Saturday, November 10, 2007

birthday brunch

Hello, and welcome to another installment of VeganMoFo! This month, I have been thinking a lot about food, vegan food in particular, and what makes a great meal. Veganism has come a long way. Not only do we have access to millions of recipes both on-line and through increasingly sophisticated cookbooks, but many of us are fortunate enough to live in places where veganism's presence is increasing, with restaurants rising up alongside it. Therefore, we have the luxury of sitting back and pondering just what it is that makes a great meal, without having to worry about getting our hands on food that we can eat!

As you might know, I live a very long-distance life. Most of my friends and family live 100's, if not 1000's of miles apart. Daiku and I are lucky if we see our parents more than once a year, let alone loved ones who live in, say, San Jose, Stockholm, Melbourne, Tehran, or St. Louis. Increasingly, I have come to the conclusion that a meal is vastly improved when you have good company to share it with. The most humble food, the most mundane situation, can be memorable if there is someone there experiencing it with you.

That being said, we were very lucky that, through sheer chance, our friend Sharon was going to be in town for her birthday. It was a very special birthday. I can't reveal her age, but let's just say that it is a very significant and round number and leave it at that! Sharon is a vegetarian pondering veganism, so our group decided to go to Counter, a fabulous haute veggie restaurant in the East Village for a celebratory brunch.

Here is what we had:

Sangria, made with organic vegan red wine. But I don't have to qualify it- it was just some good sangria!

Tony's root beer float. This isn't some wussy root-beer, it is a sasparilla-infused tonic that will seriously kick your ass. (Flashback time- I remember going on a field trip to an "old West" town back in the 5th grade, where they messed with my 10 year-old brain by telling us that sasparilla is a mixture of Coke and root beer. Now, almost 20 years later, I know that sasparilla is a root that gives real root beer its distinctive taste. However, I can't help it, I still mix Coke and root beer every chance I get - this horrifies some people, but I think it's a delicious drink!)

North African tofu scrambled platter: rice and peas, merguez sausage on skewers, spicy scrambled tofu, greens and toast.

Country breakfast platter: scrambled tofu, merguez sausage, mesclun mix, toast, and home fried potatoes.

Italian farmhouse panini- possibly my favorite dish at Counter: it is a flavorful mixture of walnut pâté, rosemary-infused aioli and tomato on a crusty ciabatta roll. I'm sorry that this dark and blurry photo does this wondrous dish no justice!

My French toast with bananas flambe, which I ordered as soon as I saw that it was the day's special. When I was served, I was a little shocked at the presentation- it was so monochromatic and... gloppy looking! When I tasted it, I was relieved- it tasted truly good. Still, since this is VeganMoFo, I'll get on my little soapbox... there is no excuse for bad presentation! Food has to look good! A lot of people might be thinking about veganism, on the fence about whether or not to take what for many is a culinary plunge. Well, I guarantee you, this French toast is not what is going to push anyone over to the vegan side. A lot of times, I am reminded that we vegans are not only cooking for vegans- we are cooking as a testament for the whole world, and our food better look appetizing! Especially if we are an expensive restaurant. (Wouldn't you be more likely to give vegan French toast a try if it looked like this? Or this?)

Finally, our waiter was nice enough to give us this basket of fresh-baked muffins (poppy seed, blueberry, and banana-walnut) instead of the biscotti that some of our platters came with. The muffins were great, but the best part of this was the trio of spreads that came with it: raspberry butter, sangria jelly, and hand-made nutella- YUM! The sangria jelly was a revelation, the nutella was, it goes without saying, awesome. Well, you can't go wrong, ever, with the chocolate/hazelnut combination, right?

Sharon, the birthday girl.

Here's a previous review I posted about Counter in February (includes a better panini photo!)

Restaurant Info:

105 First Ave (b/t 6th and 7th)
New York, NY 10003



maybepigscanfly said...

Yum- everything looks great! And I hope that being vegan only becomes easier. I can't wait till more cities and little towns are as veg friendly as NYC and SF.

Ahh yes- if food looks good, people will definitely be more inclined to eat it. Isn't that like restaurant 101?

Lunch Buckets said...

Home. Fried. Potatoes. Awesomeness.

Celine said...

I'm positive that if someone tries really hard, something wrong could come out of a chocolate/hazelnut combo, but I won't try.
I need to try and learn to love root beer. teach me!

Anonymous said...

that looks so good, lucky girl!

Vegan_Noodle said...

What an awesome birthday brunch! Hopefully it helps nudge Sharon a little closer to veganism (minus the look of the french toast). I always stress out when I'm cooking for company for just that reason. I don't want them to think vegan food is any less sophisticated than fancy omnivore food. John and I always talk about how it is percieved that vegans are cheap and eat only "hippie food" (his words).
Good things to think about during this month of food...

VeggieGirl said...

how lovely that your friend Sharon just happened to be in town for her birthday!! I've heard mixed reviews about Counter, so I'm glad to read your take on the place (especially since I'm putting together a list of restaurants to go to, for my upcoming NYC trip).

The North African tofu scrambled platter, Country Breakfast platter, Italian farmhouse panini, and fresh-baked muffins look spectacular!! Too bad that the French Toast wasn't up to standards - that's a shame, since vegan French Toast is usually (and should be) superb!!

Emilie said...

I worship that panini. It is so good! The first time I had it I think I just stared and stared at it, trying to unlock its secrets. The waiter had to ask me what was wrong and I just said, "this is too good. It's perplexingly good."

I too am of the opinion that every bread basket should come with a trio of spreads. I was once served a "trilogy of sorbets" and have been convinced ever since that food, like fantasy novels are best served in threes.

aTxVegn said...

Counter sounds excellent, a perfect place to celebrate. I so agree that food tastes better when shared with friends and family.

Unilove said...

Hello Bazu:

As usual,your posts and photos are wonderful.

While I am neither vegan nor vegetarian, my niece is and her friends and so I eat vegan meals regularly. When we go to trendy vegan restaurants, the presentation is so beautiful that it completely encourages one to taste and exclaim!

And your point is valid and true: people only being exposed occasionally to veganism will judge the movement by a poor presentation like the french toast.

You are amazing, as always...

textual bulldog said...

wow, i am so intrigued by your comments about the magic of that pannini! you should try to replicate it and then give us all the recipe ;) happy round numbered birthday to your friend.

Anonymous said...

I too love coke and root beer mixed together. When I was in the 4th grade we went to Sonora, CA and they had an old west town and a saloon where they actually gave us sasparilla root beers. I'm surprised now that I liked it as much as I did.

vko said...

what a fun birthday brunch! I always love me some sangria...

Emmie said...

I have such a crush on you (don't tell daiku, i SAW that halloween costume and I don't trust him one bit!) and if you ever come to Sweden I'll train up to Stockholm and we can hang out. I have friends there I see too rarely anyway : /

Also, I am amazed and so envious of all the delish vegan food you can get going out. Here in Lund the only place I can go for coffee and a snack is this one cafe where all the 13 year old goth girls hang out. I can get coffee with soymilk in a few more places but then there's nothing to snack on. So so so envious!

runswithdog said...

Oh man! Counter is on my list to eat at. It all looks so good.