Epicures have long turned up their noses at conspicuously wholesome fare. In all fairness, the modern passion for raw, vegan and vegetarian food has not always matched chefs’ abilities to bring seitan and shrubbery to a five-star culinary level. But a cadre of recently opened healthy restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn—like the five below—are discovering exciting ways to bend nutritious ingredients to delicious ends.
The trendy paleo diet—which champions the wild plant and animal meals of our heavy-browed, cave-dwelling ancestors—gets the fast-casual treatment at this 80-seat Union Square eatery and market dedicated to preindustrial, processing-phobic food.
Diet tags: Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, juicing
The scene: Office workers in search of a Subway alternative mix with postworkout yogis in the bi-level space. On the second floor—which recalls a tree house—flickering imitation candles cast a warm glow at Indonesian wood tables.
The drinks: An in-house line of juices ($8-$10) make for bracing midday pick-me-ups: The bright green, antioxidant-rich Demi-Verte (kale, cucumber, apple, celery, lime) blends cool vegetal tones with a hint of cider sweetness. Smoothies ($9)—like the brisk Cool Carrot, which combines the root vegetable with banana, mango, lemon and lime—and a short list of wine cocktails similarly balance Greenmarket flavors with aplomb.
The fare: A snack bar, shelves of packaged healthy foodstuffs and a hot-plates counter cater to the ’hood’s grab-and-go sensibility. Snack on a cup of fiber-heavy almond butter ($5), showered with crunchy nut-and-seed granola and glistening chunks of kiwi. A coconut-sugar-brined rotisserie chicken breast ($9)—tasty, though a tad dry—was overshadowed by the sides: Roasted, succulent pieces of pineapple ($3.50) dipped in rich cashews and an earthy mound of steamed rainbow chard ($3.50) dotted with onions make you wonder if cavemen were really that bad off after all.
Health-nut cred: A large TV screen broadcasts nutrition facts and gung ho admonitions like, “Get back to human!” 78 Fifth Ave at 14th St (212-510-8919, hukitchen.com)
The Butcher’s Daughter
At this “vegetarian butcher” shop, nightlife impresario Heather Tierney (Apothéke, Pulqueria) winkingly references a meat market (bags of fruit hang from hooks) and sustains the downtown set with detox-friendly fare.
Diet tags: Juicing, vegan, vegetarian, organic
The scene: Wraparound windows, potted flowers, and suspended metal tools give this café the feel of a flourishing greenhouse. Fit, jeans-clad creatives sip La Colombe coffee ($2) and flip through the paper before heading to work.
The drinks: Tierney recruited juice queen Brandi Kowalski (who runs the Elixir Bar at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen) to develop the menu’s liquid offerings, which boast a complexity of flavors and rich textures that rival some of the city’s better cocktails. In the Mexican Sunrise ($9), corn, jicama and cayenne form a deep, savory base, boosted by sunny fruits (lemon, lime, the applelike cherimoya) and natural sweeteners (agave, aloe). The viscous Brass Monkey smoothie ($8)—which combines almond and peanut butters with frozen banana, almond milk and maca—tastes indulgent but feels restorative. Packed with protein, it’s an ideal choice for a postbender breakfast.
The fare: In the morning, there is high-fiber rolled-grain muesli ($8), coconut yogurt ($8) and an enlightened breakfast sandwich ($8): The halves of a toasted English muffin, slathered with a piquant tomato jam, bookend fluffy farm eggs, leaves of kale and a mellow slice of dairy-free cashew cheese. After 11am, lunch on one of the wholesome sandwiches like the Smashed Avocado ($11), which layers cool slivers of the cholesterol-lowering fruit over toothsome slices of seven-grain bread, pepped up with curry, mustard seed and a splash of lemon juice.
Health-nut cred: Down one of the elixir shots ($4)—made with immune-boosting ingredients like wheatgrass and echinacea—to refresh your metabolism. 19 Kenmare St between Bowery and Elizabeth St (212-219-3434, thebutchersdaughter.com)
Foragers City Table
After the success of their Foragers Market in Dumbo, husband-and-wife team Richard Lamb and Anna Castellani opened this uncluttered Chelsea restaurant—adjoining an organic-leaning grocery—featuring fresh produce, eggs and meat from their 28-acre farm in the Hudson Valley.
Diet tags: Locavore, organic
The scene: With a menu and staff eagerly preaching the now-quite-familiar farm-to-table gospel, the artisanal digs might have pushed the place over the brink into twee. Instead, the industrial outfittings—exposed ductwork, boxy lights, steel beams—provide a sleek, modern counterpoint.
The drinks: Tipples, like the dishes, spotlight homegrown produce: The gimlet ($12), pulpy with rehydrating cucumber, evenly balances an herbaceous basil-infused vodka with lime juice and a touch of simple syrup. A short but well-curated regional wine list showcases bottles from New York wineries.
The food: Chef Nickolas Martinez’s offerings remind you why New York became obsessed with the local, organic approach in the first place: The ingredients are pristine. Three plump, deviled farm eggs ($6), spiked with Espelette pepper dust and sherry vinegar, each collapse into a satisfyingly creamy bite. The stunning house salad ($13), lightly dressed with oil and vinegar, interweaves crunchy bean sprouts, delicate leaves of crisp, sweet gem lettuce, crunchy shards of baguette crust and an olive-and-almond paste. For an entrée, opt for one of the top-notch, omega-3-rich seafood plates like the black cod a la plancha ($25): Snow-white folds of the moist, tender fish sit in an addictive, chili-oil-spiced broth, festooned with neat chunks of cauliflower.
