Burger king Made by Lukas changes the veggie burger game

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Lukas Volger wrote the book on veggie burgers.

Literally: He’s the author of Veggie Burgers Every Which Way.

So there are few people out there as qualified to know just what makes an excellent veggie burger. No wonder Volger’s line of burgers, Made by Lukas are some of the best we’ve ever tasted.

We love that Lukas doesn’t let his product be hemmed in by the “traditional” shape of a burger. Instead of coming in pre-formed frozen pucks, the fresh mixes allow you to make whatever shape you’d like, from a hulking patty to petite bites.

Lukas Volger, aka Mr. veggie burger

Made by Lukas offers three unconventional flavors, all made from easily recognizable whole foods (no mystery ingredients here): Beet, Carrot & Parsnip, and Kale ($9 to $11; see where to buy them here). Says Lukas, “They’re comprised primarily—80 percent—of fresh vegetables, which we source up in the Hudson Valley whenever possible, and are rounded off with quinoa, seeds, millet, and spices. There’s no soy, wheat, dairy, or any weird additives. The primary concept here is that it’s a veggie burger that tastes like delicious vegetables.”

Lukas loves forming little silver-dollar bites from the beet variety and serving them with hummus. In our kitchen, we found the burger mixes to be fun to play around with, easy to form and a snap to cook to a nice caramelized crust in a skillet lightly oiled with olive or coconut oil.

We love them on top of a dark greens salad with a swipe of yogurt and preserved lemon, crumbled into stir frys or flattened into a vegetable pancake topped with a fried egg.

What will you come up with?

Up, up and away Upland is a culinary double-threat

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Feeling frustrated at your lack of ability to cross space and time borders? Head to Upland: it’s like visiting California and Italy at the same time.

This newly opened Flatiron restaurant from Justin Smillie is a beacon of bright citrus, California cool and Italian warmth. Smillie, who previously worked at perennial favorite, Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, has taken his Italian training and crossed it with his California roots. “I was born in Upland, California, and the region’s straightforward approach to cooking, as well as its produce, continues to inspire me today,” says Smillie.

Interesting vegetable preparations abound. There is the hunk of maitake mushrooms crisped in olive oil and resting on a bed of tangy farmstead cheese ($16), beets with white chocolate ($11) and slow-roasted celery root with black truffle butter ($15).

Upland’s porcelet comes draped with greens, Jimmy Nardello peppers,onions and persimmon slices.

We loved that every main dish we tried highlighted vegetables and none of them were overcooked or hidden under heavy sauces. Take the porcelet ($35): this crackling piece of pork is ringed with slender, sweet heirloom Jimmy Nardello peppers from Norwich Meadows Farm, charred onions and pieces of persimmon.

Upland can’t change the weather outside, but it can give you the warm fuzzies with its food, technique and welcoming atmosphere (no question about food or ingredients is unwelcome here). The word has already gotten out, so make a reservation in advance, show up early to snag a seat at the handsome bar or try your luck at lunch.

Upland
345 Park Avenue S.
www.uplandnyc.com
211-686-1006

Darling Darrow’s Union Square gets the healthful spot it deserves

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What’s in a name? Everything if you are Darrow’s Farm Fresh Takeout.

Although we would also happily call the new Union Square spot “We Want to Eat Lunch Here Every Day.”

Darrow’s takes a cue from its neighbor and sources as much as it can from the Greenmarket. Nutritionist Julie Starr, along with chef David Kupperberg formerly of Pure Food & Wine are the dream team who are making this menu hum.

Start your day with sheep’s milk or coconut yogurt and seasonal fruit ($4.75). Grey mornings that require an infusion of color will benefit from pan-seared peppers with polenta and avocado ($8.75).

At lunch it’s all about the Functional Plates ($13.75), which are a balanced meal with a goal (such as stress relief, energy or immunity) in mind: For instance, The Immunity Plate is a striking mix of black rice with kabocha squash, roasted carrots and broccolini.

The living wall and iPad ordering system makes Darrow’s the hippest place to grab a bite.

Darrow’s is casual enough for a lunch meeting, but sleek enough for a pre-dinner boozy cocktail with cold-pressed juice ($11 to 15) while oohing and ahhing at the living wall upstairs. Keep your eyes out for the cow that sporadically makes an appearance on the screen near the in-house market.

