Saturday, May 29, 2010

Candle Cafe

Crystal Roll
Seitan Chimichurri
Guacamole with ranchero sauce and corn tortilla chips.

Taco Salad with Seitan

1. Appetizers
a. Crystal Rolls
From the Menu: "Cucumber, cabbage, avocado, rice noodles, cilantro and barbecue grilled seitan
wrapped in rice paper with a spicy peanut sauce. $12."
Tasting: I generally prefer crisp, fried spring rolls to unfried summer rolls, but these were rather good, I think because the wrapper was thin and not too chewy. The filling was well seasoned, crunchy due to the rice noodles and raw cucumber and cabbage; the components are fairly typical of Thai cuisine. The Spicy Thai Dipping Sauce was also nice. Creamy but subtle peanut with nice jalapeño spice. The recipes for both the rolls and the dipping sauce are printed in The Candle Cafe Cookbook.
b. Seitan Skewers
From the Menu: "Citrus herb marinated seitan skewers. $8."
Tasting: The seasoning and texture are excellent but unfortunately, as you can see in the image, the skewers are charred to the point of being burnt on a large portion of The recipes for both the skewers and the dipping sauce are printed in The Candle Cafe Cookbook.
c. Guacamole
From the Menu: "Ranchero sauce and corn tortilla chips. $12."
Tasting: Another Guacamole recipe that doesn't call for tomatoes?! Instead, it had chopped red bell pepper, which are the red chunks that you'll note in the photo. The guacamole was fine, nicely spicy with the addition of some jalapenos, but not really worth $5, when it's the summer and you can buy an avocado for a $1. The corn chips were decidedly more impressive: cayenne and paprika made them zing, which was an excellent foil to the fatty avocado. They were also warm, which is key for ideal tastiness. The recipes for both the chips and the guacamole are printed in The Candle Cafe Cookbook.

2. Entrees
a. Paradise Casserole
From the Menu: "Layers of sweet potato, black beans, and millet over steamed greens with country gravy. $15."
Tasting: Disappointing misnomer! This was my least favorite of all the dishes. The black beans and millet (had a polenta-esque texture) were both thoroughly cooked so texture variation was lacking; a crunchy component like raw vegetables or firm grains would have helped. The black beans were my favorite part of the dish; they tasted quite a bit like Venezuelan style caraotas, which are seasoned with tomatoes, cumin, and brown sugar. In this case, there's also cinnamon. Unfortunately, the Kale and Collards were underseasoned and soggy; even an ample dose of the gravy left me wanting to add salt and pepper. The recipes for the casserole and sauteed mixed greens are printed in The Candle Cafe Cookbook.
b. Taco Salad
From the Menu: "Chili beans, grilled seitan, chopped lettuce, tofu sour cream, tapioca cheese, and corn chips over a toasted cumin vinaigrette. Served with pico de gallo and guacamole. $20."
Tasting: Seitan was the same chimichurri seasoned version as in the skewers above but was much less burnt and tasted substantially better. The chili beans were in a tomato based sauce that was tasty but hard to place; certainly not barbecue oriented, as there was no liquid smoke or brown sugar. The white sauce in the picture is the tofu sour cream; the toasted cumin vinaigrette is darker brown, and was quite nice: smoky and spicy, it made the citrusy lime in the skewer marinade pop in contrast.
3. Pairing:
Redwood Valley Fume Blanc, 2007. The wine, as described, had a lovely crisp apple flavor. For most vegan food, this is preferable to wine that has undergone any malolactic fermentation process, which can overwhelm the vegan palate unaccustomed to the butteriness of lactic acid. Overall, the wine worked well with the lighter flavors of the food and the heat of the summer day.

Repeat. Despite some underwhelming dishes, I've been to Candle Cafe many times and I will definitely be back. While not the most adventurous food, overall Candle Cafe serves consistent, fresh, and generally well-made fare at a decent price point. It's sexy offshoot, Candle79, is at once more refined and delicious, but concomitantly a step up in price.

