Vegetarians and vegans of the world, unite! Not only is October National Vegetarian Month, but the first of the month is–not national, but World Vegetarian Day! (And, unlike most national food holidays, it’s official and recognized and everything!) Started by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977, World Vegetarian Day was created to promote the health, environmental, and ethical benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. And this year, it even coincides with the Catholic tradition of Meatless Mondays, so no one has an excuse to chow down on animal meat this year
We’ve all heard about vegetarianism, and seen the recent rise in vegetarian and vegan acceptance in modern American life, from vegetarian alternatives on fast food menus to restaurants living and thriving on an all-vegan environment. What we don’t really think about–because as Americans, and even more as New Yorkers, we tend to be a bit ego-centric–is that different cultures have been living vegetarian and vegan lifestyles for centuries. In ancient India, vegetarianism was practiced by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists, and there have been vegetarian sects in ancient Greece, Japan, and early Christianity. We’re not doing anything new or exciting here by putting down the pulled pork sandwich! (Mmmm, pulled pork sandwich…)
Even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan all the time, it’s great for us carnivores to celebrate World Vegetarian Day, too. It’s important to take a look at all of the animal products we put into our bodies each day–from the milk you put in your morning coffee to the burger you have for lunch, down to what your packet of Jell-O is made of–and be conscious of where our food is coming from. World Vegetarian Day also helps shed light on the health properties of all the good stuff that grows from the ground, and squashes the common meat myths that you can’t get enough nutrients from a vegetarian diet alone. And with our huge focus on the environment and “greening” the world these days, it’s important to realize the amount of environmental resources and strain we put on the Earth to cultivate huge herds of animals for meat. So World Vegetarian Day isn’t just for the veg*ns among us…it’s for all of us.
And no one gets that better than Dovetail. The classic, classy Upper West Side restaurant typically serves a meat-friendly menu, but on Mondays they provide an all-vegetarian prix fixe menu (which can be converted to all-vegan on request). You’d suspect that a meat-friendly restaurant would have a paltry vegetarian selection, almost like an afterthought, but Dovetail doesn’t do anything half-assed: their vegetarian plates are well thought-out and executed, with bursts of flavor and hearty goodness. With such dishes as turnips ceviche, ricotta gnudi, and foraged greens ravioli, you’d almost forget that the plate in front of you has no meat! And for those who just have to have a little animal protein in their meal, the obverse of their Monday prix-fixe has “vegetable-focused” options, which have some form of meat–like chilled corn soup with lobster and baby gem lettuce with baby octopus–but the meat isn’t the main focus of the dish. This menu really allows the brilliance of vegetables to shine through, showing how hearty, sweet, and flavorful a vegetarian diet could be. It’s a little expensive at $46 per person, but you get three courses plus a dessert, so you do get quite a meal for the price. It’s the perfect place to have a fancy dinner for the mixed-green couple (vegetarian and not) who want high-quality dishes on both sides of the meat-eating spectrum.
103 W 77th St (between Amsterdam Ave & Columbus Ave)
“There may be no better vegivore experience in town than Dovetail’s Monday-night-only vegetable spectacular. If you’ve ever wondered how sous-vide turnip seviche would taste, or salt-baked fennel with tuna mayonnaise, or maybe a barbecued parsnip rib, this is the place to find out. Chef John Fraser is a veteran of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry kitchen, so he’s no stranger to painstakingly produced, exquisitely plated, mind-blowingly delicious vegetable tasting menus. Unlike French Laundry or Per Se, though, Fraser offers two veg-themed menus, one vegetarian and one “vegetable-focused,” which uses meat or fish as a flavor booster to great effect.”–New York Magazine
“Options are plentiful and preparations are elegantly plated in this contemporary dining room with a casual but grown up vibe. No need to settle for just any ol’ salad or vegetable laden pasta here. The Monday night vegetarian menu is prix fixe at $46. which includes three generous courses and dessert. There are three options in each of these categories and a list of eight desserts made by pastry chef Michal Selkowitz. If you relish great vegetarian preparations that celebrate the bounty of each season, plan ahead in order to reserve your Monday night table. I waited two weeks for a res at a decent dinner hour.”–Kosher Like Me
“Overall, the meal here at Dovetail couldn’t have been any better. The small dishes from the tasting menu, plus the warm bread prior were plenty of food and filled us both up completely. The price was very reasonable, considering the restaurant now holds a Michelin Star. This is a restaurant worthy of a visit, whether it is for a Monday tasting, restaurant week or just a simple al a carte selection.”–Carnivore And Vegetarian
“The cauliflower tempura which followed was a total hit, though. Shatteringly crispy outside, richly creamy inside; the preparation perfectly flattered the produce. The subtle spicing evoked India without getting too close to something we could order on Curry Row—the dish was a little whimsical while still being utterly delicious.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The sophistication of this restaurant is best seen through the balanced vegetarian options. So accustomed am I to boring, overpriced plates of heaping vegetables, but at Dovetail, I left inspired, happy, and full. I sense that a tradition has begun. Hats off to Chef Fraser!”–Jenna S.
