Saturday, May 27, 2006

House of Vegetarian

Last night we went to House of Vegetarian at 68 Mott Street in Chinatown, Manhattan. HoV is one of the oldest vegan-friendly restaurants in NYC. We went with a few friends, including Isa from the PPK, who remembers coming here in the early nineties when there were few other options for New York vegans.

Cold Sesame Noodles
I love carbs. I love peanut sauce. Therefore, I loved the Cold Sesame Noodles- with the exception of one or two bites that were mysteriously bitter (the sesame?). I didn’t remember there being lettuce in it last time I had it but I though it provided a nice cold, crunchy contrast to the creamy, carby goodness.- Ev
I like Sesame Cold Noodles when they’re done well. These were not. They were basically spaghetti with a sauce that I’m pretty sure was just watered-down peanut butter. It tasted exactly what you’d expect spaghetti, peanut butter and lettuce to taste like. If that sounds good to you, by all means order this dish. If it sounds weird and not so good to you, then we have something in common and you should probably stear clear of this one. - Jim

Assorted Wheat Gluten
People often say that the Chinese food you get at American Chinese food places isn’t real Chinese food. Eating in Chinatown, sometimes I feel like I’ve caught a glimpse of what Chinese people actually eat, and I wonder if this dish is one of those glimpses, because it’s nothing like anything I’ve eaten anywhere else. If you’ve had wheat gluten before, you know that it can be a little slimey and a little rubbery. The Assorted Wheat Gluten at HoV is extra slimey and rubbery, but once you get used to it it’s really quite good. The four flavors are savory, sweet and sour, curry, and a sort of barbequed beef that also has a more firm texture. Despite the odd texture, I highly recommend this dish for the delicious flavors. My favorite is the curry, but they’re all good. - Jim
The beefy nibs were the firmest of the bunch and matched well with the deep gravy flavor of the sauce. Equally delicious were the savory gluten pieces . These were softer in consistency but still had enough chew to them. These two were my favorite because there was a good partnership between the gluten and the sauces. While still yummy, I thought the sweet and sour and the curry glutens were the softest and slimiest of the bunch so if it’s your first encounter with gluten these are the ones that may take some getting used to. - Ev

Sweet and Pungent Mock Pork
So I ordered the "Sweet and Pungent Mock Pork", and when the waitress handed it to me she said, “Sweet and Sour Mock Pork”, and there was nothing pungent about it. So I’m not sure if they brought me the wrong dish, or if "sweet and pungent" is synonymous for "sweet and sour" at HoV. Whatever it was, it was decent. The mock pork was heavily deep fried in a soft batter. The sauce was pretty standard American-Chinese sweet and sour sauce. Also in the dish were bits of red and green pepper, carrots and pineapple. If I had just gone vegan yesterday, I’d probably be ranting and raving about this dish. But I feel like I’ve had this dish many times at many veg restaurants and it always tastes pretty much the same. It’s good, but pretty familiar to someone who’s been vegan for a while. - Jim

Beef with Broccoli
Having already gorged myself on the gluten and noodles, my friend Eppy and I decided to split an order of Beef w/ Broccoli. Although the waitress specified garlic sauce, it was your basic brown sauce, only it wasn’t cornstarchy & goopy like some other chinese restaurants. I usually stay away from veggie beef dishes finding them too thick/salty/fried/gummy/etc. but I had sampled this before and new I’d like it. The veggie beef was very thin and flat, almost like steak-ums. It was seasoned just right and had a good chew to it. The broccoli was cooked perfectly and kept its own; it wasn’t gooped up with too much sauce. -Ev

