Friday, May 23, 2008
NEW YORK, NEW YORK...GOOD VEGAN EATING!
Downtown Princeton, NJ, near where we stayed on our trip
I'm finally getting down to blogging about my trip back east! My sister Karin and I traveled to New Jersey in mid-May to visit an old friend of our father's near Princeton. On 3 of the 5 days we were there we traveled by train (an hour's ride) into New York City to see a few sights and sample some of the vegan restaurants I had researched ahead of time!
Our host is a Professor Emeritus at Princeton and he took us for a tour of the University on our first day. The weather was lovely, and the campus was lush and green, in contrast with the largely Gothic architecture! We had some pretty good vegan sushi at the student cafeteria for lunch. That evening our hosts took us to the Sunny Garden Chinese restaurant for a lovely meal of Shanghai Garlic Greens, steamed vegetarian dumplings, Sizzling Tofu and Vegetables, and brown rice.
After that, aside from breakfast and one lovely salad dinner on the deck of our hosts' home in the country, we ate the majority of our meals in New York, which is what this blog will be about. For three days of our visit, we took the train from Princeton Junction to the New York Penn Station each morning (an hour's ride), and then back home again in the evening. During our 3 days in New York we took just about every mode of transportation going except a ferry (I'm used to those, anyway!). We took the train, the subway, the municipal bus, a taxi, and even rode in a private hired car (a black Lincoln) on one occasion!
We took "hop-on, hop-off" bus tours on two of our city days, in addition to LOTS of walking downtown, and in the theater and financial districts. I felt a little foolish doing the "tourist" trip, but it was a good way to see the city in a hurry, and the guides were informative, kind, and very entertaining.
On our first day in the city we "hopped-off" near Washington Square in Greenwich Village and had lunch at The Red Bamboo Soul Cafe.
The interior of the Red Bamboo-- that's Karin at the desk.
I have to explain that, though my sister is a vegan, and likes to eat well, she is not a "foodie". She has more strict eating habits than I do, which I guess is why she is skinny and I'm not! So, you will see a contrast between her choices and mine!
For this first meal in New York, she chose the edamame starter, which she repeated in almost every restaurant we visited. It was a hard choice (check out the menu here!), but I decided to go all-out with the soul food theme and ordered Cajun Fried Shrimp ("Deep fried vegetarian shrimp seasoned with paprika, thyme and sage seared with a southern BBQ sauce").
This was good-- four big "shrimp" and the sauce was not sweet. (However, I prefer the vegetarian "shrimp" we get in Vancouver, BC at West Best Vegetarian [4934 Victoria Dr.], a small storefront that supplies Buddhist vegetarian restaurants and also sells Chinese "mock meats" to the public. Their product is firmer than the one I had at The Red Bamboo.)
For the main dish, Karin ordered The House salad, but with the addition of tofu slices and Balsamic Vinaigrette:
I struggled to make a decision from the many tempting choices and finally settled on Butterfly Soy Chops ("Lightly breaded soy pork chips served with a fresh apple-raisin sauce, sauteed collard greens with veggie ham and sweet corn mashed potatoes"):
This was ALOT of food! There were three crunchy panko-covered chops under all that apple! I couldn't eat it all, and ended up taking half of the chops home with us, which I added to my salad on the night we ate at our hosts' home.
I liked the addition of corn to the mashed potatoes, and the collards with veggie "ham" were delicious. I found the "chops" a little lacking in taste (though the crunchy coating and the apples kind of made up for that) compared to my homemade ones-- sorry if that sounds like I'm blowing my own horn, but it's true!
It would have been nice to be in a group, so that I could have tasted more of the offerings! We had no room left to sample desserts, unfortunately, so we missed out on:
Chocolate covered Strawberry Shortcake
Peanut Butter Tandy Heaven
Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake
Brownie Bottom Cheesecake
Oreo Cookie Cheesecake
Darn it! Next time!
We worked up an appetite sight-seeing and walking for the rest of the day, and, at dinnertime, found ourselves in close proximity to one of the restaurants on my list, Franchia Teahouse & Restaurant, an extention of the award winning Korean vegetarian restaurant, Hangawi. It is a lovely, peaceful place with charming Asian decor. Here's a shot of the ceiling over our heads:
They have a nice sushi menu, so I ordered Crispy Tofu Skin Roll, and Karin ordered the Chicken Teriyaki Roll:
I didn't taste Karin's, but she said it was delicious. As for my sushi, I plan to try this at home myself! It was simple, just ordinary sushi rice rolled around crispy fried yuba and the nori seaweed, but it was a great contrast biting into the crisp yuba-- very pleasant and unexpected!
Only "light meals" are served at Franchia, but there is a great selection of dishes, and, once again , it was hard to make a decision! Since we had eaten a large lunch (at least, I had!), we ordered from the Appetizer menu. I ordered a plate of Assorted Dumplings (steamed, not fried), and Karin ordered the Summer Rolls with Mango Citron Sauce, and we shared. The dumplings were great! There were Soy and Grain 'Meat' Dumplings, Green Tea Vegetable Dumplings, Spicy Kimchi Dumplings, and Mixed Vegetable Dumplings, with a light soy sauce dip. I really can't decide which I preferred!
The "Summer Rolls" (above) were not quite what we expected, but they were light and tasty.
Again, we unfortunately couldn't manage dessert, tempting though they sounded, and had a Soy Chai Latte instead!
I would definitely recommend a visit to this charming teahouse if you are in the vicinity of 12 Park Ave.!
On our second day in New York, we chose Zenith, which is a regular Japanese restaurant on one side, and an Asian-fusion vegetarian restaurant on the other! The menu is extensive, and maybe we didn't choose wisely, but this was my least-favorite meal in New York. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't memorable, and it was a very small portion for the bucks!
