I hate giving bad reviews. Really, I do. I understand that a restaurant can constitute someone’s livelihood, that someone has invested every inkling of their soul into ensuring the utter ascendency of the eatery.
But sometimes there are just flops. Flops so bad they almost anger you.
And thus begins my review of the Upper East Side vegan restaurant Candle 79.
I arrived punctually for my 7pm reservation and headed inside the gorgeous townhouse. An expansive bar greeted me, along with well spaced tables and a dark, alluring atmosphere. And then I waited. And waited some more. No one even acknowledged my presence. Finally, a hostess came down and lead me upstairs to my table.
The upstairs space felt very intimate and cozy, the perfect location for a romantic date. Soon my good friend Zara arrived and we were brought an amuse bouche. I love the concept of an amuse bouche, or gift from the chef. It can really set the tone and serve as a harbinger of impending courses.
Our amuse consisted of an adorable silver spoon topped with a chickpea salad. I can summarize this bite in one word. Clunky. The contents of the spoon were messy to eat and the taste was rather elementary. I could have easily made this at home simply tossing together a few vegetables and drizzling with lemon juice.
For our appetizer we selected the vegetable nori maki. As a lover of all things sushi, I certainly looked forward to this dish. Man, what a major disappointment. The rice lacked any hint of flavor and the sauce tasted so pungently of ginger that it singed my taste buds. I love ginger, but this tasted like the root had been repeatedly pounded and strained into a potent distillate.
For her entree Zara selected the Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Cake, served on a bed of kale. The actual cake tasted identical to a falafel, though without the crispy exterior. Zara seemed to enjoy this dish enough, though she longed for a larger portion.
For my entree, I opted for the Grilled Kale Salad upon recommendation from my waitress. Man, did this dish fall flat. The salad was more boring than a lecture on cephalapod mating habits (my apologies to those of you with strange octopus fetishes). I enjoyed the creamy decadence of the avocado combined with the crunchy pearl onions, but the dressing lacked any acidity whatsoever. The result was a bland pile of veggies mushed together unharmoniously. The only redeeming factor was the grilled tempeh, which I added on for an additional four dollars. The tempeh was perfectly cooked, with a wonderful char-grilled flavor. For four dollar surcharge, however, the portion was paltry with only four thinly sliced triangles of the protein.
Man, another evident flop. The peaches were smothered with honey, preventing their natural sweetness from shining through. The ginger ice cream also lacked significant flavor, and I assumed it vanilla before re-reading the menu. The granola at the bottom was fine, but tasted like any you would find on a supermarket shelf.
Now, onto the service. Our server seemed like a really sweet young lady and was very helpful when ordering. She appeared, however, slightly frazzled and over-extended from serving the entire upper floor. First she shattered a glass at the table next to ours, a simple mistake, and then got a stern reprimanding from the same table for not brining their wine fast enough. While that was a justified complaint (the food was brought out before the wine), I pitied the waitress and the way she was spoken to.
A vegetarian restaurant meal can be a powerful thing. It can convince a veritable carnivore to increase plant consumption, or it can utterly dissuade a meat lover from ever eating vegetarian again. Unfortunately, this meal at Candle would not convert anyone to vegetarianism any time soon. While the atmosphere (and company!) were great, the food at Candle Cafe (the more casual outlet) is far superior and more cost efficient than at Candle 79.