Despite the influx of taco joints and pork-saturated dishes flooding restaurants these days, there is still a place for those seeking respite from animal proteins. Situated on the restaurant-heavy First Avenue, between East 79th and 80th streets, Café Blossom recently opened up its third location at what used to be a chicken shop (Eastside Poultry Inc., which moved to 1564 Second Ave.). Now, the food is all vegan, all the time.
We entered the small casual space and were not only greeted by a friendly waiter, but also by a group of people dressed like Egyptians. I am still unclear as to why they were dressed this way, but perhaps the fare at Café Blossom replicated some sort of traditional Egyptian cuisine.
While the restaurant refrains from selling spirits, it does offer an array of fresh juices and smoothies, which, at $7 a pop, make you feel like you ordered a round. My roommate tried the pink lady, a spicy and sweet, but not tart, blend of beets, pineapple, ginger and pear. Our other companion ordered the field of greens, a bright and clean-tasting concoction of spinach, cucumber, apple, lemon and ginger. For solids, we went for the lentil rings ($8), black-eyed pea cake ($8) and the seitan skewers ($8).
First out were the lentil rings, a delightful circle of dark French lentils mixed with root vegetables and surrounded by a surprisingly flaky phyllo crust (vegan, remember, means no butter). The flavor was mild, with a sharp coolness from the avocado mousse. The chef did a good job of keeping the lentils and the pastry moist. We wished the serving of mousse hadn’t been so stingy, but between the presentation and the flavor, the dish was a success.
Even better was the black-eyed pea cake. The Yukon gold potatoes blended well with the peas and the whole thing had a nice, crispy outside. It came topped with a circle of spicy chipotle aioli sauce that made it look like a giant fried egg, but also added a flavorful burst of burn.
Our third appetizer didn’t fare so well. The seitan skewers tasted rubbery, and they were too thick to really soak in the sweet and smoky hickory glaze. Though the caramelized pearl onions and grilled asparagus that accompanied the plate did manage to show off the complexity of the sauce.
Off the main course menu, we decided to sample the seitan risotto medallions ($20) and the feijoada ($17), a take on the traditional Brazilian dish. If we had known how bad the seitan was in the appetizer, we would have skipped the seitan entrée. Still, we received a delicious looking plate with three small seitan cutlets and a cylinder of crispy Arborio rice mixed with peas, leek and wild mushrooms. The whole dish was covered in a porcini sauce. Minus the tough and bland seitan, this was an amazing combo. The risotto was tender, fresh and flavorful, and a mini fork battle ensued over the last bite. We also thought the feijoada had an excellent rich smoky flavor, which is pretty impressive, given the traditional dish is made up of at least three kinds of meat. Café Blossom’s version combined roasted tempeh triangles, black beans, sweet potato and bright green chayote squash, which tastes like a blend of cucumber, pear and potato. The dish had a thickness that made it hearty, and the citrusy broth brought out the rich flavors of the vegetables and the nuttiness of the tempeh. The only complaint: It needs to be served with a spoon to get more of the sauce.
We finished the meal with dessert—three of them, to be exact. I definitely could have skipped the warm, soupy tapioca pudding ($8), but the other two were totally worth the indulgence. First, the Butterfinger shake ($7): The thick, soy-based beverage came out in a tiki cocktail glass and tasted so much like a regular, chocolate ice cream-based shake I forgot it was dairy free. We also got the blue-
berry apple cobbler ($9), which had a sugary crust that was so rich I could swear it contained butter. But no, completely vegan and tasting just like heaven.
By the end of the night we felt satisfied and full. Though next time, I will skip anything with seitan and substitute an extra dessert for it.
1522 First Ave.
Betw. 79th and 80th streets
Entrées: Around $18
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