Vegansaurus NYC: John’s of 12th Street’s new all-vegan menu!  »

I heard some chatter that one of NYC’s oldest Italian restaurants had added an all-vegan menu in addition to their regular menu. Naturally I looked into it. Sure enough, John’s of 12th Street has not just vegan options but an entirely separate vegan menu, which proclaims: “We want everyone to be able to enjoy our Italian specialties made with the freshest ingredients available! All of our vegan dishes are plant-based and contain no animal ingredients whatsoever. We use dedicated cooking utensils for preparing vegan dishes.” Wow! I arranged a dinner immediately with a bunch of my vegan friends and we promptly showed up forks in hand.

John’s is an old-school Italian place. It opened in 1903 and the space has an old-fashioned feel. The waiters are all in white button-ups with ties and have Brooklyn accents. And at one point our waiter actually yelled at an adjacent birthday party to keep it down—for the record, they were being wicked loud—totally awesome.

When we sat down, we were asked if we’d like garlic bread; my friend said we’d like the vegan garlic bread. Our waiter asked if we were all “goin’ ve-gaan tonight?” We nodded and he quickly whisked away our menus and replaced them with the vegan ones. Super exciting. Vegan appetizers, salads, pastas, entrees, and desserts. We were a large party so I got to taste a wide variety. Two kinds of bruschetta (one with avocado!), Caesar salad, stuffed mushrooms, minestrone soup. All quite good. For my main I order pasta with vegan Alfredo, BECAUSE HOW CAN YOU NOT. It was good. I won’t lie, I put a lot of salt and pepper on it but after that it was delicious. My roommate had the tofu spinach ravioli which I though had really impressive texture, just like a traditional ravioli. Another friend let me taste the seitan parm (it was yum) which came with a SIDE of pasta. Would you like a side of pasta? Only with everything please!

Then came dessert. This was the true highlight. I got the vanilla cannoli. Oh man. Cue picture:

Crazy delicious! Some of my friends got the chocolate version but I didn’t taste it because no one was interested in sharing at this point, just scarfing. There was also a panna cotta (surprisingly good) and ice cream from Lula’s (always a delight).

Bottom line: I was ultra-stoked about this trip because I LOVE Italian food, but I wouldn’t tell a vegan from out of town to go out of their way unless they are a major fan like me. Except for the cannoli which IS worth going out of your way!! You should go get one NOW. This is a great place for a large dinner party, especially if it’s a mixed party with vegans and nons. The food is good. It is not unbelievable or particularly special but it is a solid “good.”

I think its super important to point out that John’s is freaking radical for doing this!! How many restaurants can you just walk into and not just have a few options but your whole own entire menu made with special animal-free pots and pans? Like NOWHERE. Go John’s of 12th Street! You are sexy like a vegan! I hope this is the sign of a trend because I would love for more restaurants/bakeries/delis/etc. to have good vegan options. And I MEAN options; one item is not “options.” Yay for vegan Italian food! Is it the best food ever? No. Is it good? Yes! I’ll take another side of pasta please!

[Ed.: Oh, snap! It looks like you can ORDER ONLINE!! Ugh, do they deliver to Oakland? BECAUSE WANT.]

Laura Yasinitsky is a writer, comic, waitress, and animal-lover based in New York City. She has appeared on Comedy Central’s “Open-Mic Fight” and writes for US Weekly's Fashion Police. You can follow her silliness on Twitter @LaraYaz and read about her animal friendly adventures at Laura Goes Vegan.


Guest review: Soul Cocina!  »

I have a love-hate affair with vegan restaurants that fill their menu with faux-meat. Don’t get me wrong, I love a delicious kung pao un-chicken dish, but I believe that one can eat vegan without using meat-substitutes or compromising flavor. Enter Roger of Soul Cocina pop-up fame to present a six-course vegan feast without soy or processed ingredients, instead taking cues from world cuisines and seasonal produce.

When you first walk in to La Victoria (2937 24th St. at Alabama Street in San Francisco) on a night Roger has taken over the kitchen, head straight past the well stocked pastry to the back of the bakery. There, the cafe tables have been transformed with fresh flower bouquets, bright tablecloths, and a comfortable, homey ambiance that makes you want to cozy up for a few hours. While diners can order separate dishes from Soul Cocina’s rotating menu, my dining companion and I went the full monty and each ordered the fixe prix dinner ($30).

Our first taste of Roger’s world-influenced cuisine was the bhel puri, a light Indian snack of puffed rice, peanuts, onions, tomatoes, and mangoes, drizzled with a tamarind sauce. Wrapped in paper cones, this dish showcased street food at it’s finest. A second appetizer quickly followed: a basket of homemade blue corn tortilla strips with a bowl of heavenly guacamole that can best be described as avocado-overload (and I mean that in the best way).

Next was a surprise last-minute addition, a roasted pan of cauliflower with a smokey, soft, buttery texture perfectly contrasted against the crunch of pine nuts and sweet currants. A healthy does of spicy garlic, olive oil, and a kick of citrus reminded me of the Middle East, where such bright flavor profiles are usually found in the restaurants lining the streets of Istanbul.

Our chef was kind enough to come out and present dishes, including a well composed plate of platano maduro, pickled vegetables, and slow-cooked black beans on a banana leaf. Unfortunately the sharp kick of acid from the pickles overpowered the subtler flavor of the soft beans. That’s not to say that I didn’t finish almost everything, despite my belly telling me to call it quits.  But we still had one more dish and dessert to go, and I was determined to try everything.
Our last main was a stuffed thick tortilla (called a “huaraches de buddha”) topped with a medley of exotic sauteed vegetables. I’ve been wanting to try fiddleheads for awhile now, and the best way I could describe the taste was if broccoli and asparagus had a punk rock baby. The two accompanying pureed salsas had a definite kick, but their smoky heat went perfectly with the lightly seasoned vegetables and stuffed tortilla.

My eating prowess was rewarded with possibly the best vegan desert I have ever been served:  a coconut creme bruleee with a side of tropical fruit. Sounds simple, but this was off the hook. The brulee’s sweet hard shell broke perfectly to reveal the velvety, rich, fragrant custard beneath.  The consistency and sweetness were spot-on. Seriously, it was out of this world paired with thinly sliced starfruit and kiwi.

Unfortunately, Roger might be moving to Chicago this year. So next time he presents a vegan Soul Cocina night, go! A few more tips: the biggest bang for your buck is the prix fixe, but first run a marathon (or around the block) a few times as you’ll need your game face in order finish everything. While you’re out, skip around the corner to grab a bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner sans—corking fee. To find out when Roger will be presenting another vegan night (usually the first Wednesday and Thursday of the month), visit Soul Cocina’s website.

UPDATE: Soul Cocina’s LAST meal is THIS Saturday, Apr. 2! It’s mostly vegan, SFoodie has the scoop! And then order tickets and get exact details here! Everyone GO!!

Justine Quart has a penchant for urban exploration and meditation, yoga and boxing, vegan food and a properly aged whiskey. When she’s not dreaming up the next big adventure, she is offering kick-ass vegan wellness services at local businesses, freelancing at the SF Appeal and The Bold Italic, or roaming the neighborhood with her partner in crime, el Jefe. Check her out at Dojo Wellness.

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