Vegan Restaurant Travel Series: NYC

26 Apr

Two flavor ice cream sundae at Lula's Sweet Apothecary

Often times, people wonder whether or not, as a vegan, they will ever be able to go out to eat again. Some even ask whether or not they can trust omni restaurants to listen to their questions and requests and prepare food accordingly so as to avoid eating undesirables and getting physically ill. Some may even make an excuse not to become vegan because, given the lack of vegan restaurants/vegan options in comparison to vegetarian options in other restaurants, becoming vegan would be “socially awkward.” For them having to ask questions or make requests about their food would be “too much work”–all in all, some might think veganism would slap a wet rag on their social lives.

If it comes down to rejecting animal use and not participating in the suffering of innocent beings or looking like a socially awkward and needy customer, I’ll take looking like a socially awkward pariah in a heartbeat. We can (and should) ask ourselves honestly whether our social lives or the appearance of being “like everyone else” or maintaining that “I’m a vegetarian, ohmygosh because vegans are so extreme!” ever justifies the enslavement and death of billions of nonhuman animals every year. It doesn’t.

The good news is: vegans and wannabe vegans don’t have to worry. It’s no surprise, but 100% vegan restaurants are popping up all over the country. And some have been quietly hiding close by for years (as you’ll see when I take you to New Hampshire). Veganism has come a long way in that respect. Thirty years ago an all-vegan restaurant was unheard of. Now, most vegans you meet can list off a few of them, if not name all the cities that have restaurants they want to go to.

I’ve visited a few of these US vegan dining meccas and I plan on continuing this oft traveled road. I’ll be doing these “travel food blogs” a few times this year as I’ll be traveling quite a bit and eventually moving. I hope you’ll decide to help out these wonderful restaurants by dining in. Many of these places are small and not as profitable as omnivorous or vegetarian restaurants, and it’s not because the food sucks–on the contrary, the food is delicious–it’s because, sadly, veganism is not the status quo and people are afraid of trying food that seems “different.”

Often, entrepreneurs open up vegetarian restaurants, instead, so as not to seem “extreme,” and to ensure that they’re profitable by being “unoffensive” at the expense of perpetuating the myth that dairy, eggs, and other non-flesh animal products are ethically justifiable and harmless. Unfortunately, it begets the whole issue of giving your money to places that think dairy and eggs are justifiable uses of animals. If it can be helped, I say, choose 100% vegan all the time! Of course, you don’t have to eat out at all to enjoy good food or be vegan, but if one or more of these places are at your disposal, do yourself a favor and help out your fellow vegan small business owners, whether you’re vegan or not: grab a seat!

Let’s start in the most likely place. It’s so nice they named it twice…

Where else can you get your gut around the best vegan food in the country? That’s right, I’m talking about New York City! Whatever your big vegan heart desires, it can surely get it–and almost at every corner. Here are some of the wonderful meals I had in the big city on both my first and most recent visit. Luckily, I had the wherewithal to remember taking a photo before giving into savage gluttony.

Last Friday alone, from breakfast to pre-lunch to pre-dinner to post-dessert: I consumed something around 3000 to 4000 calories. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do so and am looking forward to visits to NYC that aren’t centered around figuring out how far I can stretch my stomach without vomiting. Thankfully, there was a lot of walking from restaurant A to bakery B so, I think I got a good work out in between meals.

I got into NY last Thursday and just in time for dinner. My best friend and host, Brad, promptly indulged my growling stomach by making us a delicious dinner of lemon and rosemary rice with tomatoes, “cheesy” Mediterranean lentils, and a spinach and shredded carrot salad. I grew up with Brad–who has been vegan for over a decade–I’m used to his kitchen creations, which are never short on taste or comfort. This meal was just the beginning of a long weekend of gluttony and it was the perfect way to start.

What I love about Brad’s cooking is that he’s always really creative in the kitchen, using anything at his disposal and not being confined to recipes or preordained taste palates. He added nutritional yeast and a hummus dressing to the lentils and it made my mouth explode with happiness. What he ends up creating is always surprising, fun, and delicious. He’s been cooking for himself for as long as I’ve known him, since we were 12, and he may not think so, but he’s got chops!

