Replacing anxiety: Coffee substitutes and caffeine-free alternatives

Either for health reasons, sustainable performance for athletes, during pregnancy and breast feeding for women, coffee substitutes intrigue these mindful of their consumption. The side effect of caffeine brings about nervousness, anxiety, and even panic attacks, for women it can also upset estrogen levels.

In spring, a healthy detox is always a wise choice to reset the body and mind into a relaxed pattern at first and then gain more energy for the year’s festivities. During detoxification the body has plenty to do and you better rest to aid the intense process affecting most organs. From liver, kidneys, the digestive system, pancreas, gall bladder to heart. Therefore, all serious health retreats I have been to cross of caffeine out their cleansing menus. 

Cichorium Intybus

The new vice for the global world on speed

Not only the health conscious skip caffeine or at least try to reduce it, but Europe did not have caffeine in any form – coffee or tea until 17th century. On Vice I read that up until 1616, London had no caffeine because of the global trade had not improved it yet. I love the post’s author (Jamie Steidle) lips lifting confession:

“I don’t like the feeling when you have one too many espresso shots and you’re moving so fast that you might phase through the space-time continuum like a quantum particle.” And I cannot be more in sync with him grasping that “Caffeine, it turns out, is not the soul of coffee; trust me. It’s more about the ritual and the mood, not just a jolt of energy and heart palpitations.”  

They especially entertain our mind as if you once were a genuine coffee lover, not just the caffeine kick seeker, but a connoisseur of the deep expression of the Earth’s divers terroirs. For with coffee like the real tea (Camelia Sinensis) and wine, in different soils, elevations, exposures to the sun and other elements, the beans’ expression changes. The human intervention also counts as with tea and wine. Selecting the beans and then gently roasting it can support or break the quality.

Healthy coffee replacements

My coffee appreciation yielded a casual poem once. While I was sipping a frothy cappuccino brewed by a Japanese barista in Le Marais, Paris, I was elated that finally, Paris has a good quality, perfectly brewed coffee.

No lid to screen my eager lips

Dipping like silky petals of tulips

Wet with a dew diving down

Into the soiled brew I now own 

Touching the frothy pleasure 

My nose elates beyond measure

Warmth under the milky cloud

Caresses my mouth, teases joy out


coffee alternatives

Health reasons to quit coffee and switch to an alternative

About six months ago I had to stop drinking normal coffee for health reasons. The bad headaches and dizziness were enough to warn me that something isn’t alright. Later, blood tests showing serious anaemia confirmed my body’s blinking orange light. Listen to your body as it has that red flag capacity to prevent further damage. Tannins in coffee, black tea, chocolate and wine are the major interferences with the absorption of iron from the food we consume into the blood. One needs to consume these at least an hour apart from iron-rich foods and supplements.

As there always is a bright side to any misfortune, I embarked on a research journey seeking what else with a similar taste profile is out there on the market. Still, I would enjoy one cup of decaf coffee without the headaches, but the tannins were still in. The aroma of an excellently roasted coffee bean is simply irreplaceable.

Like the 15th century spice traders I voyaged to America where most hotels serve terrible decaf coffee. I try a sip, but mostly the experience is so bad that I advise to rather skip it altogether. As my desperation and curiosity grew, I asked around and rejoice, I got plenty of tips on artisan coffee roasters from LA to Brooklyn making delightful, by natural methods decaffeinated beans. Most used more mild method of water washing to rid the praised coffee berries off the for some unwelcome caffeine.

From spring mountain water soaring with bright flavours to sugar sweetened water, it works very well but takes more work than the harsh chemical treatments used commonly. The majority of chemical decaffeination washes away not just the unwanted but also some desired flavour. More often than not, lesser quality of beans were being used for this purpose. Not any more. The hardness of the water used is also a key to success. Even the world’s best barista at Mame, residing like currently myself in Zurich, also adopted his decaffeinating method to using local Swiss water. Still, even more gentle and flavour friendly is using CO2 method to remove the caffeine from the green beans prior to roasting. This is so far the best method I found that shows in the taste.

Healthy coffee alternatives

My recommended decaf coffees: Alana’s sugar H2O decaf Colombian beans in Los Angeles; Mexican brew by Devocion in Brooklyn; the trophies winning Mame in Zurich has with Swiss water washed blend; Deep in Marseille has sublime CO2 decaf roast from Ethiopia called Chill Pills.

Sometimes, my body is cheated into believing that I am drinking the real thing, I get a slight buzz from it for a couple of minutes, but then as if the brain found out the fraud, suddenly I am at ease and no headache comes. How intriguing is observing closely the reaction of your own body, especially when you are impartial, knowing that what you bought came from the decaf bag. 

Perhaps it is not caffeine, the illusion of comfort and pick me up before setting out to work, but the warm brew, the fragrance of which you can inhale joyfully. Indeed, any beverage with a pleasant deep aroma, unique to you, can step in the place of coffee. 

coffee alternatives

The best coffee substitutes for your health

Don’t just sip any herbal infusion. For a chamomile, fennel, ginger or any other plant tisane won’t satisfy these who seek the specific chocolaty, nutty, perhaps even bitter, sometimes tobacco leaves reminding aromas. Some herbal and grain substitutes supply important minerals, vitamins and other potentially beneficial nutrients, often alkaline and better than the body acidifying coffee. Further, some are more suitable for mixing with coffee in order to lower the caffeine content in your daily consumption.

Barley is perhaps the most common. In Italy any gas station offers orzo. The roasted barley can unfortunately tasted as if burned so I am usually dissatisfied either with the espresso or cappuccino form of it. Plus if gluten bothers you, barley is not your friend. Yet, there are some cafes and restaurants that source more elegantly roasted barley so you might prefer it to my further suggestions. In Japan, I tasted Mugi-cha or Barley tea which is essentially the same but not ground into fine grains as the coffee substitute would be. 

Taste-wise and health-wise, I find a better option in chicory. This roasted previously dehydrated root from chicory plant (Cichorium Intybus) has a deep flavour like coffee, nutty, woody, not bitter, and is an ideal morning partner to your breakfast. Not irritating your bowels as coffee does, plus it does not acidify the gut more than it already is. In my native Czechia, chicory is still very popular as it was commercially made for two centuries. From health stand for hypertension, therefore older people tend to sip on it instead of coffee that rises your blood pressure rather fast. It is a wonderful paring with milk and milk alternatives such as almond, oat or soy to whip up a frothy cappuccino or macchiato.

coffee alternativesHealthy coffee alternatives

Less common alternatives to your daily coffee

Creatively and historically, the resourceful Czechs have also used oak (Quercus Alba) acorns blended with other substances such as rosehip. The acorns contain tannic acid, which for some sensitive individuals may not work. For example if you suffer from anemia, the tannins interfere with the absorption of iron into the blood, so you better have your iron and this brew separately.

Spelt is a less common ancient grain brew, but roasted and blended with chicory it tastes close to black coffee.

Rye can be also roasted and then ground into more breakfast porridge kind of meal rather than delightful coffee alternative.

Lupins (Lupinus Lutens) can also be ground to a powdery consistence for warm cuppa, yet many people have allergy to these leguminous beans and the taste is nothing close to coffee, rather a beverage on its own merit.

In Japan, particularly around Kyoto I was impressed by the deep roast of KuromamechaBlack Soybean brew served often by monasteries and temples.

Healthy coffee alternativesRoasted tea

Economising choices of tasty beverages

I remember that particularly wide spread was a blend of chicory, sugar beet, barley and rye still available in Czechia today. Sold under the brand name Melta it was fortified with additional vitamins (iron, B6, potassium) and minerals (magnesium), yet cheaper than coffee and vastly popular during economically harsh times like wars and the occupation by Soviet Union. With inflation striking high, banks collapsing once again, we are well into the economically sober cycle, therefore cheaper and healthier alternatives to coffee become handy. In hard times, some rather puzzling ingredients were used to balance the cost of coffee, by adding dried and pounded figs, carrots, grape seeds, even potatoes into the imported coffees.

Dandelion plantcoffee alternativestasting of coffee alternatives in Czechia

Herbal remedies as coffee replacements

The root of dandelion is beyond its European staple status now frequently on the shelves of health food stores in the US. It is more like a herbal infusion with the bitter taste wanted for its bile production inducing effect. The inulin in it supports immunity.

Burdock is popular in the West Arctium lappa as well as in Asia. In TCM this berberine and inuline containing herb is known as blood purifier and tonic, overall it supports liver by promoting the flow of bile, increases circulation to the skin, and is a mild diuretic. The Japanese adore the health benefits and the slightly sweet flavour of the burdock root that is also used in cooking.

