This past spring, Jonathan Horowitz’s “Go Vegan!” exhibit, first mounted in 2002, was restaged by Gavin Brown’s art gallery in lower Manhattan at the former LaFrieda butchery adjacent to the art gallery at 601 Washington Street. The exhibit which occupied the former white tiled butchery, included photographs of more than 200 celebrity vegetarians (including Albert Einstein), a gallery of animal portraits, and in the now mothballed freezer locker, with its heavy metal doors wide open, a gruesome and hard to watch video of commercial animal slaughter. That was probably the perfect day to dine at Angelica’s Kitchen, an organic and vegan restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village, that has been serving wonderful vegan cuisine since 1976. Instead, I decided to forego a meal in any Manhattan restaurant and hiked across the Brooklyn Bridge and exchanged, at least momentarily, the images of animal cruelty for the awesome sights of lower Manhattan and New York harbor from the walkway of this glorious human creation (designed and engineered by Washington Roebling, Class of 1857 of RPI in Troy, NY, across the river from my hometown of Albany). A couple slices of Brooklyn pizza would satisfy my hunger before the return 3-hour train trip up the river to home.
But now, on an early fall daytrip to Manhattan to enjoy a special Matisse exhibit called “Radical Invention, 1913-1917” at the Museum of Modern Art and a Roy Lichtenstein show of black and white drawings of his pop art at the Morgan Library, I decided it was time to enjoy a vegan meal at Angelica Kitchen. Some good friends from Brooklyn, came into Manhattan to meet me for a special and satisfying meal, served by people, who believe strongly in the food they offer. Established 36 years ago, Angelica Kitchen is a restaurant worthy of a special trip, and even a bit of homage. Its owner, Leslie McEachern sources the restaurant’s food from 24 different farms, mostly in upstate New York including Orange County’s Blooming Hill Organic Farm in Blooming Grove, NY and Delaware County’s Mountain Dell Farm in Hancock, NY. Both of these upstate New York farms offer CSA [community supported agriculture] shares and are included in the CSA directory on this website [www.knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom.com/community-supported-agriculture-csa-farms/northeast-region/new-york/].
We were seated almost immediately at a comfortable table in the corner of a dining area, which looks directly into the open kitchen. One of my dining companions remarked at how the dining areas were fresh and airy, with the restaurant’s white washed ceiling and walls, accented by richly painted lower walls of metallic browns and tans, resembling Austrian expressionism style painting of the 1930’s.
For a starter, we shared a Picnic Plate of 5 menu items including a delicious walnut-lentil pate and hummus served with rice crackers, crisp yet juicy daikon radishes, roasted sweet potatoes, and assorted seasonal pickled vegetable. A dining companion also enjoyed a bowl of the soup of the day, green split pea-vegetable with crostini, that was rich and hearty and perfect on a damp, gray day. We toasted the happy news of the recent engagement of my dining companions’ beautiful daughter with a French Cotes du Roussillon Villages, which was a BYOB of fine red wine. Although alcohol is not on Angelica Kitchen’s menu, our waitress graciously served the wine. No corkage charge was imposed, a nice contrast to the policies of other restaurants in the big city.
Angelica Kitchen offers four or five specials, which change daily and reflect the season of the year. I’m partial to ordering crepes in restaurants since it’s a dish I have trouble preparing even with a special crepe pan that was passed along to me by my mother, unfortunately without clear instructions for its use. The crepe included in the daily specials, humorously named “Chickpea and My Gal,” was a satisfying choice. A savory chickpea-sage crepe was folded over a roasted vegetable mix, including turnips, carrots, fennel & chickpeas, sautéed spinach & onions. The entire crepe was served atop a creamy butternut squash sauce accented with nutmeg and drizzled with parsley-lemon pistou. This wonderful main dish was accompanied by lightly cooked green and yellow wax beans and marinated beets. I’ll admit that I have never knowingly eaten beets before, and these were an eye opener and just might prompt me to plant some in my home garden next spring. It would make sense for me to obtain a copy of one of Ms. McEachern’s cookbooks in the likely event that she has shared a recipe for preparing beets like those served with my crepe in her restaurant [www.goodreads.com/author/show/192395.Leslie_McEachern].
My dining companions ordered entrees off the regular menu. The happy mother of the bride-to-be enjoyed her delicious dashi and noodles, a bowl of traditional Japanese broth made with shiitake mushrooms, kombu [an edible kelp also called dashima], fresh ginger and shoyu [soy sauce], which was served warm over soba (buckwheat) noodles, and adorned with daikon radishes and carrots. My other dining companion, unexpectedly pleased by the evening meal in a vegan restaurant, enjoyed a three bean chili made with lentils, pinto and kidney beans simmered with sun-dried tomatoes and a blend of chiles and topped with lime-jalapeno tofu sour cream. A cucumber-red onion salsa served with the chili added the perfect amount of spicy heat. A generous serving of whole grain corn bread, which was light and fluffy, came with the chili and was enough to share with the rest of the table of diners.
Angelica Kitchen does not offer coffee or espresso, so instead we enjoyed hot green tea with our shared dessert of delicious homemade cookies including a rich tasting fig newton as well as a serving of “Angelica Kitchen organic brittle,” a wonderful blending of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pecans, rice syrup, maple syrup, vanilla, and sea salt, which is unexpectedly light and airy. My only regret is that I didn’t buy a large package of the brittle to take home with me. We dined for less than $30.00 per person, which included a gratuity, but it should be noted that Angelica Kitchen does not accept credit cards- cash only (FWB 10/2/10]. [Angelica Kitchen, 300 East 12th Street at 2nd Ave, 212.228.2909, Lunch & Dinner: Mon-Sun 11:30AM-10:30PM (cash only) www.angelicakitchen.com]