Candle Cafe, Upper East Side,


Marinated Eggplant Sandwich

Chopped Chickpeas Sandwich

1. Marinated Eggplant Sandwich
From the Menu: "Marinated Eggplant with chickpea puree, roasted peppers, and watercress on ciabatta roll. $7.95."
Tasting: Served warm. The sandwich was a flavorful blend: the roasted peppers are red bell peppers, and additional flavor components include chopped green olives, whole fennel seeds, parsley and capers. The hearty ciabatta was necessary to sop up some of the sauce and, despite the paper wrapper, I managed to make a mess while eating because the components kept falling out. Definitely worth ordering, but perhaps not when you're on a date or on the go.

2. Chopped Chickpeas Sandwich
From The Menu: "Chopped Chickpeas with roasted peppers, black olives, lemon, and parsley on country bread. $6.95."
Tasting: Served cool. A light but satisfying sandwich, perfect for a warm summer day. The country bread was also tasty: whole wheat with an oat-topped crust.

Repeat. It was also a gorgeous day; the availability of seating in the outdoor deck area made a delicious lunch even lovelier!

'wichcraft, Multiple Locations (featured location: Chelsea),

Friday, May 28, 2010


Cape Cod Cakes

Southern Seitan Sandwich

Tuscan Portobello Sandwich

1. Appetizer
Cape Cod Cakes
From the Menu: "A blend of hiziki seaweed, herbs and spices. Served with vegan tartar sauce. $10."
Tasting: Four small cakes plated on and topped with vegan tartar sauce. The cakes have a thin, crisp breading, "seafood" seasoning (Old Bay?), hiziki (mildly salty seaweed that adds dark green color and the flavor of the sea), diced red bell pepper, and a wonderfully soft, crablike component of unknown provenance (Heart of palm? Soy?). The plate also contained shredded carrots and watercress. The cakes are a delightful interpretation of crab cakes and, as far as meat analogs go, come remarkably close (and are perhaps even better than) what they imitate. Delicious and highly recommended.

2. Sandwiches
Southern Seitan Sandwich with Fries
From the Menu: "Spiced seitan, caramelized onions, avocado, chipotle aioli. $14"
Tasting: Easily one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. The seitan filets (about three in the sandwich) are lightly breaded and well seasoned, with a spicy, smoky flavor. The seitan protein itself is firm but still moist. The chipotle mayo is excellently balanced, between the muted heat of its eponymous smoked jalapeño, the fatiness of the creamy base, and a slight sweetness, perhaps of agave. The other sandwich components include caramelized onions, adding a tangy yet molasses flavor, and several slices of creamy avocado round out the flavor profile nicely. The ciabatta roll containing the whole affair is fresh and warmly toasted, soft with nice pockets that lightly absorbs the fat of the other components.
The side option of sweet potato fries at the Cafe Blossom is my default, but the golden potato fries are also delicious: lightly seasoned with sea salt and fresh parsley, they represent the ideal ratio of the crisp exterior to the tender, creamy interior; the organic ketchup is also delicious. The side salad option, not pictured above, is also quite good: mesclun greens and pear tomatoes, with a creamy, tangy maple balsamic vinaigrette.

b. Tuscan Portobello Sandwich with Fries
From the Menu: "Grilled Portobello, roasted red peppers and caramelized onions topped with vegan mozzarella and spicy mayo. $12."

Repeat. The only possible drawback is the slightly elevated price point, but if you go at lunch, as we did, the food becomes relatively more affordable; regardless, I'm willing to pay for such well prepared food that emphasizes seasonal and organic ingredients. The ambiance and service are also very refined; great spot for a date. Overall, Blossom is perfect for meat analog novices, who couldn't possibly resist what the kitchen can prepare, and also those who prefer seasonal, minimally processed ingredients.

Red Bamboo

Creole Soul Chicken

Lobster Salad

Black Bean Ginger Stirfry with Beef

Pistachio Ice Cream

1. Creole Soul Chicken
From the menu: "Crispy soul chicken panko breaded with cajun seasoning and rosemary, served with a hickory smoke vidalia dressing"
The panko breading was perfect: substantial without being over bearing, hot but not greasy, salty and flecked with parsley, very well seasoned. The seitan "chicken" inside was another story: bland to the point of flavorlessness and incredibly chewy yet stringy, almost as If the gluten hadn't been given sufficient time to set up properly. The dipping sauce was delicious, thick and smoky with a subtle, carribbean BBQ flavor; if only that flavor could have been incorporated into the nuggets themselves.

