When I took Ruoxi to the new vegan restaurant by CHLOE in Greenwich Village, the first thing he said was, “Wow, there are a lot of girls here.” It’s true that the ratio of women to men was largely skewed towards female, and you could probably count the number of men on two hands. He looked concern, taking the lack of dudes to be a sign that this food would be too healthy and spa-like to appeal to people like him.
Which is why it was impressive that he was so sold on the Classic Burger, which he proclaimed to be the best veggie burger he had ever tried. Granted, he probably has only ever tried two veggie burgers in his life, but Ruoxi never judges on a curve, which means the Classic Burger was objectively a great burger. This patty, a blend of tempeh, lentil, chia and walnut, will never truly mimic a juicy, savory meat patty, but the light, nutty veggie “hash brown”, if you will, had its own merits. The tangy pickles and the ketchup like special sauce also helped to make the experience of eating the veggie burger taste very, very similar to the real thing. The air baked sweet potato fries, on the other hand, were just as tasty and crispy as the fried version.
The salads here are not the leafy kinds that you would normally expect. They’re big, hearty bowls that are densely full of good stuff. The spicy thai salad, for instance, looked like a bowl of Chinese takeout on a bed of quinoa and edamame, and the taste wasn’t that far off either. The apricot-sriracha glaze on the chicken-like tempeh had caramelized into a crispy shell that was very reminiscent of General Tso’s. It was extremely satisfying, much like a meal from P. F. Chang’s, but 10x healthier.
This vegan restaurant was so good, that Ruoxi said he would willingly come back for some more, even if it meant sitting awkwardly between lots of girls and their yoga mats. Chloe or whoever is running the restaurant knows what she’s doing. She’s focused on making good, wholesome food that actually tastes good. Yes, the initial draw might be the health conscious chicks, but with food this good, first come the girls, and then come the guys…
185 Bleecker Street (between Macdougal and Sullivan St)
New York, NY 10012 (212) 290-8000
Hand rolls are often relegated to the sidelines at sushi restaurants. During an omakase, the emphasis is on the sushi or sashimi, and if a handroll is included, it usually arrives towards the end, when the diner’s attention wanes and the superfluous rice muffles the flavors of the fish. DOMODOMO, a sushi bar in Greenwich Village, is one of those rare restaurants that specializes in hand rolls, featuring them in ways that are much more interesting than the ubiquitous spicy mayo variety.
The restaurant has the clean, minimalist look of a traditional sushi bar, but the atmosphere is a lot more lively than the serious-minded silence that fills the room of other places. That’s not to say that this levity implies a lower level of skill at DOMODOMO. It’s true that they take a nontraditional approach to their hand rolls. At times they might pre-treat their fish in a bbq soy glaze or in a Korean seasoning, for instance, rather than having the customer season to taste with soy sauce, but it’s all done very thoughtfully and not in a gimmicky way. You won’t find gigantic, nonsensical Dragon or Spider rolls on this menu.
The menu also offers a variety of appetizers and select sushi pieces to complement your hand rolls. I would recommend the hand roll course, which features a good mix of things–cooked plates, hand rolls, a few sushi pieces and a dessert. If you’re going a la carte, the blue crab, unagi and lobster hand rolls are must do’s, and if you’re not really feeling the whole hand roll thing, the sushi menu for $52 is a very good deal that lets you have a more traditional sushi bar experience that’s more fish and less rice. The sushi, by the way, was clean, fresh and delicious, with the salmon, unagi and ebi pieces really standing out. DOMODOMO is dedicated to quality, and their fish can certainly stand on its own without the protective cover of sushi rice.
I am a huge fan of green tea anything, so of course, for dessert, I ordered the hojicha pudding, a light panna cotta-like custard that was flavored with roasted green tea. The water chestnut panna cotta had a very similar flavor profile, except it was nuttier and earthier. In general, the desserts here are sweet but subtle in that understated Japanese way, as they should be, because anything sweeter would overshadow the fantastic sushi that came beforehand.
