• Candle 79, the Uptown Girl of Vegan Fine Dining

    January 1st, 2010mr meanermore restaurants (not LA), NYC

    You can tell a classy lady just by looking at her, and the same is true of Manhattan’s Candle 79. Ensconced on a wide, tree-lined street in the affluent Upper East Side and surrounded by some of the world’s finest restaurants (and most expensive real estate), Candle 79 has incredibly sexy curb appeal and, like that classy lady, proves that beauty is not only skin deep but the real treasure is what lies within.

    On our recent visit, we were treated to some of the finest cuisine we’d ever experienced, in an atmosphere that rivals only Sublime in Fort Lauderdale (the East Coast’s only other vegan fine dining establishment). Probably because we reserved for 6pm and arrived a little early, we lucked out with a great table (actually, a large booth beside the cocktail bar).

    Our very attentive server ran over over the menu with us, explaining that the restaurant is entirely vegan, and if the menu said “cheese” or “ice cream” the ingredients were, in fact, vegan. Clearly, this explanation was somewhat reassuring! He then took our drink order, which was a reasonably priced bottle of organic Côtes du Rhône that arrived with a couple of small and complimentary appetizers of sliced zucchini, with a spicy vegetable-infused cream cheese combination atop. They were each gone in one scrumptious bite, and set a realistic expectation for the meal that was to come.

    It took us forever to decide what to order as everything on the menu looked astounding. In the end, we mixed up the flavors by going for a Mexican-style appetizer followed by American and Italian-style entrees.

    The appetizer was “Angel’s Nachos”, an incredible creation that tasted better than I remember vegetarian nachos being. Here in LA, we have a similar dish from Real Food Daily, which not only costs a few bucks more, but uses chips FROM A BAG (yes, the kind you’d get in a grocery store). Not at Candle 79, as these were freshly fried (one could taste the warm oil), and crunchy. Combined with the the vegetables and seitan created an amazing mouth texture, especially when mixed up with the layers of Daiya cheese, fresh guacamole, salsa and tofu sour cream. These are far and away the best vegan nachos we’d ever eaten, and are worth a trip to Candle 79 alone. Even if you have to walk all the way there from Downtown.

    Angel's Nachos: corn chips, cheddar and mozzarella, tomatoes, refried pinto beans, chili-grilled seitan, guacamole, salsa, tofu sour cream, romaine lettuce. $16

    Next up were the two entrees. We opted for the black-pepper grilled seitan, in honor of New York’s legendary prowess as the steak capital of the world. Oh, and this was amazing. I’d never had anything grilled with a balsamic base before, and this turned me on to a whole new avenue of taste. The texture of the seitan was very “grill-like”, with burned edges and a soft, succulent interior – rather like the descriptions I found online of high-end fillet steak.

    Black Pepper & Balsamic Grilled Seitan: sautéed haricots verts, leeks, almonds, cornmeal crusted onion rings, celeriac purée. $23

    This, combined with green beans, and a celery mashed potato-style base, all drizzled with a tasty and tangy sauce was an incredible mash-up (no pun intended!) of taste. I would be remiss not to mention the onion rings, which were perfectly crunchy and had a cornmeal batter, making them rather interesting, and a perfect compliment to the tasty seitan.

    So, after paying vegan homage to NYC’s steak-house history we decided to move things up a notch and go for something Italian-style, as Italian food is usually better here than in Italy itself (go ahead, argue in the comments). Our Italian-style entree was a mixture of succulent vegetables (mainly wild mushrooms) and porcini crusted tofu sauteed up a treat in a smooth and slightly sweet red wine sauce with a layered cheese and root vegetable gratin, all on a bed of spinach, soaked in the red wine sauce.

    Porcini Crusted Tofu: sauteed spinach, root vegetable gratin, wild mushrooms, red wine sauce. $22

    Again, an amazing intersection of taste and textures with perfectly cooked ingredients coming together in just the right way. The layered cheese thing was out of this world – I wish I knew exactly what it is as I’d be most interested in trying to create it myself. Not that I could, but it’s nice to pretend.

    Finally, for desert, we continued the Italian theme with a warm cannoli, filled with vanilla cream and topped with chocolate chip ice cream. The server also bought us some complimentary home-made ice cream (see later for why we got it for free), which went down extremely well with the cannoli. I think one of the successes of a vegan desert is that it should not taste “vegan”, and none of this stuff did. The vanilla filling was like a heavy-cream and powdered sugar filling in a non-vegan cannoli, and the ice cream tasted just like, well, very nice ice cream you’d buy in an up-market ice cream parlor. The desert was amazing, and we were very full upon leaving the restaurant.

