Fair warning, dear readers—I’m planning a hibernation from the blogosphere from the moment I conclude this post until Saturday, December 21. As the end of the academic semester nears, my studies (read: mountain of essays) require my full attention, and the ol’ blog must fall by the wayside for a bit. Fear not, however, for December 21 marks the beginning of my winter break, during which I plan to return to my thrice-per-week posting routine of yore. Additionally, I’ve let go of a handful of extracurricular commitments for the spring semester, in part to allow for a sustained level of relatively high-frequency blogging. So bear with me for the next three weeks—the end of the academic tunnel shines bright!
Though I’m already anticipating winter break, I actually just returned to campus from a three-day Thanksgiving extravaganza in New York City, accompanied by my dear parents. Last November marked the onset of our family’s current Thanksgiving tradition of celebrating in NYC, and we enthusiastically did so again this year.
Deeply appreciating the irony of enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant whose culture lends absolutely no consideration to the problematic holiday, my parents and I returned to Korean vegan restaurant Hangawi for the second consecutive Thanksgiving. Seated on colorful pillows at sunken wooden tables while not wearing shoes, I reveled in my family’s redefinition of a holiday steeped in the slaughter of over 5 million turkeys, the impending blatant consumerism, and the violent colonialism of American settlers still present today. Instead, Thanksgiving for me now means reuniting with my beloved parents, exploring an ever-exhilarating city, and chowing down on sizzling stone bowls of crispy brown rice and succulent veggies.
In the above collage encompassing our dinner at Hangawi, the top two photos on the right depict shared appetizers of a plate of tempura-fried kabocha squash, broccoli, eggplant, and carrots (aptly named “Fritters Galore“); and another of shiitake mushroom caps stuffed with what I believe to have been a mixture of sautéed tofu and herbs. Light, crispy, and served with a sweet dipping sauce, the fritters provided a delightful beginning to our meal, while the stuffed mushroom caps served as an intriguing dish bursting with umami flavors. For our entrees, all three of us ordered the sensory experience of a sizzling stone rice bowl—my own Organic Zen Stone Bowl contained crispy brown rice, juicy wilted mountain greens, toothsome mushrooms, and shredded zucchini and carrots in a mild dressing of chili paste. In between mouthfuls of hot rice, we snagged bites of spicy and sour kimchi from a communal plate. Too enamored by the savory portion of our meal to pass up dessert, my parents and I opted to split a slice of spiced soy cheesecake, garnished with slices of fresh persimmon. This cheesecake may constitute the most impressive edible that entered my mouth during my four days in NYC, and my father more than adequately reiterates this sentiment with the following quote: “This cheesecake is easily better than any dairy-based cheesecake I’ve ever had.” Coming from a man who has celebrated his birthday with a cheesecake every year since childhood, I’d call this quite the victory.
The next afternoon, after an enlivening yoga practice at the ideologically vegan studio of Jivamukti, I eagerly introduced my parents to my most recently discovered restaurant gem of M.O.B (check out my rave review of the establishment here). Though rather abbreviated from their dinner menu, M.O.B’s lunch menu still includes their impressive vegan charcuterie in the form of a hearty, chewy crimini mushroom-lentil burger loaded with “secret sauce,” Brooklyn Brine pickles, and cashew cheese on a fluffy sweet potato bun. My father, myself, and my good friend Gabe (a native Brooklynite who met up with my parents and I for lunch) each ordered the burger, while my mother opted for the daily M.O.B.—a flatbread in the shape of the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge heaped with sautéed kale and shiitake mushrooms, horseradish aioli, and shaved nut cheese. M.O.B. also offered a special that day of roasted brussels sprouts in paprika aioli, which my mother and I could not forgo.
After bidding goodbye to Gabe, my parents and I trekked northward to Williamsburg to experience the unparalleled decadence of Dunwell Doughnuts. I had patronized Dunwell’s on multiple past NYC excursions with Gabe, and brimmed with excitement to introduce my parents to the unquestioned best doughnuts in NYC (not the best vegan doughnuts, mind you; the best doughnuts. Period). Positively captivated by the glass case of fluffy, glazed fried dough, my father ordered six doughnuts for the three of us to enjoy during our remaining few days in the city. My father’s obsession only grew upon first bite of a maple-glazed doughnut, and demanded that we snap multiple photos of our family at the shop to share with his siblings on Facebook (funnily enough, one of my father’s sisters married a man named Dunwell, which only furthered my father’s insistence on photo-taking). Along with the maple-glazed that my father first enjoyed, the varieties of our half-dozen doughnuts included chocolate-glazed with almonds, chocolate-glazed with coconut, and strawberry buttercream-frosted with coconut (otherwise known as the “Pink Lady).
