I love the story behind Candle Cafe's (which is the #1 Zagat-rated vegetarian reaturant in NYC) origin. Bart Potenza had opened a health-food store on the Upper East Side called the Healthy Candle in 1984, and a few years later, one of his most loyal customers, Joy Pierson, came on board as the in-house nutritionist — and later, his partner in the business. Together they grew the once-small vitamin shop into a full-service juice bar and cafe. They wanted to continue to expand, but needed some cash to do so. On Friday the 13th, 1993, they won $53,000 in the lottery, and Candle Cafe was born.

They have been serving organic vegan cuisine ever since, debuting a cookbook, opening a more formal version of their restaurant in 2004 called Candle 79, and last year, opening another location on the Upper West Side (a beautiful, wood-dominated and relaxed space).

Not only do they serve healthy food, Bart and Joy are committed environmentalists too. "Candle Cafe also operates using the cleanest environmental practices possible and was the first Certified Green Restaurant in NYC by the Green Restaurant Association."

Needless to say, dining there is always a treat. I joined my good friend Michael Parrish Dudell (a green writer and longtime vegan) at the newish Upper West Side location, and here's what we enjoyed:  

Root Awakening, a mix of Berkshire bourbon, dandelion leaf, burdock root, sarsaparilla, lemon agave

I started the evening with a Root Awakening, a mix of Berkshire bourbon, dandelion leaf, burdock root, sarsaparilla, lemon agave; slightly bitter, a tad sweet, with a delicious bourbon finish. 

Then we moved on to a summer appetizer special (so good I forgot to take a photo!): Roasted artichokes with summer pea coulee, and zucchini slaw.

Seitan Piccata

I was served the Seitan Piccata, which was a hearty combination of creamed spinach, mushrooms, garlic mashed potatoes, white wine-lemon-caper sauce, topped with lightly breaded seitan. It's the kind of meal that challenges the idea that a vegetarian meal can't be filling.

Cornmeal-crusted tempeh

Michael ordered the Cornmeal-crusted tempeh, a layered concoction of sautéed poblano peppers, the nutty, crusted tempeh, onions, potatoes, corn sauce, and a grilled peach salad. It was almost like a sandwich made of tempeh, full of flavor, with sweet edge. 

To finish, I indulged in a peach cobbler, served in a ramekin (to keep all the luscious summer peach juices in), topped with a crumble, and accompanied by a housemade vegan vanilla ice cream. 

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

NYC's Candle Cafe: This classic vegan restaurant just keeps growing
A new Upper West Side location is cause for a delicious meal.