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
With three Michelin stars and a #12 ranking on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, L’Arpège is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Alain Passard’s beautiful, seasonally-driven vegetable creations have taken the world’s breath away, and any chef who has trained in his kitchen has leveraged that stamp of approval to run successful restaurants of his or her own. It’s rare to find these sorts of accolades bestowed upon a vegetarian restaurant in the fine dining world, so we were very much looking forward to our lunch reservation, as we figured the food here must be exceptional in order to warrant that attention and such high prices.
Truth be told, I felt like I was watching the Emperor wear his new clothes as our tasting lunch unfolded. Can serving a large white asparagus on a plate count as a novel preparation? Did that even require that much skill, other than picking it out of the ground? Or what about a cucumber maki roll? Isn’t that something that I could get as takeout at Beyond Sushi, at a quarter of the price and made with much better sushi rice? The king’s looking mighty naked right now.
To be fair, there were moments when L’Arpège really stepped it up, got properly dressed, and gave it its all, as demonstrated by the dreamy risotto and the zucchini and garlic soup. The vegetables in the risotto were so expressive, conveying a rich variety of texture and flavor that truly created a cohesive experience. And there was no arguing that the luscious, smoky and creamy puree of the zucchini and garlic was flawless.
There were other moments where I did observe a dexterous treatment of vegetables that teased out interesting and unexpected contrasts. The trio of vegetable tarts that arrived as an amuse bouche was such an example. These beautiful tarts yielded a wide range of unexpected flavors, sweet, earthy, bitter and floral, that belied their sweet facade. It embraced the natural flavors of the vegetable and pushed you to rethink what it meant to be a sweet tart.
And then there was the cucumber and onion broth, in which the kitchen managed to tease out a flavor that resembled steeped tea, which was unusual and impressive. But then that was offset by strange moments like the vegetable sausage with harissa and cumin, which felt more like a vegan experiment than a fully thought out gourmet effort.
Is it obvious that I was a tad disappointed by the end of my meal? I went to go see a performance only to sit down to a bizarre strip tease. And the small cup of coffee that cost 13 euros added insult to injury. On a positive note, I suppose, was that I no longer had to see the Emperor naked. Time to see a chef wearing his chef’s whites for real.
Do you ever feel that when winter hits, your body goes into hibernation mode, and you start eating everything in sight, even though in modern day times you no longer have to build up layers of fat to survive the bitter winters, just like our caveman ancestors once did?
If this isn’t a problem you struggle with, lucky you. Unfortunately, my vestigial winter survival instincts were kicking in high gear, and I was snacking like a mad woman. I felt like a cleanse was in order to reverse some of the damage, so when Liquiteria offered its Level 1 Explore and Nourish cleanse on Gilt City, I bought one asap.
The Level 1 cleanse is designed for beginners and consists of 6 juices. I feel like I’m more of an intermediate cleanser, but the Level 2 cleanse had two All Greens juices in it, whereas the Level 1 only had one, and that was honestly the deciding factor. Also, level 1 cleanses tend to showcase overly fruity and sweet juices to appeal to beginners, but this one was actually light on the fruit basket.
Here’s a rundown of the juices in the cleanse:
All Greens – this is probably one of the more challenging juices on the cleanse. I remember hating it when I was on Juice, Eat & Repeat. It basically tastes like sweet liquid grass and cucumber. Surprisingly I couldn’t really taste the parsley in here, but the cucumber was front and center.
All Greens with Apple – this tastes like apple juice with some celery and parsley, which is awesome, considering you had to drink liquid cucumber right before it. Even though it has apple in it, it isn’t overly sweet and is one of the better sweet green juices that are out there.
Skin Trip – this is the worst juice out of the bunch. It looks like toilet water and tastes like it too. To be fair, it actually tastes like carrot juice, but you eat with your eyes, not your stomach, and I couldn’t get over the sketchy dark brown color. Because it’s so awful, it usually takes me 45 minutes to drink it, whereas I can drink an All Greens with Apple in like 5. It also feels a bit more full bodied than the other juices, maybe it’s because of all the earthy root vegetables like carrot and beet in there.
