Saturday, November 18, 2006

rice: mott street

We checked out Rice: Mott Street at 227 Mott st in Manhattan. Rice is not specifically vegan but it has a decent selection of vegan dishes.

Butternut Squash Chowder
Rather than get an entrée, I decided to get some chowder and a “small bowl” for my meal. The butternut squash chowder was light and had a subtle curry flavor. I liked it's consistency; it wasn't too thick or too thin. I also liked that there was some basmati rice mixed in. It was one of those nights were I was in the mood for uber-healthy veggie meals and this satisfied that craving. -Ev

Vegetable Dim Sum
I was a little underwhelmed by this dish. It consisted of about 5 steamed dumplings, each filled with a small amount of mushrooms and veggies. They didn’t really have much flavor by themselves. As a result they were overwhelmed by the very strong flavor of the dipping sauce, which was a very salty, tangy soy sauce. I do like saltiness and tanginess, so that was nice for me, but the dipping sauce shouldn’t be the best part of dim sum. The dim sum should be good on their own and the dipping sauce should make them even better. I don’t think I’d order these again. -Jim
I completely disagree. I thought these were awesome. I liked how strong the mushroom was. Also the skin was really tender. Sometimes dim sum can be thick and gummy or pasty but these were thin and delicious. -Ev

Ratatouille w/ Brown Rice
The "small bowl" of ratatouille was actually a decent size. This was a very simple dish of squash, onions, carrots and other vegetables in a tomato sauce. You could choose from several varieties of rice. I went with good old brown rice. I liked this dish, especially the tomato sauce, but at the same time I felt I could've easily made it at home. However, at $5 and the chance to be out with friends at a cool place, I think it was worth it. -Ev

Vegetarian Meatballs w/ Rice and Peas
When you order this dish you have a choice of sweet or spicy sauce. I chose spicy and it was REALLY spicy. If I ordered it again I’d choose sweet, but I don’t think I would order it again. First of all, the vegetarian meatballs weren’t very impressive. The menu claimed that they are “firm tofu with miso, scallions and red peppers”, but all I noticed was the firm tofu. Deep-fried, flavorless balls of firm tofu. Also, underneath the meatballs was a pretty thick bed of lettuce. To be fair, the lettuce is mentioned on the menu, but I didn’t think there would be so much. It seemed to me that the only purpose of the lettuce was to give me less soyballs, which was a little annoying. I did like the rice, though. I chose “Rice and Peas” from their special rice menu, which is rice and red beans steamed in coconut milk. I didn’t really notice the coconut flavor, but the rice was nonetheless hearty and satisfying. -Jim

The Bottom Line
This wasn't a mind-blowing experience, but the food was healthy, hearty, and reasonably priced. The restaurant itself was very cozy and dimly lit. There are a few other vegan options on the menu and I think it's worth another look. We also went to the PPK's Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World cupcake celebration at Freddy’s Back Room Bar in Brooklyn. Sorry to say you can’t go out and get these beauties, but if you buy the book you can make them whenever you want. -Ev
As you might have noticed, I wasn’t too thrilled with my dishes. But I would be willing to come back and give it a second chance. Why? Because I feel like this place has potential. The dishes weren’t too good, but they were almost good, and it makes me wonder if there are good dishes hiding on the menu, waiting to be found. Also, we learned that the small bowls are really not much smaller than the large bowls, and they only cost $5. Which means this might actually be a good place to go for cheap eats. -Jim

Friday, November 10, 2006

Quantum Leap

We checked out Quantum Leap at 226 Thompson Street. Quantum leap is a mostly vegan, almost vegetarian (they serve fish) restaurant in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.

