Archive for the ‘NYC’ Category

Charmed by Amanda Cohen

July 7, 2010

Though Dirt Candy has been my favorite restaurant for a while, I might have recently formed a girl-crush on its Executive Chef Amanda Cohen.  Aside from being cute and all, she’s full of vibrant passion and yet still retains a bit of an outspoken edge. But what really does it for me is her take on vegetarian cuisine. While I respect those who adopt the lifestyle for political, ethical, religious, environmental and/or health reasons, I didn’t grow up with any those associations. Honestly, vegetarianism was simply the way I grew up and I didn’t really feel the necessity to question it much in my youth. But contrary to anyone I’ve met before, Chef Cohen became a vegetarian in order to rebel. Yes, you read that right.  What a badass! And besides that, her food is still out of this world. Off the current menu, the steamed carrot buns, eggplant fettuccine and especially the fried green tomatoes blew me away.  And of course, the staples that I love are still on the menu, including the jalapeno hush puppies, the Portobello mouse, and the crispy tofu. Anyway, to find out more on how I was won over by this petite fireball, check out the interview after the jump.

Your food is so eclectic and doesn’t fall into any one ethnic type. How do you decide what makes it on the plate?

I grew up on all different kinds of food. I’ve lived all over the world at various times and I’m really lucky: I can put all of these influences into one dish. People talk about it a lot as fusion cuisine, but to me it’s just food. It’s not even different kinds of cuisines; it’s what’s available in your neighborhood.

So how then, do you categorize your food? If it’s not fusion, then most people would call it vegetarian. What’s your take?

We think of ourselves as a vegetable restaurant, not just a vegetarian restaurant. We do whatever we can to make vegetables taste really good. A year and a half of working specifically with vegetables, we’ve learned that vegetables are really unique and sometimes don’t have a lot of flavor. So we do whatever we can to bring out the most flavor.

You became a vegetarian at the age of 15. But you clearly didn’t make this change for healthy-related, political or ethical reasons. Why did you become a vegetarian?

All my friends were vegetarians. It was peer pressure. I know…most people have friends that pressure them to drink or smoke. But I had friends who were all vegetarians.

Umm…where was this?

It was in Toronto in the very late eighties and early nineties. Believe it or not, it was the trendy thing to do back then. It was how you rebelled. And I wasn’t really a big meat-eater as a kid, so it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t for health or politics. Anyway, I’m not a vegetarian anymore…I eat fish. But that’s mostly because I wanted to be able to experience other foods and styles of cooking at restaurants.

So you became a vegetarian and then became famous for frying Buffalo wings at a diner in Spanish Harlem. Yet you came back to vegetarian cuisines. What made you return to vegetarianism?

Well, when I was making the chicken wings, I was actually vegetarian. So I worked for years at a meat-centric restaurant as a vegetarian and I was really, really lucky that they let me get away with it. But basically, it was many years later that I became inspired to do something about vegetables. I had eaten just one too many vegetable plates at fancy restaurants. I thought to myself, “That’s it. I cannot have another vegetable plate. I just can’t.” I was tired of being charged $40 for a plate of grilled vegetables…done well, but still…grilled vegetables. I was just starting to figure out that there was something missing and there could be more to this kind of food, but I wasn’t yet good enough and  my palate wasn’t sophisticated enough. I knew I couldn’t compete with these chefs who do great work with meat when I couldn’t taste it. It wasn’t enough just to read about it anymore. So that’s why I’ve started eating fish.

So what’s your least favorite vegetable plate among those that you’ve tried?

Any grilled vegetable platter that has the Portobello, zucchini and the eggplant…It’s just so boring. You don’t have to go all out like we do here. You just have to try a little.

What’s your favorite vegetable dish?

I’m not a big favorites person, but I like the vinegar potatoes at Grand Sichuan. It blew my mind. The potatoes are half raw and really vinegary and the potatoes have Sichuan peppercorns in them. I’d never had anything like that and I thought, “Wow. Somebody is doing amazing things with vegetables.” I also love a lot of the Thai restaurants that do things like deep-fried watercress.

You don’t seem to be a fan of mock- meat but a lot of people think it’s needed to take the place of an animal protein in a dish. How do you make your meals filling?

