• Start Spreading the News, I’m Vegan Today: A New York field report by Simon Goddard

    May 18th, 2011quarrygirlmore restaurants (not LA), NYC

    update 5/18/11: turns out the “soy bacon” on the village natural burger isn’t vegan! the restaurant is aware of this and is supposedly changing the menu. full update at the bottom of the post. meanwhile: beware.


    hey guys! i’m happy to announce we have a field report today from a legit writer—can you believe it? simon goddard, music journalist extraordinaire and author of the mozipedia (one of our favorite books, look!), penned us this post about his culinary adventures in manhattan. from pizza and burgers to vegan fish and chips…i want it all. enjoy!

    Oh, New York! It’s a bit of a temptress. I’m a fiercely loyal Londoner and still every time I set foot in Manhattan I have my doubts as to which is the greatest city on earth. As the song goes, I like the sight, the sound and even the stink of it. In London we have signs which read “No parking, clamping in operation.” In Manhattan they have signs which read “Don’t even THINK of parking here.” Therein lies the singular genius of New York, a masterpiece of concrete, clay and invincible human character.

    I digress. I was lucky enough to be working there again this month so promised the estimable Quarrygirl I’d scribble some words for her blog about a few of the nicer things I put in my mouth. And here they are. Whenever in New York, I almost always end up in Greenwich Village at some point, if only for a sneaky stroke of the Bleecker Street Records cat (irresistible) or to marvel at the 300 year-old English Elm in Washington Square (unbelievable). So for all similarly besotted cat-botherers and tree-huggers who may find themselves in the area hankering for impeccable death-free nibbles, here are three personal recommendations.

    Village Natural

    For years this has been my favourite vegetarian spot in New York, even if I’ve always been in the daytime when it’s fairly quiet and “vibes” are minimal (it’s a bit “yoga” if you know what I mean) but the food seldom disappoints. It’s Vietnamese-owned though the menu ranges from Asian to salads, burgers and Mexican dishes. I’ve tried various mains here, but you can’t beat the burgers.

    Black Bean Bacon Burger: Vegan. A delightfully unique veggie burger topped with guacamole, crispy soy bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and onion. $9.50

    My favourite is this black-bean burger. It comes open with a dollop of guacamole, a generous fresh salad topped with a strip of crispy veggie bacon***(read update below) brought vigorously to life by a side of orange and ginger dressing. As a meal it strikes a perfect balance between guilty “bad” burger food (and it is a glorious big, flat, more-ish monster of a burger) and enriching “good” healthy salad: you definitely don’t miss fries.

    The only disappointment this visit was dessert. In the past they’ve done the most amazing vegan tiramisu, probably the best I’ve ever tasted and one that I’ve all but sadistically enthused about to Quarrygirl to jealousy-inducing extremes. Alas, for whatever reason it wasn’t an option on the blackboard this time. To compensate, I ordered the vegan mocha pie which looked like this:

    Mocha Pie. $4.95

    It had a porridgy-base, a chalky texture and altogether tasted like somebody had dropped a triangle of brown shoe polish on some oatmeal, then tried to make it smell better by administering a few extra squirts of Tweed by Lentheric. That is, it was cloggy with a wretched perfumed hue and not remotely mocha-ish. If their tiramisu was a 10, the mocha pie just scraped a 2. But despite this Hindenburg of sweet catastrophes, the sometimes slow-to-react zombiefied waiters and the sad fact they serve a handful of fish options, I still rate this place highly. I just pray they get that tiramisu back on their menu before I next darken its door.


    Stricken with near-Bubonic pizza craving, I later set off for another favourite haunt, John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker (the “No.36” veggie is a killer: ask for extra garlic and vegan-ise by requesting no cheese). Unfortunately it’s absurdly popular due its much-publicised “famous” clientele. The fact that Vanilla Ice once ate there (even if the owners deem him sufficiently low on the celebrity-o-meter to shove his dedicated signed photo in the corridor by the toilet) is enough to guarantee steady queues out the door at weekends which, alas, was when I trolled up, tongue flapping down to my ankles, delirious with pizza withdrawal.

    Thankfully I noticed Keste just across the street, a more modern pizza restaurant which seemed to be profiting nicely from John’s overspill such as myself. It was Saturday evening, bustling mostly with couples, and vibes seemed good. All I cared about was that they served pizza but, as fate decreed, Keste had a great surprise in store. A lot of vegans dread the “no cheese, please” ordering rigmarole in pizzerias as often it invites, at best, a grunt of confusion, at worst, an unforgiving glare of lingering disgust. At Keste, this isn’t an issue thanks to their $16 Vegetariana, a mozzarella-free pizza which bizarrely turned the ordering tables around when I found the waiter kindly explaining to me, “That’s a no cheese pizza, sir, if you’re OK with that?”

