Back from NYC + 10 lbs

As promised, here’s my take on a whirlwind weekend in the Big Apple: flew in Friday afternoon, flew out Sunday evening. What did we do in between flights you ask? We ate, walked, ate, walked, ate, walked, slept in our air-conditioned hotel room the size of a broom-closet, ate, walked, went to the top of the Rock (a.k.a. Rockefeller Center), ate, slept in our air-conditioned hotel room the size of a broom-closet, ate, walked, shopped, ate and walked. That’s it! See ya later.

Ok so we didn't actually make it to Central Park... But we were next to it!

Just kidding – how could I go to NYC and not partake in all the vegan delicacies?! The city is just crawling with vegans, you can just feel it. Well, that and the fact that there must be in order to support the number of vegan/vegetarian restaurants. You could spend a full month there, visiting a different restaurant for each meal and still never get to all the restaurants that cater to veggies (maybe not exclusively, but you get my drift).

I warn you now: the pictures are awful, but that’s what you get when you don’t want to appear like a tourist so you surreptitiously snap pics with your iPhone held at hip level…

So we decided to stay at the SoHotel located right in – you guessed it – SoHo (which I learned stands for South of Houston Street, so there’s a NoHo too!  Funny you never hear anything about it though… Anyhoo, I digress). We couldn’t have picked a better location for our purposes (scoping out NYC’s vegan-ness). The hotel was within spitting or crawling distance (your choice) of Wild Ginger, the first restaurant we made a beeline to once we dumped our bags. It’s a vegan, pan-asian, itty-bitty, filled with charm and sports moss on its walls – how can you NOT love it!? We started with salt and pepper crusted king oyster mushrooms which were out of this world and one of my favorite things about this weekend. And I don’t even like mushrooms. THAT’s how good they were! I then graduated to the black pepper seitan served over a bed of steamed greens while my Darling had the general tsao soy protein over broccoli. Both were phenomenal and I vow to give both recipes a try. It was heartbreaking to have to only order one dish each though – everything looked fantastic. So Wild Ginger gets 5 stars!

We then made a second beeline over to MooShoes, the vegan shoe store that I’ve been dying to go to ever since our last visit to NYC when I misread the address and we arrived at a boarded-up store and left, dejected, only to find out once we’d gotten back home that it was literally around the corner from where we’d been. Anyway, all that build-up, all that hope and joy, all that desire to spend a butt-load of money and of course what happens? It’s a complete and total let-down. There were so few styles and sizes in stock that it was barely worth a look. I was heartbroken again, though this time in a bad way.

To lift my spirits, we walked around the corner where we had spotted Babycakes while wandering. True, we were stuffed from dinner, but how could we NOT grab a little something from this adorable vegan bakery?! So in we went after having to walk down a street that smelled like a soiled week-old diaper dipped in sulfur and left to bake in 35-degree heat for 3 weeks. I’m not exaggerating, it almost kicked in my gag reflex. We hummed and hawed over the sumptuous looking cupcakes but finally settled on the chocolate chip cookie sandwiches. I thought it was soy ice cream slathered thickly between 2 large cookies, but no, it was ICING! 10$ later, yes, 10$ for TWO cookie sandwiches (what a freaking rip-off Babycakes, shame on you!), we had to brave that street again while clutching our cookies and trying not to breathe. Fortunately for Babycakes, the sandwiches were delicious, though a little too heavy on the icing. I had to hand my last few bites over to my Darling so I wouldn’t get sick from sweet-overload. He was only too happy to oblige. So, MooShoes gets 5 stars for its mission of bringing vegan designers to the masses, but -1 star for breaking my little vegan consumer heart. Babycakes gets 3 stars for the sandwiches and -2 stars for the eyeball-gouging prices.

Sweet little exterior; kick-ass vegan interior!

And now I come to the Atlas Cafe, a happy discovery that I will tell you right now, gets 5 stars. We wandered in for breakfast (you vegans know that breakfast is the hardest meal of the day to find in a restaurant of course) after doing a quick web search and I held my breath as I scanned the menu boards. My eyes glazed over and I felt dizzy: I could have vegan crepes!?  Or a bagel with “cream cheese”?! I was overwhelmed as soon as I started looking through the non-breakfast menu… So many choices! I finally settled on the strawberry banana crepes and was utterly delighted with what arrived. Beautiful presented, light and fruity – I was in heaven. My poor Darling had to sit through a breakfast full of sighs and “yummms”. I pledged we would return the next day.

