February 15, 2011

Restaurant Review - Candle 79

Hello! Hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine's Day! My feelings on celebrating this occasion have varied over the years. It can be tough to be single on V-Day, but also fun to gather with your friends and have a "few" drinks while ruminating on the lamer points of love. Being in a happy relationship certainly makes the day much more palatable, though I am still weary of the shallowness of it all. I guess any day of the year that encourages people to recognize their partner and focus on their relationships can't be all bad.

This year I tried to cut down on the wastefulness and expense of the day by wrapping Johnny's gift in leftover paper and ribbons I had around the house and by making his card from scratch. I tend to go to the drug store and buy wrapping paper and cards everytime I give a gift, so this was a fun little way to be creative and to spend less money. A few weeks ago he had mentioned that he wanted a locket with my picture in it, so I had one made for him that included a quote inside from one of our favorite songs. Romantic!

Pretty flowers to make my cubicle happy!

And while I try to keep it simple, Johnny tends to go a little overboard. :-) He sent me flowers at work which are simply gorgeous and also bought me Wii Fit which I've been wanting forever! (We were laughing at how we just watched "Funny People" and he talks about Wii Fit taunting him for being fat and he's like "Video games made me fat! Now you're turning on me??") He also bought me a blu-ray combo pack of "So I Married an Axe Murderer" and "Groundhog Day" - who knew two such awesome movies could be paired together?! And he went to One Lucky Duck (the takeaway shop for the restaurant Pure Food and Wine) and bought me an insane assortment of raw, vegan chocolate items! I got truffles, chocolate truffle sauce (squee!), chocolate hearts, their famous chocolate macaroons, and two kinds of cookies. WOAH. You can order a lot of these items by going here. I am going to do my best to make this stuff last because I know it wasn't cheap, but from the few items I've tasted, it was worth every penny! I know it sounds like I'm bragging, but sometimes a girl's gotta sing the praises of the man in her life. Thanks baby!

Shwag from One Lucky Duck. And I feel like one, too!

And now for the main event... We made reservations at Candle 79, which is one of the most well-known and fanciest vegan restaurants in NYC. It was tough to get a reservation and the place was absolutely packed the whole night. Pretty cool that a vegan restaurant is so in-demand. They had a special Valentine's Day menu, but I liked the fact that there were still options. It was a four-course meal and it was nothing short of divine! Here's what we ate:
Soup/Salad Course:

I had the Saffron-Red Pepper soup with vegetable dumplings. The dumplings were fried, which was a nice bit of sin in an otherwise saintly bowl of tomato-y vegetable soup. Very hearty and satisfying.

Johnny had the Arugula Salad with delicious grilled hearts of palm, avocado, and other light vegetables in a meyer lemon dressing. Excellent.

I had the Grilled Portobello with crispy polenta, tofu cheese, spinach and romanesco sauce. This dish was insane! The plate was layered with sauce, spinach, polenta, mushroom and the tofu cheese was off to the side. It was fun to get a bit of each component to make a perfect bite. The polenta was airy and crisp, almost like a fritter, and the mushroom was really meaty. The spinach was a bit tough, I might try to recreate this at home and use a more delicate green like kale. So creative and tasty though.

Johnny went for the tomato ravioli which he liked, but didn't love. The homemade pasta was stuffed with cashew cheese and it was served with a roasted tomato truffle sauce. I had a taste and thought it was excellent, but Johnny wasn't digging the sauce. Roasting a tomato makes it more earthy and deep, whereas your standard tomato sauce has more zest, which is how he likes it. Zesty. Cashew based creams and cheeses are so awesome and easy to make. You really just have to soak cashews in water until they've softened quite a bit, then blend them in a food processor until smooth. I'll try to post a recipe using this sometime soon.