    Cannoli: vanilla cream filling, vanilla chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate drizzle. $12

    On this visit, the service was excellent, but being early the place was only starting to fill up as we left. We tried to visit Candle 79 a year or so before, waited 30 minutes for our table (even after our allotted reservation time was up), got the shittiest table in the place and finally walked out after another 20 minutes as nobody came to serve us. Also, even on this trip, we did find the staff a little snooty – I don’t think they appreciated my bright yellow bobble-hat I wore upon arriving out of the 20 degree cold. When we ordered dessert, the server asked if it was our first trip to Candle 79, and we recounted (politely) our experience the first time around. He apologized, and kindly gave us some free ice cream “for your inconvenience last time”. See told you they were a little snooty, but this gesture was much appreciated.

    Homemade Ice Cream & Sorbet Sampler: chef's daily selection. $9

    Also, our server neglected to tell us they had any specials, and I listened to several other customers getting a run-down of some amazing-sounding specials. Not that I’m really upset as I liked what we ordered, but it would have been nice to have the same choices as the other guests. Maybe he was just too much in shock about my bobble hat…?

    So, to sum up, if you’re lucky and you get a nice table and a good server you will have one of the finest vegan dining experiences possible. Yeah it’s was pricey (our bill came to just shy of $150 with tip), but, like a classy lady, Candle 79 really is worth every penny.

    Candle 79
    154 East 79th Street
    New York, NY 10021
    (212) 537-7179

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30 responses to “Candle 79, the Uptown Girl of Vegan Fine Dining” RSS icon

  • I LOVE Candle 79. I brought a few omni colleagues there not long ago, and they really dug it. One even mentioned that he got inspired to “look into” going vegan after enjoying the food far beyond his expectations.

    If you’re ever in NYC, make a point of eating at this amazing spot. It’s well worth it. Oh! I almost forgot. Make sure to order the ginger drink. It’s literally the best beverage I’ve tasted in my life.

  • AHHHHHHHH! I was originally planning to have Candle 79 cater our East Coast vegan wedding…that is, before my father found out about my vegan ambitions & quickly “86’d” his support of any wedding menu, sans the carnage! 🙁 We then had to pull out a renegade vegan approach & switch coasts, switch caterers & start blogging to make it all happen on a prayer & a shoestring…so, I’ve never gotten to actually eat there, as the hubby & I shack in LA! (Though your NY food posts aren’t doing much to make that a continued reality:)! That cheese stack looks AMAZING & I want it on the double!! Any chance of a west coast candle 79????
    🙂 Candy

  • Candy: your dad sounds like a complete dick. Keep away from him.

    Quarrygirl: thanks for visiting all the way from LA and writing the best review of my favorite restaurant in NYC!

  • Two more things: one of your free ice creams looked like the strawberry (or raspberry) sorbet. AND, you made an excellent choice of vino.

  • Family_san- tell me about it! After months of planning, preparing, etc. – it was a completely devastating let down that he would WITHDRAW ALL SUPPORT, due to a SINGLE MEAL in his life (& ok, all our guests’ lives) not containing any meat. Ugh! I walked away from his shiny budget though & kept it movin’!!

    QG- came back to say though WTF??! You PAID $150 bucks for this meal?? Only got free ice cream because of getting dissed last time & even THAT came w/snoot snoot service? Boo! W/all of the pub you give these restaurants & all of the time & effort you put it, I’d think you’d get at least ONE completely comped meal!! (I mean, I can understand they’d go out of business if they fed you for free everyday…which might even be a consideration w/all the love you give them but) yowsa…you should be gettin’ hooked up, my dear! (WITH the ability to still give an objective review- it is what it is!:) I can promise you that if me & my vegan crew ever fuel the inclination to open a restaurant, you will surely be chowing down for freeeee…ESPECIALLY if bonehead staffers cause you to walk away a year prior! Anyway, thanks for the oh-so tempting review!!
    🙂 Candy

  • Candy, thanks so much for the kind words! I just wanna point out that for the most part, when we eat out, restaurants have no idea who we are. We prefer to stay pretty anonymous so we can
    give honest reviews.

    I thought our service was great! It just seems like the fancy kind of place that tends to be on the snooty side. 🙂 Our meal was AMAZING and well worth $150!

    BTW that really sucks about your dad. 🙁

  • YUM! I am really hungry, and heading to Veggie Grill, which is awesome, but Candle 79 is AMAZING. We only had brunch there, but it was SO good. I can’t wait to go back. We had a great hummus appetizer.