Lemon Rosemary and Tomato Rice, "Cheesy" Mediterranean Lentils, and Spinach Salad

That night, Brad and I escaped to MooShoes, NYC’s all vegan shoe store. I’d only ever been to the MooShoes-inspired Sudo Shoes in Boston so, visiting the Mother Land was really great. I wish I could say I was there to buy shoes or a purse, but I already have enough of those so, I bought a vegan belt. The real reason we were there was to attend an in-store event and book signing with Sue Coe. Sue Coe is an English artist and illustrator who has spent most of her career advocating against capitalism and war, and on behalf of animals, persons with AIDS, in prisons, and in sweatshops to name just a few. Her work has been featured in several galleries as well as in many notable political art books. Her 1996 book, Dead Meat, is her most popular achievement. It chronicles her visit to 40 slaughterhouses, hatcheries, and cattle ranches–none of which permitted her to take photos, but allowed her to sketch what she saw in a notebook.

Coe’s work is haunting at worst and enlightening at best. What I love about her work is how she documents not only the terrifying world nonhumans are forced to live in, but also the very tangible psychological trauma this work has on the underpaid, underprivileged workers who woefully carry out the killing and mutilations. It really makes your heart break for everyone involved in the process. This book, more than any animal cruelty video, really opened my eyes to the horror of animal exploitation and I am very grateful for it and her work.

Needless to say, Sue was very sweet, funny, and well spoken. She said a few words before signing copies of her latest book, Cruel: Bearing Witness to Animal Exploitation, at which time she stated, respectfully so, that as advocates we need to stop campaigning for “bigger cages” and “no cages,” we need to demand an end to all animal exploitation. When speaking with her, she told me how she believes we’re finally seeing the realization of Gary Francione‘s predictions that campaigning for free-range and “humane” animal products has really done nothing more than make animal consumption more appealing to consumers who feel that they’re now doing right by animals. I really respect her awareness of the very big issue with advocates not putting forth a consistent message for animal rights and settling with so-called “victories” that perpetuate a different style of animal exploitation.

Sue Coe and I at MooShoes.

Six years after the publishing of this book, things have not changed much for animals, but this makes me quite happy.

Friday was a day of heavy eating. Bear with me. To be brief, Brad and I ate a delicious homemade pancake breakfast, two hours later I was eating take-out lunch from Dao Palate Vegan, a delicious, previously-vegetarian-and-now-vegan pan-Asian restaurant in Brooklyn. Two hours after that, we visited Clementine Bakery for post-lunch. Clementine Bakery is a delightful new, all-vegan bakery in Brooklyn that uses organic ingredients and has many gluten-free and home-style bakery options. The owner, Michelle, was sweet as a peach and very welcoming. The atmosphere and prices were comforting and the food was to die for!

Afterward, Brad and I headed over to Jivamuktea Cafe for pre-dinner. Jivamuktea is an all vegan, all organic cafe located inside a yoga studio. The food was pleasantly real and healthy. It was a welcoming, health conscious precursor to what would come next.

While there, we attended a meet and greet with Kindness Ranch which is located in rural Wyoming. Kindness Ranch isn’t a vegan advocacy oriented sanctuary, but it appears that they’re conscious of holding their events in vegan friendly spaces, which is clever and interesting. They provide homes, rehabilitation, and adoption services to the animals most commonly used in research; the ones people don’t typically think about when they think of laboratory animals: dogs, cats, sheep, pigs, horses, and now, rats. They’re occupying a space in the sanctuary setting that is uninhabited by others; I’m glad that someone is taking these retired animals and giving laboratories an option to save them instead of killing them when they are no longer deemed “useful” by researchers. I asked if they allowed visitors to ride the horses. They said no. I was very pleased by this.

Pancakes with Raspberry-Strawberry Compote (a la Brad).

The wisdom of my tea on Friday morning. How appropriately vegan. And might I add, practice being just.

Dao Palate Vegan Cuisine. The Crispy Pepper Soy Protein Dish (breaded medallion of sautéed soy protein with savory tomato sauce over kale).

Dao Palate Vegan Cuisine. Malaysian Curry Stew with brown rice and a spring roll (mild slow cooked coconut curry with soy protein, broccoli, carrots, and potatoes).

Inside Clementine Bakery

The cake case at Clementine Bakery.

Lemon Lavendar Cake and Iced Coffee with Rice Milk at Clementine Bakery.