    Vegetariana: tomatoes, eggplant, mushroom, artichoke, zucchini, extra virgin olive oil. $16

    And the Vegetariana was an absolute winner. The perfect size for one, crispy stone-oven cooked base, not too heavy on the tomato sauce and then a feast of blackened-edged veg: thin long strips of seedy aubergine (erm, “eggplant”), mushroom, courgette (erm, “zucchini”) and, the star of the show, earthy chunks of artichoke heart. With so many flavours going on the absence of cheese made complete sense. By the last slice I was practically waggling both thumbs aloft like Macca in the direction of the open kitchen. Those who don’t mind eating great vegan pizza in a non-vegan pizzeria should definitely go here for the Vegetariana and relish the rare luxury of avoiding the “no cheese” malarkey altogether. (They also do a basic tomato, garlic and olive oil Marinara for $9).

    Red Bamboo

    The culinary highlight this trip, I can’t believe I’ve never eaten in Red Bamboo before. More shamefully, I can’t believe I missed Quarrygirl’s review of the restaurant back in 2008. Everything she posted back then stands (them “Voodoo Sticks” are still on the menu) but here’s my own impression of this not-to-be-missed vegan paradise.

    Red Bamboo’s stock-in-trade is the mock meat and fish experience but the extent of their substitution is phenomenal: chicken and beef is one thing, but never before have I seen mock “scallops”. Which might be a squeamish turn-off for some (even the menus assume you know it’s fake, e.g. mock Szechuan beef is listed simply “Szechuan beef”). But for many of us, myself certainly, the ability to create sensational tasting imitation flesh which equals if not surpasses its death equivalent is one of the strongest and most convincing cases for vegetarianism and veganism in the first place. The only problem I had with Red Bamboo was the sheer choice, so many options I was completely bamboozled. Eventually I decided to jump in at the deep end, stick to racial stereotype, and order the “fish and chips”. If an American vegan restaurant could satisfy a Brit with a fake version of his national dish then they were truly miracle workers. It arrived fairly quickly looking like this…

    Fish and Chips: Fried fish sticks and french fries served with our special vegan tartar sauce. $11.95

    So more “fish fingers” and chips. First I tried a fish “stick” (as they call it) on its own. It had a crispy breadcrumb coating around a grey-ish flesh more like mock chicken. The taste was strong and savoury if not quite “fish” as I remember it (there’d certainly be no fooling Captain Birdseye). But taken in the same forkful as fries, ketchup or their creamy tartar sauce, the illusion was complete, an 80% miracle. Some constructive British criticism, though, as I think Red Bamboo are missing a trick on two counts. Firstly, if they served with mushy peas (I don’t know how hard they are to buy tinned in the US but they’re a doddle to make) it would be 100% miraculous and the real British “chippie” experience (why not throw a fat pickled onion on the side while they’re at it?) And secondly, they could create another dish out of the same core materials by mimicking the ubiquitous English gastropub staple of the “fish finger sandwich”, usually served with lime mayo and leaves on crusty ciabatta bread and a side of fries. It’s staring them in the face and would doubtless slip down a treat with their Brooklyn Pilsner.

    Regardless, the fish and chips put me in a good enough mood to shove some celebratory cake in my cakehole. You should never take carrot cake for granted. The amount of times I’ve ordered it only for it to be too spicy, or too sticky, or – the worst – full of bloody sultanas (putting sultanas in carrot cake is a crime second only to putting them in curries: don’t get me started…) But Red Bamboo’s got it just right: not over-sweet, loaded with thin strands of “actual” carrot and pillow-soft icing. So I can only reiterate all the positives Quarrygirl herself has previously said about Red Bamboo. The staff were friendly and it had great ambience with a diverse clientele of young, old, gay, straight, couples and families, a gastronomic Manhattan in microcosm.

    And so I left the sight, the sound and the stink of that old temptress, New York, homeward bound, smacking my lips but dragging my heart, knowing that at some point in the next seven hours a hostess would slap a foil covered tray of rice and indistinguishable curried plop before me. Such is the curse of discovering sublime animal-free food on one’s travels. It only makes the horror of the economy cabin “vegan special meal” all the more gruesome…


    Village Natural, 46 Greenwich Avenue, NY 10011 (vegetarian restaurant, wealth of pure vegan options: note, also serves fish)

    John’s Pizzeria, 278 Bleecker Street, NY 10014 (no vegan options, just request no cheese and deal with the abuse; easy if only vegetarian)

    Keste, 271 Bleecker Street, NY 10014 (two vegan-friendly pizza options on otherwise cheesy and meaty menu; many more choices if only vegetarian)

    Red Bamboo, 140 West 4th Street, NY10012 (mostly vegan/all vegetarian, dishes containing dairy clearly marked on menu with asterisk)

    for more simon, check out his:

    ***veggie bacon update: it was brought to our attention that the veggie bacon in this post looked a bit shady, specifically like morningstar brand (which contains egg whites). i contacted village natural via phone this evening, and they readily told me that the “veggie bacon” is indeed morningstar…and the dude on the phone even said that he was aware it contains animal products. when i let him know that it was implied to be vegan on the village natural menu, he apologized and said it was a mistake. he assured me that he’d speak with his boss and get the menu corrected ASAP, so stay tuned. until then, don’t order the veggie bacon at village natural. hopefully this post will save some unsuspecting vegans from consuming non-vegan soy bacon. the rule of thumb seems to be: if the bacon is streaky, it contains eggs. there are exceptions to this, but not many….so ask to see ingredients/packaging if you’re unsure.

