Outside of soup dumplings I don’t really know a lot about Shanghainese food. The one vegetarian dish I do know about is kao fu, braised wheat gluten served cold in a sweet and savory sauce with peanuts and wood ear mushrooms. That dish was the star of the meal I had at Yaso Tangbao in Downtown Brooklyn. Yaso Tangbao seems to want to be the Shanghainese version of Xian Famous, down to the loud music and the menu on the wall with pictures and number-letter combinations for the dishes. Unlike Xian, where the chewy noodles are the main attraction, my soy garlic noodles were too mushy to really enjoy despite the tasty sauce. My mind keeps wandering back to the kao fu though; the wonderful pillowy texture and the contrasts in flavors were fantastic. I’m now on the lookout for more Shanghai restaurants to explore even more vegetarian options. Any recommendations?
Yaso Tangbao — 148 Lawrence St
Even though there’s a slight chill in the air it’s a great time of year for fruit at the farmer’s market. There are still late peaches, but apples and pears are beginning to take over. There are also plums, in many sizes and varieties, and their sweet/tart flavor makes an ideal match for clafoutis. Clafoutis (pronounced cla-foo-tee) is a dessert that’s somewhere between a souffle and a pancake, and it’s so easy to make I don’t know why I don’t do it every night. I used this recipe from Epicurious, but I used almond extract instead of vanilla. The nutty flavor balanced perfectly with the sweet batter and the tart plums.
Mix one cup of milk, three eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, two tablespoons of melted butter, and a teaspoon of almond extract (or vanilla if you’re a stickler for the original recipe) together until thoroughly mixed. And a half cup of all purpose flour and mix until smooth. Then pour the batter into a baking dish or oven-proof pan, and add the fruit of your choice. I halved and pitted some sugar plums, but feel free to use whatever you like. Put the pan into a pre-heated 325 degree oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. It kind of poofs up but then deflates pretty fast. It’s best warm, right out of the oven. It’s even better with a scoop of homemade ice cream over the top.
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