Thursday, December 11, 2008

Angelica Kitchen and Viva Herbal Pizzeria, New York City, or: we snatch eatering victory from the jaws of defeat

It's always a bit awkward to say you just didn't like a meal at an institution of an eatery. And it makes you feel a bit like the smartmouth boy in the Emperor's New Clothes to say you thought it was bad.

Naky! He's naky!

Angelica Kitchen in New York City's East Village, is a longstanding pioneer of organic, fresh, vegan cookering. It retains some of its early 70s quaintness by only accepting cash, having (apparently) not redecorated, and by not having a liquor licence. As we did not expect BYO, we turned up empty handed, prompting one of Buzz's best calls: "I'm happy to forgo meat. But beer? Bloody hippies!".

Reviews of Angelica's on SuperVegan tend to be in either Column A or Column B. Column A: this is macrobiotic food so it won't be ultra-flavoursome; the waiters are cool or you must be being a jerk if they're not; it's an institution therefore good. Column B: bland food; poor service and pompous staff; get with the program and take cards; and even one extraordinary report of racist management. I fall in to Column B (minus the racism).

Our waiter seemed nice, on the two occasions we saw her during the entire meal. Including when we wanted to pay. She might have been a good waiter but I don't really know because she didn't really wait on us. Or talk to us. Or walk past our table.

For my entree I chose 9 pieces of Norimaki, served with wasabi, pickled ginger and lemon shoyu. My main was Sea Caesar salad, which was romaine lettuce with creamy garlic dressing topped with sourdough croutons, smoked dulse (?) and nori strips. Buzz chose Agrarian Salgado for his entree - baked rounds of Yukon Gold (that's spuds) and herbed seitan with basil-walnut pesto, topped with dill-tofu sourcream and garnished with marinated kale. His main was Three Bean Chili - chili made with homemade seitan, kidney and pinto beans and lentils, sundried tomato, blend of chilis, and lime-jalapeno tofu sourcream, served with Southern style cornbread and cucumber-red onion salsa.

Don't be misled. The extraordinarily detailed dish descriptions were not indicative of an extraordinary meal.

My Norimaki was made with something that was clearly not sushi rice. It was brown rice, too glutinous and mouthy, and the fillings were unbelievably bland. The addition of the lemon shoyu was still not enough to inject some flavour, and to finish it, as I bizarrely felt I must, I ended up smothering them in plain old soy sauce. It was a prettily presented but poorly executed plate.

Buzz's Salgado was like soft, wet felafel. A tangy sour cream couldn't make me forget the ... kaleness of the kale. Soft, green, shiny wiggly kale. The best bit about the dish was that a portion of all proceeds went to benefit the Friends of Brazillian Landless Workers Movement . Buzz would have preferred that the potatoes were more (vegan) buttery, and perhaps hotter. Or hot. Or hot-ish.

My Sea Caesar came with balsamic, not the creamy garlic sauce as described. It was, after all my expectations of a real New York caesar (like the awesomely awesome creamy one I had at Blossom - to be shared later on), a plate of lettuce with balsamic and croutons. My notes of the evening, verbatim, are: "Sure hips will appreciate, but not palate". I didn't finish and there was no explanation offered. I would have asked had I seen our waiter or any waiter near by. Or within shouting distance.

Buzz's Three Bean Chili was, according to my notes: "just fine and not spicy or hot". I suppose I thought that chili would imply either spicy, or hot, or maybe even both. The cornbread was a new experience for both of us, so I'm not sure how it's really meant to taste. It was sweet and heavy, but dry. It looked like cake, further confusing us. The cucumber salsa was the only highlight - it was fresh, tasteful and I tactfully left it to Buzz in acknowledgment of the pain I had inflicted on him so far.

We declined dessert and they don't serve coffee anyway. Only tea. Herbal varieties. Odd ones.

Instead, full though we were, we walked back on to 2nd Avenue a
nd returned to Viva Herbal Pizzeria, where we had eaten a few days before with gusto. We felt the need to expunge the Angelica's meal with something honest, tasty and good value, despite our full bellies and overwhelming annoyance.

Viva Herbal Pizzeria offers vegetarian and vegan 'slices' - massive two Australian sized slices slices - and also a range of vegan desserts including tiramisu, frozen desserts like yoghurt and a Death by Chocolate.

The pizzas are dripping with sauce and piled high with ingredients. (Plush Pizza, I love you, but you don't overload the toppings really do you and I do think you could try a little harder in that area. Perhaps, like Viva, if you left off the soy cheese you could make up the price difference with more veggies? Just a thought. Thanks).

Some slices have soft roasted garlic cloves scattered within, which makes this garlic-addict a happy girl.

Some pizzas are wheat-based and some are on spelt - the first spelt I've ever liked. Really I think that the pictures speak for themselves, and my notes finish with: "That is one helluva slice".


lisa said...

I discovered that macrobiotic doesn't have to equal bland in Japan, where I had one of the most extraordinary meals of my vegan career. At a macrobiotic restaurant. Pizza looks awesome though!

Mandee said...

Shame about Angelica's but you can't like everything! The pizza certainly sounds like it made up for it, yum!

I'm Philippa O said...

that pizza is amazing! are you going to the sunday night pizza extravaganza at emily's? drool

Miss T said...

I certainly am! And hoping that they're similar!

Lisa, I also suspect that the macriobiotic-is-necessarily-bland thing is a just a cover for poor cookering...