In the 80’s and early 90’s, I ventured on a few forays into the world of “vegetarian” restaurants in New York and in Venice, CA. Needless to say I was unimpressed. The demographics that those restaurants were going after didn't really suit me. Nothing against them, but they were just not for me. The atmosphere was very “hippie”, calling to mind Birkenstocks, Tie-Dyed Shirts & Skirts, long unwashed hair, etc. What I used to refer to as “the granola lady”. As you can imagine, it was hardly the setting for the Ladies Who Lunch set. As for the food (notice I don’t call it cuisine for a reason), it was plain, bland, and just unimaginative. I was never going to fall in love with a plate full of brown rice and steamed unseasoned sea vegetables.
Since then, the tide has turned and there are restaurants that finally cater to my demographic. Yes, I am a snob, but not in a mean way :) Without being aware, it seems that chic vegetarian restaurants had started popping up right under my nose and it was time to give them another chance. My first exploration into this new world was in Los Angeles at the famous Real Food Daily. Not just a vegetarian restaurant, but a vegan restaurant, I was wowed and became a complete fan (you can see my on camera visit with Chef/Owner Ann Gentry with this link:
My appetite whetted, I now wanted to explore more of these establishments and where else should I do it but in my hometown of New York. It was an early Sunday afternoon, driving back from attending a wedding in Pennsylvania, that it struck me to stop at the much touted Candle Cafe for lunch.
Candle Cafe began quite humbly as Healthy Candle, a health food store and juice bar in 1984. I still remember going there with friends to get bee pollen and other such energy boosters and natural medicines. It evolved into a full service juice bar & cafe and in 1994 expanded to become Candle Cafe, serving an organic vegan menu. The restaurant creates its menu based upon sustainability, eco-friendly practices, local farming and compassion for animals. They were also the first Certified Green Restaurant in NYC.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is very homey and soothing. Diner style tables line the pale sage walls which are decorated with three dimensional undulating cloth screens on one side and mirrors, framed photos and shelves with knick-knacks on the other side. The space is fairly narrow and they have made well use of the space.
Now on to the cuisine! I went with one of my closest friends so we decided to order and sample each other’s picks. We started off by sharing the Greek Salad. This was a good rendition of a classic Greek Salad, but heightened with the addition of marinated chickpeas and bell peppers. The usual feta cheese was replaced with a feta made from tofu and quite honestly, if you hadn’t told me, I would have never know the difference.
For the main course, I opted for the Tofu Club, a version of the traditional with grilled tofu replacing the turkey and tempeh bacon. I have had vegan clubs before and usually they are made with seitan replacing the turkey. This was a nice change, light and refreshing.
My friend decided to take their option of making her own dish by choosing 4 sides and 2 dressings. Her selection was a combo of steamed greens, quinoa vegetable pilaf, black beans and grilled tofu with Ginger Soy dressing. Not only was everything in this combo delicious, I actually could eat as much as I wanted without feeling the least twinge of guilt!
I heartily recommend Candle Cafe and know I will return for more exploration. However, I think my next stop will be to try the more upscale sister restaurant Candle 79, since I am of course an upscale kinda guy. :-)