When I came across an article about the boozy brunch popsicles that were being offered all summer long at East Village vegetarian bistro and organic wine bar, Counter, I was shocked that I had never been there before. As a long time vegetarian, and somewhat long time resident of the East Village, I couldn’t believe that I had missed a place that sounded so perfect for me. So I set out to see if the website and menu were too good to be true.
Upon arrival, we were ushered in to a small table for two near the back. Although the place was really cute inside, with small tables, low lighting, and vivid pictures of edible flowers on the walls, the ambiance was interrupted by the giant McDonald’s across the street. The front of the restaurant was entirely open to take advantage of the early August night but the benefits of the few sidewalk tables were far outweighed by the drain that the blaring McDonald’s signs had on the overall vibe. If they just nixed those few tables outside, or even closed the curtains at the front, it would have been a tremendous improvement.
Moving on from the ambiance, it was time to go through the menu and see what I wanted to try. As a vegetarian, I am fairly used to having just a few options to choose from at most places and going with whatever sounds the most interesting. But the Counter menu proved overwhelming, with so many delicious sounding items to try, how could I decide?
First things first, we started off with a delicious and fairly affordable bottle of Spanish Cava Brut. Sparkling white wine, in my opinion, is the perfect compliment to light meals, especially when they are vegetable based. The wine list at Counter exclusively offers organic, sustainable, and biodynamic options.
Counter started serving a new menu on August 4th, so everything available to us was new and exciting. Many of their ingredients come from their own sprawling rooftop garden at 51 East 7th Street, so you can’t get much fresher than that. We decided to share everything and, as they are relatively small plates, we were advised that five items would be a good amount for two people (we couldn’t narrow the choices down any further anyway).
To start, we ordered the gazpacho, and the watermelon and heirloom tomato salad (with flecks of basil and drizzled balsamic). The gazpacho was tasty, spicy and well-seasoned, with cubes of avocado to top it off in the center. The watermelon and heirloom tomato salad was perfect; it was visually and palatably interesting, featuring both pink and yellow watermelon cubes along with red and yellow tomatoes. Since everything looked the same, you never knew what you were biting into.
For the next course, we sampled the spaghetti squash spaghettini with roasted garlic tomato sauce and the cauliflower “risotto” (featuring both white and purple cauliflower with shallots and herb butter). The spaghettini was delicious, with the spaghetti squash cooked just long enough to achieve the spaghetti-like texture (for those of you that have tried this at home, you know this is hard to do) and the sauce was spicy and nicely complimented with hints of roasted garlic. The cauliflower “risotto” was a standout for its savory, melt-in-your-mouth flavor. The quotations indicate that cauliflower was used in the place of the traditional rice used for this dish. This creative pasta replacement continued in the last dish of the evening, the beet ravioli (with pinenut cheese and rosemary foam), with the beets acting as the ravioli outside of the pinenut cheese and the aromatic and flavorful rosemary foam was served as a light sauce on top of each bite.
Obviously, we had to order the popsicles as an after-dinner treat (the strawberry-mint was my favorite). They were tasty, but probably the weakest point of an otherwise stellar meal. Each dish was delicious; it’s not often that I have no complaints or order remorse.
Overall, I would highly recommend Counter to vegetarians and carnivores alike – I took a carnivore with me and he loved it! Counter is open daily for dinner and for brunch on the weekends.
105 First Avenue (at 6th Street)