On Green, which has some amazingly good food. If I had just one day in Chicago, as I did this time, I would go to Karyn’s On Green or Karyn’s Cooked. The food is far better than Chicago Diner, though a bit on the pricey side.

Karyn's Cooked
738 N. Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 587-1050

Karyn's Cooked on Urbanspoon

Handlebar, Chicago

The last time I was in Chicago, we ate at Handlebar and had a great experience so we headed back there this time.  When we arrived, our friend hadn’t yet arrived and they won’t seat incomplete parties so we had to wait a bit until she arrived. This bicycle bar is very popular so expect a wait if you are going for dinner.

I ordered the wasabi tofu that was topped with green beans and edamame over rice. I loved the flavors that the wasabi sauce imparted on the tofu and thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Zach ordered the buffalo chicken wrap, which was soooo delicious. We had this the last time so it is consistently good.

For dessert, we ordered the chocolate raspberry bar, which I found to be quite dry. I wouldn’t say that desserts are their specialty. Maybe a scoop of soy ice cream would have made it better.

We stayed for a while and had drinks as well. Their alcoholic drinks are pretty good. This is a great place to go for good food with good friends. It is a bar-like atmosphere, but is very laid back, which makes it a nice hangout joint.

2311 West North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 384-9546
Handlebar on Urbanspoon

Candle Cafe, NYC

On our last day in NYC, we decided to have lunch at Candle Café. My recollection of the café was that the food was nearly as good as Candle 79. This was not my experience this time.

I started off by ordering a fresh juice of ginger and carrot, which was really delicious. For lunch, I ordered the Cajun-spiced seitan sandwich. It sounded similar to the sandwich I ordered at Blossom du jour, but I knew it would be much better. Based on the description, I didn’t realize it would be so fried so when it came out I was surprised. The seitan was actually very good – the Cajun flavor was great. It came on a focaccia bread with a side of ancho chili aioli, which definitely added to it. It also had avocado and steamed greens on it. While I loved the greens, I felt like they took away from the flavors of the seitan. I was tasting too much of the greens and not enough of the seitan, which was disappointing. So, it was good, but it could have been better.

Zach ordered the Tuscan seitan parmesan sandwich, which was also fried. It was topped with Daiya cheese and was very good. It was just too deep fried and I felt it needed lettuce or something else other than the “chicken” and “cheese.”

This was still the second best meal we had all week for lunch, but I expected more from the sister restaurant of Candle 79.

Candle Cafe
1307 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10021
(212) 472-0970

Candle Café on Urbanspoon

Dirt Candy, NYC

“Made of little more than water and sunlight, vegetables are candy from the dirt.” This little 18-seat restaurant is quite the jewel. Their menu is all vegetable based and changes seasonally. They are vegetarian, not vegan, but anything on the menu can and will be made vegan by request. We made reservations several weeks in advance as we knew that is the only way to get in there. They requested we show up on time and told us to allow 1 hour and 55 minutes for dinner. They run a tight ship.

We started off with the jalapeno hush puppies. These were basically pieces of deep fried cornbread and served with their house-made maple butter. They were pretty good, but a little too deep-fried for me. Next, we ordered an appetizer that consisted of king oyster mushrooms, celery pesto, and grilled grapes. The appetizer was light and refreshing.

Next, we ordered our entrees. I ordered the coconut poached tofu that had shiso sauce and hearts of palm. The presentation of the food was very nice and the flavors went well together. Zach ordered the battered and fried cauliflower that was over a waffle – again too fried for me, but Zach really enjoyed it.

For dessert we ordered the ice cream nanamo bar, which had sweet pea and chocolate. The ice cream based dish had fresh mint and mint in the bar. It was really yummy.

All in all, I’d give this restaurant 4 out of 5 stars. The wine was good, service was great, and food was pretty good. We ended up leaving after 1 hour and 57 minutes so their estimate was right on. I enjoyed it, but I still prefer Candle 79 over Dirt Candy.

Dirt Candy
430 East 9th Street  
Manhattan, NY 10009
(212) 228-7732

Dirt Candy on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gobo, NYC

Gobo is an old staple of mine in trips to NYC. Located in the West Village, this is a great lunch or dinner spot. The menu is focused on Asian food and they feature a fresh juice bar. The juices are delicious!

