Vegetarian Powerhouses: Angelica Kitchen, Zen Palate, Gobo, Blossom, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. I am SO happy there is an abundant choice of vegetarian/vegan restaurants in New York City. Many of these are landmarks which helped to propel the vegetarian movement forward and make it mainstream enough to force other restaurants and the food industry at large into offering more veggie-friendly options. Angelica’s Kitchen was supporting eco-eating way before topics like sustainable agriculture and slow food became part of the regular repertoire of mainstream media. The former ubiquity of Zen Palate made it easy for locals to point visiting vegetarians to a safe haven for an elegant dining experience. It’s offshoot, Gobo, did the same for vegans and even kicked it up a notch by adding wine and beer to the menu.  Blossom is shining beacon of gourmet vegan food served in a polished dining room. While no one would argue the merits of these places, I do have one complaint: why must there be so many soy-based (tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc) and mushroom-based items on the menu that are meant to emulate dishes usually centered around meat? I actually love mushrooms. And I like tofu (though not too keen on other textured soy proteins), but I’m sick of eating food that tastes like a makeshift version of a dish that will never quite meet the original. It’s nice to have vegetarian/vegan alternative, but let’s face it, vegetarian food can do better than try and recreate a meat dish that is already familiar to us. And filling food doesn’t have to be soy-or mushroom- based. These powerhouses have been around long enough to have experience and creative chefs who can achieve more inspiring menus. Luckily there are a few places that have strayed away from this overdone menu structure. As mentioned before, Dirt Candy tops my list of restaurants that achieve this. But Counter also impresses – with very few menu items resembling meat dishes. Although I’m never going to completely give up Angelica’s mashed Yukon gold potatoes and gravy, I will definitely support restaurants who can foresee that the future of upscale vegetarian cuisine lies in moving away from simply replacing the meat.

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