105 First Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets
$80 for two, with one cocktail, with tip
wheelchair patron may dine al fresco or wheel in
I picked Counter as the first vegetarian restaurant to visit for my special project with Erin. She had sent me links to several restaurants she liked after she requested for me to start reviewing more vegetarian restaurants on this site. We made a three-night date in one week to ensure that I would actually do it. Sure there was some apprehension–I do love my meat–but I can never say I’m open to eating anything if I don’t even give tempeh a chance.
Counter had the most exciting menu that wasn’t Asian-inspired. If I was going to eat vegetarian food for dinner for almost a week, I didn’t want my meals to be regular meat dishes without the meat. Because what would have been the point of that? I could eat almost anywhere and just pick out the meat. (Sad.) I also signed up for this eating project because I wanted to see what vegetarian kitchens in the city can do besides the misconception of slathering tofu with soy and sesame oil.
Counter’s tofu with kale and barbecued peaches on a bed of jalapeÃ±o polenta didn’t disappoint. The combination of textures was interesting: the tofu was very firm without being rubbery while the kale was crunchy and hearty. The polenta had that roasted taste that only green peppers have and gave the dish the depth it needed. I could easily see these Counter accoutrements with a flank steak in another restaurant that serves meat. (Harold Deiter’s Perilla, for example.)
I also had Erin’s grilled seitan with Swiss chard in red wine-reduction sauce. Though I thought her dish needed some more salt, I liked the autumness of the entire plate since it could easily have been a braised short ribs dish. The seitan held its own without any beef support and took to the red wine really well.
However, our server forgot we were there. Erin changed her mind about getting a cocktail and she had to keep her eye out for our waitress in the almost-empty restaurant. We were pretty much left alone at our table except for the occasional diners hovering over us to check out the 3D art hanging on the wall behind me and the busboy who was relentless in refilling our water glasses.
All in all, I liked Counter for not looking like a vegetarian-only restaurant and for serving tofu and seitan with a creative spin. I was pretty satisfied by the time we got our bill, too, and even packed our leftovers to go.
Perilla is in the West Village