New York City Restaurant Reviews and Other Matters of the Hat

In NYC for The Headwear Association’s 98th annual dinner at Tavern on the Green in Central Park, I was enthusiastic about trying a restaurant that I had seen reviewed some months previously in the NY Times. Favoring vegetarian cuisine for the past 16 years (James Rachel’s 1990 book CREATED FROM ANIMALS: The Moral Implications of Darwinism sealed this decision back then), I have been waiting for what I knew would arrive some day- Vegetarian Fine Dining. So on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, the day after the association dinner (good event but, at best, middling meal at T on the G), I set off for the East Village and Heirloom. I wasn’t disappointed. When one enters most vegetarian restaurants, what is almost always palpable is the fidelity of the staff to the work. It feels good to be at a business where the people working there have a passion for what they are doing. In the case of vegetarian restaurants, for most staff, it is also a philosophical conviction that they are doing is the right thing.* So in Heirloom, you are met by hip, attractive, friendly well-dressed hostesses, wait persons, bar tenders, with whom you are on the same wave length (there’s also something sexy about this – but unfortunately I am old enough to be these people’s father). They might be cut from the same cloth as the jeans and t-shirt people that you encounter in most veggie joints, but here we’re all playing dress-up – it’s fun, it’s sophisticated, the décor is cool, it’s all well done. It’s also an important statement – Vegetarianism** is not mutually exclusive from fine dining.

On to the food: I’m seated with a good view of the bar and the front door – I’m catching the scene – I am happy. The wine menu is interesting, but California is conspicuously absent as are the great pinot noirs of Oregon. I’m not sure what this is about (I hope not another example of pretentious New York demonstrating their imprudent superiority by dissing California in favor of Europe- I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt). The two different reds I ordered (glasses) were good – the quality was right for the price. The menu is simple – a good idea – divided into “First Course” and “Second Course”. This works very well as one doesn’t need a lot of choices as one can eat everything on the menu. Vegetarians are usually eliminating four-fifths or more of a menu right out of the gate in most restaurants. So after seriously considering “Truffled Portobello Crostini with Apple Celeric Compote: balsamic vinegar reduction, truffle corstini and lavender honey”, I go with “Sous-Vide Poached Egg with Crispy Sweet Potato: meyer lemon foam, greens and horseradish oil”. Both my waitress and the server make the point that I should thoroughly mix the various parts of this dish before eating. Wow! What a brilliant idea – this really works. You’ve got warm-cool, crispy-soft, bland-spicy, runny-dry, and lots of great flavors all happening in harmony. This was the big winner of the night. I was having more trouble picking a “Second Course”. I intended to go with the favorite of the NT Times reviewer, but it was no longer on the menu. I settled on something unusual (for me at least), “Anson Mills Creamy Grits with Smoked Hominy: avacado, queso fresco and roasted tomato-poblano salsa”. I surmised that this down-home, mid-America sounding dish would be just the ticket for my weekend theme – don’t accept New York as cutting-edge Mecca on reputation alone.*** Well, this dish was fine, but it couldn’t keep up with the superior opening act. After couple of bites, I did come to appreciate the simple comfort food that was the objective. But the dessert almost did measure up to the appetizer – “Black Cocoa Cake, with Chocolate-Bourbon Glaze: sweet chestnut filling and espresso ice cream”. (Like most of the rest of the world) I consider myself an authority on chocolate – this was great. And the big surprise was that the chef de cuisine herself, Amanda Cohen, served me. After a perfunctory inquiry about the meal, she mentioned that she noticed I was carrying the Times review. Given the fact that I had had this article tightly folded into the palm of my hand and was reading it very discreetly, Ms. Cohen’s observation really impressed me. And that says something else about Heirloom – people are paying attention to their diners. As a merchant myself, that virtually says it all.

