Eating vegetarian in New York City, October 2009

December 20, 2009 at 7:03 pm (Restaurant review, Trip report)


In October I spent ten days in New York City, and ate out at a number of new restaurants, and a few old ones.  We leaned pretty heavily towards Italian this trip, pretty much spurning all cuisines originating east of Italy.  Next time we go to NYC we’ll have to focus on Ethiopian, Chinese, and Indian!

This post took me a long time to finish, but hopefully I’ll soon finish up my post about all the cooking we did while we were in NYC, including the cooking class Derek and I took at the Natural Gourmet cooking school.

  • Babbo: My favorite meal was at Babbo.  I started with a roasted vegetable salad, which was tasty but not particularly exciting.  For my main dish I ordered the beet casunzei.  They were similar to raviolis stuffed with beets and ricotta cheese, which had been cooked in a light butter sauce.  (I don’t care for browned butter sauces but this butter sauce was subtle and not greasy.)  The casunzei were topped with poppy seeds (which looked very pretty but I couldn’t really taste them), smoked ricotta salata (which was the perfect counterpoint to the sweet beets), and thin slices of scallion.  I really loved the dish.  It was comfort food with a flair.  Babbo has the recipe on their website, and now I want to try making them myself.   Derek and I also shared a side of beet farroto, which was very simple but delicious.  I love the “pop” of the farro kernels when you bite into them, and the parmigiano really went well with the beets, ratcheting the umame level of the dish up a couple notches.  For dessert we shared the “Schiacciata D’Uva” with Concord Grapes, Honey Butter and Honey Vanilla Gelato and the chocolate hazelnut cake.  Derek liked them both and both were tasty but I wouldn’t order either again.  Also, the schiacciata, although it tasted good, wasn’t real schiaaciata–it was more like a white cake with grapes in it.
  • Franny’s:  I very much enjoyed my provolone, tomato, and onion pizza at Franny’s.  It wasn’t the best pizza I’ve ever had, but it was very tasty and the crust was excellent.  We were in a big group and shared a bunch of appetizers, none of which I can recall specifically, but I remember enjoying some of them a lot.  However, my friend Katrina, who eats vegetarian and gluten-free,  was disappointed with the appetizers she ordered as her main dish.  The pumpkin, in particular, she thought was pretty boring and under-seasoned.  All the meat eaters in our group loved the meaty Italian appetizers they ordered, and Derek swooned over his clam pizza.  The four of us shared two desserts, both of which were excellent.  I loved the intense lemon flavor from the zest in the cannolo filling (although I could have done without the cannolo shell), and the flavor of the panna cotta was the amazingly pure but intense taste of fresh cream.   I’d definitely go back.
  • Ess-a-bagel:  We got bagels from Ess-a-bagel two Sundays in a row.  As always, they were massive, and delicious.   The everything bagel is too salty for me, but I love the onion bagels and the cinnamon raisin bagels.  I also tried a whole grain everything bagel for the first time, and it was good.    Since I can’t get bagels here in Germany I need to start making them myself.
  • Candle Cafe:  We ate at candle cafe once a few years ago, and I remember enjoying it.  I also thought it would be a good place to take Katrina, since veggie restaurants are usually more accommodating of gluten-free diets than standard restaurants.   Although they did have a gluten-free menu, Katrina wasn’t that thrilled with what she ordered.  (I think she got the mezze plate and one of the salads.)  Derek and Spoons both ordered sandwiches, and Derek enjoyed his, but happily shared it with me when I asked for bites.   I ordered the special seitan of the day, and the plate was huge and tasty, but slightly boring.  It was kind of a mish mash of tasty flavors that didn’t really add up to much more than the sum of the parts.  Also, I thought it was significantly overpriced.  For an appetizer, Spoons and I shared the seitan chimichurri, which were tasty, but not as marvelous as I remember them being last time.  Derek started with the nori rolls, which tasted like something I’d try to make.  I think nori rolls and brown rice just don’t go together.  For me, the highlight of the dinner was Derek’s smoothie, which was a seasonal specialty (sweet potato maybe?), but quite expensive.  Overall, the food at Candle Cafe was satisfactory, but expensive.  I won’t rush back next time I’m in NYC.  I think I’d rather try out a few of the many great ethnic restaurants.
  • Lupa:  Derek and I missed our return flight and had to stay in NYC an extra day.  We decided not to waste the opportunity, and went out for lunch one last time.  Lupa, like Babbo, is another Mario Batalli restaurant, so I had high hopes for it.  We started with a side of roasted delicata squash, which was perfectly fine but not that exciting.  For my main I ordered the very simple Spaghetti con Pomodoro.  It was tasty, but not as good as the one I got in Florence.  I don’t think I’d order it again.
  • Hampton chutney company:  I’ve been to this small SoHo dosa place a couple of times, and I’ve always been disappointed.  It’s too expensive for a quick lunch place, but you order at the counter and there’s no seating.  More importantly, although the ingredients are all high quality, the flavors just don’t come together properly.  We ended up stopping here for lunch because we were extremely hungry and having trouble finding a place that Derek, my sister, and I could all agree on.  Three three of us shared a traditional masala dosa and a masala deluxe.  Derek scarfed up the dosas happily, but Hanaleah and I weren’t that excited by either the dosas or the chutneys.  I won’t return.
  • Blue Hill:  Derek really loves Blue Hill.  Now that he’s been several times he wanted me to try it.  Derek’s parents both ordered the swiss chard and ricotta ravioli as an appetizer, so I decided to go for the soup.  I remember that it was tasty, but I don’t remember what kind of soup it was, which is not a good sign.  Derek says it was a tomato soup with “pizza flavors.” I also tasted the ravioli, and it tasted good, but wasn’t nearly as interesting as the ravioli at Babbo.  There was only one vegetarian main dish, and it didn’t appeal to me (it had eggplant in it I think), so I decided to order a vegetable plate.  They ended up bringing out a bunch of the vegetables sides:  brussels sprouts, jerusalem artichokes, marinated beets, and roasted potatoes.  I really liked the brussels sprouts, which were shredded and sauteed with pistachios.  The potatoes and beets, however, were very plain and a bit boring.  I also found the texture of the jerusalem artichokes a bit offputting, although Derek and his father thought otherwise.  They loved them and quickly scarfed them up.  We ordered two fruit-centered desserts.  The first was the “apple” dessert, which had an apple terrine, some sort of sorbet, and salted caramel.  It was quite light and just not that satisfying.  The second was the “grape” dessert, which had a number of components based on peanut butter and concorde grapes.  Again, it was quite light and not satisfying.  I’ve had much better PB&J themed desserts.
  • Momofuku milk bar:  This place is weird.  I do not understand what all the hype is about.  I thought the stuffing soft serve was pretty nasty–basically celery salt ice cream.  The cereal milk ice cream tasted pretty much like cardboard.  Even their cookies and pies did not excite me that much.  Given the long lines and lack of seating, I have no desire to return.

1 Comment

  1. susan said,

    thanks for the update. I must opine on the wonders of Ess-A-bagel. They are absolutely delicious. I ate one of the Everything bagels and found it very good and not to salty at all. It is the first time I liked an everything bagel . But oh those bagels….

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