Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Blossom Du Jour: Fast Food Vegan Style

For my last post of the semester, I wanted to find something a little different from the other vegan restaurants I had been going to. Most vegan restaurants are sit-down restaurants, whether they are fancy or more on the casual side, but Blossom Du Jour is a healthier and vegan version of a fast food restaurant. They have five locations, one of which is not too far from Columbia, located at 449 Amsterdam Avenue between 81st and 82nd Street.

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The restaurant was very small inside with a decent amount of counter space. A lot of people get take-out, but many also sit at the counter to eat. If you sit at the counter, there is a nice view of Amsterdam Avenue through the windows. It is a nice spot to eat alone, but you can also bring a couple of friends to enjoy the food with.

I decided to try the Strawberry Banana Burst smoothie and it was truly amazing. It was made with strawberries, bananas, and apple cider. I couldn’t even tell that there were no diary products used to make the smoothie!

Strawberry Banana Burst Smoothie
Strawberry Banana Burst Smoothie

I also tried the Midtown Melt sandwich, which is made with cajun spiced seitan, vegan cheese, agave, guacamole, lettuce, and chipotle aïoli. I could not even tell that the cheese used in the sandwich was vegan! Also the guacamole and chipotle aïoli tasted great together, along with the other ingredients in the sandwich. I would have to say the best part was that my food was all made in under five minutes and it tasted like food that I would order at a restaurant, which would take more than quadruple the amount of time to make.

Midtown Melt
Midtown Melt

I really enjoyed going to Blossom Du Jour, and I will definitely be going back sometime soon! I have never been to a vegan fast food restaurant before, and I’d have to say that it was a great experience. I recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for a quick and delicious meal in a casual and comfortable atmosphere.

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Late Night on the Low

So it’s past 3 am, and you’re starving.

Whether it’s after a night out with friends or after an intense night of studying, we’ve all been there. Luckily for us, we go to school in the “city that never sleeps.” And, even luckier for us, the concept of no-sleep is also applicable to the gracious food vendors that keep their doors open throughout the night.

Typically, our food cravings at this hour involve the greasy, the sweet, the salty. Basically the unhealthy. The middle of the night binge eating is usually accompanied with the morning after guilt. The guilt of wasting an entire week’s worth of exercise should not be accompanied with the guilt of wasting an entire week’s worth of money. Breaking your diet doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank.

So, here are some of my favorite (cheap) late night eats:

2 BROS PIZZA in the East Village

http://www.seriouseats.com/tags/2%20Brothers%20Pizza
http://www.seriouseats.com/tags/2%20Brothers%20Pizza

$1 slices. Do I need to say more? Literally all you need is a single dollar bill to engage in the magic that is 2 Bros. This pizza joint serves up fresh slices at all hours. Their greasy, cheesy slices are the perfect ending to a night of bar-hopping in the East Village.

MAMOUN’S FALAFEL in the East Village

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https://lovefalafel.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/falafel.jpg

Wander down the street from 2 Bros and you have Mamoun’s. This hole in the wall serves savory Mediterranean food at all hours, taking late night dining to a new level. For $3.50 you can get a full falafel pita, stuffed with salad and tahini. Their crowd speaks for itself.

The HALAL CARTS on Broadway

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Basically every Columbia student’s go to. Nothing is more promising than the Halal carts that bless us by campus. For just just 5 dollars, you can have a platter of perfection at any hour. We all know the sauce is everything.

No regrets, am I right?

A Sampling of Smorgasburg

 

A disclaimer: I didn’t actually have the ramen burger. I know, it’s a travesty—who treks out to Williamsburg from Morningside Heights (taking the dreaded L train; I don’t think it’s that bad…) only to not try the food that Smorgasburg’s most famous for?

Well, I guess it’s a reason to return!

I think Smorgasburg is quite genius, actually. Plunked on the western edge of Williamsburg, it (the original site; there are several others now) rewards Manhattan-ites who are willing to get to Brooklyn with a vast number of options of extremely filling foods and incredible views of Manhattan. Much of the food is more than just the latest, trendiest, foodie-est thing to eat.

This is the way I suggest doing it:

  1. Bring cash. That’s all the vendors take, and you don’t want to have to wait in the line once you get there.
  2. When you arrive, walk around and look at every vendor. You don’t want, upon spending all your money and stuffing yourself, to realize that someone sells your favorite food on the other side of the space.
  3. Bring friends to split. Too many things to try to eat all of everything.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve had fried calamari. These were excellent. The spicy tomato mayo (just behind the squid in the cone) was a nice touch—I might try to make that sometime soon.

