I have only a few days left before school starts and I’m pretty excited about it. I’m also waiting to see how I roll back into a curriculum. It’s been so long since I’ve been in to school, it will be interesting to see how I do. Next week, I’ll report on my first day and orientation. I’m sure I’ll be drowning in information. But on to the food.
Last night, I had dinner at Caravan of Dreams, an organic vegan restaurant. There was a time when labeling a restaurant “organic vegan” would have relegated that establishment to the “crunchy granola” crowd. Today, however, organic food is on the rise and “vegan” does not mean a slab of tofu on a bed of alfalfa sprouts chased with a glass of wheatgrass juice. Although you can still get that if that’s your pleasure, vegetarian cuisine has gone way beyond that.
Open since 1991, Caravan of Dreams strives to combine “world fusion” with healthful ingredients, particularly “under-used plants and superfoods,” while simultaneously elevating the common vegetarian/vegan experience. Indeed, the chefs at Caravan of Dreams marry ingredients that I wouldn’t have thought to combine, and quite successfully. The food here is also kosher, so all of you who adhere to Jewish dietary laws, you’re in for a treat.
The restaurant has a cozy, warm feeling to it with brick walls, a tin ceiling, and paper star lanterns (I love those). You can watch the food being prepared because the stove is right behind the long counter on one side of the dining room. There is live music nightly—the night we were there, a man was playing an eclectic repertoire of tunes on a piano at the back of the dining room.
My dinner companion and I shared several plates and were in agreement in our assessments of everything. We ordered two appetizers, a salad, two soups, two entrees, a dessert, and coffee. So, here’s an overview of what we had.
We started with a half-liter of Spiced Pear and Blood Orange Sangria. It was delicious and refreshing, if a little light on the wine. Slices of pear and blood orange swam in the pitcher and made sweet little teasers. After we ordered our meal, we were treated to an amuse bouche: a waiter came out with two little plates for us, each one with a slice of blood orange topped with a piece of avocado. It was a colorful combination and although combining avocado and citrus is hardly a new concept (I have a recipe in my forthcoming cookbook that combines avocado and citrus), I never would have thought to use blood orange. It was silky and sweet-tart, with a pleasant salty finish.
Roasted Winter Vegetables
This consisted of sweet squash, beets, and burdock served with a maple-mustard dressing. The vegetables were roasted simply, but the mustard dressing turned the dish into an elegant appetizer. The flavor is most definitely that of mustard, but with a slight sweetness that, had it not been on the menu, I wouldn’t have known it was maple syrup. I enjoyed this for its simplicity, the roasting bringing out the natural flavors of the vegetables, and its clever use of maple syrup to sweeten the mustard.
Fingerling potatoes are pan roasted and served over dollops of pimentón-tomato ali oli. Pimentón is Spanish paprika and ali oli is a garlic sauce (also known as aioli). The combination of the ingredients results in a sweet, tomato-y, tangy sauce. The fingerling potatoes are adorable little chunks, just the right size to dip into the sauce and nibble on. While this is a lovely dish, it is essentially just a plate of potatoes. If you specifically want a potato dish to accompany your meal, then this is a good choice. But if you’re looking for an intriguing appetizer, go with something else. There are more unique and interesting offerings to choose from.
Coconut Avocado Soup
It’s an odd combination for a soup, but it works. The soup, served cool, has a delicate coconut flavor and the avocado gives it a silky creaminess. It’s served with chia chips, which are a bit on the sour side, like sourdough bread.
Potato Asparagus Soup
This soup was utterly delicious. Smooth and creamy, it really sat well on a cold winter night. (My friend and I had just walked in from shoveling her car into a spot. Not out of a spot–into a spot. We’ve had so much snow that there are mountains of the stuff everywhere.) The multigrain bread that’s served on the side makes a nice dipper.
Salad: Arugula and Herb
This is a plate of arugula, basil, mint, and cilantro, thinly sliced local apples, toasted walnuts, and a balsamic dressing. My companion and I were both disappointed in this dish—she because she hates cilantro and the salad was riddled with it, I because I found it a bit on the bland side. It was all very fresh but the dressing was barely noticeable and the arugula had no bite to it. We were both underwhelmed by this salad.
The Spanish Paella is composed of basmati rice, slices of tofu, vegan sausage, artichokes, peas, and tomatoes, and is flavored with saffron and cilantro. The rice was perfectly cooked and the sausage was plentiful. However, there was one lone artichoke quarter and a little too much sliced tomato for my taste. My suggestion to them would be to up the quantity artichokes and tone down the tomatoes. I understand that artichokes are expensive but if you’re going to make them a feature of a dish, slapping one on top won’t do it. This is a decent dish but it didn’t wow me.
Cornmeal and Hefeweizen Crusted Tempeh
I love working with tempeh because it’s so versatile, and this preparation is actually one of my favorites. In fact, I’ve developed a similar recipe for my next cookbook, but I was quite impressed with this version. Tempeh is cut into triangles and breaded in a crust of cornmeal and herbs and spices. Hefeweizen is a type of beer, so I’m guessing that the tempeh is dipped in it for moisture (since it’s a vegan place, there would be no eggs involved, so I’m not sure what else they may use with the beer). The coating is crispy and flavorful and is complemented beautifully by mashed white beans, parsnip sauce, and wilted spinach, and accented with a balsamic reduction. The dish is filling and light, and I highly recommend it.
Dessert: Coco Mango Pie
This pie has the appearance of a cheesecake, but it is incredibly light in texture. Made from coconut, it is snowy white and drizzled with raspberry sauce. The flavor is unusual (in a good way), but I’m wondering how they incorporate the mango because if they use mango puree, the pie would not be as white as it is. Hmmm. The crust is not a typical pie crust—it resembled a graham-cracker crust, but it seemed to be a mixture of several ground grains.
Grain coffee is made from roasted barley, rye, dandelion seed, and chicory. Having a cup of this is a great way to enjoy an after-dinner café with your companions without worrying about the caffeine. This decoction has an herbal flavor to it and it’s a fun departure from regular coffee; however, if you’re looking for a traditional coffee flavor in your beverage, this may not be the brew for you.
I plan on going back to Caravan of Dreams to try more of their unique offerings. Like any restaurant, it will have hits and misses but, overall, this one’s a keeper on my repeat list.
Caravan of Dreams
405 E. 6th Street
New York, NY 10009