Fine Dining For All

Vegan cuisine has come a long way in just the past decade. Beginning as humble hippie fare, there are now numerous restaurants elevating the meatless and milkless to the level of fine dining. Candle 79, self-proclaimed “vegan oasis” in New York City, is one of the first restaurants that come to mind in this category, as they’ve consistently excelled in the field even before mainstream diners were aware of the growing movement. Be that as it may, two outposts in one city creates a relatively limited sphere of influence, and vegetable-lovers all throughout the country could only drool and dream over their lavishly written menus. As of 2012, that unattainable fantasy is now a concrete reality, thanks to the release of the Candle 79 Cookbook. Scores of elegant dishes, complex flavors, and fancier fare than the standard weeknight meal, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a solid entry in this field of vegan cooking. The previously released Candle Cafe Cookbook could almost be viewed as the starting point on a journey up the fine dining staircase; this new entry finally makes it to the top.

Seeking an elegant starter to whet my appetite, the Heirloom Tomato-Avocado Tartare (page 6) was a stunningly easy recipe to whip together. Not entirely dissimilar to chunky guacamole, minus the heat, fresh, bright, and clean flavors balanced in delicate harmony. The addition of oyster mushrooms struck me as particularly brilliant, lending a subtle savory undertone without disrupting the texture. Speaking of which, the combination of creamy avocado and the garnish of crunchy tortilla strips was spot-on, and although that finishing touch may appear minimal, do not feel tempted to leave them out! While the rest of the tartare is very clean and light, that fried topping brings a touch of decadence and whimsy back to the dish.

Moroccan-Spiced Chickpea Cakes (page 66) were a clear choice from the moment I cracked open the book’s binding. A more involved plate calling for three separate elements, it could certainly be simplified with a store-bought chutney or curry sauce, but you’d be missing out, because the real winner of this combination was the Red Bell Pepper-Curry Sauce (page 117.) I was scraping my plate clean with a spoon long after the chickpea cake was devoured, and have plans to make a new batch of sauce for pasta, veggies, and anything else I can throw together. Subtly sweet, mildly spiced but incredibly flavorful, this is an absolute winner. Even though I cheated a bit and used yellow peppers instead of red, I don’t think this dressing suffered in the least.

Let’s not forget the chickpea cake in the glory of the curry sauce, though! Striking me as the perfect sort of burger patty, I would make those again in a heart-beat come grilling season. Between two buns, this fine fare could blend right in to the everyday meal. Moist without being mushy inside, crisp on the outside (admittedly, after an extra 20 minutes of baking) and redolent of smoked paprika, I can’t imagine anyone not loving this.

Next time, I could do without the chutney, which was doomed from the start knowing my distaste for fruit in savories. To make a more seasonally appropriate offering, and because I couldn’t possibly find apricots in January, I converted the Apricot Chutney (page 125) to a green apple chutney. The ginger pairs beautifully with the tart apples, so I think it would be a hit… With someone who appreciates such a thing.

Seeking a quick fix for dinner one day, the Setian Wheatballs (page 94) stood out as an easy, hearty entree. Normally not the sort of recipe that draws me in, I was most enticed by the fact that we had all of the ingredients on hand, and the falling snow outside dissuaded me from a quick grocery trip. Though tender and tasty enough, they seemed a bit too delicate for a “meatball,” and very mild in flavor. They almost disappeared into the mild-mannered store bought sauce (yes, I cheated) and plain spaghetti. Overall, inoffensive but forgettable.

Finally, ending on a sweet note, the Sourdough French Toast (page 136) had me intrigued. Using a custard that seemed more like unbaked cheesecake batter, it was clear that this would be far richer than my typical approach. True to form, it was not quite like a “traditional” egg-based French toast according to my omnivorous dining companion, but different does not mean bad. Lightly spiced and plenty sweet without any additional syrup, I can’t say it’s my favorite rendition, but it’s a nice change of pace from the norm.

