Buzzwords like “organic,” “local,” “sustainable” – they show up a lot today, on restaurant menus and food labels and on the web. They’ve become another way of saying “trendy,” “healthy,” and “hip,” even though they’re not necessarily any of those things.
But on occasion, you find a gem like Candle 79, where the food is locally sourced whenever possible, and the menu is comprised of organic, seasonal foods. Their committment to eco-friendly cooking and business practices made them the first Certified Green Restaurant in NYC, and all of these things make them trendy, hip, healthy and admirable. Since I moved to New York, they’ve been on the top of my list for veg-friendly must-eats, and I finally got there.
Behold, Candle 79.
I’ll be the first to admit, I almost always approach strict vegan restaurants with trepidation. I prefer a plant-based menu, not one that flaunts an extensive knowledge of nut-based cheese alternatives and heavily sauced seitan served with rice and beans. In fact, I’ve recently been extremely impressed with the care and attention whole, raw vegetables get at traditional restaurants, because the focus of the dish is the vegetable, not the vegetarian or vegan consumer. Just a thought.
Yet Candle 79 delivers on both regards, demonstrating serious kitchen creativity when it comes to creating vegan substitutions, as well as an apprecitation for the roots and shoots that are fundamental to their menu and restaurant philosophy.
Recommended Dishes: As just stated, I will always gravitate toward the most raw, vegetable-based dishes on a menu. Which means I spend a lot of time eating salad. But at Candle 79, even their salads are well thought out, and incorporate a surprising array of ingredients. I enjoyed my Mediterranean Salad, with its peppery arugula and watercress complimented by tomatoes, grilled cippolini onions, avocado, cucumbers, and hearts of palm, topped with a few chickpeas for protein and crispy capers for crunch. My mother also ordered a salad, choosing the Candle 79 House. In addition to the traditional combination of grape tomatoes and cucumbers, this refreshing bite came topped with an attractive nest of radish batons and hemp seeds.
My final recommendation is a secondhand one, passed on from my roommate, Ethan. He said to me, as I grabbed my keys and headed out to meet my folks and our family friend, Max – “You have to order the guacamole. It’s so good, you’re going to cry.”
I didn’t cry. But I did love every bite of the neopolitan-style Guacamole Timbale. The three generous layers of guacamole, pico de gallo, and chipotle-spiced black beans with carmelized onions, served over a brilliant red pool of ranchero sauce and topped with thick, crunchy plaintain chips, was a fun starter to share. It was a perfect balance of texture and spice, and after a few bites, I stopped wondering why I was so okay with dipping fried bananas (more or less) into my guacamole and salsa.
The Not-So-Good Bite: While my vegetarian mother and I felt stuffed at the end of our meal, my father and other non-vegetarian diner, Max, wiped their plates clean and could still have gone back for more. They both ordered the lunch special burrito, packed with my not so favorite vegan staples – seitan, rice, and beans – wrapped inside a tortilla with sauteed greens, soy versions of cheese and sour cream, and some of that fantastic guac and carmelized onions from the aforementioned guacamole starter. While I’m not particularly fond of soy proteins, I suspect that the unfamiliar plant-based diet is more likely the cause of my father and Max’s residual hunger. The burrito was not, by any means, sparse. What’s more, even though seitan, tofu, and tempeh are very present on the menu, there is a huge variety of whole vegetable dishes that balance out these artifical alternatives.
The Good Bite: Candle 79’s bar is home to an extensive menu of organic wines and beers, as well as cocktails made with agave, fresh fruits, and local and organic liquors. Order the Reforestation Cocktail, a refreshing blend of fresh mint with ginger-agave, lime, acai liquor and wheatgrass vodka, and Candle 79 will have a tree planted in your honor. Talk about a reason to order a second round!
The Best Bite: A meal at Candle 79 leaves your appetite satisfied and your good karma restored. Eating these environmentally conscious meals is something everyone at the table – whether they’re a carnivour attempting to satisfy a meat craving with a seitan burger or the witty signature entree, Spaghetti and Wheat Balls, or a raw food enthusiast filling up on mache and endive in the Beet and Watermelon Salad, or even someone suffering from a gluten intolerance finding reprieve in the heirloom tomato tartare or even the stunning zucchini blossoms my mother and I split as an entree – the extensive, seasonal, ever-changing menu is worth revisiting time and time again.
I’m looking forward to going back, and working my way through this fun, vegan menu.
Until next time,