Stephanie, Alex’s recently meat-eating, wheat loving turned gluten-free vegetarian sister is visiting from Vienna, which has afforded me the opportunity to eat out at gluten-free friendly establishments. The first night, we went to Caracas where they specialize in arepas, masa based pita-like sandwiches, which are naturally gluten-free. Alex, an arepa virgin, was so enamoured with them, that he established a weekly Caracas night.
Our second meal was spent at Angelica Kitchen, a vegan restaurant in the East Village. It’s no secret that Alex is a self-proclaimed meat-etarian and his willingness to eat at such a place is a testament to how happy he is to be spending time with Stephanie (aww). I, on the other hand, was thrilled to try out the well-established restaurant, because of their famed gluten-free friendly food and staff.
Angelica Kithcen is BYOB without a corkage fee, so I recommend venturing a block away to pick up some wine before dining. Despite the long line of hopeful customers, we were seated right away. The menu is large and slightly confusing like a diner menu, so I asked the server about the gluten-free options and she responded by bringing me the staff’s ingredient list. While the presentation was lacking, it clearly laid out what was ok for me to eat. Unfortunately, there were only three gluten-free entrees available although many of the appetizers and the dragon bowls were gluten-free. After much pondering and some more questioning, I finally decided on the special, “Spirited Tempeh” with a cup of creamy butternut soup. Since the creative, yet ambiguous title leaves one wondering, here is the description from the menu:
“Aromatic charmoula grilled tempeh with lemon, paprika, coriander, cumin & cayenne pepper; topped with kalamata olive-caramelized onion tapenade accented with orange zest; served with harissa spiced pita chips (which I replaced with brown rice crackers) & roasted root vegetable paté including turnips, parsnips & rutabagas. Accompanied by broccoli & pickled cucumber spears; garnished with watercress.”
The soup came first. It was as advertised, creamy (although not real cream-y) and rich. The parsley garnish provided a nice crisp contrast to the otherwise smooth and savory soup. Once it cooled, I gobbled it down. Then, my Spirited Tempeh. I honestly had no idea what to expect. There were so many different ingredients in this dish that I was confused when what emerged from the kitchen was two slabs of tempeh, a healthy mass of veggie pate speared with crackers, and a side of picked vegetables as an afterthought. I tried the veggie pate first. It was flavorful, nutty and earthy. I happily dipped my pickled vegetables into it until they were no more. The tempeh with the olive-onion tapenade, on the other hand was both flavorless and too salty. However, I welcomed the firm texture after overdoing it on the pate. I didn’t make it very far until I became incredibly full. I’m not sure whether it was the wine, the soup, or the heartyness of the entree, but there was no way I was cleaning my plate. Despite this, I asked for the dessert menu, hoping for a gltuen-free sweet. My only option was Kanten, a Japanese fruit compote, and I did not want another course of a formless food.
Yes, the butternut soup was great. Yes, I enjoyed the root vegetable pate. And yes, it’s BYOB. But if Angelica Kitchen is supposed to be the vegan Mecca in Manhattan, I was disappointed. I was not a fan of the predominance of amorphous food or the copious ingredients in each dish, but mostly I think it was that these dishes strayed too far from what I consider a complete and satisfying meal in terms of both texture and flavor. Next time, if I’m craving a meal free of animal products (which is rare), I’ll make the trek to Cafe Blossom on the Upper West Side.
Last week, Alex was skiing in Jackson Hole Wyoming, while I was back in NYC, working. There are a couple ways in which Alex being gone changed up my routine, but the most startling was that I was cooking for one. When ALex is eating with a friend or works late, I often find myself uninspired and lazy about making myself food. Cooking for two is easier, cheaper, and just more fun. However, I couldn’t eat grilled cheese or omelets for a week, so I devised a plan to make a healthy and delicious meal each night with relatively little effort. It all started with a family pack of chicken legs that cost me about $3.00 at Morton Williams and ended with this:
Last weekend, my best friend traveled all the way from Austin, TX for a New York City visit. Since she had fed me so well when I went to Austin, I had to return the favor. The problem is, there are so many good restaurants in the city, how to choose? Well, sometimes narrowing choices to a neighborhood helps. Friday night, we made a plan to go bowling at The Gutter in Williamsburg for some beers (or cider, in my case) and bowling. The decision then became simple: Caracas. Caracas is an arepa bar. Arepas are corn based pitas from Venezuela that you stuff with delicious meats, veggies, and cheeses and are naturally gluten-free.
Caracas has two NYC locations, the East Village and Williamsburg. I’ve never been to the East Village location despite making the trek there twice only to end up getting Indian food because of the long wait. Caracas in Williamsburg is much bigger and in a more discrete location, therefore less crowded, although on a Friday night at 8 pm with 5 people, we waited 20 minutes. Caracas has a fun, inviting, casual feel to it. Although the lighting is dim, the place doesn’t feel too romantic or somber. The tables are set for groups instead of couples and although my friend thought it would be a good date location, she specified first date, and not a 5th anniversary dinner.
The menu is relatively simple. There are salads for people that eat salads at an arepa bar, appetizers/sides, arepas, empanadas, and large plates. Although the menu doesn’t specify gluten free items, the servers are really accommodating and knowledgeable because they probably attract a lot of glutards. If you are going for an arepa, they recommend 1-2 per person but really about 1.5 is plenty, so finding a friend to split three with you is a good idea. I decided to have the special pumpkin diablo soup (because it’s fall and I’m craving anything pumpkin) and the De La Pernil arepa (roasted pork shoulder with tomato slices and a spicy mango sauce). My friends ordered a combination of arepas and empanadas, which are also gluten-free, but I didn’t know that at the time.
That’s the soup. It was really, really good. My taste buds found the soup spicy enough to have me sweating but not so much to turn me off, although my friend who eats REALLY spicy things said he couldn’t taste it at all. I liked the sweet pumpkin flavor paired with the hotness of the peppers and other hot spices, it made for a really well rounded dish.
And that’s me eating my arepa. I’m holding it delicately because it was piping hot, almost too much so to eat. I guess that’s a good thing though. I wish the mango sauce was more pronounced because all I tasted was spicy pork meat in my chewy in a good way arepa. I tried the chicken arepa, which was tasty, especially the sweet onions. Both dishes left me full, hot, and wishing I had ordered another passion fruit juice spiked with rum- all in a good way. Oh, did I mention that the soup, arepa, and drink cost me $22 with tax and tip. That’s a GREAT deal in New York. I’ll definitely be back and ready to try an empanada.
One of New York’s most famous Italian bakeries, Vaniero’s, has started making gluten-free products. Here’s the GF line-up:
Baci Pastry (flourless chocolate cake “dipped” in a chocolate casing)
Orange Delight Pastry (orange and cream neopolitan-like pastry)
Pignoli Cookies (cookie with pignoli nuts)
Spumenti Cookies (hazelnut meringue cookie)
Vaniero’s is a couple doors down from my favorite GF bakery, Tu-lu’s, and I wonder if Vaniero’s wanted to grab some of their clientele. Anyway, I stopped by to take a look at their desserts, but I was stuffed at the time and didn’t taste any. I will definitely be back though for that baci pastry for a late night snack (they are open until 1 am on Fridays and Saturdays!).