Pure Food & Wine, Union Square

Pure Food & Wine, Union SquarePure Food & Wine is, without a doubt, one of my favorite restaurants. Definitely in the top three, quite possibly at the very top of my list. I recently had lunch here with Sonali, who has been incorporating more vegetarian meals into her diet. I suggested Pure Food & Wine as the garden is a beautiful setting for catching up over a healthy, delicious meal. Pure Food & Wine, Union SquareThe weather was perfect for garden dining. All the dining tables were full, so we sat at one of the lounge tables instead. I actually preferred that as we basically had a private corner all to ourselves. The flowers were a lovely touch. The sangria was a delicious mixture of rose wine, organic fruit, fresh lemonade, and bubbly prosecco.Pure Food & Wine, Union SquareAbout halfway through our meal, I spotted Sarma Melngailis at another one of the lounge tables in the garden. She’s the owner of Pure Food & Wine and all things One Lucky Duck, and it was the duck tattoo that tipped me off!

Pure Food & Wine offers raw, vegan cuisine with a fine dining touch. I’ve been here for dinner a few times, but this was my first visit for the three-course prix fixe lunch ($32). Even though the salads are the starter size, they’re quite large! Sonali had the tuscan kale and radicchio salad with red grapes, golden raisins, pine nuts, pumpkin seed macadamia parmesan, and lemon caper vinaigrette. Tuscan Kale & Radicchio Salad, Pure Food & WineI decided to try their vegan interpretation of a caesar salad. Traditionally, caesar salads include anchovies, but in this case, they use nori for a refreshing, oceany flavor. Romaine lettuce, nori, pumpkin seed macadamia parmesan, lemon, caesar dressing. At first, I thought the yellow flakes were gigantic flakes of nutritional yeast! Caesar Salad, Pure Food & WineThis was Sonali’s first visit here, and it was fitting that she ordered the signature lasagna dish. Thinly sliced zucchini and tomatoes with sun-dried tomato sauce, pistachio basil pesto, with pumpkin seed macadamia ricotta. This dish was absolutely fabulous and very satisfying when I had it earlier this year. Zucchini and Tomato Lasagna, Pure Food & WineI ordered the Brazil nut sea vegetable croquettes. It comes with a tartare sauce, local honey sweet chili sauce, wild arugula, and pink pepper on the side. Think of this as a vegan take on a crab cake. The spiciness of the arugula was tasty, especially with the hearty croquettes and rich tartare sauce. Brazil But Sea Vegetable Croquettes, Pure Food & WineI’m always amazed and inspired by the fact that these aren’t just vegan, but raw desserts. Some of the best I’ve had in NYC. I ordered the tiramisu triangle. Rich vanilla cream layered with coffee-sake almond cake. My tiramisu craving has been officially satisfied. Tiramisu Triangle, Pure Food & WineSonali’s mallomar was perfection on a plate. Chocolate coated pecan cookie with vanilla ice cream. Remind me to order this next time I’m here! Mallomar, Pure Food & Wine

Union Republic, Jersey City

Union Republic, Jersey CityIf you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m obsessed with ramen. I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine how excited I was to discover Union Republic. Finally a good ramen restaurant on my side of the river! Located in the historic downtown area of Jersey City, UR is a New American cafe featuring ramen. It’s clearly not your traditional ramen-ya, but the fresh, contemporary interiors immediately won me over. Union Republic, Jersey CitySunshine pours through the large storefront windows, and as long as you’re not sitting directly in the sun, it’s a really nice dining experience. I’ve always dreamed of having a farmhouse dining table lined with Eames eiffel chairs, so visiting UR was almost like a little glimpse into my dream house.

Loved the green walls, and they also had some cool artwork up on the walls. Not too crazy about the stools at the bar tables, mainly because I suffered through 5 years of architecture school where we had to sit on those stools in studio for long hours. Having a quick meal on those stools probably isn’t so bad though. Union Republic, Jersey CityNow on to the ramen! John and I both ordered the Alpha & Omega ramen ($13), the vegetarian ramen at UR. It can be made vegan, which probably just means that they omit the egg. The broth seemed to be entirely made of veggies. I didn’t bother asking the waiter if the broth was vegetarian. We’re vegetarian, but the occasional meat based broth or trace of meat isn’t a dealbreaker for us. Vegetarian Ramen, Union RepublicWild mushrooms, braised collard greens, sugar snap peas, roasted cauliflower, garlic, scallions, nori, and a soft egg. The noodles were a bit too firm at first, but once they had soaked in the broth for a few more minutes, they were the perfect al dente. Boy, do they pack a lot of noodles into these bowls! The veggies were fresh, colorful, and flavorful. The mushrooms and cauliflower were clearly the star here. The broth was tasty, heavy on the garlic, but I have no complaints about that. UR, I’ll definitely be back for more!Vegetarian Ramen, Union Republic

Kajitsu, Murray Hill

Full Moon Soymilk Dumpling, KajitsuWho would have thought that NYC’s list of Michelin restaurants would include one that specializes in vegan Japanese cuisine? Angela and I recently visited Kajitsu for our monthly dinner date. This was a slight departure from our usual ramen and soba dates, but still fits with the Japanese theme. Kajitsu formerly held two Michelin stars, and I can’t help but wonder if being a vegan restaurant may have contributed to the loss of a star.

