Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Finger-Lickin' Good in the Finger Lakes

Sure, that title sounds much dirtier than intended, but for every greasy spoon that you'll find upstate in the Finger Lakes region of New York, you'll be delighted by some hidden gems as well. And not just the 70-plus wineries that dot the 414!

During a race weekend at Watkins Glen, I expected restaurants to throw some veggies in oil and slap 'em on a plate with overdone pasta and call it a viable veggie option. But lo and behold, the dishes I sampled were flavorful, satisfying, and after a day in the garage and at the track, they were notably filling. Maybe I'd written off upstate eateries prematurely. If you're ever in the region, here are some places that every veggie should visit!

Red Newt Cellars- Good food, good vino, and a great view of Seneca Lake! Not knowing beforehand where Red Newt Bistro was situated, I couldn't help but marvel at our good fortune of viewing the deep orange and red sunset reflecting off the lake from the bistro's floor to ceiling windows. The woodsy interior of Red Newt keeps the vibe casual, but there's still an element of sophistication to the space. The menu offers some items that you'd find at any cafe in the city- quesadillas, salads, spring rolls, and grilled meats- but their vegetarian specials were particularly standout! We started with a blueberry & garlic chevre ravioli appetizer... and yes, it's just as fabulous as it sounds. All the flavors were delicate and perfectly balanced, and heartier than one would expect! Though I normally disdain copious amounts of cream sauce, the roasted garlic-parmesan sauce with basil made for a palate-perfect finish. For my entree, I chose the vegan stuffed zucchini- with a wild rice, tomato and mushroom filling, the dish was sweet and earthy, with a good bite to it. Delish! I really loved how Red Newt incorporated the fresh upstate produce into every menu item, and even more so, I loved that their menu states that they are accommodating to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets. Forget the Watkins Glen speedway area- Red Newt is what's really worth racing to.

The Stone Cat Cafe- We'd looked up the menu for Stone Cat Cafe prior to stopping by, and with several menu items dotted with V's (for veg-friendly options), I felt confident in my choice. Stone Cat exceeded my expectations with what I can only describe as an upscale-hippie interior (you'll see what I mean when you go there!) and a lovely patio area facing the vineyards behind the cafe. We started with an appetizer special- beet salad with goat cheese, cucumbers and fresh herbs, drizzled with white balsamic vinegar. Sound simple? Sure, but when you've got just-picked sweet beets and refreshing cucumber, a simple salad is pure heaven. For my entree, I was treated to firm slices of maple cured smoked tofu, served with coconut sticky rice, grilled squash, and finished with peanut sauce. Though it might sound like a possible clash, all the components came together with the mild peanut sauce, and the coconut rice also boasted a subtle flavor as well. In general, I'm delighted to see tofu on any cafe menu, but when it's actually cooked right, it makes my night! As we dined, we caught a glimpse of one of the cooks dashing out back and actually picking fresh herbs from the garden- I shouldn't have been surprised, but this New Yorker was definitely impressed. Stone Cat cooking is the way every restaurant should be cooking!

Glen Mountain Bakery & Market- With an exterior facade in need of a paint job, you'd never guess that this small bakery-deli-coffee bar would offer up great sandwiches as well as vegetarian lunch options. But as they had the rest of the weekend, the surprises kept on coming, and I found a variety of vegan options here too (five sandwiches, to be exact, along with veggie chili)! Since we needed to rush back to the racetrack, I ordered a Sanctuary Sandwich to go- slices of grilled seitan, lettuce and tomato, with spicy mustard on a baguette. Though GMBM wasn't particularly generous with the amount of seitan on my sandwich, it was still tasty, and I was satisfied and ready for changing tires and checking brakes when I was through. Also offered were veggie wraps, a tofu burger, a seitan BLT, and a roasted red pepper sandwich. The cafe itself is nothing fancy and the service is a bit slow, but when you can treat yourself to a good sandwich, freshly baked breads, a variety of fresh brewed coffees, and a pastry counter that my boyfriend needed to pry me away from, I'm happy that GMBM has sunk its cash into it's quality food rather than it's decor.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Restaurant Week Roundup

Here it is, the moment you've been waiting for... the Summer Restaurant Week Roundup! Though most participating restaurants have limited vegetarian choices (and hardly any vegan selections), some places do elevate vegetarian dining and are really worth a visit. Here's how the three I visited stack up:

Butter: This resto is better known for the Paris Hilton crowd and it's Food Network maven head chef, Alexandra Guarnaschelli, than it's food. I visited Butter on a Wednesday evening, and certainly in part to Restaurant Week, it was a scene of decked out young girls trying to play spot-the-celebrity. Outside of the wannabe clientele and the dimly lit, super trendy main dining room with fake branches sprawling across the vaulted ceiling that screamed trying too hard, we did have an overall enjoyable night. A vegetarian option was available in both the appetizer and entree offerings; vegans, unfortuantely, will find themelves stuck, as even the regular menu offers no vegan options. I started with an heirloom tomato salad with basil and French feta, drizzled in balsamic- I'm not sure when two or three small slices of tomatoes, a few tiny pieces of feta counted as a real salad, but considering models "eat" here, I guess I should've expected as much! My entree made up for my paltry salad- the wild spinach and dandelion tortellini in a lemon creme fraiche was a bit heavy and creamy for my liking, but the flavor combination of lemon plus the slight bitterness of the greens made for a good pairing. For dessert, I'll admit I thought the raspberry beignets would be a little less like Dunkin Donuts, but there they were, with a vanilla dipping sauce, and I wondered if asking for a Coolatta with my beignets would be too much. I eagerly stole a bite of my date's lime sorbet, which was a much better choice of dessert! The meal, overall, was pretty good, but the banter with our funny and personable waiter, Billy, was what really made our night. If you love trendy eateries with limited veg options, Butter is worth a visit; otherwise, do as vegans would do as skip on the Butter.

Butter, 415 Lafayette Street, between E. 4th and Astor Place, 212-253-2828

Cafe Boulud: A cafe usually implies casual dining, but at a recent lunch at Cafe Boulud, the formal dining atmosphere exceeded my expectations, and it was nice to be in a sophisticated resto after a night at trendy Butter. As usual, with no vegan options and limited vegetarian options on the Restaurant Week menu (though you will find more, albeit expensive, options on their regular lunch menu), I hoped Cafe Boulud would do right by vegetarian dining- and I'm happy to report this was not just the best meal I've had for Restaurant Week, but the best meal I've had in awhile! I started with a chilled carrot ginger soup with lime and drizzled with tarragon oil- amazing! Unlike many carrot-ginger soups, Cafe Boulud's was neither bland, nor overpowered by the ginger. A hint of lime and the tarragon combination was a fine addition, and I quickly devoured the little bit of perfection in a bowl. For an entree, my veg option was a spinach and goat cheese ravioli in a tomato marmalade and basil oil. Though I do wish that restaurants would go beyond just making stuffed pasta as the sole vegetarian entree, this ravioli was also quite good. The tang from the goat cheese was a nice complement to the sweet tomato marmalade, and the pasta had a perfect al dente bite. A beautifully presented vanilla creme brulee with raspberry sorbet and poached raspberries rounded out our lunch- though decadent, it was not heavy. After my dessert plate was cleared, I leaned back in my chair, completely satisfied and spoiled by the whole Cafe Boulud experience. Vegetarians looking to treat themselves... you've struck gold!

Cafe Boulud, 20 E. 76th Street, between Madison and Fifth, 212-772-2600

Del Posto: Admittedly, I'm a huge Mario Batali fan, and having lunched at Del Posto for Restaurant Week last year, I was excited to repeat the culinary experience again this summer. But beyond my high expectations, this Del Posto visit was just disappointing- and even more discouraging, the menu was exactly the same as last year's. One of the vegetarian appetizers, a chilled minestrone soup, was just plain bland this time around; the solo vegetarian entree, the spinach garganelli with a slow-cooked tomato sauce, was chewy... and beyond al dente chewy, it was microwave chewy. I was shocked. My dessert, a hazelnut chocolate pudding, was also mediocre- a kid could probably mix chocolate pudding and Nutella together for the same effect. For a restaurant of that caliber, and one I had been excited about just last summer, this was a real shame. I understand that some restaurants don't always put their expensive, star dishes on their Restaurant Week menu, but at least these less expensive items should at least be cooked properly to entice diners to return. Perhaps it was just a particular cook that day, who knows... but I do know that of the restaurants in the Batali empire, I'm sticking with Lupa.