Beets Me – pretty self explanatory, it’s a sweet beet juice with a lot of ginger. I have to warn you, sometimes the ginger is intense, and it hurts if you drink it too quickly because all these gingery fumes get caught in your sinuses.
Royal Flush – the last juice of the day is this pineapple apple juice with again, lots of ginger. Obviously this juice is very sweet and pleasant, but I was hoping for something more comforting and substantial, like the cashew nut milk on the BluePrint cleanse. Oh well, at least it’s not a Skin Trip or All Greens.
Day 1 – Started out with the All Greens juice at 8:30 am. I was dreading this juice, but it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. I was too distracted by work to realize how hungry I was, and at 12 I quickly finished off my bottle of the All Greens with Apple. I was really hungry throughout the day–I guess my stomach stretched in the winter or something–but I managed to hold out until 3:45 for the 3rd juice, the Skin Trip. Drinking the Skin Trip was by far the most traumatic part of the cleanse, it was horrible. At around the third juice my trips to the bathroom became much more frequent. And my productivity sort of shut down at 4 pm. In addition to the constant hunger, I had a light headache throughout the day, probably because I didn’t have my daily cup of caffeinated tea. After the horrible Skin Trip, the All Greens with Apple tasted especially heavenly and I finished it in 5 minutes. When I came home from work, I finished the Beets Me juice, which was extra gingery. I couldn’t drink it too quickly because of the kick from the ginger. 2 hours later I had the Royal Flush and went to sleep soon after.
Day 2 – Wow, I had the best sleep ever last night. I felt so well rested. This is the best part of cleansing, the quality of your sleep definitely improves. I was surprisingly less hungry today than yesterday. Maybe my winter stomach was shrinking back to its normal state. My slight caffeine withdrawal headache also went away. Normally on the second day of the cleanse my mind gets a little foggy and I get fatigued very easily. I did almost pass out in a group meeting but my mind stayed pretty sharp in the early part of the day. After 3 pm I was starting to struggle and became very uncoordinated, and at the market, I had such a hard time getting a bunch of kale into a plastic bag. I also noticed that this cleanse really gets the digestion moving, like really moving. That’s something I didn’t experience on other cleanses. The worst drink of the day was still The Skin Trip, although I’m beginning to feel it’s the reason why my digestion has improved…so I won’t write it off completely. It’s a little TMI, but it felt liberating knowing things were moving out of my gut.
Day 3 – again, another great night of sleep. There weren’t that many differences between Day 2 and 3, except I was starting to get bored, and all I kept thinking about was my solid meal the next day. I was less tired and could concentrate better today, although that was offset by me getting really cold and having blue fingernails at times. I loved getting good sleep and having great digestion, and the 4 pounds of weight loss are nice (but temporary), but nothing beats solid foods. They say you should ease into meats and dairy, but I’m probably going to ignore that suggestion…
This is my third year covering the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, and I’m always impressed by the devoted crowds that line up before the official opening time of 11 am each year. Interest in a vegetarian lifestyle continues to grow, and although the percentage of vegetarians in the United States is a small 5% (Gallup), the group of Americans who frequently go meat-free is 33% (Harris Interactive).
As the statistics show, people are curious about meat-free products, even if they don’t necessarily want to commit to a meat-free lifestyle. Food companies have responded to this rising demand by producing high quality and tasty products that can hold their own against the non-vegan competition. Each year the festival showcases the latest in vegan snack food innovation, and here’s a rundown of the brands that really stood out in the crowd.
Palm Frites – The name Palm Frites is a play on “pomme frites”, but these coconut fries have little in common with traditional french fries. Young Thai organic coconuts go through a dehydration process that transforms the fruit into crispy chips, no frying vat of oil required. The churro and bbq flavors were my favorites, although the flagship garlic fry was a little too intensely garlic for me. A gluten free source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, packed with essential vitamins and minerals–what’s not to like?
