For this week’s review, I headed to the Lower East Side to check out Family Recipe, a cute little spot run by Akiko Thurnauer that dishes up home-style Japanese fare. What makes this eatery worth a trip is that it offers a (relatively) large number of both vegan and vegetarian dishes, a rarity in our meat-obsessed city. Most restaurants serve up a butternut squash risotto or a grilled portobello entrée for the herbivores, yet my vegetarian friends regularly bemoan such dishes as lacking in culinary creativity. Yet here, meat-free dishes take center stage — though, yes, die-hard carnivores will still be able to chow down, too. Here’s what to order to please everyone.
1. For the vegan: Tosaka seaweed was a lovely appetizer, refreshing and with just a touch of crunch. Magenta- and emerald-hued sheets are tossed with sesame vinaigrette for a great palate-cleansing start to the meal.
2. For the vegetarian: If you’re willing to eat dairy, you’re in for a treat should you order the brussels sprouts. An ample portion of the little green nuggets are glossed with miso butter and studded with capers and pine nuts. Salty and savory, it’s a great example of East-meets-West cooking.
3. For the pescatarian: My dining companions and I agreed that Family Recipe’s ultimate dish is the okonomiyaki, the gooey pancake that’s a staple at Japanese izakayas. Here it’s served as a nightly special; the first time I sampled this, it came chockablock with rock shrimp and kimchi. Drizzled with mayo and showered with bonito flakes, it was pure savory comfort. Yet the next time I ordered the dish, it was even more impressive, having been dyed jet-black with squid ink. That version was filled with nubs of cuttlefish and oyster confit, and was also showered with bonito. Visually stunning and all-around awesome.
4. For the dessert lover: I didn’t have a chance to mention the desserts in my review, but I really enjoyed the goat milk panna cotta. Yes, you see panna cotta at restaurants everywhere, and they can be rather boring, but this one had a nice, goaty twang. I also liked the sake-lees ice cream that accompanied the chocolate cake. Although texturally it was somewhat icy, the flavor was one of a kind: sweet yet simultaneously umami-ish.
5. And one more for the vegan, because you should get special treatment after getting the shaft at restaurants elsewhere: Come entrées, nix the tofu bun and order the burdock root and carrot rice bowl. The veggies come heaped atop pine-nut-studded rice, all in a stone bowl — a sort of bibimbap for Zen monks. It’s hearty enough to satisfy, and has a robust, earthy flavor.