For all its simple, nutritious food, Darrow’s is also super high-tech. Self-service iPads at every table speed up the ordering process. When you settle on what you want (no easy feat), your order is sent directly to the kitchen and you can pay whenever you’d like.

Darrow’s kicks restrictive labels like “vegan,” “raw” and “macrobiotic” to the curb, in favor of clean, unprocessed and local food. Darrow’s shows you don’t have to adhere religiously to any fervent food philosophy to be eating well. We raise our glass of Darrow’s Detox (parsley, kale, green apple, mango, almond milk, lemon and ginger; $10) to that.

Darrow’s Farm Fresh Takeout
115 E. 18th St.
212-321-0997
darrowsnyc.com

Galen’s Almanac A new West Village spot puts seasonal vegetables at the fore

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We’re just going to come out and say it: Almanac is simply wonderful.

And if this weather continues, we’re giving notice to our landlord and putting in a request with chef Galen Zamarra to see if we can move in permanently.

There’s the bar, helmed with large blocks of stone and dotted with votive candles. Overhead circular iron chandeliers lend intimate light and the tables have honest-to-goodness linen tablecloths. The friendly service, lovely place settings and low noise level are all on point. Read: This is a place to make a reservation, commit to a tasting menu, have a real conversation and generally revel in a grown-up night out.

Chef Galen Zamarra (of Mas (farmhouse)) is not just into seasonality, he’s into micro-seasons. Zamarra believes that each part of the season (for instance, early fall, mid-fall and late fall) has its own distinctive bounty, rhythm and growing cycle nuance.

Make a reservation and enjoy a grown-up night out at Almanac.

For example, Zamarra juices his squash at the beginning of its harvest and roasts it at the end, because the squash’s moisture changes throughout the season. Nose-to-tail here doesn’t just refer to eliminating waste and using the whole animal, but also to the fish and vegetables he sources: No part gets left behind.

Experience his hyper-seasonal vision with a three-course menu for $75, five-courses for $95, or eight for $145.

Our recent visit had us raving over roasted Island Creek Oysters mingling with ribbons of buttery leeks and pears and parsnips. Zamarra is having a particular love affair right now with the wintry taste of pine. Find wild steelhead trout smoked with pine and juniper and a dish of celery root carpaccio draped with shaved matsutake mushrooms, pine aioli and a smoked pine vinegar.

Have you made your reservation yet?

Almanac
28 Seventh Ave.
212-255-1795
almanacnyc.com

Nut case Tigernuts are utterly delicious

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We’re going nuts over a nut that isn’t really a nut. Stick with us on this one.

Tigernuts: They’ve got nut in the name, but they are not technically a nut. They are actually tubers (like carrots or parsnips) that grow underground.

High in fiber and proteins, these sweet, slightly nutty tasting tubers put the super in superfood. Tigernuts have as much iron as spinach and as much potassium as coconut water. They are rich in oleic acid—the stuff we love in olive oil—as well as in vitamins C and E. These wrinkly little guys are the also a leading source of resistant starch, a pre-biotic fiber that fuels the good probiotic bacteria in your stomach.

Co-founders George Papanastasatos and Mariam Kinkladze quality checking their tigernuts.

Mariam Kinkladze discovered tigernuts in Niger while doing humanitarian work. Fascinated by how great she felt after eating them, she dove into research and testing and eventually founded Organic Gemini, which specializes in tigernut products.

Now you can head to the Meatpacking District’s Gansevoort Market (near the south entrance to the High Line), where Organic Gemini has set up its flagship booth.

We are huge fans of Kinkladze’s healthy version of horchata ($9); her chai version is sugar free and spiked with Ceylon (Sri Lankan) cinnamon and Himalayan pink salt. Anyone with gluten senstitvies or nut allergies should be psyched to discover tigernut flour ($13); it bakes up beautifully with a rich flavor reminiscent of chestnuts. Tigernut oil ($19) has a golden color, rich taste and can be used like olive oil. Pro tip: If you want to chomp on the tubers themselves ($6), try giving them a soak to soften up.

Organic Gemini
Gansevoort Market
52 Gansevoort St.
212-242-1701

Easy love Healthy eaters will find bountiful choices at Vic's

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If you are still feeling all weepy about the closure of Five Points, you can stop the sniffling now.

