Monday, January 9, 2012

A Vegetarian in New York City

Christmas in New York City!   What a lovely time to visit the Big Apple.  The place is absolutely packed, but glittering, exciting and totally happening!  Luckily for us, there was no snow this year, although it was bitterly chilly.    We were able to walk pretty much every where in Manhattan and we did end up clocking 6 to 10 miles every day!   

As for food, it is not hard for a vegetarian in NYC.  Vegetarian choices abound in restaurants and even on street corner trucks.  As a fall-back option, there is always the famous New York thin crust pizza with tons of toppings.  

My last trip to NYC was almost 5 years back over a weekend, although V has been back several times.   Our exclusive vegetarian restaurant choices last time were Red Bamboo in Greenwich Village, and Zen Palate near Times Square, both of which are still around and still highly rated.  This time, we did not hunt down exclusively vegetarian places (except for one in China Town) and decided to keep it fairly flexible since a lot of places might be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  

Part I:  Empanadas before and after theatre
Of course the first place V took me to is his favorite haunt in Hells Kitchen - Empanada Mama.  This is where he grabs a quick takeout when he is working late, since they are open 24 hours a day and are a quick walk from hotels in Mid Town.   Empanadas are stuffed pastries made with wheat or corn flour and served as appetizers or even as a main dish in many Latin American countries.  V is so fond of this food that on the last day of the hike in Machu Picchu when every one was pretty much wiped out, V went on an expedition to hunt down empanadas for dinner!  Empanada Mama has several vegetarian options and also ones made with corn flour which made it easy for us to get a filling meal (since I am off wheat).   

We started off with the avocado salad, made with really fresh cucumbers, avocado and romaine, and topped with a cumin lemon dressing.    Then we ordered several empanadas - ‘Spinach and Cheese’, ‘Veggie’, ‘Broccoli and Cheese’ & ‘Rice and Beans’.  The ‘Veggie’ made with potatoes, carrots and lima beans and the ‘Rice and Beans’ were our favorites.  In fact, we again did a take out of the same on Christmas day when it was one of the few places that was open.  This place is a must-try for any visitor in New York who wants to grab a quick ethnic bite!

Part II: Another quick (veggie) bite
Another favorite haunt of V’s to grab a quick veggie bite is Maoz, an all-vegetarian falafel place that has branches all over the City.  Interestingly, Maoz was started in Amsterdam!  The food is okay, nothing different from the usual falafel wrap places, but the convenience is unbeatable.  They also have an extensive salad bar, and quick service.  Most of their locations have very limited seating.

Part III:  Christmas Eve in NYC
Probably the only day when the crowds really got to us.  We were so completely mobbed out that we needed a quiet place to grab a cup of coffee.  To our dismay, a lot of the places that were not in our near the shopping were closed.   Finally we chanced upon a lovely little cafe displaying colorful macaroons tucked away in a side street not too far from the shops in Midtown West.   We walked in to Macaron Cafe with a sigh of relief and ordered fresh french-pressed coffee and a macaroon each.  There is not too much seating inside but we found the couch empty.  The shop had a steady stream of visitors but most of them were picking up boxes of macaroons, presumably for their Christmas gifts.

For dinner that night, we ended up doing a pizza takeout.  How could we come to New York and not have the famous thin-crust pizza?  The pizza from a place right below our hotel in Times Square was pretty good and loaded with toppings.

Part IV:  There is such a thing as vegetarian dimsum!
On Christmas Day, we decided to walk across Brooklyn Bridge and then explore China Town and Little Italy neighborhoods.  V picked out a vegetarian dimsum place in China Town.  When he called to confirm around 10 whether they would be open for lunch, pat came the answer “Why else would I be here answering the phone”, said in a good-humored way.    We were quite ravished when we reached Buddha Bodai, and were amazed to find a huge mob outside the restaurant and also huddled in the small opening near the counter inside.   We felt sorry for the family of four whose table unfortunately was mobbed by the crowds near the door and decided to wait outside.   It wasn’t a long wait, but we were asked if we could share a table with another party of two.  We had no problems doing so and ended up sitting across from a Chinese lady and her mom who was in her eighties, who were very obliging with their help with the menu.

Service was friendly, albeit a little frantic.  The same man who had joked with V on the phone, took our order and was just as jovial.  We ticked off a bunch of items from the dimsum menu with the help of the Chinese lady and then V ordered the “Veggie Chicken in Black Pepper Sauce” and I ordered the “Sauteed Rice Noodle Thailand Style”.   Although the two main dishes were good, we really enjoyed the dimsum items a lot.  It is not usual to find vegetarian choices in dimsum restaurants, so this was a special treat!   I cannot even tell you what we ordered, couple of them were steamed and had taro filling, and sweet lotus seed filling.  One of them was fried peppers stuffed with some tasty filling.  One of them was a flaky pastry with daikon.   All were

After lunch we walked around China Town and came across the famous “China Town Icecream Factory” but were too full to get any dessert.

Part V:  Dosa and Deja Vu
On our last day in New York, we walked Central Park just for the nostalgia.  It was bitterly cold, even with the sunshine but starkly scenic.  Wollman Rink was packed with skaters.  After a walk around the reservoir, we crossed over to Upper West Side to grab a late lunch.  We had planned on going to “Peacefood Cafe”, but when we got there we were intrigued by the place next door called “Hampton Chutney Co. ”.  The place served the South Indian speciality called dosai which is a rice and lentil crepe, traditionally served with coconut chutney and sambar.   Hampton  had a made the ordinary dosa interesting by making up a variety of filling, be warned that just a few of them were vegetarian.  V ordered the dosa with “seasonal butternut squash and goat cheese” filling, and I ordered the “spinach & mushroom” one.   Both were fresh, and good, but not rave-worthy.  The chutneys came in very small plastic cups, and were just okay as well.   The place was not at all crowded despite the fact that they served meat.

After our lunch, we did end up walking next door to Peacefood Cafe.  Something must have drawn us in, because we ended up spending the next two hours in the cafe, sipping our Brazil Nut chai (made from scratch) with delicious vegan baked treats.  The cafe has a great bakery display when you enter, and most of their pastries are vegan.  They have plenty of seating inside but it did take us around 15 minutes to get a table.  We got seated close to a huge bookshelf where the owner had proudly displayed his vegetarian cookbook collection, which is what ended up keeping us busy for the next couple of hours!!   V found a great Chinese vegetarian cookbook, which was mostly written in Chinese but had some English translation.  The owner seemed to recognize us from a previous birth, and enquired why we had not come in a long time, but refused to part with his Chinese cookbook which he said was a rare find! 

We left New York gastronomically satisfied, having tried a variety of ethnic cuisines that the City promises!   If there are a few places that we would recommend from our trip, they would  be “Empanada Mama”, “Buddha Bodai” and “Peacefood Cafe”.

1 comment:

The Suites At Silver Towers said...

Well it looks like you had a DELICIOUS time here in NYC -- we're glad you came to visit & showcase the wide variety of food available from different cultures. Hope you come back soon!