Monday, September 25, 2006

Vegetarian's Paradise 2

After being closed for renovations for over a month,Vegetarian's Paradise 2. is back in business. Located at 144 West 4th Street VP2 is a vegetarian (almost entirely vegan) restaurant specializing in Chinese Cuisine.

World Famous Crispy Soul Chicken Appetizer
If you’re a New York vegan, you might as well skip over this part, because you probably know everything there is to know about the Soul Chicken at VP2 and their sister restaurant, Red Bamboo. You’ve probably ordered it many times. So many times, in fact, that perhaps you grew sick of it, and then didn’t order it for a while, and then found yourself craving it and went back and ordered it again and then got sick of it again and this became a vicious, Crispy Soul Chicken cycle. If you’re not from New York, you have no idea what I’m talking about. You’re probably thinking, “it just looks like fried chicken with some dipping sauce, what’s so great about that?” But it is great. It’s vegan, deep-fried, chickeny goodness done just right. The chicken is incredibly crispy and the sauce is wonderfully sweet and tangy. It’s simple but it really works and it can be pretty addictive. -Jim
This dish pleases meat-eaters and veggies alike- for reals. By no means is this health food, but hot damn is it tasty, crunchy, rip-your-teeth-through-it, good food. And the dipping sauce is soooo good. -Ev

Scallops in Black Bean Garlic Sauce
I've always been hesitant to try vegan seafood ever since I'd had a particularly violent encounter with mock calamari in 2000. ::shudder:: I was looking forward to trying this dish though, because I'd enjoyed scallops in my fish-eating days and I loooove black bean sauce. Unfortunately, I wasn't crazy about this dish. I loved the sauce. It was incredible. The broccoli was good but I would've preferred to have it stir-fried with the sauce. The scallops were OK. They weren't overly fishy tasting but they didn't have any real flavor either. I don't think I'd get this dish again, but I'd definitely try to get some kind of veggie/black bean stir-fry. Did I mention the sauce was really good? If you're going to order this, make sure you double check that they'll bring the veggies because I was surprised when the waiter brought a plate of just the 6 scallops in sauce. (the menu says it comes with broccoli and maybe other mixed vegs too). He brought it back with some steamed broccoli. I'm thinking things were hectic because they've only just recently re-opened. -Ev

Steamed Lotus Leaf
Lo Mai Gai is a Southern Chinese dish which normally consists of chicken and mushrooms surrounded by glutinous rice and then wrapped in a lotus leaf and steamed. VP2 offers a vegan variation of this dish which is filled with various mock meats, mushroom and chestnuts. I loved this dish. The mock meats and stuff inside were very yummy but the best part was the rice, which was subtly yet deliciously flavored by the lotus leaf it was steamed in. The dish was served with a salty, brown sauce which was great to dip everything in and fulfilled my salt addiction. They also served it with steamed broccoli, which was a little bland but it was a nice break from all the starch and protein. -Jim

Banana Split
The ice cream at VP2 and Red Bamboo is the best vegan ice cream I’ve had. It’s insanely creamy without being too heavy. In fact the ice cream is somehow fluffy. As you could imagine, the banana split, being made with the best ice cream, was divine. It wasn’t huge and had just enough toppings to taste great without drowning the vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry goodness. You get to choose any 3 flavors (including cherry vanilla, butter pecan, & mint) but this time we stuck with the basics. So good! -Ev
Dessert is one of the reasons to come to VP2. It wouldn’t be too hard to duplicate this dessert at home, but the ability to order a sundae is a rare treat when you’re vegan and Ev is right that their ice cream is better than what you’d get at the store. This is a great dessert that I get whenever I have enough room left after a meal here. -Jim

The Bottom Line
They did a nice job renovating. Colorful lights dangle from the ceiling and they’ve pulled out all the booths and replaced them with nice tables. It’s still not as pretty as Red Bamboo, but I like it. The food, on the other hand, remains the same. You can still count on VP2 for some delicious comfort food. Like their sister restaurant, Red Bamboo, VP2 has some items on the menu that aren’t as good as others, so it pays to do some research or come with a friend to make sure you order the good stuff. -Jim
I agree. The place looks great and there are many tasty meals to be had here. So I didn’t love my scallops as much as I’d hoped, but everything else was incredible. -Ev

Thursday, September 14, 2006


We went to Gobo at 401 6th Ave in Manhattan between Waverly Pl & 8th St. Gobo is almost totally vegan (there are just a couple of dishes on the menu that are not. We decided to order and share three dishes off the “Small Plate” menu along with an appetizer and two desserts (we couldn’t help ourselves).