Husband-and-wife team Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman (of the wonderful Hundred Acres and Cookshop), have rebooted and revamped the NoHo space beautifully into a chipper Italian-Mediterranean spot, Vic’s.

With its copper bar, massive skylight and exposed original brick walls—(fun factoid: the location was once the Astor family’s stables)—the airy, fresh atmosphere is easy to settle into.

Vic’s: casual, affordable with food that will have you coming back again … and again.

We are crushing on Vic’s hard because it’s already showing itself to be one of those crucial keep-it-in-your-back pocket NYC restaurants. Vic’s is the kind of place that makes us smack our heads and go “why can’t more restaurants be like this?”, where it’s possible to go nuts ordering one night (pork shoulder with pink peppercorns; $26) and then keep things more healthful the next (poached cod with kale, meyer lemon, leeks and almonds; $26).

We’d happily eat a meal composed of chef Hillary Sterling’s rollicking seasonal vegetables (no boring sides here). Roasted squash is jazzed up with brown butter vinaigrette and balsamic almond bread crumbs ($8), while heirloom carrots are radiant when dashed with dill, capers and roasted shallots ($6). Vegetables even wend their way into dessert: Look for parsnips in the honey cake ($9).

It’s the little touches here that will happily threaten to turns us all into regulars, including kicky goat butter, the availability of reasonably-sized half portions of every pasta dish and simple belly warmers like a fennel-tomato broth minestrone with kale and parsnips ($9).

Vic’s
31 Great Jones St.
212-253-5700
vicsnewyork.com

Happy meal Fast food never looked or tasted so good

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We get the allure of fast food; really we do. Convenient hours, speedy service and decent prices are all so sweet, but gut-punching mystery meat and trans-fat consumption as part of the deal make it no deal at all.

That’s where Lyfe Kitchen rolls in. You may have already heard of the fast-casual chain, as it’s already making waves in California, Texas, Colorado, Illinois and Nevada. But now is really the time to sit up and take notice as the first NYC location has debuted in Midtown West.

It’s like the chain’s owners (who were once chefs to single name greats like Ellen and Oprah) have found the sweet spot on the X-Y axis that are healthfulness and affordability (see the menu here). Lyfe balances pricing by thoughtfully choosing produce from the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, while sticking with antibiotic-free meats and eggs from cage-free chickens.

Lyfe Kitchen uses great ingredients to make their tasty, nutritious and beautiful dishes. 

Below, four things to know before you hop into Lyfe Kitchen’s fast-moving line.

1. Loud and Proud: You’ll never have a question about what you are ingesting whether it’s a grass-fed beef burger ($10; served with a kale and carrot salad) or a quinoa crunch wrap with local vegetables ($9). Lyfe Kitchen proudly displays a full ingredient list, as well as calorie, sodium and nut allergy information. Paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan eaters are all well covered here.

2. Drink Up: Smoothies and tasty drinks that cost $10 leave us clutching our wallets. Here, you can get grilled Mahi fish tacos on warm corn tortillas for that same $10 and spend just $1.50 on a ginger mint chia water, or $5 on a kale banana smoothie.

3. Take The Stairs: The first floor seating may be convenient, but space and natural light can be found overhead. Grab a table upstairs when you are done ordering and your food will be brought up to you.

4. Make It Faster: We found nothing but smiling employees and lighting-quick service on our trip to Lyfe Kitchen, but to really make things fly order ahead of time online.

Lyfe Kitchen,
248 W. 55th St.
212-265-5933
lyfekitchen.com

2014 Round Up Our favorite stories from 2014

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As the year draws to a close, we’re looking back on our greatest, tastiest and healthiest hits. Read on for some favorites, handpicked by the Clean Plates Team—and you.

Readers’ Pick: Our story on LuliTonix juice and veggie blends was your favorite of the year. We’re fans of the trend of blending whole fruit and vegetables into flavor- and fiber-packed drinks, and we’ll be sure to keep you informed on how you change up your green juice routine in the new year, too.

Tressa Eaton, Editor: One bite of Anita’s Creamline Coconut Yogurt and it’s clear that Anita Shepherd has made the ultimate non-dairy yogurt. We treat every creamy spoonful of this coconut concoction like gold around pasta sauces and with seasonal fruit.

