Le Colonial: a place for compromise! »
Unless you live in a magical family of non-meat-eaters, who raised you meat-free (it happens! I know one such family, eating at their house is THE BEST), you are probably related to omnivores. And unless you are a horrible person who never learned to grow up and stop having a fit every time a family member ate something that offended your vegan sensibilities (which, come on guys, are we still 18?), then you are going, from time to time, have to choose a restaurant that allows your family to eat animals and that provides enough vegan food that you won’t have to be little lord/lady picky-picky vegan, all asking for the whatever dish without half its ingredients and can the salad come with extra nuts maybe please? Because that can get embarrassing, too, when you’re just trying to have a nice, quiet family dinner, maybe celebrate a nice occasion, show your parents you’re a grown-up person who can conduct herself like an adult now, and you have to demand that the chef rearrange half the whole menu so your parents can pay too much for what will undoubtedly be three courses of vegetables with sauce.
Lucky for us, there is Le Colonial, a glorious mix of unabashed orientalism—the cuisine is “French Vietnamese”—and (mostly) unpretentious food. We were there the other night (note: open Mondays! Family-friendly!) for Joel’s parents anniversary; it is a very nice restaurant for an anniversary or similar, grown-up celebrations. I noted a fairly high number of older-dude/younger-lady couples, though maybe it wasn’t so high considering we were in a nice restaurant in the Theater District. As I am not involved with a peer of my father’s, I cannot tell you just where such couples spend time, but I believe Le Colonial is one such place.
There are a few explicitly vegetarian items on the menu [pdf], which by dint of their Vietnamese inspiration are vegan. Joel and I split four of them: the Cha Gio Chay and Bo Bia Chay appetizers, Dau Hu Chay entree, and Cai Bi Trang side. This proved to be plenty of food, and also taught me some Vietnamese, in that I believe that Chay means “roll” or perhaps “rolls,” plural. Yes we ate a lot of rolled food last night.
First, and best, were the Cha Gio Chay, fried “buddha rolls” made of taro, tofu, jicama, and shiitake mushrooms. They’re served with some big leaves of lettuce, and some sprigs of mint and cilantro. You roll up the little hot crispy rolls in the big lettuce leaves, with some mint and cilantro, and dip the whole package in some ponzu sauce, and then you eat it and die of happiness. Tragically, only five come on a plate and they cost $11.
Next we ate the Bo Bia Chay, cold spring rolls filled with tofu, portobello, cucumber, basil, crushed peanuts, and chayote. The best thing about these rolls were the peanut sauce that came with them; it was more savory than the average peanut sauce, and was a little spicy, too, which gave the rolls a teeny kick that they quite needed. I also found the wrappers much chewier than they should’ve been, like, unpleasantly rubbery and chewy, though Joel did not.
Le Colonial is a “nice” restaurant, so after our first courses we had a nice break before they brought our entree and vegetable. Dau Hu Chay was “pan-roasted” tofu rolls made layers of seaweed (nori), shiitake, and tofu skin, served over kale and mushrooms in a thick, sweet “soy sauce.” I put “soy sauce” in “quotation marks” because the sauce did not, as far as I could tell, taste anything like shoyu. It had the consistency of tonkatsu sauce, really thick, though significantly sweeter. It was good, just not the most delicious thing I’ve ever had. Paradoxically, while the rolls could’ve used a ladleful less sauce, their vegetable bed majorly benefitted from it all. Oh, they were delicious, better than the rolls, and they rolls were pretty tasty.
Cai Bi Trang, our extra side dish, was also good. When given the choice I do not generally choose baby bok choi, especially when one of the other options is asparagus, but these little bastards were surprisingly appetizing. They were really lightly cooked in soy sauce, with some sliced oyster mushrooms thrown in for extra flavor. They were absolutely the best baby bok choi I’ve ever eaten.
Of course I wanted dessert, but Le Colonial’s dessert menu was not at all vegan-friendly. Joel’s parents enjoyed their flourless chocolate cake, brought by our waiter for their anniversary. His parents also very much liked their meals, though I will not describe them because who cares about meaty meat dishes we are never going to eat? The point is, you can have a nice dinner here with your family, and everyone can order something, and you can eat without starving or requesting special treatment. It is not the most adventurous cuisine, but it is good, and given the chance I would eat two plates of the buddha rolls all by myself, so if you go, order enough so that you don’t have to share with your family; you know they’re going to want the obviously delicious dishes you’re eating, and oops! they can’t share theirs with you, HA HA. Besides, they are paying for it.