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This corn is grilled, and then rubbed with butter and sprinkled with cheese. I’ve had corn like this before, but I’ll never say no to this combination. It’s completely delicious.

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This was the highlight of the bunch. Duck confit with cabbage on a brioche roll from Duck Season. You really can’t go wrong with duck confit and brioche. We actually wanted to get two sliders, but they were out—the cook generously offered to cut this in half for us. Even half of this sandwich was enough—I’m not sure I could have eaten the entire thing.

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A friend recommended this nutella ice cream sandwich from Good Batch—it did not disappoint. Though again, the serving was essentially too large to finish.

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My friend wanted to get something sweet, but these caught her eye instead: beer-battered cheese curds. I thought it sounded disgusting, and even once we got them I wasn’t so into it. Then I dipped one in spicy aioli and bit into it; my doubts melted away in a haze of melted cheese and umami (that’d be the fermentation of the beer). I’m actually still craving these.

All in all: Smorgasburg is totally worth it. I’ll definitely be going back when it opens again in the spring.

Cupcake Bliss

After trying three bakeries that were all French-style patisseries and relatively close to campus, I wanted to try something completely different for my last post of the semester.  So what better bakery to try than a cupcake shop in the West Village?

The cheerful exterior
The cheerful exterior

Initially, I felt like I was just jumping on the cupcake bandwagon and that the cupcakes I bought would taste like all of the others that I have had before.  I quickly realized, however, that Molly’s Cupcakes is anything but your typical cupcake store.  It is located on Bleecker Street, a lively thoroughfare filled with an abundance of restaurants, cafes, and shops (the perfect place to wander on a lazy afternoon).  Even amid all of these shops, Molly’s Cupcakes can’t be missed with its bright yellow exterior.  The interior has its own cozy and quirky style, with white Christmas lights hung from the ceiling and vintage lunch boxes displayed as art.

The view welcoming you as you enter
The view welcoming you as you enter
A Bionic Woman lunchbox decorating the wall
A Bionic Woman lunchbox decorating the wall

Apart from the welcoming appeal of the shop, the cupcakes are what really shine.  Winner of the popular Food Network show Cupcake Wars, the store is known for its center-filled cupcakes, which add a new dimension to the standard cake and icing structure.  These center-filled cupcakes are available year round, with special seasonal selections offered as well.  I was ready to jump straight into this cupcake experience, so I chose two filled ones: the Ron Bennington and the Cookie Monster.

My two selections
My two selections

The Cookie Monster was every cookie lover’s dream.  The entire center of the cupcake was full of gooey, raw cookie dough, and it was topped with a mint chocolate chip cookie, which combined the joy of licking the bowl with the result of your hard work.  This cupcake transported me back to my childhood baking days, sneaking bites of cookie dough.

The Cookie Monster
The Cookie Monster

My second choice, the Ron Bennington, was a chocolate cupcake with a creamy peanut butter filling, topped with a decadent chocolate ganache and butterscotch pieces.  The combination of peanut butter and chocolate is close to perfection for me, so this cupcake hit the spot.  If none of the cupcakes displayed look good to you (highly unlikely because they all looked amazing), there is also an option to build your own cupcake, where you can choose the cake, frosting, and toppings.  And if even that does not appeal to you, Molly’s Cupcakes also sells homemade ice cream, cookies, and more sweets.  There is something here for everyone, and I will be trying even more cupcakes on my return visit.

The Ron Bennington
The Ron Bennington

Tacos in Morningside Heights

With the new taco emoji, it seemed only fitting that I scout out places to get tacos around campus. My two finds: Taqueria y Fonda and Cascabel Taqueria (both of which are on seamless). Both places have delicious tacos that are quite traditional. You will not find hard shell tacos stuffed with ground beef. As delicious as those tacos are, they are not true to the Mexican specialty. Instead, an authentic taco consists of a double-layered corn or wheat tortilla filled with a variety of fillings: seafood, chicken, pork, or vegetables. Tacos are native to Mexico and predate the arrival of the Europeans to such lands. The word tacos was used by the colonizers, at the time, to describe the indigenous food. Thus, tacos are a lasting part of Mexican history.