138 W. Houston St (between Macdougal and Sullivan St)
New York, NY 10012
If the thought of another sandwich or wrap is leaving you feeling uninspired, why not try a manousheh instead? The manousheh is a Lebanese flatbread that is usually topped with zaatar seasoning, cheese and olive oil. It has the look and feel of a very thin crust pizza, down to the details of a crust made blistery and bubbly from the heat of a wood-fire oven, but it is much lighter in taste and weight. The crust is lightly dusted with herbs and olive oil, and if meat and cheese are involved, they are used in moderation.
These flatbreads aren’t very common in New York City, but you can try them at Manousheh in Greenwich Village, a restaurant dedicated to broadening the reach of this snack food beyond the borders of Lebanon. I tried the zaatar, which consists of dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, and added on a side of veggies. It was nutty and tasty, although a bit on the salty side, so I was glad that the cucumbers and tomatoes were there to balance out the flavors. I’d say it was a very good snack, although not quite substantial enough to make a meal out of it. I’d recommend the lahem bi ajine for something more filling, a manousheh topped with organic grass fed ground beef, tomatoes and onion. This had more in common with a traditional pizza, but it was a much more nimbler version, as it wasn’t weighed down by heavy grease and sauce.
Overall I did appreciate the nuanced and balanced savory flavor profile, and how the litheness of the bread didn’t make you feel so full and carb-loaded. Sometimes it did feel a little too skinny on fillings, although that’s not something a side of veggies or cheese couldn’t solve. We get a little too comfortable with our eating routine, and eating this manousheh is a great and accessible way to branch out.
193 Bleecker St (between Macdougal and Minetta St)
New York, NY 10012
Kiin Thai is a college date night type of place. Like you’re tired of eating in the dining hall, but you want something nicer than pizza or Mexican, so this stylish Thai restaurant hits that sweet spot of serving interesting food at a reasonable price point.
But that “college date night” qualifier says something. In college, you’re not really all that picky about what you eat. Instant ramen noodles and Totino’s boxed pizza were all fair game. But as you get older, you start eating a lot more real food and developing standards, and the college hot spots don’t cut it anymore.
I wasn’t expecting Kiin Thai to be a college date night type of place. I thought it would be many notches above that, as it is run by the owners of the highly regarded Isaan Thai restaurant Somtum Der. But there’s a real difference between the two restaurants. Somtum Der is like the sure footed parent with a strong point of view, whereas Kiin Thai is the people pleasing college kid still figuring it out.
The decor at Kiin Thai is very nice, but it feels a little out of character for a Thai restaurant. There’s a lot of whitewashed wood and mason jars, which to me reads more farm-to-table American than central Thailand. This is the whole people-pleaser aspect that I was talking about earlier. I feel like the owners thought this farm-to-table decor was trendy and was what New Yorkers wanted, and hence they decided to furnish things this way, rather than being driven by authenticity. Maybe things have changed in Thailand, but when I was there several years ago, things weren’t being served out of mason jars…
Here’s an obvious example of Kiin Thai not quite figuring things out–the pad thai did not come fully seasoned. Instead, the peanuts, red pepper flakes and sugar came on the side. I’m a little confused by why the restaurant didn’t have the confidence to assert its point of view and season everything fully beforehand. It’s a cop out, frankly–no one can blame them for the flavors if the diners have to season the dish themselves. I guess on the plus side, because it wasn’t fully seasoned, the pad thai wan’t overly sweet like bad takeout style, but in the same vein, it was also pretty bland.
I did enjoy the grandma’s pork chops, which were served playfully as lollipops. The ground meat was seasoned well, with a hint of coconut, lemongrass and cilantro in the blend, and the patties really came alive with the dipping sauce, which generated a lot of explosive heat.
The biggest disappointment by far was the royal seafood omelette. There was nothing regal about this sad omelette, which had an unappetizing gray color about it. My suspicions were confirmed when I took a bite. I felt like I was eating this weird filler, like industrial powdered egg with bits of canned crab meat mixed throughout. It was so bad, we didn’t even finish it. When you think to how much potential this dish could have had, it made the misstep that much more tragic.
