Restaurant Review: Candle 79

Candle 79
154 East 79th Street
(between Lexington Avenue and 3rd Avenue)
Upper East Side, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (3/4)

Candle 79 shoots for pure elegance. Unlike sister restaurant Candle Café (with its down-to-earth rustic home feel), this original Candle group venue feels slightly aristocratic. The first floor has a hip modernity with velvet seating and wrought iron room dividers. The second floor has the cushy, slightly ostentatious feel of an old-money social club.

That said, Candle 79’s service and menu are both comfortably relaxed (though still refined). The menu offers items like nachos and burgers (among more formal sounding options), but everything is prepared creatively, with considerable depth to any dish.

Joined by our friend Nora for the dinner (fresh from the Met’s Alexander McQueen exhibit), we were seated in a booth on the second floor. Our server almost immediately brought us each a well-appreciated amuse bouche spoon of richly flavored lentils (a delicious start to the meal).

From their diverse range of beverages, Brian chose a homemade gingerale (nicely made), Nora tried their Rejuvination drink (an interesting blend of cucumber, aloe, lemon, ginger, and agave), and I tried the Green’s Endeavour Dubbel Ale (a nicely flavored gluten-free beer, though I could not discern the promised flavors of tart cherries or chocolate).

As a starter, we chose the nachos, whose crisp corn chips came covered with everything you would expect from the dish: soy cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, beans, guacamole, sour cream (tofu-based), salsa, and even chili (from seitan). As a second appetizer, the avocado tartare (with cucumbers, mushrooms, mango and a spicy lime vinaigrette) was tasty, though it didn’t hold any particular surprises.

For my entrée, I continued with the Southwestern route and tried the live zucchini enchiladas. As a raw dish, the creation was superb. Cashew cheese and sour cream stuffed the mini-enchiladas hidden under a pile of salad. I would have loved to have seen more of the enchiladas and less of the greens, but there was still enough on the plate to fill my stomach.

Attracted by the siren call of onion rings, I also ordered a basket of them with a chipotle aioli. They were simple and satisfying.

Nora went with the tempeh vegetable tamale stuffed with pumpkin seeds and covered in a chocolate mole sauce. The dish was well composed, though the unique ingredients were perhaps too well blended into the background. For instance, the dish’s salsa was great, but we would have had to refer back to the menu to realize it contained watermelon.

Brian’s seitan piccata was coated in a wonderfully rich lemon-caper sauce, which added good depth to the creamed spinach, potato cakes, and oyster mushrooms found underneath. Everything was carefully spiced, making the most refined (though not necessarily the most unique) dish on the table.

Moving on to dessert, we tried two beautifully constructed selections. The chocolate-peanut butter bliss did not disappoint with two mousses inside a chocolate shell. Similarly, the strawberry-rhubarb pie had a great flavor, though it was the vanilla ice cream topping that really made it enjoyable.

At $68 each, Candle 79 definitely falls in the upper crust of costliness among NYC vegetarian experiences, and we’re not sure that anything proved outstanding enough to make Candle 79 seem fully worth the price tag (when held side-by-side with some of its peers in that class, nothing really wowed us). That said, the food was high quality and presented beautifully, and likewise with the dining space and service – everything was lovely, and we enjoyed our meal.

Food (3.5/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (2.5/4)

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