  • Oh, and Candy, good for your for sticking to your principles and declining the financing! My fiance and I are paying for our own wedding and there will be NO animal carcasses in sight! My mom knows and she’s not happy. I’m keeping it on the down low. I figure half the guests will be so impressed with the food they won’t notice what’s “missing” so to speak. And I’ll point the way to in-n-out if my dad complains too much.

  • QG- I TOTALLY get it! In a way, being stealth makes you have a genuine experience so you are able to pass us along reviews that would be equal to anyone of us eating out w/out a “good face” or red carpet being rolled…so thank you for that! I just recognize that it’s a lot of WORK, one could go broke eating out as much as pristinely as you do, & also, you “be hookin’ businesses up (didn’t you shut down the meet market today?) – so I’m still sad somehow that you’re spending $150 on a single meal in part, to spread the good news to us. THANK GOODNESS it was $150 bucks so well spent! I’m having hallucinations about that cheesy deal, the cannoli, the rings, you name it! Thx!

    Meredith-You’re having a vegan wedding in defiance of your family too? So cool! We found the b-e-s-t caterer, if you need one (& believe me, we went through a lot of flakes & a lot of very EXPENSIVE choices to find this food genius, if you need one- at our wedding, he completely changed the game- but anyway). I have a blog about this very topic, vegan weddings, & I’m hyped to feature more vegan weddings to spread the news & give inspiration to folks, so please by all means, keep in touch if you’d like to be featured!
    happy new year to all!!
    🙂 candy

  • Sorry! It’s LATE & that last post was a little loopy. I better go to bed…but hope you get the gist!! LOL 🙂
    Much love,
    🙂 c

  • “Sublime in Fort Lauderdale (the East Coast’s only other vegan fine dining establishment”

    O RLY? Horizons anyone?

  • Horizons is great, but Philly is a horrible place to visit.

  • I love Candle, but it’s definitely not one of only two vegan fine dining places on the east coast. Besides Horizons in Philly, there’s also a lot more in NYC: for one, Kajitsu (most expensive and arguably more creative vegan restaurant in the city), Pure Food and Wine (the runner up in both of those categories), Blossom, which is basically a Candle 79 copy-cat (although those who prefer it to Candle resent that description), and let’s not forget Hangawi, the all-vegan Korean fine-dining restaurant.
    Hopefully you’ll get to try some more of these while you’re in town. If not, at least be sure to get some ice cream at Lula’s Sweet Apothecary–it’s pretty much the closest thing to heaven in the city.

  • Ang, they tried Pure Food & Wine and said it sucked. I’ve heard mixed reviews too. I’ve yet to try it since unfortunately I live in “terrible” Philly.

  • i just looked at the horizons menu and it looks amazing! and very reasonably priced. damn, i am definitely gonna hit up philly!!!

  • Horizons has a waaaaaaay better beer list too. Sorry, I’d rather have a fresh pint brewed locally than a crappy bottle of Sam Smith organic lager that’s old as shit by the time it arrives here in the states.

    Check out Pat Kwan’s review from a while back on SV: http://supervegan.com/blog/entry.php?id=905

  • I can’t believe I forgot to mention 4 Course Vegan in NYC. It may not be a traditional ‘fine dining restaurant’ in the sense that it’s only open 1 day a week and is in the chef’s loft apt in Brooklyn, BUT it’s damn good gourmet food prepared and presented to perection.
    As for Pure Food and Wine sucking, it definitely doesn’t but I will say this–first, you have to know what to order. The mole tamales, pad thai, and ravioli do suck ass, but the thai wraps, lasagna, tacos, classic sundae, and Indian dessert trio are mind-blowing. Second, if it’s your first time, and if you’re going to drop that kind of cash on raw food, you really need to go in the summer to fully appreciate it. They have an amazing outdoor patio where you can eat and and drink in euphoria. The effect is largely lost when eating inside their dark and slightly pretentious restaurant in 20 degree weather.

  • @kevin – yes, I agree entirely about Sam Smith organic beer. I grew up in the UKk drinking it from an early age and now I really can’t stand it. Sad that most vegan places serve it. Gives vegans and Brits a bad name…

    I can predict a trip to “horrible/terrible” Philly soon…

  • I’m not a huge RFD fan, but it’s kinda silly to criticize them for using perfectly tasty chips made elsewhere when Candle 79 is using a premade cheese FROM A BAG! I’ll take some delicious homemade cashew cheese over daiya any day.