Bixby & Co. – Everyone loves chocolate, and luckily dark chocolate happens to be naturally vegan. Chocolate, after all, comes from cacao beans, and it only becomes un-vegan when you add dairy milk to it. The Whippersnapper chocolate bar had great texture and the dark chocolate wasn’t bitter at all. It’s a great way to indulge, cruelty-free.
i heart keenwah – The quinoa clusters from i heart keenwah were my favorite samples at the festival. They tasted like a cross between a rice krispy treat and those asian sesame seed candies, crunchy and sweet, but with a more complex, nutty flavor. I was also a fan of the quinoa puffs, which resembled the cheez balls of my youth, only packed with protein, denser in texture, and flavored with better seasonings like sea salt truffle and aged cheddar.
Karmalize – Karmalize sells 100% organic, GMO-free nuts, quinoa, chia, coconut sugar and beans. I wasn’t able to sample any due to the nature of the product being raw ingredients rather than a finished snack product, but I was intrigued enough by the founders’ energy and commitment to socially responsible practices, that I bought a bag of the white quinoa. Another distinguishing characteristic of Karmalize products is that they are sprouted, meaning the seeds in the grain, nut or bean are germinated, which naturally increases the mineral and vitamin content in the product, and improves digestion and absorption of those nutrients.
NotMilk – NotMilk is a brand of fresh nut milk made just from water, nuts and dates, and currently these nut milks are only sold in NYC by delivery service. The company was started by two sisters who are lactose intolerant and needed an alternative to dairy milk, but weren’t satisfied with the mass-produced, chemically enhanced nut milks available in grocery stores. They decided to produce nut milk that they and others could drink in good conscience. I liked the Vanilla and Original NotMilk–they certainly beat the Whole Foods almond milk that I’ve been buying regularly.
Love Beets – There’s this funny episode of Portlandia where a marketing exec tries to make celery as sexy as kale. He should take a few cues from Love Beets, a company that sells pre-marinaded beets in fun snack packs. Let’s be honest, beets are very earthy and not the most accessible of vegetables, but these bite-size, tasty servings and the whimsical packaging should change this perception.
Hope Foods – It’s hard to find innovation in the hummus and dips space. Yes, you can add some garlic and chili to some chickpeas, but it doesn’t get much more exciting than that. Hope Foods’ hummus, on the other hand, actually bring something new to the table, infusing their spreads with ingredients like vibrant, spicy avocado and sriracha. They also have a chocolate version that surprisingly works really well with the garbanzo beans.
Cocoburg – Coconut is having a moment at the festival. Cocoburg is another vendor capitalizing on the potential of coconut, hand making raw vegan coconut jerky in small batches at its Brooklyn headquarters. The coconut jerky is intended to be a meat substitute that tastes great and doesn’t have a whole bunch of additives in it. I was convinced by the texture of the jerky samples–it did have that chewy, meaty sensation that you would get from chunky bits of beef jerky.
Fruit Bliss – Fruit Bliss sells naturally sun-sweetened, organic whole fruit snack packs that are handy when you simply don’t have time to cut and peel your own fruit (which is like everyday for me!). These fruits are great in that they still retain the plumpness and moisture of fresh fruit, but they aren’t overly sweet like the dried cranberries and apricots in your calorie dense trail mix.
Rukhi – I eat Kind bars nearly everyday for an afternoon snack, but sometimes I wish they weren’t so sweet, and I sometimes wonder why there’s soy lecithin and other unfamiliar things in there. I stumbled upon Rukhi’s gluten free and vegan fruit snacks at the festival, which featured all natural combinations of raw ingredients such as dates, figs, cranberries, apricots, almonds and walnuts. The snacks tasted wholesome, fresh and nutritious, an improvement upon the sugary, processed aftertaste in a lot of mass produced food bars. The fig varieties are especially impressive.
It’s been a crazy winter in New York. We’re already into March, yet the snow continues to fall and the temperatures continue to drop. I’m so over the slush and snow, and I can feel the mutual pent up frustration of others around me.
Which is why I love hanging out at El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette, because for a moment I can trade in the weather-induced anxiety for some laid-back California calm. Everyone here is very friendly, which is impressive, as the tiny cafe usually gets packed, but instead of losing their cool, the staff cheerfully tells you that things will be ok. If space permits, you can find seats in the very back by the small but functional kitchen, where you can watch Chef Gerardo Gonzalez create his wholesome, vegetable-driven small plates. Not surprisingly, he’s also a very nice guy who’s happy to tell you what’s in his green mole sauce (answer: everything under the sun that’s green) or to give you wine pairing recommendations (the sparkly Macabeo white was a good call).
