Big Veg ate the Big Apple (a report on 5 days in New York)
Thanks to all the advice I got from this board and elsewhere, I munched my way around Manhattan for five wonderful days. Note that I am from a small Midwestern town, so am not an expert on any cuisine. On past visits I've tried Candle Cafe and Spring Street and I get great Indian and Mexican in Chicago and Michigan, so I bypassed those options. I couldn't believe when I read of a British tourist who ate three times during a week's visit at Chipotle because there were "very few vegetarian options." No matter where I was in the city, I had a ton of all veggie, not to mention numerous "regular" restaurants with above average veggie options. In fact, I found NY as veggie friendly as San Francisco which surprised me. Here are my highlights--all vegetarian, mostly vegan and none far from a subway:
Not far from my hotel was Franchia, an attractive vegan Korean teahouse. I had a great meal at sister restaurant Hangawi a few years back, so I was excited to try this new option. I dined early Friday evening and they found a decent table for me and I didn't feel too out of place, though the pace is leisurely and it would have been nice to have had a dining partner. I asked for recommendations when ordering and the server was very helpful. I started with the mixed veg dumplings, which I enjoyed (the table next to me ordered a second batch after devouring the first because they liked them so much) and for an entree I chose the sizzling spinach noodles. These noodles (maybe deep fried, because they were stiff until the sauce softened them) came in a thin brown sauce and were tasty but difficult to eat with chopsticks. I wasn't crazy about the fake meat they used in this dish but it was easy to eat around. I was given a plate or something with the meal and thought it was another type of dumpling. I put a big chunk in my mouth when I realized it was kim chee. After a lot of tea to cleanse my palate, this was quite nice in small chunks in the noodle dish. (Is that how one uses this item?) Next time I'd probably try the sushi or stone bowl rice dishes which looked great when delivered to tables nearby. Spicy Kimchi Pancakes and Eggplant and mushroom galore also sounded good. During the meal I had a pot of Korean Wild Green Tea 2nd Picked--the tea menu is quite extensive and again the server kindly showed me how to properly steep and drink the tea.
I was in and near Grand Central a lot, so tried a few places there. Golden Krust is a Caribbean place with several veggie options. Unfortunately they didn't have the Callaloo patty which I wanted to try, but I did get the Vegetable Patty (whole wheat pastry filled with carrots, cabbage & broccoli) and Soy Vegetarian (filled with fake ground meat, kiind of like a spicy sloppy joe). The innards had a nice kick but I wasn't impressed by the crust--not very flaky, but still a decent quick meal. At Two Boots pizza (which often offers a vegan version) I tried The Night Tripper (sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic & jalapeno pesto on a white pie with a spinach crust) --it was ok, but probably not worth cheating on my no-cheese diet. I really liked the coffee and bagel (toasted on a panini grill) I got for $3 at Zaro's--certainly a better deal than $8 for home fries and coffee at nearby Pershing Square.
Near Grand Central is Menchanko Tei. For dinner one evening I got a carryout order of vegetable spring rolls and the vegetarian Menchanko noodle soup w/ Assorted Vegetables in a Shiitake Mushroom and Kelp Base Miso Broth. I liked both items and they packed everything quite well for carrying.
Had to try out Teany since I'd heard raves about their vegan Turkey Club. It was a perfect place to read the Sunday paper and munch on the very good sandwich (wouldn't fool a carnivore but wouldn't gross one out either--a nice smoky tempeh is used; go for the marbled rye bread) and sip the day's blood orange iced tea. Got a dessert to go--asked for a recommendation and was pointed toward some kind of macaroon/chocolate combo that was just like the "real" thing (rich and moist) though it's vegan, too. It was insanely good. I really liked the space and the service and might have had lunch there the next day, except they're closed on Mondays.
Vegetarian Dim Sum House was high on options and low on decor and very low key on service, but perhaps they were just leaving me alone to enjoy my meal. The server looked at me a bit oddly when I ordered three dim sum dishesoff the vast menu, so I was worried I'd committed some serious error--but the three made a nice meal with just a little leftover. I had spinach dumplings (the wraps were made of spinach with veggies inside--a little large to do with chopsticks, but I smooshed them a bit and hung on until I finished--they tasted nice with dipping sauce and a dose of hot chili), Napa Rolls With Golden Mushroom (deep fried and definitely delicious), and rice flour rolls with Chinese kale (wide rice noodles wrapped around the veggies--very slippery, probably very healthy, a little bland). This place has many items that would be fun to try and it's nice to know there aren't any stray critters lurking in a meal--wish I noticed the soup dumplings on the daily specials since I've never had the chance to try them.
I've also never had the chance to try a banh mi so I hiked over to Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1, a little carryout place in Little Italy which offers at least two all veggie options. They were so cheap, I ordered two, thinking they might be small--wrong. I got #12 House Special Vegetarian (tofu, mushroom, clear noodles, carrot and sweet radish) and #13 Vegan Chicken with Lemongrass. Both were made fresh in 10-15 minutes and were quite good--the fake meat wasn't gross like some is, though I liked the veggie one as well, maybe better. I had lots of leftovers the next day, though this meal seems best eaten immediately.
I headed down to Soho to visit the cute little Purl Patchwork quilt shop and stopped in for an early dinner at Honmura An, spoken of highly in the NY Times ("...one of the most fascinating and distinctive Japanese restaurants in the city"). I was a little put off by being put in a tiny little table in the middle of the empty room---they said the window tables were reserved. But that small slight was quickly erased by my very helpful and charming server. Once I explained I was vegetarian, he asked about fish and when I said no, he was meticulous in concocting a great meal. Without rolling his eyes. He highly recommended the asparagus salad and served it with the miso and mustard dressing usually put on the seaweed salad because the sesame dressing had some non-veggie product in it. It was a terrific--really loved that dressing. I wanted to try their famed noodles and he recommended the cold soba which they make there with a dipping sauce he made up especially. A complimentary cup of green tea was the perfect end of the light meal. This dinner was very simple and very special.
There are so many places I didn't get to: Strictly Roots in Harlem, Wild Ginger, Blossom, Red Bamboo, Gobo, Sacred Chow, Caravan of Dreams, Pure Food & Wine ... not to mention all the great non-veggie restaurants. Can't wait to get back soon!
12 Park Avenue (between 34th & 35th St.)
New York, NY 10016
131 E 45th St, New York 10017
Btwn 3rd & Lexington Ave
Vegetarian Dim Sum House
24 Pell St, New York
Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1
369 Broome St, New York 10013
Btwn Mott & Elizabeth St
90 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002
170 Mercer St - Btwn Houston & Prince St
New York, 10012
Two websites I found especially helpful:
FRANCHIA sounds like it needs me to visit.
the reason GOLDEN KRUST patties taste non-flaky like that vs other patties is purposeful because they are baked not fried. also, they have been out of callaloo lately, the say it's hard to get sometimes. i do love those veg patties better than the meat ones, but all are nice.
What a nice review! I have to go to Franchia now.
I just went to Caravan of Dreams and was plesantly surprised by their cold soup, great for summer and especially good for one who dislikes cold meals.
Next time, if you can make it out to Brooklyn, there's a fine Carribean vegetarian place (I think they're Jamaican).
Of course, there's always more food than one could possibly eat in the city...