I ordered the seitan in a ginger marinade over kale with kabocha squash and brown rice. The seitan is expertly cooked in a delicate ginger marinade that is both spicy and tangy. It was very good. Zach ordered the green tea noodles with broccoli and smoked beijing style seitan and it was amazing! The seitan's texture was so unique and delicious. I don't normally order noodle dishes, but this one is a must-try at this restaurant. You will find yourself wondering how they even made the seitan this way!

For consistently good food, Gobo is the place to go.

401 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10014
(212) 255-3902

Gobo on Urbanspoon

Pure Food and Wine, NYC

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.

I had heard mixed reviews of Pure Food and Wine so I was not exactly sure what I was getting myself into. Let me tell you that I was pleasantly surprised!  Pure Food and Wine is an exquisite restaurant in every way.

We started off by ordering Master Cleanse Tinis...I know, this does not sound good, but I can assure you it is very good. It is a mixed drink with sake, maple syrup, lemon and cayenne pepper. It was spicy yet sweet and so delicious!

For our first course, we ordered two appetizers -- Hazelnut Crostinis with Crimini Mushrooms and Caper Bearnaise and Baby Turnip Carpaccio with Morel Mushrooms. The hazelnut crostinis were very heavy with a great blend of flavors. The turnip carpaccios were topped with morel mushrooms, but really only like 3 mushrooms with like 20 pieces of turnip. It definitely needed more mushrooms. Regardless, both were spectacular.

Next, for the main course, I ordered the sweet corn and cashew tamales with chili spiced portabellos. Accompanying them was a cashew coconut sour cream, raw cacao mole and salsa. The flavors blended so well -- I absolutely loved it. Zach ordered the signature zucchini and tomato lasagna, which while delicious, was a bit too heavy for him. I thought it was wonderful and very creative.  We both felt like there was too much food given the entrees are nut-based and heavy. You definitely won't go hungry at this restaurant.

Lastly, for dessert, we ordered the salted chocolate caramel tart. This dessert was amazing! Salty yet chocolately -- how could one go wrong with that?!? The outer crust of the dark chocolate ganache was hard and the inside was soft. The vanilla cream on the side was incredibly soft. The two complemented each other well.

All in all, Sarma does an excellent job with raw vegan food. The food was very well presented, delicious and flavorful. The drinks were good as well. Yes, this is a very expensive restaurant, but I think it is worth every penny.

Pure Food and Wine
54 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003
(212) 477-1010

Pure Food and Wine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Angelica Kitchen, NYC

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.

It is our fourth day in NYC and we have a hankering for some natural food. We head over to Angelica Kitchen whose motto is "simple seasonal food that speaks for itself." It is a nice lunch place in Chelsea with just a few tables.  I immediately ordered a lemonade (that was a bit on the watery side).

To start, we ordered the 3-item pantry plate. We chose seasonal pickled vegetables, walnut lentil pate, and garlic lemon marinated kale. The kale was really nice with a great balance of lemon and garlic - very soft on the palate. The pickled vegetables were okay, but tasted like they needed more pickling. The pate was pretty good, but nothing too special.

For my entree, I ordered the Sam or I (Samurai!) which is herbed baked tofu layered with marinated hiziki & arame, crisp grated daikon, ruby kraut, a smear of mellow sesame spread & lettuce. It was a twist on the hippie sandwiches of the 70's and seeing that this place has been in existence since then, I'm sure it has gone through some iterations over the years. It was pretty good for a simple sandwich, but, again, nothing too special.

Zach ordered the tempeh reuben. It had tempeh and sauerkraut -- we thought it was a bit bland. All in all, it tasted like good, homely food that your mom could make, that is, if she was a hippie vegan back in the 70's, which would be really awesome.

Angelica Kitchen
300 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228-2909

Angelica Kitchen on Urbanspoon

V-Note, NYC

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.

V-Note is Blossom's newest venture having only been open since last winter. After the experience at Blossom du jour at lunch, I had lower expectations. I was pleasantly surprised. The restaurant is small with very little seating and a good-sized bar. The decor is black and white with a full window at the front of the restaurant. It has a trendy feel to it. They are big on their wines, but after spending the afternoon at a bar with friends, I wasn't in the mood for wine at dinner. We started off with the mushroom phyllo cigars. The presentation was very nice -- the "cigars" were placed on top of each other on an angle in a cashew cream sauce with almonds and pomegranate seeds. The sauce and seeds complemented the mushroom pastries quite well. I thought it could have had less sauce, but I suppose more is better than not enough. Instead of less sauce, adding two more cigars would have been even better. I could have easily eaten 3 of them!

