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Un-Granola

Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Monthly Archives: December 2011

The cheerful folks working at Linger do not want you to linger. This is a busy place, and they’d really like to seat the surly party of three that’s been waiting in the bar for 45 minutes. So take it all in — food, atmosphere, decor — while you can.

Since Linger is located on the site of the old Olinger mortuary, this hustle and sense of time moving too quickly seem appropriate, a reminder of our days rushing by. (The next time you’re in a mortuary, waffle fries may not be involved.)

Linger’s menu claims to offer street food, but many of the items, like risotto, are not usually found on food carts or sold on sticks. I think street food is shorthand for eclectic.

The menu lists a few soups, then goes on to group dishes by their region of origin (Eurasia/Spice Bazaar and South Asia/Bhindi Bazaar are two.)  The menu also features a chart marking each item as vegetarian, gluten-free, or available nut-free. There are plenty of vegetarian/vegan options, many of them featuring protein. The Mongolian BBQ, for example, is available with tofu.

All dishes are meant to be shared, and our server recommended that we order 2 dishes per person. I was going to get the raw samosas, but his description of them as “dehydrated nutrition bars” that are “not for everyone” prompted a move to the relative safety of bhel puri, Indian snack food made with puffed rice and chickpeas.  We also ordered the masala dosa (again from the South Asia section of the menu), the roasted butternut squash with black quinoa and pomegranate, which was listed under Eurasia, and some meat dishes.

It would be good if Linger provided serving utensils, since dishes are shared and double dipping is hard to avoid. Best to come here with non-sniffly friends.

The bhel puri came out first:

It was delicious though a touch soggy — maybe this dish waited too long before being served. The tamarind and yogurt toppings were tart, and cashews (considered the rich man’s nut in India) gave this a pleasing texture.

Our order of butternut squash came out next:

We all loved this dish. The colors of the squash, black quinoa, frisee, and pomegranate seeds made it visually pop, and the tartness of the seeds contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the squash. It’s encouraging to see quinoa, a source of veggie protein, used in restaurant dishes, especially one as creative as this.

Our masala dosa followed closely behind:

Even my mother (a great cook and master of Tamil delicacies such as masala dosa) says that this is one dish worth ordering at a restaurant: home cooks without special equipment can’t get pans hot enough to make this rice and lentil crepe as crisp as it ought to be. Linger’s dosa had crunch, and the non-traditional brussel sprout and potato filling was well-seasoned. In Tamil Nadu, masala dosa would not traditionally be served with tamarind date chutney, but rather with a lentil stew called sambar. (Of course, no South Indian restaurant would be located inside a mortuary, either.) This was a fun, tasty rendition of a South Indian classic.

We’d chowed down on the bhel puri, butternut squash, and masala dosa by the time my friends’ meat dishes arrived. Linger’s tapas-style, bring it out as it’s ready approach means that the vegetarian experience can be a bit awkward. Luckily, my friends had set aside enough of our three veggie dishes that I could eat those while they turned to the meat plates. So best to come here with friends who are generous as well as being non-sniffly.

We ended our evening with an order of kunefe, a dish with phyllo strands, clotted cream, and jam.

It wasn’t too sweet, and the contrast of crunchy phyllo shards with the clotted cream was nice.

Linger is full of fun touches, like a toe tag on the corner of the dessert menu and the kitschy fans near the entrance:

But take it all in quickly — this is a happening spot, and your time here will be over soon.

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Paggi House is a surprise. Nestled in the back of a deep lot, surrounded by condos and Taco Cabana, near the hike and bike trail, just across the river from downtown, is an 1840s house serving delicious and expensive food. It’s one of these delightful juxtapositions that rapidly-changing Austin still offers.

The restaurant underwent a massive renovation a couple of years ago. I never saw the before, but the after is a series of gorgeous outdoor and indoor spaces. Paggi House feels like two separate ventures: the huge patio buzzes with a young happy hour crowd, while the two indoor dining rooms that flank the entry hall are sedate and elegant. (The restaurant wisely offers complimentary valet parking, which is nice given the busy street it’s on.)

It’s a good thing the setting is unique and beautiful, because the old school menu has little to offer vegetarians. On the night we visited, three of the five salads had meat, and there wasn’t a single vegetarian item in the starter section of the menu. There was just one vegetarian entree.

I ordered the simple salad. I’m sure the very nice waitstaff would have modified one of the other salads to make it vegetarian. But we had a show to catch, and I didn’t want to risk a misstep.

The salad, simple as advertised, still managed to surprise.

See the little black specks on the plate? Black sea salt. Sharp flavor and crunch, clearly regular salt’s glamorous cousin. It was just a salad, but one I’d happily eat again.

A quick word on the wine list: open your wallet. The few $45 bottles on the list were pretty unexciting, and there very few options in the $75-95 range. My friend found a Four Graces Pinot Noir that was absolutely delicious ($85), but the list nudges you t0 $100 and above.

My entree — the sole vegetarian option, ahem — was the butternut squash risotto with wild mushrooms and sage.

It was decadent, buttery and wonderful. The tempura fried butternut squash that topped the dish added crunch and depth of flavor.

We skipped dessert to make our show at the Zach Scott, and that risotto was dessert enough anyway. Kudos to the waitstaff and the kitchen for getting us out on time.

I wish they had more than vegetarian entree or featured vegetarian protein on their one offering. If you’re dining with a group of vegetarians, this place would be boring — no sharing of plates, no need to peruse the menu.