Healthy coffee alternatives

The superfood adaptogenic coffee is a blend of medicinal mushrooms (Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s mane and Reishi are most common), and herbs like Ashwagandha that help the body to fend off stress. Basically the opposite effects of caffeine, you get an energy boost without the jittery crust. In the eastern traditional medicine these ingredients were used for millennia and I also like the taste of some of the blends broadly available in the US and UK organic shops such as Moon Juice, Chagaccino (made with there chaga mushroom), reishi mushroom blends as well as Maccacino based on the libido and stamina-increasing South American powdered maca root. With chaga you need to be alert before any surgery or if you take blood thinners since it increases bleeding.

I like to buy it pure, organic and then experiment with blending other ingredients in for the best taste and effect on the specific day. For example I splash in a pinch of maca, houjicha powder (very low caffeine roasted green tea twigs now available at Blue Bottle coffee across the US and Kettl tea in New York) and even some cacao, plus oat milk for creamy texture. Get creative with your healthier cup of morning delight and also in touch with what your body and mind need, mindfully, not just robotically brewing a pick me up, but reflect first how do you feel and why?

roasted teabest tea in Paris

If you like something spicy without the caffeine then the alternative to chai is turmeric latte. The blend of sunshine-hued turmeric root with its inflammation effect enhancing black pepper and other spices like cardamom, cloves and sweet touch of honey, maple, brown or coconut sugar is brewed in hot milk for a cosy warm cold day remedy.

Ready to chill? My caffeine-free tips will keep you levelled, not up and down. Most importantly, find what you enjoy, savour, sip, love.

UPDATED TEA in New York: the best quality tea rooms and bars on Manhattan

The very best quality tea rooms on Manhattan are scarce. In this hotbed of competitiveness the real deal is often leapt over by gimmicky phrases echoing current trends. Until recently, tea in New York has not encountered the exotic wonder as it did in San Francisco and in Europe.
Taiwanese oolong tea
Naturally, in one of the fastest cities in the world, tea did not match its frantic lifestyle, but also New York reverberates what I call the Boston complex. The story of an independent America has flipped around the rebellious dunking of a tea shipment from England into the waters of the Boston Harbor, what the historians describe as the “tea party”. The caffeine-boost seeking Manhattan had turned to coffee for its daily recharge instead. While other fast metropoles like Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London find time for a cuppa to start or connect the moments of the day by sitting down, in the Big Apple balancing a busy week with savouring mindfully a cup of freshly brewed tea is still a hard sell. Yet, with mental health consciousness raising, tea has timely entered the New Yorkers’ vocabulary and joined the interest in meditation and yoga there.
porcelain western tea service

It took me a half decade to trace and evaluate the best tea rooms on Manhattan. My globetrotting palate was not convinced that there was enough remarkable leafy Camellia to sip on the East Coast. I always brought tea in my suitcase from Europe, sipped and hoped. Rewardingly, my patience paid off. Now there is enough quality and diversity of tea purveyors in New York, and it seems that the coffee nation is turning to the slower mode with tea. Well, matcha bars are taking the city by storm, and I wrote about the best matcha hotspots in TRENDY MANHATTAN TEA SCENE. Here, I devote my investigative and tea thirsty pen to the established or new, quality and knowledge focused tea rooms and bars stretching from the East Village to the West side of Manhattan. Be it New York, things change fast, so some closed their businesses since I wrote the original post in 2017, but I decided to keep them here for you to see what survived the global pandemic and what has evolved from a tea room into a take-away and retail.

Harney & Sons tea bookbest tea rooms in New York

Harney & Sons

Some tea rooms and shops have existed in New York for decades. The dubious China Town pop ups have matured into Ten Ren outposts, while in SoHo Harney & Sons have finally embraced a more millennial-style sophisticated approach to their customers. The upscale tea importing business was founded by an American family over three decades ago in Connecticut. Harney & Sons is a hybrid of an English tradition and American commercial savvy. Their tea service invites you to cosy in the newly designed minimalist-cum-chic tea corner, but now also includes custom lattes with organic almond milk. Pick from the large menu of teas and your choice of milk will be steamed with it to order. Steeped to go, it will take longer than the whisked matcha, but you will taste the fragrant power in the brew since it is infused correctly – some tea needs up to ten minutes. Well, if you pick the Hot Cinnamon Spice either in black or herbal blend, the innocent bystander may kick your throat with a spicy shock. Perfect for a cold day. Decaffeinated (by rinsing), signature herbal blends, some organic options, but mainly flavoured black tea blends remain the classics at Harney & Sons. Millennial inventiveness like Nitro Iced Tea, the popular flavoured kombucha (by Aquivitea) as well as brews native to the Americas like Guayusa, black or green Yaupon and Yerba Mate sailed in.

 433 Broome St, SoHo

Daily 11:30am – 6:30pm (Sat from 10:30am)Harney & Sons NYC

Tea Drunk is the best Chinese tea bar on Manhattan. Tucked in the East Village, the founder has an extensive knowledge about the sino-leafy diversity and is a fun little box to squeeze in next to other serious tea connoisseurs. I wrote about the tea tasting experience on La Muse Blue, so you can read more on Chinese tea at Tea Drunk.

123 E 7th St, East Village
Mon – Sat 12:00noon – 10:00 pm, Sun 12:00noon – 9:00 pm
Tea Drunk tea room

29B Tea and artisan Asian ceramics by Tea Dealers

Sourcing tea and herbs directly from the farmers using traditional agriculture methods (no pesticides and only natural fertilisers when needed), their selections capture some of the New York’s leading restaurants (the Michelin stared Rouge Tomate, even higher end Jungsik, The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn). Seasonally imported rarities such as the indefinable but intriguing Korean oxidised organic tea Balhyo and low caffeine organic roasted Korean Sejak twigs in the Houjicha style are sold out fast. Their non-caffeinated flower tisanes such as Korean wild persimmon leaf is almost as good as my direct source in Kanazawa, Japan. Other Korean seasonally picked herbal brews that spark the non-caffeinated pleasure are the sublime White Lotus and the roasted black bean. 

best tea rooms in NYCKorean herbal tisane

The intercontinental duo of an American tea dealer Stefen Ramirez and his Korean partner Shin Won Yoon created first Tea Dealers to bring the highest quality of pure, non-blended teas and tisanes from India, Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan to America and they are back in the importing model ever since the pandemic hit New York badly. Still, you can take-away some macha and selected teas for a walk around East Village. On offer are also ceramics from Korea and Japan, exclusively sold here in America. 

Tea Dealers 29 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009

Thurs-Mon 12noon – 6PM; Tue &Wed Closed

best tea shops in NYCJapanese sakeware
Franchia also specialises in Korean tea, but in a more old school tea room style. The “meditative quality of tea” praised in Korea still today next to vegan, Korean Buddhist style food will nourish your mind and body. Specialties include sacred Jilee mountain green tea, Korean date, lemon, ginger as well as teas from China and India. On their own the beverages are served between the lunch and dinner hours. The food is good, nothing otherworldly, but the interior at Franchia is the most fascinating from all Manhattan tea rooms I have seen to date. As if lifted from a Korean temple the wooden ceiling and carved details on the privacy dividers between tables upstairs teleport you away from the New York craze into a mindful zone somewhere far east.
 12 Park Ave, New York
Mon-Fri: 12noon-9:45pm; Saturday: 1pm-10:15pm; Sun: 5:30pm-9:30pm
authentic tea room in New YorkKorean tea room

KETTL founded by a tea master Zach Mangan originally in Brooklyn imports the finest teas directly from small farms in Japan. At first only a tiny shop, ceramic gallery cum tasting room above now a contemporary Vietnamese restaurant on Greenpoint Avenue with most calm and cosy atmosphere from all my picks here, Kettle has stretched its retail and tea to-go arm to Manhattan. On Bowery a small window adjoining the Bowery Market offers expertly prepared tea, a sublime macha or houjicha latte with your choice of milk perfect for colder seasons and if you really crave the focused experience also a ceremonial macha mini ceremony in a tiny counter inside that seats four. Tea cookies change seasonally and satisfy the sweet craving. The quality is as high as it gets and all brews are made with altered water.

348 Bowery, New York, NY 10012

Daily 8am-6pm

tea room in New YorkNew York tea shoptea in New York roasted tea

Physical GraffiTea shop and room is the quirkiest little basement spot, but by no means underserving savvy tea and curative herbal concoctions seeking customers. Some are traveling from Florida to stock on tea, others are local residents coming for a chat, a cuppa and some cookie or kombucha on tap. The Jewish owner knows everything about her pursuits. Mostly organic from the Planet’s fertile grounds, the tea service is not a fancy affair, but the hippie aura emphasised by the Beatles portraits hanging on the East Village no fuss brick walls feels somehow cool. As if the den was forgotten in the liberal decades past. I like her houjicha, and the longevity-promising plethora of organic Ayurvedic and Chinese herbs is valuable to any balanced health seeker.

