A Weekend in NYC, Part 2: Candle Cafe West and Blossom
by Ali Seiter
This Monday, I provided you with an overview of the delicious vegan whirlwind otherwise known as the New York City Vegetarian Food Festival, which took the Chelsea neighborhood by storm last Saturday and Sunday. Sampling the innovative food truck fare of the Cinnamon Snail for the first time; meeting and chatting with oodles of fellow vegan bloggers and activists; learning of new cruelty-free food, clothing, and cosmetic companies; and adding a new cookbook to my collection, I thoroughly enjoyed my festival-going experience, though it comprised only half of a lovely weekend in the city. Indeed, I also filled my Saturday with gourmet vegan eats, a refreshing yoga practice at my all-time favorite studio Jivamukti, and plenty of quality time with my dear ol’ folks (who recently adopted a vegan diet, whoo hoo!).
For lunch, my parents and I decided to tour the uptown neighborhood they’ll call home until the end of April by taking a leisurely stroll down Broadway to the impressively swanky Candle Cafe West. Over Thanksgiving, the three of us reveled in the fresh, wholesome, mouthwatering cuisine of Candle Cafe’s original Upper East Side location, so we regarded our return to Joy and Bart Potenza’s restaurant empire with extreme happiness and expectant tastebuds. Boasting a more spacious, sophisticated atmosphere than the eastside restaurant and incorporating longstanding favorite dishes from both Candle Cafe East and Candle 79 onto their menu, the westside Candle will surely impress high-heel-clad uptown shopping mavens and wheatgrass-slurping devoted hippie Candle patrons alike.
After settling in at a sleek black table sporting silver woven placemats, my parents and I began the arduous task of selecting a mere handful of items from Candle’s immensely appealing menu. We opted to begin our meal with the spring rolls—a rainbow-hued amalgamation of bright pink pickled cabbage, avocado, carrots, cucumber, apple, cilantro, and tempeh, all wrapped in rice paper, sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds, and served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce alongside a small pile of mixed greens. Providing a pleasing textural balance of crunchy veggies, chewy rice paper, and hearty tempeh, the rolls exuded a refreshing crispness nicely complemented by the uncutous, silky peanut sauce. The impressive appetizer left us in a state of eager anticipation toward our upcoming entrees.
A generous pile of tangy kale salad comprised the main dish of my meal. Tender kale expertly massaged with a light chive vinaigrette served as a bed for cubes of crunchy turnips, avocado, crisp haricot verts, sharp red onions, sunflower seeds, and a large portion of toothsome beluga lentils. I requested of the waiter to omit the glutinous spelt berries from my salad, but found the dish quite satisfying without them. An experienced kale salad-crafter myself, I would deem this particular rendition as a true winner.
My mother and father ordered the mezze plate and cashew-crusted seitan special, respectively, and both attested to the astronomical tastiness of each dish. Complete with smoky paprika hummus, quinoa tabouli, lemon-date chutney, marinated olives, and fluffy-flaky parata bread, the mezze plate fulfilled all of my mother’s desires for Mediterranean-inspired tasting plates (at least for this particular meal). I snuck a taste of the lemon-date chutney and positively swooned at its concentrated, intensely tangy sweetness. As for my father, he became an ardent seitan-admirer after scarfing down a bowl of seitan nachos at Caravan of Dreams, and Candle’s cashew-crusted version of the hearty wheat meat certainly rekindled his gastronomic love affair.
Contentedly sated after our nourishing and colorful meal, my parents and I meandered further downtown with a final destination of the Jivamukti Yoga Studio near Union Square, where I planned to bliss out in Narayani Nicole’s 3:00 open class while my folks explored the West Village. On the way to 14th Street, we encountered a stand at the Union Square Greenmarket hawking vegan muffins and kale-sweet potato farinatas, a chanting group of incense-burning hare krishnas, and a life-sized chess tournament. Man, I love New York.
After traipsing about Union Square and reveling in plenty of vinyasa sequences, respectively, my parents and I had worked up quite an appetite, which we cheerfully satisfied with our reservations at the chic, upscale, gourmet vegan eatery of Blossom. My mother and I had experienced the Blossom empire once before during our premiere jaunt to the city two winters ago, when we sampled the more casual fare of Cafe Blossom on the Upper West Side. Utterly impressed and yearning for more, we arrived at Blossom’s elegant black exterior and entered with a feeling of comfort as the restaurant’s promise of culinary genius enveloped us in a warm, aromatic hug.
Before I begin regaling the wonders of my family’s dinner, I must first apologize for the absolutely abhorrent picture quality. While Blossom’s candle-lit dining room certainly contributes well to its intimate atmosphere, it does not promote prime photography!
To commence our meal, my father and I shared our second sushi-inspired appetizer of the day—a plate of raw sweet potato rolls stuffed with thick strips of fresh coconut meat, julienned jicama, carrots, bell peppers, scallions, and avocado, served alongside an tangy almond-ginger dipping sauce and garnished with microgreens. Though scrumptious and pleasingly light, the rolls did not impress me as much as I had originally hoped. Perhaps one could attribute the dish’s lack of…uniqueness? creativity? substance?…to the fact that Blossom does not serve exclusively raw cuisine, and therefore does not specialize in gourmet un-cookery. Needless to say, I fully expected Blossom to galvanize my tastebuds much further with my entree.
And galvanize, it did. At the waitress’ suggestion, I decided to partake in one of Blossom’s more signature dishes—the pistachio & pepper-crusted tofu. Though the restaurant usually serves the tofu over a root vegetable crepe, they appeal to their gluten-free customers by substituting a bed of garlicky, tender braised kale. Swimming in a creamy lemon-truffle emulsion and garnished with frisee lettuce drizzled in a red beet vinaigrette, the dish proved perfectly composed and superbly balanced in both flavor and texture. After sopping up as much of the orgasmically delectable lemon-truffle emulsion as possible with the tofu and kale, I exercised every ounce of my manners to prevent me from licking the rest off of the plate.
The southern boy he is, my father excitedly opted for the hickory-basted tempeh served over collard greens and roasted fingerling potatoes topped with a horseradish creme fraiche. Expressing similar plate-licking aspirations, he deemed the barbeque sauce as more impressive than many he’s sampled in the past, and asked me the next day how much more unhealthy the dish would become had he somehow substituted the tempeh with the same amount of brisket. Not only would the calories, cholesterol, and saturated fat levels skyrocket, but it would also cause infinitely more harm to both the environment and the slaughtered cow. Hearing this information and contemplating for a moment, my father avowed, “I’ll take the tempeh instead.” Ah, he’s learning.
Finally, my mother decided upon the cauliflower risotto—a refreshing, lemony dish of diced cauliflower “rice” and shiitake mushrooms served alongside four crispy polenta croquettes and a baby spinach emulsion. Again seduced by Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, my mother greatly enjoyed her meal. I snuck a bite of the cauliflower risotto, only to experience a flavor explosion of tangy, citrusy goodness.
Though thoroughly impressed with Blossom’s dessert selection, all of our tummies proved too full of edible magic to partake in any after-dinner treats—I suppose we’ll just have to return to the restaurant another time!
After checking another two eateries off of my extensive list of NYC vegan restaurants to visit, I look forward to the eleven days of metropolitan eating adventures in which my parents and I will partake during my much-needed college spring break, which will include a day-trip to Brooklyn to sample the renowned yummies as Dunwell Doughnuts and Champs Family Bakery. First, however, I plan to enjoy four days in the hippie-mecca of Austin, TX, galavanting around with my best friend since third grade. Rest assured, many blog posts will ensue.
Until next time, Ali.