2737 Broadway (at 105th St.)
My foraging for vegetarian food among meat-heavy menus began at a joint with a name imprinted on evenings on the Upper West Side in neon-orange vertical letters: Carne. It’s like a men’s clothing store called Men’s Clothing. And here I am shopping for a bra and panties, I thought, as the hostess escorted me to the curve of a winding banquette.
The generically modish dining room is interrupted at odd times with accents that are either island themed (a wall painting of palm tree silhouettes hidden in a corner) or kitschy (the dark-grained fake wood tabletops that remind me of pancake breakfasts in a church basement).
In the restroom over the John is a diagram labeling cuts of beef. The menu advertises that all steaks, chops and loafs “are butchered in-house.” Fur is Dead, and so is the date if you come here with anyone who opposes meat-eating, I decide.
That’s not to say there aren’t vegetarian options, but don’t expect lots among the menu’s salads. Four out of six are not vegetarian. And at the section’s bottom is an offer to add steak, chicken, salmon or shrimp to any salad. I consider instructing the waitress to pile on all four and hold the lettuce, but that would deviate from this column’s goal.
For vegetarians, there’s the tomatoes and vinaigrette house salad ($6 small/$10 large) and another that’s a layered affair with two circular levels each of creamy vinaigrette-coated leaves, crinkle-cut green apple slices and crumbled bleu cheese ($7/$11). Chopped walnuts skirt the tower’s edge. What saves this salad is that the apples are sweetish rather than tart. Otherwise the combination of sour bleu, tangy vinaigrette and bitter arugula would be lip-puckering.
As for entrees, none are vegetarian, not even pasta. But for $14 you can choose any four of the 13 sides (priced $3-$6 each). I would prefer if the macaroni in the mac ’n’ cheese, a ramekin of elbow noodles under a school-bus-colored cheddary melt, were themselves in a cheesier, sharper sauce instead of this white and creamy one without much flavor.
The kitchen has tried to balance the carrot puree’s overpowering sweetness with an equal dose of salt. The roasted beets are positively dessert-like.
The “garlic mashed potatoes” are simple and satisfying without much distraction. But the bitter greens are my favorite side: mostly Swiss chard with a bit of spinach to soften the texture and taste. Whatever garlic didn’t make it into the potatoes can be found here. Neither the sautéed spinach nor creamed spinach is as good: The creamed is disintegrated leaves clumped in a parmesan muck, and the sautéed is like the bitter greens minus the chard’s firmness and depth of flavor.
Vidalia onion rings can be had either as a side ($4) or an appetizer ($6). They are the only vegetarian starter besides soup, and that’s too bad, because Vidalias are a poor choice for onion rings. They are less acidic than regular onions, and much of their prized sweetness disappears here. All that remains are slimy, tasteless things slithering out of fried shells.
The veggie burger ($10) was enjoyable—like a hearty vegetable soup reduced to a firm and chewy half-inch disk. I noticed bits of mushrooms and carrots in the patty that came beneath a slice each of raw onion and firm tomato and between two halves of a light, buttery toasted dome. Fries, like the meat at Carne, are “butchered in-house.” They’re as wide as a Tootsie Roll, skin-on and crispy on the outside.
In three visits, the best dish I had was a soup special. When I asked the otherwise knowledgeable waitress if the lentil soup was vegetarian, the question hung in the air for a moment before she answered yes. The bowl contained a mosaic of bitty carrots and celery floating on top of a semi-translucent liquid that tasted of onions and rosemary and that soaked soft brown lentils. In the middle was an island of toast sprinkled with paprika and two sourish, herbed globs of cream. For vegetarians, the dish is a thoughtful gift on a menu with sides that could turn away diners of any stripe.
Holly Madison, next time you sneak away from Hef we can go somewhere that doesn’t have pictures of how to dissect an animal in the powdering room and that knows that beets—sweet as the are—must be balanced with something besides butter.
For more vegetarian dining options at meat-lover locales, visit Whorebivore.com.