Friday, March 8, 2013

Vegan on the Road: Ariana Cafe & Hikudo Asian Bistro in Huntington, NY

It's never too difficult for a vegan to find some place to eat while traveling, but still, it sure is nice when someone takes it out of your hands! On a recent trip to Long Island, I left myself entirely in the care of my dear hosts, Jenn and Betsy, and was amply rewarded for my trust in their restaurant-finding abilities.

On the day of my arrival, we dropped my bags at my hotel in Huntington, then took a day trip out to Montauk to hike around the lighthouse. Along the way, we stopped for lunch in East Hampton at a gourmet market chain called Citarella.

Citarella had an absolutely amazing salad bar. In addition to all your standard salad bar items, they had grilled squash and zucchini, gourmet olives, huge artichoke hearts, roasted peppers... very fancy! And still reasonably priced - it was about the same per-pound price as the salad bar at Whole Foods.

For dinner that night, we returned to Huntington and met up with my colleague and traveling companion, Crystal, and her friend at Ariana, an Afghan fusion restaurant with a separate vegan menu. 

Jenn warned me that Ariana had been featured on Restaurant Stakeout for bad service. It's a family-run restaurant, and while the food rates highly, the service leaves something to be desired. Well, this turned out to be true, but I've certainly had worse service. The owners themselves attended to us, and they were polite and careful about determining who at the table was vegan and who wasn't. It was only their attentiveness and speed that left something to be desired. If you go, just be ready to flag them down if you need something. But on to the food! 

Upon seating, we were served pita triangles with house-made hummus and eggplant dip, kalamata olives, and pickled red cabbage. All absolutely delicious.

The hot tea was a lovely selection of tea bags of various flavors, and I was pleased to see that they did have raw (vegan) sugar out in the sugar service.

Crystal and I both ordered from the vegan menu. Crystal ordered the Vegan Delight, which was a sampler including banjan buranee (sliced eggplant with peppers, onions, and tomatoes in a marinara sauce) and sabzi chalaw (spinach and herbs with basmati rice), all with a side of steamed vegetables. Crystal enjoyed the dish, saying that the eggplant was similar to an Italian style eggplant, and the spinach to an Indian palak dish.
I chose the vegan steak, a portabella mushroom with a pomegranate balsamic sauce, accompanied by a side of sauteed spinach and steamed vegetables.

The vegetables were all cooked beautifully. I could've eaten a significantly larger portion of spinach, but you know how we vegans love our greens. The portion of mushroom steak was ample, with two large mushrooms. The pomegranate sauce was tart and a lovely complement to the earthy flavor of the mushroom, but the balsamic was a bit heavy. Next time I'd ask them for a lighter touch with the vinegar. But it didn't deter my love of the dish in the slightest.

I would definitely recommend a visit to Ariana if you're in the area. Just make sure you're not in a rush!

The next morning, Crystal and I had a breakfast meeting at our hotel, the Hilton Long Island. I was delighted to find that their buffet actually had many vegan-friendly items - fresh fruit, home-fried potatoes, oatmeal and cream of wheat made with water instead of milk (made plain, with various dried fruits and nuts to choose from to make your own flavor), and fruit smoothies made to order. And at $12.95 on weekends, it was actually less expensive than many hotel breakfasts.

Finally, before Crystal and I caught our flight back that evening, we made our way back to Huntington's Main Street, right down the road from Ariana, and stopped at Hikudo. This Asian bistro/sushi bar had a variety of vegan options on the menu, in every category from soups and salads to appetizers and main dishes. (Unfortunately not desserts, but I was wisely carrying some fair trade vegan chocolate.) 

I opted for the vegetable dumplings as an appetizer, and I would fly back to New York right now just for another serving. They were perfect! The perfect amount of crisp on the bottom, the perfect firm 'bite' in the middle (to the point that I actually double-checked with the waiter to make sure they hadn't inadvertently given me meat-filled dumplings, as veggie dumplings tend to be mushy), and perfectly seasoned. The sauce was light and tasty. Just so good.

For my main dish, I selected the mixed green vegetable stir-fry, which was a huge plate loaded with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, baby corn, and mushrooms and a side of rice. The sauce was delectable, and like the dumplings, the vegetables were cooked to the exactly perfect degree. Not one bite overcooked, not one bite undercooked, but every vegetable on the plate done just so. That's an impressive feat.

Jenn and Crystal seemed to be equally satisfied with their (non-vegan) selections, so I'd say it's definitely a place for enjoying a meal in mixed company. As a plus, the service was outstanding.

My thanks to Jenn and Betsy for making it such a stress-free, fun, and delicious trip for me and for Crystal!

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