Restaurant Review: Candle Café West!
April 16, 2012


You may have recently seen a tweet or Facebook post from me that looked something like this:

“OMG!!!!!!!!!!! Candle Café is opening an UWS location!!!!! OMFG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Sorry folks. It was hard to contain myself; you see, as you all know, the Candle empire is just about my favorite place to eat in NYC. Candle Café, the more casual, neighborhood flagship on 3rd Avenue, is home to some of the simplest and the best vegan food in NYC. Candle 79, located on 79th street, is a fancier, more “fine-dining” kind of spot. I love both restaurants for different reasons: Candle 79 is my favorite place to celebrate special occasions, and it’s also my favorite place to show omnis how amazing vegan food can be. Candle Café, on the other hand, is the sort of place I could eat lunch at every day, book in hand.

Candle Café West is pretty much an amalgam of the two restaurants: the menu mixes items from both restaurants, and the atmosphere is neighborhood-y, but elegant nonetheless. Add to this the fact that the neighborhood in choice is my neighborhood, the Upper West Side of NYC, and you basically have a recipe for Gena-bliss—hence  the enthusiastic shouting on social media. Since I learned of the restaurant opening, I’ve been dying to go, and two weekends ago, when I was in NYC for Easter/Passover, I finally had a chance to.

My dinner date for the night was my friend Jordan, whom I’ve known since our days as Columbia undergrads. My experience of most college friendships is that they burn hot and bright for four years, and fade a little over time. Not so with me and Jordan: our friendship has actually grown and become much deeper over the years, in spite of the fact that we live on opposite coasts. Not only is Jordan one of the smartest and most hilarious people I know, but he’s also one of the few people to whom I can text a random Woody Allen movie quote, and be confident that I’ll get a text back with the punchline only a moment or two later. We’re kindred spirits.

Jordan has been an enthusiastic supporter of CR just about since I started it, and he’s always kind enough to eat vegan with me. A recent text exchange went something like this:

Gena: Do you mind if we eat at a vegan restaurant?

Jordan: Ugh. I had already made reservations at Peter Luger.

That was sarcasm, and I’m grateful it was, because it meant that Jordan got to test out Candle Café West with me.


I’m a bit of a boring restaurant diner in that I usually stick to tried and true dishes. There are exceptions, but I almost always get the same, simple stuff when I eat out: giant salads and sushi at Pure Food and Wine, and the “good food plate” at Candle. The latter is just a mix of four sides and two of Candle’s amazing dressings. I’m also very partial to the Candle Café summer rolls (tempeh, avocado, veggies, rice paper, amazing amazing peanut sauce), so Jordan and I started with those:


Delicious as always!

And my “good food plate” of the night was roasted beets, quinoa pilaf, steamed broccoli, and steamed greens with carrot ginger and tahini dressings on the side. I polished it off with a smile.


See? Smile!


For his part, Jordan got the ginger miso stir fry (now available in the freezer section of a Whole Foods near you!) and thought it was great.

Being at any Candle location feels like home, and this was no exception. I was also really impressed with the service; our waitress was sassy, smart, and though she quickly realized that she had a devoted vegan on her hands, I heard her doing a lot of  enthusiastic Q+A with other diners who were new to veganism. She shared her obvious passion for the lifestyle with tremendous subtlety, and answered questions like “do you miss cheese?” with panache.

It’s worth noting that all of the food at all of the Candles is organic and as local as possible. In addition, the restaurant is Green certified, and the Candle team partners with numerous activist organizations, including Farm Sanctuary and The Coalition for Healthy School Food. It’s also worth saying that Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson, the owners, are beacons of light and activism within NYC’s culinary orbit. They’re wonderful people (I know, because I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them), as are their COO, Benay Vynerib, and their Director of Business Development, Mark Doskow (also a good friend). It’s great to see such an intelligent, passionate, and altruistic team of people sharing good food with the world.

As usual, I’m honored to sit at a Candle table. I can’t wait for my next visit—and you can be sure there will be many of them. New Yorkers, and those who visit: get there!


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  2. Hey Gena and fellow plant gobblers! Question for anyone who has been to/lives in New York: I’ll be visiting next weekend and wanted to hear any recommendations of vegan restaurants that are of inexpensive/moderate price in the city? I found a ton on happycow’s site, however many serve mock meats like seitan and junk food vegan that I’m not interested in. I’m ok with tempeh. Anyway, happy to hear anyone’s recommendations! Much thanks 🙂

  3. I love both Candle Cafe & Candle 79! I’ll have to hit up this newest location soon! That is, as long as the serial killer in your first photo isn’t dining there as well…. 😉

    • Depends on your mood! For casual, the original CC is best. Fine dining or a fancy meal, 79 for sure. This is a hybrid of those two moods 🙂

  4. What a great place!! It looks super classy with a warm atmosphere! p.s. I love your recipes…I have been reviewing all those bars…yum!! 🙂

  5. candle 79 & candle cafe are 2 of my favourite spots to hit when we visit nyc – and now a third location to look forward to – wahoo!

  6. Your enthusiasm is infectious…so jealous of your array of vegan restaurants, and the Candle enterprise specifically. Adorable photo of you!

  7. I’m planning a trip to NYC in the next few weeks and the plan is to do a sort of vegan food tour and hit up as many places as my stomach can handle. 🙂 Candle 79 and Candle Cafe are both on my list!

  8. Your Woody Allen thing with Jordan? I have that with my friend Hannah and West Wing quotes and Sondheim lyrics. Isn’t it just the most wonderful thing in moments of feeling low, alone, and sadheart, to have that instant laugh-creating connection?

    Oh, and yes, I’m ignoring the food part of your post. The envy hurts too much. *shakes head sadly*

    • Hannah,

      About 2 years ago, I went on a West Wing TEAR for a summer. I’d never seen it before. Man, did I get hooked. And yes, the banter is witty, witty!

      Don’t even get me started on THE WIRE…


      • This fills my heart with such, such joy, and oh how I’m struggling to resist launching into quotes about the Butterball Hotline and Pluie the wolf during the Big Block of Cheese day and how desperately I want to marry Jed, Leo, Josh, and Toby all at once…

        Would you believe I’ve never watched The Wire?! Everyone whose taste I respect loves it, but it started at a time when I didn’t have the heart to watch things that weren’t light. I feel duty-bound to get onto it now 🙂

        P.S. I also wish I could send you SeaChange. Darn DVD regions!

        • I was a Josh kind of girl myself. Everyone expected me to go for the writer, but in the end, self-deprecation and sarcasm are apparently the surer road to my heart.

  9. I love that you got to do this, and especially that you had such good company for the occasion.

    There’s a lot to be said for sticking with what you know you like when you go to a restaurant. I know when I go to a restaurant where there’s more than one thing on the menu I can pick (like a Thai or Indian restaurant), I usually regret it if I branch out!

  10. I was walking down Broadway a few weeks ago and saw the new location! I meant to comment or send an email to tell you that Candle had a new outpost in your old stomping grounds. So I am glad to see you discovered it already.

  11. For the past month or so I have been eagerly awaiting its opening! I live two blocks away, and though school has not allowed me much time for outside entertainment, I cannot wait to dine there. (A lot.) 🙂 Please do let me know next time you’re in the city — would love to catch coffee or lunch with you.

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