Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Fur is Gross, By the Way" (at Pure Food and Wine)

Most of the people I've asked for their opinion of Pure Food and Wine have responded with one, all, or a combination of the following descriptions:

  • trendy
  • expensive
  • small portions
This kept me away for years; Quarry Girl's famous "Eight...." review didn't help matters either. 

But a few months ago a friend asked me if I wanted to join him for dinner there, for which he had a coupon.  I was happy to finally give it a try.

I arrived early for our 7:00pm reservation and the restaurant was already filling up.  I was really surprised by the amount of passers-by who stopped to peruse the menu posted outside, but I will note that it didn't entice anyone to enter in the span of the fifteen minutes I was waiting.  Perhaps they realized this wasn't a drop-in type of place.

More shocking, however, was the giant, fur hat I spied through the window- atop an otherwise obscured, incompassionate patron.  Now I realize that Pure Food and Wine's clientele isn't necessarily vegan, but is it too much to expect that a customer would at least make the connection?  As if it isn't bad enough that someone would wear fur in a vegan establishment, this particular chapeau was so huge that it was undoubtedly a purposeful, "look at me" fashion choice.  The person wearing it, to whom I referred to as "Fur Hat*", was seemingly oblivious to both the fashion and vegan faux pas of the statement.

Just when we were about to go in we ran into friends of ours outside who, coincidentally, had reservations at the same time (and a coupon of their own); the staff at PF&W was kind enough to seat us right next to each other without ceremony.  The waiter was pleasant and remained cordial and efficient throughout the meal, as did all of the staff that serviced our table. 

None of us imbibed, but the mojito did get my attention on the cocktail menu.  I'll note that our large glasses of water were kept filled at all times.

Oddly, the meal didn't start with an amuse bouche.  PF&W is definitely in the echelon of restaurants that you would expect to offer one, but they did not.  Later in the evening I was sure I spied one (some sort of dumpling) at a nearby table, but I can't be sure.  If it was, is it possible they are not offered to coupon-bearing patrons?  I thought the very point of coupons was to bring in new customers so that you could impress them?  What do I know?  No amuse bouches for us.

For an appetizer, my date and I shared a Natsu Maki of avocado, pickled onion, and cream cheese- if memory serves.  I regret that I didn't photograph the menu, as the current online version isn't indicative of all of this past weekend's offerings.  Perhaps sushi wasn't the most inventive choice for us to have made at a raw restaurant, but we were both happy with our selection; all components played together really well.

Our accompanying couple shared mushroom scallops (again, I don't recall the description).  The more verbose of the two, BYOL, has reported that it was "tasty but the sauce was lacking that special quality that sets Pure apart from other places. That said, the cabbage in our appetizer was particularly fresh and the oyster mushrooms were boasting with flavor. The dish was also of a generous size."

photo courtesy of BYOL
Periodically throughout the meal I would see Fur Hat wandering around the dining room.  Yes, you read that right; as if it wasn't bad enough that she wore fur to the restaurant, she insisted on wearing it in the restaurant.  Interesting.

A surprising number of the few entree offerings contained pear as a main ingredient, so for dinner I chose the decidedly pear-less Hen of the Woods Tacos al Pastor: "smoked guacamole, hearts of palm, chayote squash, guajillo crema fresca, pickled onions [and watermelon radish]."  My first impression was that it looked kind of sloppy; I was rather disappointed that more of the ingredients were not components of the actual tacos, but rather an accompanying salsa of sorts.  It tasted pleasant enough, but there was nothing particularly exciting about it.  I'd wanted to be wowed and I wasn't.

