Restaurant Review: Strictly Vegetarian

August 17, 2011

Strictly Vegetarian
2268 Church Avenue
(between Bedford Avenue and Flatbush Avenue)
Flatbush, Brooklyn

Vegiboys Rating (2.5/4)

Settled deep in the heart of Flatbush, visiting Strictly Vegetarian is a hike for anyone outside of the neighborhood, and it also sits directly across from the Four Seasons vegetarian restaurant, both offering a very similar Caribbean ‘ital menu.

Strictly Vegetarian’s venue is smaller than Four Seasons, but also brighter, with the full front windows housing the counter seating (the only seating available). The super-friendly owner was excited to have us stopping in, and he gave us a full walk-through of the day’s options on the steam tray.

The food on the steam tray is pretty typical Rastifarian fare, and all had a good taste. We were dished large portions of all the items we selected (leaving us with enough leftovers for a snack the next day).

We also tried a fruit carrot cake from their bakery display; the flavor of rum and currants were discernible, but overall the cake was dry and bland. We’d recommend sticking with the steam tray’s meal items.

To drink, Brian had a ginger beer that was strong and fun. My banana soda was sickeningly sweet.

At $10.50 each, Strictly Vegetarian was a good value for the meal we received, and the atmosphere is very comfortable for hanging out. That said, the restaurant is unfortunately situated directly across from their competitor, and Four Seasons has the better food for an even lower price.

Food (2.5/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (2.5/4)

Restaurant Review: Ayurveda Café

August 15, 2011

Ayurveda Café
706 Amsterdam Avenue
(at 94th Street)
Upper West Side, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (2.5/4)

The Ayruvedic approach to nutrition emphasizes balance as a key to preventative health, and the Upper West Side’s Ayurveda Café pursues this philosophy with a consistently changing menu that reflects the kitchen’s interpretation of balanced Indian cuisine. Per Ayurvedic tradition, the thalis available on the menu contain components with all six Ayurvedic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

We joined regular vegi-friend Bess Matassa in tackling Ayurveda. However, without a strong pre-meal knowledge of the restaurant’s philosophical underpinnings, we didn’t find anything particularly unique about the dishes – the 10 components of each thali consisted of just good Indian food. Together with iced teas and mango lassis, we found the Ayurvedic inspiration largely hidden from our dining experience, and our food was similar to the thalis from any Kips Bay Indian venue.

Ayurveda Café could simply be called a good Indian vegetarian option for anyone looking for food on the Upper West Side, though nothing seemed unique enough to warrant a special trip from outside the neighborhood.

At $23 each, the meal was a reasonable value overall, comparably priced with Little India. The restaurant offers a nice atmosphere, with friendly staff and a comfortable dining room (a fountain helps to divide the entry from the tables, and the ceiling is adorned with painted clouds).

Don’t forget to draw from the fun box of fortunes near the exit for a bit of post-dinner divination.

Food (2.5/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (2.5/4)

Restaurant Review: Kajitsu

August 13, 2011

414 East 9th Street
(between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)
East Village, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (3.5/4)

A restaurant’s ambition generally reaches no higher than to feed you well in a comfortable environment. Kajitsu shows what can be accomplished when a restaurant aspires to something entirely differ.

Kajitsu’s dining room is clean and comfortable, but very plain. The isometric angles of the sheetrocked walls are muted with a caramel brown paint. A Japanese-style screen at the front of the restaurant and a fan displayed in a niche at the back of the restaurant are about the height of any decoration.

However, this unremarkable environment serves as the blank canvas for the meal to come. The understated interior reflects Kajitsu’s confidence that the meal will carry your experience, for to eat at Kajitsu is to simultaneously serve as actor and spectator in an amazing culinary performance, produced by one of the city’s most talented kitchens.

The service is impeccable with a total attention to detail. Staff approach and depart the table in timed perfection, treating the arrival of each course as the opening of an act. Newly arrived foods are quietly described with exactly the right number of words, as the placement of chopsticks and cups on the table are reset to form perfectly produced presentations. Questions are answered with careful responses (or sometimes deferred if the answer is part of the script to come), and tables are bused with exactly the right amount of time to ponder a completed course prior to the arrival of the next.

We began with frozen sake margaritas to drink, which can only be described as outstanding. While neither of us has a strong affinity for sake, this unique treatment rendered the drinks refreshing, unique, and delicious.

The menu offers two choices: a shorter tasting menu, or a longer tasting menu. The kitchen exercises all other control over the show you receive. We chose the latter.

