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 jalapeƱo 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,

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