438 East 9th Street (between First and A; map); 212-677-5856; itzocanrestaurant.com
Cuisine: Mexican fusion
Veggie Options: 6 appetizers and 2 entrees, plus specials
Cost: Appetizers are around $9; the main courses are about $12
The sign at the door of the East Village's tiny Itzocan Cafe touts the homemade food offered inside. Customers would do well to pay attention—stick with the less fussy dishes on this more-or-less Mexican menu, and you'll be very well fed.
We were impressed by the number of meatless offerings on the Itzocan dinner menu: all six of the appetizers and two of the entrees are vegetarian (or can be prepared that way if requested). The hostess was eager to recommend her favorites and happy to offer meatless variations on a few of the daily specials.
We started with the huitlacoche mushroom souffle ($9) which was silky and delicately earthy. It's almost a cross between a mushroom paté and a souffle, which is not a bad combination. Splashes of tomato-chipotle sauce on the plate added color if not much kick. Our other appetizer, a stack of fried goat cheese ravioli ($9) strayed a little too far from wholesome home cooking. The accompanying mole sauce didn't quite jibe with the tangy goat cheese filling, and the ravioli themselves may have been better before their trip through the deep fryer.
Where Itzocan excels, though, is with comfort-food dishes that needn't be delicate. The black bean and roast vegetable casserole ($11) could use a little chile heat, but it's rich and warming, with perfectly tender zucchini and mushrooms folded into the garlicky black beans. It's a simple, hearty dish, topped with corn and chunky fresh tomatoes and served with a basket of pretty good tortillas. It's exactly the sort of dish we crave on a cold, rainy day.
The semolina epazote dumplings ($12) reminded us of toothsome matzoh balls nestled in a bowl of rich (though slightly oversalted) mushroom and poblano broth. This fortifying dish would be the perfect thing to bring to a vegetarian friend who's stuck at home with a cold.
Both of our entrées were seriously belly-filling; you could certainly skip the appetizers and have a satisfying, affordable meal. Though it may not be a destination restaurant, downtown vegetarians seeking more than just salads and side dishes should consider giving Itzocan a visit.
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