342 E 6th St, New York NY 10003 (between 1st & 2nd Ave; map); 212-228-8325
Veggie Options: Everything's vegetarian and vegan
Cost: Appetizers $6-8; entrees $8-10
Living in New York, it's difficult not to eat out constantly, but after a while I often start to feel the effects of all the extra grease and salt (and other such tasty things) that inevitably end up in my diet. Lan Cafe somehow avoids any of those side effects while being delicious, remarkably light and refreshing. This is the type of food that I could easily eat on a regular basis without qualm, and it also happens to be entirely vegetarian and vegan. Basically, it's a no-brainer.
Spring rolls ($6.25) set our meal off to a good start. Filled with carrots, leeks, bean thread and shredded tofu, they somehow manage to be light and crispy as opposed to heavy or greasy. I hesitate to declare them as healthy, but they are certainly of much better quality than average.
The broth is really the star of the Vietnamese Pho ($9.95). It's difficult enough as it is to find a pho made with vegetarian broth, so we were extremely impressed by just how rich and flavorful Lan Cafe's is. The rest of the Pho is pretty standard: rice noodles, bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, hoisin sauce, tofu, and vegetarian meatballs come together in a well-balanced and quite satisfying soup. Come wintertime, this will really hit the spot.
The Grilled Lemongrass Seitan on Rice Vermicelli ($9.95) is one of the more popular dishes here. Served with bean sprouts, cucumber, carrots, shredded lettuce, peanuts, fried shallots, and mint, it's a combination that's fresh, light, and very refreshing. It may look quite plain to the unknowing eye, but the thin clear sauce at the bottom of the bowl can coat everything with just enough sweetness to flavor the dish while still letting the individual ingredients shine through. This is a dish that I could eat over and over again without guilt.
We ordered the Yellow noodles ($9.95) on a whim, but it turned out to be the stir fry I've always craved and had previously been unable to find. The yellow noodles are thin enough to have plenty of surface area to coat in flavor, but just thick enough to not fall apart when stir fried. They are sautéed with carrots, cabbage, string beans, tofu, and vegetarian ham: a perfect hearty, filling, and a tasty combination. And of course they are fried just enough to satisfy my greasy noodle cravings, without actually being very greasy at all. Kind of a dream come true.
Lan Cafe fills a very particular role in my restaurant lineup: it's light, satisfying, and not overly indulgent. If the faint drone of the Buddhist chanting filtering in from the kitchen doesn't put you at peace, the food just might.
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