One of the most compelling attributes of New York City is its rich variety of restaurants. A stroll down any avenue or side street is like walking down the cookbook aisle of a bookstore. You are sure to pass steakhouses, Italian cafes, Indian houses, French bistros, and just about anything else your palate desires. Choosing can be quite exhausting. However, this last weekend I was in Manhattan and I knew exactly where I was going to sit down to explore a new experience in my culinary travels.
The Candle Café is often referred to as the best vegan restaurant in New York. Whether it is or not, I honestly cannot confirm as this was only my second vegan restaurant in the city. I can confirm it is a must stop for diners interested in the pleasures that can come from a menu limited to fruit, vegetable and grain.
Limited is not the right word as the menu explores the great bounty that can come from so many options the soil provides us and one is sure to be debating which dish to get instead of the typical struggle a non-meat eater has at most restaurants in this county – where there is a token dish for vegans, if there is even one.
That’s the beauty of a place like Candle Café. It demonstrates vegan cooking can excite even the most boorish gourmand.
It was a busy Saturday night, yet getting a table was still possible. Unfortunately, this demonstrated quite possibly the best vegan restaurant is still an oversight in Manhattan. I was dining alone and sat at the bar near the front door. The bar is more juice bar than cocktails, yet the restaurant does feature many organic wines.
I opted for a smoothie, a bowl of corn chowder, and something called “Paradise Casserole.” The menu also features a full page of seasonal items that was due to change next week as one customer informed me. She was eating a delicious looking marinated, sesame seed crusted tofu salad.
The corn chowder promptly arrived following my smoothie. Since vegan uses no dairy, the chowder was more of a broth than creamy puree. There were whole kernels of corn and diced carrots and celery. The broth was full of flavor with a bit of thickness that did border the line of soup versus chowder.
Soon after finishing my soup and it being cleared away, the Paradise Casserole arrived. It’s a layered dish compromising of sweet potato puree, black beans, and millet. The millet acted as the foundational integrity as the casserole lay on top a bed of sautéed kale. A small cup of warmed balsamic vinaigrette rested to the side, which a poured gently around the edges of the kale.
Casseroles have pretty much died a much deserved death since their over use in the 1970s, yet Candle Café makes an argument for the return of the casserole. The layering adds to the experience where one bite can comprise of sweet potato and kale while other bites may include the sweet potato, black bean and millet. The warmed vinaigrette added another level of interest. It all ended well as I mixed in some more dressing with the sautéed kale.
Candle Café was a pleasant departure from my normal stops in New York and its menu made me consider future dishes to prepare at home as we have transitioned to three to four days of vegetarian or vegan meals each week.
I did leave one final takeaway. The juice bar has a Vitamix blender that was encased in Plexiglas to reduce the loud noise of the machine. Having the same blender at home and knowing the deafening sound it blares, perhaps a Plexiglas project is in my near future.
1307 Third Avenue
New York City, NY