My favorite kinds of taco are pastor, pollo, carnitas, and chorizo. Tacos al pastor are filled with thin pork slices marinated in a combination of dried chilies, spices, and pineapple. Traditionally al pastor is cut from a spit, similar to shawarma (a Middle Mastern meat spit, usually made with lamb). It is said that Arab immigrants, especially Lebanese, brought this style of cooking meat to Mexico. Al-pastor meat is usually sweet with a spicy zing to it. Pollo tacos are filled with shredded chicken that can be marinated in a few different ways depending on the chef. Carnita tacos are filled with slow braised pieces of pork in oil. The meat is extremely tender and mildly flavored since it is not usually heavily marinated in spices. Chorizo tacos also do not incorporate many other ingredients. They are only filled with pan-fried pieces of chorizo, which is a spicy pork sausage. The basics of a taco are the same from establishment to establishment; they are just served with different toppings and sauces.

Taqueria y Fonda is a very modest setting with little seating that serves up very simple, no-frills added tacos. All tacos come topped with cilantro, tomatoes, grilled onions, a slice of lime on the side, and a choice of mild green tomatillo sauce or spicy red sauce. The only difference is the filling, of which there is a large variety (vegetarian as well).

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The tacos at Cascabel Taqueria come two or three in a serving and are more individualized than those from Taqueria y Fonda. Each kind of taco comes with its own toppings and a choice between four different sauces varying in levels of spiciness: roasted tomato, tomatillo, Diablo, and habanero. The al pastor taco is topped with grilled pineapple, sautéed onion, and avocado. The pollo taco is marinated in chipotle seasoning and served with avocado and green onion. The carnitas taco is topped with pickled red onion, roasted chili, and crispy rice. The chorizo taco is topped with onion and cilantro. The toppings for the tacos at Cascabel are more tailored to the dish and balance the flavors well, but they are not entirely necessary since, as Taqueria y Fonda proves, every taco is set topped only with cilantro, tomatoes, and grilled onions.

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The tacos at both places are equally delicious. Cascabel is more of a place to go out to since it has a lively atmosphere and plenty of seating. Their tacos are filled with more of a mix of flavors, whereas the tacos at Taqueria y Fonda do not contain a mix of ingredients, but are still very flavorful. There are only two or three tables in the entire restaurant so it is definitely a better option to order out from. These are the two best options for tacos in the vicinity of Morningside Heights, but better finds are sure to be found in Spanish Harlem, which I hope to visit soon.

A Vegan’s Heaven in the Village

This time when I chose a vegan restaurant to visit, I decided to stray a little further from campus and I found Red Bamboo on 140 W 4th Street in the Village.

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The restaurant has a very calming and cozy feel, making it a very nice place to go if you are stressed. I decided to get take-out from the restaurant and it only took them 10 minutes to make my food! So, if you are very hungry after making the trek from Morningside Heights, luckily, you will not have to wait long! And my trek was truly worth it!!

Popcorn shrimp
Popcorn Shrimp

I decided to start off my meal with an appetizer. I chose the popcorn shrimp because one of the things that I miss the most after becoming a vegetarian is shrimp. The vegan popcorn shrimp were absolutely amazing! The shrimp I got had the same texture and taste of real shrimp! The shrimp were fried perfectly and the sauce that came with them complimented them very well. I will definitely be going back to get more!!

Classic blt
Classic B.L.T.

I got the classic BLT for my entrée because I was really interested in trying Red Bamboo’s version of bacon. The tempeh bacon was also really good and it  had a very similar taste to real bacon. The sandwich also included whole wheat bread, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and vegan mayonnaise. The mayonnaise didn’t taste exactly like real mayonnaise, but in some ways it was actually better. It was a little less thick than real mayonnaise and had a little bit of a different taste, which actually went better with my sandwich than real mayonnaise would have. I definitely will have to get this sandwich again!

I loved everything about Red Bamboo and I will definitely be going back sometime very soon. Everything I tried tasted absolutely amazing and now I know that there is a place that makes great substitutes for the food that any vegan or vegetarian misses. I will definitely be recommending this restaurant to everyone I know, whether or not they are vegan or vegetarian!

Mission Chinese: Sichuan Cuisine Survives on the Lower East Side

Mission Chinese Food, which opened in 2012, serves spicy Sichuan-inspired cuisine; the restaurant has had lines out the door pretty much since opening.

And then in 2013, the restaurant was shut down due to sanitation issues.

But it’s been a while since then, so I cautiously ventured down to the Lower East Side with a friend to indulge in some chili-doused chicken wings. We hadn’t made a reservation, and at first it seemed we would have to wait. But there was an area in the front where they serve the whole menu, and we’re not picky sitters.

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Since it’s Sichuan-inspired cuisine (Sichuan is the province with the spiciest cuisine in China), we figured we had to order several spicy dishes, and balance it out with a couple of milder dishes.