Brownie Pie and Raspberry Cream Cheese Muffin with a complimentary clementine (a nice touch!) at Clementine Bakery.

Jivamuktea Cafe.

The Avo Bravo Sandwich at Jivamuktea Cafe. (Avocado, granny smith apple, romaine lettuce, carrots and turmeric-tahini dressing.)

Quesadilla at JivamukTea Cafe. (Tempeh bacon, soy-free daiya cheese, & tomato, in a folded tortilla.)

After a short visit to an art gallery–we had to do something that didn’t require eating!–Brad and I headed over to Blossom, one of NYC’s most popular vegan restaurants, for dinner.

Getting ready to take on Blossom on a full stomach.

I wish I had the words to describe just how fabulous the food here was, but all I can say is that it was one of the very best and most inspiring food experiences I have ever had. The restaurant was dark and Brad and I only had our phones to provide light and camera so, forgive me if the pictures make the food look less than appetizing. Regardless of light or camera, the photos–any photos–would not do the beauty and complexity of taste at Blossom, any justice. You just have to eat there.

We ordered the Cape Cod Cakes with vegan tartar sauce to start. Honestly, they tasted like actual crab cakes. I haven’t had a crab cake in about 2 years and this is exactly how I remember the texture and taste. They were so good, I could have eaten my weight’s equivalent in them. I spent the rest of the trip wondering how in the world they got tofu to mimic that very specific texture. For our entrees, we got the Pistachio and Pepper Dusted Tofu and the Rigatoni in Porcini Cream.

The former included a root vegetable crepe, lemon truffle emulsion, and frisée in a red beet vinaigrette. It was to die for. It was the most intricately flavored and wonderfully seasoned food I have ever had the pleasure of eating and the presentation was beautiful. The latter consisted of shallots, leeks, broccoli rabe, pistachio gremoulata, truffle oil, and carmelized fennel & onion jam crostini. This was a sophisticated, delicious dish and so wonderfully creamy. I absolutely loved the fennel and onion jam crostini. I don’t know what compelled me to get pasta after a whole day of eating, but I wasn’t able to finish either portions of my entrees because my stomach was at capacity. Or so I thought…

Cape Cod Cakes with Vegan Tartar Sauce at Blossom.

Inside this wonderful "crab" cake is the Promised Land.

Pistachio and Pepper Dusted Tofu at Blossom.

Rigatoni in Porcini Cream with Fennel and Onion Jam Crostini at Blossom.

How is it possible, that although I was feeling outrageously ill during dinner, that I found a way to make room for dessert? How?! I was feeling adventurous and daring. I wasn’t leaving without dessert, but I convinced Brad that it could only be something light–no heavy sugars or dense flavors, like peanut butter or chocolate or anything in the form of cake. So, we got the lavender and coconut creme brûlée. It was the perfect, sweet end to a tantalizing meal. Again, texture-wise, the chefs at Blossom nailed it. Flavor-wise, it was creamy, subtly sweet, and clean. I would eat this over and over again.

Lavender and Coconut Creme Brulee at Blossom.

We had plans to get ice cream at Lula’s Sweet Apothecary afterwards–the world’s best vegan ice cream shop–but in an uncharacteristic move for me and my stomach, I declined. I just couldn’t handle it. So, we saved that trip for the next day: Saturday.

Our day started with brunch at Sun in Bloom, a relatively new all-vegan, raw and gluten free restaurant in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. The restaurant was beautifully decorated, the food was creative and delicious, albeit a little expensive–but that’s typical of raw and gluten-free diets. I really liked that they had homemade nut-milks. I don’t like Brazil nuts, but I dared to try the Brazil nut-milk over ice and it totally endeared me to them. I can’t wait to make my own. It had a naturally sweet flavor reminiscent of the warm milk my mother used to give me before bed to help me fall asleep. I can imagine it’s even better served warm.

Brad had the Huevos Rancheros Burrito with Butternut Squash Hash. It included savory-spiced tofu scramble, fresh ranchero sauce, butternut squash hash, greens, brown rice, & black beans wrapped up in an Ezekiel sprouted tortilla. They forgot to bring the hash, but we got it afterward and it was savory and sweet all at once. I got the Rosemary Dijon Scramble with Sundried Tomatoes and Roasted Pumpkin. It included a rosemary Dijon scramble, sun-dried tomatoes, steamed greens, roasted pumpkin, black eyed pea beans and quinoa. It was out of this world. I loved it mostly because there were a lot of different flavors and it was filling, but not in that uncomfortable way most brunch foods are.