96 St Marks Place, East Village

Daily 12noon-7pm
authentic tea rooms in New York hippie tea room

Cha An Teahouse is a traditional Japanese tea house with good Nippon food and great desserts. Nested in the corner of the East Village known as “little Japan”, as you walk up the cracking narrow stairs to the first floor, the Japanese team welcomes you to their sparsely lit nest. Linger on tatami benches under the lights of washi paper lamps as the seasonal fresh flora breaths some air into this tea bar cum restaurant. Japanese teas meet the sweet morsels like matcha sponge cake, houjicha ice cream with wagarashi (root starch) jelly cubes, mochis, cherry blossom jelly with a side syrup to sweeten it to your own liking. For the XL sweet explosion, the afternoon tea style desserts tasting box is a must. Houjicha, sencha, but also teas from outside Japan like Darjeeling, oolongs from Taiwan and green, black and pu-erh from China. Specialities include Japanese style iced matcha lattes with adzuki beans, green tea ice cream or a heaping of whipped cream, that like the pure fresh green Tamaryokucha tea cool your body and mind in summer. Cha An feels like the most traditional Japanese tea rooms in Japan transferred to Manhattan.

230 E, 9th street, East Village

 Mon – Thurs: Noon – 11pm; Fri & Sat: Noon – 12am; Sunday: Noon – 10pm
best tea rooms in NYCCha An NYC
Ippodo, the generations spanning Kyoto tea purveyor with tea rooms in Japan, has also a small concession at the basement of the former  Michelin stared restaurant Kajitsu. Enjoy a wide range of their teas with dinner at the restaurant, but if you come only for the tea, you will have to take it out.
11am to 7pm daily except Sundays
125 E, 39th street, Midtown

tea seed oilCold brewed tea
best tea rooms in NYCtea room design

CLOSED LUV Tea in the West Village offered Taiwanese oolong experience, healthier organic milk teas and cold brewed daily fresh iced tea. The jasmine milk honey was so fragrant that you carried the aroma along with you for hours. Deep hues of goji and rose in naturally long steeped, not artificially enhanced brews. The nutritionist on board stamped their health claims. On Saturdays freshly cooked boba was served in their real Taiwanese bubble tea. The co-founder, a Taiwanese tea master Jaesy Wang, conducted regular tea tastings, while art launching events for the temporary exhibits on the white washed brick sparked some late afternoons. Unfortunately, the pandemic shut the business and now nothing of their kind is found around Manhattan.

tea pillowtea pillow

New York is still well behind San Francisco, London, Paris and almost any major Asian city in terms of the breadth of tea rooms and high quality tea offerings. Diversity of tea rooms would certainly help to balance the scattered minds and rough voices of the New Yorkers.

Momofuku ko: turning passion into luck that tastes so good

Momofuku ko is a mature upgrade dressed like a teenager. The awarded restaurant plays on rhythm, multiculturalism and fun on the Lower East Side. Now the hippest part of Manhattan, it was not so when the chef David Chang opened his immediately highly acclaimed eatery there a dozen years ago. Just say that name over and over and listen what comes out (a naughty blurb). Formally, Momofuku means “lucky peach” in Japanese (also it is the title of the founding chef’s well-received magazine on food culture), but more it is an homage to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen, so popular with students as Chang once was. Breaker of preconceived paths, the brazen man studied religion at college and taught English in Japan before his culinary adventures at Manhattan’s Jean Georges, Tom Colicchio’s Craft and a two-year apprentice stint in Tokyo. Chang’s first restaurant was a ramen bar in the East Village. Ko means the “son of” in Korean and is a grown up offspring of his two previous culinary openings.  The stunning murals on the charcoal deep walls, a nightclub vibe and shared joy in an open space invite to a sophisticated meal, and reveal both the obvious and the alter ego of the concept.

Manhattan street art

The son of lucky peach

As an Asian-American by his family’s Korean roots, Chang’s cuisine is more contemporary decadent American with frequent addition of Korean and Japanese ingredients. His food has that mouthwatering generosity in each bite that leaves you satisfied with just little. Like his inclusion of an abundantly creamy umami in uni. Chang understands tastiness so sea urchin features in most of his tasting menus as much as a rice course does. Hokkaido, Santa Barbara or even Vancouver provide the richest specimens. I cannot agree more with Michelin: “assured, innovative yet expertly balanced”, that is how all of our meals at Momofuku ko were to date. A solid two Michelin star menu since 2009. The NYT gave its full four stars.

Well, you are for a feast, so the first, slip into the mouth courses warm you up for the main feast. Seasonally changing, usually a sharable meat dish. As you u-shape the around open kitchen centered dining counter, the meat aging wall alerts vegetarians that this (as with the Chef’s Table at the Brooklyn Fare Midtown, yet we much prefer the more balanced, wholesome menu at Momofuku) is not their place of worship.

Korean dining in New York

Contemporary challenges of a New York restaurant

The consistent pleasure we derive from our tasting meals deserves praise in this turbulent time of change. I waited to revisit Momofuku ko until after the pandemic lockdowns settled the gastronomy in New York into more stable waters, and it paid off this fall. Yet another superb meal, this time not at the popular U-shaped counter, but at one of the two tables set ideally for people with dietary restrictions. Joined by an octogenarian family member, we had three different limitations – gluten, pork (I am the guilty renouncer of eating this holy cow of David Chang at his past eateries) and cow’s milk. While they cannot accommodate a 100 percent gluten-free meal, the team tries their best to reduce it for the sensitive individuals. With soy sauce being used in many preparations and with some dishes requiring days ahead of your meal, this wheat-containing condiment cannot easily be removed. Nobody left with a stomach ache, so well done kitchen!

Above all and next to deliciousness, the meal at Momofuku ko is about fun. The tasting evolves like a conversation. It starts with the sommelier’s suggestions, an optional beverage pairing, and a glass of something with good acidity to rise your appetite.

A trio of snacks may include the famous quadruple fried chicken drumstick served cold. Battered in a mix of cornstarch, flour, vodka, and beer, re-battered in between each fry, and finished with a brushing of mirin, yuzu, and green Tabasco, this is not for the sober bunch. A sublime crunch! Most recently we got a honeycut squash with gamtae, nori roll with lobster and egg yolk, and white truffle over coal-charred cabbage. Our choice of a bottle of exquisite, mineral French wine from Savoy scored a double jackpot at this entree.

Some signature plates pop in and out of the tasting menu, to vary it for the regulars. I loved the Egg cut as if the caviar came from its mouth like a blurb. Garlic chips make everything more fun. Seafood is beloved here. Scallop, soybeans, tomato was finished with a sauce from pine nuts at the table, while when asking what was that mysterious seafood in the Black cod dish, the waiter did not hesitate to bring me the entire geoduck! It’s a peculiar shellfish, and some might rather prefer not seeing it, just savour. At Momofuku ko, the service is as friendly and helpful as it can be.

This fall, an exquisite roasted duck oomh and ooohed our taste buds. Heritage Mallard and Pekin duck cross called a Rohan™ Duckling is less fatty than the Pekin breed, just perfect for a dish like the Roast duck with fried rice we had this fall. Sometimes smoked Muscovy duck breast takes its turn as the chefs team do not sit on their laurels and constantly play with the always tasty dishes.

This food is what a great gastronomy should be, not pretentious, for the sake of newness creating dishes, but consistent yuminess in each morsel. That ecstatic exuberance of hedonism of David Chang is, I think, key to his success. Sustainability is also on the team’s mind. Most parts of the duck, like the usually discarded neck is shaved like bottarga over the crispy skin of the bird, or fish skin and bones are used in the meal.

New York Michelin

Desserts come in four incarnations. In the French fine dining style, a lighter ice cream or sorbet transitions from the savory courses. Do not expect watery mouthfuls though. Ginger gelato, soy cream or something in that flavorful genre. With my recent cow’s milk and cream restriction, I was treated to by any way no less creative concoctions of sweet joy. The last Fernet (herbal Italian and in Argentina popular liquor), fig coated in dark chocolate with spiky cocoa nibs ball was a blast to remember.