But for a mixed group up up a fine meal in a unique setting, this is a solid choice. Just check the menu (which is not a sample menu but the real thing, updated seasonally) and make sure you like your one option!

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You probably have a beloved friend who can’t stop making snarky comments about the deprivations vegetarians face. If you truly love this person, and you have some cash to spare, take them to Pure Food and Wine in Gramercy Park.  (Tell your friend afterward that the food is vegan + raw, and see if she believes you.)

I went with two beloved friends — neither of them snarky — and Pure amazed from start to finish as we sat in the middle of the womb-like red dining room.

We started with a bowl of the house-cured olives, a dish that would be a throwaway at a lesser restaurant.  Citrus and fennel made the olives here interesting, even addictive.

Our entrees arrived very quickly. Since the food is raw, I imagine that most of it is prepared ahead of time and assembled very quickly. One of my friends had the spanakopita. The texture of the fake phyllo pastry was pleasing, and the almond feta and cucumber yogurt were remarkable for being dairy-free.

My other friend ordered the sweet corn and cashew tamales with chili spiced portabella. We all agreed that this was the best looking, best tasting dish of the night. Mole, the Mexican chocolate-based sauce, is generally made with chicken stock, so I rarely get to have it. I’d put Pure’s dark, rich mole up against more traditional ones in my hometown of Austin, which takes Mexican food pretty seriously.  The corn and cashew filling inside the corn husk had a satisfying texture, and, as with the spanakopita, the dairy sauce (cashew coconut sour cream in this dish) was fabulous.

My dish, Pad Thai with kelp noodles and baby bok choy, was very tasty. The noodles were firm, with no overtly kelp flavor, and the dish overall had a bright tamarind flavor.

On to dessert – we ordered the chocolate semifreddo. The tartness of the accompanying passionfruit sorbet complemented the richness of the chocolate. It went quickly.

One of my friends would have liked a coffee, which Pure doesn’t serve. But there are plenty of coffee places down the street. Very few places serve vegan, raw food of this caliber. I can’t wait to round up some snarky friends and show them how astonishing and great vegetarian food can be.

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Gobo‘s website has an “audio off” feature. You should use it. Otherwise, you’ll hear someone talk about food for the five senses. It  seems kind of stuffy, which the restaurants themselves are not. I recently had lunch at the Upper East Side outpost of Gobo and dinner at the one in the West Village.

Both restaurants are clean and modern, with warm touches like the salvaged wood art (shown below at the UES location) and a pretty window display (West Village). The West Village location is bigger and has a small communal seating area in addition to tables. It is really loud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The UES Gobo has a weekend brunch menu where you can get two courses for $20. Choices on the day I visited included root vegetable crepes, breakfast burritos stuffed with hummus,  frittata made with mushrooms, and sandwiches. The dinner menu is divided into quick bites, small and large plates, and salads and soups, as well as a small section describing some of the specialized ingredients used. The lunch and dinner menus are largely Asian-inspired, with some detours into pastas and casseroles. True to the Asian influence, there are bubble teas as well as smoothies and juices.

For lunch, I had the grilled soy cutlet sandwich with cashew puree spread on seven grain bread, served with white bean soup and a mesclun salad.

The sandwich was a little dry but the soy cutlet and sundried tomato gave it a satisfying, chewy texture. I would have preferred a sharper flavor and would have preferred mustard to the cashew spread, but it was a delicious sandwich overall. The soup had great herb flavor — overall, a lot of good food for $15, including tip.

I had the soy protein and cashew spinach rolls with jade mushrooms when I visited the West Village Gobo for dinner. It was a huge plate of food:

The pan-fried rolls, topped with a mustard sauce, were flavorful and delicious. I could eat a plate of those. But instead I had a giant mound of mashed potato, which didn’t really do much to set off the rolls. The accompanying vegetables and tofu were good but not distinctly flavored.

Overall, it was a fine plate of food that made creative use of soy protein – love those rolls! I’m sure the risotto and casseroles at Gobo are fine. But the Asian options seem more inventive and are totally worth checking out.

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If this blog were called Granola, I would love Candle Cafe. It is an earnest spot  where Upper East Side vegetarians carefully hang their expensive purses on their chairs before tucking into plates of mush. (I saw lots of plates go by, and they all looked roughly the same: mushy.) This is a great place for a healthful bite, if one wants a break from butter and cream. The food is organic, and they have a blackboard listing the veggies on offer that day:

The decor is drab, with brown curtains and white walls. The narrow space is not unusual for NYC, but it is awkward to eat while people wait impatiently for your table.

The menu varied: edamame, spring rolls, quesadillas, stir frys, lasagna, salads. Lots of dishes with tofu and seitan, which is great for vegetarians needing a protein fix.  They also have organic wine, as well as beer, smoothies, juices and juice cocktails.

I ordered the miso-ginger stir fry. While I waited, a loud woman loomed over me, complaining that her last batch of juice to go had apples, which she hadn’t wanted. The servers’ cheerfulness didn’t crack as they gave her a replacement bottle.

My stir fry came. It had lots of vegetables, including broccoli, red peppers, and mushroom, all on a bed of brown rice. The miso-ginger sauce was flavorful, and the tofu was fine. It was the kind of wholesome dish I could have made myself.

I can only assume that the glowing reviews on Yelp are from  people who don’t cook at all and appreciate the options available at a vegetarian restaurant. Or who have been coming here for years and have a sentimental attachment. Or who don’t want to pay $3-5 more per entree at a more inventive vegetarian restaurant.

This place can’t hold a candle (ha) to Dirt Candy, Pure Food and Wine, or even V-Note just up the street.

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