2. Lobster Salad
From the menu: "A refreshing salad with spring mix, diced red onions, red, yellow and green peppers, cilantro and soy lobster tossed with our lemon citrus dressing"
The soy lobster was not at all what I was expecting: incredibly solid and firm, rather than pliable and melting, and largely tasteless, not at all the sweet savoriness of the real thing. It approached the texture of over cooked extra firm tofu or a really firm cheese, like ricotta salata, which isn't intrinsically bad just not at all lobsteresque. Frankly aside from the light pink color striping on the exterior and shape I would have had no idea this was meant to imitate lobster much less seafood. The rest of the salad--mixed greens, diced bell peppers, lemon olive oil vinaigrette were fresh and seasonally appropriate. The pseudo lobster was an unfortunate disappointment to the rest.

3. Black Bean Ginger Stirfry with Beef
From the Menu: "Fresh garden vegetables sauteed in a Cantonese black bean sauce and chili ginger glaze with a side of brown or white rice… 9.95 Add soy shrimp, chicken or beef… 2.00"
Heaping portion of seitan, vegetables, and rice. My dining companiom and i had ample food splittig this course, after two appetizers. The seitan was much better in this dish than inside the nuggets. Firm but moist, chewy yet toothsome, with nice grill marks. Sauce was sweet and savory large whole black beans. Dizzying array of veg: yellow squash, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, ... 2 cups of white rice.

4. Pistachio ice cream
Delicious. Not as icy as other ice cream analogs. Whole pistachios. Nuclear reactor green. Server: not made in house and soy and coconut based.

Pairing: Pinot Noir

Possible Repeat. For the restaurant billed as having some of the best met analogs in the city, I left less than impressed with the appetizer and salad options. Yet the entree was more promising and I am intrigued by the fish cake and fish stick options that I saw other diners eating and wish I'd had the stomach space to try a dessert or smoothie.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dirt Candy

Jalapeno Hush Puppies with Maple Margarine.

Carrot Buns with Cucumber Salad.

Celery Salad with Grilled Oyster Mushroom.

Corn Grits with Tempura Watercress.

