Vegan New York

March 3, 2015

I spent the past weekend in New York eating incredible food. I mean, the vacation included other things, but all you really want to hear about is the restaurants, right?

A warning to your pocketbook: most of the meals listed below are not cheap. We split tabs with friends and family and we splurged. (The ethical issues with the financial inaccessibility of vegan restaurants is a conversation for another time.)

Thursday

Lunch: everything-from-the-fridge meal with a substantial portion of black lentils, quinoa, and zucchini that carried me through both plane flights.

Dinner: our first New York vegan restaurant – Angelica Kitchen!

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Special warm appetizer: The People’s Polenta Rounds of polenta studded with diced vegetable confetti baked with a parsley-almond pesto center; topped with chile de arbol – guajillo chili tofu cream, garnished with avocado and piquant marinated kale. (Description from the menu: http://angelicakitchen.com/menu/soups-starters-sides/)

DELICIOUS. But the reason we got it was because of this:

A portion of the proceeds from People’s Polenta goes to THE MUSEUM OF RECLAIMED URBAN SPACES (MORUS) to support their preservation of grassroots activist history and promotion of environmentally sound community-based urban ecologies. Visit http://www.morusnyc.org.

Polenta is not normally my favorite, but the combination of polenta, chili tofu cream, and avocado made this dish so homey and so creamy.

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One of their daily specials with apricot-cranberry tofu and a grain mix of teff, millet, and something else I can’t remember.

I only took pictures of mine, but Mark got the vegan reuben and Cynthia got another special that had some name like oregaNO cities. My tofu was just so subtly sweet and flavored and the grain combination set it off perfectly. The entire atmosphere of the restaurant was super comfortable, the tables were large and the lighting was gentle, the staff were great, and the rotating daily specials make it a great option for future visits.

Other stuff: plane flight(s);

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Neat La Guardia Airport billboard that was located in a corner of the lower floor that had basically no people

three hours of internet research planning our vegan eating excursions while the other members of our party were working (not pictured);

visit with the incredible conservation biologist and intersectional animal rights activist Cynthia Malone, and fascinating conversation about her research in Cameroon with local farmers and the tensions between economy and conservation.

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Two of my favorite vegans meet each other: my boyfriend, Mark, and the famous Cynthia!

Cynthia is also an expert on palm oil, and her equal compassion for the people and non-human animals affected by current business practices makes her the perfect teacher for this complicated issue. I always learn so much when I see her!

Friday

Brunch: okay, so we went to Rockin Raw because what even is Peruvian Creole raw food?, but it was closed until 4 pm. Then we walked the block to Sacred Chow, because WAFFLES, but they only serve their brunch menu on weekends. We had their lunch menu of tapas, but I missed the waffles.

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Mark’s menu of Indonesian Tempeh, Root Vegetable Latkes, and Thai Ginger BBQ Seitan.

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Some overlap in our choices…a special with artichokes on the right.

All I have to say about the above is that Madison Vegan restaurant Bandung has the superior tempeh, even without the sauce. Everybody else was happy with their meal, though, so I could just have been bitter about the lack of waffles.

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Mama’s Soy-Meatballs, Nama Gori Tofu, and a daily special of Corn Cakes.

My mom and I split the bottom two plates, and they were fine. The gluten free corn cakes had baked apple in them, which was unexpected and made them basically dessert. (not complaining.) The nama gori tofu had a squashy texture that didn’t appeal to me. The only thing I really got excited about was my dessert, which was an upside down cheesecake, also with baked apple.

The moral of the story is don’t listen to me describe food once I’ve just been deprived of waffles.

Dinner: BLOSSOM. Blossom is like a vegan monopoly in New York. They have four restaurants. I have visited three, and two of them were on this trip. This evening we went to the main Blossom restaurant on 9th. I recommend taking the virtual tour to really get a sense of the atmosphere because the restaurant is just beautiful.

I’m including pictures of the menu so you can experience for yourself the joy and anticipation we felt on entering the restaurant:

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Family friend’s appetizer: BABY BEET SALAD mâche & pea shoots, walnuts, cashew “ricotta”, spicy mustard vinaigrette (GF) (http://blossomnyc.com/chelsea/dinner-menu/)

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My meal: CHARMOULA TEMPEH KEBAB summer squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, North African “pesto” marinade, orange scented millet & mixed green salad (GF, NF) (http://blossomnyc.com/chelsea/dinner-menu/)

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My mother’s college roommate’s meal: RIGATONI IN PORCINI CREAM shallots, leeks, broccoli rabe, pistachio gremolata, truffle oil, caramelized fennel & onion jam crostini (SF) (http://blossomnyc.com/chelsea/dinner-menu/)

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Mom’s meal (which I promptly stole): SPAGHETTI SQUASH CAKE WITH WILD MUSHROOM RISOTTO sautéed spinach, saffron cream sauce, pine nut garnish (GF, SF) (http://blossomnyc.com/chelsea/dinner-menu/)

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Dad’s meal: Daily special, can’t remember exactly.