As half of the entree options contained mushrooms, my mushroom-eschewing companion didn't have much of a choice either; he ultimately went with the often recommended Zucchini, Local Heirloom Tomato Lasagna: "basil pistachio pesto, sun-dried tomato marinara, macadamia pumpkin seed ricotta".  He loved it and, while I wouldn't necessarily order it for myself, I have to say that the ricotta was really delicious.

photo courtesy of My Vegan Gut
One of our friends ordered the Sunchoke Gratin with Vanilla Poached Pear: "black kale pesto, shaved black truffles, truffle hazelnut cream".  This looked more of what I expected a dish at PF&W would look like- both in size an presentation.  BYOL reported that it was amazing, "The Black Kale pesto was rich, the chickpeas were sweet and filled with flavor, and the sunsmoked gratin was unlike anything I've ever had before."  I tasted the gratin, which I can confirm was delicious, but I want to stress how fabulous the pesto was; it was kale after all.

photo courtesy of BYOL
Our other friend chose the Lemon Alfredo Noodles with Marinated Portabella Mushrooms: "sundried tomatoes, wild rapini, black garlic basil reduction".  I'd actually had my eye on this, but I didn't think I was in the mood for lemon.  It didn't photograph well, but it looked extremely appealing in person.  It's diner, a respectable non-sharer, says that both her meal and drink were great (I didn't realize she had one), and noted that she's dined at PF&W quite a few times and has been consistently pleased.

photo courtesy of BYOL
Dessert was a tough call.  It seemed as though everyone wanted to share, while I wanted to order at least three for myself.  Our neighboring diners chose to share the lemon cannolis with pistachio gelato (again, the lemon deterred me- especially in dessert).  They looked amazing and received two thumbs up; we were all impressed that there were two (albeit small).

We decided to go for it with the Frozen Black Forest Shortcake: "chocolate cherry ice cream, almond chocolate cream, sake sesame fruit".  Not surprisingly, this was the best thing I ate all night!  I'm not even going to get into how it was created raw, but suffice it to say it was an upscale, raw, version of my old friend the tartufo.  The shell was decadent, the ice cream chocolate/cherry at it's best, and it was resting atop a delicately flavored (my companion thought bland) shortbread cookie.  I did taste one of the little fruit squares and I'll be damned if the pear didn't finally get me.

But that notwithstanding, high marks for dessert; I could have eaten 3 more (obviously).

photo courtesy of My Vegan Gut
One critique: the gentleman who brought our dishes to the table was not our waiter.  While he didn't judge me when I squealed as he approached with our dessert was extremely pleasant, I would have appreciated if our meals had been presented with an explanation of the dish, as I'd already forgotten what the specifics were by the time they came out.  It would have only taken a couple of extra seconds and would have truly lent itself to the upper scale establishment.

So let's re-cap:

  • Trendy?  Yes; very.  And decidedly non-vegan.  The dining room is inviting: warm-hued, quiet, and boasting great big comfy upholstered chairs, just the way I like them.  No one was snooty; in fact, I would have appreciated a little more ceremony.

  • Expensive?  Well, yes.  I would have liked to have ordered a few more dishes in order to get a better sampling of the offerings, but the cost was a bit prohibitive for such abandon.  For a once-in-a-while splurge it's not bank-breaking, but I can think of other restaurants I'd prefer.  Perhaps try and/or revisit next time a coupon comes around.

  • Small portions?  Yes and no.  I probably could have eaten our companion's appetizer on my own, but sharing the sushi was more than enough.  There's certainly no chance of having entree leftovers and the desserts are quite miniscule, but I was surprisingly satiated when we left. 

Full disclosure?  An hour later I had Lula's.   To be fair, I wasn't necessarily hungry; I just...wanted it.  Cinnamon on top, caramel swirl on the bottom (extra credit to the scoop-ess who got a real workout giving me the last of the luscious cinnamon).

I wasn't the only one!  Chocolate chocolate chip:

*Fur Hat:
When I got in line for the (disappointingly untidy) restroom, Fur Hat was in front of me.  She was soft-spoken, but friendly and out-going: immediately turning around and talking to both myself and the diner behind me about how much she was enjoying her meal.  Astonished by her seeming naiveté, I asked her if she was vegan.  "I'm trying, but I still eat fish and cheese."  And, apparently, wear fur hats.  Before I could think of how to respond with aplomb, she began raving about "Dr.Cownut [sic]" cheese.  I was perplexed by how her exuberance for her meal was in such severe contrast to her offensive headwear, and it was her turn before I could muster a thoughtful, yet pointed comment.

