Yes that’s right, I did it, I went to a vegan restaurant and I actually enjoyed it! I found myself at Candle 79 in the upper east side on a Monday night with a group of my co-workers, one of whom is vegan. We wanted a ladies night out, and so we thought it would be fun to try an organic vegan restaurant. We almost didn’t make reservations, thinking it was a Monday night and it would be no big deal, but on the contrary they were quite full, and even though we made the reservation a couple days in advance, we still didn’t get the coveted 7pm prime time slot.
One of the ladies got there first, and they immediately seated her at the table without all of us being there, which I thought was very accommodating. When I arrived I was escorted right to our cozy little table by the window. It is a very cute restaurant, romantic, dimly lit, with large glass paneled doors which I imagine they must open in the spring time. My friend had ordered a glass of the Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Chile, which she recommended, and I thoroughly enjoyed.
It took me awhile to decide what to order because there were so many new and exciting things to try that were way out of my comfort zone. I came across vegan staples like seitan, tempeh, and tofu, none of which I’ve ever eaten (unless you count the little chunks of tofu that float around in miso soup), I was curious to try, but also slightly hesitant.
We each decided to get something different so that we could sample a variety of vegan specialties. While we waited for our appetizers, the server brought us an amuse bouche from the chef. It was a colorful spoonful of black rice, carrots, and asparagus with a zesty citrus glaze. I was surprised how a fairly simple combination could be so aromatic – so far so good!
For my appetizer, I ordered the Ramp and Morel Spinach Ravioli with cashew-vegetable cheese and sautéed spinach in a truffled tomato sauce. I was so surprised at how much I liked it! The ravioli were al dente and the filling was light but flavorful, and the colors on the plate were so vibrant. The truffled tomato sauce was superb, it was garlicky with just the right balance of sweetness and acidity. I didn’t even miss the cheese which frequently leaves me feeling heavy and stuffed.
One of the ladies got the Live Avocado-Cucumber Tartare with avocado, cucumber, ginger jalapeño dressing, hearts of palm and trumpet royale ceviche. Again, the plating was beautiful, it was almost a shame to eat! As for the flavors though, she felt it was a little lacking.
One of the other ladies had the Smoked Hummus with grilled paratha bread, roasted garlic bulb and red pepper oil. She had nothing but great things to say about it.
Lastly, was the Guacamole Timbale with chipotle black beans, caramelized onions, tomato-cucumber salsa, plaintain chips, and ranchero sauce. This was the other app I had been eyeing, but ended up choosing the ravioli because I am a true Italian at heart :). My friend noted that each layer of the timbale was rather simple, but when mixed together, the flavors blended well although she wasn’t blown away by it.
Since I had the ravioli as a starter, I decided to be good and get a salad as an entrée (I know it’s shocking!). It was an Asian inspired salad – the special of the day – which was comprised of avocado, fresh garbanzo beans, and soba noodles in a ginger dressing. It was refreshing, tangy and surprisingly filling. The uber fresh crunchy vegetables coupled well with the soba noodles, and the piquant dressing made for a taste and texture sensation. Best of all, I felt like I was eating healthy, and it was so full of flavor.
For their entrées, the ladies got the Gnocchi special… (not a big fan, it was rather bland)
The Artichoke special… (which she said tasted like spring!)
And the Morrocan Spiced Chickpea Cake with sautéed kale, broccoli, onions and jalapeños, red pepper coconut curry sauce, date apricot ginger chutney, and toasted almonds. My friend really liked this dish, especially the chutney. I did have a bite of this one and thought it was very tasty with a complex flavor profile, however it reminded me more of Indian than Morrocan cuisine.
I had to save some room for vegan dessert (which is another reason why I went for the salad), but everyone was pretty full so we all shared the Mexican Chocolate Brownie with caramelized bananas, french vanilla ice cream, candied pecans, and chocolate-ancho sauce. Not only is this dessert vegan, but it’s also gluten free. It really is a mystery to me how they make this dessert without eggs or milk, in my mind those are pretty essential ingredients for chocolate, brownies, and ice cream. But somehow they pulled it off, and it didn’t taste half bad! Sure the ice cream is not as creamy as it would normally be and the chocolate is a bit more bitter without the milk, and the brownie did have a slightly chalky flavor to it, but over all the dessert was pretty darn good.
I was really surprised at how tasty and flavorful all of the dishes were considering they were largely vegetable/grain based. I felt that they really focused on using fresh seasonal ingredients and a variety of spices and unique flavors to showcase what is generally considered a “side dish” by most. The best part was that when I left Candle 79, though I was satisfied, I wasn’t stuffed. It was funny though because the following morning at work, we all commented on how hungry we were when we woke up. But I don’t see that as a bad thing, to me it just meant that the cuisine was light and our bodies were able to process everything and were ready for more the next day!
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Candle 79 | www.candle79.com | 154 E. 79th Street