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Family friend’s meal: LASAGNA tapioca cheese, ground seitan & tofu marinara, roasted eggplant, sautéed broccolini (NF) (http://blossomnyc.com/chelsea/dinner-menu/)

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Mark’s meal: SALMON TOFU (NF,GF) trumpet mushrooms, leek-fennel compote, forbidden rice, sautéed broccolini, dill crème (http://blossomnyc.com/chelsea/dinner-menu/)

This was all amazing. Totally recommend all the above entrees. The desserts (below) got mixed reviews. Mark was obsessed with his tiramisu, the rest of us were lukewarm about our ice cream. The three scoops are a mix of homemade icecream: one scoop homemade apple cinnamon, one pistachio, and one pumpkin spice. The one scoop is vanilla.

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Other stuff: saw On the 20th Century with Kristen Chenoweth, who is a goddess.

Saturday

Brunch: Blossom on Columbus. We were looking for a lunch place near the cathedral we had just toured. The plan was originally to go to Seasoned Vegan, but our entire party wasn’t thrilled about that plan. So, we googled nearby restaurants, and Blossom saved the day once again!

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Mark’s meal: Seitan Scallopini (nf) pan-seared seitan cutlets, white wine, lemon, and caper sauce, truffle mashed potato, sautéed kale (http://blossomnyc.com/uws/lunch/)

Mark had been considering the dish last night, but I convinced him to try the salmon tofu because it sounded fascinating. Both ended up being excellent choices, but he was full of adulation for this particular dish.

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Mom’s meal: Vegetable Lasagna (gf, nf) layers of grilled eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, red quinoa, and tofu ricotta, marinara sauce, soy mozzarella, rocket salad (http://blossomnyc.com/uws/lunch/)

I ate like half of this. It was really a convincing lasagna, texture wise, and the rocket salad added the perfect amount of green and another layer of flavors.

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My meal: Quinoa Pancakes (gf) whipped coconut mascarpone, maple syrup (http://blossomnyc.com/uws/brunch-menu/)

I will never NOT choose gluten free vegan pancakes when given the option. These were everything, and the coconut mascarpone was glorious.

Dinner: Franchia, also known as “that one vegan restaurant that’s kind of in midtown so it’s the only place we reliably go.” That said, though, I LOVE Franchia. It introduced me to bibimbap, and for that, I shall be eternally grateful.

The lighting was too low to get any pictures, but we had bibimbaps almost around thetable and they were delicious.

Other stuff: 

The Xu Bing exhibit at the Cathedral of St John the Divine. Gorgeous phoenixes made out of building detritus. A powerful message in a celestial space.

Honeymoon in Vegas, which was fun if you could ignore the incredibly talented Brynn O’Malley being forced into a 2-dimensional love interest kind of role. The music was great, because Jason Robert Brown is always amazing. The story was bizarre. We also saw On The Town. I’m including the highlight below. I liked Alysha Umphress a lot better onstage than I did in this clip. Still not the strongest scatter, but she and Johnson had great chemistry. Now that you’ve seen this, you can get on with your life. (Or you can see the powerhouse Lea Delaria version and then get on with your life.) On the Town was long and had a lot of dancing and a mediocre story. I wasn’t thrilled. I did fall deeply in love with the rich bass voice of Phillip Boykin, which was showcased much better here than in Porgy and Bess. As a side note, all the shows had at least two people of color in the chorus, which was exciting!

Sunday

Brunch: ORGANIC GRILL. YOU MUST GO HERE. RIGHT NOW. We went before the 11:30 rush and got a chance to chat with the waitress, who was super nice and gave us all sorts of suggestions for our next food adventures.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Organic Grill is open at 10. They say they open at noon on their site, but that is a lie. We were looking for early vegan brunch and we could not find it anywhere, seriously, so if you are looking for the same thing, go to Organic Grill!

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The sign says: Congrats! You made it out of bed! Now come and enjoy an organic, healthy, warm brunch!

Organic Grill, you understand me.

Guess what I got?…

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SLAMCAKES

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No, really, that’s what they’re called. Gluten free and vegan slamcakes, made with fruit of your choice. I chose raspberries. Could have used some coconut marscapone, but then, what couldn’t benefit from some coconut marscapone?