Sweet Yam Tempura
I’m finding it difficult reviewing an appetizer whose name spells in out for you: Sweet? Yes. Yams? Uh-huh. Tempura? Mmm-hmm, crunchy. I guess the only important bit is whether or not they were good so I won’t hesitate to tell you that yes, these were very scrumptious. So scrumptious that we wolfed down every last one even though we had 2 huge meals on the way and the appetizer could’ve easily fed three if not four people. -Ev
Yeah, this appetizer is too much food for two people, but I digged it. The sweetness of the yam did indeed shine through, even after dipped in soy sauce, so there was a sweet/salty combination that was very tasty. -Jim

Seitan Satay
This dish was great! There were seitan skewers covered in spicy chili-peanut sauce with oriental veggies and rice on the side. The seitan was thick and chewy, airy almost, and reeeeaally filling. The sauce was a nice combination of sweet and salty and creamy and spicy. The oriental vegetables were sliced really thin and had really good crunch to them without being raw. My favorite part was definitely the basmati-lentil rice. Oooh boy was it good. It was so simple but really comforting and full of flavor. It was also cool that the dish came with a choice of soup or salad. I got the pumpkin soup and it was YUM! There was a subtle creamy-curry flavor to it. The best part was there was so much food I had a nice lunch the next day. -Ev

Chick’n Fajita
Rice, beans, protein, veggies, guacamole, vegan sour cream. You really can’t go wrong with that combination. It’s one of the easier things to cook for yourself at home. I know because I’m a bad cook and I can do it. So why would I still order it at a restaurant? Two reasons. The first reason is that having the opportunity to do so is a rarity. Yes, you can go down to your local Mexican restaurant and special-order a vegan dish, but I doubt they have tofu or seitan or vegan sour cream. And are you sure there’s no pork fat in the beans? Or chicken broth in the rice? I think it’s a special treat to be able to order a big, vegan Mexican dish at a restaurant, so I enjoy doing it on occasion. The second reason is that maybe it will be better than the stuff I cook at home, and I think this was. While the guac, sour cream, salsa and beans were pretty standard (good, but standard), I was happy to find that the rice was nicely flavored with some veggies mixed in, and the mock-chicken, peppers, onions and mushrooms were delicious and sautéed to perfection. Quantum leap has a whole section of their menu dedicated to Mexican items. So if you’re in the mood for vegan Mexican in NYC, it’s is a good destination. -Jim

The Bottom Line
I know Ev has been dying to make some Scott Bakula jokes, so I’ll leave that up to her. I will just say that I really enjoyed eating here and I look forward to coming back and trying some other items from their sizeable menu. I wouldn’t say the food was “awesome” or “amazing”, but it doesn’t have to be because the majority of the items on the menu were reasonably priced. I would say the food was "pretty darn good". Also, the atmosphere is cozy and the staff was extremely friendly.-Jim
I’m so happy Sam and Al were able to open a restaurant to commemorate their wacky adventures through time. The décor was Bakulactacular and the food was so good I wanted to say “Hey! Give me Sam-more!” God that was awful. I apologize. Joking aside, this was an excellent meal at a really cute place (that has nothing to do with the TV show). I can wait to leap back there time and time again. OK I’ll stop now. Really. Go eat some food. -Ev

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Zen Palate

We visited the Zen Palate at 34 Union Sq E in Manhattan. Rather than order entrees we ordered some appetizers and smaller dishes and shared everything.

Taro Spring Rolls
I liked these because they had a deeper flavor than your average spring roll. Yes, there was the requisite cabbage inside, but the taro and other flavors made the rolls taste heartier and more substantial. These rolls often come on the side in entrees and I think I prefer them that way because somehow they are softer. These were still yummy though. -Ev

Steamed Vegetable Buns
These were the low point of the meal for me. Inside of each of these hot buns was a tiny amount of veggies and seasoning. It was almost like someone had taken a little spoonful of soup and poured it into the center of each large bun. The end result was something that mostly flavorless and underwhelming. I guess it’s a matter of expectations. When we ordered steamed Steamed Vegetable Buns I was expecting a bun chock full o’ vegetables. But it was 90% bun and that was a little bland for my taste. -Jim
I thought these were alright. There wasn’t a lot inside but I still thought they tasted good. -Ev

Stir-fried Spinach Linguine w/ Vegetables
This was not my favorite dish here. It was aiiight. The noodles had a nice subtle flavor and texture but the dish was too oily and the mushrooms were a little strong and not balanced by anything else in the dish. If these were in a soup or had some other element to it I'd like it better. I'd skip ordering this. -Ev
I liked this more than Ev. It was a bit oily but it was nice and salty and the bean sprouts and carrots gave it a satisfying texture. -Jim

