I don’t write a lot about Thai food on this blog. I love Thai food, but it can be hard to find vegetarian versions of most dishes — many restaurants add nam pla, or fish sauce, to the dishes for flavor even if they are listed as vegetarian on the menu. So it was exciting to see a vegetarian and even vegan section of the menu at Mondayoff, the new restaurant by the owners of Plant Love House (despite the name most of the menu is not vegetarian). I got the Yum Puk Boong Jay, a salad of sorts with battered and deep fried watercress tossed with tofu, chili, lime, peanuts, fried garlic, red onion, and herbs. It was fantastic — the crisp warmth of the watercress was offset by the spicy lime dressing, and every bite made me want to eat more. I had a version of this dish at SriPraPhai, the venerable Queens Thai institution, many years ago and the dish and Mondayoff blows that one away on every level. Plus it’s so much closer to me.
Mondayoff by Plant Love House — 752 Coney Island Ave
For my first visit to Hugo & Sons, just a short walk from my apartment, we met my parents for brunch. Although the zucchini frittata and the roasted eggplant both sounded good, I only had eyes for the pizza. I got a Hugo, basically your classic Margherita, and it was incredible. A light and crispy crust, good sauce, and incredibly creamy fior di latte mozzarella all made for something greater than the sum of its parts and one of the best pizzas I’ve had in a while. I ate it so quickly I forgot to top it with some of the house chili oil. Oh well, there’s always next time.
Hugo & Sons — 367 7th Ave
I’ve eaten a lot of pizza over the years, but I somehow never managed to make it to Barboncino in Crown Heights until recently. Initially I was underwhelmed by the menu, particularly the relatively low number of vegetarian pies available. My girlfriend and I finally settled on the traditional Margherita, and I’m glad we did. It’s a perfectly balanced pie with a thin crispy crust, a well seasoned sauce, and creamy mozzarella. A splash of the chili oil (available on every table) made it even better. After finishing my half I confidently declared that could have eaten two of them. I don’t make it to Crown Heights often, but it’s good to know that Barboncino is there.
Barboncino — 781 Franklin Ave
I haven’t written about it on the blog but over the past year I’ve discovered the joys of ordering from Ginger House, an Asian restaurant that serves vegan and vegetarian versions of dishes like sesame chicken and pad thai. A month or so ago a new restaurant opened a few blocks away from my apartment, called A8 Pan Asian Vegan. They have a menu very like Ginger House, and even in the short time they’ve been open I’ve gotten food from them three times. Some standouts include cold sesame noodles made with green tea, crispy soy protein with a spicy plum sauce, and the basil soy protein (pictured above). They’re still pretty new, and so working out some operational kinks, but I look forward to more meals without having to wait for delivery.
A8 Pan Asian Vegan — 268 Prospect Park West
I once met the Sussman brothers when they were operating a pop-up of Samesa at Berg’n. I didn’t try their food at the time, I was there to film an episode of Lost Vegetarian. I had heard they opened up a brick and mortar version (in the old Meat Hook Sandwich Shop space), but I didn’t get a chance to eat there until recently. It’s a Middle Eastern inspired place, but instead of falafel what they have at Samesa are zucchini fritters. Unfortunately the fritters were a little gummy inside, but the rest of the plate was outstanding. The platter comes with rice, beet salad, Israeli salad, and various pickles. It also comes with fresh pita and a variety of sauces — avocado hummus, a garlic-yogurt sauce, and a hot pepper sauce called zhug. All together it’s a great plate of food. I only wish the fritters had been better.
Samesa — 495 Lorimer St
Sometimes when I get home from work I’m too tired to cook anything special. Occasionally, however, I start thinking about cooking something that requires preparation and precision. And that thought leads me to ramen. Here’s a vegan version I made just a few weeks ago.
For the broth: I didn’t have any miso paste, so I couldn’t use the same method I used in my previous ramen post. I started with a large spring onion and about six button mushrooms, all roughly chopped. I cooked these in a deep pot in some canola oil over medium heat, seasoned with salt and pepper, letting them get nice and caramelized. This took about 15 or 20 minutes. Then I added about a half a cup of soy sauce, and then filled the pot with water. I brought this up to a boil and then let it simmer while I prepped the rest of the ingredients. After about 20 minutes I used my immersion blender to get it nice and smooth. I checked for seasoning and then let it sit over low heat.
For the toppings: In a small pot I boiled equal parts water, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. I chopped up a handful of green and wax beans, and then cooked those pieces in the soy-vinegar mix for a few minutes. They soaked up a lot of flavor but retained a bit of crunch. After removing the beans I did the same with large pieces of napa cabbage. I also had a nice small zucchini, which I sliced on my mandoline to get uniform slices, and seared these in canola oil. It only took a few minutes, and I seasoned them with salt and pepper. Finally I cut a block or super firm tofu into thin slices.
To assemble the soup: I boiled the noodles in some lightly salted water, and then drained them and put them into a bowl. Then I poured the hot soup over the noodles. I arranged the sliced tofu and zucchini on top of the broth. Then I added a spoonful of the beans, and then the napa cabbage. I drizzled some chili oil over the top and garnished with sliced greens from the spring onion I’d used for the broth.
It all came together for a great summer dinner. Sure, it took some time (and about four different pots and pans), but sometimes for a good meal I’m willing to take the time (and clean the mess).
I can’t seem to stay away from Russian and Ukrainian restaurants. When my parents asked where to meet up with me and my girlfriend, my first suggestion was Slavyanskiy Bazar. I’d never been there, though I’d been past it many times and I’d heard good things about it. I wasn’t expecting it, but our favorite dishes of the day were the salads: Summer salad made with white radish and cucumbers, Gruzdi (marinated mushrooms) in a sweet vinegar dressing, and the Balkanskiy salad with feta cheese and olives. The cabbage vareniki (above) were better than the potato-mushroom-onion versions, though they paled in comparison to other versions I’ve had. Still, salads were so good I’d definitely go back for more.
Slavyanskiy Bazar — 2013 Coney Island Ave