Fried Green Tomatos on a bed of Tomato Spaetzle

The server is conscientious about asking whether the diners are vegan but it doesn't hurt to order the vegan option specifically. Also, she gives amazing descriptions of the food that can guide you in the right direction if debating between several options. The menu varies seasonally, but these dishes are representative of the type of food and portions that you can anticipate.
1. Starter
Jalapeño Hush Puppies
From the Menu: "Jalapeno Hush Puppies. Served with maple butter. $6."
Tasting: The hush puppies are incredible. Uniformly crisp from their bath in the deep-fryer, with a savory yet sweet filling spiked with jalapeno pieces that are ample to give good flavor contrast but not too spicy. They're best when fresh served so we devoured nearly all of them (about six to an order) before I could grab my camera. The maple margarine, like the hush puppies, has a flavor interplay: sweet maple marries with salty margarine. My only complaint is that it was served a bit too cold to spread well out of the ramekin, but the heat of the fresh hush puppies was enough to soften it up.
2. Appetizers
a. Carrot Buns
From the Menu: "
Carrot. Steamed barbecue carrot buns,
cucumber & sesame ginger salad. $13."
Tasting: The plate contains three carrot buns, each a different color and flavor of carrot. The outside was chewy yet firm and the inside was kind of gooey. The menu described them as "barbeque" flavor; aside from the sauciness and color of the inside of the bun I'm not sure I really detected barbeque in the dish, certainly not any hallmarks of a classic barbeque sauce like hickory or liquid smoke. Nonetheless the subtle, starchy carrot flavor was nice but the texture, like every other steamed bun, for me is not as satisfying a mouth-feel as something a bit crisper. The salad was a lovely cumber slaw topped with crunchy carrot components; the ginger dressing had the familiar sweet and spicy zing of the ginger sesame dressing on many Japanese restaurant salads, but the added sweetness of additional carrot was a nice tie-in to the rest of the plate and was quite delicious.
b. Celery Salad
From the Menu: "Celery. King oyster mushrooms, celery, pesto, grilled grapes. $12."
Tasting: It's a bit hard to see in the over-exposed image, but the tiny green circles dotting the plate are thinly minced Chinese celery, which is basically like a micro celery. The salad was topped with grilled oyster mushrooms, cut in a ring form that evoked calamari. They were warm and delicious, and paired well with the red onion rings and light, pesto vinaigrette dressing. The grilled eggplant and grapes was also nicely flavored and their softness was a great texture contrast to the crunchy root components. The ramekin at the back of the plate contains non-vegan cheese curds, cordoned off for my non-vegan dinner companions' enjoyment.
3. Entrees
a. Corn
From the Menu: "Corn. Stone ground grits, corn cream, picked shiitakes, huitlacoche, tempura watercress. $18."
Tasting: The vegan version of the Corn entree swaps a tempura egg for tempura watercress, which adorned the grits and was fresh and crispy compared to the soft, creaminess of the corn base. The base contains grits, corn, more watercress, and pickled shiitake mushrooms, with the distinct fungal flavor of huitlacoche dominating the flavor profile. As a serious fan of tex-mex, I love the sweet corn and pungent huitlacoche pairing but it might be off-putting to the novice taster. If like me you're into truffles and truffle oil, you'll love the stuff and steal half of your friend's dinner; yet I can see how it might be overwhelming and a bit unappetizing to the fungus novice, especially given the creamy texture of the dish.
b. Tomato
From the Menu: "Tomato. Fried green tomatoes, toasted coconut and yellow tomato sauce, tomato spaetzle. $19."
Tasting: Three fried green tomato slices sit on watercress, an asparagus onion sautee, and a sea of tomato spaetzle. As a native southerner, I did not anticipate the heavy breading on the tomatoes, which overwhelmed the tomato and made the slightly sour flavor difficult to taste and the firm texture difficult to appreciate . The asparagus component was a nice flavor and crunchy texture contrast to the salty, crisp fried tomatoes and the soft, spaetzle. The spaetzle was replete with indian spices (coriander, cumin, fenugreek) and reminded me very much of mini potato gnocchi texturally. It was quite good and my favorite component of the dish
Repeat. I've been to Dirt Candy many times, usually try nearly every course on the menu, and have always walked away almost always a happy customer. This is one of the best vegan restaurants in the city for people who prefer vegetables to meat substitutes and well-balanced plates. Amanda Cohen, the chef and owner, not only blogs profusely but is also present during service and happy to discuss her food and business with you, which creates a sense of intimacy that you can't experience at many places.

Dirt Candy, East Village,

Monday, May 24, 2010


Sesame ‘Chicken’ Wrap, with peanut sauce and thai salad.

Curried Cauliflower Wrap, with chickpeas, brown rice, and mango chutney.

The wraps are enormous and make a complete meal. I was very tempted by the amazing scent of the garlic roasted broccoli in the salad section but glad I skipped it because I wouldn't have had any room for it.
1. Sesame Chicken Wrap
Stuffed with ample amounts of seitan, vegetables, brown rice, and sauce. Extremely filling. However, the seitan was extraordinarily salty and overpowered the subtle sweetness of the peanut sauce.
2. Curried Cauliflower Wrap
The filling was a bit mushy and bland. The mango chutney enhanced the flavor but I expected something described as curried to pack a bit more heat, which would have contrasted nicley with the temperature and flavor of the chilled, sweet chutney. Also, the cauliflower was a little overcooked so there was not as much of a texture contrast with the softened chickpeas, and made for a less interesting chew.
3. Accompaniments
Both salads were nicely sized and had nice textural components in the shredded cabbage and carrots; however, they were under-dressed, as you can see in the images.
Possible Repeat. These two wraps had the most interesting descriptions relative to the other menu items and yet I walked away underwhelmed. However, I liked the atmosphere at our communal table, I desperately want to try the roasted broccoli, and I'll give the faux-meat sandwiches a nibble.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Seitan Lettuce Wraps

Pad Thai with Mock Duck
1. Seitan Lettuce Wraps
From the Menu: "Seitan Lettuce Wraps with Seitan, Shredded Carrots, and Mixed Vegetables. "

2. Pad Thai with Mock Duck
From the Menu: "Pad Thai with Mock Duck, Smoked Tofu, Radish, Bean Sprouts, and Peanuts. $7.00."


pukk, East Village,