    Honestly, using daiya at an upscale restaurant? Seems quite lazy.

  • @alex – it ain’t what you have, it’s what you do with it. there’s no rule that says an upscale restaurant has to make everything from scratch, but those that do deserve high praise indeed.

    chips out of a bag are a loooong way from daiya being carefully used as a delicate ingredient in a well prepared dish.

    also, cashew cheese on a pizza isn’t as good as daiya.

  • I had homemade pizza with cashew cheese tonight. You couldn’t have paid me to use daiya instead. I’ve cooked with daiya at home and had it on restaurant-made pizza twice — it’s artificial-tasting and no comparison to a homemade nut cheese.

    The point stands that you’re criticizing one restaurant for using an outside product but praising another for doing the same thing. You’re not even claiming that RFD’s “bagged” chips are bad-tasting, just that it’s somehow a faux pas. Are you opposed to restaurants using bread made elsewhere too? Is daiya the only exception?

  • I’ve never been to Candle 79, but RFD nachos are gross and overpriced. And taste like stale bag.

  • @alex – I’ve never had the pleasure of tasting your nut cheese (I just giggled when I typed that!) but I’m very pleased that Daiya is the first commonly available vegan cheese that can be easily handled in a typical restaurant kitchen and, for most people I’ve spoken to, tastes pretty good on a pizza. I dream of a world filled with pizza joints where one can enjoy a vegan pizza with similar texture and taste to a lacto-cheese pizza. But that’s just me.

    I wasn’t criticizing RFD for preparing nachos with chips FROM A BAG, although I’ve eaten there enough to see the plates with those dry, chalky nachos being returned to the kitchen with only the toppings consumed.

    The Candle 79 nachos, OTOH, were being eaten up and enjoyed by everybody when we were there. A choice between grocery store nacho chips with home-made cashew cheese (RFD-style) or home made chips and a sprinkling of Daiya is easy for me.

    The post, critically, makes no reference to the validity of home-prepared ingredients as a preference for superiority but was intended to draw a comparison between two dishes that are billed the same on a menu, yet are markedly different in quality, taste and even price.

  • Oh man, I ADORE Candle 79. The Seitan Chimichurri is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

  • Can’t wait to see the rest of your posts from NYC, but you REALLY should have included a pic of the bobble hat.

  • I love Candle 79 but I thought Horizons in Philly was far better. Probably one of the best meals of my life.

  • These comments about Philly–yeah, it’s Filthydelphia, but it doesn’t suck THAT BAD. Horizons is awesome, and despite all the amazing options in NYC, I will miss horizons A LOT when I move there. The cheesecakes at Horizons can’t be beaten anywhere, not by a long shot.

    It’s funny that you mention that you had “the worst table in the restaurant” on your first visit, and I’m pretty sure you’re referring to the same table I sat at on my first visit because IT REALLY IS THAT BAD. People constantly were standing by our table, we were being hit by the negative sixty degree wind coming in from the door, people were even PUTTING THEIR BAGS AND COATS ON OUR BOOTH as they suited up to face the NYC winter. That table should not exist, for plunking down $250 at our meal, the ambiance was fucking terrible, no matter how good the food was, we left kinda pissed.

    Fortunately we got the BEST table on our next visit, and food and ambiance were worth the bill for sure.

  • Gotta vote for Horizons in Philly. Have eaten there twice and actually the second time we made our travel plans around a stop-over in Philly just so we could go. It really is that good! Just for perspective – I hail from Northern California – vegan heaven. Looking forward to trying Candle 79 when in NYC this month.

  • I passed by Candle 79 all the time while still attending CUNY Hunter and I can’t believe I just went there the other day! The dish I had (the live lasagna) is by far the best meal I have ever had – super delicious! And thank you so much for mentioning Lulu’s. My mom and I made it a point to go down to alphabet city to try some of their ice cream and my mom’s eyes lit up. I’m from Long Island where she still lives and she said she’s debating making trips into the city just for the ice cream. We had the coffee which is made out of cashews. Too much goodness. Thanks again! Love your blog, it’s so helpful! I’m moving to Portland in a few days, so reviewing your Portland post was the best thing for me. Cheers!

  • Today while dining in Hangawi, I saw, out of the corner of my eye: your bobble hat! I stared at the poor girl (thinking QG was donning yours), but finally remembered that yours was yellow. It was just in time too, or I would have accosted the poor girl in what most certainly would have been an un-graceful attack- me in my socks and those seat cushions so slippery…squawking, “The bobble hat!”. It gave me a chuckle!

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