Valentine’s Day is a mezzanine holiday. Markets stay open, employers refuse to give time off, and there are no family feasts requiring days to prepare and digest.
But like most major holidays, Valentine’s Day has earned a link to traditional foods. Retailers emphasize indulgence, touting champagne, rich dinners, and, of course, sweets. Perhaps, with this week’s emphasis on the heart, lovers should make an effort to reward that important organ. Instead of taking the high fat, cholesterol-laden path of conventional desserts, today’s Valentine’s celebrants should consider a heart-friendly, vegan alternative.
By eschewing all animal products, vegans sometimes seem like the extremist sect of vegetarians. Once a rare find in the dining community, veganism has definitely arrived, and is a central feature at many New York restaurants.
Bonobo’s, a small cafe located at 18 East 23rd St., is brightly-lit with bare white walls and may appear to be a poor date choice, but the prices are cheap and the staff is friendly. Standard choices include sorbets, frozen pies, ‘milk’ shakes, and truffles.
For a Valentine’s Day dessert, Bonobo’s offers truffles, a traditional option. A mesquite truffle tastes like a granola bar—a big ball of nuts and grains clumped together with date paste. The truffle is not appealing visually, and its date taste overpowers the other flavors. The core, too moist and sweet, feels like cookie dough—a dollop on a finger might be nice, but too much is tough to stomach.
Bonobo’s frozen fruit pie, however, is creamy and light, featuring a nice banana and coconut combination. The flavors meld together, and each forkful tastes deceptively like rich ice cream. The crust is firm but moist, although, again, the date paste used to bind it is discernible.
Peacefood Cafe, located at the corner of West 82nd Street and Amsterdam, has a pleasant, sit-down atmosphere. Dim lights, along with earthy, soft décor, set the mood. While it has higher prices than Bonobo’s, Peacefood offers a wider variety of desserts and seasonal treats. One of their Valentine’s treats, the Lover’s Cake, is a heart-shaped cake, the perfect size for sharing. This dessert satisfies any chocolate craving—topped with a thick layer of fudge, white frosting lines the sides of each double-layered yellow cake, striking a nice balance of sweet and bitter. The frosting resembles cream cheese with a whipped consistency.
For students desiring something more traditional for Valentine’s Day, consider Peacefood’s chocolate cake. Thick and pure chocolate frosting contrasts well with the moist cake that subdues the frosting’s richness. A traditional flavor without that “vegan edge,” the chocolate cake is the safest bet for a non-vegan—it competes with the real thing. The major difference between this cake and the non-vegan version is its lightness, allowing for a quick get-away from romantic dinner to the rest of the evening.
For students who go vegan this Valentine’s Day, the palate might never know the difference, but the heart surely will.