New England Rolls
These were delicious, as usual. Those of you who’ve been to Zen Palate before would know these as Autumn Rolls. Whatever you call them, they were delectable. These had a crunchy outer shell and were filled with strips of soy protein, mushrooms, and carrots. There was a delicious chili sauce to dip them in, not a thin clear hot sauce but rather a creamy, tangy one. They were at once both light and savory and I highly recommend you try them. -Ev
The New England Rolls are one of the reasons we come to Gobo. It’s hard to describe why they’re so good, but they are really, really good. When we come with other people we usually get at least two orders so there are plenty to go around. -Jim

Pine Nut Vegetable Medley Lettuce Wraps
This dish consisted of sauteed, diced veggies and soy protein along with crispy noodles and pine nuts. It came with leaves of Butterhead Lettuce to be filled with the veggie mixture and eaten as a wrap. This was a surprisingly light dish. The veggies were very crisp and offset by the saltiness of the soy protein. -Jim
I think we could’ve used one more lettuce leaf and I wish we’d kept the sauce from the New England rolls to dip them in but this was still good. There was a lot of salty/savory flavor in this dish which was nice because the lettuce toned it down. There was also a great play of textures. I dug it. -Ev

White Beans & Cremini Mushroom Casserole
I was expecting a rectangular beige layered thing to arrive at our table. Imagine my surprise when we were presented with a small round green-topped gooey thing. I cut a chunk out and tasted it. The beans were brown and savory. The mushrooms…I didn’t know where they were, maybe blended into the beans or the topping? I don’t know. The topping was thick and creamy- like a tangy tofu pesto concoction. I liked this dish, but because it was so far from what I was expecting it threw me off and kept me from loving it. Maybe I should report back tomorrow after I’ve finished it for lunch. -Ev
Yeah, this was the only part of the meal I had mixed feelings about. It was almost like a chili with sour cream on top, but the topping was a little too tangy and the “chili” underneath was a little bitter. I’m tempted to try some of our leftovers to see if I like it more the second time around. I might have just been turned off by the bizarre, bright-green appearance of the dish. -Jim

Slow-Cooked Malaysian Curry
They’re not kidding when they say “slow-cooked”. It took them a while to get this dish to the table. When it did get to us it looked a bit familiar. Gobo is run by the sons of the owners of Zen Palate, another popular NYC vegetarian restaurant. One of my favorite dishes at Zen Palate is the “Curry Supremo”, which consists of potatoes, carrots and soy protein in a curry sauce. The Malaysian Curry at Gobo has the same ingredients, but I think the sauce was a lot more complex at Gobo. It seemed to have sweetness, saltiness and curryness (that’s right, I made up yet another word. You got a problem with that?) all at once. Of course it’s also possible that I’m imagining things and it was exactly the same as the dish at Zen Pal. Regardless, it was very tasty and you get a pretty large portion, which means this $10 “Small Plate” item is a good bargain if you’re doing Gobo on the cheap. -Jim
This dish was YUM. I agree with Jim, it had that familiar Zen feel but stepped up a notch. I’m pretty sure it was an addition of coconut milk, or the fact that we put it over coconut rice. I loved how the potatoes and carrots soaked up all the flavor and got soft. It was like a really good stew. So good I’m going to say YUM again. -Ev

