Candle 79, NYC

July 24, 2008

This vegan restaurant is tied for the best in the vegetarian category in the NYC Zagats. Linda and I went for dinner on July 23, 2008 with Jeff and Lora, who is a vegan. I had enjoyed cooking a meal for them two nights before with no meat, fish, dairy or eggs. It is easy to do if you know in advance what the limitations are.

We had enjoyed a predecessor restaurant, The Dining Room, before in this two story townhouse just east of Lexington on 79th Street, but this was our first visit to Candle 79 an offshoot of The Candle Café on Third Avenue near 75th Street. The owners have used a lot of Feng Shui to try to counteract the bad vibes of the building which has housed five restaurants over the last twenty years.

The menu offers about ten choices each for the starter and main course. There is a separate dessert menu and wine list. Our excellent waitress, Christine, gave a good, useful description of the evening’s specials. Candle 79 features Seitan in many of its dishes. This is a paste made from wheat gluten that is a common meat substitute for vegans.

After we ordered, a nice little amuse-gueule of pineapple and mango with a mint topping arrived.

We ordered a bottle of 2005 Domaine Delmas Limoux Chardonnay and a bottle of 2006 Coleman Vineyard (Oregon) Pinot Noir.

 

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Lora’s first course was the Grilled Seitan Chimichurri citrus-herb marinade

The seitan had a nice charred effect from the marinating and grilling and was closer to real meat than any of the other seitan dishes we tried.

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Linda’s first course was a special: a cornmeal crusted eggplant slice with artichokes on broccoli rabe and a tomato sauce.
She thought that the cornmeal texture overwhelmed the eggplant, but that neither of them had much flavor.

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Jeff’s starter was the Nightly soup, which tonight was gazpacho with an avocado slice.

It was a good, ordinary gazpacho.

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My first course was Vegetable Nori Rolls pickled ginger, avocado wasabi, chipotle aioli, tamari-ginger sauce
I found the rolls disappointing, quite chewy without much flavor. Fortunately the three sauces were good and perked things up.

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Lora’s main course was Live Zucchini Enchiladas cashew cheese, spinach, guacamole, chipotle tomato sauce, cashew sour cream, pumpkin seeds, baby romaine, tomato-corn salsa
It is not clear to me just what was going on here, but we all tried this dish and declared it to be the best of the evening.

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Linda went on to the house signature dish, Seitan Piccata creamed spinach, grilled potato cake, oyster mushrooms, lemon-caper sauce

She was surprised how much it resembled a real veal piccata and the “cream” like cream.
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Jeff had the Chef’s Daily Hand Cut Pasta, which today was a spinach linguini with crumbled seitan and tomato to make sort of a vegan Bolognese.

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My main course was the Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Cake summer vegetables, red pepper-coconut curry, fresh apricot chutney, toasted almonds

The cake was okay. At least it wasn’t pretending to be meat, but I think it could have been spiced better, as if it were a hummus, for example. The “summer vegetable” base was disappointingly bland and mushy.

 

Lora’s dessert was a Chocolate Brownie Sundae french vanilla ice cream, bananas, strawberries, chocolate-ancho sauce, candied pecans

The ice cream is made with soy milk. This was a rich dessert. She loved it.


My dessert was a Summer Berry Napolean phyllo pastry, vanilla-nut cream, berry coulis, almonds, lemon-verbena ice cream

This was good, although not very imaginative. The berries were fresh and tasty.

Lora explained to us that Candle 79 is emulating standard dishes with vegan ingredients because many vegans still crave the meat and cheese dishes with which they grew up. But for the rest of us, this creates an expectation discrepancy. We would prefer to have dishes created just with vegetables in mind. While the seitan worked surprisingly well in the grilled chimichurri, where it really charred nicely, in other dishes it seemed like a poor meat substitute for those of us who are not vegans. I would keep that in mind when ordering again.

 

www.candlecafe.com

 For an interesting background piece click here.

3 Responses to “Candle 79, NYC”

  1. Jerry Vance Says:

    Glad to see Jeff and Lora in NYC having a good time with you.
    Jerry

  2. George Rusznak Says:

    I don’t know why, but I can’t shake the feeling that vegan fine dining is an oxymoron and eating a meal pretending to be other than what it is is like making love to a transvestite. But it is probably due to my primitive carnivor upbringing. I am glad, however, that there are attempts to well serve our more dietarily sensible segment of the population. I hope the Feng Shui will work, although I suspect it will take more than that, George

  3. Lora Says:

    Wonderful review, Mike!
    We had a great time and I’m still processing everything we did! So much to do and we wanted to get it all. I thought the food was great, but what you cooked was better.
    I like to have the seitan to help with any cravings I might have, but generally like to stick with the fact that I am eating a primarily vegan diet.
    Thank you again for such a wonderful trip!
    Hugs to ya!
    Lora

    P.S. George, very funny! hahaha


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