For the main course, I ordered the mushroom walnut ravioli while Zach ordered the seitan medallions dish. The housemade ravioli stuffed with mushroom walnut mixture in a light citrus sauce was very tasty. It was over a bed of spinach, which was a nice complement to the thick cream sauce. I do think that the sauce was a bit too lemony--a little less lemon and bit more herb would have been nice.

Zach's dish was seitan medallions in a French peppercorn sauce. The seitan was a great texture and the delicate flavors went well with the potato cauliflower puree and roasted asparagus. I actually liked Zach's dish better than mine as it also had a small mesclun salad and had a good mix of food. Mine was a bit on the heavy side.

Lastly, we finished the night off with a chocolate ganache cake. This cake was so soft, it just melted in our mouths. The soft peanut butter center and ice cream were delish and the perfect way to end a superb meal.

I give V-Note 4.5 stars. I do think their portions could be slightly smaller--for what is a nice, upscale restaurant, I found the portions too generous. I think they are on their way to competing with the big boys in the ranks of the top vegan restaurants in the country. This is a must-do on a vegans' trip to NYC.

1522 First Avenue, nr 80th St.
New York, NY
(212) 249-5009

V-Note on Urbanspoon

Blossom Du Jour, NYC

On Monday for lunch, we found ourselves at Blossom Du Jour, Blossom's attempt at fast food in the Chelsea area in NYC.  Given Blossom's reputation, despite my last experience there, I had high expectations for this place. Unfortunately, I was disappointed overall.  The decor was kind of funky -- all white walls and only a couple counters at which to eat. It is definitely a take-out place. The menu is simple--sandwiches, wraps, and salads.

I chose the Midtown Melt and Zach chose the BLT Caesar. I also ordered a Caesar side salad. My Midtown Melt had cajun-spiced seitan, agave guacamole, lettuce, and chipotle aioli. Based upon the description, I thought it would be very flavorful, but it was quite the contrary. There was very little taste to it at all -- I found it to be bland and unfulfilling. It needed a more flavorful sauce and different bread -- maybe if it had just been toasted, it would have been better.  Zach's sandwich was the same--pretty bland. And...after I finished my sandwich, I realized there wasn't any cheese melted on it at all, hence the name of melt. I didn't check it, but I'm pretty sure they forgot the cheese.

I also had the Caesar salad, which I thought was pretty good. The lighter Caesar dressing paired with the capers was pretty good. I wished I had just ordered a big salad. Oh, well. All in all, I would not recommend this restaurant. As a side note, I heard that it really isn't owned by the Blossom owners...I'm not sure what the story is.

Blossom Du Jour
174 Ninth Avenue (20/21), 
New York City, NY 10011
(212) 229-2595

 Blossom Du Jour on Urbanspoon

Candle 79, NYC

Here I was on vacation in NYC, so of course, I have to eat at one of the top vegan restaurants in the world--Candle 79. I hadn't been to Candle 79 in at least 7 years so I really didn't remember much about it other than that the food is top notch. When we arrive, we are placed at one of the small tables near the front window next to another table for two. I must say we were a bit too close for comfort, but we tried to ignore the fact that we could hear everything they were saying and vice versa, after all, we wanted to enjoy ourselves.

For the appetizer, we ordered the spinach manicotti stuffed with seitan ragu, herbed tofu cheese, and cashew cheese, topped with truffled tomato sauce and basil pine nut pesto. It was delicious.

For entrees, I ordered the special, which was a walnut and pecan crusted seitan dish. Every time I've visited a Candle restaurant, I've had something similar and this did not disappoint. It was perfectly encrusted with the nut mixture and placed over sauteed morel mushrooms - meaty mushrooms that are very hard to find. The fiddlehead ferns and fava beans complimented this dish as it was tossed in a light cauliflower garlic puree. The sauce was light enough to allow for the flavors of the seitan and mushrooms to be the true centerpiece. The food was presented beautifully - like artwork.

For dessert, we shared the Mexican chocolate brownie with carmelized bananas and ice cream. It was like a party in my mouth.  The chocolate sauce and ice cream were absolutely heavenly.

The wine we chose was the Heller Estate Cabernet Sauvignon -- a full-bodied Cab that worked well with our selections. It has an oaky finish with the taste of tart berries.

All in all, I was very pleased with the taste and presentation of the cuisine. The chef at Candle 79 is a genius.

