The second installment of Adventures in Veganism, an exploration of vegan eating in NYC that Curt and I undertook in honor of Curt’s brother Timmy, who recently converted to veganism and visited New York.
466 Columbus Ave, New York, NY 10024
Cafe Blossom is a fully vegan restaurant on the Upper West Side. We came here on Sunday morning, for brunch. Timmy says (and I’ve heard this before) that vegans typically have a difficult time finding things to eat at brunch, which makes sense when one thinks about it. No butter or eggs allowed – what else can you do for brunch?! So when Timmy found out there was a vegan brunch in town, he was excited. Usually he downs Bloody Marys as his brunch item when he goes to jazz brunches.
Timmy loved it – he ordered a Tofu Eggs Benedict, described on the menu as containing toasted house-made cheddar cornbread, sautéed spinach, tofu scramble, soy bacon, hollandaise. Obviously the cheddar was not going to be the one that we are used to; and Hollandaise is an emulsion of egg yolk and butter, so I don’t know what they did. It was a runny sauce – real Hollandaise is usually creamy and buttery. This sauce looked more like a French dressing, though yellow. It did, however, provide some of the liquid that you would normally get from a poached, runny egg, and buttery Hollandaise over the top. When I bit into the soy bacon and tofu ball (not scramble) on top, it almost reminded me of a smoked mozzarella ball. I didn’t mind it. But as a substitute for eggs benedict: hard to say. The dish combines too many different elements from the Eggs Benedict family. Eggs + Hollandaise + English Muffin = Eggs Benedict. Eggs + Mornay (cheese + bechamel) Sauce + Spinach + English Muffin = Eggs Florentine. Supposedly a traditional version of Eggs Benedict has the eggs over ham or bacon, though in NY, I usually see that listed as a separate dish. At Cafe Blossom, they tried to put all of these elements together – of course without the one constant element, the perfectly poached egg. Timmy did enjoy it, but said that one of the things he missed as a vegan was a runny egg.
Curt and I both ordered the farinata puttanesca (chickpea flour crepe, caramelized onions, mushrooms, capers, olives, roasted cherry tomatoes, garlic hummus, sprout salad), continuing in our quest to find vegan dishes that didn’t just try to approximate a meat or vegetarian dish with soy substitutes. I read somewhere (I think Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food) that we, as Americans, eat too much soy as it is. I don’t purport to be an expert and am not interested in engaging the debate for or against soy. But I loved Pollan’s argument in In Defense of Food, which he says can be boiled down to three points: Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants. The idea is to eat real food.
The puttanesca tasted okay, albeit a little bland. In traditional Southern Italian versions, puttanesca is spicy, tangy, and salty, reminiscent of its fabled origin as a dish that prostitutes would fix for themselves between jobs in port towns. Mark Bittman wrote a great recipe for it here. Cafe Blossom’s version of puttanesca included nontraditional ingredients that a vegan customer would feel comfortable ordering – chickpea flour, hummus, sprout salad – and lacked heat from chili pepper, and saltiness from capers and olives (those two ingredients were there, but not strongly flavored). In other words this was the polite, glove-wearing version of puttanesca. Fine, but not exciting.
In all, I think Cafe Blossom is a good place if you’re a vegan (as I said, Timmy was the one who loved it), but just okay for non-vegans. With so many other vegan-friendly restaurants in NYC (posts to follow), this one might not be a restaurant Curtis and I seek out with vegan friends (unless visiting the American Museum of Natural History, in which case it’s extremely convenient).