It’s not that I don’t like mock meat. I think it has its place. I will eat veggie dogs…I think they’re great. I do think they make a meal more filling, but I think that you can’t do as many exciting things with them. Most restaurants see it as a direct replacement for part of a meat-based dish instead of doing something amazing with the mock-meat. I think in order to make a great meal, just treat vegetables (or grains or beans) with the same respect you give meat. If you put the same energy into cooking vegetables as you do meat, instead of treating them as an after-thought, you will have an amazing, filling dish.

Changing topics a bit, you commented recently about how you don’t think female chefs are being recognized. Who do you think should be recognized?

It’s hard to do a specific with that. I do think that women get overlooked in kitchens a lot and that there’s a boys’ club that is really hard to break into. The culinary world is an elitist place where the focus for the next big thing is on mainstream Italian-based or French-based kitchens. Those are the types of places that tend to be dominated by white men. There are lots of people, not just women, doing interesting things outside of that. You don’t see a lot of ethnic chefs celebrated or vegetarian cooks celebrated. I just think there are so many more chefs out there doing interesting things whom we’ve never even heard of because they aren’t part of this standard kitchen category. So I don’t know their names and I can’t tell you who should be looked at. But I know they are out there.

Speaking of ethnic chefs and chefs who sometimes get too much attention, I read that David Chang asked you to do a food stall for the Lucky Rice Festival. It seems odd, since he’s somewhat notorious for disliking vegetarians. How did this come about?

Well I’m not sure but I think it was because they needed a vegetarian stall. I don’t know if David Chang was part of the planning at all (he was there but I didn’t meet him), but I think they had read that for a while I was doing kimchi donuts, so it piqued their interest. I ended up not being able to do the donuts since I couldn’t fry in that alley-way. We ended up doing the steamed carrot buns that are on the menu now.

What are your plans for the future? Any new restaurants or book deals to look out for?

Right now I’m just trying to get through the day. I want to make the restaurant better. I think we are a great restaurant and that we do a great job every night. But I think we could always do better. There is so much more we could be doing and so much food I want to play with and I want to have more time to get creative before I think about opening a bigger restaurant. I’ve always had a problem with restaurants and chefs that do something sort of well and then go off to the next project. I want to feel more settled here and really put the time in to perfect what I’m doing here before I think about the next thing.

What expectations do you want people to come in with when they come to Dirt Candy?

None. I want people to come in with an open-mind about a different kind of experience. We are a different restaurant. We are small…tiny, really. The temperature is always wrong for the season, we don’t have enough servers because we can’t fit them in. Your server is probably going to be me and I’m going to look messy because I’ve just had some sort of disaster in the kitchen…while I’m in the middle of serving you, I’m also peeling beets and cooking your meal. With the food, I think it’s really different than what you’ll get at any other restaurant. You won’t get your three components on a dish. Instead, you’ll usually get one component done five different ways.  You’ll also get really different flavors. I don’t expect everybody to love it, but I hope it sort of opens minds to what could be done. We want to challenge our diners and have dialogues with them. We want to be interactive; all of our servers and cooks are really friendly and we want you to ask them questions. We want you to feel comfortable here and, though I don’t expect you to love it, I do want you to be happy here.

Cookshop

June 25, 2010

“American Bistro” is a term that instills fear in a vegetarian only slightly less than the words, “French Bistro.” So when my friends and I settled on Cookshop for brunch, I definitely felt a wave of panic wash over me. I mean, when the website proclaims that the butcher was the original chef, one can’t help but be worried. But being one to face a culinary challenge head-on, I made my way over to check it out. Outdoor seating helped to assuage my anxiety by occupying my attention as a fashionable and rather good-looking crowd walked by or joined the wait to be seated. When I could finally turn my attention to the menu, I was pleasantly surprised at my options. On the sweet side, there were the usual choices of French toast and pancakes, however, there were also more interesting treats such as sticky buns, beignets with pineapple compote, and a stuffed croissant with banana and chocolate that is out-of-this-world.

To my amazement and pleasure, almost all of the egg options were also easily converted to vegetarian-friendly fare. Though the scramble with caramelized onions, crème fraiche and chives looked interesting, I opted for the poached eggs with white cheddar grits (minus the sausage). I loved the creaminess of the grits paired with the salty bite of the cheddar. And adding the mild flavor of two perfectly poached eggs was a stroke of genius. The only thing I felt missing was something with a bit more crunch – maybe next time I’ll get a side of crispy toast. Other items included huevos rancheros, a frittata, skillet eggs, a hearty-looking salad, porridge and a plethora of breakfast sides (biscuits, fruit, granola, etc). If you are in Chelsea and would like to enjoy your breakfast along with a glamorous crowd without the pretention of some of the joints a few blocks south, then Cookshop is definitely worth a visit.