Just in case you were not full, the waiter appears before your departure and slices squares of tomato focaccia to go either for on the way back indulgence or a breakfast if you resist biting in when it is still warm. A finale like we want it. Chang is aware of hedonists’ guilty pleasures. Usually after a long tasting menu and even longer list of wines we consumed, we enroll at a nearby pizza joint to round it up. We are young, still so young, we tend to thing. Hello friends! You know that beat. It is been some fifteen years since we had started this anthem of post-gastronomic indulgence.

The wine list to match the accessible spirit of Momofuku ko

The wine list looks familiar for those who frequent the Brooklyn Fare. The current sommelier there used to stock Momofuku ko’s cellar. We rejoiced at our favourite bottles, very niche producers not found easily elsewhere. Many organic or biodynamic wineries. It was a pleasure to find a well aged red (Le Clos 2007) by Domaine Milan who makes one of the best wines in Provence. We started with the super mineral white Altesse in Quartz by the Savoyard Domaine des Ardoisières, whose richer Schiste blend of indigenous Jaquère, Roussane, Malvoisie and Mondeuse Blanche we also adore. Les coteaux de Cevins offer an incredible terroir for the crisp wine lovers. The French cellar is just so well stocked and fairly priced for Manhattan that we mostly go for old world bottles aged perfectly. On a birthday occasion, Cheval Blanc 1966 awed our palates with its stamina. A mature Rioja or Emidio Pepe from Italy rejoice most old world wine lovers boundlessly.

best wine from Provencebest wines in the world

If you don’t dare for the tasting menu and would like to sample some of David Chang’s dishes a la carte, there is a “testing kitchen” bar where you can luck yourself at first come first serve, sans reservations counter. The chef’s emphasis on accessibility blooms here. One does not have to luck oneself with snapping the so hard to get reservation at the main stage, the hours lasting orgy of hedonism and a set price slightly over $200 (which is rather low for the current Manhattan standards at fine dining multi-course dinners) and just show up at the Bar. We are so glad that a restaurant like this exists in New York.

The location is quite puzzling in the gridded Manhattan. You need to walk literally into an “extra” cul de sac on the First street.

8 Extra Pl., New York, 10003

+1 212-203-8095

The alternative cheese story in this millennium: why we should embrace transformation of plants, that is dairy-free, without lactose and low in carbon footprint

Not only vegans should read this. All of us will find exciting inspiration in my years-long investigation into alternative cheese. In the age of anything healthy, trendy and/or sustainable, ideally all in one, and shortly “-free”, plant alternatives crop up on the menus of eco-minded and to restricted diners welcoming restaurants. The shelves of gourmet grocers, neighborhood mini marts and increasingly regular supermarkets of most “advanced” countries regularly introduce plant-based, non-dairy products that improve with the rising demand. Many “creameries” currently transform vegan cheese into a wide variety of curiosity-rising forms. Humanity needs to innovate to meet the pressing climate disaster in a more sustainable living. Global population keeps growing and its demands for food with it, hence we cannot keep eating dairy and other animal products daily. Ideally, we balance it off. Reduce meat and dairy, include less carbon-intensive plants. Let’s broaden our diets with these wondrous choices. Only a few years ago I would staunchly say: there’s no way this nut thing can ever taste like the real thing! Well, let’s keep up with the innovators, because by being open I had to revise my no “fake” cheese opinion based on the delectable evidence in my mouth.

vegan cheese

sustainable dietraw nuts

Traditionalist mindset versus embracing the new in “cheese”

I confess, I love cheese, the real stuff, well more precisely the traditional buffalo, cow’s, goat’s, sheep, ewe’s and other dairy cheese (no camel or donkey milk, thank you). Available today are cheeses from Europe, the Americas and made as far as in Japan (mainly from Hokkaido), and so it is now with the plant alternatives, and I am open to try. Not only those dairy- or lactose-intolerant as well as staunch vegans seek milk-like products made from nuts, grains, soy protein or other plant-based ingredients (even coconut oil, oats, peas or quinoa) — eco-minded generation is the market power now. During my decade-long, taste-centric global study (I’m guilty of not researching enough in Africa that I rarely visit and have never been to Antarctica, where one has probably different concerns than looking for vegan cheese alternatives) I found that the best of all vegan cheeses were made with a blend of savvily inoculated ingredients. Now there is even a non-dairy cultured butter that really feels like the traditional lusciously melting churned cow’s treat. I wish we had it in Europe!

vegan cheese

The premium league of vegan cheese makers *

Naturally, the French figured it out parfaitement, yet as America has been flagging the growth of creativity over the past century, there the vegan “creameries” are unafraid to experiment and unapologetically copy from established traditions in the European cheese making. Like in Provence or with Italian robiola, cultured fresh cashew soft ‘casheeze’ is wrapped in dried fig leaves to preserve its moisture and look alike. 

Fresh or ripened even cultured with mold, the best specimens now taste and look like a camembert. While Swiss New Roots have yet no match to an excellent creamy brie, Rebel Cheese in Texas, and more so Conscious Cultures with their Maverick do literally magic with their vegan bries sold at my favourite plant “cheese” store Riverdel in New York).

Roquefort style by French Jay & Joy as well as the awesomely tangy Billy Blue by Riverdel, yet the best of all the blue styles was Conscious Cultures Creamery Barncat made in New York state. 

Nevertheless, the connotation of these products as “cheese” is misleading as much as the nut “milk” that one Czech producer transparently calls “not milk”. We need to broaden our vocabulary with these new foods introduced in our diets. Many producers realized this confusing linguistic overhang and so they now invent new words that more precisely denote what is inside these cheese alternatives. A step further, organic ingredients sate the integrity of the eco-minded and staunch ‘healthovores’.

plant-based alternative to cheesebest plant-cheese

There are a few plant product makers doing it quite well when compared to the average supermarket cheese, but when you get a top quality artisanal cheese, there has not been so far the level of natural complexity in some fine aged cheeses I could compare the vegan concoctions with. Take a matured Comté, creamy Délice de Bourgogne, or savoury feta in Greece and then we can talk of comparisons. The best aoc/aop cheese from Europe still take the laurels.

nut cheesevegan cheese

What is in alternative cheese

It used to be mainly soy that replaced the dairy in the “fake cheese” era, but as the bean’s quasi-estrogenic effect (and cut the rainforest to grow soy) on our body fell out of fashion, other grains, seeds and nuts came to its aid. Italians now make local rice-based Risella comparable with an average cow’s milk mozzarella, but forget buffala, burrata or the oozing straciatella. Mamma Mia! I was also impressed by the Vegotta made by Ferretti in Perugia that very closely feels like ricotta in terms of texture and somewhat in taste. The fennel seeds fragrance though tells a blind taster that this attempts to taste like a dairy product.

best vegan cheese in Americavegan cheese

It seems that macadamias, oats, coconut oil and cashews work best for these dairy replacements. An almond ricotta by Kite Hill in the US used to awe me (a shame they stopped adding truffled salt, which is a game lost to another US artisan Cheezehound who perfected their Truffle Ash Casheeze). The pricier macadamia ricotta by celebrity plant chef Matthew Kenney tops the curd styles. Creamy cheesy spreads and dips are also getting incredibly delicious. Some are still a waste of calories, but others taste as the best buttery garlic dips, dilled lox-like spreads, herbed Boursin-like or Greek style. Whipped by California’s Miyokos Creamery under the brain of its Japanese founder miso and rice koji add umami savory fermented touch (even their salted butter is ooomh the best in the vegan league!). I prefer them to Kite Hill’s and other US cream cheese alternatives like Forager. So far these are only available in Canada and the US (yet, they are working on it though as confirmed via an email).

plant foods in Brooklyncheese alternatives can look like dairy cheese

best vegan cheese store in Americaplant-based alternative to cheese

Like the “normal” dairy, cheese alternatives can be sold pure or with flavourings – from being washed with cognac or other alcohol, smoked, with added dried fruits and nuts, herbs, spices (pepper is popular), laced with truffles, even naturally coloured in the cheddar or Amsterdam styles.

On a road trip through California recently, the highest rated “lunch in Paso Robles” on Google was the just about a year-old Vreamery. To our surprise, this was a plant cheese bar inside a new hip food hall. Their signature Cashew Cream with artichoke and garlic crackered our taste buds out! As if I had forked into my granny’s buttery garlic dip, but this was sans animal involvement. They make some themselves, but buy most from selected vegan creameries in America. A very refined selections as our cheese box revealed. Truffled Chévre from Riverdel (a great vegan boutique with two locations – Essex Market on Manhattan and in Brooklyn) and a selection of blue styles like the blue rind can fool you as in the Bleu Cameblu by Rind also based in New York. They also make a more funky Blue with a pink tint under the blue-gray crust. Miyoko’s Creamery in Sonoma makes spot on aged Smoked English Farmhouse with liquid smoke.

plant-based alternative to cheese

Blue cheese is a masterpiece of its own. Jay & Joy in Paris, France created Jeanne Le Bleuté végétal, soy-free, lactose-free and so-called artisanal (made in small batches). Based on organic almonds, coconut milk and cashews, with fermentation bacteria and the fancy salt from Guérande adding a sophisticated tang. It’s blue veins are not based on spirulina or other plant colorings as I had seen with blue vegan products previously. Hence the taste is not affected by seaweed. Quite nice is also Petit Bleu, a French cashew cheese, yet there is not much blueness going in it.