So this is what happens when you run a restaurant that isn’t true to its roots. There’s no strong point of view, other than to cater to as many palates as possible, which results in cooking that lacks soul. Everything looks very pretty, but like a bland pageant queen, Kiin Thai lacks real substance. Not that that bothered the NYU kids around me, who looked like they were enjoying themselves. They’ll know better in a few years’ time…
36 E. 8th St (between University Pl and Greene St)
New York, NY 10003
Rule number one of girly brunch – it’s all about the surroundings. A charming rustic French salon or a beachy California surf shack are both appropriate. Second rule of girly brunch – food options must be light but tasty. Omelettes and salads are musts, chicken and waffles less so. Extra points for superfoods like acai and quinoa. Third rule of girly brunch – lively background noise is nice, but not so much that you can’t hear your girl friends speak. Gossip is no fun when it involves screaming over each other. And the last and most important rule is the presence of mimosas or pressed juices. Getting tipsy while watching your figure during brunch is the girliest of moves.
I had a back-to-back weekend of girly brunches–one at Claudette, the new West Village French restaurant owned by the people of Rosemary’s, and another at Dimes, a small and pleasant cafe that looks like a Saturdays Surf boutique, located all the way in the depths of Chinatown. If you’re the type of girl who carries a Goyard or Celine bag, then you would like the scene at Claudette, whereas if you’re more into sustainable farming and tote bags, then you’d feel more at home at Dimes.
Dimes is tiny and doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to put your names down and wait. The restaurant is known for its acai bowls and breakfast sandwiches, but I was feeling extra healthy that morning so I ordered the big salad, a bowl of kale and other market greens, squash, brussels sprouts, pumpkin seeds and grapes. I ordered the dressing on the side, which was probably a mistake, because this was the kind of salad that desperately needed dressing. The greens were so raw and dry, that you really needed to mix the liquid in there to tenderize the greens and bring them back to edible form. That being said, I’ve had better vegan salads, such as the spizy sabzi at Sweetgreens–this one was too literal a bowl of chopped vegetables.
The spicy quinoa bowl, on the other hand, was the right amount of self-righteous healthy and tasty. I think it helped that there was the perfect combination of good fats, texture and body, and it was all seasoned very well, so you felt like you were getting a square and satisfactory meal out of the vegetables. It’s definitely something I would return to Dimes for and order again, along with the delicious acai bowls.
Claudette’s brunch menu is very much farm-to-table driven, with a French and occasionally Middle Eastern accent. Think spicy harissa baked eggs, ratatouille tart and a variety of seasonal vegetable starters. The omelette au crab caught my eye–who doesn’t love fresh crab and cooked eggs together?–although the dish ended up being rather lackluster, like the Sarah, Plain and Tall of omelettes. The eggs were also very light and slightly runny inside, which isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, but something to note for those who do care about things like that.
The provencal chicken salad certainly had a lot of personality flavor-wise, which explains why I basically ate half of my sister’s order. The dressing was the key element here, a bright orange vinaigrette consisting of light olive oil with a touch of acid notes and exotic hints of caraway seeds that brought out a zesty, aromatic quality in the ingredients. It was especially delicious when coating the bulgur, elevating a normally salt-of-the-earth grain to something interesting and refined.
I characterize these places as girly ones, but obviously men were reasonably well represented in the dining rooms. After all, the California and French aesthetic is appealing to both genders. My point is that sometimes girls can get very particular about their brunch places, in that it has to be super cute and let them indulge their Girls / SATC fantasies for a weekend, and these two check those boxes. So if you’re looking to throw back all-you-can-drink bloody marys with greasy eggs and bacon, then you won’t find it at either Claudette or Dimes. But if you want to make your girlfriend or female friends happy, then you’ve come to the right spots.
143 Division St (between Ludlow and Orchard St)
New York, NY 10002
24 5th Ave (between 10th and 9th St)
New York, NY 10011