Grilled Sesame Tofu Salad
I’m not generally a salad person, but this is actually one of my favorite dishes at ZP. They started with Watercress, which I’m a big fan of. They added strips of crispy, fresh napa cabbage and crunchy, fried rice noodles. Around the edges of the dish were cherry tomatoes and marinated tofu. The tofu was mild and salty and had an interesting layered texture with just a little crispiness around the edges. Some sesame vinaigrette dressing pulled it all together. This dish is deceptively simple, but the combinations of flavors and textures are just right. It probably wouldn’t be so good if you were expecting really strong, bold flavors (which is what I usually hope for when I order food), but if you want something simple and light, I’d recommend it. -Jim
This was really fresh and amazing. I especially liked the lightness and crunch of all the ingredients against the thick tofu. And the dressing was really tangy and interesting. -Ev

The Bottom Line
Most NYC vegans know about Zen Palate. It's a vegetarian staple in NYC. Up until recently, we were lead to believe that most of the things on the menu were vegan with the exception of one or two dishes. The HUGE bummer was that this time around we got an updated menu and discovered that some of our old faves were not vegan after all. That made ordering even harder because I find I already have to be selective when ordering here. That's not to say this is a bad place- they have yummy things. But I'd definitely recommend going with someone who can suggest their favorites and get the menu that denotes dairy and whatnot to be safe. You can't go wrong with the Curry Supreme. –Ev
If you look at other reviews of Zen Palate on the web, you will find that people tend to either love ZP or hate it, and rarely will you see a review in the middle. I think these mixed reviews accurately reflect Zen Palate. Some of their dishes are quite good, but some are just plain bad. It’s true of their service too, sometimes you can have a really good experience, sometimes not so good. I definitely agree with Ev that you should bring a friend who can make recommendations. Don’t just order at random or there will be decent chance of getting something crappy.-Jim

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Jackson Diner Lunch Buffet

We decided to hop the subway to the famous Jackson Diner for their all-you-can-eat Indian lunch buffet. The Jackson Diner is not specifically vegetarian but has vegetarian options. Located at 37-47 74th St in Jackson Heights, Queens, the Jackson Diner does a lunch buffet every day from 11:30 to 4:00 for $8.95 on weekdays and $9.95 on weekends.

Aloo Ghobi, Channa Masala, Potato Fritters, Rice
The vegan options at the JD lunch buffet vary from day to day. In addition to Masala Dosas (which Ev will tell you about in just a minute), they always have Channa Masala and Basmati Rice, and they usually have one or two other vegan dishes. On this day there was also Aloo Ghobi and Potato Fritters. The Potato Fritters were lightly-fried patties of spiced potato and onions that were great for dipping in tamarind sauce. The Aloo Ghobi was really delicious with just the right texture to the potato and cauliflower. The Channa Masala was rich and savory. I really dig how you can have different textures and flavors all on one plate at the Jackson Diner buffet, and the quality of the food is great. -Jim

Masala Dosa
As if all-you-can-eat Aloo Ghobi wasn’t enough, the Jackson Diner also had a man on hand to make you as many Masala Dosas as you wanted. I imagine there’s a similar set-up in Heaven, except maybe the man making them looks like Johnny Depp and calls you “Sugarbuns”. But I digress. The size of the dosa was a little smaller than usual, but every bit as delicious. The potatoes were creamy and spiced just right and the dosa had a perfect texture. They also had lentil sambar for dipping, but alas there was no coconut chutney to be found. Even coconutless though, this was one tasty dosa. -Ev
It's neat that you get to stand there and watch someone make a Masala Dosa for you, and it's even neater that you can go back and get as many as you want. -Jim

The Bottom Line
I'm bad at Indian buffets. I usually eat about three overflowing plate-fulls of food and get so full that I feel like I'm going to die. Die happy, perhaps, but still die. Fortunately that didn't happen on this visit. I had one plate and half a dosa and I felt fine. Getting lunch at JD is a bit of a gamble because you never know how many vegan options they'll have. But they always have Channa Masala and Dosas, which is actually enough to satisfy me, and plus they usually have one or two other choices. If you find yourself in Queens and you love Indian food, you have to try the Jackson Diner. -Jim
I, too, was happy I didn't overdo it today, though believe me the Aloo Ghobi was so good I was tempted to eat more. While the Jackson Diner has a great buffet, their regular menu options are also delicious. I especially love their Uttapam.-Ev