Greenwich Village, NYC — Maybe it's because of my age — or the similar ages of my friends — or due to my increased du diligence on being more thorough of the topic of food, my ideologies have opened me up to pursue dining options healthier than has been my norm for most of my life.
With intel from a good friend, and a bit of internet research, I discovered by Chloe., a Greenwich Village vegetarian/vegan restaurant presently enjoying a bit of popularity and reverence.
I can't even say that I'm new to the whole "vegetarian/vegan" dietary lifestyle as I am still just starting to understand exactly what those terms mean. But I have suffered the disappointment of trying non-dairy and non-meat dishes posing as common dairy- and -meat-based staples, only reminding my palate how unlike the food I love they are.
But understanding that this is how the veggie-centric market is trying to appeal to possible converts, these are the types of dishes that are almost only available.
So on the by Chloe. menu — which principly lists a "classic" burger, along with it's completely un-classic ingredients (tempeh, lentil. chia, walnut) the burger is made of — I let the appeal of a pesto "meatball" (portobello and veggie) and a "mac 'n' cheese" with a sweet potato-cashew "cheese" sauce and shiitake "bacon".
I airquote, of course, those ingredients that are not what I and my palate are told they are. And the default aversion accompanied with that immediate discovery might be expected of someone who has yet to "acclimate" to this admittedly healthier dietary lifestyle. That being said, there are more positive tastes reaction with these two dishes than I've had with many other meatless/plant-based meals.
The issue, for me, is that the accountrements for the pesto meatball sandwich (marinara, sweet peppers, basil pesto, cashew "mozz", almond "parm") are what packed most of the flavor liberally topping an otherwise bland mushroom and veggie ball. The mac 'n' cheese is serviceable, but like the meatballs the main star of the dish are greatly — necessarily — aided by the additions, in this case the shiitake "bacon", which are genuinely impressive, with the familiar salt and bite of real bacon, plus a little earthiness in its flavor.
I still think that if vegan and vegetarian could just be good in its own iteration and not need to pretend to be something else, they might get greater traction, appreciation and respect.
(I love reminding people that if you call a fried ground chickpea ball and chickpea "burger" or "meatball", everyone is going to finding lacking compared to the burger or meatball that its trying to liken itself to. But call it its own unique thing — like, let's say, a falafel — it can then be great and greatly appreciated for only and exactly what it is.)
I can see the appeal of the restaurant and its menu, though. If you've chosen this route for health or socially conscious reasons, you and your palate can be easily appeased — or, more accurately, distracted. I think of by Chloe. as the vegan equivalent of Shake Shack. (My opinion of Shake Shack is not that high, so that is not meant as a glowing endorsement.) It's serviceable and clean and hip and Instagram friendly and spoken about throughout several media.
And like pastries, including the cupcake I left with (flavorful yet dry cake with an ever slightly viscous frosting), it'll do in a pinch, but ultimately only reminds me of the things I really love that I'm missing.
It's like giving a kid a stuffed animal likeness of a favorite pet that has passed — he can pretend play with it but will alway have that sinking feeling of missing the real thing. Just give the kid a bike and let him or her discover a whole new love.
By Chloe. | 185 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012 | (212) 290-8000 | bychefchloe.com