Monday, December 13, 2010

The Zen Palate - New York's Finest Vegetarian Cuisine

We met Vee and Kay in our room at the New York Dreams Hostel. Our room is cozy – just long enough for a door and two sets of bunk beds set end to end, and just wide enough that we don’t have to walk past ‘em sideways.
            And no bed bugs. Not that we’re not taking precautions. Kay brought bed bugs back with her from Europe last month and was bitten 87 times; now we have suitcases full of plastic bags – everything we wear and touch goes straight into a bag – ready for a hot-wash the next time we find a washing machine. It’s not a perfect system – our room is so small that our bags have to sit on the floor, but it’s the best we can arrange. And the place looks clean. For whatever that’s worth.

New York is a great place to be a tourist – even when it’s raining, and even if you’re not being particularly discerning about your tourism. It’s a city that rewards the aimless ramble; just walk around with your eyes aimed upward. The view’s marvelous.  Here is a photograph of a painted truck behind a tree.

And just the painted truck.  Because I like painted trucks.

We took the subway down to 5th Avenue so Kay and Mr Tabubil could visit the fabled NYC Apple Store (hallowed ground for techies) then we ambled down 5th to Rockefeller Center and eventually (with several strategic layovers in cupcake shops) Times Square, where we walked into into an enormous Toys R Us, with a ferris wheel on the ground floor and an animatronic tyrannosaurus rex upstairs. We all gawked. Very yokel of us, I’m sure, but this town works so hard at going over the top, it'd be a shame not to appreciate it as it asks to be!
            And briefly - too briefly - the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I showed Mr Tabubil the Egyptian Temple and the Hall of Armor, then dragged him into the Dutch Masters Galleries and burbled happily at him for 20 minutes about light and color and reflection until we were kicked out at closing time.
And then we had dinner.  Which is what this blog entry is really about.

Vee is a vegetarian, and came to NYC equipped with a double-barreled fold-out city map that she’d marked up with every single veggie, vegan and veggie-friendly restaurant on the island.
            There weren't as many as you'd expect there to be, considering the size of the town. Which perhaps explained why we were hiking sideways across midtown, heading for the Zen Palate – a neo-Asian-fusion joint with pretensions toward the gourmet. Or oily purple slabs of Seitan and Tofu pretending to be plates of avant-garde meaty cuisine.
            They were vast and they were greasy and they wallowed.

Don’t even ask what they did to the brown rice. Ask this instead: if you can't handle the starch with any manner of competence, what are you going to do to the protein?
            Blast it out of the stratosphere on a crown of fire, that’s what. You could have powered half the US Air force with the food - on our table alone there was enough raw chili to keep a whole squadron of F1-Tomcats riding on afterburners for weeks.
            Possibly out of guilt, Vee promised us hamburgers the following night. Real ones. There was a veggie-friendly burger joint near Times Square - - bursting into grateful tears, we begged her to spare us the details. The promise was enough. We burped hugely and sipped gingerly at our rice bowls (don't ask) and fled, leaving most of the vile stuff on the plates, quivering gelatinously.

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