Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New York, NY

I just got back from a combined social visit and research trip to New York. The morning we left New Haven was dreary and rainy, and clouds hovered in the sky during the entire train ride, threatening a gloomy day ahead in the city. But I never lost hope that the sun would peek through and brighten the day.

We arrived at Grand Central around 3:00 Saturday afternoon -- tired, hungry, disoriented, and in desperate need of some comfort. Curly's Vegetarian Lunch was the perfect ticket out of the miasma.

Me out front with my brand new Stella McCartney bag (thanks, Dianna!!)

The restaurant was tiny and cozy with an inviting diner flare and the welcoming manifesto: "Where Vegetarians, Vegans and Sympathetic Omnivores can always find something good to eat." Who could go wrong with that kind of promise?

It took awhile to study the extensive menu filled with vegetarian versions of All-American favorites like sloppy joe's, BLT's, crabcakes and breakfast all day items. Plus, we were distracted by the placemat artwork decorating the walls (as well as the bright sun beaming through the window!).

I finally decided to "go faux" by ordering the Tofu Rancheros - two big slabs of grilled tofu on top of 3 slices of "Sham" (faux ham slices) and corn tortillas, slathered by black beans, warm salsa and a heaping mound of tofu sour cream and shredded Follow Your Heart Cheese. To balance out the meal, I opted for the side salad instead of the Curly Fries. I think that's what kept my energy level up the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening we had dinner reservations for Counter. I love the atmosphere: dark, moody, chic, yet unpretentious enough that an older couple in jeans and fanny packs seemed right at home seated at the bar sipping wine.

I apologize for the pictures - our secluded little corner was lit only by a solitary tea light that just didn't do the food justice. Nonetheless, it all tasted fabulous. They start the table off with a plate of olive bread and dipping sauce made of hot chili oil, tofu bits and various herbs & spices (our waitress said it was a melange of rosemary, oregano and Ethiopian berbere spice mix).

We chose the Mezze platter of 3 appetizers: Corn Beignets with Remoulade, Zaalok (roasted red pepper and eggplant spread with toast points), and the special of the evening Buffalo Mushrooms with Vegan Ranch dressing. These were all outstanding, particularly the beignets which were delicate little fritters that had been lightly deepfried then dipped in a decadent cream sauce scented with fresh rosemary. Even my non-vegan dining companion was impressed.

For our entrees, we selected the pasta special which was a handcut Papardelle with Baby Asparagus, Snap Peas and Trumpet Mushroom in a Light Lemon Sauce, and the Cauliflower "Risotto," which didn't have any rice at all but was instead a finely chopped mash of cauliflower studded by snap peas and shiitake mushroom in a cream sauce (which, alas, was more pastey than creamy, to my chagrin).

We ended the meal with a Hot Fudge Sundae which, of course, was nothing like what you'd find at your average Dairy Queen. A dense little chocolate cake was encircled by a ring of thick, rich dark chocolate sauce, which then was encircled by a caramel sauce. This was topped by a scoop of freshly made vanilla ice cream. You'd have to ask if it was vegan if the waitress hadn't already said so. All in all, an exceptional dining experience.

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