Monday, November 23, 2009

Candle 79

As excitedly as I vote for them and anxiously await their results, I don’t always agree with the VegNews’ Veggie Awards’ readers’ picks. Too often I’m convinced that people vote merely by reputation and/or name recognition rather than actual experience with or love for the product/establishment.

However, the editors’ picks rarely miss their mark and never has it been more evident than this year with kudos going to Ellen Degeneres (Veg Media Maven of the Year), Daiya cheese (Product of the Year), and Candle 79 (Restaurant of the Year).

Lately I’ve been finding myself downtown more than up, and it’s only been with the addition of Peacefood Café and Café Blossom (now Blossom Uptown) on the UWS that I’ve been making excuses to venture uptown more frequently. This weekend I decided to head towards the UES for a change, and made a reservation for brunch at Candle 79.

It stands repeating that Candle 79 is a beautiful restaurant. The colors are rich but muted, the atmosphere is elegant but welcoming, and it is always spectacularly clean and seemingly just waxed/reupholstered. More importantly, they know that reputation and beauty only go so far and have obviously invested as much in their staff as in their ingredients because both worked to provide an upscale and thoroughly enjoyable meal and experience.

A gentleman with a gorgeous accent took my telephone reservation unhurriedly with the utmost professionalism and precision. Upon arrival, we were greeted warmly and without pretense by the friendly hostess who promptly showed us to our roomy and comfortable booth.

From beginning to end our waitress (thx Christine!) was flawless. Her conversation and service was effortless and spot-on; she set the pace for a relaxed and enjoyable multi-course brunch (what’s brunch without dessert and drinks?). Our requests and customizations were met without the bat of an eyelash and she did not miss one detail.

The bartender graciously delivered all of our delicious drinks with antidotes about the ingredients, the manager non-intrusively confirmed our enjoyment, and the bus staff was exceedingly friendly, polite, and extremely well-timed.

Oh yeah, the food! I enjoyed the absolute best French toast I have had in my almost ten years being vegan. Fluffy, delicious slices of pumpkin-spiced French toast served with cranberry butter, cranberry compote (on the side by request) and maple syrup. This French toast hit the bar my Mom set high with the non-vegan French toast that I enjoyed growing up: both versions sweet concoctions that were neither soggy nor dry, but perfect combinations of crispier crusts with softer insides to balance the absorption of the overabundance of syrup I can’t help but indulge in. Next to this pile of sweet breakfast goodness was a generous portion of scrumptiously smoky tempeh bacon and caramelized bananas.

My vegetarian dining companion enjoyed a Mushroom and Butternut Squash Crepe that was equally incredible on the savory side of things. The crepe was the thinnest, lightest, crepe-iest crepe I’ve come across, sturdily enfolding an abundance of all kinds of deliciousness (in addition to the mushrooms and squash). Accompanying was a ridiculously crisp and fresh salad boasting romaine and beets.

Since we love us some carbs, we also requested a side of their Yukon-gold skillet potatoes and an order of polenta fries. The potatoes were absolutely delicious (was that paprika?) and the fries out of this world: piping hot, crispy on the outside/creamy on the inside, and made only more delicious when paired with the accompanying chipotle ketchup.

Yes, there was room for dessert. Across the table I watched as the simply-named but intricately prepared apple pie was enjoyed. A whole, personal-sized pie in a crispy, flaky phyllo crust overflowing with apples and covered with almond crumble with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream atop. While not my cup of tea (apples, shudder), the ice cream, almonds and shell were as good as I expected.

In front of my own fat face sat two perfect, sugar-dusted cannoli shells filled with cool, smooth, dreamy, vanilla cream, sitting in a delightfully generous pool of chocolate sauce and topped with a scoop of chocolate chip ice cream. Not a fan of traditional, cheesy cannolis in my vegetarian life, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole dessert and enjoyed every crumb.

Finally, I finished off my meal with a cup of what I have long considered to be the best hot chocolate in the city…i.e., the most chocolatey.

Hopefully I have adequately described what I consider to unequivocally rank up there as one of my best overall restaurant experiences (dining company included!). From food to service to atmosphere, Candle 79 did not miss a trick: every single worker in every capacity worked together to create a mood, set a pace, and present a meal that I don’t expect to be rivaled anytime soon.

I’ve been a fan of both Candle Café and Candle 79 for years and years. While I have often been impressed by a meal or a drink, I’d never been blown away by a complete experience in either place. This visit changed all that; Candle 79 seems to have found the magic combination of getting everything right. I will be back soon and often.

* Both Candles now generously offer a 10% discount to Woodstock Farm Sanctuary members.

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