Greek Violife figured out how to make smooth, creamy, coconut-oil-based Greek White that looks like feta, but the briny tang of the real dairy is missing. Their rawmesan and sliced toast-style “cheese” are mediocre. Violife makes also a great spreadable cheddar-flavoured and moist Greek-style plant cheese I can recommend.

Vegan cream cheese alternatives

Making your own plant-based cheese

Cheese is addictive too (what on can do against its innate chemistry?!) and I am fully guilty of that naging craving. Yet, as I try to be progressive, climate-sensitive and balanced, I am reducing my dairy consumption by including plant alternatives. While trying many brands and complaining about the ok taste of these dairy replacements, to be fair I made a couple of plant fromages myself at home. I find two sources of inspiration – cookbooks and the packaging itself. The later is more daring and risky, but it challenges me to make it as great as they do in even a smaller batch.

food sustainabilityMaturing vegan cheese

A cashew aged cheese that I matured for one week turned out nicely and almond and macadamia ricotta inspired by Matthew Kenney was also satisfying. Vreemery sells a cheese alternative making kit, I got the Truffle Melt. Many contemporary cookbooks focused on fermenting include some recipes. The aesthetics are another story though. It’s tricky to mould the nut creations into a smooth log or wheel like a pretty chévre, or try to hole out a Swiss-eyed hard cheese or a layered truffled brie. For taste, crafting a small batch is more often key to success as it is with most artisan cheese. So try to make your own! Just keep it clean as anything can turn your product into a spoiled mess. Vegan rennet can be found in most health stores.

The French art of the cheese trolley has transpired beyond the Gallic borders. I have not yet seen a vegan restaurant rolling around a proper selection (Perhaps Daniel Humm’s revamped Eleven Madison Park on Manhattan will offer that in its $335 per person vegan tasting?), yet the plant creations turned out to be messier and more delicate than dairy products. Nevertheless, alternative cheese plates are increasingly common. In Venice Beach, California Matthew Kenney’s Plant, Food and Wine offers a nice vegan “cheese” board and so does his new cafe Sutra on Manhattan. In Paso Robles, California Vreamery pairs up your picnic box with local wine tasting at the town’s newest food hall.

plant-based dessertplant-based alternative to cheese

Beyond savory treats, most desserts can easily do with almond, coconut or rice cream. The Key Lime Cheesecake at Moby’s Little Pine in Silverlake, California is sublime! And so is their refreshingly summer-like plant mozzarella skewer (photos above). In New York again, Rawsome Treats create the tastiest plant-based desserts sliced carefully as they were all frozen prior to consumption. Their nut “cream” fillings” will send you high.

Manhattan vegan food best vegan macha cake in New York

While vegetarians embrace the real cheese’s guiltless pleasure in small quantities regularly, made in artisan, considerate, small-scale farm setting, there is still a room for plant alternatives. As my suggestions approve, now time is ripe for vegan cheese hedonism. Honestly, I would not post this article before, indeed, so enjoy the ascend of the alternative cheese as I do!

*I received no sponsorship, no PR, and have no financial interest in any of the above mentioned companies. These are purely my personal reflections on taste.

Gastronomic ceramics in America: from otherworldly architecture to Korean ware

Much of the most exciting gastronomy in the US is in the hands of talented immigrants, second generation Americans or those who returned from temporary stages at uniquely inspiring kitchens mainly from France, Scandinavia or Japan. Yet, in America the most contemporary poised chefs spin their ideas through the wide accessibility to incredible produce and professional workforce to its own unique level. Plus there is one Savannah-raised grown-up child whose imagination surpasses any culturally-inspired culinary approaches.

Culver City designgastronomic ceramists

gastronomic design

I cannot see the “from a time that is yet to be” restaurant by Jordan Kahn (in his own words) anywhere else but in LA. His current futuristic, almost spiritual project is nothing like his previous venture, although not much less talked about Red Medicine. I dined at both, but here we talk gastronomic ceramics, not the food (which in my opinion was great). The entire concept of Vespertine is about the wholeness of the experience. The visual, aural, gustative and intellectual sensory impact feels post apocalyptic and so do the locally made gastronomic ceramics the chef chose.

The sci-fi design of the Vespertine in Culver City collectively transformed the creative television production area of Los Angeles. The extraterrestrial architecture by Eric Owen Moss Architects is not for everyone, but it strikes everyone. Some of the vessels were designed by the otherworldly creator. His architectural water pitcher (pictured above left) is literally a miniature of the building itself.

gastronomic ceramistsgastronomic ceramists

Most of the barred down, rustic and construction pieces resembling tableware is made on the same street by MATCH stoneware. As its name suggests, this studio (pottery classes available) works mainly with sturdy stuff. The rusticity of the weighty bowls and plates invisibly blends in with the architecture. The overwhelmingly black, grainy stone bowls and plates are simple, yet profoundly complement chef Kahn’s visually naturalist cuisine. Some serving utilities by MATCH stoneware are just slate slabs, while others like the bowl for the desert look like broken scraps to be thrown away. Yet, their edges are smooth and safe to handle. The unconventional attracts everything surrounding the Vespertine concept. This casual, rather understated style is what the location is about. Culver City is unquestionably the most 21st century part of Los Angeles.

gastronomic ceramistsgastronomic ceramists

Quite the opposite, culturally immersed and educative dining experience awaits you on Manhattan. At Atomix chef Junghyun and general manager Ellia Park intend to ‘gift,’ innovative Korean Cuisine to New Yorkers. Inviting young South Korean creatives to join them expands the experience beyond its realm into the far-eastern contemporary journey. Atomix commissioned up-and-coming artist Eunyoung Kown, porcelain master Namhee Kim, and even the chef’s cousin ceramicist Youme Oh. In an interview for Bon Appetit in 2019 J. Park says: “I want Atomix to be a way to introduce young Korean talent, there aren’t many channels to enter the market otherwise.”

From the names I dropped so far you get that the restaurant is also a family business. His cousin crafted this jade-hued ceramic bowl by hand to mimic traditional Korean wares.

In my Gastronomic ceramics series, check further out what talent the great French chefs support, how wild the Best Restaurant in the World goes in working with designers in Spain, and learn about the seasonal tableware selections in Japan.

Shion: the purest Tokyo sushi export to Manhattan

Sushi Shion by the namesake Japanese chef Shion Uino sates the highest expectations from the Tokyo frequenting sushi lovers in New York. Hailing from Sushi Saito, one of the most iconic three Michelin sushi restaurants in Tokyo and for many experts the best sushiya in Japan, this authentic Japanese export to Manhattan will not disappoint. The young chef Uino worked himself all the way up to precisely cutting and moulding nigiri sushi at the second counter of Saito, and currently Sushi Shion rivals in quality to Masa, another Edomae-style omakase shrine in New York.

