It is safe to say we are creatures of habit: We eat the same foods we were brought up on and often frequent the same restaurants (Sushi Stop - our personal haunt). When people hear "Vegan" they think plain, boring, tasteless, and only for "health nuts.” Co-Owner of New York restaurant Blossom, Ronen Seri, invited us - Vegan skeptics ourselves - to try his food at his newly opened Columbus Avenue location in the UWS. We were treated to a delectable meal that rivals any other restaurant, no matter what cuisine it may serve. Get inside Seri's philosophy behind Veganisim and read our review to make your mouth water, and then head to Blossom for your next dinner date with your #CaptainKennedy or #SunJunkie.
For appetizers we were served a plethora of dishes. The mushroom ravioli tasted just like the real thing, the truffle "butter" sauce that they use is simply magical. We ordered a side of Brussels sprouts, which were charred perfectly and paired impeccably with the richness of the mushroom ravioli. We were then served the much talked about "Eggplant Tower," which melted in our mouth after every bite. An added bonus is that it is gluten free as well. For our main course, we devoured the Seitan Scallopini, which was everything you wanted in an entree. No, it didn't taste like anything we have come to know, but why is that such a bad thing? We believe that the dish stood out as it’s own cuisine, which is the point that Seri is trying to drive home to every patron.
Labeling Men: How did you come up with the concept of opening up a vegan restaurant?
Ronen Seri: I used to have another business and then I became a vegan and opened it.
L.M: How long was that ago?
R.S: The first restaurant was in 2005. I used to have a boutique pet store, two of them, and I sold them. Me and my ex-wife Pamela decided to try and open up a restaurant and since we were vegan, we felt like there was a big need for that - at the time we were one of the only ones, so that is how it started.
L.M: Which was the first one you opened?
R.S: The first one was in Chelsea on 9th Avenue between 21st and 22nd. We opened it in November 2005, we took over a restaurant which was very, very bad in a small town house in Chelsea, and we renovated it and that was the first location. The way we looked at it - I didn't have a lot of experience in the restaurant business – was as if I am giving a party every night. You have to invite people out and hopefully they come, serve them, and make them happy.
L.M: Who is the person that you picture coming to your restaurant?
R.S: In the beginning we didn't have the experience, meaning I didn't really think about it, so we thought a lot of vegans and vegetarians would come, health conscience people. Today, what we are trying to do is make it a little bit cooler, so to speak, have a bar scene, would like younger people to try the food, people that just want good food, to be a little healthier, and more of a bar scene as well. Each location has its own way to it, its own little charm to it. Like the one in Columbus is a large bar, filled with a full alcoholic bar. The one in Chelsea is a town house, makes you feel like home, and the one on Carmine makes you feel like a bistro kind of thing.
L.M: There are still a lot of people who hear "vegan" and think bland and boring; what would you say to them?
R.S: Come and try because you'll be surprised how rich it is. I would compete with any restaurant on food. I have a lot of customers who are not vegans, 60%-70% of our customers are actually not vegans. Some people will just never step foot in a vegan restaurant because they have this notion of what you're getting. I always tell them to try and be safe in the beginning, things like the eggplant trio, which is with cheese and tomato sauce, we have pastas with cream sauce, we have the picatta which is a seitan picatta. So we take from around the world and try to “veganize” it. Lately we have also tried and make it healthier in the sense to have a section for healthy choices and seasonal choices as well.
L.M: What would be one or two of your favorite dishes on the menu?
R.S: I would say the Seitan Picatta [or called the Seitan Scallapini in Chelsea]. I also love the Steak Seitan, which is a special, so seitan dishes I really like a lot. Also the eggplant or a lot of our appetizers are amazing, you really can't go wrong. Signature dish, the picatta to me. For Carmine, the Caesar salad or pizza - the Caesar salad is served everywhere.
L.M: What do you feel people order the most?
R.S: Most people order pasta and ravioli. Seitan is something they should try, it’s the substitute for the meat or the chicken or the fish. But again, we have a lot of people who come for vegetables and we try and play with that as well, to make it healthier and interesting. We're also starting to introduce some raw food.
L.M: We know you have a different menu, to an extent, for each location; tell us about that concept.
R.S: First of all, I think every location should stand out by itself. Also, you can go to all locations, like if you're on a date, you can go for a certain atmosphere and you can go to another one for something else.
L.M: Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future?
R.S: We are trying to balance our menu with healthier but still delicious items. More farm to table items and we are working on a cookbook, which is going to be published in two to three months. What else are we doing? Columbus just opened so we are trying to make it as hip as possible. The cookbook will feature a Middle Eastern section from a friend of mine. I have a friend from Cozumel, her name is Yvonne, she has a wonderful restaurant in Cozumel called “Guido." It’s one of the most famous restaurants in Cozumel and she's going to work here for a while and she's going to have a few recipes for us. I'm also going to have some tips for healthy eating, even some dating tips for vegans and non-vegans, what to expect and not to expect. If you date a vegan, hopefully they don't judge you! Just to understand, vegan isn't a bad thing and that it is becoming more mainstream. I think if all the chefs in the world used their head, we would not miss one thing [about meat].
L.M: In terms of dating, we could see a first date happening here, meeting at the bar.
R.S: Oh yes, let me tell you, some guys who come here with their women who say to them, "I want to have a vegan dinner.” After that, we've seen the same guy bring many different dates to us later on! They like the food and the atmosphere. Many people go to famous places, not for the food but for the atmosphere; I want us to be both.
Find out more about Blossom and its delicious food at blossomnyc.com
Interview and review by Nisim Frank