What brings me back to El Rey repeatedly is the kale salad. With so much kale all over the place, I’m sure the trend for this superfood is probably on the outs, but El Rey’s version is a classic that should persevere when the fad fades. Almond is the key ingredient here that helps to differentiate the kale salad. Many places rely on heavy shavings of parmesan cheese to add depth to kale, but El Rey uses almond shavings instead. It’s an ingenious way of adding some weight to your leafy greens in a more healthful way. The vinaigrette dressing is a great blend of tangy, sour and sweet, adding a nice spring to your salad step. In the am you have the option of adding pickled or poached eggs–I would highly recommend the pickled eggs, if only for their bright pink color.
Any coffee bar worth its weight should have a selection of tantalizing baked goods, and El Rey doesn’t disappoint. I tried slices of the sesame banana and the sweet potato bread, both very good, but the sweet potato was divine. It was extremely moist with the right amount of sweet, and with the candied nuts on top, you almost felt like you were eating a slice of pecan pie.
With such a great breakfast and lunch menu, I returned to try out the dinner service, which was introduced just a few weeks ago. The coffee bar is less packed in the evening, as I’m sure not that many people know about the full dinner menu, and also most would prefer a guaranteed seat rather than risking the wait for one of the very few bar stools (I would guess there are roughly 15 spots).
With dinner, El Rey assumes more of a Baja California vibe. While Latin music plays in the background, Gonzalez starts cranking out funky tapas with flavors that are a little more spirited and in-your-face, and the heat factor really gets turned up. As an example, the sweet and sour papas bravas at first seemed deceptively mild, and the potatoes appeared to be coated in a harmless ketchup-like BBQ sauce. But then gradually the heat built, and I was taken by surprise by the tingling, fiery sensations coating my mouth.
Similarly, the chorizo was heavily spiced, absent the burning heat. I’m not totally sure what was in the marinade, but I could taste something like cumin and vinegar packed into every part of the chorizo sausage. If you ate the meat by itself, it would have been like eating a slice of pepperoni, which would be intense. Luckily the sweet roasted garlic cloves and the hazelnuts provided balance, as did the focaccia bread, although you could never quite shake off the presence of the marinade.
I preferred when the flavors were scaled back a little bit, more in tune with the tone set at breakfast and lunch. The sardines on tostada were fantastic–it featured such great textures and a good balance of flavors that were overall refreshing, never veering into salty, fishy territory as sardines tend to do, and not falling back on tons of rich aioli or a heavy poblano to cover things up.
The green mole burrata similarly impressed me with a complexity that still felt bright and clear. You could taste so many of the different herbs that had gone into the mole sauce, yet the multitude of ingredients served to enhance the mild burrata rather than overwhelming it.
The shaved cauliflower was probably the lightest and most wholesome small plate of the night, but that didn’t mean it was boring. The thin slices of raw cauliflower were coated in a bright vinaigrette, which again exhibited the distinctive qualities of sweet, sour and tangy. Cauliflower’s cruciferous qualities naturally provided the dish with a lot of fibrous bulk, but the poached egg softened the edges so that things didn’t feel too raw and crudite-like, and it felt like a proper appetizer.
After dinner is over, I would suggest that you take a short walk to Morgenstern’s, an ice cream shop whose owner is a partner at El Rey Coffee Bar. Even though it’s freezing out, the ice cream here is so good that it’s worth the trip. The raw milk in particular is outstanding–I’ve never had a vanilla flavor feel so creamy, rich and genuinely pure. They also offer ice cream breakfasts, which is an intriguing thought, and whether you take them up on it or not, a meal at El Rey or Morgenstern’s is always worth the gamble.
El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette
100 Stanton St (between Orchard and Ludlow St)
New York, NY 10002
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream
2 Rivington St (between Bowery and Chrystie St)
New York, NY 10002