Humble, relaxed, friendly, intimate and focused, right in his first year in New York of opening Sushi Amane chef Shion Uino received his own first Michelin star. While Amane is now headed by another sushi chef bunkered bellow another established Japanese restaurant, the Mifune, Sushi Shion is a headline on its own. Located in TriBeCa at 69 Leonard street, he was called over by Idan Elkon, the owner of both establishments. Taking the game to a grander scale with even more premium seasonal wild products, the chef’s signature plates he learned at Saito, and an elegant setting haloed by contemporary art, Sushi Shion is perfectly set where it should be. Above, I feature some photos from the chef’s dishes and bellow the setting at Sushi Amane. While some plates remain, more rare fish is included now thanks to the wider accessibility of the New York market to these premium products.
The eight-seat bar like at the greatest Tokyo sushi spots is simply decorated the purchase of the highest quality fish and seafood. The $250 (plus tax) at Amane here climbs to $350 ($420 per person with the added 20% Manhattan gratuity) nightly (except for Sunday) omakase menu that sources the best wild sea (plus sweet water eel) produce available on the very competitive market.
The pure edomae, no caviar, foie gras and gold leaves for the Instagram snaps, celebration of the chef’s Sushi Saito apprenticeship is best for those coming to Sushi Shion not to show off but to appreciate. Mastering for hours simmered abalone (awabi), perfectly cooked and marinated laid next to the crunchy yet delicately soft octopus (tako) in Saito style on the US soil awed our palates in full decadence. Marinated red snapper (yokura) or other seasonal zuke style sashimi (marinated in a cooled reduction of sake with shoyu) follow. Slightly charred clams or scallops like two coins are handed sandwiched in a crisp warm nori. A trio of Hokkaido and a small, sublime Kyushu uni are otherworldly. The chef serves the sea urchin from different parts of Japan, particularly priding in his hometown of Amakusa that produces a very elegant, balanced sea urchin.
Pickles, the vinegared sunemono such as cucumbers and cubed (as opposed to the more common shaved slivers) ginger root ready your palate for change. The omakase sushi at Sushi Shion changes sometimes daily. You may get hata/羽太 (grouper) with ponzu and shiso leaf sauce with a yuzu citrus punch, squid brushed with yuzu nitsume sauce, kai (red snapper), kohada (gizzard shad), beaker, akami (red-fleshed bonito) and some rarities like… The omnipresent maguro (tuna), from its lean cut through the more fatty in chu-toro, his was a bit earthy in autumn, to the fattiest belly in the winter in o-toro. The sushi rice at Amane is not as sticky and in so allows for the fish to stand out. An almost undetectable touch of freshly grated wasabi is dabbed on the rice. With omakase sake works wonders, the fermented rice beverage cleans the palate in between the morsels, but the wine list at Sushi Shion is worth glimpsing over if your pocket is not too deep.


Follows hot, steamed fish with its skin, my favourite is kinmeidai. Beware burning your tongue, unlike with the sushi, you can wait to chop stick it into your mouth. Aji (horse mackerel) with chopped spring onion, anago – cooked warm eel in a delicate, balanced, not too sweet sauce, and the last rice filler – the otherworldly tuna hand-roll in the most perfect crispy nori sheet. You can pay for extras. It is your call or the chef can select for you either a different part of chu-toro, horse mackerel and akami that he thought was the best on that day. My salivating husband devoured them with pleasure (getting ahead of the balancing vegetarian meals that I mostly prepare back at home). Miso soup soothes the stomach and a superb tamagoyaki egg cake, sweet with a dense cheesecake texture, juicy pudding like, settles the night’s bill.
sakesake ceramics

Over a decade under his sushi belt taught the chef a razor concentration on his material. He slices each morsel with gentle elegance and brushes the nigiri like a painter with the reduction sauce of nitsume or the nikiri sweet glaze. To witness him in his mindful artisanship is a meditative rather than just a theatrical experience for any participant in this delectable ritual set in the sped-up New York.
As with our first spotless meals at Amane, we now make sure we dine at Sushi Shion every time we fly in. Be on time, if you are more than 30 minutes late for your reservation or cancel under 72 hours prior to your meal there, you will be charged the full fee per guest. Each seating starts when all guest are seated so this is also a lesson in politeness. Book through phone or online on Resy, where I enjoyed an intriguing interview with the chef and the owner of Sushi Shion.

+1 212 404 4600

Mon-Sat 6pm or 8:30pm seating

 69 Leonard street, Tribeca, NYC

Hearth East Village: a political meal that cures your Instagram bug and more

What do the rest-deprived New Yorkers need more than anything for health is a truly nurturing, slow-paced meal at Hearth. Even in the medical field it has been proven that mindful eating, next to meditation and walk in a forest can powerfully remedy the pressures of urban life. While not many kitchens in Manhattan’s apartments are used beyond reheating a delivery, at Hearth your grandmother’s generosity is served casually enough that a weary mum can venture in for a supper with her school kids. Hearth’s hospitality invites awareness and care about what and how you eat to the table — welcome to the family!
East Village restaurantpotato

Real world social meal in New York

First, a note on your table discourages from taking photos during the meal and sharing them on social media. A guilty perpetrator, for this article I had to — secretly and with my cheeks aflame, snap a few. You also eat with your eyes, don’t you? Still, I dined at Hearth so many times that I managed to stay off distracting technology during most of our wholesome meals there. Deepening further your social awareness, food waste, local produce, sharing plates and vegetable-centric menus include educational manifestoes by chef Marco Canora, who knows a great deal about sustainability, but will not force you eating vegan.
Offal, seasonal vegetables from root to tip, fermented grains, sourdough, for long hours simmered broths, sustainably-caught fish and grass-fed, wild grazing cattle cooked with care, Hearth further avoids artificial anything, including sweeteners.
The Italian-American chef laid ground for dining with awareness in the hip East Village on Manhattan. His market-driven cuisine feels satisfying, richer for example than Jean Georges’ ABC projects. Hearth makes a perfect meal in a breezy fall, freezing winter or the rainy spring in New York. wholesome breakfast in New York

Hearty locally-sourced food with a homey feel

Italian recipes inspire some of the menu, but the American melting pot defines the rest. Europe’s food traditions emigrated to the Americas, but the ingredients at Hearth are local. Google describes Hearth as a Tuscan restaurant, the heartiness, perhaps? They serve whole grain pasta, gnocchi, polenta, and bistecca, but the tweaks on the plates are far from the Tuscan tradition I’m familiar with (Tuscany is less than five-hours drive from my home in Monaco). Let’s settle with American-European cuisine.
The popular weekend brunch alleviates stress from any home cook’s shoulders. Seasonal fruits (pomegranates, apples, pears in fall), house crunchy granola, stacked pancakes, plus a warm mug of coffee or tea set you up for the day.
organic chicken in NYC
A must order, warm, long-fermented whole grain bread with grass-fed butter, extra virgin olive oil, and whipped lardo (the bread service costs $6) introduces the costs of real bread to the New Yorkers. Vegetables star. Like the whole baked potatoes nesting on whipped ricotta to start, not just the sides are veggie-centric.
The famous Hearth broths change slightly seasonally. Recently, mushrooms dipped into the vegetable bowl of warm comfort.
To share, the whole Spatchcock chicken is an organic, formerly free-grazing tender beauty, served with sautéed greens and Calabrian chilli. Not spicy, but tastes like your Sunday family lunch if someone cooks very well.
For a serious nose-to-tail indulgence, the bone marrow and the savvy Variety burger (think a blend of brisket, chuck, heart, liver, …) with melting fontina cheese and sweet potato fries is a feast.
Menu at hearth in nycAustrian Riesling

Hearth nurtures rustic romance in the East Village

Although in the evening it gets cosy dark inside, transparency about its provisions’ provenance, like at Raaka chocolates in Brooklyn, is the heart of Hearth. The purveyors list is spotlighted on their website and on the flip side of the menu.
The wine list at Hearth in the East Village is one of the broadest and savviest on the entire Manhattan. Chateau Musar from Lebanon is known for its red Bordeaux blends, but after a broad tasting with one of the family members, I learned that the whites are treasures to age into breathtaking magnificence. On the Hearth list recently a 1975 vintage kicked the splendour off. From the oldest wine regions, greek and georgian wines may inspire your vinous adventure. Still, we often order a bottle from Italy or California, equally far-flown. With a sweet spot on Riesling, find multi-regional selections accompanied with a trip-inspiring, creative musings on the wines, the makers or their location. From Austria to the New York state.
Chocolate is paired with wine as a dessert option, but we love the cheese made from grass-fed dairy to end.
Corinto NeroEastern European wines
Heart is a complete food business. Its generous broths became so popular that a few branches of Brodo opened on Manhattan. A scaled-down convenience, the window selling their slowly simmered broths comforts more healthfully than any take-away in New York. From vegan through chicken, beef and the house speciality the bone Hearth broth either in a paper cup or the more ecological, re-usable (get a dollar off with your next refill of the same! broth) glass jars sold cold for more convenient transport. When renting in New York recently, my time-constrained schedule, welcomed the wholesome additions in my fridge to heat up when feeling down or too tired to cook late at night.
Hearth also offers “take-home, CSA-style package to provide you with the tools you need for quick and healthy cooking”, so stock up with their wholesome ingredients for that rare meal in!
403 E 12th St, New York, NY 10009
+1 646 602 1300
Dinner Mon-Sun: 6-10pm (Fri 11PM); weekend brunch 11am-2pm (Sun 3:30pm)

The Beauty You Must See

Another dimension in the world well trod

Opens to those unfolding the true self to oneself

Unafraid, liberated, strong,

Owning yourself is the path to wealth

Contentment — appreciation of what is now —

The beauty of every morning, the trees simply standing here,

Rivers abundant with life, your wife, friends, a dog

The walking corpses in a crowded city, familiar strangers in a village


Aware of what is and seeing the beauty in all is happiness

That love grants space, a place to thrive, your own hive


This love never clings, owns, possesses

It works, simply clicks

Like listening to poetry when walking up the mountain,

layers multiply, joy grows greater,

the verses bloom with each inhale 


Feel, live this nirvana

Now in this moment is the only time to be

Not strived for in the afterlife —

Will future ever happen as you want it, think of it, crave?