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matcha noodles

The first dish we got was the green tea noodles. This was probably my favorite of the things we ordered; the bitterness of the matcha contrasts spectacularly with the savory noodles and sweet hoisin sauce. The crunch of the thinly sliced radish adds a textural contrast in comparison to the soft ramen.

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rice cakes with thrice-cooked bacon and tofu skins

Mission Chinese seems to have textural components of their food down. Chewy, starchy rice cakes, crunchy cucumber, fatty, soft bacon; all doused in a super-spicy, umami, garlicky sauce. Top it with raw scallions and cilantro and you have a winner.

chicken wings
chicken wings

The chicken wings were so good, but they were far too spicy for me. I had one; my friend had five. Imagine: delicious chicken wings, with a nice crispy skin; then imagine dumping an entire container of chili flakes on them. Wonderful, but dangerous.

pork belly and radishes
pork belly and radishes

If pork belly is on a menu, I can’t not order it. This was the other non-spicy dish; I thought the mint didn’t go so well with the pork belly and radish, but besides that the dish was excellent. A light, sweet sauce cut was with the slight bitterness of greens. The pork belly was soft, and the radishes added a nice crunch.

And then—a complimentary treat!

dumplings!
dumplings!

These were not spicy, and they were a perfect bite at the end of the meal. Spinach, egg, and (I think) tapioca. An interesting combination, but it worked.

The bathroom is in the basement. One must walk past the kitchen in order to get to it. The kitchen was filled with shouts of “hot!” “order in!” and “yes, chef!”

There’s nothing like a fast-paced, energetic kitchen to get the blood pumping and get a diner looking forward to a meal. Go to Mission Chinese. Even if there’s a wait. You won’t regret it—though your mouth might after a couple of chicken wings.

Mission Chinese,

171 E Broadway

Atmosphere: Young, hip, upbeat.

Noise Level: Loud.

Recommended Dishes: green tea noodles, pork belly and radishes

Price Range: $$

Hours: 5:30–12, Tues-Sat; 5:30-11, Sun–Mon.

 

 

Your Neighborhood Bakery

With the cold winter months quickly approaching, now is the time to soak up the mild weather and take advantage of the spots that are easily accessible from campus.  After a long day full of classes and other commitments, I find myself in need of a way to unwind, without paying subway fares or venturing too far away from Barnard.  A walk to the local Silver Moon Bakery & Cafe, located on 105th and Broadway, provides an opportunity to explore the neighborhood (and the exercise to use as an excuse for buying many pastries).

The exterior of the bakery
The exterior of the bakery

The blue awning and outdoor seating of the bakery provides an inviting welcome to the space, and you feel right at home before you even step inside.  Once I walked in, the excitement of being in a new bakery hit me once again.  I immediately walked straight to the pastry display case, to drool over the wide variety of pies, cakes, and pastries, with everything from apple pie to chocolate mousse and blueberry ginger muffins.  I was so focused on choosing the perfect dessert that it took me a few minutes to see the shelves piled high with breads of every shape and size.

Pastries on display
Pastries on display

From baguettes to boules to rolls, Silver Moon Bakery handcrafts all of its breads, ensuring freshness and variety.  Though I knew an entire loaf of bread was a strange item to take back to my dorm room (Editor’s note: is it, though? ), the appeal of the sourdough boule convinced me that it was worthwhile.  A feeling of contentment spread over me as I left the bakery, now armed with a berry tart and my very own sliced loaf of bread.  Paired with a hazelnut spread I bought later, the bread was the perfect combination of a crunchy outer crust and a chewy inside and just what I needed to get through the rest of my homework.

My bread in all of its glory
My bread in all of its glory
My delicious fruit tart, reminiscent of summer days
My delicious fruit tart, reminiscent of summer days

 

Try Thai!

One of my dreams is to go to Bangkok, a known food capital of the world. I remember the first time I tried Thai food (of course I was having Pad Thai), I immediately loved the fresh flavors and the mix of savory and sweet found in each bite. I try to seek out traditional and delicious Thai restaurants, but I know none can come to close to anything I would have if I were to visit Bangkok. So hopefully one day I will be able to visit, and even write a blog on it!

Thai food is very aromatic and full of spice and flavor. Each dish usually incorporates a blend of at least three taste senses: sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter. Each of the four regions of Thailand has their own kind of cuisine. Thai food also shares similarities with the cuisines of its neighboring Southeast Asian countries. In fact, many dishes in Thailand came from China, but, over time, Thai cuisine has developed its own unique flavors and preparations. Today, Thai cuisine is one of the most popular around the world.

