Monday, May 28, 2007

The First Annual Veganfriendly Awards is one year old! We’ve decided to celebrate the occasion by throwing an impromptu awards ceremony. Unfortunately we couldn’t get Whoopi Goldberg or Billy Crystal to host.
All the choices below were hard to make because there’s just so much good vegan food in NYC. By this time next year, I’m sure many of our choices will change. Heck, some of them might change by this time next week. But for now, here are our picks:

Best Vegan Beverage in NYC
EV: It’s a toss-up between the Melon Cooler at Candle 79 and the Summer Thai Iced Tea at Pukk. Both are sweet and refreshing and are indicative of the delicious meals they’ll accompany. The Summer Thai Iced Tea is a milk-less version of the traditional Thai Iced Tea that has lemon added.
JIM: This one is easy for me. I’m all about the Teanychino at Teany. This yerba mate latte with almond, cornflower, vanilla and sunflower is smooth, sweet and delicious. Don’t forget to specify that you want soy milk!
OTHER CONTENDERS: Mango Lassi at Madras Café, Vanilla Milkshake at Red Bamboo, Fresh Complexion at Vegetarian’s Paradise 2

Best Vegan Appetizer in NYC
JIM: What a tough call! There are so many good appetizers out there! I think I have to go with the Unchicken Nachos at Caravan of Dreams. It’s a heaping pile of nachos, guacamole, Pico de Gallo, black beans, a surprisingly good vegan sour cream, and some deliciously seasoned, shredded seitan. Yum!
EV: The Satay at Blossom is a clear winner for me. It has three no-fail ingredients: house-made grilled seitan, soft, chewy noodles, and a peanutty-coconut-curry-esque sauce. Lest I need to remind you: “if I had to swim through a pile of these saucy noodles with my mouth open, yes I would drown, but I would die happy.” It comes with a fiery pepper sauce on the side that helps kick things into the stratosphere.
OTHER CONTENDERS: both the Mushroom Puffs and Spinach Toast at Pukk, Creole Soul Chicken at VP2 and Red Bamboo, Buffalo Wings at Red Bamboo, Avocado Salad at Lan Café

Best Vegan Entrée in NYC
EV: So simple yet so stellar, the Vegan Panini at 'sNice is a staple that never disappoints. Smoked Tofu, Sundried Tomatoes, and Pesto mingle inside the crusty confines of Sullivan Street Bakery’s best bread. You will savor the salty, creamy goodness of each crunchy bite.
JIM: The Seitan Picatta at Candle 79 is an amazing thing. Just amazing. I'm not going to bother listing the ingrediants because that wouldn't do it justice. Just trust me that you need to try it some day. I don't care what state or country you live in. Visit NYC, visit Candle 79 and try the Seitan Picatta.
OTHER CONTENDERS: Steamboat Rice at Hangawi, Veggie Duck Pad Thai at Pukk, Vegan Quiche at Teany, Assorted Tapas at Sacred Chow, Tempeh Reuben at Angelica’s Kitchen, Seitan Baguette at Lan Café, Steamed Lotus Leaf at Vegetarian's Paradise II

Best Vegan Dessert in NYC
JIM: This is a toss up for me. On the one hand, you've got layers of banana, cream and spongecake served cold with cocoa dusted on top (that being the Banana Tiramisu at Kate's Joint). On the other hand, you've got bananas and chocolate deep fried in a tortilla and served with vanilla ice cream (that being the Banana Chocolate Chimichanga at Curly's Lunch). Both banana-y, both friggin' delicious.
EV: The cheesecakes at Pukk are miniature culinary miracles. They taste like “the real thing” without being overly sweet or too heavy. Whether you go with the Thai Tea flavor, or the Blueberry, your mouth will thank you.
OTHER CONTENDERS: Ice Cream Sampler at Candle79, Pineapple Crepe at Blossom, Vegan Treats brand cakes (available at Teany, Red Bamboo, Atlas Café and other locations), Mango Tapioca at Gobo, Cheescake at Kate’s Joint, any cupcakes baked by our friends Isa and Terry