The Beauty You Must See is here and now.


Swiss autumnFrench style

The best teachers in our life are the wise others, some great books we read and our own direct experience. A combination of all these inspired this poem on joy — The Beauty You Must See in the everyday life, the mundane. As the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken ceramics with tinted, often gold-dusted, glue to create even more beautiful objects, the wabi-sabi of seeing beauty in imperfection changes your outlook.

flower powerFrench village

When I was selecting the images to accompany this poem, I found way too many in my 100k-rich photo library. This made me smile, as I realised that I truly live by what I write about in my poetry. I see beauty in so much that surrounds me every day, minute, place and space. I hope, that you will find inspiration to see it clearly too.

If your lenses wear the magic, the spell empowers your entire life. A positive attitude, marvelling at all there exists, the wondrous joy of a child, these all teach us to be appreciative of all that becomes ‘normal’ for most adults. Kids can teach us so much, as any good mother would say.

hiking in the Himalayasspirituality

In Brooklyn, there is Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. book store, a part of a community schooling group where you can get books written by those who just learned to compose sentences as well as sensitive teenagers. I encourage you to browse around. You might be surprised how much wisdom dwells in those young souls! I grabbed a few.

children booksbook lovers

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co
372 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Open daily except for holidays 12noon-6pm

Raaka: unroasted and fully transparent chocolates made in Brooklyn

Raaka means raw, wild in Finnish. That is the echo of how these Brooklyn-made chocolates are crafted from the organic, fair trade-certified, gluten-, nut- and soy-free, all kosher and vegan ingredients. In an easy fall weekend, I enrolled myself and my husband into a decadent chocolaty experience at their Red Hook production facility. After re-tasting them all myself, my other half gasping with pleasure nodded to my inclusion of Raaka in my post on the best chocolates made in America.
artisan chocolateartisan chocolatechocolate tourBrooklyn chocolate

Raaka: the ‘Virgin’ chocolate approach

Like an extra virgin olive oil, Raaka uses only unroasted cacao and processes the mass in as low temperatures as possible. The virgin chocolate maker believes that some of the cocoa’s fruity and bold flavours are better expressed by not exposing the beans to an extreme heat.
At our visit, we started with tasting two types of raw cocoa nibs from the rich Peruvian and the tropical Tanzania beans. The African queen captured me so powerfully, that I lured for more of their raw pleasure. Like Alain Ducasse‘s cracked cocoa nibs, these Tanzania cracking pleasures should be sold by Raaka in bags.
artisan chocolateartisan chocolate

Equitable business model

Transparent trade is the core of the business at Raaka. Sourcing from small cooperatives with sustainable growing values, and paying a substantial share from the sales, often a double above the fair trade minimum, Raaka steps closer to a guilt-free chocolate indulgence for eco-conscious consumers. At the back of each label, the exact price paid for the cacao used in your bar compared to the commodity and fair trade charts alerts you to the stark market pressures. Perhaps the most important aspect of quality is the access and harvest of the raw ingredients.
Every step – from bean to bar – is in detail explained and demonstrated during the tour. Thinking deep into the details, the leftover cocoa husks are donated as a compost to sustainability promoting projects like the Edible Schoolyard in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn chocolatechocolate making equipment
Established in 2010 in Red Hook, the industrial workshops domaine of Brooklyn, the chocolaty pleasure is made in small batches.
Starting with an improvised sorting machine (PHOTO ABOVE: an intriguing combo of an old juicer, a vacuum cleaner and a fan), a curious relic from the first years in Raaka’s production, now replaced by serious Swiss-made machinery.
Moving to the strict temperature-controlled grinder mixers (watch the seductive videos bellow) from which we got a heaven-meets-my-tongue taste. Watching the smoothening of the cocoa mass through tightly-set cylinders, our mouths were drooling with anticipation. The wavy folds of the creamy substance started to shine like a cup of real hot chocolate.

Tempering is an essential step in chocolate making, and even Raaka would not skip the smoothening of the product that would otherwise result in undesirable grey maps all over the chocolate. Our guide showed us such a ‘dusty’ piece that needed to be re-tempered. Some hippie, raw chocolate makers sell chocolate like this, but this rustic, lazy process yields dry, powdery texture.
undesirable grey maps all over the chocolatechocolate making process

Playing with sweetening agents and original flavors

Raaka makes pure single origin dark chocolates, but also smartly flavored blends. They experiment with the sweetening agent – I saw sacks of organic cane sugar, coconut sap sugar (its nearby competitor and another favorite of mine Fine & Raw uses exclusively this low GI sweetener), maple sugar, and yacon, which is a Native American root that has a low GI. Some are blended together in certain bars. In my favorite Peruvian Pink Sea Salt in Zorzal 71% cacao from Dominican republic, cane meets maple sugar. In Maple & Nibs 75% bar from the CAC Pangoa farms in Peru, the crunchy nibs play with the smooth maple crystals sweetened chocolate like an exotic fruit breakfast granola immersed in a thickened Nesquik.
From the same cocoa is another sweetheart of mine – the Oat Milk, where 58% Peruvian cocoa meets luscious, dairy-free, powdered oats with ground coconut. I prefer this blend to their pure coconut milk version. The creamy texture comes from the coconut, but its toasty coco taste is balanced by the addition of the oat flour that adds more robust texture on the tongue.
American chocolate
The recent label and logo redesign (photos bellow) shifted into a more simple, impactful, functionally colorful landscape renderings over the former graphic patterns. The new logo was designed by New York-based Andrea Trabucco-Campos and Simon Blockley from California took over the intensely hued landscapes for each cocoa’s origin. I liked the look before (photo above) more, but a business seems to require bold labels in the stiff on the shelf competition. Packaging in post-consumer recycled paper as they used to do and using a biodegradable foil to wrap each bar is an eco-echelon yet to be climbed by Raaka.
fair trade chocolate

Experimental chocolate with an American inventiveness

Seasonal flavors and monthly subscription introduce experimental, limited editions titled ‘first nibs’ to your palate. Cherry Creamsickle, Vanilla Maca Crunch and Raspberry Mint are some we tasted. At our fall visit, micro batches of Tahini Swirl and Orange Halva made it into the hedonistic box of pleasure shipped all over the US.
The Green Tea Crunch contains a roasted genmaicha, as opposed to the often-used powdered matcha that does not pair well with dark chocolate in my opinion. A 66% Dominican Republic cocoa with organic puffed quinoa adds an extra crunch. I am not keen on the monkey Bananas Foster, the overtly embellished Cocoa, Coconut and Strawberry and the Cabernet Sauvignon cask flavors, as they overpower too much the impact of the cocoa.
American chocolate

Back to the virgin origin

From the pure bars, the unique Peru Nacional varietal, with lighter beans called “white” cocoa because of their inherent higher percentage of the cocoa butter, is naturally sweeter, lighter and smooth. In 2012 Raaka created single vintage bars from this Maranon Valley origin. Available in various percentages for all tastes. I go above 80% when I can.
For serious cocoa addicts, 100% cocoa from the banana leaf and fruit scented Tanzania beans in a bar of chocolate is the ultimate expression of the soil in its growing place. From the same beans, the Bourbon Cask Aged 82% dark chocolate with a lingering oak scent, a touch of caramel, vanilla and bright cherry aroma has been my go to treat ever since I discovered Raaka at the irresistible ABC kitchen section years ago. The unroasted beans acquired a one-month-worth woodiness in a used Bourbon cask. This is upcycling with a decadent result.
American chocolate
You can experience the chocolate making process at the Raaka manufacture every Saturday. The $15 includes a full tasting, from the cocoa bean to their wide range of chocolate bars. Long pants and sleeves, closed shoes and wearing a hair and mustache nets are mandatory as the working space must comply with the hygiene standards for food production, so beware — not the ideal first date. Gourmands above eight years old − from a curious schoolboy, young couples, parents accompanying their bellow 18 offsprings to intrepid elderly friends, formed our white-capped group.
Raaka unroasted cocoa
Raaka reasons its restrictions: Our tours and classes can be quite information heavy, and all of our chocolate is dark.” Hence, kids may not get it, and who wants complainers in a serious chocolate immersion?
Beyond savvy gourmet shops in America and Canada, you will find Raaka’s chocolate bars also in Europe (Selfridges). Competing with the old continent’s by centuries-polished knowhow, I discovered that indeed “happiness is unroasted”.