Cookshop
156 10th Ave (near 20th St.)
212-924-4440

Indo-Chinese Battle: Chinese Mirch vs. Nanking

May 26, 2010

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When I think of Indianized Chinese in NYC, there are two places that come immediately to mind: Nanking and Chinese Mirch. But deciding where to go can be a bit of a battle.  Below, I’ve laid out the pros and cons of each restaurant for specific attributes (food, drink, ambience, etc) and picked a winner for each attribute. Hopefully this guide will make a breeze for you to decide what’s best for your next meal.

Chinese Mirch
120 Lexington Ave (between 28th and 29th)
212-532-3663

1830 Second Ave (between 94th and 95th)
212-828-6400

Nanking
1634 Broadway (between 50th and 51st)
212-586-3100

Chinese Mirch Coming to Beantown Burbs

May 21, 2010

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Tipped off by a commenter, I investigated Chinese Mirch’s website and they are indeed coming to Boston (well, Framingham) this summer. So only a few more weeks before the people of this city can taste what true Indian Chinese is supposed to be like. In the meantime, if you’re in NYC and not sure whether to hit up Nanking or Chinese Mirch, you’re in luck! I’ve put together a guide on how to choose between the two. Check back by Monday for the full story.

Is Alphabet City the New Nolita of Nightlife?

May 6, 2010

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As more and more interesting, under-the-radar restaurants and bars with artisanal drinks find their way into alphabet city, this part of the city might just become the new Nolita of nightlife. A reader just passed along this Gothamist post about Cienfuegos, a new cuban-themed speakeasy that can be found via a secret entrance in an East Sixth Street sandwich shop. The specialty is a variety of rum punches. While I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, there are some big names associated with this joint, including the teams behind Mayaheul and Death & Co. as well Charolotte Voisey from Rose Bar and The Eldridge. From the sound of it and the cool look from the Gothamist photos, this place might just replace PDT as my number one drink spot in NYC.

via Gothamist

95 Avenue A near 6th St.
Enter through Carteles Sandwich Shop on 443 E. 6th St.

Vegan Art

May 6, 2010

Ironically housed in the former location of Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meat Purveyors, Gavin Brown’s enterprise will present a restaging of Jonathan Horowitz’s Go Vegan!. The show was originally exhibited in 2002 and claims to turn vegetarianism from a “soft issue” into a heavy-hitting one that will clear any confusion you may have about changing to a vegan lifestyle. The opening reception will be held on May 9th from 4-6p.m.

Gavin Brown’s enterprise
601 Washington St. near Leroy St.
Tuesday-Saturday
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A Better Way to Celebrate Cinco De Mayo

May 5, 2010

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Looking for a place to celebrate your Mexican side? Skip the beer and tequila and head to Sunita Bar for one of her jalapeño passion martinis (Sunita is the only employee at her bar). This under-the -radar LES bar is down-to-earth, friendly and relaxed. The size doesn’t allow for too much ruckus, so you can enjoy your craft cocktail in peace. And as if it can’t get any better, there’s outdoor seating.

via Sunita Bar

106 Norfolk St. near Delancy St.
212-253-8860

Quick Look at Otarian

May 3, 2010

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Curious about the new vegetarian fast-food chain to hit the NYC streets?  Here’s what good friend and serious NYC foodie, Madhuri Sharma, had to say about the carbon footprint conscious eatery:

It might be just be the new fast food option for all Taco Bell-loving South Asians across America.
Pros:
The quality of the fast food (and I’m a carnivore) is way more motivating than saving the planet via “vegging” out
Cons:
It’s a little too pricey to compare to your local Jack and the Crack or Burger King. Taco Bell will still reign as fast food haven for [South Asian] vegetarians if Otarian can’t bring its prices down.

So there you have it folks. Looks like the food tastes great, but the prices may be what’s hard to swallow. I’ll be posting more on this as the verdicts come in.

154 Bleeker St. between Thompson and LaGuardia
212-614-6834

947 Eighth Ave. near 56th St.
212-489-3270

Guilt Tripped

May 1, 2010

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How many of you guys watched Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution? I’m not gonna lie…I was so inspired by the show, I had my own Food Revolution marathon via Hulu. I signed up for Jaime’s petition and was reminded by his friendly Friday newsletter to spread the word. So I might be a day late, but I’m doing my part.

