For most of the time we were in NYC, we stayed in a hotel on the Upper West Side. It was a great home base that had good subway access and yet was away from the dense tourist areas. It felt low-key, somewhat residential, and relaxed. There were little girls walking alone to school, parents pushing strollers, and boys riding skateboards. There were still plenty of things to do, but the calm atmosphere made it a nice place for walking around and enjoying the scenery.
There were also a ton of mom and pop grocery stores in the area, along with big well known ones like Zabar’s. After a while I had to admit to myself that I really couldn’t go into every natural grocery store that I encountered, like I’m inclined to do in other places, or I’d never get anything done. Still, it made me daydream about the joys of living in a place where I could just wander outside from my apartment for an avocado or bunch of figs from a sidewalk seller.
From the hotel, it was just a short walk to Central Park, which I enjoyed a couple of days while I was there. I’d never been to Central Park before, and the sheer size was amazing but also the topography. I’d imagined it just being a really large park, but there was a lake big enough for rowing, a pond, bikers, walkers, and runners, a castle, large rock formations, and areas that felt like hidden hiking trails.
One day I went on my own and listened to some musicians, who finished their set by selling CD’s for only ten dollars.
“You can’t get these in stores… because we can’t either.”
I actually laughed out loud, and everyone in the area turned and looked at me quizzically, including the musicians themselves.
“It was funny…” I mumbled shyly.
David and I went back to Central Park together one morning, and stopped first for bagels. I know it’s cliché to say that New York City bagels are the best, but they really are. Plus, every bagel shop we encountered had several varieties of vegan tofu cream cheese. Yes, please.
Within a mile or so walk from the hotel was Candle Café West, and we walked there a couple of times – once for lunch and once for dinner. The atmosphere was sleek and comfortable, and there was enough space to feel like you weren’t on top of the table next to you.
The week we were there was incredibly hot and humid, and it had me craving something light for lunch. I ordered the soup special of the day – a chilled avocado soup that tasted creamy and refreshing, like a combination of avocado and pico de gallo. There was a mild spiciness about it, and the flavors really popped.
I followed it up with a salad that I think was also a special. It came with all of my favorite things – olives, chickpeas, avocado, cucumber, and a cheese made from macadamia nuts.
David ordered the Cajun seitan sandwich, which is made with a grilled foccacia, steamed kale, red onion, avocado, and a crusted seitan. The seitan was phenomenal and had a wonderful chewy crust that was entirely different than most seitan elsewhere. The seitan also had a piecey quality that was unique.
I asked the server if they made the seitan in-house. I was told that it’s made by a local seitan-maker, who makes it just for them. Too bad – I have the Candle Café Cookbook, and I was hoping to learn how I could make it for myself at home!
When we went back for dinner, we started with fried seitan dumplings. The cute little pouches were stuffed with onions, leeks, and baby bok choy, and sitting in a soy sauce mixture made with sesame and ginger.
After my bout of seitan-envy earlier, I went with the seitan piccata. It was served on a bed of creamed spinach, mushrooms, and the loveliest garlic mashed potatoes I’ve ever eaten. They were velvety smooth and delicious. I think I could have been happy with just a big bowl of them. The dish was then covered in a light white wine lemon caper sauce.
David opted for the grilled kale salad, which came with beluga lentils, string beans, turnips, avocado, and sunflower seeds in a chive vinaigrette. He also added grilled tempeh to the dish for some extra staying power.
Oh, and one more thing about Candle Cafe West – they deliver! I half wanted to order delivery to the hotel just because I could. Can you imagine being able to get this delivered to your home? I seriously haven’t ordered anything via delivery since 2010! (Our college town pizza options leave a lot to be desired…) But if could order something like this to my door? Absolutely!
Candle Café West wasn’t the only vegan restaurant in the area (far from it!). I also went to Blossom on Columbus for their opening day in the area. (They used to have another location not far away on the same street, but they’d opened that day in a new space with an adjusted menu.)
The server was incredibly friendly, and we chatted a long while. Her in-laws are from Iowa, and her parents live in Kansas City. So we had a lot to discuss about the terrific vegan options in unexpected places like Missouri.
I ordered the gyro, and it was one of the best things that I ate while in New York. The seitan was succulent and light. It was served open faced with lettuce, tomato, onions, black olives, and a garlic tahini sauce. It was served with a side of mouthwatering garlicky kale.
The meal was so good that I was hoping I’d have time to go back and sample some more things from the menu, but I wasn’t able to do it on this trip. Next time!
One more highlight from the Upper West Side that I wanted to share was this graffiti art by Banksy. It was just down the street from our hotel, and I was so excited to see one of his pieces in person.