Mango, Coconut and Tapioca Pudding topped with macadamia nut brittle
The way I see it, any dessert that has you scraping the sides of it, full of hope that there will be more even after you’ve long finished it, is a good one; this was one such dessert. We’ve gotten it many times before and it’s always delicious. Part of the fun lies in taking those first few bites; You dip through the mango fruit sauce into the deliciously creamy tapioca below, being sure to take a little crunchy nutty morsel down with it before heading mouthward. The varieties of texture and the strength of the individual flavors are what make this dish a knockout. Definitely try this. -Ev
This dessert is probably my favorite thing at Gobo. The fruity, mango area has a zing to it (I suspect this dish is made with some sort of alcohol) that contrasts wonderfully with the sweet, creamy goodness underneath. -Jim

Hazelnut Napoleon with raspberry sauce
We were trying to keep our trip to Gobo as inexpensive as possible. We failed and ended up ordering two of their $7 desserts (all of the desserts at Gobo are vegan). The Hazelnut Napoleon consisted of layers of pastry coated with nuts with a sweet cream between them and a tart syrup drizzled over the top. I really love desserts with nuts so I really couldn’t go wrong with this one. It was sweet and delicious, but even better was the texture. The flakey pastry layers and the crunchiness of the nuts contrasting the cream was great. The only strange part is that I didn’t really taste any hazelnut. I mean, I guess the nuts were probably all hazelnut. But usually desserts with hazelnut have a very distinct flavor, and this didn’t have that flavor. No matter, though. It was still great. -Jim
At first I was scared because this looked like triscuits covered in ketchup. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. The nutty layers were so thin and flaky but had really sweet, rich flavor. The cream was delicious. I liked how destructive this dessert was, which is to say, it came as this perfect, stiff, angular, package but then you got to mash things up and swirl them around and everything was sweet and gooey. I’m glad we got 2 desserts. -Ev

The Bottom Line
This was a fun meal. I felt like we branched out and got to try things other than our Seitanic staples. I’m also glad that we were served the lighter dishes first so we’d have the hearty stuff to take home as leftovers. Gobo is unique because it has a nice balance of playful healthy food and swank service. Plus they give you delicious bread with sweet potato spread before you order. Always a good thing. -Ev
I recommend asking your server what they recommend. I’ve found that there are some great dishes at Gobo and some not-as-great ones, and the wait-staff tends to know which is which. Gobo can be a little bit pricey with “Large Plates” ranging from $11 to $20, but a lot of their food is worth it and some of the small plates (like the Malaysian Curry) can be very filling for less dough. -Jim

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Candle 79

We went back to what might be the best vegan restaurant in NYC, Candle 79, located at 154 East 79th Street near Lexington Avenue. Candle 79 is 100% vegan.

Chickpea Cake with Elf Mushrooms
This appetizer was a special the day we went and I really liked it. It consisted of a fried Chickpea Cake topped with salad, elf mushrooms, and a lemon aioli. The Chickpea Cake was great and it made me think of a big, tasty Falafel ball. But the star of this dish were the Elf Mushrooms. They were seared and the flavor and texture were perfect. It was definitely the best mushroom experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some pretty good mushroom experiences. -Jim
Word. These mushrooms were amazing. They were plump with a chewy texture and incredible flavor. The aoili was really thick and delicious. This whole dish was superb. -Ev

Grilled Caramelized Onion-Merlot Seitan
Praise Seitan, this was good. This was better than good; this was insanely good. What made it so good, you may ask? Well, first let’s take the corn. This corn was the corniest corn I’ve ever had. Every little perky kernel had so much sweet, crunchy deliciousness I wanted to kiss each one. (I opted to eat them instead.) Then there was the sauteed baby spinach that was so fresh I felt the nutrients hopping onto my tongue. Lurking about, there was a mysterious wonder known as Lemon-Watercress Aioli- potent, creamy, tangy, YUM. But what about the key player? What about the Seitan? The Seitan at Candle 79 is perfect in both texture and taste and they give you just the right amount of it; there is enough for your dining companion to steal a bite or two and you can devour the rest without feeling unsatisfied or over-stuffed. In this meal, the seitan was seared perfection. But wait! There was more. Resting upon all of the aforementioned goodness sat a delectable peach half basking in all it’s balsamic-glazed glory. It was both tart and sweet and was incredibly soft. As if that weren’t enough, on top of that was a heavenly cluster of caramelized onions adding sweet and savory notes of their own. Each of these ingredients, perfect in their own right, worked together to elevate the whole dish to Masterpiece status. This was definitely as good as the Seitan Piccata so have fun choosing! –Ev