The Bottom Line
HoV was serving vegan food before I even knew what veganism was. They deserve my respect and my gratitude, and they definitely have it. As for the food I ate on this visit, it was good but not great. I feel like I copped out by ordering a boring American-Chinese food standard. There are more exotic (and probably more traditional Chinese) dishes on the menu, and next time you see HoV on Veganfriendly, I’ll be reviewing one of them. - Jim
A decent, simple meal. HoV offers a wide variety of mock meat options and is a few notches higher in quality than your average local Chinese restaurant. The food tastes more fresh and less -word of the day- goopy. It helps to go with someone who has been there before to help you order because the mock meat dishes have such different tastes, textures and consistencies and come with varying amounts of veggies. We’ll do our best to recommend more dishes here. - Ev

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Candle 79

We went to Candle 79 located at 154 East 79th Street near Lexington Avenue, one of the top-rated vegan restaurants in NYC. And when we say vegan, we mean pure vegan. Everything on the menu is vegan. It’s also pricey (the items below plus our beverages added up to almost $100), but we’d heard so many good things about it, we had to give it a try.

One cute thing about Candle 79 is that you get complimentary Hushpuppies, one per person. They’re topped with an extremely tasty lemon aioli sauce. After we finished our Hushpuppies, they brought out the Crispy Dumplings we ordered. I think these deep-fried dumplings contained seitan and cabbage, but it was hard to tell. Whatever they were, they definitely satisfied my craving for something fried and salty. The twist was that they were served over a sweet balsamic reduction with tangy mustard sesame dipping sauce. The combination of flavors was complex and very yummy. - Jim
The highlight of the dumplings for me was the mustard sesame sauce. I also really enjoyed the hushpuppies. The lemon aioli was a thick creamy sauce and the flavor was just so strong. - Ev

Seitan Picatta
Ohmigod. The best meal I have ever eaten. Ever. I don’t even know where to begin. The seitan was perfect- soft, chewy, savory, just… perfect. The creamed spinach was so fresh and tender and nourishing. I don’t know what kind of mushrooms they used but they were scandalously scrumptious. The roasted new potatoes were full of salty-seasoned flavor. And, to top it all off, there were capers, a thin but rich lemon sauce, and an olive that just exploded and melted in my mouth and made me wonder, Oh my god how can an olive taste so good? Have I ever even tasted an olive before? Really? I actually said “I love you” to my empty plate when I was finished (I really did). But don’t remind Jim, I think he got a little jealous. - Ev

Cashew-Crusted Seitan
This was the daily special. It consisted of fried cashew-crusted seitan on top of a layer of asparagus and greens, which was on top of a layer of quinoa, all resting in an almond cream sauce. Reading that description, you might be worried that this dish falls on the blander side of vegan cooking. Personally, I like food to be rich and flavorful and when I see the word "quinoa" I usually get a little nervous, but I ordered this anyway and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t boring, it was perfect. The fried seitan reminded me of a chicken cutlet, but in a good way, not a gross way. The quinoa actually had a lot of flavor. The almond sauce was creamy and yummy and added just the right amount of saltyness to the dish. Combined with the greens and asparagus, it all added up to a dish that tasted healthy, but also tasted delicious, which in my opinion is an impressive and rare combination. - Jim

Ice Cream Sampler
These were like jellybellies- lots of flavor in little packages. I thought the chocolate chip mocha was the lightest of the bunch- almost more like a sorbet than an ice cream. The dulche de leche was really strong and creamy. The lemon chamomile was my favorite. It was really inventive and fun to eat. The contrast between the ultra rich cream taste and the tang of the lemon was subdued by the chamomile and made this really exciting for me. - Ev
All the sorbets and ice creams at Candle 79 are homemade, and it really shows. The lemon chamomile was actually the only one I didn't like. It’s not that it tasted bad, it was just a very flowery flavor that didn’t really work for me in a such rich, creamy ice cream. - Jim