If you’ve made it this far through my exhaustive descriptions, your patience will be rewarded because you now have a chance at winning your own copy of the Candle 79 Cookbook! It took some string-pulling and help from the gracious, lovely, and ultra-talented Mimi Clark to secure a second book, but I really wanted to share this unique text. To enter, your question is this: What Candle 79 dish would you most like to try? It can be a recipe from the cookbook or anything on the menu, past or present. Leave me a comment with your name and email in the appropriate fields before Tuesday, January 31st at midnight EST to have your entry count. This one is open to residents of the US only, because it is a woefully heavy hardcover to ship.

79 thoughts on “Fine Dining For All

  1. Oh my goodness, those photos are amazing! I have to try the Heirloom Tomato-Avocado Tartare and now I’ll have to serve them in martini glasses too – because it really does scream 5-star dining. I would love to win a copy of this cookbook and try out these delicious recipes!

  2. Oh my goodness, that Heirloom Tomato-Avocado Tartare looks fancy schmancy and super yum. I would love to try that one!
    (thank you!)

  3. I would love to try making the Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Cakes, especially after your description of the red curry sauce!

  4. I went to look at the menu, and I’m surprised to say I would most like to eat the Seitan Piccata, because it has spinach AND mushrooms on the side. Yum. Though the photo of the Tomato-Avocado Tartare is why I am commenting to enter the drawing for the cookbook. I love the way you photograph food!

  5. Your description of that red pepper curry sauce has me swooning. By the way, don’t apologize for what you peg as “exhaustive descriptions”; they allowed me to virtually savor each and every nuance of the dish. For that, I’m grateful.

  6. Amazing food styling, Hannah. The tortilla strips look like a yummy addition to the salad. I want to eat it all, to be honest. Just couldn’t resist commenting–not trying to win the book, as I’m in Canada.

  7. Ooooooh! That sourdough French Toast recipe sounds yummy! I am always looking for a new breakfast recipe!

  8. Yum! I have added it to my Amazon wish list. Both your photo and the photo in the book preview of the Tomato-Avocado Tartare make it look delicious, but I’d really like to try any one of the vegan crepe recipes.

  9. I don’t have this book yet, and I NEED it! Every time I log into Amazon it glares at me from my wish list…
    I would absolutely try those Moroccan-Spiced Chickpea Cakes with the red-pepper-curry sauce first!

  10. When I visited Candle 79 last year I ordered the Seitan Piccata and almost had a heart attack it was SO good! Since then I have wanted to try to recreate it and the wheatballs that come on their spaghetti (YUM!). I was so thrilled when the cookbook came out. I would love to win a copy of the cookbook to try them!

  11. Would love to try the morrocon spiced chickpea cakesand Apple crumble.your page has me drooling absolutely delish.

  12. Lovely review! I’d really enjoy trying the Stuffed Avocado with Quinoa Pilaf and Chipotle-Avocado Dressing. I don’t know anything about the dish other than its title, but… STUFFED AVOCADO. WHAT.

  13. OOOOOH goodness!!!! I’m gonna have to go straight with the appetizers! They look so bomb. Zucchini Blossom Tempura, Arancini w/Roasted Plum Tomato Sauce, & Cashew Cheese Stuffed Yucca Cakes. Yucca & Zucchini Blossom are some of my favorite, strange veggies!

  14. Spiced Mushroom Pate!!! Page 19, according to the Amazon “look inside this book” option.
    I used to love pate (I know…it’s gross…) Mushrooms have always been a favorite of mine, and if my last meal were a loaf of bread, I’d die happy. I think that appetizer is one I’d LOVE to try!

  15. Seitan picatta and polenta fries! I feel like the polenta fries would be delicious with the lemon caper sauce from the picatta.

  16. I would love to learn how to make their BUTTERNUT SQUASH RAVIOLI. It is on their dinner menu as a starter but I would love to order two dishes of it as my dinner.

  17. Drooling!!! OMG! I have been wanting to find a good vegan crepe recipe for awhile, love to try thew wildwood mushroom, spring veggie crepe
    and definitely want to try the summer berry crumble dessert! Yum!

  18. Of course I went to the Desserts section of their menu first. I would LOVE to try the Cannoli – “vanilla cream filling, ginger-pumpkin ice cream, chocolate sauce”. It sounds almost worth the price of the plane ticket to get there.

