Candle 79 is an eco-conscious fine dining sister of the more down-to-earth and over two-decades running Candle Café. Established in a two story townhouse, blending smoothly into the classy Upper East Side, the organic vegetarian veteran with a bold American spirit has been greening up the plates of the health conscious New-Yorkers since 2003.
downstairs bar at Candle 79
The nutrition focused Manhattan business grew from lottery fortune of the owners, who first expanded their original small juice bar and Healthy Candle café renaming it simply Candle Café, and later in 2003 Candle 79 was born as a step up on the vegi-centric ladder. The common vision of the co-owners Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson, a former customer of Healthy Candle who became the in-house nutritionist, is to create sustainable and nutritionally balanced meals.
Candle Café was the first New York “Certified Green Restaurant”. Next to recycling, cleaning with non-toxic products and using more environmentally friendly appliances in and out of the kitchen the owners went as far as to “Investing in wind power to help offset some of the environmental impact of running our restaurants.“, said Mr Potenza. Their sustainable mindset set a tangible standard for other Manhattan restaurants, and today many more follow their responsible business model. One must dine there once in a while just to feel like contributing to a good cause and our common interest – I would call this “clean eating”, more than any other rather superficial and lofty health claims boosting food joints that sprung up recently from West to the East of our globalized world.
vegan and raw food
Candle 79, named after its location at 79th Street, is not just a restaurant, but also a sake and wine bar in one – and all of that is organic! The heavy, warm classic wooden interior somehow contrasts with the green themed servings. By nature inspired art decorating the walls, simple table setting and compact see-through kitchen aspire to assure you of its sustainable focus. The cosy comfort certainly appeals to the local Upper East residents since each time we brunched and lunched there, the restaurant was packed.
Sprouts, sauces and vegetables conquer most of the plates. The wholesome portions are best to be shared and you might not have the capacity to try any of the desserts, on their own a satisfying meal. Sourcing directly from the farms and local farmers market has been a daily practice of both Candle sisters.
vegan and raw foodVegetarian steak
Overall, the food reflects New York’s multi-cultural make-up and the executive chef Angel Ramos constantly refines the dishes. He penetrated into the healthy mindset of the owners while woking for years at Candle Café and now he is mainly responsible for the finer menu at Candle 79.
The decadent Angel’s Nachos are a must dairy-free starter. The mozzarella “cheese” is made from nuts, chipotle seitan adds spice, and tofu sour cream is as good as the cow’s milk version, while the sprawling portion is crafted for sharing. Avocado is another of the Latino chef’s favourite ingredients. The ripe green fruit shines in the Live Jicama Avocado Tartare served topped by wild mushroom ceviche, and a side of jalapeño-kale-chia seed crackers. My favourite plate and must have each time. The seasonal produce is highlighted in the Harvest Salad, in October a sumptuous composition of hazelnuts, apples, roasted grapes, celeriac, brussels sprouts, mixed up with arugula leafs. Perhaps the only light appetiser that keeps your appetite running for the entrées are the nibbles of the Hydrogen Farm Edamame. From the salads, unless you add the optional tempeh, tofu or seitan, the Seaweed Salad.
Despite being filling, some of the main courses do not show the full flavour potential as almost all of the starters do. The Herb Grilled Cauliflower was ultra rich, the pesto sauce more generous than its original basil-based Italian version and the wild mushroom squash risotto was slightly overcooked, not al-dente. A cashew cream instead of cheese did not make it any easier to digest, unless you are lactose intolerant. More flavours inspired by Italy come in the handwork of the Chef’s Daily Handcut Pasta, Seitan Piccata, and Spaghetti with Wheat Balls. American pride satisfies the burger fans in the BBQ Seitan Burger with avocado, chipotle aioli, red onions between pitta-like flat-breads, served with chunky polenta fries and refreshing mesclun. Surprisingly not as heavy as the vegan Italian dishes featured above.
Lighter, but still a meal on its own is the Wild Mushroom Crêpe stuffed with fall vegetables, sautéed wild mushrooms, tempeh, poblano peppers, spinach and garlic truffle aioli, with a side of beet-arugula-fennel salad. Excluding animal products, the sides would make the heavier part of a good American steakhouse menu: polenta fries, onion rings, cornmeal-crusted zucchini and chipotle aioli, garlic mashed potatoes with vegetable gravy, maple ginger sweet potato purée… you will not leave hungry, I promise. The lunch and dinner menus are similar, but the latter offers slightly more starter options. Always ask for daily specials and look for stars on the menu for gluten-free options.
Jorge Pineda, the pastry chef at Candle 79 has been recognized as making one of the best vegan desserts in America. Currently he also creates his own line of vegan sweets available at the US branches of Whole Foods Markets. Unfortunately, we never got to try the sweet creations by Jorge. Our bellies were too full.
Vegetarian burger in New York
Organic, sustainable or biodynamic wine selection spans the Old and New World. The beverage director went to a great length when acquiring the bottles. A glass of organic prosecco, French rosés, local sustainable rieslings from New York’s Fingerlakes or red malbec from Argentina were included on the wine list. Eco cocktails such as Tree Hugger, Manhattan Fig, Pumpkinhead and many others are made with organic spirits.
Non-alcoholic options might turn you a tea-to-teller at least for a day. We were seduced by the fresh juice blends and “smooth sippers” like the Fountain of Youth or the refreshing and fizzy Mango Pomegranate Fresca that y husband loves. As a cold avenger I love the Ginger Zinger with a spicy ginger kick in a freshly juiced carrot.
Reservations are highly recommended. If you walk-in and they won’t find a seat for your group, the Metropolitan Museum is a few blocks away so stroll in or browse into the Central Park for a snack at the Boat House, forget about the organic produce there though.
Contact: +1 212 537 7179
Address: 154 East 79th Street at Lexington Avenue | New York, NY 10021