UPDATED: Top New York healthy, plant-based dining

Eating plant-based food in New York has never been easier. Across Manhattan the eco-friendly choices now include delicious gastronomic vegetarian and vegan restaurants, vegan sushi and hip plant-based bars. Some are casual eateries, while others cater to trendy foodies and true fine dining lovers. All inform customers more diligently about their menu and transparent sourcing.
Mediterranean dips carrots
I rigorously multi-tested the most popular vegetarian and vegan eateries in the metropolis and selected the best. As a non-vegetarian, an occasional fish or meat eater balancing health and sustainability, my palate is more sensitive to the flavours in the vegetarian food in New York. My choices below kept quality on a high roll over the past years of my plant-centric investigation. Such a broad offer of meat, seafood and dairy-free food in New York reduces our cravings for flesh and our carbon footprint when staying in the fast, global metropolis.

Celery Cheesecake at Dirt Candy in NYCDirt Candy Manhattan

Dirt Candy

Gastronomic vegetarian

Vegetables play leading role in Amanda Cohen’s cuisine. The first vegetarian chef to contest the Iron Chef title on the US television. A gourmet twist render her original veggie-centric creations impressive even for the most demanding foodies. Curious visits by members of the carnivorous population is on the daily menu at Dirt Candy in China Town’s upcoming strip. Cohen is poised to prove that meat is redundant in our daily diets. Showing the greatness of vegetarian food in New York, she seduces through her sophisticated savoury plates, as well as vegetable desserts like Celery Cheesecake or Carrot Meringue for which she is known for. Insisting on reasonable portions, mostly organic ingredients and culinary creativity shifts what used to be an outlier, to one of the most creative vegetarian restaurants in New York. Her challengers sprung from the high culinary ranks such as Jean Georges Vongerichten, the plant-guru Matthew Kenney, so diversity makes veggies fun on Manhattan.
MUST HAVE: Brussels Sprouts tacos, vegetable desserts
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ABCv vegetarian restaurant in NYCIndian dosa


vegetarian, trendy, top chef

Jean Georges Vongerichten is an established name on the New York high-end culinary scene. His venture into purely vegetarian dining involves the most revered homeware and design department store in New York. The ABC is for the rich, but the clients squeezing into his Union Square Farmers Market sourced eater do not seem to mind. The food is bright, delicious and original. From breakfast, all day, ABCv is packed also with non-vegetarians as the laurels of the Michelin chef lure them in. My every trip to New York includes a meal in this Zen-faced cafe, where Thich Nhat Hanh’s quotes contrast the loud city crowd. You hardly find inner calm here, but the food is superb and changes frequently as the seasons dictate the creative menu.
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MUST HAVE: Dosa with condiments, seasonal vegetable starters such as beet carpaccio, lettuce tacos, ‘superfood’ cocktails.

Thumbnail Beyond Sushivegan sushi in NYC

Beyond Sushi

Original vegan sushi wholegrain rice bowls

The seasonally inspired rolls and rice buns indeed go ‘beyond sushi’. Most ingredients are sourced locally from the Union Square farmers market and sustainable New York State growers. Improved nutritional value of their sushi together with superb taste rend Beyond Sushi’s creations even more attractive to millenials. Flexible choices between healthier, whole-grain rices (brown, six grain, Forbidden black rice) and cholesterol-free plant ingredients in tasteful preparations turns the meal into a guilt-free sushi treat. The Roll and the Piece of the Month reflect the changing clocks of nature, but there are all-year staples like miso soup, hot or cold noodle and rice bowls. At most branches you can eat in, at some only take-out is possible, yet non-recyclable plastic was cut out. Souen in East Village also does overwhelmingly plant-based (little fish is included) Japanese menu, and its SoHo base has been very casually catering to macrobiotic clients since the 1970s.
MUST HAVE: The Spicy Mango and Mighty Mushroom Roll, Spicy ‘Shroom’ Wrap, seasonal ‘Piece of the Month’, avocado edamame rice bowl
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vegan and raw food Live Jicama and Avocado Tartare with kale chia crackersvegan and raw food

Candle Café and Candle 79

Local green plates

A sake, wine bar an a restaurant in one, all organic, makes for the ideal healthy veggie meal. A brunch on weekends offers egg-less vegan “Nuevos Rancheros“, tofu scramble and fruit-packed pancakes and waffles. Sourcing directly from the farms and local farmers markets the original Healthy Candle was ahead of its times. The veteran of vegetarian food in New York was renamed as Candle Café and became so popular that a more upscale Candle 79 was additionally born. As the first “Certified Green Restaurant” in New York, everything from washing up the dishes to decoration is conscious of its environmental impact, including the eco cocktails. The latino roots of the executive chef Angel Ramos penetrate most recipes. California Mexican ingredients such as avocado, chipotle as well as Asian influence on modern American cooking all talk on the menu. Daily cut fresh pasta bring a breeze of Italy into the smart dining room. With gluten-free options abound, Jorge Pineda, the pastry chef at Candle 79 is recognised as making one of the best vegan desserts in America, so at least try his plant-based gelato.
MUST HAVEGuacamole Timbale, Angel’s Nachos, Live Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms, Live Plum Pie, house-made ice creams, sorbets
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Autumn vegetablesKajitsu New York


Vegan organic gastronomic Japanese Michelin star

For a purely vegan Japanese gastronomic experience go to Kajitsu, whose shojin kaiseki tasting was awarded one Michelin star. Kajitsu is a temple of the monastic Buddhist cuisine a few block from the New York Public Library. It’s counter suits solo diners and the relatively quiet dining room offers the rare calm in the midst of Manhattan. A multi-course set menu includes seasonal highlights, presented at the start of the meal in a vegetable basket. Everything else is a pure symphony of restraint and flavour.
MUST HAVE: Tasting menu only, but dietary requirements will be met with an advance notice.
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Korean herbsbest Korean food in Manhattan


vegan Korean tea herbal infusions

Take off your shoes and shuffle your feet along the wooden floor to your low-set table. The interior is like a wallpaper pulled off a traditional Korean room. Dimmed lights, brisk service, the room is humming with the international foodies of Manhattan. Hangkawi is a more upscale Korean sister of Franchia further on the East side. Both offer a generous and comforting vegan bibimbap in a stone bowl, sizzling tofu and vegetables served on hot lava stone, brown rice, and a wide menu of snacks. Most dishes are ideal for sharing as the portions are still American-sized. The Korean herbal brews healthily accompany any meal.
MUST HAVE: Assortment of wild Korean vegetables (share), bibimbap, Korean herbal infusions.
vegan food

Avant Garden

vegan natural wine

Avant Garden in its dimmed East Village bar setting, kept impressing us with its Italy-meets-American-abundance over the years. Open only for dinner, the vegan food has been always delicious, finely tuned to abundant flavours, reasonable portions, and a smart selection of natural wines. From its original success in Brooklyn, the  has thrived. Sadly, the founding chef’s recently passed away, therefore its future is in the hands of the creative and diligent team. The service can be slow since the tiny, open behind the bar kitchen is modestly staffed. Sharing cuts the waiting time. Ahead of its time, Avant Garden does not look like a vegan hangout, the cosy room is as hip as any trendy bar on Manhattan.
MUST HAVE: Grilled mushrooms, pasta, grilled toasts

Tofu skin

Yuba: tofu skin at ABCv

As meat is less trendy, even plush steak houses offer more plant-centric plates. In my musing on the future of food I provide evidence for the increased number of meatless plates served even at the world’s most coveted restaurants from Paris to New York. Being vegan is in vogue and that is great news for animals as well as the environment. If it is healthy for you though depends on the nutritional balance of the dishes and the preparation techniques. Too much oil and sugar will make us fat or diabetic. So, carefully enjoy and savour the plant bounty that even the millennial trends chasing chefs lovingly fell for.
flower vegan NYC
Most of these Manhattan based restaurants use mainly local organic ingredients. Globally, plant-based dining is on upswing, therefore keep an eye on the newcomers, still, I dined at the above healthy restaurants on multiple occasions without a single disappointment, so I keep coming back for the comfort of knowing that the risk of failure is low for me.
Bloom, Dimes, Lady Bird (sister of Avant Garden) and the Matthew Kenney‘s (his Asia-bound Arata was hit and miss, the same plate-dependent experience we had the Mediterranean XYST) growing empire of plant-based restaurants, are also worth trying. Afterall, each of us has different taste preferences and these should not be judged but embraced.
Enjoy the top New York healthy, plant-based dining, as I did!

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