  19. Oh my, oh my! I’m going with the French toast, because that’s one of my favourite things in the whole wide world–and, thankfully, I’ve got a U.S. Mail box… :-)

  20. It’s not fair to make us choose just one with amazing pictures like these! I guess I’d go with the Morrocan-spiced chickpea cakes, but if I win I reserve the right to change my mind :)

  21. I am a new vegan and I need all the help I can get! The seitan meatballs look amazing and so does the french toast. Please, help a struggling new vegan to stick with the program!

  22. I really adore Candle 79 and can’t believe I haven’t bought this book yet! If I don’t’s going straight into my Amazon cart. the mustard-ginger grilled tempeh on their menu right now sounds like something I’d really adore!

  23. definitely the seitan recipes. i’ve been loving experimenting with it… grilled, smoked, sauteed… i need more ideas.

  24. I had no idea what the expression “Sourdough French Toast ” could stand for, and now I know exactly what it is in my language.
    As usual very nice and appealing photographies ! Everything looks really yummy even the balls that do not seem to have been fabulous according to your review. However the Chickpea cake is really intriguing, even more saw when I read what you thought about it. It must be really good !

    I stopped not far from Candle Cafe when I was in NYC last year. Simply to take a picture of the outside, and I tried to look through the window. I was busy in there, and no tables available, which may confirm your saying about it being one of the most famous vegan restaurant, and known in the whole country.

  25. I love Candle 79, I’ve been a few times when I am in NYC and it is always a special event. Their piccata is amazing. I’ve tried to recreate it multiple times but it just doesn’t taste the same. These chickpea cakes look awesome! I love curry and would be excited about trying these.

  26. I would like to try the wheatballs. I’m on a quest for meatballs as the ones that I found that I liked turned out to have egg in them.

  27. The Cashew Cheese-Stuffed Yuca Cakes look delish! But I have to say, the Chickpea Cakes you posted are now vying for the top position.

  28. Setian Wheatballs looks exactly like real meatballs. My husbands sisters are pure vegan and I am always lost when I invite them for dinner this will be so perfect and the surprise on their face priceless.

  29. I would definitely make the Long Life Soup. If the title isn’t alluring enough, the quarter cup of minced garlic and shiitake mushrooms seal the deal for me :)

  30. I would kill for a copy! The chickpea cake in curry sauce looks divine. My favorite candle 79 dishes (being a newyorker I have been lucky enough to eat there) are probably their fried green tomato cakes, salt and pepper oyster mushrooms, and seitan piccata.. yummmm

  31. I’ve never cooked through a cookbook from cover to cover, but I will try it with this one! I guess if I had to pick one to make right now, I’d go with the saffron ravioli with wild mushrooms and cashew cheese. I haven’t had ravioli in years, and mushrooms are my favorite!

  32. I love veggie burgers and really want to try their black bean and chipotle burger. I hope I can! Thanks.

  33. Oh, those chickpea cakes look awesome! Betcha that would be the first thing I’d make if I had this cookbook!

  34. I went to Candle 79 for my birthday this year and their seitan piccata was AMAZING! They must have used about a stick of vegan butter haha… so worth it! That is what I’d make.

    -Hilary Leister (

  35. Someone already mentioned the seitan piccata, but that is what I had when I went there a while ago and it was so amazing! I was debating between that and the chili-grilled seitan when I was there and I still what to try that. I love mole sauce and anything with avocado always catches my attention!

  36. I’d definitely want to make all of the desserts in this. But the Stuffed pablano peppers also sound amazing, as does the ravioli. Ok, now my mouth is watering. Yum!

  37. Being a huge tempeh fan, I would love a recipe for the mustard-ginger grilled tempeh, as well as all the numerous parts that go along with it on their current menu! I will actually be able to eat there for the first time this Friday, to celebrate my mom’s birthday, and I am a little overwhelmed while trying to sort through all the amazing-sounding choices :) Thank you for doing the giveaway, and for keeping up with such a fantastic blog!

  38. This is one of my favorite vegan restaurants! I would love to win a copy of their cookbook and try out their seitan piccata recipe (and pretty much anything else–it all looks yummy)

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