Del Posto, 85 Tenth Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets, 212-497-8090

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Eggplant Rollups

Among other items you can throw on the grill this summer, really, nothing is tastier than a thinly sliced grilled eggplant. And though many of us New Yorkers don't have this strange contraption known as a grill, this dish can easily be made in the oven and served as a delish Italian appetizer at your next summer fete. It's a healthier, less messy answer to the eggplant rollatini that you might find as antipaste at a catered event. Sure, I have a weakness for cheese, but that doesn't mean that I should overdo it with a ton of ricotta and mozzarella! Because you'll be using a few simple ingredients for this recipe, make sure you buy the freshest that you can find.

The Whats:

* 10 thin slices of eggplant (one large eggplant will suffice)
* 5 cherry tomatoes, halved
* 10 large basil leaves
* 8 oz mozzarella bufala, divided into 10 small chunks
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 1/2 tsp. each salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley

The Hows:

1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees, or preheat grill burner to moderately high heat for ten minutes, then reduce to moderate heat.

2) In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and spices. Generously brush olive oil onto both sides of the eggplant. On a lightly oiled grill rack, grill eggplants until tender, about 15 minutes, turning over halfway through cooking. Transfer to a large platter. You can also bake the eggplant on a large baking sheet for 5 to 8 minutes on each side.

3) On one end of each eggplant slice, place a basil leaf; on top of the basil leaf, place half a cherry tomato and a ball of the mozzarella bufala. Roll up the eggplant slice and secure with a toothpick, with the seam of the roll facing down. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices, basil, tomatoes, and cheese.

4) Place a sheet of foil over the grill, and arrange eggplant rollups over the foil. With the grill cover closed, cook eggplant rolls for another 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted; similarly, bake eggplant rolls on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from grill, and serve hot.

101 Simple Salads and more

hey all! Just a heads up there are plenty of good reads in today's Dining Section in the New York Times. Be sure to check out Mark Bittman's feature, 101 Simple Salads for the Season. He's actually written series of these in summers past (like last July's 101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics and Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in Ten Minutes or Less from July '07) and they're a great jumping off point for recipe ideas and make for quick dinners and sides. With Bittman choosing to restrict the amount of meat in his diet, you'll find plenty of vegetarian options.

I am bugged by their Temporary Vegetarian column though. I mean, why temporary? With a solid vegetarian population in the city, a more widespread awareness of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, and, as mentioned above, a Times columnist writing about how many of his new recipes are largely vegetarian, why would such a column be a temporary fixture? The writer, Elaine Louie, is pretty straightforward and doesn't write a particularly entertaining column (though with historical bits in her pieces, they sure are interesting!), but they've got some solid recipes and could take it up a notch if they wanted to!

New York Times, I'm telling ya, if you want to pack a vegetarian flavor punch in your dining column on the regular, I'd be MORE than happy to do it! :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cucumber Melon Salad

Most of the recipes on this blog are my own, but when a recipe that I find online sounds too good to be true, I have to try it... and pass along the recipe of course, because sharing is caring!

I tweaked this recipe for a cucumber melon salsa accompaniment on and though I certainly wouldn't be using the recipe with meat, obviously, I thought this would be just a sweet crunchy side to a veggie burger, or to some variety of vegan potato salad. I also tossed this with baby greens and tofu for a refreshing summer salad. The uses are endless; I recommend whipping this up and finding your own favorite way to serve it.

The Whats:

* 2 cups diced cucumber- I used 2 or 3 Kirby cucumbers
* 1 cup diced cantelope
* 1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
* 4 1/2 tsp. olive oil
* 4 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
* 2 tsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
* 2 tsp. fresh basil, finely chopped
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1/2 tsp. pepper

The Hows:

1) Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, and stir until coated. Refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mountain Rise Granola

After a weekend in the wilderness known as upstate New York, I came back with not only a bit of color, mosquito bites, and a new appreciation for country bars, but lots of delicious country goodies as well! I love finding new vegetarian and vegan food products and sharing my delish discoveries, and this my dear readers, is a good one!

We stopped at the McEnroe Organic Farmer's Market outside of Millerton, NY and were treated to farm fresh veggies and fruits (black raspberries are my new fave!), flavorful sandwiches and salads from their lunch counter, and locally produced organic products, like Ronnybrook ice cream & shakes, breads from Berkshire Mountain Bakery, and my new favorite granola, a vegan variety from Mountain Rise Farms.

