Restaurant Review: Candle Café

Candle Café
1307 3rd Avenue
(between 74th Street and 75th Street)
Upper East Side, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (2/4)

Our initial attempt to visit Green Bean Café was thwarted by a kitchen that closes at 7 pm. On the Upper East Side and looking for vegetarian food, we went instead with one of the city’s better known establishments, Candle Café.

As part of the Candle group of restaurants, Candle Café has the original, less formal dining experience, going for more of a comfort food (and atmosphere) approach.

Since beginning our restaurant adventure in August, this is actually the first restaurant where we’ve needed to wait for a table (about 15 minutes), which speaks to its popularity among the locals and the city-at-large. A video crew for the CBS Early Show was interviewing guests on the topic of gossip; making the restaurant seem all that much higher in the NYC vegetarian socialite hierarchy.

The space at Candle Cafe is narrow, making for an awkwardly arranged dining room. Waitresses and patrons needed to squeeze past tables to reach others. The space was also loud despite fabric on the walls (though the acoustics are such that we had no trouble hearing each other over the background noise).

The décor is a bit folksy, and a little out of place for the UES. Perhaps in their attempt keep a unique venue from the more upscale Candle 79, they’ve created a space that seems a better fit for Westchester County than Manhattan.

To drink, Brian went with a lemon ginger tea (good), and I had the limeonade (great). Despite its description on the menu, the limeonade was not at all a smoothie, but was very refreshing nonetheless. Our seitan skewer appetizers were simple, but delicious for their ability to effectively hold an unadulterated grilled flavor. No mysteries, but it made for a great dish.

To the entrées: Brian’s seitan was very similar to the appetizer in preparation, with a grilled flavor and fleshy texture. It was nicely flavored with citrus without becoming anything too exotic. My casserole was good, layered with sweet potato, black beans, kale, and some other autumnal ingredients, but was best appreciated with the delectable accompanying gravy. Without the gravy, the layers didn’t really meld into a single flavor experience for us.

At the unhesitating recommendation of the waitress, we chose the chocolate mousse for dessert. A brilliant choice: it was pure chocolate in many forms; a dark, rich experiene with a number of underlying tastes.

But in the end, with a bill of $40 each, did we consider Candle Café a good value? Perhaps we’re about to speak heresy to the NYC vegetarian world, but we found it a touch overpriced for the experience. The atmosphere was fine, but lacked the refinement that could be found elswhere. The food was good (and excellent conceptually), but nothing was overly surprising for us. For comfort food in a comfortable space, we’d prefer a slightly more fitting cost: more suburban prices and less Upper East Side. Without that, we see no reason not to proceed directly to Candle 79 rather than settle for the more average dining experience of Candle Café.

Food (2.5/4)
Atmosphere & Service
Value (1.5/4)

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