Ashley Spivak, Director, Clean Plates Guides: Who can say no to maple grilled cheese? The Drive Change food truck serves tasty “farm-to-truck” food with a side of social justice by hiring, training and empowering formerly incarcerated youth. We’d love to see more mission-oriented business like this one next year.

Nick Fauchald, Editorial Advisor: Sarah Sproule and her rooftop salt business, Urban Sproule, prove that just about any backyard has untapped edible possibilities. The stunning virgin raw salt and interesting infused versions (like Montauk squid) are enough to convince anyone that they can be more local in their cooking.

The gift list Clean Plates' 2014 NYC Holiday Gift Guide

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You can skip the schlep around town while hunting for that just-right gift; we’ve already done your leg work. A pick from our 2014 Gift Guide is sure to please any clean eater on your list.

1. Pumpkin & Honey Bunny Cards ($4): Go low-tech with a screen-printed card from the folks behind the all-natural syrup business, P&H Soda Co. We’re fans of “I Love You More Than Sliced Bread” and “Eat Drink and Be Merry” options. Find them at The Brooklyn Kitchen, Brooklyn Farmacy and Lion in the Sun.

2. The Sill Plants (from $38): Give your green thumb challenged friend cleaner air at home with a plant from The Sill. Low-maintenance plants like a snake plant or a succulent do double duty as a home beautifier and air toxin eliminator. 84 Hester St.

3. Good Eggs Gift Card ($15 to $500): Make sure your friend’s fridge is stocked with local food at all times. Good Eggs offers free delivery and a massive selection of delicious local products.

 

4. At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well ($35): Amy Chaplin is a local gal; she used to be the executive chef at the East Village’s Angelica Kitchen. Share her gorgeous, new book with a pal: it boasts more than 150 recipes celebrating vegetarian cuisine.

5. Sweet Deliverance Jam ($10): Stuff a stocking with some of Kelly Geary’s meticulously crafted small-batch jam made from local ingredients. We’re wild about the complex strawberry chamomile honey jam; it’s like giving summer in a jar. Find retailers here.

 

6. Small Axe Peppers Bronx Hot Sauce ($8): Give a bottle of this kicky green serrano hot sauce and you’ll be supporting GrowNYC and the city’s poorest borough. The peppers that make up the sauce are sourced from community gardens.

 

7. Shore Soup ($12): Warm someone up with these fresh organic soups (think spicy gazpacho or a carrot coconut lime with fresh mint). The Mason jars are packed with local and seasonal produce and proceeds from each jar help to send hot meals to homebound Rockaway Beach residents.

8. 2015 Seasonal Produce Calendar ($16): A gift of a calendar is classic, but one tailored to your giftee’s eating region with seasonal recipes and what’s best to eat each month is a guaranteed winner.

Still looking for more options? Check out our National Gift Guide.

Blender Bender The no-excuses smoothie now comes to your door

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This December you have zero excuses for not starting your morning off right.

Zip, nada, none.

That’s because these new brands are making sure you have your smoothie daily—delivered straight to your doorstep. Think of them as your smoothie concierge: ready to keep you on-track and feeling good, no matter how holiday crazed you might be.

Daily Harvest: Rachel Drori turned her at-home trick of freezing ready-to-blend smoothie ingredients into a business that would provide the “convenience of being able to blend and run without having to shop, think or create any mess.” We love this service for its total simplicity: All of the ingredients are measured into one pack, meaning there is absolutely no shopping, rinsing or chopping required. The current seasonal blend uses a 100 percent organic mix of pomegranates, cranberries, beets, rooibos tea, pecans, bananas, ginger and dates ($32.50 for 5 smoothies). Holistic health and wellness coach Sarah-Jane Mercer designs all of the blends to make sure everything is both tasty and nutritious.

Ginger cranberry smoothie from Green Blender’s holiday smoothie collection.

Green Blender : Founders Jenna Tanenbaum and Amir Cohen say, “At Green Blender, we believe that in order to live a sustainably healthy lifestyle you have to indulge in your health, and do things that you love. That’s why we started this company. We’re making it easy and fun to start your day with a healthy decision.” This service ($49 for 10 smoothies) is best for someone who is OK with a little prep work, namely chopping pre-portioned ingredients and following a recipe. Plus, if you know someone who isn’t based in NYC, pass on the word: Green Blender will be expanding from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens into the Northeast in 2015.