Though the brand has had some exposure as a Food Network Food Pick, as proclaimed on the back of the bag, I can't believe I've been missing out on this amazing granola- not too sweet, a smooth grainy texture, and big chunks as opposed to small grain clusters. And since it's homemade, organic, and local, I'm more than happy to keep bringing them business. I had a bowl of this granola for breakfast, and remained full and satisfied until past 1pm, and I bet this would be a great snack stash (among the others I listed in a previous blog). Check it out!

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Gotham is a Vegetarian's Best Friend"

Featured in AM NY today- "Gotham is a Vegetarian's Best Friend", commenting on how veg-friendly New York has become- yay! Citing a Vegetarian Times poll where 3.2% of Americans, or 7.3 million people, identify themselves as vegetarian, the article also lists a number of the city's well known vegetarian restaurants, like Candle Cafe, Angelica Kitchen, and Counter.

Give it a read!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Street Sweets

After perusing Time Out New York's list of top food trucks in the city and in the boroughs, I knew I had to investigate. Surely it's my civic duty as a New Yorker and as the Friendly Veg to report on where the best goodies are parked!

I decided to hit up Midtown newcomer Street Sweets, parked on E. 55th between Park and Madison. You can't miss the bright blue truck and the friendly face of co-founder Samira Mahboubian inside. Inspired by an Italian tradition of slicing croissants and filling them with Nutella, Street Sweets brings it to a whole 'nutha level with Nutella, mocha/vanilla/chocolate pastry cream, marshmallow cream, dulce de leche, and fruit preserves. The truck also serves up cookies from One Girl Cookies, whoopie pies, cupcakes, savory quiches, and even homemade granola.

I devoured a pumpkin whoopie pie with a cream cheese filling- heavenly! And since their specialty is filled croissants, I simply had to order a croissant with Nutella- you know, in the name of reporting. And though it was delish as well, it was too big to be a snack- I would've much preferred this as a breakfast treat rather than for the middle of the afternoon. Their treats are fairly priced- no more than $2.75 for each of my treats- but nothing particularly standout.

My beloved Treats Truck has a little competition! Still, if you're looking for a small treat, the Treats Truck reigns supreme. If you're looking to really treat yourself and you plan on exercising hardcore after you get out of work, then by all means pick up a Nutella croissant at Street Sweets!

Next stop, The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. With a name like that and a rainbow cone painted on the truck, how could you not want to check it out? I'm hunting this one down next week...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Midsummer Night Soiree tonight

If you're a fan of GreenDrinks NYC, you might already be attending tonight's Midsummer Night Soiree- an eight year anniversary party celebrating the eco-networking group.

Sounds like a great way to meet new people and enjoy the lovely weather we're having for a change! The party's at Tavern on the Green, from 6pm to 10pm, and tix are only $15 at the door.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pea Pesto Potato Salad

If you'd like another variation on potato salad, spring peas (even frozen ones will do), fresh basil, and parmiggiano reggiano make an even better accompaniment to potatoes! Try this summery, pesto-style version of potato salad!

The Whats:

* 1 28 oz. bag of creamer potatoes, sliced in half or quartered
* 1 bag frozen peas, defrosted
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
* 4 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/4 cup parmiggiano reggiano, grated
* salt & pepper to taste
* 1/4 crushed walnuts
* 1 small red onion, diced

The Hows:

1) Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil potatoes until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.

2) Using a food processor, process peas, olive oil, basil leaves, garlic, and grated cheese until smooth. Alternately, for a chunkier texture, mash the above ingredients with a potato masher, stirring occasionally. Add a tablespoon or two more olive oil if needed.

3) Add the pea pesto, walnuts, red onion, and salt & pepper to the potatoes, and stir with a large spoon. Garnish with basil, and serve warm.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Spicy Vegan Potato Salad

To continue with my posts about my hatred of all things made with mayo, I've cleaned up yet another nasty mayo-filled mess- the snooze-worthy potato salad that you'd normally find becoming rancid under the summer sun. Using the remainder of the ingredients from my Asian spin on coleslaw, I decided to give this potato salad a wakeup call. This recipe gets even spicier once you refrigerate it for a few hours, so if you're not a fan of big heat, use a little less of the oriental mustard (I used one from Penzey's Spices, so you know it's got bite!) and substitute some of the daikon with regular radishes or some cucumber.

And you thought the food on the grill had big flavor.