Best Vegan Food on a Budget in NYC
EV: Vegetarian Dim Sum- where else can you order a zillion things that will thoroughly stuff you and rarely cost more than $10 per person?
JIM: While it’s not a vegetarian-specific restaurant, Dojo is vegan-friendly and super cheap. For less than $4, the Soy Burger Dinner is a huge plate of food that’s very yummy. For about a buck more, I recommend getting it with avocado and extra tahini dressing on the side.
OTHER CONTENDERS: Chickpea, Pukk, Lan Café

Best Vegan Brunch in NYC
JIM: Kate’s Joint recently changed their brunch menu, but I’m pretty sure they still have their classics like vegan pancakes, waffles, and their tasty Kate’s Benedict. Kate’s brunch is decently priced and served with your choice of coffee or tea and your choice of juice or a cocktail.
EV: With goodies like Better than Biscuits n’ Gravy, and Savory Tempeh Sweet Potato Hash it’s hard to beat the scrumptious weekend brunch fare at Sacred Chow.
OTHER CONTENDERS: Quantum Leap, Bouldin Creek in Austin TX (Worth the airfare to Austin!)

Best Vegan Comfort Food in NYC
EV: Fried Chicken, Fishsticks, Buffalo Wings, Mashed Potatoes, French Fries, Milkshakes, Cheescakes, Ice Cream and Heroes galore! Whatever wicked, fried, fatty, vegan fantasy you need fulfilled—Red Bamboo’s got it covered. Of course they offer steamed veggies and salads too. But when in Rome… eat like a piggy.
JIM: I’ve heard a lot of different opinions about Foodswings in Brooklyn. Some people love it, others hate it. But I often find myself craving their chicken sandwiches, barbecue wings, perfectly crispy french fries and creamy milk shakes. So they are my choice for vegan comfort food in NYC.
OTHER CONTENDERS: Curly’s Vegetarian Lunch, Kate’s Joint, Vegetarian's Paradise II

Best Vegan Healthy Food in NYC
JIM: We just went to Hangawi recently and it was like zen for your belly. Everything was so fresh, wholesome and earthy. I think if you ate there every day you might live to be 150 years old.
EV: Angelica’s kitchen serves up wholesome meals that are gentle on your belly and make you feel great. They have soups, sandwiches, tons of “basics” to mix and match, and even sweets to truly do a body good.
OTHER CONTENDERS: Sacred Chow, Caravan of Dreams

Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurant to go to on a Date in NYC
EV: If you want a special night out with a certain vegan cutie there are two places I can not recommend highly enough: Candle 79 and Hangawi. Both restaurants are beautiful on the inside (hopefully like your date) and will serve up the tastiest goods imaginable (also, hopefully like your date).
JIM: Ev’s choices are great for a fancy romantic date, but if you’re in the mood for something more laid back, I recommend a lunch date at Teany. Teany does a great job of balancing trendy and hip with relaxed and comfortable. The food, desserts and drinks are all great and their outside seating area is cute.
OTHER CONTENDERS: Blossom, 'sNice, Sacred Chow, Angelica’s Kitchen

Best Vegan-Friendly Restaurant in NYC
JIM: I should point out that for this category our decisions aren't based solely on the food, they're based based on the overall package. That being said, my pick is a restaurant where the food is consistently delicious, beautifully-plated and inventive, but it's also cheap and the atmosphere and location are hip and cool. My 2007 pick for best vegan-friendly restaurant is New York's only 100% vegetarian Thai restaurant, Pukk.
EV: You know when there’s a whole table fighting over who gets the last brussel sprout, you’re at a good place to eat. Especially when there are a ton of different vegan meals on their way to said table, and there will be a ton of good desserts to follow, and a ton of tasty beverages to wash it all down. To know me is to know I love 'sNice, which is my pick for best vegan-friendly restaurant of 2007. From the vegan panini to their amazing daily sides, from the best cupcakes in NYC to their new quinoa avocado salad, 'sNice has great food in a cute space that you can linger in with your friends.
OTHER CONTENDERS: Candle 79, Sacred Chow, Hangawi, Teany, Lan Café

So that wraps up our award ceremony. We hope you enjoyed it and we hope you enjoy our blog. We're looking forward to another year of reviews!

