By Carol Anne Wasserman
Healthy eating isn’t all brown rice, steamed broccoli, and tofu. Candle 79, an upscale vegan restaurant on 79th off Lexington, is innovative and delicious good-for-you food. The restaurant serves no animal products (including dairy and honey); the chefs here are masters at turning grains, vegetables and bean products into delectable and healthful entrees. Much of the produce comes from organic and local farms, a difference that frequently imparts a richer more flavorful taste than conventional fruits and vegetables.
The space is simple and comfortable; in fact, a Feng Shui consultant was called in when the restaurant first opened to secure a harmonious vibe. Downstairs, the street facing walls fold out; fresh air abounds and the room feels more spacious. Upstairs, where actor Ted Danson was happily engaged with friends, large windows lighten up the front room. The bar is comfortable enough for dining, sipping cocktails, and enjoying a juice or smoothie from the inventive beverage menu. Lemon-ginseng iced tea with decaffeinated green and black tea has a mellow hint of sweetness from the added vitamin C and it’s an entirely sugar-free beverage.
A seaweed salad (one of many delicious salad choices) is layered with salty hijiki and arame, peppery radish, sweet carrots, and a rich tasting, though light, sesame ginger dressing. Grilled seitan chimichurri is spicy and salty, with a melt in your mouth chewiness. Seitan is made from flour (usually a combination of white and whole wheat) formed into a dough, where the bran is washed out, until only the gluten remains. What is left is the protein from the wheat. It has a meat-like texture and is delicious, even for carnivores. The chimichurri is on a stick, a presentation reminiscent of carnival food. This is a good thing; it is so fun eating healthy food in a stylish restaurant with your fingers.
The black bean pumpkin seed burger comes with a mesclun green-avocado salad, grilled red onion, and polenta fries. Thankfully the polenta fries can also be had as a side-dish. They are paired with homemade chipotle ketchup which is more sweet than spicy. I don’t traditionally like polenta, yet rave about these fries, in which the only other ingredients are some spices and the oil used for frying. The burger comes on a rosemary infused roll (not a bun, but a grilled specialty round from Amy’s bread on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan). The salad is lightly drizzled with an oily cilantro dressing, a perfect complement to the sweetly grilled onion.
A gluten-free menu is also available, which is a paired down version of the regular menu. Included is a smoked hummus appetizer, so good I forgot I was sick of seeing hummus on menus. The gluten free version is served with flax crips, and the regular accompanies some delicious parata bread triangles. Cumin basil crusted tempeh is a good source of protein and vitamin B12 (just like red meat). The gently sweet and creamy basil roasted corn sauce pairs nicely with the salty tempeh, and slightly bitter yet tender broccoli rabe. Served over a zesty lemon-quinoa tabouli.
We were awarded with a few servers, all friendly and patient. I ask a lot of questions, my most important one being, what’s the best dessert? Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss. And the name really does say it all (after our ohhhs and ahhhs it wasn’t hard to convince the couple next to us to order it). Another must have is the lavender ice cream, made with soy and coconut milk (no dairy). But the taste isn’t grainy or overly sweet (a perennial problem with many ice creams, dairy free or otherwise). This one is mild and smooth; so good, I overheard the woman next to me exclaim, there should be all sorts of lavender desserts and candies!
Candle 79, 154 East 79th Street, 212-537-7179
Carol Anne Wasserman is a lifestyle counselor and cooking instructor in Manhattan. She specializes in whole foods and macrobiotics. Visit her website at www.GetHealthyWithCarol.com.