Veggies with flair
Veg2431 J St.
In the increasingly frantic Midtown scene, Veg feels like an oasis of Zen.
The floor above the venerable Thai Basil restaurant has seen a few iterations, most recently Level Up Lounge. In January, it was transformed into an Ayurvedic vegetarian cafe serving breakfast and lunch with a mix of Indian and Thai flavors.
In an area packed with late-night spots and cavernous eateries, executive chef/owner Suleka Sun-Lindley recognizes the need for balance—in both the food and atmosphere. Fittingly, that’s the basis of Ayurvedic cooking as well: balance.
As chef of Thai Basil for 20 years, Sun-Lindley has a reputation for seeking out green-waste options and seasonal ingredients. Taking those ideals a step further, Veg is based on Ayurveda, an ancient Indian tradition of food as medicine. It’s like the mantra, “You are what you eat.”
Technically, in Ayurvedic practice, people seek to balance their systems by eating certain foods—and every person is different. That’s difficult to pull off at a restaurant, though. At Veg, the theory is more that eating meat-free, produce-heavy, in-season and with lots of herbs is better for everyone. Fittingly, we learned at press time Veg’s menu will change soon to match the shift in seasons. You may not find the same dishes we did, but we expect the flavors to be similar. Menu options are all vegetarian, but can be made gluten-free or vegan by request.
Breakfast begins leisurely at 9 a.m., with a variety of egg and crepe dishes. The tender yellow crepes, made with rice and lentils, attain a nice springiness despite their vegan formula. They might enclose seasonal fresh fruit and a sauce ($8.50) or scrambled tofu and panang curry ($9).
Both are unusual, and chef Gabriel Crocker presents them beautifully. Panang curry, a fairly mild and creamy, coconut-based Thai sauce, gets mixed with al dente vegetables and topped with sprightly pickled onions. It makes for a satisfying breakfast without being too heavy.
Menu descriptors can be a bit vague, so ask for details. We were a little surprised by two scrambled eggs ($4), which came with lots of greens and pickled vegetables. They were delicious, but not the plain side we expected.
Dishes can seem a bit monotonous, too, as they’re almost all a version of eggs, vegetables and tofu. However, the potato-based samosas ($8) are a good example of how Veg mashes up Thai and Indian cuisines in a health-conscious way. The flaky little turnovers are made with a vegan crust and served with a sweet chili-plum sauce.
While breakfast is available through the 3 p.m. closing time, lunch starts at 11 a.m. with more variety. A single-serving naan pizza ($8) comprises yeasty flatbread with a topping of scrambled tofu and green chutney or the same panang curry found in the crepes. They’re dairy-free unless you ask for cheese ($2).
Specials include a daily curry bowl ($9), served on one visit as a hearty portion with eggplant, green beans, Brussels sprouts and other veggies in a silky yellow curry sauce. The base is kitchari, an Ayurvedic combination of rice and lentils that adds some heft. Add the uber-healthy side salad of kale, apple, beet and cashews ($3) and it’s still a better deal than the very similar, smaller-portioned Veg lunch plate ($14).
Desserts are not listed on the menu, but Veg and Thai Basil share the same ones. One day, a vegan apple tart ($6) made a nice finish with coconut milk ice cream and a variety of roasted and fresh diced apples.
The strength of Veg is in its serenity. The walls have been transformed into bright backgrounds for local art and glass chandeliers twinkle in the sunlight. The food is well-prepared, if limited in scope. Seek out a quiet table to enjoy a healthy meal and find some balance in your day.