The Early Word: Vegan Cheese and Truffles at Cocoa V
Cocoa V bills itself as the city's first vegan chocolate and wine bar. The brainchild of Pamela Blackwell, who owns three locations of Blossom, a vegan restaurant and cafe, it opened two weeks ago on a stretch of Ninth Avenue populated by upscale housewares boutiques and decidedly non-vegan bakeries. Cocoa V is split into two sections: a truffle shop, which features non-dairy chocolate creations splayed alluringly underneath several feet of a glass display case, and a snug dining room with tastefully exposed brick walls and dark wooden tables. It's in the dining room that you can find wine, dessert, and, pictured above, a $16 plate of nut cheese.
Vegan cuisine, when done properly, features many, many wonderful dishes that need no animal products to amplify their already abundant charms. But if ever there was a vegan creation designed to drive away the curious, close an open mind, and further convince smug naysayers of the primacy of dairy, it is nut cheese.
Cocoa V's comes in three varieties: aged macadamia nut with herbs, cashew cheese, and cashew cheese with blue-green algae. None of them in any way, shape, or form resemble anything that came from an udder, or even the Kraft factory. If any of them had the rich, nuanced flavors reminiscent of their dairy counterparts, this wouldn't have been a problem. But the only detectable flavor was one of salty sourness that sat on the tongue like a drugged fat man. Accompanied by slices of dried fig and slathered with vegan honey -- which itself had an odd tackiness -- it was far less objectionable, sort of like something you'd enjoy high, at a party.
More objectionable was the price tag: one dried fig, a scattering of what Wheat Thins-like crackers, the aforementioned ersatz honey, and some wee wedges of nut cheese somehow added up to $16. It's true that nut cheese ain't cheap: a round of the Dr. Cow variety sells for around $7 online, and there's Chelsea rent and bills to pay. And one could also argue that the cost is really not so much more exorbitant than that of a regular cheese plate at many Manhattan restaurants. The only difference is, at least to a non-vegan, that the return on the investment isn't quite as satisfactory.