Pecan-Crusted Seitan
This dish was another item from their specials menu. It consisted of Pecan-Crusted Seitan on a stew-like mixture of beans, spinach, onions and (I think) watercress. It was topped with a roasted fig, which was pretty neat. Everything at Candle 79 is great, and this was no exception, but I will say that this was a little bland compared to some of the other dishes I’ve had at Candle 79. It was plated wonderfully, and all the ingredients were very fresh and healthy and probably local and organic, but the flavor left me wanting just a little bit more. It was a little better when I stopped thinking of the fig as a separate entity and started eating some fig in every forkful. The sweetness of the fig somehow brought out a slight saltiness in the Seitan. Overall, this was a very hearty, well-crafted dish and it was really good, but it didn’t have a very strong flavor. And I like strong flavors. –Jim
I thought this dish was great. Whereas my dish had a variety of contrasting flavors dancing around each other, this dish had flavors that all worked together to achieve a uniform level of savory comfort. The market beans in particular were amazing, as was the fig. I think this dish would be perfect on a cold/rainy day. –Ev

Blueberry Tart w/ Dulce de Leche Ice Cream
I almost passed out eating this. Seriously. I practically hyperventilated and Jim shushed me to calm me down. Let it be known I am a huge fan of Dulce de Leche Ice Cream. Plop it on top of a barely contained Blueberry Tart and drizzle intense berry and caramel sauces and fresh berries all around and I’m a beyond-happy camper. What was amazing was how subtle the blueberries were; they were fresh and soft but not too sweet or tart. The crust of the Tart was rich and savory, but again subtle. This subtlety allowed for an all-out brawl between the rich, creamy decadence of the ice cream and caramel sauce against the super-tart berry sauce and fresh berries. With each bite the winning side of the battle changed, but in either case the victor was clearly my mouth. YUM! –Ev
Yeah, this was really good and Evelyn was totally freaking out when she ate it. –Jim

The Bottom Line
Candle 79 is amazing. That’s nothing new. I’ve made an interesting observation, though. Both this time and the last time we ate here, my dish was good but Evelyn’s was better. Both times, I got the special and she ordered off the menu. So it occurs to me that, while the specials are cool because they’re something new and unique and (often) seasonal, the best dishes are the ones that have been tried and tested and have earned a place on the menu. So my advice to you when you go to Candle 79 is to order off the menu. And yes, I said “when you go to Candle 79” instead of “if you go to Candle 79” because every vegan needs to try Candle 79 at least once in their lives. –Jim
Once again, Candle 79 has blown me away. I cannot stress enough how much I love this restaurant; it’s vegan heaven, plain and simple. The dishes are extraordinary, the restaurant itself is beautiful, and the staff are not only friendly, but they have great recommendations too. You have to try the Summer Melon off of their beverage list; like the food, it is divine. -Ev

Saturday, September 02, 2006


We went to Pukk at 71 1st Ave between 4th & 5th in Manhattan. Pukk is a vegetarian Thai place owned by the same people who own SEA, another yummy (but not specifically vegetarian) Thai restaurant.

Thai Iced Tea
By the time I started eating Thai food, I was already a vegan. So whenever I would get Thai with a non-vegan friend, I’d watch them drink their Thai Iced Tea and jealously wonder what it tasted like. Pukk has changed all that. I’ve heard that Pukk makes their Thai Iced Tea with soy milk by default, but I specifically ordered a “Thai Iced Tea with soy milk” just to be careful. Did it live up to the wild expectations I’d created over years of watching people drink it? Actually yes, it did. Pukk’s Thai Iced Tea was very sweet and very delicious. You could really taste the fresh, earthy tea flavor which was the base of this drink, but on top of that base there was sweetness, coconuttyness (yes, I know that’s an awesome word and yes, I did just invent it) and creaminess. I actually liked it so much that I ordered two! -Jim