Candle 79
154 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075
(212) 537-7179

Candle 79 on Urbanspoon

Dumpling Man, NYC

Zach wanted to take me to this dive called Dumpling Man at 100 St. Marks Place in NYC. As it wasn't on my list of the top 10 ten vegan restaurants in NYC and it wasn't even vegan, I have to admit my expectations were low. When we arrived, they took their time to describe their dumplings to us. They were obviously very proud that they were able to veganize some of their dumplings. In fact, they claim they have the only vegan soup dumpling in the city. So, I ordered the regular veggie dumpling and the vegan soup dumpling.

The regular veggie dumplings are made with dried shitake mushrooms and hot bean paste. I thought they tasted like they had minced meat inside --so I didn't really like them.  The vegan soup dumpling, on the other hand, was absolutely delicious! With oyster mushroom, cauliflower and veggie ham, this delicious little dumpling had it all! I recommend topping it with the Srichacha sauce and/or the Hot Monster.  For $4, you can't beat this deal.

Dumpling Man
100 Saint Marks Place
New York, NY 10009
(212) 505-2121

Dumpling Man on Urbanspoon

4 Course Vegan, Brooklyn

 UPDATE: This supper club is no longer active.

I heard about this vegan pop-up supper club-type event through the grapevine and decided to make reservations 4 weeks in advance. I received an email confirmation from Chef Matteo well in advance with the address and phone number of the location.

We arrive at the location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn around 8 p.m. It is a residential building that adds to the mysteriousness of the event. We call using the callbox outside the door and each time the individual answers, it immediately disconnects. I call the phone number on the confirmation and a man answers giving me a code to type into the keypad to open the door. We walk through a dingy stairwell to the second floor and make our way out to a courtyard where we see an open door. We go in and find the dinner party we were expecting.

There were about 5 large tables and we are seated with a group of family and friends--an all-vegan family, I might add. The chef offers an amuse which is a ravioli made of shaved root vegetable with a cashew cream mixture inside. It is delightful.  The first course is a Mexican chickpea soup with pico de gallo and citrus sour cream. At first taste, I thought it was a bit thick and heavy for the first course, but as I continued to eat, I soon realized its perfection. The roasted chickpeas in the dish were just the right texture to add to an already perfect soup and the toppings were wonderful complements.

The second dish was a roasted poblano pepper with farro pilaf and cilantro puree, again it was delicious. The sauce clearly made this dish.

The next dish was a mushroom lentil papoosa with fresh favas, avocado and oaxacan mole, which was spectacular. It was topped with fried plantains and arranged artfully. I loved the presentation and enjoyed the dish as much as the others. The delicate yet bold flavors emerged as you chose which of the many items to include in each tasting. The mushrooms were a bit too fried for me and I think the dish would have been fine without them. All in all, another winner.

The dessert was a dark chocolate torte with cinnamon syrup and cocoa butter mousse -- another winner.

Watching this chef work in what I will assume is his own kitchen as he rushed to serve 40 people on his own was impressive. He created spectacular dishes with a gorgeous presentation. I was very impressed. At only $40 per head, this dinner is a steal and well worth the experience.
Highly recommended.

Foodswings, Brooklyn

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.

Saturday started off at Foodswings in Brooklyn, a vegan fast food joint.  As you walk in you notice the tables and chairs that appear to be randomly placed in a do-whatever-you'd-like here kind of way. The menu is on the blackboard and the woman behind the counter seems nice enough. I assume she's vegan as she looks like "post-punk kitchen."

I ordered the ham and cheese cuban style, which meant it had mustard and pickles.
Zach ordered the tempeh reuben.  I think this joint stays true to its mission of providing vegan comfort food. Aside from that, I think they could improve on otherwise great dishes.
The ham and cheese was satisfying, but definitely would be better on an artisian bread that is toasted in the same way that Sticky Fingers steps up their grilled cheese.

The tempeh reuben had the same needed something else. We also ordered the big sampler plate with broccoli salad and buffalo wings. The buffalo wings were pretty good...the salad was okay. All in all, it is a satisfying place, but not anything to write home about. They do a good job of providing vegan comfort food, but I wouldn't go out of my way to hit this restaurant.

295 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 388-1919

Foodswings on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 20, 2011

I won!

I hardly ever win anything, but tonight I won the Gardein contest!  That means a $100 gift certificate to Whole Foods and $100 towards Compassion Over Killing, one of my utmost favorite non-profits. Whoopee! This weekend has already started off right. Tomorrow, I will embark on a journey to NYC, the vegan foodie capital of the world. Stay tuned!