Vegetarian and Flexitarian Valentine’s Day Celebrations in Manhattan

by Jenne Claiborne

Love is in the air! As February 14th approaches in New York City, you’re confronted with a reminder of Valentine’s Day everywhere you look.  City drugstores fill whole aisles with chocolates and holiday cards, jewelry stores inspire luxurious daydreams, and the Internet is teeming with carefully constructed guides–like this one– to help you make the most of your Valentine’s Day.

New York City offers a plethora of tasty and romantic restaurants, but as a Clean Plates reader, I suspect that you’re interested in much more than just taste and atmosphere.  On Valentine’s Day raise your standards and dine with your special date at one of these Clean Plates-approved eateries and experience exceptional taste and romance alongside healthy and meat-free plates.  These restaurants are sure to excite your palate and give you plenty of energy to enjoy the rest of your night.  We’ve also included a couple of special spots for couples looking for a restaurant that offers delicious vegetarian fare as well as organic meat and/or seafood options.

Vegetarian/Vegan Options

Pure Food and Wine (Flatiron) (212) 477-1010

Four courses, $75 per person, $110 with wine pairing

Pure Food and Wine makes excellent use of aphrodisiac foods to create an exciting four course menu. For starters, take your pick between king oyster “scallops” or figs wrapped in smoked salsify (aka the oyster plant).  Of course, Pure Food is not offering real scallops, but rather the stems of king oyster mushrooms marinated, dehydrated, and sliced thick to imitate the texture and taste of a scallop.  The figs, with their own aphrodisiac qualities, are served candied over zucchini soup.

For the main course you’ll choose between stuffed red bell pepper filled with caper ricotta and herbed mushrooms or a raw sweet corn polenta and Sicilian eggplant caponata. Be sure to save room for dessert; try the dark chocolate tart with candied beets and blood orange sorbet.  Go raw this Valentine’s Day, Pure Food and Wine will certainly impress.

Counter (East Village) (212) 982-5870

Four courses, $65 ($95 with wine pairing);

The lovely vegetarian bistro and wine bar, Counter, turns on the romance for you and your date this Valentine’s Day.  Executive Chef Elena Balletta serves up the season’s bounty with a four course meal featuring sweet potato-charred leek bisque alongside a red lollo rosso radicchio salad with roasted baby beets and a horseradish-herb vinaigrette.  Enjoy an entree of pomegranate-chili glazed seitan with crispy saffron risotto and braised baby artichokes. To satisfy your end of meal sweet tooth, try the red-velvet parsnip cake with cream cheese ice cream.

If you’re looking for a drink to accompany your meal, we suggest the wine pairing, as Counter only offers wines that are organic, biodynamic, and sustainable.

HanGawi (Murray Hill) (212) 213-0077

Four courses, $65;

If you’re hankering to take an exotic trip but can’t spare the time, slip off your shoes and enter into the romantic and intimate dining experience of HanGawi. The Korean vegetarian restaurant is offering a Mongolian hot pot in a steam boat and fresh todok (mountain root) salad with bean paste lemon dressing for a first course. Next, waiters dressed in traditional Korean garb will serve you a Valentine’s Day platter featuring stuffed Valentine’s persimmons, steamed radish with corn fritters, and rice cakes with mushrooms. The all organic entree choices include the Zen Stone rice bowl, a hot Maitake mushroom sizzler, or tofu steak.  You’ve never tasted blueberry coconut cake as incredible as HanGawi’s, so be sure to save room.

Candle 79 (Upper East) (212) 537-7179

Four courses, $75;

Make your reservations early for Candle 79.  The upper east side staple is offering an extensive prix fixe of organic vegan cuisine.  Toast to love with a glass of organic wine, then warm up with a bowl of saffron-red pepper dumpling soup.  If soup is not for you, gaze into each other’s eyes over a watercress quinoa salad with corn, peas, and toasted pumpkin seeds with a poblano dressing.  For your second course try the grilled artichokes with asparagus, caramelized onions, and basil-pine nut pesto.  As an entree, Candle 79 serves up pumpkin seed crusted seitan with a quinoa vegetable pilaf, sautéed chard, grilled chayote squash, and tomatillo avocado sauce; and that’s just one of four options.  Round out your special evening by sharing a fondue for two or diving into the warm chocolate cake with vanilla cream and candied ginger ice cream.

Café Blossom (Upper West) (212) 875-2600

Café Blossom will be offering an a la carte Valentine’s Day menu alongside their regular menu.

If a prix fixe isn’t what you’re craving this Valentine’s Day, head to Café Blossom on the Upper West Side for a delightful a la carte Valentine’s Day menu. The restaurant is a bit more casual than Blossom, its sister restaurant in Chelsea, but the setting is still romantic and the organic vegan cuisine just as tasty.  Begin the evening with comforting sweet potato gnocchi and kale dressed in a sage cashew cream. Next, dive into the portobello mushroom and lentil ravioli in a lemon-tarragon-truffle béchamel with sauteed spinach.  For your sweet tooth, Café Blossom offers lovers a choice of a mini chocolate gateau with layers of chantilly crème and cherry compote or strawberries and crème with champagne-rose sorbet. As an added bonus, you’ll receive complimentary glasses of champagne if reserve your table by February 11.

Also keep in mind that Blossom in Chelsea is offering a $65 prix fixe menu featuring many of the same items offered at Café Blossom.  If you decide to go that route, don’t miss the kale salad or the pistachio and pepper dusted tofu served with a root vegetable crepe.

Flexetarian Options

Quartino Bottega Organica (East Village) 212-529-5133

Three courses, $55 (includes organic wine);

Quartino Bottega Organica is no ordinary Italian restaurant. This romantic and quaint Bleecker Street gem is serving a 100% organic prix fixe menu including four glasses of organic wine this Valentine’s Day.

Normally you would only find one “pesce del giorno” — fresh fish of the day — offered at Bottega; however, this Valentines Day the restaurant boasts five fresh seafood options.

For the antipasto try the roasted shrimp and arugula avocado salad, or fava bean soup with chicory. Each entree on the menu stands out.  Try the homemade wholewheat fettuccine with baby clams and a white wine reduction.  If you’re not in the mood for pasta, order the wild sea bass in a tomato broth with fresh farmers market vegetables.  For dessert, share a rich and fruity tarte tatin and a luxurious chocolate souffle, each served with homemade vanilla gelato.  Come to Quartino Bottega Organica expecting a simple and delicious Italian meal that will leave you feeling healthy and completely gratified.

Be advised: they don’t accept credit cards.

Rouge Tomate (Upper East) (646) 237-8977

Three courses, $75;

If your date requests meat this Valentine’s Day, take them to Rouge Tomate and give them what they want.  This fancy upper east side restaurant serves modern American cuisine using the highest quality seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.  Executive Chef Jeremy Bearman artfully utilizes the season’s bounty to create an exciting menu for this special night. From the first to the last course, each dish will inspire passionate conversation.  You’ll delight in the celery root panna cotta with blue crab, grapefruit, marcona almond in a feuille of brick pastry, or the papardelle with veal ragout, sweet bread, hedgehog mushrooms, and winter root vegetables. Perhaps the most interesting of the six options for the second course is the wild striped bass a la plancha served with brussels sprout kimchi, apple mirin purée, and sauce vierge.

Don’t say goodnight before toasting with a complimentary glass of Rosé Champagne, truffles and dessert. Order the bittersweet chocolate sphere presented with market pear, frangipane and street cart almonds; or give the unique heirloom citrus parfait a taste.




Image from Rubyran via Flickr