Herb Brown Rice Salad
This was an amazing dish full of lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger, mint, onion, and peanuts over a bed of brown rice on lettuce. The dressing was tangy and refreshing. The rice was cushy and chewy. There were also crispy clumps of rice that had be fried and browned together almost like a hashbrown. I’m usually not a fan of lemongrass but here every ingredient worked together to please every taste bud. So yum! -Ev
I expected the huge strips of ginger to be too strong but all the different flavors, textures and colors combined to make a really great, really original salad. -Jim

Mushroom Puffs
The outside of these deep-fried puffs was soft with just a little crunch. Inside was a super-hearty mix of potatoes, onions, mushrooms and herbs. It was like a soup, only better, and not wet. I was worried this appetizer might be a little bland, but it was quite flavorful. It also a came with a tiny amount of cucumber salsa, which was very tangy and sweet. It was a good match of flavors and it actually turned out to be just the right amount of salsa. Overall, this was a very good, original appetizer that had a Winter/Autumn feel to it, though I’d order it again in any season.. -Jim
The earthy flavor of the mushrooms and the super-soft outside were amazing. I liked putting the salsa on top because the crunchy texture and sharp taste contrasted really well with the puff. Mmmm. I want some now. -Ev

Duck Pad Thai
The Pad Thai here was more on the tamarind-y side which is just how I like it. There were all the standards on board- scallions, bits of smoked tofu, peanuts and bean sprouts. The veggie duck at Pukk is my favorite veggie duck. Veggie duck at other restaurants tends to either be thin and slimy or fat and grisly. This was the perfect in-between. It had enough bite to be satisfying but was not greasy or slimy at all. It had a rich savory flavor and good chew. I would have prefered some veggies in there with it but that would have just added to an excellent meal. -Ev
The night before we went to Pukk I was watching Iron Chef and thinking, “I love ring-molds. Why don’t more restaurants use them?” And then we go to Pukk and Ev gets ring-molded Pad Thai. Awesome! -Jim

Spicy Tamarind Tofu
This was the least impressive part of the meal for me, but it was still really good. The veggies were nice and fresh and the tofu was good but soft. I was hoping for more crispy tofu, which is what I prefer in Thai food (and in general, actually). The sauce was good and distinctly Thai. It was sweet and tangy, almost like a sweet and sour sauce, but I tend to find sweet and sour sauces to be overbearing and this was not. The reason I say it was the least impressive part of the meal is because I find that food at Pukk comes in two varieties: there are dishes that are really good and inventive, and then there are dishes which are really good and not so inventive. This was just really good and not so inventive. But it was still really good! -Jim

Thai Tea Cheesecake
What I liked most about the cheesecake was how light it was. The cake itself was thick but it wasn’t overladen with sugar or a fatty taste. It was exceptional with the strawberries. It just may be my favorite cheesecake in NYC. -Ev
I was really impressed with this. It seems that Pukk home-makes all their desserts and most (if not all) of them are vegan and delicious. This was a GREAT cheesecake. It was small, and I didn’t taste any tea flavor, but it was great and really well presented. -Jim

The Bottom Line
Pukk is awesome. I guess I’ve been to slightly better Thai places, but I’ve never been to a better vegetarian-specific Thai place because I think Pukk is the only one in NYC. In the past, I have gotten maybe one or two dishes at Pukk that I didn’t love, but I’d say 95% of their food is delicious, 50% of it is very inventive and original, and 100% of it is beautifully plated. Also, the restaurant itself is gorgeous in a very modern, cyberpunk kind of way. I heart Pukk. -Jim
Pukk is perfect for a nice night out when you want inventive dishes that look great & taste great but don’t want to empty out your wallet. The food is delicious and full of surprising combinations. And every dish is plated beautifully. We’ve been to Pukk a few times and I have no idea why it’s taken us so long to go back and do a review. It is one of the best restaurants in NYC. Oh, and it has a really cool bathroom. Two words: holographic lightbulb. -Ev