A month or two ago my husband and I went into a little neighborhood wine bar named BLVD for the first time. We’ve been living in Long Island City, Queens just over a year now, and this was the first time we’d ever been to this wine bar. With the two little ones, we don’t get out to wine bars much, period, but this particular evening we had dropped them off at a PJ party at the Kids’ Club, and so we had two blissful, child-free hours all to ourselves. I’d been curious about this little wine bar on the corner I walk by nearly every day, so we went in expecting some nice wine selections but not much in the way of food that we could eat.
Boy, were we wrong. We were surprised in the best possible way. As we were scanning their menu, I noticed that they had just a few vegan options – not many, but they were clearly marked vegan, so we ordered the Dragon Bowl and the special soup that day, which happened to be a vegan oyster mushroom truffle soup. The soup was stunningly rich and flavorful, creamy but not thick or heavy. I was kind of amazed. And the Dragon Bowl was incredibly delicious too – rice, tofu, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and more… everything was perfectly cooked and seasoned, a wonderful mix of flavors and textures, topped with a duo of peanut / tahini sauces. This was really masterful cooking, vegan food at its absolute best. We could tell that the chef actually cared about these dishes and they were far from being vegan afterthoughts… you know, like the dreaded steamed vegetable plate?
I happily posted about those two dishes on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, and to my surprise, Chef Batya Goldberg actually reached out to me to ask if I’d like to come back for a vegan tasting. After much thinking, I hesitantly agreed to come back. Just kidding – I was immediately like, HELL YES!! PLEASE PLEASE!! So we arranged a time that I could come in for some new vegan dishes not on their menu. At the last minute, I invited my friend Valerie (who is also vegan and lives in the neighborhood) to come along with me, and I was so glad I did, because much to my surprise, when we arrived for what I thought was going to be a “little” vegan tasting, we were greeted with a six-course menu planned just for me! Complete with three vegan wine pairings! I am not exaggerating when I say that I nearly passed out from the excitement.
So let me break down this glorious tasting menu for you. It was truly one of the most memorable meals of my entire life.
Course #1: Hazelnut Ricotta with Mandarinquats, chioggia beet confit, roasted pistachios, rustic bread. The hazelnut ricotta was SO buttery! Rich, creamy smooth and delicious. And also, if you’ve followed my blog for some time, then you may know that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with beets. I really really want to like them, but usually… I just don’t. But this! I can easily say that, hands down, this was the best. beet. of. my. entire. life. I wanted to stand on the table and declare, “I love beets!” Such was the magic of Chef Batya’s cooking.
Course #2: Shredded Kale & Brussel Sprout Salad with smoked Marcona almonds, lemon Dijon vinaigrette. Not to be hyperbolic, but this was pretty much the best kale salad I’ve ever had too! And I’ve had a lot of kale salads, let me tell you. It was the simplicity of perfectly seasoned and dressed greens, the bright perfectly acidic vinaigrette, and the smokiest almonds ever. I did not confirm with her, but I suspect that Chef Batya actually used a smoker for these. There were a few smoky elements in her menu, and they all had the taste of fresh wood smoke. I’m not sure if she knew about my Baconish book, but these smoky almonds were right up my alley.
Course #3: Oyster Mushroom Foie Gras with Mango Chutney and Fruit Caviar. The earthiness of the mushroom mousse was so delicious paired with the slightly spicy mango chutney and the sweet, fruity “caviar” spheres. I would have liked the “foie gras” to be just a tad smoother, but the flavors were just incredible. And her chutney, I could eat with a spoon.
Course #4: Tomatillo Chickpea Curry with avocado, cilantro and crostini. This curry will make you ask, “Why aren’t ALL curries made with tomatillos?” I love traditional Indian curries, but the unorthodox tomatillo added such a bright tartness and acidity that I never realized a curry needed. Tomatillo curry shouldn’t make sense, but yet it made total sense. If I didn’t have 5 other courses to tackle, I would have gladly eaten a much bigger bowl of this!
Course #5: Smoked Tofu Lettuce Wrap with pickled carrots, daikon, ginger spiced apples, roasted peanuts, lime aioli. This was a refreshing, lighter course before the grand finale. I found the carrots and daikon to be just a tad too acidic here, but when all the ingredients were combined into the wrap, it made a nice little bite. I think these would be even better in the summer.
Course #6: Thali Plate with Lentil Dal, Gobi Matar, Bangan Bharta, Chana Masala, Fresh Mango Pickle, Shrikhand, and Naan Bread. This final course was a total stunner. We were already on the verge of exploding at this point, but somehow we found more room to clean this up, because it was just. so. good. We were completely blown away. I’m going to say something crazy – this was some of the BEST Indian food I’ve ever had! And I’ve had a lot of Indian food, not just in Indian restaurants, but also plenty of home-cooked authentic Indian food as well. We were so confused – we weren’t in an Indian restaurant, and Chef Batya is not Indian… how could this be so mind-blowingly good?? She did reveal that she actually lived in India and learned to cook there, which explains it all. Her use of the spices, her respect for the vegetables, the absolutely perfect balance of all the flavors… it actually brought a tear to my eye.
What was truly touching about this meal was that this was food that was so clearly made with love and joy. You could taste it in every bite! BLVD is not vegan, and neither is Chef Batya, although she did cook for some time at a vegetarian collective and is perfectly comfortable (if that isn’t obvious already) cooking vegan, gluten-free, or for any other special dietary needs. You could see with each dish that she was truly inspired, she was cooking vegan food with respect for and in celebration of all the ingredients. I also enjoy eating tofu, seitan, and other meat “analogues,” but this food didn’t rely on any of that, nor did any of the dishes need it. I will say it again, this is vegan cooking at its BEST.
As if we weren’t spoiled enough by all this incredible food, we were also treated to three different vegan wine pairings to go with the six courses. I was so impressed by the Wine Director Rob Bralow’s knowledge of vegan wines, especially since not all vegans even know that there can be animal products in their wine! All three wines happened to be French biodynamic wines – the first two were white, the last one a super funky red. I forgot to take a pic of the third one (the Olivier Cousin “Pur Breton” Cabernet Franc) because, well, by then I had already had two glasses and was feeling pretty warm and cozy.
So all I can say is if you are in the LIC area, or even if you’re not, jump on the subway and get over to LIC immediately and order everything vegan on the BLVD menu. This is some of the very best vegan cooking in the entire city! Maybe if we create enough demand we can convince the lovely Chef Batya to open her own vegan restaurant! 🙂
BLVD Wine Bar
4720 Center Blvd, Queens, NY 11109