Monday, June 18, 2007

A Vegetarian in New York City

On our weekend sojourn in New York City, we ended up going to three great vegetarian restaurants with very different cuisines - thanks to V, and some good vegetarian karma!
V planned a wonderful date for us on Friday night at "Vatan" in midtown Manhattan. This Gujarati-Indian restaurant, with its colorful ambiance, topped my list among the three restaurants we visited that weekend.
The all-you-can-eat 3-course fixed menu is essentially simple home-made Gujarati food, yet it is a completely satisfying meal. Our waitress, dressed in traditional lehenga-choli, explained the menu to us like she has done it a million times before - which I am sure, she has!
The appetizer course featured a number of small dishes - mini samosas, potato vadas (deep-fried potato balls in chick-pea flour batter), muthia (steamed lentils and spinach - yummy!!), hot pepper bhajiya (deep-fried whole jalapeno in spicy batter), khaman dhokla (a spongy cake that goes well with mint chutney) and yogurt chaat. The "muthia" was our favorite - V went for seconds!
Next came the main course - a big "thaali" with several side-dishes, papad, and puris (deep-fried puffy bread). The side dishes included a cauliflower curry, sweet lentil soup, chole (chickpea curry), and others. We also got a big plate of plain rice, khichdi (a rice-lentil-vegetable mush), and khadhi (yogurt dish). The khichdi-khadhi combo is a quintessential comfort food in many parts of India!
The third and final course, a wonderful finale to our meal, consisted of home-made mango ice cream with hot masala chai.
Go hungry to Vatan, so that you can enjoy seconds (or thirds) of any dish you like. If you do not mind sitting cross-legged through dinner, ask for the tables under the trees to fully enjoy the "Indian village" ambiance. The 3-course meal came to $60 for both of us (including taxes & tip) - trust me, it will feel like a real bargain once you have tried it!!
The next morning, as I was sipping my cup of coffee at a roadside cafe', V pointed discreetly (or so he thought) to a lady at the table behind us, who was perusing a "Veg Out - New York" book. Well, she walked right over and said we could have the book since they were returning home that day anyway. Is this what one calls good vegetarian karma?!
The book features both "exclusively-vegetarian" and "vegetarian-friendly" restaurants, but V & I focused on the former and found this gem in Lower Manhattan called "Red Bamboo Soul Cafe".
Despite the small size, "Red Bamboo" has a nice romantic ambiance. The menu is unique, with dishes inspired by Caribbean, Creole, Thai and Italian cuisines and even includes standard American fare like BLT sandwiches with a generous side of fries.
V & I started off with "Seoul pancakes" - thick vegetable pancakes served with a soy-based dipping sauce. I thought they were okay. They reminded me of a South-Indian dish called "Uttappam" made with slightly sour dosa batter topped with tomatoes, onions, peppers, peas and other veggies.
For the main course, we ordered "Creole Soul Chicken" (which came highly recommended in both the "Veg Out" book and by our waitress) and "Codfish cakes with Mango Salsa". The Creole chicken was crispy and had a wonderful texture and came with 2 dipping sauces which were both great. I was not impressed with the Codfish cakes even though I eagerly gobbled up the accompanying mango salsa. I felt the cakes were a little too salty for my taste, maybe trying too much to capture the "ocean" flavor.
Red Bamboo was V's favorite among the 3 places due to its eclectic menu. The bill came to around $38 (with tax and tips) for the two of us.
Our third vegetarian experience was at "Zen Palate" in midtown Manhattan within walking distance from Times Square. This predominantly Asian-influenced restaurant has two sections; a cafe-style section with fewer tables and a restaurant-style section with a better ambiance. Both sections serve more or less the same menu, so go with your mood on this one since the cafe' side is less pricey.
We got some "Scallion pancakes" to start with. These are thick wheat pancakes served with hoisin dipping sauce. We got some hot sauce on the side to spice it up since they were quite bland.
However both our main course dishes were plenty flavorful! The "Curry Supreme" had soy nuggets (which V loved!), potatoes and carrots in a curry sauce and came with brown & red rice and fried spring rolls. Our favorite was the "Shepherd's Pie Croquettes" - mashed potato with a filling of other vegetables, breaded and deep-fried; and served with a delicious plum sauce. These came with Vietnamese-style fresh spring rolls which I prefer over the fried rolls.
The bill came to around $32 for the two of us. Being so centrally located, "Zen Palate" is one of our top vegetarian places to fall back on whenever we are in NYC.

1 comment:

Jul said...

Great descriptions! I'm so looking forward to my trip to New York - it's my favorite city for vegetarian food!