On my last visit to New York I was taken to a restaurant on the Upper West side called Candle Cafe West. I love the fact that each time I visit this city I discover new little gems. Credit should go to my daughter Amy and her partner Liz as they usually do the research ahead of my visit, and on this occasion decided we should try an organic vegan restaurant that they had recently discovered.
Candle Café West began when the current owner Bart Potenza took over a health food store and juice bar in 1984. In 1987 Joy Pierson joined him as a partner in the business and together they steadily moved the vegetarian movement forward. In 1993, on the auspicious date of Friday 13th, the pair won $53,000 on the lottery and ploughed the funds into growing their business.
Bart and Joy were pioneers of the farm to table concept of bringing fresh local food to its customers. By using the cleanest environmental practices Candle Café West became the first Certified Green Restaurant in NYC by the Green Restaurant Association. In 2003 they opened a second restaurant, Candle 79 and have also produced a cookbook featuring the cuisine of the restaurant.
After flying from Chicago to NY, David and I met Amy and Liz at the restaurant around 8pm on a Monday evening. As the girls had secured a table in the window, it was easy to find them when our taxi dropped us off. Monday night doesn’t appear to be one of the busiest times to dine out, as there were only a few other patrons in the restaurant.
The restaurant has a large bar area with plenty of seating. The exposed brick walls, light wood floors, and dark wood tables and chairs give a welcoming and sophisticated feel upon entry. However, what I absolutely loved about this restaurant was the extremely friendly staff. Our server, who we discovered was new and still in training, was just delightful. Such a breath of fresh air to be served by someone who actually seems to love her job, and even more importantly wants us to love the food and our experience at the restaurant.
We began the evening by ordering a sparkling wine. In keeping with the ethos of the restaurant their wines are “certified organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines that have been chosen for their commitment to growing healthy grapes without the use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, with the importance of giving back to the land and community while connecting soil to vine” Almost seems like a crime not to drink.
While Amy and Liz are pescetarian/vegan, David and I are not and yet we had no difficulty finding something delicious sounding to try. With a little bit of education from the girls, as there were items on this menu that David and I had never heard of before, we selected a variety of dishes. We skipped appetizers in the hope that we would still have room to sample the desserts that the girls had told us about although the portobello mushroom and spinach pate served with rosemary-garlic bread sounded incredibly tempting.
David opted for spaghetti and wheatballs, with truffled tomato sauce, roasted garlic, sautéed spinach and cashew parmesan (as no cheese in this establishment). Amy had tried this on her previous visit and highly recommended it, and it did not disappoint, although be warned it is a little spicy. Id like to say what it tasted like but David devoured it so Im guessing it was very good 🙂 I liked the sound of one of the specials of the day, pasta with an arrabbiata spicy sauce, peas and sweetcorn (and probably other items that I am now forgetting). Liz decided to try the spring vegetable risotto that has wild mushrooms, spring vegetables, cashew cream sauce and fried leeks as she had enjoyed this on a previous visit. Amy selected the Chipotle seitan burrito, a very colorful dish that delights the eyes even before the taste buds.
I should have taken a photo of the four empty plates to demonstrate how much we all enjoyed our selections. I think it is fun to step outside of your comfort zone a little when eating out and try dishes that offer a new combination of ingredients that are not normally in your diet. As portions are not huge at this restaurant, and it was Amy’s birthday week so cake was heavily on our minds, we were able to indulge in a selection of desserts for the table to share. We soon devoured the carrot cake that came with just the right amount of vanilla frosting and minus nuts for those with allergies, the strawberry shortcake with rhubarb ice cream and coconut whipped cream (doesn’t it make you drool just reading that description?) and the Mexican chocolate cake with chipotle candied walnuts and ginger cookie-caramel coconut ice cream.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Candle Café West and would now very much like to try their other restaurant, Candle 79. The interior of this restaurant is welcoming, comfortable, and stylish. The servers are friendly and knowledgeable with a desire to help educate customers that might not know that much about the vegetarian options on offer rather than simply to take an order. Portions are not huge, but certainly sufficient. Prices for appetizers are $8-$18, entrees are $20-$23 per dish with sides at $5 or $7, and desserts $11-$14, not at all outrageous for NY.