Stepping inside Kajitsu, it felt like such a relief to escape from Midtown. The space is very zen minimalist with a pleasant brightness and warmth. The tables were well spaced out, making it feel like an intimate dining experience even though it was quite crowded. Kajitsu serves Shojin cuisine, a type of vegetarian cooking that originates in Zen Buddhism. We opted for the four course Kaze menu ($55), and our entire meal was like a well orchestrated dance. Every dish was meticulously prepared and beautifully presented with complex, balanced flavors. There are sake pairings, but I decided to stick to Sauvignon Blanc that evening.

First course: full moon soy milk dumpling with artichoke, truffle, lily bulb, young corn, edamame, dark night carrot, black daikon, ginkgo nut. Full Moon Soymilk Dumpling, KajitsuThere’s a wonderful sense of anticipation with this first dish. The waitress brings out your tray with the ceramic lid still covering the dish, then there’s the big reveal. What a feast for the eyes and taste buds. The truffle was a nice contrast to the soy milk dumpling.

Second course: early fall vegetable tempura with Dutch flat beans, fushimi togarashi, zucchini flower, nama-fu, potatoes, lotus roots, and carrots. Early Fall Vegetable Tempura, KajitsuI have tempura from time to time, but have never had tempura quite like this. The batter was light and crispy, quite flavorful on its own, while allowing the vegetables to shine. The plating is just stunning. Love how it’s artfully placed to resemble fall leaves. Early Fall Vegetable Tempura, KajitsuThird course: lobster mushroom hot pot with baby turnip, golden beets, scallion, napa cabbage, rikyu-fu, onion, mochi, and ginger. Of course, the fall menu would not be complete without a warm and comforting hot pot dish. Fresh, tender veggies in a light broth that’s brightened up the ginger. This dish delivers in terms of flavor, but the plating didn’t seem quite as well done as the previous two. Lobster Mushroom Hot Pot, KajitsuFourth course: Burdock roots rice with seasonal mushrooms, house made pickles, and miso soup. The soup was absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed the rice bowl, but wish they had a few more mushrooms in there. We were told to enjoy each item separately, but I ended up adding the pickles to the rice for an extra boost of flavor. Burdock Roots Rice, KajitsuOverall, a delightful experience with excellent service. However, I feel that the Kaze menu started on such a high note, but the final dish did not fully live up to expectations. If you wow me with the opening number, you’re setting a very high bar for the following dishes. That said, Kajitsu is proof that vegetarians/vegans are not missing out on good food.

I’m sure their desserts would be fantastic too, but we decided against dessert as we had already been at the restaurant for 2 hours and were starting to feel antsy. Compared to most Michelin stared restaurants, Kajitsu is quite reasonably priced. If you’re looking for a top notch dining experience that doesn’t burn a hole in your wallet, give Kajitsu a try.

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Homemade Marinara SauceA big plate of spaghetti topped with chunky marinara sauce is one of the most comforting things, especially after a long day. We normally buy jarred marinara sauce, but they often have so much salt and sugar. Lately, jarred marinara sauce has been upsetting my stomach, which is most likely due to the acidity. Time to make our own marinara sauce from scratch and try out a few techniques for reducing the acidity

I used this recipe for reference for making marinara sauce. Since that recipe is adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s book, it felt like I was in good hands. Used fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes and minced garlic instead of slivered garlic. I made sure to remove the tomato seeds as they’re supposed to be very acidic. Simmered the sauce for 5 extra minutes to get it to the right consistency. Easy recipe, but the part where you crush the tomatoes with your hands gets a bit messy. The sauce was fantastic, perfect with whole wheat spaghetti cooked to a nice al dente. Top it with nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor, and ta-da, a delicious and comforting dinner!

Dirt Candy, East Village

Dirt Candy, East Village NYCWow, so here’s a blog post that is way overdue. John and I celebrated our wedding anniversary at Dirt Candy back in August. We had to make reservations 2 months in advance, but the wait was well worth it.

First things first… What is dirt candy? Vegetables, of course! Owner/chef Amanda Cohen, who has previously worked with some of our favorites like Pure Food & Wine and Blossom, makes magic with veggies. Dirt Candy easily makes it to my top 5, possibly even my top 3 in NYC. Even though they’re working with vegetables, they’re not afraid to fry things up! The dishes were fun and full of surprises. Also, I didn’t expect to have our order taken by Amanda Cohen herself. The East Village location is now closed, and I’m looking to checking out their new larger space once it opens.

Dirt Candy, East Village NYCDirt Candy was tiny, but I was digging the warm glow. On Yelp, I’ve seen several reviews where people complained about how ridiculous it is that your waitress may have to help you move the table so you can get in and out of your seat. Meh, that really is not all that unusual for NYC. A cozy and intimate spot for date night, but I’d love to do lunch here sometime so I can see the dishes under natural light.