I had the Soffritto Seared Tempeh with plantains, farro, kale, red pepper sauce and pickled jalapenos. Wow! Definitely impressive. I actually still wasn't sure what soffritto meant so I just looked it up. "A mixture of seasonings and finely chopped vegetables, such as onions, garlic, and celery, that is sautéed in olive oil and used as a base for many Italian dishes." Basically a mirepoix. I'm still not sure how you can "soffritto sear" something, but the tempeh was very tasty whatever the heck they did to it. If you've never tried tempeh I would highly recommend it. It's not hard to prepare at all and is very versatile. It's made of fermented soybeans that are pressed into thin blocks and, like tofu, it takes on the taste of whatever you marinate it in or cook it with. The texture is nutty and you can crisp it up by frying or baking it. In this dish, the plantain added an unexpected sweetness and the pickled jalapeno gave a mild spice and bitterness. It ran the gamut of flavors which is exactly how I like my food!

Johnny, in a predictable move for a pasta lover, followed his appetizer pasta course with the House made Tortellini with seasonal veg, trumpet and chanterelle mushrooms, and saffron-cashew cream sauce. This was the dish that least impressed us both. I tried the tortellini and the consistency was off - it seemed a bit dried out - and it just didn't seem to come together. The veggies were in a large dice and there wasn't much sauce. It felt like the chef wasn't sure which direction they were going when they conceived this dish and they never really figured it out. Oh well, on to dessert to redeem us all!


I had the vanilla flan with dulce de leche ice cream and pralines. WOAH. I'm not gonna lie, this bowl of goodness made me wanna whip my hair. The textures of the flan and ice cream were a bit too similar to be paired together IMHO, but on their own they were each outstanding.

Johnny was back in love with Candle 79 when the "homemade ice cream sampler" arrived in front of his face. The boy loves ice cream, what can I say? He dove face-first into the caramelized banana, raspberry, and chocolate marshmallow trio and he exclaimed "This is the best ice cream I've ever haaaaad!" in the same voice Oprah uses when she announces her guests. (Though to be fair, I think he says that about all ice cream he eats.) It was not an exaggeration though, this was a platter of manna from the heavens! Not sure what type of "milk" they used (coconut or cashew would be my guess) but there was none of that slightly strange taste or texture you sometimes get with soy ice cream. This tasted like honest to goodness fattening ice CREAM. A great splurge for a day of decadence.

This being our first trip to Candle 79, I have to say I was very impressed. The staff were all very hospitable and efficient, every table was full but they managed to get the food out pretty quickly and remained calm and friendly. They are also very accommodating - the one thing Johnny dislikes about vegan restaurants is that they never have diet soda, because he sometimes allows himself to eat a sugary dessert, but he refuses to drink sugar-laden soft drinks or sweetened teas. The server excitedly told us that they make all their own sodas and that they could in fact make him one using stevia, the natural no calorie sweetener! She talked him into trying the homemade ginger ale which had fresh ginger, lemon, mint, and sparkling water. It was so delightful!

To me, this is what a NYC restaurant is all about: creativity, service, fresh ingredients, and atmosphere. I love that vegan cuisine can be so upscale. And there is just something zen about sitting amongst a bunch of vegans and enjoying a calm, quiet meal. I'm confident in saying that we'll be back soon. You had us at "homemade ice cream sampler", Candle 79... you had us at "homemade ice cream sampler".


  1. 1. Johnny is awesome! It sounds like the perfect Valentine's Day date. :)

    2. Vegan ice cream (ahem, So Delicious coconut ice cream sammies) is the best ice cream I've ever had. For reals!

  2. I agree on both counts! So Delicious ice cream is insanely good and I like that the company that makes it donates a portion of the proceeds to saving sea turtles. And sea turtles remind me of "Finding Nemo" because I'm four-years-old.

  3. What an amazing Valentine's Day it sounds like you had! I'm really glad you clarified the cashew cheese thing too. I still don't know how that can be considered cheese, but maybe that's just me. Thanks for taking the time to start this amazing blog and share your vegan knowledge with the world. You rock lil' sis!