“My dinner was outstanding! I am a vegetarian and ordered from their vegetarian menu. It was so much more sophisticated than the usual vegetarian fare that most places will offer. I ordered the roasted cauliflower appetizer which was delicious! My husband had the crab and shared the lamb saddle with our friend. I had the gnudi with black truffles, and we shared the chocolate souffle with caramel sauce – but substituted the green tea ice cream for the popcorn ice cream (brilliant decision) The wine list was extensive, but very well chosen…albeit expensive. I can’t believe this restaurant is on the Upper West Side! It was perfect. I know I’ll be back.”–Bunny J.
But obviously not everyone can afford a $46 dinner, even if it’s something special for World Vegetarian Day. And I wouldn’t want anyone to think that a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is something only for the snooty rich–living the culinary life you want is something that anyone and everyone should be able to do! And Foodswings, the all-vegetarian snack joint in Williamsburg definitely gets that. Not only do they fill their entire menu with hearty, delicious veggie sandwiches and mock-meat snacks, but they make it all affordable for anyone who stays away from meat, or just wants to try something new. And with such dishes as Philly Cheesesteaks, vegan Italian sausage & peppers heroes, and buffalo mock chicken wings, this might be the perfect place to transition from a meat-eating diet to something more ethically and environmentally conscious. Foodswings also shows us that not every vegetarian meal is rabbit food salad–or should even be considered healthy. Lots of their seitan and tofu meat substitution dishes are deep-fried, and covered in tasty but fattening sauces. It just goes to show you that vegetarians and vegans can pig out on junk food, too!
295 Grand St (between Roebling St & Havemeyer St), Williamsburg
“They manage to create some convincing deep-fried favorites out of soy products. The typical snack bar fare—hotdogs, hamburgers, nachos—is augmented by salads and lighter sandwiches, and the novel “milk” shake flavors, like peanut butter and jelly and pistachio, give McDonalds a run for its money. The “chicken” drumsticks in Buffalo, barbecue, and Southern-fried versions particularly impress, approximating their free-range equivalent in taste and texture—though diners should beware the chopstick-like bone at their center.”–New York Magazine
“This small, quirky place is not what you’d expect from the outside. Foodswings is an all-vegan snack bar serving up some old favorites like drumsticks and “milk” shakes. They create their mock-meat dishes from soy products. On the weekends after 11 p.m. they switch their menu, opting for lighter sandwiches and snacks.”–CBS New York
“One of the benefits of using any of the faux-meat proteins is that the same product can be molded into whatever shape the creator sees fit, depending on the kind of animal it’s substituting. In Foodswings’ case, the most popular shape is America’s favorite bar food: the chicken wing. Drumsticks ($2.50 each) come in a stoner’s mishmash of flavors—there’s Buffalo, BBQ, Southern Fried, and a combination of the two, “Sweet Southern Fried BBQ”. If $2.50 a pop sounds a little steep, the blow is softened by the sheer size of these things, just a few shades smaller than those infamous Disney turkey legs. The wings do a solid job of standing in for their fowl counterparts. The hot sauce that coats the Buffalo wings is spot-on piquant, and the Southern Fried version maintained a pleasing crispness throughout. Both barbecue varieties utilize a well-balanced sauce; the Sweet Southern Fried number practically drowning in it.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“After months of scrupulously studying menus and asking waiters a barrage of questions (“Does this have cheese? Is this made with milk, cream, or butter?”), Foodswings swooped in and became my vegan heaven on earth. Not only can I eat everything here, it’s FAST FOOD! As a full-blooded ‘merican, I was born and raised to WANT to eat everything here! At the recommendation of other yelpers, I ordered the chikn cutlet sandwich, which was so perfectly fried, it crunched supernaturally under my teeth. The soy protein that was used for the ‘chiken’ was convincing, to the point where my co-(nonveg) diner was fooled. In fact, had she not been so enamored with her own sausage and pepper sandwich, I fear she might have eaten more than a friendly bite of my sandwich and then we would’ve had some problems.”–Janie I.