As it turned out, she and I both wound up exiting the restroom at the same time as BYOL was going in, and he mentioned, "Fur is gross, by the way," as he passed.  She turned to me, wide-eyed, to ask what he'd said.  I responded with a hesitant point and a poignant grimace, "He doesn't like your hat."  I saw the comprehension as it passed across her face and she melancholically repeated what she'd confirmed she'd heard: his exact words.  It was obvious that her feelings were hurt, and then she was gone.

Surely there is a more delicate and effective approach for when one finds themselves in these situations- particularly when you are a vegan in a vegan establishment that is populated predominantly by non-vegans.  Suggestions?


  1. she's lucky she wasn't tarred and feathered!

  2. The meal was great, the company was fun, and the groupon made all the difference! I'd go back for sure!

    And I've been thinking, isn't it awesome that so many non-vegans eat at this vegan est?

  3. Anon- it definitely wasn't that type of crowd. At Lula's maybe....

    BYOL- you bring up an excellent point- all the more reason that I should have handled the situation with Fur Hat better.

  4. Looks like a wonderful meal.

    Maybe fur hat hadn't yet connected eating and wearing animals, and was really pleased with herself for eating a vegan dinner. If she's changing her diet purely for health reasons, she might not care or believe that fur is gross. There were probably others eating there wearing leather shoes or boots. I probably wouldn't say anything unless it came up, as it did in your case. Then I might have said something like, "people who are vegan for ethical reasons don't wear animal fur or leather." It's just an explanation, and I'd try not to say it in an unfriendly way, in case she wanted to ask a question. People are at all stages of understanding when it comes to animal welfare, and I want to encourage them to take one more step, not make them think vegans are mean. I think what you said was fine.

  5. Andrea- you said it much better than I could even attempt to after trying to formulate similar ideas in my head for 3 days; thank you!

    As I told a friend, it's easy to expect someone wearing an enormous hat will be a a heartless, fire-breathing dragon. But yes- it's VERY important to note that while simply more obnoxious, her fur hat was no different than any of the other diner's leatherwear.

  6. I wonder if the omission of the amuse bouche was simply an oversight? I've dined there with, and without, a Groupon and always received one.

    My confession is that as much as I love Pure Food and Wine, it never quite fills me up (and I experienced a chef's dinner one night!).

    As for the hat situation, I think tapping into the idea that vegans are compassionate to every being is a good place to start. And to remember that before most of us were vegan, we were not. I think how you handled the clarification of the situation was appropriate and probably gave her much to think about. I think the initial approach (fur is gross) could have been handled a bit differently ... perhaps "I can't help but ask, since this is a vegan restaurant, if your hat is fake or actual animal fur?" The same point is made, just a bit more gently. But, hey, we all have our way of doing things, right?

  7. JL- darn; I hate not getting an amuse bouche when there's one to be had! Good to know that the chef's dinner wasn't an overload of food; maybe I'll give it a try one day since so many people seem to love it.

    I believe you're right; sometimes the simplest questions/statements can be the most effective. Next time I'll be better prepared.

    Thanks for reading!

  8. I was wondering the same thing JL brought up - if the fur were real or fake. Not that it makes much of a difference in my mind b/c I think it's pretty tacky but I also agree mostly with Andrea's points. We can hope that she's now "been schooled" and will make the connection, but if she's still eating fish and the like, it may not keep.
    I obviously think wearing fur is wrong but I tend to stay out of those arguments. I don't know what I'd do if it were brought up.
    I've heard really mixed reviews about PFW but am still curious enough that I'd jump to try it if I were invited, scary as the price tag is. You're right about the presentation looking a bit off for some dishes... Have you tried any One Lucky Duck items? I need to scoot over there - or to Chelsea market one day.

  9. foodfeud- Because I was so close to the hat, I'm pretty sure it was real. Plus, I think if she was just antagonizing the vegans with faux fur she probably would have reacted differently.

    PFW is definitely worth a try, but I don't think I'd go without a coupon. I've gone into One Lucky Duck & their spot in the Chelsea Market, but have left both places empty handed each time. Somehow $15 for a 2" X 2" dessert is easier to swallow in a restaurant setting than to-go in a plastic container.


Have you got something to say? It would be so nice to hear from you!
(I know captchas suck, but not as much as spam.)