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There’s Mark enjoying his Bulletproof Coffee, which had hemp seeds and coconut oil.

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Mark got Tofu Rancheros.

And while he ate his real meal, I ordered my real meal:

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Peanut Butter Pie.

Oh, it is so beautiful. I can just taste it now. I should have ordered eight more of them. An entire pie. Two entire pies!

Okay, I’m getting carried away. The reason I didn’t get more than one piece is because we were going to the museum afterwards and couldn’t bring anything along.

By the way, the decor was super fun. Observe:

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BRILLIANT space saving technique. I am in awe.

Other stuff: Museum of Natural History FOR FREE (we know famous people called Cynthia Malone) while it was super snowy and gorgeous.

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And then cancelled plane flight home and impromptu hotel stay while it was super snowy and gorgeous. We did also have delivery Indian food, but it wasn’t anything fancy.

The Lion Whisperer and the Best Way to Love Wild Animals

(h/t to Dawnwatch. Click here to send a thank you to CBS.)

If you have 15 minutes free today, I recommend 60 Minutes’ segment on The Lion Whisperer. The segment juxtaposes a hard look at the canned hunting industry with some beautiful footage of human-lion interaction. N.B.: There is footage of lions being killed in a canned hunting setting, but that is the only graphic footage, and there is plenty of warning before it happens.

As tempting as it is to want to visit wild animal petting zoos when visiting other countries, those kinds of establishments come at a price to the animals themselves. As one of the interviewees says about halfway through this video:

Whenever you pet a lion cub, you are directly enriching the canned lion industry.

In many cases, the only industry interested in adult wild animals is the canned hunting industry. They are too expensive and too dangerous for any other purpose.

So how can you be kind to animals when traveling? Be wary of environments where wild animals are available to be petted by humans. I’ll mention two more below, before letting you know some humane alternatives.

Another popular industry is “dolphin petting pools.” These can be found in the US and in other countries. For a brief overview of the problems, read the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s one page summary. The pools are harmful to dolphins:

 …unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded conditions…

and dangerous to humans

Petting Pool visitors are also at risk from physical
harm….Several incidents of bites, head butts and trapped
hands were observed during the research.

Happy dolphin not in a pool! From http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/67/Bottlenose_Dolphin_KSC04pd0178_(cropped).jpg

Happy dolphin not in a pool!

Hitting a little closer to home, especially at this time of year, another wild animal enterprise that puts both animals and humans at risk are the elephant rides at the circus. Our friends at Animal Defenders International do great educating the public about the cruelty of circuses. This article mentions some of the damage escaped elephants can do:

An eyewitness reported the elephants were “breaking mirrors off, pulling panels off, breaking the windows out” of vehicles as they ran through the lot. Seeing the severe damage done shows how powerful these animals are. If the elephants were being used for children’s rides at the time, the consequences might have been tragic.

The Alliance has education campaigns about the circus every year, January – March. Contact alliance@allanimals.org if you would like to stand outside the circus in your hometown and hand out literature.

We do this! Well, we hand out leaflets in front of the circus. Come join us!

Let’s get back to the original question: how can you do ethical tourism if you love animals and want them to be a part of your travels?

The safest option is to love animals from a distance. There are all kinds of options for dolphin and whale watching and ethical safaris. You can get scuba certified or try snuba, or go on hikes.

What if you want to touch the animals? Well, that’s a greyer area. There are options for swimming with dolphins in the wild. My family went on one of those trips, and we really enjoyed it. We didn’t touch the dolphins, and we only briefly saw them, but it was amazing to be in their presence. After reading this post from Responsible Travel, I don’t know that I would do it again. It’s hard to know how ethical the company is, and I wouldn’t want to take the risk of working with a company that harasses dolphins for the sake of tourist enjoyment.

Another option, if you are in a place with wild elephants, is to skip the tourist venues and visit a sanctuary. This post has suggestions for ethical elephant encounters in South Asia.

If you don’t want to research all of this on your own, there are lots of people willing to help you, from places selling ethical travel packages to vegan travel agents. It can be more expensive, but you know your money is going to good places. My brother and his girlfriend used one of these services when planning their trip to Tanzania, and they really enjoyed the experience.

The bottom line is that if you’re going to interact with wild animals, do some research into the risk to them and to you before handing your money over. And when in doubt, go by this rule that I always follow:

There is always a greater love. Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals ‘love’ them. But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.
– Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year: April 28.

You may enjoy your vacation most of all if you just take some pictures, and donate the money you would have spent on wild animal enterprises to an organization helping to keep those animals safe and healthy.