Meatless in Manhattan (and Brooklyn)
The falafel joint is a natural habitat for frugal vegetarians, and this year has seen the arrival of two nifty new additions to an increasingly crowded (and corporate) field. Soomsoom Vegetarian Bar (166 W. 72nd St., nr. Amsterdam Ave.; 212-712-2525) is kosher, Israeli, and so perpetually packed that the salad-bar scrum can get scarier than the produce department at Fairway. The falafel are crisp, the pitas fluffy, and free garnishes like pickled turnips and paprika-dusted kohlrabi fresh and plentiful, but for the Underground Gourmet’s money, the thing to get is the excellent sabich sandwich ($6.80), crammed with velvety fried eggplant, potato chunks, and a hard-boiled egg. Out in the industrial wilds of East Williamsburg, Yummus Hummus (55 Waterbury St., nr. Meserole St.; 347-984-6202) materializes like a mirage in the culinary desert. The owners built the rough-hewn nook from scratch, and the same philosophy applies to the food: Everything is made in-house, from the breakfast blueberry scones to the flat, chewy (and, as it cools, rather tough) pita. In a brave, some might say blasphemous, approach, falafel are baked, not fried. But the hummus is as it should be—creamy, rich, anointed with oil and tahini. It’s good as is, better crowned with an entire head of oven-roasted garlic from which you squeeze the butter-soft cloves (the Baked Bulb), and best of all in the Hummus Hot rendition ($7.50). Incendiary, drizzled with yogurt-jalapeño harissa, and studded with crumbled feta, it wouldn’t be out of place at a Sichuan restaurant in Flushing.
When in Curry Hill, hungry herbivores are directed to Bhojan (102 Lexington Ave., nr. 27th St.; 212-213-9615), a rather elegant new restaurant on the strip. The $16 dinner thalis—traditional meals served on a metal tray, the rice-and-bread-equipped center ringed with eight bowls of dhal, salad, raita, chutney, and curries—can easily feed two, but be prepared to pony up a $6 sharing fee. The rest of the extensive menu, like the thalis, reflects the vegetarian cooking of Punjab and Gujarat, and includes a wide assortment of street snacks like tangy, crunchy chaat and Indian-style sandwiches. For a sly American take on an Indian-style sandwich, we recommend the Clean Slate at Saltie (378 Metropolitan Ave., nr. Havemeyer St., Williamsburg; 718-387-4777), an exuberant, open-face assemblage of hummus, quinoa, pickles, yogurt, and herbs on house-baked naan ($9).