Sunday, May 20, 2007


HanGawi is a restaurant we’ve always wanted to try and many of you have left comments recommending it to us, so we finally went for it. HanGawi serves 100% vegan Korean food and can be found at 12 E 32nd st in Manhattan. We went all out and ordered the Emperor’s Meal for two. The dishes included in the Emperors Meal vary from day to day, but apparently it always includes 3 appetizers, an entrée and a bunch of other extra stuff.

Pumpkin Porridge and Sweet Corn Spinach Porridge
These were a nice start to the meal. Both had a thick, creamy texture. The Pumpkin Porridge was quite sweet. The Sweet Corn and Spinach Porridge was also sweet but had a more complex flavor that I appreciated more. These warm, mild porridges set the stage for the calm but delicious meal that followed. -Jim

Vermicelli Delight
You know how I love my noodles! These were great. They had a nice chewy texture and were a comforting temperature. The seasoning was perfect- not too subtle, not overpowering. There was a wonderful balance of texture and flavor in this dish. It seemed that with each bite I was falling more and more in love with HanGawi. -Ev

Assorted Pancakes: leek, kimchi mushroom, and mung bean
These were basically fancy versions of the scallion pancakes you can order at most Chinese restaurants. Fancy in the sense that they were fried to the perfect flakey texture and loaded with neat, exotic ingredients. My favorite was definitely the Kimchi Mushroom. The spicy sharpness of the kimchi matched with the earthy goodness of the mushroom matched with the flakey fried goodness of the pancake all added up to something that I really enjoyed. But they were all very tasty.-Jim

Stuffed Lemon Tofu
This dish was presented beautifully and I was surprised to see that the lemon was separate from the tofu, rather than a seasoning. The tofu pocket was deep fried but not heavily so and stuffed with vegetables. It was drizzled with a sweet thin sauce that had great body and full flavor. Very YUM. The lemon was carved-out and stuffed with tiny pieces of bean curd, grains, and veggies that picked up the flavor of the lemon nicely.-Ev

Fried Mushrooms
At this point I was shocked by the amount of food we were getting--all of it delicious. These mushrooms were no exception. They were fantastic. They were crisply fried but not greasy. The texture was still nice and firm and chewy inside. This is how I would’ve loved the mushrooms to taste at Veggie Heaven in Austin. It’s hard to tell how large these portions were, but you have to remember- we EACH got a huge plate (pictured) for each appetizer.-Ev

Steamboat Rice, Eggplant and Mushroom Stir Fry, and a bunch of other stuff
So we finished the porridges and copious amounts of appetizers and thought, ‘That was a lot of food but all we need to do now is finish off our entrees and we're done’. But then they brought out the entrees, which were sizeable, along with two bowls of Miso Soup, multigrain rice and some pickled cabbage. It was so much food! So let's start with the Soup. Best Miso Soup ever. Seriously. I love plain Miso Soup with just miso broth, tofu, scallions and seaweed. And I have found that, when a restaurant tries to add more to their Miso Soup, it's too much and it kills the yummy miso flavor. But Hangawi managed to add veggies to their Miso Soup while still remaining the miso flavor, and it tasted better than any other Miso Soup I've ever had. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I’m a big pickle fan, and the Pickled Cabbage was just great. Not too strong but not too mild. The multigrain rice was earthy and delicious. The two entrees were Steamboat Rice and Eggplant and Mushroom Stir Fry. The Stir Fry was very savory and delicious and the mushrooms in it were so good. But the Steamboat Rice was really one of the best parts of the meal. It was so simple, just rice and vegetables, but it was rich and hearty and great. After the meal was over I told Ev that if the only things I could eat for the rest of my life were Hangawi’s Steamboat Rice and Miso Soup, I think I’d be a very healthy, happy person.-Jim

