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NY eats: Candle Cafe

January 4, 2009

One of my favorite bloggers, Erica, goes to Candle Cafe so much that she should get some kind of customer discount. Every time I read her blog, I see dozens of colorful photos of food that looks fresh, wholesome, yet also incredibly indulgent. I crave vegan food when I see those pictures.
Originally, Erica and I had planned to meet up at Candle, but during my first few days in New York, she was sick, so I decided to go to Candle just in case we wouldn’t be able to meet before I left.
My mom was willing to eat there with me, but my dad took one look at the menu and went to the bistro next door (hilariously called LeSteak), where he ordered a steak burger and ate with my grandparents. Oh, well… To each his own.
Leave it to my mom to order a salad. I kept asking her why she would order a salad at a vegan restaurant when non-vegetarian restaurants always have salad options. Luckily, the salad she ordered wasn’t leafy. She ordered the Soba Noodle Salad, with Soba Noodles, ginger grilled tofu, shiitake mushrooms, edamame, julienne carrots, radish and sesame seeds over mesclun with a creamy wasabi dressing.
While she liked the salad as a whole, she hated the tofu, which she said was bland. Well, yeah… tofu is bland! But she said that wasn’t what she meant, and I suppose it’s because she prefers more Asian preparations, where tofu isn’t usually served alone.

Ironically, even though I had been trying to avoid “Asian” food, what I really wanted was to try one of Candle’s wraps, and the special that day just so happened to be the Asian Style Wrap with wasabi-ginger grilled tofu, brown rice, steamed greens, adzuki beans, stir-fried greens in a ginger-miso sauce wrapped in a spinach tortilla, served with an edamame salad and a creamy wasabi dressing.
Sound pretty similar, huh? Actually, I thought our dressings tasted different even though they were supposedly the same. Either way, the dressing was the star, I ate the wrap with my hands (Which is rare for me… Usually I cut it up and eat it with a knife and fork. I’m weird that way) and it didn’t fall apart! That alone earned them props, since I know how difficult it is to stuff a wrap that full but manage for it to say together.

With every bite, I got chewy tofu (which, yes, was a little bland, but provided texture next to its more flavorful counterparts), sweet, sandy (but in a good way) adzuki beans (called hong dou, or red beans, in China), and of course, all the crunchy vegetables.
The edamame salad was delicious, and would be incredibly easy to recreate at home. It had shredded purple cabbage, carrots, and sesame seeds.
So, yes, the whole thing was pseudo-hippie Asian, but in a good way. I still would have preferred their Middle Eastern wrap or Moroccan wrap.
I did love the atmosphere of the place, though! It was lively, but quiet enough to have a conversation. The servers were friendly (I heard one educating the guy next to me about stevia) and the whole place just felt relaxed and unpretentious.
Oh yes, and I ate the ENTIRE wrap. The whole thing. And while I felt full, I didn’t feel stuffed. That wrap was HUGE… Although I’ve never actually been to Chipotle, I’m sure it could rival one of their burritos.

Luckily, Erica got better, and we decided to meet up for an early New Years’ Eve dinner. We debated going to a few different places (such as Gobo and Counter), but in the end, I decided that I wanted to go back to Candle and try some of their more dinner-like options.
Unfortunately, we found out that Candle wasn’t seating any more people after 6, so we pushed our meeting one hour earlier. It just so happened that the day of our Candle Dinner was the same day I had eaten that huge lunch at The Islands. How would I ever feel hungry again!
I quickly hopped on the subway to get out of Brooklyn and met her there.
I feel so stupid that we didn’t take a picture together or anything! Either way, we had a great time. I know it sounds strange to meet up with people from the internet, but the two of us are among the youngest food bloggers and it was so much fun just to talk about food and not feel like she was bored. Of course, we talked about other stuff too… either way, I had a great time.
Like I said, I wasn’t that hungry, so we skipped the appetizer and I ended up ordering the Porcini Crusted Seitan with garlic-shallot-potato mash, sautéed spinach and string beans with grilled oyster mushroom and topped with home-style gravy.

This was definitely a dish that could have been a disaster… mushy, flavorless potatoes, rubbery seitan, and greasy gravy. Of course, it was the opposite… I LOVED it, even though it wasn’t at all the kind of thing I would usually order or make at home (This, more or less, is the reason I ordered it). The potatoes were chunky and flavorful, the the chewy texture of the seitan was echoed by the mushroom, which interestingly enough, tasted strongly of mustard. The greens were great, especially when swiped through a puddle of gravy… but the word “Gravy” doesn’t do it justice. Just think of a rich, brown aromatic sauce. I ate all of this except for a small piece of seitan (Ha, I know I said I wasn’t that hungry, but I can always eat!).
Erica ordered a special that I would have ordered if she hadn’t (But I was happy with my choice!): Tempeh Napoleon from the special’s menu which was polenta crusted tempeh with layers of artichoke paté, served with sautéed snap peas, broccolini, chanterelle mushrooms, and spinach over a tomato-truffle sauce, drizzled with parsley oil.

It was so beautifully presented! The contrast of the green vegetables against the blood red tomato sauce was definitely festive, even though Christmas is over. She generously let me taste a piece of tempeh, because she said she had never had tempeh prepared this way. While it reminded her of a crab cake, I thought it was more like a chicken patty– crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. But of course, it was not your average chicken patty. She also ate everything on her plate.
We debated going to Tasti D-lite, but it was freezing out and Erica claimed to have had TWO medium cups of it the day before, so somehow she convinced me to order two desserts at candle! Honestly, I just wanted to see if they lived up to all the hype… because really, how can vegan desserts compare to ones full of cream, eggs, and butter?
I picked the Carrot Cake and she picked the Apple Cranberry Crumb Pie.

I honestly was completely stunned. Not only were they as good as “regular” desserts, but they were better! Well, I’ve probably had better pies in my life, but I’m also spoiled by my mom’s apple pie with its flaky, butter crust. But the carrot cake was OUT OF THIS WORLD! Usually carrot cake is a sugar-laden concoction with a sticky, cloying cream cheese ice cream, but Candle’s version was moist, spicy, and not too sweet– each bite had some tangy frosting and a cake embedded with carrot shreds and raisins. Honestly… amazing.
But the crumb pie was also great! It’s just that, like Erica, I love that carrot cake. There should be a website dedicated to it.
Anyways, all in all, I loved this restaurant! I won’t force my parents to go back, but even if I can’t get someone to go with me, I’ll make sure to go back the next time I’m in New York.

Address: 1307 3rd Ave, New York City, New York

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. erica permalink
    January 5, 2009 4:38 am

    Ahh, I loved reading your review! And I know, we totally should’ve taken a picture together! Oh well, next time we definitely will.

    Also, I can’t believe what a terrific writer you are.. Lida, I swear you’re a 25 year old trapped in that younger body. 😉

  2. Anonymous permalink
    January 14, 2009 11:12 pm

    I will miss the blogs, but everything else sounds so exciting; it’s been a great run and I look forward to the time when you resume in one form or another.
    stay warm!! from one who cares a lot

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