Monday, June 13, 2011

Destination restaurants

I am constantly evaluating what makes a restaurant a destination---a place I want to return to over and over again.

This thought is not in reference to Bloodroot, though I hope it is attractive in the way Noel and I want it to be.  Rather, it is the Tuesday night places we visit that bring up the issue of comfort.

Hopefully, the restaurants I like best are not too noisy and are lit well enough so that I can read the menu.  Hopefully the staff is respectful--neither fawning nor condescending.  Hopefully prices seem reasonable when compared to the quality of the meal.  And finally, portions are not gargantuan  and not gloppy!  One restaurant where we like the food very much is noisy, poorly lit (I have to use my flashlight to read the menu), and not particularly friendly.  We still go there for the good food, but not often.

This last week we returned to a restaurant we have been matronizing since it opened---how long ago?  At least 10, maybe 15 years!  It is Buddha Bodhai in Flushing, Queens.  We used to go almost every month.  Nowadays, as we age and the traffic gets worse, we go only 3-4 times a year.  Michael Wong is the chef.  He is tall and wears a tall chef's hat.  He is constantly experimenting and when he sees us, he always tells us about his latest recipe.  We never look at the menu and just get whatever he suggests.  The food is always interesting and usually delicious.  Chinese vegetarians traditionally use meat analogs, and if that turns you off, dont go to Buddha Bodhai.  We enjoy almost everything that Michael cooks.  We eat too much, for very little money.  And no matter how full we are, we feel light and happy by the time we reach Greenwich.

A much more expensive restaurant in Manhattan is Kajitsu.  There is a single menu with the fixed price of $70.00 for 6 courses, $50.00 for 4.The price shocked me, and I did not expect to return, but the food wowed me, and we have returned 3 times.  Each time I am enchanted by this restaurant's  vegan Shojin cuisine.  Little exquisitely presented portions  are delivered  in a restrained but elegant setting.  They use "namu"--a version of wheat gluten, again a meat analog.  It is a special occasion restaurant.Two years old, they change their menu every month, supposedly inspired by what is in season.  Perhaps Japanese seasons  differ from ours, since they seem to use foods not in season here!  It is a small quibble.  The restaurant is excellent.

So those are the extremes of my favorite vegetarian (actually vegan) restaurants.  I love them both.

Somewhat closer to home is Fez in Stamford.  Purportedly Moroccan, with an Indian chef, they do not feature a vegetarian menu.  However, they offer 3 small plate appetizers for $16.00  We always choose roasted cauliflower with raisins, roasted potatoes with chipotle mayonnaise and chick peas with okra.  Then we get a larger dish, such as Haloumi butternut squash sandwich and find this to be a bargain dinner for two!  Physically comfortable, the only negative is finding parking on this restaurant lined street.

If you go to Buddha Bodhai, I suggest that you ask for food that "the women from Connecticut "get.  ( our Bloodroot flier is pinned up near the cash register)  And take note of the female Buddha on their altar.