    whew! thanks to simon goddard for unknowingly unraveling this scandal…

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25 responses to “Start Spreading the News, I’m Vegan Today: A New York field report by Simon GoddardRSS icon

  • Um, this is the best food review I’ve ever read, particularly the description of the mocha pie. If anything good could have come of ordering something which was apparently pretty lousy, it is the line, “somebody had dropped a triangle of brown shoe polish on some oatmeal, then tried to make it smell better by administering a few extra squirts of Tweed by Lentheric”. Amazing.

    For some reason, I’ve always been under the impression that none of the “fish” dishes at Red Bamboo are vegan. Glad to see that this isn’t the case! And now I want fish and chips for dinner.

    (By the way, John’s Pizza of 12th St—unrelated to the one on Bleecker—has an entire vegan menu. Just FYI, for those looking for an old-school Italian dining option in NYC.)

  • LOVED this post and thrilled to discover the author. look forward to reading more from and about him. my favorite line in the post that just nailed it was “A lot of vegans dread the “no cheese, please” ordering rigmarole in pizzerias as often it invites, at best, a grunt of confusion, at worst, an unforgiving glare of lingering disgust.”
    thank you thank you.

  • The “fish” fillets at Red Bamboo aren’t vegan, but the sticks are. Go figure. They also have a vegan appetizer using fish sticks that’s quite good!

  • Gina Take a Bow

    Brilliant, Simon.

  • Great post. That bacon strip looks a lot like Morningstar bacon, which, last time I checked, isn’t vegan. Hmmm.

    Would love to see more Fish N Chips options out in L.A.

  • There’s a vegan brand of streaky bacon as well. I think an asian company makes it? I remember the controversy when Doomie’s was using it. People were accusing him of using non-vegan bacon, and it wound up being vegan after all. Poor guy!

  • Gauri Radha गौरी राधा

    Wish I could order that vegan fish and chips right now, that looks so good.

  • The fish and chips look just like the ones my Mom used to make: Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks and frozen french fries.

  • red bamboo also has an amazing popcorn shrimp appetizer . Their cheesecakes and shakes are to die for also

  • Vegan/Vegetarian imitation “meats” don’t taste like meat. No… They taste better!

    Nice post. Enjoyed reading over it.

  • I was going to say the same thing. If it were me I’d request to see the packaging.

  • According to the menu, they have other vegetarian burgers that aren’t vegan. That leads me to think the bacon is vegan, otherwise they’d just mark it as veggie.

  • Um, was anyone else completely grossed out by the nasty real looking bacon and grey-ish flesh (as described) of the fish stick?

    If I wanted my food to look and taste like meat, I’d just eat meat.

    I totally understand when omni’s say vegans are gross because we eat the same foods, just chemical and artificial versions of said food. (Luckily not all of us do). I think it’s disgusting to see a fake slice of bacon made to resemble a slab of dead pig. Vegans, why would we want our food to look like a dead carcass???!!!

  • I think it looks great, actually. Especially the fish and chips, I’d love to try that. The thing is, I’m vegan because I don’t want to eat dead animals, not because I never enjoyed the taste of meat. With dishes like that, we can experience old familiar tastes without hurting any creatures. Plus, people are more likely to give veganism a try if they know it doesn’t necessarily mean giving up all their old favorite foods.

  • I love this field report! Also, I love The Mozipedia! So cool that the author wrote on QG.

  • Oh I’ve never had vegan fish sticks! I wish this was available in LA.

  • I think that bacon is Morningstar, too, and it’s not vegan! One of the first ingredients is egg whites…

  • Vegan tiramisu has always been great wherever I’ve had it. It’s sad that it’s so rare to encounter it.

  • I highly recommend the Crispy Fish with Green Apple from Bulan.

  • The bacon is morningstar – which has egg whites! Id recognize that bacon anywhere.

  • Yah that asian company – may wah or vegecyber has a brand of vegan bacon!

  • I love, love, love Red Bamboo. Great to see it covered. I must have missed the post from 2008 as well, plus their menu has grown so much since then. Probably the best restaurant in NYC, and a great place to please omni’s.

  • Vegan fish and chips?? Veggie Grill needs to get on that. I would kill for this in LA. Can’t be too hard to batter some tofu and sprinkle it with nori.

  • Somehow the idea of mock fish and chips doesn’t appeal to me – but maybe I should withhold judgment until I try it. After all I was stunned by the mock chicken fingers at my local vegan restaurant (my daughter loved them!).

    I recently discovered that my local British restaurant fries the chips in lard – yuk!

  • If they serve fish, they are not a vegetarian restaurant! Why call them that?

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