“Foodswings is one of my top two favorite places to go for late-night vegan food (the other is BAD Burger). Their menu is slightly hit-or-miss (the burgers, for example, can be mealy and kind of soggy), but they still deserve five stars for everything they do so right. Here are two very persuasive reasons to go to Foodswings: 1. They’re open til 2 on the weekends and 2. An entire page of their menu is devoted to different varieties of milkshakes. Vegan milkshakes. And they’re phenomenal (they use Lula’s, so of course they are). It’s more difficult to decide which milkshake to get than what to have for lunch/dinner/drunk food.”–Dylan W.
But if we’re talking about the best vegetarian and vegan restaurants in New York for World Vegetarian Day, I would be remiss not to mention the one that’s really put vegan dining on the map. Candle 79 isn’t just a vegetarian restaurant: it’s a high-class, high-quality restaurant with worldwide critical acclaim and commercial success…that just happens to be all-vegan. This restaurant has really set the standard in New York for all-vegetarian options, making food with no animal products its focus and not merely as an option. The menu is thick with seitan, tofu, and other protein-rich meat substitutes that will keep you feeling full and satisfied with your meal–no tiny salads here. Instead, there’s stuff like vegan paella with seitan sausage, meaty, yummy black bean burgers, and cashew-based ice cream, all tasting so close to their meaty counterparts that carnivores can scarcely tell the difference. Even the atmosphere of the place feels calm, delicate, and natural–the austere setting you really want for an all-vegan eatery. Even though I’m a meat-eater, and I’ll still be a meat-eater after World Vegetarian Day, I want to try out Candle 79 to see how the greener side of the fence lives–especially when they have something so amazing sounding on their menu as polenta fries. You don’t need meat to enjoy that!
154 E 79th St
“But Candle 79 takes a limited larder and stages an impressive show, reminding the pork-stuffed, duck-spoiled diner how much else is out there, and how much of it has never relied on animals or fish in the first place. The restaurant gets top-notch produce from top-tier farms, and it’s lavish with a laudable array of mushrooms used in a variety of ways. In one appealing appetizer there were grilled trumpet royale mushrooms, served with crispy onion rings. In another there were fried oyster mushrooms. Candle 79 leaves no part of the garden untouched, no patch of the forest unplumbed.”–The New York Times
“This upscale vegetarian spot is ideal for anyone who loves food or animals. The intimate, bi-level townhouse possesses an ambience that gourmet-minded vegetarians crave but rarely encounter. Best is the food itself—fresh, creative and considerate (a separate gluten-free menu keeps celiacs sated). Delectable dishes include the seitan piccata, crisp medallions in a light bath of lemon butter and capers, and the saffron-flavored paella, studded with seitan sausage and seasonal veggies. Service is knowledgeable and attentive, and the desserts—one layers chocolate and peanut butter mousse inside a dark chocolate shell—impossibly rich.”–Time Out New York
“The low-key elegance of Candle 79, its bi-level spread tuned by feng shui, can suggest the commissary of a high-end spa. An attractive Upper East Side clientele comes for healthy, organic, all-vegetarian meals, with menus that shift with the seasons.”–New York Magazine
“The Upper East Side may seem like an unlikely place for gourmet vegan fare, but the people behind Candle 79 have found a formula that would work in any neighborhood. The elegant, bi-level space, done in warm, autumnal tones with touches of wood and rich fabric, is far from the health-food stereotype. Try for a second-floor table overlooking the street, and refresh yourself with an inventive cocktail. Signature dishes include the seitan piccata, which replaces the usual protein with a vegetarian substitute and is so well made and well seasoned that you would never miss the meat. Salads, soups, desserts, and entrées are all stunningly fresh and made with local, organic, seasonal produce.”–Fodor’s
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Ok, I am a STAUNCH carnivore. I need a burger or steak once a month pretty religiously. I was very skeptical of a VEGAN restaurant, but this place is amazing. Had the spaghetti and wheat balls, which were slightly spicy, tender, and extremely flavorful. The ambience is great – trendy, classy, romantic, perfect for a date. I had The Reforestation cocktail, which was delicious – and they plant a tree in your honor for ordering it! The food is delicious, service is very attentive, and ambience swanky but comfortable. I highly recommend Candle 79 to everyone – even meat eaters will be impressed!”–Perry T.
“Everything I have had here is marvelous — choose a dish that you wouldn’t be able to make at home or something with a favorite ingredient, and you will be pleased. All the offerings are Certified Green (NYC), non-GMO, pesticide free, and vegan, most are organic, and they have a wide selection of gluten-free items as well. Their seitan piccata is my very favorite meal. It’s a wonderful introduction to the gluten-based protein for those who have been wanting to try it. I would recommend dessert — at least to go. They make lovely ice cream concoctions like lavender shortbread and balsamic reduction drizzle. If you are in Manhattan, you must visit Candle 79.”–Leah C.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!