food zine

restaurant reviews

The Art of Eating Naturally

Counter

105 1st Ave at 6th St. - (212) 982-5870

photograph by Robyn Lee

Counter, an East Village vegan (no animal products) restaurant and organic wine bar has a homey, yet upscale style that provides a gourmet-vegetarian option of fresh, primarily organic dishes that could make any skeptical carnivore blush. None of their ingredients are chemically fertilized, genetically modified, or treated with preservatives, and two courses can be eaten for under $25.

The eclectic menu offers vegan interpretations of traditional dishes from around the globe. For instance, Counter’s Waldorf salad – an uncooked version of the traditional apple, celery, mayo, and chopped walnut salad – is transformed into a delicate combination of candied pecans, tart apples, semi-sweet caramelized onions, and earthy pine nut “blue cheese” in tangy vinaigrette, over baby spinach. The Caramelized Onion and Porcini Mushroom Pizza with cashew and macadamia nut “ricotta” is served on a thin spelt (ancient whole-grain with a mellow, nutty flavor) cracker, piled high with sweet, shining onions and topped with succulent, juicy, saut�ed porcini mushrooms. The Cauliflower Risotto, made from rice sized steamed cauliflower (versus the traditional rich and creamy Italian rice risotto) has simple flavors that beautifully underscore its toppings – an earthy mixture of wild mushrooms, fava beans, a savory herb sauce, and a tangy-sweet balsamic syrup.

At Counter, each ingredient adds its own subtle nuances and natural flavors to every dish. If you love tasting food and drinking wine, care about where it comes from, and respect the earth that produces it – the kitchen attached to this Counter is sure to please.

– Amelia Stocker

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Calm and Spicy

Queen of Sheba

650 10th Avenue btwn 45th and 46th St. - (212) 397-0610

Appropriately named, the Queen of Sheba is an Ethiopian restaurant that reigns supreme. Soft lighting and a cozy dining room create the relaxing mood of this restaurant, alongside modern d�cor, Ethiopian artwork and furnishings, embroidered tablecloths, and traditional music that fills the background.

The Queen of Sheba serves amazing food, using the abundance of spices that defines this country’s cuisine. I began my culinary feast by ordering lentil sambousa, flaky vegetarian parties stuffed with spicy lentils that tingle the tongue with their variety of spices. The proud waitress brought out my main entr�e, Tibs wat; a traditional dish of tender beef slowly cooked in hot berbere (thick red paste composed of a variety of spices: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, coriander, and fenugreek) stew. This tasty dish emitted incredible aromas and astonishing flavors in each bite. Side orders of warm split peas infused with onions and garlic, and creamy lentils subtly spiced with a hint of sweetness accompanied the entr�e. A must order is Doro wat, succulent chicken literally falling off the bone, cooked in a dense stew of onions, berbere, and kibe sauces. Kibe, an herbed butter, is flavored with onions, garlic, ginger and other spices. All entrees are served with injera bread, a spongy crepe made from teff flour (a lemony flavored grain) that absolutely melts in your mouth. In place of dessert (which is not common in Ethiopian culture) I had a glass of Axum t’ej, a golden sweet honey wine.

The combination of great tasting food, traditional Ethiopian artwork, and excellent service makes the Queen of Sheba a wonderful dining experience.

– Karen Chase

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Serenity on Madison Avenue

Kai

822 Madison Avenue, 2nd Floor, btwn 68th and 69th St. - (212) 998-7277

Kai, short for kaiseki in Japanese, means meeting or gathering. A five hundred year old tradition from Kyoto, delicate dishes accompanying lavish tea ceremonies, is today an expensive and elaborate gastronomic activity. Kai restaurant puts a modern spin on this celebration of nature and the season, bringing it from ancient Japan to the Upper East Side.

Nestled into the second floor of a premium tea boutique, your spirit is massaged by the beautiful dark wooden floors, polished slate bar, and muted lighting on the dining room. This calming, organic d�cor instantly soothers even the most stressed.

Service here is first rate- professional, well orchestrated and unobtrusive. For the inquisitive eater, knowledgeable staff will explain ad nauseum the origins and flavor profiles of ingredients and preparations.

The commitment to style and detail are seemingly endless; food arrives on a stunning array of handmade plates and lacquered bowls evoking themes of nature. ‘Sea Urchin over Buckwheat with Mixed Greens’ was delicate in flavor, while ‘Prime Beef Shibu Shib over Five Vegetables’ was in an elegant, light fois grass sauce and the ‘Salmon over Herb Black Rice’ was subtlety saut�ed with hints of truffle. Dessert pairs simplicity with elegance; the orange mousse was satisfyingly thick yet somehow light.

For a very refined experience, go for afternoon tea, which includes all the charming desserts, and well as ongiri (Japanese flavored rice balls) and crumbly scones from the West.

– Joseph Campanale

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