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.