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Thus, it is no surprise that I found an abundance of Thai restaurants while in Hell’s Kitchen. I do not at all regret my choice to go to the cozy Pure Thai Cookhouse. The delicious meal is very much worth the 15-minute wait. We began our meal with the daily steamed dumpling special. They were stuffed with chicken, crab, and shrimp. They were delicious with a firm filling that kept the taste of the shrimp and crab (the chicken helped to keep the filling together) and the dipping sauce to dip them in was even better – a salty and vinegary sauce with chili flakes to add spice. Along with the dumplings we ordered fried tofu with a peanut and tamarind dipping sauce. The tofu without the sauce lacked a bit of flavor, but the sauce with its crushed peanuts made the dish worth ordering. This dish was the only one that we ordered that was subpar, but the sauce is definitely worth asking for on the side. It has the characteristic mix of salty, sweet, and sour that is typical of many Thai dishes. Unfortunately, I did not manage to get any pictures of these two dishes, because we were to eager to begin.

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Next, we ordered wok curry paste with pork, pad see ew with beef, and ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles. Each dish had its own blend of flavors and each was better than the next. The wok curry paste with pork included a spicy sauce that was not spicy at first, but lingered and became spicier over time. It included a variety of different textured vegetables (bamboo shoot, thai eggplant, and string bean) that balanced well with the pork.

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The pad see ew was a sweet and salty compliment to the curry. The flat noodles were drenched in the brown sauce with pieces of scrambled eggs and broccoli, cauliflower, and beans. The crunchiness of the cauliflower and broccoli countered the softness and slipperiness of the noodles so that it did not become too overwhelming. Cauliflower is not often added to pad see ew dishes. It was a nice addition, but the broccoli does a better job of absorbing the sauce.

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The ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles had the simplest flavor, mostly sweet, but were made with delicious homemade noodles. It included big pieces of crab and pork loin. It was hard to eat these together with the noodles, but all of individual pieces were so good.

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Overall the meal was absolutely delicious, and I will definitely go back to Pure Thai Cookhouse sometime soon!

 

Peacefood Cafe: Any Vegan or Non-Vegan’s Paradise

Everyone loves dessert, and luckily, Manhattan is home to numerous bakeries for all of us dessert lovers in the city. The problem is that it is almost impossible to find a good vegan bakery, even in Manhattan. I made it my mission to find a good vegan bakery and I found the Peacefood Cafe, which is both a vegan restaurant and vegan bakery.

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The cafe is a nice, casual, and cozy spot to have a meal with a friend, while enjoying their many vegan options. It is definitely a stress-free atmosphere! It is located in the Upper West Side on Amsterdam and 82nd, so it isn’t too far from campus. They also have another location in the Village.

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The bakery part of the restaurant had many vegan desserts, which all look like they must be made with diary products. Upon walking in, I even wondered if their desserts were actually vegan! In place of the dairy products normally found in these desserts, the Peacefood Cafe uses healthier options, such as avocados. Not only are these desserts vegan, but also many of them are even gluten free.

From left to right: chocolate chip cookie sandwich and raw chocolate mousse pie
From left to right: chocolate chip cookie sandwich and raw chocolate mousse pie

I had a chocolate chip cookie sandwich and a slice of the raw chocolate mousse pie. The chocolate chip cookie sandwich was two large cookies with chocolate inside, which made them stick together. Without the chocolate inside, the cookies were some of the best I have ever had. The chocolate inside was so rich in flavor that it made the cookies taste even  better. The mousse pie was made with avocado, which made me a little nervous to try it, but it was amazing! The taste of the avocado was undetectable and if anything, it made the chocolate taste even richer in flavor. I will definitely be going back to the cafe to get both of these desserts again!

Mango Lassi
Mango lassi

I also had a mango lassi while I was at the cafe, which I was a little nervous about because it is a yogurt-based drink. The mango lassi was pretty good considering it was vegan, but it wasn’t as good as the non-vegan ones I have had in the past. The yogurt used in the drink tasted like regular yogurt, but the lassi tasted too much like yogurt and did not have enough of a mango taste. Overall, it was good, but I think I will try a different drink next time.

I look forward to going back to the Peacefood Cafe to try more of their vegan options! I definitely would recommend this cafe to anyone looking for a nice to spot to eat and hang out with friends or anyone looking for a good take-out place. This cafe is great for both vegans and non-vegans, alike!