Jalapeno hush puppies ($6) to start? Yes, please! These babies are served with a delicious maple butter that I couldn’t get enough of. The heat slowly sneaks up on you. To this day, I’m still gushing over how amazing these were. Very good with a refreshing glass of wine or with the Hitachino Nest White Ale a.k.a. the beer with the cute owl label.
Jalapeno Hush Puppies, Dirt CandyPotato ($12): warm potato salad, crispy Japanese yams, grilled sweet potato, olives, bitter greens, and apples. Potatoes prepared three different ways with a little assistance from a vegetable slicer. Very tasty, especially the grilled ribbon at the very bottom. Those crispy ribbons at the top were so light and crunchy. A nice mixture of textures and flavors. Potato, Dirt CandyJohn is indifferent when it comes to beets, so it took a little convincing to get him to agree to sharing the beet entree. When I think of beets, Dwight Schrute from The Office immediately comes to mind, but I don’t think Dwight would serve Schrute Farm beets with curry. Beets ($20): salt-roasted beets, thai green curry, beet gnocchi, whipped coconut galangal cream. Beets and curry… an unexpected combination, but it’s quite the party in your mouth. Rich and flavorful. The coconut offers a nice balance to the salty beets. Beets, Dirt CandyWe don’t normally order dessert at restaurant, but Dirt Candy’s dessert menu was really intriguing and hard to resist. I mean, eggplant tiramisu, rosemary cotton candy, celery cheesecake… you have to try one, right?! We ordered the celery cheescake roll ($10) with celeriac ice cream, peanut filling, and candied grapes. Beautifully presented, and every component was quite a treat. The celery flavor was subtle and quite nice in both the ice cream and cheesecake roll. Oh, and those candied grapes! Yum! Celery Cheesecake Roll, East Village

Double Caramel Chocolate Turtle Cake

Double Caramel Chocolate Turtle CakeNo birthday is complete without cake! I’ve gotten back into baking over the past few months, and John’s birthday was the perfect excuse to indulge in chocolate and caramel. Chocolate cake, caramel frosting, caramel sauce, chocolate cake, caramel frosting, more caramel sauce, then finally a generous sprinkling of toasted pecans! Double Caramel Chocolate Turtle CakeThis is the recipe I used, but I used vanilla soy milk instead of fat-free milk and substituted the boiling water in the cake batter with freshly brewed coffee to enhance the chocolate. Also, every time I’ve used coffee in a chocolate cake, it comes out wonderfully moist! Double Caramel Chocolate Turtle CakeThe pecans were toasted for about 8-10 minutes at 350F. So fragrant! Instead of store bought caramel, I made my own sauce with this easy recipe. I made two batches: one with light brown sugar, one with dark brown sugar. The latter has a stronger flavor, but I preferred the color of the other batch. We have so much caramel leftover! Double Caramel Chocolate Turtle Cake

Dos Caminos, Soho

Dos Caminos Soho, NYCLast Saturday, we celebrated John’s birthday with a fantastic Mexican dinner at Dos Caminos Soho. We walk by this place all the time, and it’s always very crowded. It’s first come, first serve for outdoor seating even if you have a reservation. Lucky us — an outdoor table for two was available right when we showed up!

You cannot visit a Mexican restaurant and pass on the guacamole. We ordered the mango & papaya-habernero guacamole ($14). Comes with a trio of salsas. The salsa verde, the mildest of three, was my favorite. The spiciest salsa was delicious, but it was too much heat for me. Thank goodness for the creamy guacamole to soothe my taste buds. Mango & Papaya-Habanero Guacamole, Dos CaminosDos Caminos has a very extensive cocktail selection, especially if you are a tequila fan. I had the grilled grapefruit margarita. The subtle grilled flavor was quite nice and went well with the salt. John is not a tequila man, so he tried the “Queen of the Night” pale ale. Queen of the Night Pale Ale, Dos CaminosThe empanadas de platano ($10) are a good option for vegetarians. Roasted plantain masa, black beans, poblano chiles, and queso anejo. Nicely plated, extremely rich and filling. By the time we finished our guacamole and empanadas, I was already stuffed…Plantain Empanadas, Dos Caminos…and there were still veggie tacos ($15) on the way! Warm tortillas with grilled avocado and veggies, white beans, cucumber pico de gallo, and queso fresco. I’m not sure why it comes with an odd number of tacos, but I overheard a waiter telling an adjacent table that you can add on an extra taco if you like. Vegetarian Tacos, Dos CaminosThe veggie tacos were very good, and I loved the large slices of grilled avocado. The tacos also come with a good portion of rice and beans on the side. Vegetarian Tacos, Dos CaminosGuacamole and chips, empanadas, and tacos… that was a lot of food for two people. Food coma soon kicked in as you can see from the blank expression on the birthday boy’s face, haha! A successful birthday dinner, and I’d love to come back for brunch!Dos Caminos Soho, NYC