Angelica Kitchen - 300 East 12th Street (1st/2nd Avenue) (Vegetarian/Vegan)
An east village landmark, Angelica's has been around since 1976 - serving organic vegan fare before it was popular, hip and celebrity-endorsed...and before the existance of relative newcomers to the scene (such as Blossom, Candle Cafe, Pure Food and Wine, and the venerable though grungy Kate's.) Not surprisingly, many longtime vegans view Angelica with fondness, and more than a touch of nostalgia. With its many fans - and rave reviews--Angelica's was an inevitable stop on my tour of the New York veggie scene. This Friday I took the plunge, and walked into Angelica's to sample the wares.
My interest was takeout (which at Angelica's is served from a separate section, adjacent to the main dining area.) It was lunchtime, and despite Angelica's reputation for long lines, the wait time was minimal. Though sometimes known for their stuffy demeanor, a chat with the staff proved equally pleasant, with the woman behind the counter happily discussing the various dessert and cornbread options. In the interest of variety I ordered the picnic plate sampler, accompanied by a side of wheat free cornbread, and apple crumb pie (topped with whipped cream made from maple syrup and tofu.) Given my sweet tooth, the pie went first - the smooth slices of apple and chewy bread crumb combining into a perfect texture. Sweet--but not too heavy on the stomach--the pie proved to be a great start to the meal.
Unfortunately, it was also the highlight. I had chosen five options for the picnic platter (the maximum available) - sampling the walnut lentil pate, pickled vegetables, ruby kraut, a live curried cashew spread and kinpira (burdock root, carrots and ginger, tossed with a teriyaki sauce.) Given the pickles and kraut, the plate was colorful...but the taste uniformly bland, with barely a hint of ginger in the kinpira, and almost no punch to the pickles (which are hard to get wrong.) The walnut pate had barely any taste - a true disappointment given the complex flavors recently experienced at Jubbs Longevity (a live food establishment located in nearby Alphabet City.) Despite its popularity, the signature cornbread proved no better - nicely moist, and generously large, but devoid of flavor. The only flavor to the meal was the curried cashew spread - which was terribly salty, and barely curried.
It was too bad. After all, I'd enjoyed the staff and the apple pie. Fans at Angelicas rave about the food - calling it phenominal and awesome, an experience which I somehow missed. True, there remain other untried favorites at Angelica's - from the famous dragon bowl to soba noodles and marinated tofu sandwiches. But time is limited, and despite five different tastings, the picnic platter fell terribly flat. So for me, there won't be a return trip.