Every once in a while being a food writer hanging with other food writers has an unexpected perk.
In my case, when I went to teach and work in New York City, I got to bask in the insider status of a famous vegan diva. Yes, I hate to burst your bubble, but it really does matter when you go into a restaurant with someone who knows the chef, or the owners. It might have helped that I have written a couple of vegan books, too. Either way, when I made a visit to Blossom NYC on Carmine with my dear friend Fran Costigan, we got a little extra fabulousness.
If you don’t know Fran, she is the vegan baking expert who wrote More Great Dairy Free Desserts, Naturally. Anybody who is anybody in the vegan community in New York and arguably, the US, France and England, knows her work. She teaches vegan baking classes at the Natural Gourmet Institute that draw students from all over the world, often teaching people who want to start their own vegan bakeries back home.
Most enticingly, Fran has a new book in the works, Vegan Chocolate Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy Free Desserts, to hit the shelves in Fall of 2013.
So, I give you the CV so you will understand why we got a surprise visit from Chef Shawain Jay, who was hand delivering the assortment of amazing appetizers in the photo above. Here is the list of apps we sampled:
Trumpet Mushroom Scallops, Cauliflower Puree, Sweet onion jam, Potato crisps (middle left and center)
Chickpea Fritters, Spicy Mayo, Housemade Whisky Barbecue Sauce (middle right)
Seaweed Caviar Canape with Avocado, White Cheese Batons and Truffle Oil (upper left corner)
Black Eyed Pea and Potato Cakes with Chili pepper Aioli (upper right corner)
Beet Carpaccio, Herbed cashew ricotta, Marinated figs, xvoo, Balsamic drizzle (lower right corner)
The mushroom scallops are rounds of tender trumpet mushroom, seared to mimic sea scallops, then plated with crispy-thick potato crisps and swirls of sauce. The chickpea fritters were like the garbanzo flour polenta or socca that is often made into fries, and they were crisp on the outside and creamy in the middle. The seaweed caviar, truly an amazing fake, is made with one of those molecular gastronomy techniques, in which tiny droplets of a seaweed liquid are made into little crunchy blobs, just like caviar. The blackeyed pea cakes were delightfully savory, with their creamy-spicy aioli topping. A carpaccio of beets was a fun idea, too, with creamy cashew ricotta and a drizzle of balsamic balancing with sweet figs.
Then I moved on to my Caesar salad, a tumble of crisp Romaine, tangy dressing, and marinated shiitakes that stood in for anchovy filets.
Fran had a familiar favorite, the Berry Barbecue Tempeh with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Sauteed Collards, Horseradish Cream. I had a taste, but I was fully occupied with my own entree.
I tried a special, Spinach and Cashew Ricotta Filled Fresh Ravioli in Tomato Sauce. It was a lively, wine-rich sauce, coating tender pillows of creamy filling. I never get a chance to eat a fresh, handmade plant based stuffed pasta, so this was a real treat. If you doubted that fresh pasta can happen without eggs, well, this dish proves that it can.
Of course, we indulged in the vegan wine list, and had a glass of the red blend by Vegan Vine. It was a big mouthful of wine, with fruit and tannins enough to keep me from quaffing it too quickly. As usual, I was too full to even think about dessert, which is a shame. The desserts list looked lovely, and diners around us were clearly enjoying the magic.
All in all, great food, great company, and great service. I even enjoyed walking around the West Village trying to find the place, in what has always been an Italian restaurant mecca.
There among the old school Italian joints and hipster coffee bars, this little veg-centric gem is flourishing, like a blossom of compassionate dining. It’s worth a trip.