On Saturday afternoon, I caught the R-train for Brooklyn and visited with Tom Toomey, certainly one of the finest California hat store managers of the 1980s. Tom was a pioneer in the, now full-blown, downtown San Diego renaissance when he managed The Village Hat Shop in the then new Horton Plaza. Many years after his tenure at the hat store, customers would regularly come in asking for and about him. After a long stint in Russia and surrounds, he has settled in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn and is following his passion for art – http://www.tcatdesigns.com. We took a long walk in his neighborhood and ultimately landed at Al Di La Restaurant. And what a good landing it was! Everything was top notch at this restaurant including the best entrée of the weekend, the truffles and ricotta ravioli.

Briefly: For an over-priced brunch at the Carnegie Deli you can get insulted by grumpy old-school waitresses at no extra charge. Dukes on Broadway in Midtown makes a good sandwich (hot or cold) highlighted by the bread.

And the winners are:

Heirloom – On Orchard Street near Houston in the East Village.

Al Di La – On the corner of 5th Avenue and Carrol in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

* I spent that afternoon at The Museum of Modern Art where a MOMA lecturer argued that the modern “art object” need not be beautiful, need not be skillfully executed, need not be tangible. Nothing mattered but “the idea” and that all ideas are fair game today with no cannons and no rules. She argued for a kind of relativism where all ideas are equal and nothing mattered other than if the art was “interesting”. She used examples of “artists” shooting themselves in the foot or nailing themselves to a Volkswagen as arguably having merit as art. She, the lecturer, refused to pass any judgments on these so-called works of art (or anything for that matter). In the end, it was hyper-academic drivel – really unnerving. I was left believing that this borough, where the St. Patrick’s Day parade organizers had refused to let gays and lesbians march, was in fact really as provincial as some argue. [But Heirloom, where something mattered, saved the day for Manhattan.]

** My philosophy professor friend (and a native New Yorker) argues that not eating animals is really quite conservative philosophy – anything but an eccentric stretch in thinking. For those of you still grappling with this question, ask yourself if your cousins should suffer so that they can be your food. Then realize that we are all animals differing only by some matter of degree.

*** I met Diane Feen, the editor of the yearly HAT LIFE Directory and bi-monthly HAT LIFE Newsletter at Bergdorf-Goodman, a NYC department store temple, for a visit to the men’s and women’s hat departments and lunch. Hats were way over-priced and their “lunch special” fussilli that I ordered was runny and tasteless (I think they opened a can of tomato sauce and poured it on poorly drained pasta – no kidding) – this was the worst meal I can remember eating at a restaurant in a long time ($18!). And, everywhere you looked, women were wearing full-length fur coats (okay with MOMA I guess, but it would be equally okay if I tossed a gallon of blood on these ignoramuses). What are these pathetic people thinking? This could never happen in California.

Fred Belinsky

VillageHatShop.com [http://VilliageHatShop.com/]

http://Berets.com

Vegetarianism – Is it Really a Big Deal?

I have been a vegetarian since birth if I can say and so are thousands of people who were born in Brahmin community like me. In Hinduism, we are divided into different groups originally based on profession. Brahmins were typically the educated ones and were expected to teach others and were also priests. As the society evolved, Brahmins took up wider professions like minister, banker, business etc. Some say that in the Vedic period Brahmins were allowed to eat the meat of sacrificed animals. Then with the spread of Buddhism and Jainism, in order to slow down the conversions to these religions, Ahimsa or non-violence was being spread as the key message of Hinduism as well. Following this, several Hindus, especially Brahmins became vegetarian and this was not a particularly difficult change because they were only allowed to have sacrificial meat anyway and not other meat so it was not a big part of their life. This is also not to say all Brahmins are vegetarian as some remained meat/fish eaters. As far as I am concerned, I mean no harm to animals and am a vegetarian. Now, why am I talking about Hinduism, Brahmins and vegetarian? Reason is that to me it is a bit of a surprise to see people being warned about the ‘pitfalls’ of becoming vegetarian while that has been the way of life for me and for my ancestors with no second thoughts. Also a quick look at where I come from may help you understand why I am surprised. If you have ever been to India, especially southern India, you will find more vegetarian restaurants than non-vegetarian and typically the non-vegetarian ones will say so explicitly on their name board. On the contrary I am yet to come across a vegetarian restaurant in the western world where I live.