But before we did, we hit up Sacred Chow for lunch. A completely vegan eatery, I could choose anything off the menu, which, as I’m sure some of you long-time veggies can appreciate, is a tough thing to handle when you’re used to only having to choose from 2-5 items. I was flummoxed but then steeled my nerves and ordered the scrambled tofu served over biscuits and gravy, and a Caesar salad. It was good, but I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the Caesar dressing. I found it kind of acidic and biting, when it should have been creamy and capery. I also would have preferred fewer ginormous chunks of onion in my tofu, but overall it was a nice meal and the folks were great. Soooo I’ll say 4 stars because I’m just really picky when it comes to my scrambled tofu (ever since T showed me the ONLY way scrambled tofu should ever be made… yum yum yum Zatarain’s!). My Darling had a “meatball” sub and was blissfully happy the entire time, so maybe I should have just ordered something different…?

With our bellies full, we waddled 50 blocks downtown to the Rockefeller Center, paid a ridiculous amount of money and waited in line with the rest of NYC to head up 60 stories and take in the view. Naively, I thought it would be the most romantic thing: the wind rustling my dress and my hair making me irresistible, the cityscape in the background, some quiet words murmured between two young people in love, a photo commemorating the occasion… Nope. Ok sure all that stuff happened, but add in about a billion other people waiting in line, peering over your shoulder, cramming into elevators and waiting in more lines, and you’ve got a better picture of what it was like. I wouldn’t repeat the experience, especially since I could feel the building shifting every so slightly in the pit of my stomach the entire time we were up there. Nothing says romance like a lurching tummy.

The Atlas Cafe dessert fridge - of how I wish I could have tried them all... Not that you can make it out in this picture, but the list along the right edge describes all of their vegan sandwiches... Sigh, why isn't there an Atlas Cafe on every block in the world?

But back to Atlas! We went back for breakfast the next day and I enjoyed the most delicious bagel with “cream cheese”. Sure to some of you that might seem completely banal, but it was total bliss, I assure you. After eyeballing the refrigerated display case for some time, and realizing that it was 10 am, I casually sauntered over to the owner and asked him which of the desserts were vegan. He replied “well, all of them!”. I think I suffered a small coronary event but recovered quickly enough to ask my Darling which one he would like to share with me, because like it or not we were getting a piece of cake. He opted for the fudge cake and the owner lopped off a piece the size of my head, which he offered to us on the house after I nattered on about how excited I was to be eating cake at 10 am. Ten forkfuls later I’d had it, but man was it worth it. I would pay the airfare, go through security and customs all over again in a heartbeat if there was just one piece of cake from the Atlas Cafe waiting for me at the other end.

Is that it you ask? I mean really, how much can two people eat in one weekend? But no, that’s not the end of this surprisingly long narrative (well, longer than I intended it to be, but I guess that’s what happens when you just sit down and start typing). After breakfast we rushed off to the American Natural History Museum, tore through about 6 exhibits out of what must have been 45 (we just didn’t have enough time and there were WAY too many people. We’ve promised to return someday in the middle of the week in the dead of winter or something when we’ll have the time and patience to run through the whole thing!) and then ran over to Cafe Blossom, the crowning jewel of our trip. We visited Cafe Blossom the last time we hit up NYC and had vowed to return. It’s a little trendier than Atlas (and so the prices are higher), but it was, hands down, the best meal of the weekend. I had the lemon peppercorn seitan over a herbed mashed potato cake with a rosé sauce and grilled asparagus, and my Darling had the equivalent of a double-bacon cheeseburger (read soy bacon and vegan cheddar) with fries. He loved every bite, as did I. To top it all off, he had a cookie dough shake which was smooth, creamy and completely decadent, while I chose a slightly more refreshing lemon cake. This miserable photo doesn’t do it justice: it was moist, dense but not over-the-top and had just enough icing to pull it all together and make it feel like a real dessert without killing you in the process. Blossom gets 5 stars, plus a couple bonus ones for that cake.

Apologies... I wish this photo did the cake justice, but it was dim and my iPhone doesn't have a flash... Well that and I didn't want to futz around trying to take a photo of my cake - I wanted to eat it!

So that’s it my friends. We had a wonderful time and plan on going back again, when we will likely eat just as much, enjoying every bite. May all your trips be as delightfully culinary!

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