If you are unfamiliar with the petition, it’s really simple. All it says is:

I support the Food Revolution. America’s kids need better food at school and better health prospects. We need to keep cooking skills alive.

Fill in your email address, first name, last name and state/province and that’s it! You’ve just helped to petition the While House for better school food.

How to Deal in Midtown East (Part 2)

April 30, 2010

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Mantao Chinese Sandwiches
With the Asian sandwich craze comes a new, filling and delicious option. Mantao refers to the fluffy, white, steamed bread that is usually used to make buns in Northern China. At Mantao Chinese Sandwich, flatter versions of the bun dough are topped with sesame and replace the usual sandwich bread. For the vegetarian varieties, the breads are filled with spicy tofu, fried egg, or shiitake and portobello mushrooms – all of them are tasty and worth a try. They also sell a variety of salads, cold sesame noodles and pretty good pan-fried vegetable dumplings.

235 E. 53rd Street between 2nd and 3rd
212-888-2490

spicy tofu sandwich

Boi Sandwich
Though, in typical Midtown fashion, it’s fussier, less spicy and more than twice as expensive as its downtown cousins, the Boi báhn mì is a still satisfying and delicious sandwich. A large, fluffy hunk of white bread is filled with napa cabbage, avocado, peppers, fennel, basil, baby arugula and pickled daikon radish and carrots. While it may not win points for authenticity, it certainly wins for creativity – especially for a vegetarian sandwich. That said, it will rescue you from yet another trip to a deli.

708 Third Ave between 44th and 45th
212-682-1117

Oms/b
I recommend this place to the adventurous eater who is truly looking for a new food experience. For me, the concept of rice balls is not totally unfamiliar – but the flavor combinations found at Oms/b are. Take for example sesame and seaweed, or gobo with sesame mayonnaise. There are also slightly more familiar assortments as well, such as variations of hijiki/edamame and shiso/plum. If you try them out and find that you prefer something more conventional, you can always get a side of spring rolls.

156 E. 45th St. between Lexington and 3rd
212-922-9788

Chop’t
I don’t LOVE salads. I do enjoy a well-made salad but I guess the real issue is that so many of them are lacking in flavor and texture. Not at Chop’t. While I’m not going to pretend that it’s healthiest place to get your vegetables, they do offer tasty and satisfying options. I especially love their Santa Fe salad; it’s got avocado, tomato, corn, pepper jack cheese, fried onions and a base of romaine lettuce. Note: all of their low fat dressings have less than 45 calories and 3 grams of fat or fewer per serving. But at 35 grams of fat for the undressed salad, it’s not something I would indulge in everyday.

60 E. 56th St. between Madison and Park
212-750-2467

165 E. 52nd St. between Lexington and 3rd
212-421-2300

‘wichcraft
Generally I’m not the hugest fan of ‘wichcraft. My order somehow always takes ages, even though the cold stuff is pre-prepared. And on the whole, it is very overpriced. But there is one item on the menu that I will definitely go out of my way for: the marinated eggplant sandwich. It’s made up of spicy, marinated eggplant, chickpea puree, roasted peppers and watercress on ciabatta bread. It can be quite messy to eat, but boy is it packed with flavor! And at less than $8 (without tax), it might be one of the cheapest meals in midtown.

245 Park Ave. near 47th
212-661-7678

555 Fifth Ave. between 45th and 46th
212-682-6893

1 Park Ave. between 32nd and 33rd
212-685-0906


Crisp
Eclectic interpretations of the falafel are served in fresh-made pitas or as salads. While Crisp claims to be 100% vegetarian, I’d shy away from the items containing parmesan or feta if you want to be on the safe side. There are several enticingly unusual items on the menu, like the crisp africa which has north african peanut sauce, sweet potatoes, corn salad, cherry tomatoes and green onions. However, my favorite is the crisp parisian, made with sundried tomato spread, goat cheese (from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery), roasted peppers, red onions and garden greens. They also offer a selection of refreshingly fruity, house-blended ice teas. The lines can be a bit crazy and confusing during peak lunch times, so I recommend ordering online first and then picking up.

684 Third Ave. on the corner of 43rd
212-661-0000


Click here for Part 1 of How to Deal in Midtown East.

Click here to see The Soho Sandwich Tour.