Having spent some time in a western country, I do understand that meat is an important part of the diet and hard to let go off. So, for some, it is probably a big deal. Often people are warned against a vegetarian diet mainly because it is said to lack in protein. Proteins contain chains of amino acids which are converted into different kind of amino acid during digestion and absorption. Some amino acids can be secreted by the body but some are required from food. Plant foods are said to lack in at least one of these essential amino acids. However, it does not mean one cannot get enough protein being a vegetarian. It simply is a question of combining food – like combining grains with lentils and vegetables. It was interesting to read that some findings show that an excess protein intake can potentially lead to osteoporosis and kidney problems (remember your kidney has to work harder to absorb the amino acids). A well balanced vegetarian diet, in that way is said to give just enough protein. Even if you are not able to balance in a single meal, you can always achieve your balance in a day. For example, let us say you could not get enough protein in your lunch, you can always snack on some lentils and achieve the balance. In a vegetarian diet one obviously does not get the fat from the meat and also because most plants are fibrous, vegetarian diets are said to be more helpful to maintain a healthy weight.

Now if the issue of not getting enough protein is out of your way, what else could stop one from being vegetarian? Could it be ‘limited’ choice because most restaurants offer macaroni cheese and salad as vegetarian on their menu, or could it be fear of not treating the palate because vegetarian in bland? If it is either or both, I can assure you, it is a myth. While I cannot put more items on restaurant menus as I do not have control over them, I certainly can assure you that your menu list at home can be made really long. As far as taste and flavour goes, who said spices do not work on vegetables, grains and fruits? There is no limit to the kind of dishes you can prepare with even just a few ingredients.

By making healthy choices, you can very well be a vegetarian and enjoy eating. If you need any help or inspiration to create nice vegetarian dishes, do stop by my blog http://www.tastefullyveggie.blogspot.com/

Vegetarian Weight Loss Plan – Eating Out VS Home Delivery

Things could possibly get interesting when you wish to go out for a meal of have some food delivered to your home. Since you must be willing to order appropriately to get the types of food that fit your diet program.

Not all your friends are vegetarian right?. So learning to find good vegetarian alternatives in all of the restaurants is important to be able to go out and enjoy dinner without surprises. The good thing is that you can choose more often than you might think. For example Chinese restaurants often have some great meatless offerings already on their menu so you can order vegetarian already.

Before going out to dinner you ought to locate and try all of the different vegetarian restaurants in town. This list will come in handy when enjoying some social time with like minded vegetarians or to eat on the way back home. Also these are the sorts of restaurants where you can learn what kinds of recipes to look for and what you like in a vegetarian meal.

When your program is also vegan you must also avoid milk, eggs, cheese or anything cooked in chicken or meat stock. The good news is that the vegetarian movement has become so large and wide spread that many eating houses want to accommodate their vegetarian clients.

Let your waiter know of your diet restrictions, he or she can guide you to the items on the menu that it fits your requirements. It is not uncommon to see the manager or chef of the restaurant come to the table to help you make a choice. Eateries are in the business of satisfying clients so they want to make sure you are happy with their menu.

However there is a new diet plan available on the market that allows you to sit back and relax at your house while gourmet chefs prepare your specially fresh home made vegetarian dinner. And you have it delivered right at your home. All you have to do, is select something from an on line customizable menu and exclude what does not fit in your vegetarian diet. No more lists, no more waiters you have to describe your diet to and you can order something completely non-vegetarian for your buddies when they come over for a nice dinner.