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Un-Granola

Guide for sophisticated vegetarian dining

Category Archives: New York City, NY

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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