Garden of Eating: Blossom Brings the Vegan Goods in Chelsea
I've wanted to check out the Chelsea outpost of Blossom (187 Ninth Avenue; 212-627-1144) ever since I tried to meet my cousin there for dinner on a Monday night, only to find out it was booked solid and without a reservation, we were out of luck. "Wow," I thought. "A vegan restaurant that requires a reservation for a Monday-night dinner?" I'd been to the Upper West Side location a number of times, always without a reservation, and never had a problem. The Chelsea location, I figured, must be even better.
Nearly a year later, I finally made it to the Ninth Avenue restaurant and discovered that while, yes, the food is generally very good, that's not the reason it's so much harder to get into than the one uptown. It has more to do with size. If the Columbus Avenue Blossom is organized like a well-maintained, perfectly ordered garden, with its spacious, shiny, and organized interior, the one in Chelsea is more like an overgrown backyard: still pretty, but overcrowded and a little messy.
Having properly planned ahead by making a reservation, I met my friend -- who like my aforementioned cousin keeps kosher and therefore represents a large portion of Blossom's non-vegetarian patronage -- at the restaurant. Perusing the lunch menu, which includes creative reinterpretations of usually non-vegetarian fare, as well as restaurant staples like pastas and green salads, it quickly became clear that this was the way to go: The lunch items, many identical to those on the dinner menu, are significantly cheaper than their evening counterparts.
As someone who has only been a vegetarian for several years, I relish opportunities to try meat- and fish-free versions of old favorites, so I was delighted to order the caesar salad, something I generally forgo these days because standard recipes call for anchovies. I was impressed: It tasted a lot like I remembered. My companion thought it was tasty but remarked that it didn't taste like the real thing. Still, the capers were a clever bait-and-switch for the fish, and the nutty flavor was pleasantly surprising. The "Black-eyed Pea Cake" was delicious -- a breaded and fried potato-and-black-eyed-pea medallion covered in a spicy chipotle sauce. But the soup du jour, a huge portion of potato-leek soup, was surprisingly unremarkable, lacking both the flavor punch and creativity that the other starters had. Oh, well, they can't all be winners.
If you're hitting Blossom for brunch, then you'll probably want to try the French toast, not least because it comes with a side of tempeh bacon. In a feat of culinary magic, the French toast itself manages to be exactly what you want it to be: crisp on the outside, soft on the inside -- without eggs. ("How'd they do that?," my friend wants to know.) The strawberries are fresh and add a pop of color to the otherwise brown-and-brown dish. But the tempeh...wel, let's just say if you're a vegetarian looking for fake bacon, stick with Morningstar Farms.
The "Southern Seitan Sandwich" wedges spiced, crusty seitan, avocado, caramelized onions, romaine lettuce and chipotle aioli between two slices of Blossom's "rustic rosemary focaccia." With this dish, the restaurant manages to pull off the ultimate trick in meat-free cooking: serving a fake meat product that neither tastes like meat nor makes you miss the real thing. It simply stands on its own. Seitan for seitan's sake. (Tip: Ask for it warmed.)
By the time we left, every table in the room was filled. Quick hellos with other diners were exchanged -- it's hard to go to any certified kosher restaurant in New York and not run into someone you know from high school/summer camp/some Israel program -- and we left, satisfied both by the meal and the bag of leftovers that would also become my dinner, reservation not required.