For dessert (yes, of course we had dessert) I ordered the Strawberry Cheesecake with Almond Crust. I’m a big fan of raw cheesecakes. This one was made with cashews and almonds (the best!) and was packed with fresh strawberry flavor. The consistency was light, more like a chilled ice cream. It’s different than most raw cheesecakes I’ve had, but it was enjoyable and it didn’t leave me feeling bogged down, which was great…because we were having a picnic in Prospect Park next.

Sweet Brazilian Spice Milk at Sun in Bloom.

Delicious Iced Coffee with Soymilk at Sun in Bloom.

"Huevos" Rancheros Burrito at Sun in Bloom.

Rosemary Dijon Tofu Scramble Platter at Sun in Bloom.

Raw Strawberry Cheesecake at Sun in Bloom.

Raw Strawberry Cheesecake at Sun in Bloom.

I don’t have a picture of our rendezvous in the park, but Brad made a delicious pasta salad and I whipped up my Absurdly Easy Tempeh Tuna Salad sandwiches which were a big hit! At this point, Brad and I were so beyond full, we couldn’t fathom going out to dinner. We “settled” for ice cream at Lula’s. Because, you know, ice cream for dinner makes a whole lot of sense when you’re an engorged-and-about-to-explode-kind-of-full. Sigh. Onward, nonetheless! I’m convinced that going to NYC and not going to Lula’s is a sin.

The ice cream at Lula’s is aptly explained as possibly the best ice cream of any kind in the world. Unlike most other vegan ice cream, it’s cashew based. But, if you have an allergy, you’re not out of luck as they do offer equally delicious soy based and gluten free options now, too. I love Lula’s so much and ardently wish that I had been living in NY when Brad worked there–it’s probably best for my waistline that I didn’t. If you want really good, really creamy, flavor packed, knock your socks off ice cream–this is where you get it.

I asked one of the owners, who was there that night, about the make up of her clientele. She confided that most of her customers were non-vegans. That says something. That says a lot about how delicious their ice cream is. Brad enjoyed a two-scoop ice cream cone and I indulged in a brownie sundae with strawberry and drumstick sundae cone ice creams, hot fudge, coconut whipped cream, and candied pecans for topping. Please excuse the melted whipped cream in the brownie sundae photo. According to Brad, they had just made a fresh batch and that’s how the “first pour” usually appears. The whipped cream typically looks like it does in the first photo of this entry–which was taken during my very first visit to Lula’s last year.

Two Scoops of Awesome served up at Lula's Sweet Apothecary!

Two Scoop Ice Cream Sundae at Lula's. God help us all...

Showing off my ice cream sundae (before I demolished it) and Brad's Lula's tattoo.

And that’s all, folks!  I encourage you to visit the all-vegan restaurants in NYC. There were many other stops I couldn’t make it to during this visit because of time and physical inability to fit more food in my belly. Check out Supervegan.com for a list of all the other great 100% vegan restaurants in NY. I’m off to go get a much needed gym membership and eat kale and quinoa for the next few days to undo all the delicious damage done to my waistline…

This is my ice cream face. I'm going to pay for this savage gluttony, later. But for now...BRING. IT. ON.

5 Responses to “Vegan Restaurant Travel Series: NYC”

  1. Vanessa April 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    Wow. All of those restaurants and meals sound amazing. I especially love the Avo Bravo sandwich – sounds so delicious!

  2. Marlo April 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am headed to NYC for the first time in November (to run the marathon) and there are so many vegan places I want to try. I am looking forward to trying a bunch of them. I will probably put on 5 pounds while I am there.

  3. poorvegan April 28, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    You went to some of my favorite places! I’m spoiled here in NY with so much yummy vegan food. Next time you’re in the city, you should check out Sustainable NYC in the East Village for some awesome vegan recycled gifts and stuff. I work there part time in the veggie cafe and we sell Lula’s ice cream. It’s always hard not to stuff my face at work!

    • Melody M. September 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

      Thanks for the suggestion! That sounds like my kind of place. I’ll definitely check it out next time I’m in NYC (which will be really soon, actually!). :)

  4. jillianmckee June 12, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could email me?

    Jillian

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