Tahitian Vanilla Cake with Coconut Sorbet
Holy crap this was good. The cake alone would have been pretty good, it was almost more like a fluffy muffin in shape and consistency, but then they topped it with pineapple rum sauce, chopped pineapple and raisins, coconut flakes, and (the best part) homemade coconut sorbet. I love coconut and coconut sorbet, and this was hands-down the BEST coconut sorbet I’ve ever had. One of my common complaints about vegan desserts is that they tend to be very heavy, but this wasn’t. It was light but still absolutely delicious. - Jim
I tried the coconut sorbet first. It made my head fall to the table. I couldn’t help thinking that this was a very “adult” cake. Then I got mad at myself for thinking something pretentious like that and my usual thoughts came back and said “MMMM. Cake YUM!”. The simplicity of the cake with its perfect texture and the heat of the syrup and the sweet/sour of the fruit and the cool creamyness of the sorbet was just so good. So so good. - Ev

The Bottom Line
Wow. After dinner we took a walk down Lexington and it was like we were high on the food. The serving sizes were just right so we were full but not too full. And the food was decadantly delicious but still tasted healthy and hearty and didn’t leave us feeling bloated and gross. This restaurant is definitely out of our price range, so we should really only eat there on special occasions, but it was soo good… don’t be surprised if you see another Candle 79 review on soon. - Jim
An amazing dinner. It will be really hard to top this experience. This will be the standard that I’ll hold future meals up to because it was the first time I felt truly nourished by food, and the flavor and freshness was beyond anything I could’ve imagined. - Ev

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Saravana Bhavan

On Monday night we went to Saravana Bhavan, which is located at 100 Lexington Ave between 27th and 28th street in Manhattan. The cuisine is vegetarian Southern Indian, serving various dosas and utappams, but with a separate menu of curries for those who prefer Northern Indian cuisine. We ordered an appetizer and two entrées and shared everything, plus we had some of our friend Eppy’s appetizer and entrée.

Medu Vada are deep fried lentil flour donuts, in this case with cilantro cooked in for some extra flavor. They were served with the usual sambar and coconut chutney, along with some tomato chutney. I liked how light these were. They tasted just like idli but with a perfect golden crust. The sambar was great- comforting and starchy, not too oily or spicy. The only disappointment was that there was a lot of squash in it that I kept mistaking for potatoes. It was good squash, mind you, but I love my potatoes. - Ev

Eppy ordered the Bhel Puri, and it was the most unique thing I ate at Saravana Bhavan. I’ve never had anything quite like this, and I'll definitely try it again if I come back. It’s basically a bowl of fried noodles and puffed rice with onion and tomato, all mixed in a sweet and sour sauce. I really liked the texture. The noodles were crunchy and the tomato and onion were fresh. The flavor was complex and a little spicy. – Jim
The texture reminded me of Thai Mee Grob. I also liked the way it started out sweet but then suddenly it was like you raided your spice cabinet and licked every Indian spice you had in there (including the fiery ones). - Ev


We ordered a Peas and Onion Utappam and our friend Eppy ordered a Dosa Podi Onion Utappam, which is basically an onion Utappam sprinkled with chili powder. Like the Mada Vedu, these were served with sambar and chutneys. There wasn’t much flavor to the utappams themselves, so I found they were best when I spooned the sambar and chutneys on top and ate it with a fork, as opposed to the traditional rip-and-dip method. They were good but not extraordinary. - Jim
I liked ours well enough until I tasted Eppy's. The salty/savory quality of the chili powder made this ten times better than the peas & onion one. – Ev

Onion Rava Masala Dosa
Very light & moist. The potatoes were amazing because they had a creamy mashed potato flavor but they were still chunky. The tomato chutney seemed spicier than in earlier dishes. I thought this dish was best with everything piled on top of it. - Ev
I loves me some Dosas, and this dish didn’t let me down. It wasn’t the best Dosa I’ve ever had, but it was pretty darn good. - Jim

The Bottom Line
Overall, I wouldn't say this was a mind-blowing experience but these were good standbys that were tasty, comforting, & not too heavy. - Ev
I feel the same way: not amazing but definitely good. If I went back I’d probably order another Dosa, as the Utappams were a little bland for my taste. By the way, one cool thing about this restaurant is that the menu indicates which items have dairy with an asterisk. - Jim