The Bottom Line
I knew going in to this experience that it was going to be a fancy meal, and a pricey meal. I wasn’t prepared for how amazingly beautiful this restaurant is. I also wasn’t prepared for just how delicious and HUUUUUGE the meal was going to be. I felt like I was dining in a half-Temple-half-Elven-Forest. Even the tea we drank- a surprisingly bitter-sweet red ginseng-seemed a perfect balance of the purely natural and the otherworldly. I should mention that by the time we were done with our main entrees I was both intrigued and horrified by the prospect of eating a dessert. Luckily, they served tiny apple chunks in a cinnamon broth. This provided a calming and refreshing close to our experience. (For future reference, I saw on the menu that they have chocolate tofu pudding.) I would highly recommend going here for a special occasion and dressing up for it. I would also highly recommend that you get the emperor’s meal, like we did. It had such a variety of dishes and you certainly got a lot of bang for your buck. Definitely on my list of Top 5 restaurants in NYC.-Ev
I agree with Ev. I could easily imagine being served this exotic yet earthy food by monks at a Korean Buddhist temple or by Elves in Laurelindórenan. It was a very interesting and unique experience, and the food was tasty and seemed very healthy. I’ve heard people complain that HanGawi isn’t as strong and spicy as Korean food should be. But if you go in expecting something a little more zen, you’ll be satisfied.-Jim

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lan Café

We went back to Lan Café this week for more 100% vegan Vietnamese eats. Lan Café is located at 342 East 6th Street in Manhattan.

BBQ Seitan
This was an amazing appetizer. The seitan had a great chewy but not rubbery texture. It was that perfect level of firmness that was substantial to bite through but was still rippable. They also grilled it so it had a slightly charred flavor. What enhanced this dish was the hot sauce they served it with. It was more of a thin chili sauce with a slight tang and lots of pepper flakes. It’s hard to describe because it is very thin and simple-looking, but trust me- it is delicious. -Ev

Seitan Lemongrass Curry
Last time I was at Lan, I saw someone eating this and it looked so good that I asked the waiter what it was and vowed to try it on my next visit. They brought out the Lemongrass Curry still sizzling in a cute little pot (which is very hot as I found out the hard way). The ingredients were crushed peanuts, shredded seitan and just about every vegetable you can imagine (carrots, broccoli, peppers, green beans, snow peas, etc). I didn't really taste the Lemongrass, but that's ok because what I did taste was a delicious, savory curry stir-fry that definitely met my expectations. One weird (but not necessarily bad) thing about this dish was that, at first glance, there was no starch, just seitan and veggies. So I asked for a side of rice. When I got to the bottom, I realized that the dish contained a very small amount of cellophane noodles; such a small amount that I still think getting the rice was a good idea. I guess another option would be to ask for extra noodles when you order it. Or, if you like your stir-fries without too much starch, just order it as is. -Jim

Avocado Salad
Avocado is one of my favorite foods on the planet, and it really shined in this dish. Avocado, tomato, onion, cucumbers, and veggie ham were all uniformly diced and mixed together. What ensued was a wonderful play of textures and flavors. Like the BBQ Seitan, the sauce, or in this case dressing, really elevated the dish to something spectacular. I want to say it was a lemon-ginger dressing, but it was really hard to pinpoint. It was just a perfect mix of brightness and tartness with added layers of depth from some oil (and the creaminess of the avocado) and a slight savory quality. So YUM! -Ev

The Bottom Line
I have yet to have anything but a good experience at Lan, and I have yet to hear of anyone having anything but a good experience at Lan. The food is consistently good and the prices are consistently low. If you want fancy decor or ambience you might want to go elsewhere, but if you want delicious 100% vegan Vietnamese for a great price, Lan is the way to go. -Jim
I echo everything Jim had to say. Good food, cheap food, not-so-plain and simple. And once you try their Seitan Baguette for $4.50 you will crave it and probably order it with every meal, like I did here. (Shhh. Don’t tell.) -Ev