Restaurant Review: Quintessence

Quintessence
263 East 10th Street
(between Avenue A and 1st Avenue)
East Village, Manhattan
646-654-1823

Vegiboys Rating (3.5/4)

Quintessence is nestled into a narrow space on 10th Street in the East Village. Despite having been around since 1999, both Brian and I had walked that block many times before without noticing its presence. However, this hidden gem is not to be missed; it offers amazing and unique raw vegetarian cuisine on par with the best in the city.

For full disclosure, Daisy, who joined us in dining at Vegetarian Paradise 2, served as our hostess at Quintessence for the evening, though we maintain that such ties affected neither our critical eyes nor discerning palates.

It’s a small space; the restaurant was packed on our entry, so we were invited to join the table of a couple visiting from Europe. The couple had already eaten at Quintessence several times during their short holiday in New York, having found the food and atmosphere outstanding enough to pass up all of the city’s other vegetarian offerings.

In fact, it seemed that most of the diners possessed an equal dedication to the food at Quintessence. From our personable waiter to the neighborhood denizens stopping in for take-out, Quintessence has loyal regulars that are convinced this is one of New York’s best restaurants.

But with good reason? Our respect for Daisy notwithstanding, we have to agree: the food was unvarying in its excellence.

Brian was initially saddened to learn that they were out of lemonade, so we both went with pear juice instead. The choice was a gratifying one; the juice was flavorful and creamy, more akin to a shake than juice.

For a first appetizer, we were presented with a faux-cheese platter. The macadamia and Brazil nut-based cheeses each offered entirely different flavors (one creamy in taste and texture, the other with a sharper herbal flavoring). A spread of crackers lasted about halfway through the cheese, after which we conveyed the remainder of the creams directly to our mouths Рwe were totally unwilling to pass up their deliciousness for lack of anything to spread them on. A center p̢t̩ of dates offered a sweet alternative to the cheese on the platter, making a wonderful topping for the fresh strawberries and apple slices.

Our next appetizer, the ravioli, arrived in an amazing presentation: thinly sliced turnip (maybe?) served as the shell to another faux-cheese (this one with a basil base) garnished with pesto, tomato, and fresh herbs. If not for the restaurant’s raw and vegan guarantees, I would have been convinced they were sautéed in butter – the flavor was superb.

Our European friends had departed at this point, and we moved to a smaller table that had become available, finding our entrées already waiting for us. My fofu (a soyless tofu) was incomparable to any dish I’ve experienced – the appearance of tofu cubes misled my tongue’s expectations, as I found the cubes to be softer, firmer, and more flavorful in their own right than any tofu. The surrounding mushrooms and marinade sat over a bed of hijiki and greens, melded magnificently to create an Asian-inspired dish that felt both health-inducing and satisfying.

At the suggestion of our waiter, Brian chose a Quintessence signature dish: the Mexican platter. This is where the talents of the kitchen really proved exemplary. An entirely convincing enchilada and a tostada, composed of nothing but raw ingredients, provided an abundant platter with all of the positive characteristics of Mexican dishes (cheesiness, savory fillings, fresh toppings) but none of the drawbacks (there was no greasiness or heaviness to the dish). It offered a decadent experience without regrets – instead invoking invigoration.

Though our stomachs were overstuffed, we needed to attempt a dessert. Our European table-mates had recommended the pecan pie, which we ordered à la mode (with a pecan caramel ice cream). The pie was outstanding; held together with a glue of mashed dates, it could have passed as an award-winning variety of the real thing. The ice cream was also impossibly convincing for a raw concoction.

The price? We clocked in at around $55 each; expensive, but cheaper than Pure Food and Wine or other haute-cuisine establishments (and on par with other raw venues in the city). Unlike Pure or many other restaurants though, the plates offered both an amazing experience and a full stomach (the latter of which is rarely achieved from kitchens of equal caliber). It’s absolutely worth the cost, and should be considered a must-visit for any NYC vegetarian diner.

Food (4/4)
Atmosphere & Service
(3.5/4)
Value (3/4)

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