Karin had edamame, of course,
and vegetables and tofu braised in a black bean sauce with tomatoes, with brown rice:
It was tasty, but unremarkable. Here's my lunch, Mushroom-Stuffed Ravioli topped with vegetarian seafood and vegetable in a white sauce:
The ravioli did not seem homemade to me, and I think I got about 6 small squares. The sauce was just a very light cornstarch-based Chinese-style sauce with no discernible herbs or other flavoring. For $15, it was not a bargain! I was hungry an hour later! But, that's okay-- I made up for it the next day!
This was the night we ate back in Princeton, when our hostess set a lovely table on the deck overlooking the garden and served wholegrain toast with a romaine lettuce and tomato salad with roasted nuts and other goodies in it. Our hosts had sliced chicken in their salad and I sliced up my leftover "soy chops" from the Red Bamboo in mine, while Karin added browned, crumbled veggie burger to hers. (Our hostess confessed that she was "terrified" when she found out we were vegan, and surprised that we were so "easy" to please!)
Our last day in New York was our best eating day, in my opinion (I can't speak for Karin!). I had spoken to my friend, vegan pastry chef Fran Costigan, whom we were to meet later for dinner, and she recommended Candle 79 over its parent restaurant, Candle Cafe. We were planning to visit the Metropolitan Museum that day, and Candle 79 is located conveniently nearby, so that's where we headed for lunch!
It is an elegant restaurant and the lunch menu is small, but varied. (That makes it easier for me!) Karin chose the Hydrogarden Farm Edamame with Celtic Sea Salt, Chili, and Lemon for her starter, and the Fava Bean Vegetable Soup for her entree:
(Pardon the lackluster photos-- the lighting was poor!)
She was enthusiastic about the additions to the edamame, and I can attest that her soup was delicious!
I chose the BBQ Seitan Sandwich with avocado, caramelized onions, polenta fries, and mixed lettuces, partly because I wanted to taste their seitan, also because I love polenta! The sandwich was large, and the bread was a sort of focaccia, I think:
I'm sure the ketchup was homemade. The seitan was fantastic-- the sauce not too sweet, and you could have sworn you were eating "pulled pork" if you didn't know better! Nicely satisfying, delicious-- the best meal I had in New York!
We decided to have dessert, but the photo just did not turn out. We shared the House Made Sorbet & Ice Cream Sampler (chef's daily selection), which was vanilla-chocolate chip, blueberry, and banana. The vanilla was creamy and wonderful; the blueberry was a little flat-- not enough berries for my taste; and the banana was smooth and surprisingly good-- I say that because I usually hate banana ice cream. But it is often made with phony flavoring, and this was made with real bananas, no mistake!
For our last New York restaurant meal (which was my favorite second only to Candle 79!), we met up with Fran at Zabar's and had a quick look-round (it was rush hour and dinnertime, and the lines were long!), then bought some bagels for our breakfast the next morning at H&H Bagels, before heading for a favorite Turkish restaurant of Fran's, Turkuaz. I was looking forward to this-- I was missing this type of cuisine!
There was no bellydancer that night (I love seeing good bellydancing!), but the restaurant was charming and we sat at a low table on lounges decked with colorful pillows. Fran and I tried not to bore Karin too much with "foodie" talk, but I don't know how well we succeeded!
The menu is omni, but there are plenty of vegan options in Turkish cuisine! Fran and I decided to chose several dishes from the salad and appetizer menus and share them. The waitress kept baskets of Turkish flatbread coming, to dip into the light-spiced olive oil on the table. We chose Piyaz (White Bean Salad--Boiled white beans, tomato, red onion, red and green bell pepper parsley mixed in olive oil and vinegar); Patlıcan Salatası (Eggplant Salad--Char-grilled eggplant puree, red and green bell pepper, dill, freshly squeezed lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil); Imam Bayıldı (Imam Fainted-- Baby eggplant stuffed with onion, red and green pepper, currants, pine nuts and garlic); Zeytinyağlı Yaprak Dolması ( Stuffed Grape Leaves-- Grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, currants, and herbs); and Acılı Ezme (Spicy Mashed Vegetables-- A mixture of hot and spicy finely chopped vegetables, which also contained walnuts and reminded me of Muhamarra, the walnut, red pepper, pomegranate molasses and breadcrumb spread).
We were talking so much that I forgot to take pictures until we had already eaten most of our meal! I assembled what was left on one plate and took this picture (lighting was bad here, too):
Everything was absolutely scrumptious!
Karin chose the Türlü (Vegetable Casserole) with rice-- I forgot to take a picture of this before she ate it!
We had a quick visit with Fran at her apartment before we had to head to Lincoln Center to meet our hosts, who were attending the opera that night. We participated in the "scrum" at the curb, as everyone tried to find their hired cars, and went home to Princeton in style in the big black Lincoln, courtesy of our hosts!
So that was the end of our New York eating-- the less said about airport food (when you could find anything!), the better. It was a bit of a nightmare trip home, due to some delays and storms over the Great Lakes, but we made it home in one piece!
I was really glad to get home. It was a great visit, and I was so glad to have visited with my father's old friend and his wife, both very engaging, and to see Fran, even briefly. New York is exciting and we only scratched the surface! The Metropolitan Museum was amazing! And it is NOT true that New Yorkers are rude or unfriendly! We encountered helpful people everywhere! However, even though I was raised in San Francisco, and lived in Vancouver for 11 years, I am not a city girl anymore! It was too busy, noisy, and crazy for me! So here I am on my little island again, and grateful for the privilege of living in such a paradise!
To show you how lovely it is here, here are some pictures I took on the ferry as we were leaving Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, heading for Vancouver Island (I was so wiped that I was too lazy to go outside to take these, so there is some glare):
All the best!