NYC Adventure, Day 2: Candle Cafe and Caravan of Dreams

Before I enumerate my second day of vegan eats in New York City during my four-day Thanksgiving extravaganza, I’d like to ask a small favor of you, my dear readers, that if you decide to comply with it would mean the world to me. As I posted in early November, Vassar College, where I currently study, plans to engage in a large-scale deer cull this winter break. The Vassar Animal Rights Coalition currently has two petitions circulating against the cull, and we would appreciate it immensely if you would sign one or both of them. Here are the links: Petition 1 and Petition 2. Thank you so unbelievably much for supporting our cause.

On our first morning in NYC, my parents prepared for the day at a rather leisurely pace while I completed a couple readings for two of my classes (ah, the life of an overworked college student—forced to study even during break!). The day proved absolutely gorgeous with the sun shining brightly in balmy 60° weather, so my family and I happily meandered up 5th Avenue for twenty bustling blocks to arrive at the bottom of Central Park. From there, we traversed the winding park paths, rife with joggers, bikers, and dog-walkers, until my growling stomach led us to veer out of the picturesque greenery and toward our lunch destination of Candle Cafe East for a meal that I would later deem my favorite of the entire trip.

My father and I in Central Park.

Serving up healthy vegan food since 1984, Candle Cafe began as Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson’s “Healthy Candle” before immense customer demand steered them toward expanding, facilitated by their winning $53,000 in the take-five lottery. Since then, the Candle team has opened two more vegan eateries—Candle 79, offering a more sophisticated dining experience, and Candle Cafe West—and has garnered an international reputation, the reason for which my family had the gigantic pleasure of experiencing firsthand on a lovely November afternoon.

While the Candle menu boasted a handful of absolutely tantalizing Thanksgiving-themed specials during our visit (can you say macadamia-crusted tempeh?), the majority of them either contained gluten or sounded to me much too filling for a mid-day meal. Those two hindrances certainly didn’t impede my father, quite the hefty eater, from ordering a ginormous wrap from the specials menu that featured BBQ tofu, roasted sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, and collard greens wrapped in a spinach tortilla and served alongside both a spicy tomato salsa and coleslaw, as well as a bowl of “magical” miso soup. My father awarded me the pleasure of sampling a bite of his BBQ tofu, which induced an explosion of smoky succluence upon my tastebuds. However, as I predicted, the wrap proved too much food for even my father to handle, though his exclamation that “I never thought vegan food could be this filling!” illuminated my already sparkling day.

Magical Miso Soup.

BBQ Tofu Wrap.

As for my lunch, the usual Candle menu’s Thai Grilled Tofu—a saute of bell peppers, carrots, onions, and greens in a coconut curry sauce served over a bed of black rice and topped with crispy curried grilled tofu, spicy kimchi, and an arame coulis—screamed my name, and I happily succumbed to its request. The dish’s bright, rainbow-like appearance translated into its fresh, clean flavors, providing a refreshing take on the frequently heavy curries of most Thai restaurants. Every aspect of the dish sang: the rice? An impeccably chewy sponge to soak up all that saucy goodness. The veggies? The perfect balance of crisp and juicy. The tofu? Curry-crusted on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. The kimchi? A jolt of spice to counteract the subtlety of the rest of the dish. The arame coulis? An insanely creative sauce redolent of my favorite sea vegetable. Bravo, Candle Cafe.

Thai Grilled Tofu.

Meal Checklist: Protein—tofu. Whole Grain—black rice. Vegetables—carrots, onions, bell peppers. Leafy Greens—bok choy (I’m guessing), cabbage in kimchi, arame in coulis.

Unfortunately, I did not snap a picture of my mother’s food, as it arrived shortly after my meal, in which I became far too entrenched by the time my mother began eating to even entertain the notion of separating myself from it to take a photo. She ordered the arugula salad with fennel and dried cranberries from the Thanksgiving specials menu, along with a side of grilled foccacia, and attested afterwards that they comprised her idea of a perfect meal.

In skyrocketingly positive spirits after our immaculate lunch, my parents and I journeyed back toward Central Park for a tour of two of the Met’s exhibits—one featuring works by Andy Warhol and artists strongly influence by him, the other entitled “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop“—both of which proved quite fascinating. Rather low in energy from our active morning, our family headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit before heading down to the East Village for dinner at Caravan of Dreams.

Opened by Angel Moreno, a Spanish expat with a passion for both healthy eating and music, Carvan has offered nutritious vegan fare, as well as live music, since 1991. The menu carries a decidedly Mediterranean theme rife with both gluten-free and raw options, alongside heftier dishes like seitan nachos and Spanish paella. Predictably craving a huge mess of greens and veggies, I opted for an entree portion of the Omega Salad—a mix of kale, sunflower sprouts, field greens, avocado, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and spiced macadamia nuts, aptly named for its inclusion of omega-3-laden hemp seeds both sprinkled on top of the salad and blended into the citrusy dressing. While the salad certainly satisfied my hankering for a refreshing pile of raw greens, I could easily have recreated it at home and deemed it nothing particularly special.

Omega Salad.

Luckily, my dessert—a raw Chocolate Acai Berry Pie—verily increased Caravan’s impressiveness factor. The pie’s three layers included a chocolate-coconut crust, a succulent mousse of mixed berries, a tart mousse of acai, and a luscious mousse of chocolate. When combined, the layers produced a symphony of not-overly-sweet creaminess that left me without a heavy, dense feeling in my stomach as many nut-laden raw desserts tend to do.

Chocolate Acai Berry Pie

Meal Checklist: Protein—hemp seeds, macadamia nuts, nuts in pie crust. Whole Grain—none. Vegetables—cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sunflower sprouts. Leafy Greens—kale, field greens.

My parents, in contrast to my so-so response to my less-than-impressive salad, sang Caravan’s praises throughout their entire meals. An avid fan of platters of all shapes and sizes, my mother ordered the Mezze Plate—an array of dips and spreads including guacamole, almond pesto, herbed cashew cream cheese, coconut kefir, hummus, and smoky baba ganoush served with sourdough bread, crudite veggies, and raw tomato-chia chips. I snuck a small spoonful of each spread, all of which proved unique and quite delicious, and enthusiastically aided my mother in finishing off the chia chips (oh, how I’ve missed raw crackers since arriving at Vassar!).

Mezze Plate.

Crudite Veggies and Chia Chips.

Again, I must apologize for not obtaining a photo of my father’s food, which comprised of a heaping bowl of seitan nachos piled high with black beans, guacamole, and cashew sour cream, as well as two quesadillas filled with seitan, corn, and huitalacoche (a mushroom-like fungus that grows on the silk of corn stalks). I recommended that my father order items that included seitan, for I harbored an inkling that the ardent omnivore would enjoy its “meaty” texture, and indeed he deemed this meal as his favorite of the entire trip, reminiscing the next day about the intriguingly complex flavors in his quesadillas and once again remarking how surprisingly well the “vegan food” had satiated his hunger. See, Dad? Vegans don’t only eat salad and carrot sticks!

After catching a cab back to the hotel, my parents and I turned in for the night, looking forward to perusing the Chelsea High Line as well as sampling the fare of both One Lucky Duck and Angelica Kitchen.

Until next time, Ali.

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