Plenty of walking around Williamsburg helped us work up another appetite, pointing us toward another favorite family restaurant of Angelica Kitchen for dinner. Forgoing appetizers (except for a small dish of kimchi. You can’t miss Angelica Kitchen’s pickles!) since we knew to expect gigantic entrée portions, my parents and I ordered our main dishes straightaway. My mother opted for the night’s special of a tomatoey lentil stew topped with roasted brussels sprouts and accompanied by steamed greens and pickled vegetables, while my father and I both ordered the “Dish a Dixie”—a new, southern-inspired addition to the menu consisting of grilled tempeh in barbeque sauce, a crispy coleslaw in a creamy almond dressing, steamed greens with maple-glazed pecans, and a generous wedge of maple cornbread with green chilis. While I adored the robust nuttiness of the tempeh (produced by an artisan company in Philadelphia), my father found the flavor too strong, and questioned whether one could truly call the sauce “barbeque,” since he thought that it lacked adequate tanginess. Even if the tempeh did not live up to its full potential, the cornbread—an absolutely perfect balance of moist, dense, fluffy, and bursting with corn flavor—certainly helped to redeem the dish, as did the surprisingly delicious coleslaw.
For our final full day in the city, my parents and I ventured to two restaurants that we had never before patronized: Peacefood Café for lunch and V-Note for dinner. I had heard glowing reviews of both eateries from multiple reliable sources, and found myself quite impressed with both. At Peacefood Café, I experienced a craving for a good ol’ salad, and opted to try the Asian Greens Salad—a mix of tender baby greens, crunchy jicama, shredded carrots, and diced tomatoes in a bright, tangy dressing of garlic, ginger, cilantro, ponzu, and sesame, all topped with thin strips of marinated baked tempeh. Paninis caught the eyes of both of my parents. My father—ever infatuated with seitan—ordered the Fried Seitan Medallion Panini with cashew cheese, arugula, tomatoes, and pesto, while my mother—ever infatuated with Mediterranean cuisine—ordered the Mediterranean Oven-Dried Vegetable Panini with cashew cheese, basil-spinach pesto, and tender broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. In between bites of our salads and sandwiches, we munched on a plate of Indian-spiced chickpea fries—crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside—with the creamiest aioli I’ve ever experienced (yes, I licked the aioli dipping bowl clean).
Too satisfied from our entrees to consider dessert, we opted not to partake in the many offerings in the bakery case; though, considering the tantalizing variety of sweets, we certainly must return to Peacefood Café in the near future.
From upper left continuing clockwise: raw coconut cashew cheesecake topped with pistachios; gluten-free veggie biscuits and iced cinnamon rolls; banana bread; strawberry shortcakes; carrot cake with cream cheese frosting; peanut butter cheesecake (all vegan, of course!).
After lunch, my parents and I moseyed over to Broadway to catch a 3-hour matinee performance of my favorite Shakespeare play—Richard III—before heading to the upper east side for dinner at the vegan wine bar and bistro known as V-Note. V-Note’s atmosphere provides an immediate sense of comfort: cream-colored faux-leather benches line the mahogany walls, fluffy geometrically patterned pillows grace every seat, and candles burn brightly. Seated at the back-most table, my parents and I began scanning the extensive (yet not overwhelming), varied, and unique menu, complete with full sections of starters, salads, entrees, and sides. Though we could have easily created a meal simply by sharing a number of starters (as I’m sure many V-Note patrons do, given its purported status as a tapas-style restaurant), my parents and I decided to split one appetizer and each order entrees, my father seeking to also leave room for dessert.
We began the meal with the Mushroom Calamari Fra Diavlo—herbed and breaded mushroom rings served with a tangy cocktail dipping sauce and a squeeze of lemon. Though lacking the hearty, “meaty” texture of many robust mushrooms (indeed, I thought the rings proved a bit soggy), the calamari harbored a satisfying slippery texture, a toothsome crunch from the breading, and an unctuous flavor, while I probably could have drank an entire glass of the homemade cocktail sauce. While I found the appetizer a tad lacking on the texture front, I forgot my slight discontent as soon as I took the first bite of my entrée, the Tofu “Salmon” with Mushroom Scallops—a slab of beet-marinated and grilled tofu topped with a dilled leek tartar sauce and shaved fennel over crispy black rice and tender broccolini, served alongside medallions of lobster mushrooms atop a white wine-mushroom reduction. To my immense surprise, the tofu reflected quite accurately the smoky flavor and flaky, charred texture of grilled salmon steaks, especially when coupled with the piquant tartar sauce. Seeing as salmon constitutes the only animal food for which I’ve ever experienced cravings of any sort, this dish left me duly contented (not to mention incredibly close to licking the plate).
As for my parents, Mom ordered the Creamy Three Mushroom Risotto—a mix of shiitake, trumpet, and cremini mushrooms studded with sweet peas in a Dijon mustard sauce—while seitan-loving Dad opted for the Seitan Cordon Bleu—breaded seitan cutlets served with dilled and truffled mashed potatoes, sautéed swiss chard, and a shiitake reduction. Needless to say, both of my folks sang the praises of their respective dishes.
Only my father had tummy space left for dessert, and excitedly partook in the Chocolate Ganache Cake—a three-tiered cube of creamy chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse served alongside a scoop of ice cream. Pure decadence.
While my parents and I had reservations for brunch at Candle 79 the next morning, we had to cancel due to complications to my travel plans because of the train derailment on the Metro-North railroad. Rest assured, I returned to school safely, though the events certainly shook both my parents as well as the greater Vassar community. My heart goes out to the families affected by the accident.
On that rather somber note, dear readers, I bid you farewell for the next three weeks! Wish me luck in scaling my mountain of schoolwork.
Until next time, Ali.