The Whats:

* 1 28 oz. bag of small creamer potatoes, halved
* 1/2 of a daikon, diced
* 1 carrot, diced
* 1 medium red onion, diced
* 1/4 cup rice wine
* 1/2 cup olive oil
* 1 tsp. horseradish mustard
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1 tsp. lime juice
* 1 tsp. dried oriental mustard
* a handful of chopped parsley or cilantro

The Hows:

1) Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil potatoes until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Place potatoes, daikon, carrots, and onion in a large mixing bowl.

2) In a separate small bowl, whisk together the rice wine, olive oil, horseradish mustard, sugar, and lime juice. Pour over the potato mix in the large bowl and toss. Sprinkle the dried mustard and parsley over the potato salad and toss again to mix. Refrigerate for an hour or so before serving.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

NYC Restaurant Week Kickoff!

With *free* sample platters from places like Spice Market (very veg friendly!) and Tribeca Grill (not so veg friendly) and some musical selections from Hair, I hope you made it to the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle today!

If not, be sure to check out OpenTable for the full listing of restaurants participating in the Summer 2009 Restaurant Week, running from July 12 through July 31st. I've made my reservations, have you?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

WSJ: Calorie Disclosures Are Up for Dispute

I thought I couldn't be the only one who second-guessed that sugar-encrusted blueberry muffin at Starbucks after looking at the posted calorie content underneath it.

I might be in the minority.

After reading through an article about that very topic in today's Wall Street Journal, I was shocked to learn that might be the case. Fewer than 5% of customers at chain restaurants noticed the new calorie information, and as most studies show, people that self-report how many calories they intake generally underestimate that number. The article also mentions that restaurant dishes vary, and that one chef making a dish that could be as low as 310 calories could also go up to 400.

It doesn't really come as a surprise, as even in fine dining establishments, the food varies with the cook preparing it. Let this serve as a reminder that you should never make assumptions about what's being served to you!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thali Too

Hope everyone enjoyed the long Fourth of July weekend and that you had some solid veggie options at whatever party you attended!

On our most recent weekend adventure to Rhode Island, we stopped in New Haven to eat- with a major university in the area, you already know that you'll have your choice of inexpensive restaurants as well as possible veggie options. Like a dog with a brand new frisbee, I immediately graviated toward Thali Too Vegetarian Cuisine of India- Indian might not be on your typical July 4th menu, but when you're on a long car ride when veggie places are few and far between, you know you'll always have vegetarian dishes at an Indian restaurant.

The service at a truck stop might have been more attentive than the service at Thali Too. After finally being noticed by the host, who seemed to be needlessly bustling about a relatively empty restaurant, we continued to wait at our table for someone to finally bring us water before pushing us to get a lassi cocktail at their Lassi Bar. Though I loved the idea of a Lassi Bar, the only thing I loved more was watching our waiter confusedly stumble over his words as we insisted that we were driving and would not be ordering from the bar. I guess when you're situated right outside the college bookstore, having people who could very well be students come in and NOT order drinks would be shocking indeed.

Thankfully, we didn't have to wait too long for our appetizers to come out, though our entrees came soon after. We split Medhu Vada, fried lentil fritters, which were lightly spiced and more filling than I expected them to be. Our Masala Paneer Paratha was also quite good- a whole wheat griddle bread made with Indian cheese, I ended up dipping the paratha into the variety of sauces served with the Medhu Vada, and I was happy that the bread wasn't overly cheesy. It's a matter of preference of course, but I hate being presented with something that looks like Domino's greasy Cheesy Bread, so their paratha was perfect!

The Saag Paneer entree was thick and had a nice garlic undertone to it. The paneer stayed firm amidst the hot saag and was easy to grab with the paratha pieces. The Paneer Sabji Jalfraize was surprisingly smoky, and I wondered if the cook had used a smoked chili to make the zesty tomato based sauce. We rounded out our dinner with Dal Bukhara- creamy lentils with ginger- and the very subtle ginger flavor was my favorite that night. There was so much food leftover that we took it to go- it was even better the next day! So much for worrying about the food getting cold on the last leg of the car ride, I think that would've made the meal.

Despite the poor service and the mediocre decor of the restaurant, I left Thali Too feeling really satisfied by their yummy food- and were I a college student, I'd have been that much more satisfied by the inexpensive menu. Thank goodness for detours off the interstate!

Thali Too, 65 Broadway, New Haven, CT, 203-776-1600