Health-nut cred: Flip the menu over to find a multicolumn list of all the farms the restaurant uses. 300 W 22nd St between Eighth and Ninth Aves (212-243-8888)
Maimonide of Brooklyn
Bearded, hip Parisian restaurateur and hotelier Cyril Aouizerate is behind this popular vegan restaurant, which projects a uniquely Brooklyn brand of cool, with an eclectic design aesthetic to match the progressive diet food.
Diet tags: Vegan, vegetarian, organic
The scene: In the beautiful, high-ceilinged dining room, Boerum Hill’s ethics-conscious eaters crowd around communal wooden tables lit by rows of suspended, mismatched lamps. One wall serves as a gallery of “taxidermied” vegetables; across the floor, neatly organized postcards hang from clothesline clips.
The drinks: Try one of the freshly squeezed juices ($4), nut milks ($3) or local drafts like an Allagash White ($6).
The food: With chef Neal Harden (Pure Food and Wine) at the stove, a vitamin-C-loaded appetizer of roasted heirloom cauliflower florets ($12) bears fire-kissed flavor thanks to a dressing of smoked paprika aioli, lemon and garlic. MOBs—open-faced flatbread sandwiches ($10)—are the restaurant’s signature offering: The Warming Glow features a layer of luscious guacamole, nickels of Delicata squash and pickled radishes, blending together for a garden-fresh bite. But the real head-turner for carnivores is the veggie burger ($16): A moist slab of soft crimino mushrooms crumbles just like good beef would, while the combination of Brooklyn Brine pickles, charred onions, smoked eggplant and house-baked sweet-potato rolls brings to mind a savory pulled-pork sandwich.
Health-nut cred: The restaurant’s name nods to the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who wrote about how a good diet could improve the body and spirit. 525 Atlantic Ave between Third and Fourth Aves, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn (718-797-2555, mob-usa.com)
Ronen Seri—who opened his first vegan restaurant in 2005—debuted his fourth eatery in March: It’s a testament to how far the health-food movement has come, with a chic clientele and clever updates on lowbrow grub.
Diet tags: Raw, vegan, vegetarian, organic
The scene: Drippy modern paintings, brick walls and dim lighting conjure a vaguely romantic air on the first floor. For cozier digs, head to the downstairs dining room, where there is a LED-lit fireplace.
The drinks: All the beers—like the hoppy Pinkus hefeweizen ($9)—are organic, and the cocktails go green as well: The margarita-like Jaguar Ride ($12) mixes fresh-squeezed juices with jalapeño-infused tequila.
The food: For those accustomed to dietary self-denial, the menu offers low-calorie substitutes for carnivorous fare that still taste indulgent. To start, order the beet carpaccio ($13): The bright, purple slivers are slicked with olive oil and topped with dollops of herbed cashew ricotta and a tangle of crunchy sprouts. Of the substantial sandwiches, the “cheese steak” ($15) makes for a convincing facsimile, with ragged, browned ribbons of seitan dressed in a warm, spicy aioli and squeezed inside a flaky baguette. Seitan also bolsters the moist “wheatballs” of a delicious, basil-accented spaghetti dish ($17), while a hunk of tofu provides heft and creaminess to a kimchi-spiced banh mi ($13).
Health-nut cred: The restaurant donates a portion of its profits and throws events to support animal welfare organizations like Farm Sanctuary. 41-43 Carmine St between Bedford and Bleecker Sts (646-438-9939, blossomnyc.com)
Cornerstone Café may be one of the best deals in the East Village. Perhaps it’s because the restaurant is cash only. Perhaps it’s thanks to the no frills atmosphere—exposed brick painted in jewel tones is the only decoration. Regardless, it’s a welcome change to see an $8 cocktail menu in NYC—the restaurant even offers a two for $12 deal. You get what you pay for, though—both the gin martini and the prohibition-inspired The Last Word are merely serviceable. It might be a safer bet to order off the extensive beer and wine list. If the page-long beer list overwhelmed you, the dinner menu might be a tough sell. Largely Italian in its influence, it offers everything from penne vodka ($4—no, that’s not a typo) to burgers ($10) a roasted lamb shank in red wine sauce ($26). Though some of the more elegant dishes fall flat—the salmon fillet ($24) arrives overcooked and oily and the tiramisu ($9) overly bitter—the elevated bar food is more successful. Pungent gruyere adds big flavor to the creamy oven-baked mac and cheese ($16), and the chef batters and fries fresh cheese for the breaded mozzarella appetizer ($9). What Cornerstone Café lacks in execution, it makes up for in friendly, attentive service. Water glasses remain constantly full, and servers always seem ready to offer a recommendation or refill the bread basket. Though it’s not particularly fancy, perhaps that’s not the point. It’s a corner café, as the name suggests—and a charming one, at that. BY COMMUNITY REVIEWER: ANN
Venue says: “Need dinner plans? Think no further. Come try our mouth watering Duck Breast. HAPPY HOUR-Half priced bottles of wine & 2 for 1 cocktails”