To clinically break our review of the meal into an analysis of each course would not do justice to the culinary theater we experienced after ordering. Instead, it might be better to throw out some flashes of thought and emotion:

A warm cup of mushroom cream washed every taste bud with rich and savory flavors.

Within a summer vegetable mix, we encountered every possible iteration of pleasant texture, from the crispness of tempura, to the crunch of purple endive, to the softness squash blossoms, to the velvet of lightly-seasoned tofu.

One dish was accompanied by a thumb tip-sized slice of finger lime (a very rare ingredient to appear on plates in the US). When squeezed, alien pods with the aroma and flavor of lime were released onto the course.

A hollowed cross section of spaghetti squash was filled with fresh, seasonal vegetables, cooked and seasoned with such care as to render it perfect.

A crusty rice was softened by a broth poured from cauldrons, two wonderful dishes in themselves blending to form an extraordinary hybrid.

Our meal closed with hand-crafted candies in shell shapes imported from Kyoto.

Not one dish disappointed. Not one dish failed to build upon the experience, bringing us an entirely new range of creatively combined flavors and ingredients.

The cost of the performance isn’t cheap: at $104 each, this is among the most expensive vegetarian dinners to be found in NYC. However, for those seeking a transcendent culinary experience, the cost is well worth the price of admission.

Food (4/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (3/4)

Restaurant Review: Dosa Hutt

August 11, 2011

Dosa Hutt
45-63 Bowne Street
(between Holly Avenue and 45th Avenue)
Flushing, Queens

Vegiboys Rating (2.5/4)

In the shadow of the impressively massive and very active Ganesha Hindu temple, Dosa Hutt provides quick and satsfying Indian fast food for Flushing’s Little India. The staff is polite and efficient despite their generally pushy clientele, and the restaurant is consistently busy (becoming especially packed when a temple ceremony lets out).

You order at the counter, and then make yourself a place within the dining room. The constant flow of diner traffic leaves the tables a bit worse for wear, and you may need to bus or wipe down your own table before laying claim to an eating space. Unlimited self-serve water is available throughout the meal and while you wait, and the kitchen calls you back to the counter when your food is ready.

We chose from a selection of the usual suspects (leaning heavily towards their eponymous dosas: the long, crisp stuffed crêpes of Indian cuisine). A spicy dosa of potato, corn and peppers; a milder dosa with tomato and onions; and a third dosa with spinach and cheese were all served on Styrofoam plates of greasy goodness. Utthapam and donut-like vadas helped to round out the meal a bit (as expected, these too were greasy, but enjoyable). A mango lassi and a gingerale helped to keep the meal moving, along with copious quantities of tap water from the self-serve pitchers.

Though greasy, busy, and just a touch towards dirty, we would go back – the food was good and the environment was fun. Unlike the Kips Bay scene, which at least partially appeals to the Manhattan tourist crowd, Dosa Hutt’s off-the-beaten path neighborhood and its proximity to the temple gave the experience a bit more cultural authenticity. At $11.50 each, the meal was a good value too – well worth the trip out to Flushing for a fun vegetarian culinary experience.

Food (2.5/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (3/4)

Restaurant Review: Zen Vegetarian House

August 9, 2011

Zen Vegetarian House
773 Flatbush Avenue
(between Lenox Road and Clarkson Avenue)
Flatbush, Brooklyn

Vegiboys Rating (2.5/4)

Crown Heights hosts a surprising number of vegetarian restaurants, including the recently renovated Zen Vegetarian House. With a huge menu and a comfortably modern interior, the venue offers a variety of Chinese and American-style fast-food options.

For our visit, I tried the General Tso’s “chicken” with cashews and broccoli. The food was crisp and well-spiced: a delicious, albeit greasy dish.

Similarly, Brian’s Zen Fried Chicken (aka chicken nuggets) and tater tots were holding a bit more oil than might be healthy, but the tastes and textures were solidly good. An order of sugarcane drumsticks were similarly well-composed with a sweet barbecue-flavored exterior.

The meal was heavy but satisfying, and we had plenty of leftovers to carry home for a full lunch the next day. At $16 each, the price was right for the experience, and Zen Vegetarian House is worth considering if you find yourself in the neighborhood (or within delivery distance).

While the similarly-designed Zen Kitchen Express on Manhattan tries to offer a comparably sleek experience with an American/Chinese hybrid menu, that restaurant falls short of offering a comfortable experience and satisfying food. Brooklyn’s Zen Vegetarian House hits all the right notes with its efforts, giving a good experience and good food at a good value.

Food (2.5/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (2.5/4)

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The Vegiboys have made a mission of eating at every vegetarian restaurant in NYC; all 5 boroughs, dozens of neighborhoods, all manner of cuisines.

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