Sunday, September 6, 2009

Late Summer Harvest

"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," advises Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food. These were the wise words on wallet-sized cards at the Natural Gourmet Institute's Friday night dinner. More about those cards later.

This my fourth visit to the Natural Gourmet, and will not be my last. Students prepare a wholesome, 3-4 course vegan meal each Friday at 6:30 as part of their final project before graduation. The cost: $40, tax and tip included, and you can bring your own wine, which all New York City diners can confirm is a huge savings. Not cheap, but not outrageous either considering the quality of not only the ingredients but also the preparation. This is my favorite vegan dining experience in New York City, and I can see why this place draws both vegetarians and meat-eaters.

A bare bones classroom is transformed into an intimate, candle-lit dining room, with communal tables. The theme for the night: Late Summer Harvest. The only thing that would have made the night more magical is to eat outside under the stars.

To start: a refreshing sparkling ginger drink, made from the ginger and peach juice used for the night's dessert. I also sampled water with slices of cucumber. So simple, yet so refreshing. Do try it at home.

Migliorelli Farm beefsteak tomato with herbed 'ricotta', and corn from the same New York State farm. Bravo!

Tarragon-infused farro and vegetable trio, with creamy white beans, mushroom-artichoke ragout, and bitter greens. An omnivore couple across from me were commenting on how the mushrooms satisfied the savory craving. I couldn't agree more.

Ginger poached peach with vanilla bean ice cream. Sometimes I tire of sorbet being a vegan's only dessert option at most mainstream restaurants. I love poached fruit, so was happy to see this on the menu. Disappointingly, the peaches weren't poached quite enough, and I didn't detect any ginger flavor at all. The vanilla ice cream didn't live up to the heavenly cinnamon ice cream I had on a prior visit. Still, it was a light end to the charming meal.

Two cards were presented with each place setting to educate diners about making more informed food decisions.

One was the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, listing the dirty dozen (buy organic) and the clean 15 (lowest in pesticides). Leading the dirty dozen list: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery and nectarines. The cleanest: onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple and mango. Learn more.

Local and Organic Food Sources in Your Area was the other guide, with information about Local Harvest, a guide to small farms, farmer's markets, CSAs and more, and the Eat Well Guide, a listing of everything from farmers and caterers to coffee shops and bed and breakfasts.

Visit the Natural Gourmet Institute, 48 W. 21st St., 2nd floor (between 5th & 6th Ave.), New York, NY. Learn more about their Friday night dinners, their professional program, and their public classes, which include multiple vegan and vegetarian options.

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