Sunday, July 26, 2009

He's got the whole Mundo in his hands.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. While Manhattan is a vegan mecca, Queens is... a lot more like any other metropolitan area. It does have a strength, though, which is its huge diversity: anyone who's been vegan for more than a week knows that pretty much any vaguely authentic Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Indian, Thai (etc., etc.) restaurant will likely have a few clean offerings. This is why my man and I can safely order delivery from about twenty different places in the neighborhood.

Luckily, though, and likely due to the fact that it is after all a part of New York City, Queens is catching on to the whole "vegan thing". We have a couple of places here in Astoria that actually use the V word on the menu. One such restaurant is Mundo, tucked just up off of Broadway on 32nd Street. We ate there once again last night, and I figure it's about darn time I tell you something about it - even if once again I completely neglected to take any pictures. While they are by no means a vegan or even vegetarian restaurant, a vegan can squeeze a more than decent meal out of them without trying too hard.

You'll notice upon entering this tight space that it is, in fact, a tight space. They've taken their cue from fast paced cousins: pack in as many tables as you can! This is possibly my least favorite aspect of the restaurant. No, that's not true. My least favorite trait, by far, is that sometimes they try to have live music. *shiver* Anyway. At least they have a really cool chandelier. The first thing you'll truly appreciate about Mundo is the fact that their menu is labeled. As in, if it's vegetarian, it tells you so, and if it's vegan it'll tell you that as well.

If you're at all a wine drinker, I suggest starting off with the sangria. It's quite tasty, and it'll make you forget how close you're sitting to the next table. If you have a large enough party order the pitcher - this is for the pitcher itself, which is usually in the shape of an animal. I get a kick out of that kind of thing. Jonathan doesn't drink wine or things with wine in it, and I can't drink a whole pitcher myself (is that Melissa on the floor?), so I have to live vicariously through others. Do it for me, wouldja?

Once you get your drink on, it's time to think about food. You'll notice that Mundo refers to its Red Sonjas as its "must-try signature dish!" They're not kidding. Now, you're going to have to trust me here, because at first you'll think I was playing a joke. The plate that will arrive at your table will hold four mushed balls of reddish stuff, mottled with white, complete with visible finger impressions, laying atop a lettuce leaf. Sounds delish, eh? But don't be fooled by the less than appetizing appearance - these things are awesome and unlike anything else you've had. The way to eat them is to squeeze on a little lemon juice, roll up the seasoned lentil paste (the mottled red stuff) into the lettuce leaf, and eat your mini-wrap with gusto. Make sure you order enough so that each person at your table has two - less than that is a tease, but more is overkill.

Another fabulous item on hand is the red lentil soup. It's clearly made of the same lentil base as the red sonjas - and that's to your benefit. They often have a soup of the day, but make sure you ask if it's vegan. It's usually not, even if it seems like it should be, because they like to do things like add sour cream. Last night's offering was a chilled mango soup. Sounds vegan, doesn't it? Nope.

Both of the vegan dips available (hummus and a roasted eggplant dip), while common, are uncommonly good. They're nothing radically different than what you've had before, but are still an enjoyable change from the standard fare you're used to at your fave Middle Eastern place. These are served with dainty and delicate pita triangles, which you'll doubtless run out of. Ask for more - I don't believe we've been charged extra for the second basket.

Other vegan items include the Egyptian artichokes and the stuffed zucchini. The artichokes are quite good, though the accompanying peas and carrots may make you think you're at Grandma's after church and the fava beans can be tough. As for the stuffed zucchini, don't order them unless you really, really, REALLY love caramelized onions.

If you're thinking about checking out the main courses, don't. While the vegetarians will find two options, for the vegans it's a complete strikeout. Not the end of the world; so we eat tapas style. Still kind of silly though, don't you think, for a restaurant that clearly knows about its vegan contingent? There's also what I consider to be the menu's main failing: deserts. Mundo doesn't offer a single vegan dessert. (I know, you're surprised I'll even eat there, aren't you.) This, in my mind, is just plain ludicrous. It's just too easy. A sorbet? A traditional baklava? Come on people. We're not asking for anything fancy. Bake me an apple with sugar and cinnamon and have done with it.

So, the final verdict? For vegans, Mundo is simply not a destination location. But if you happen to be in the area - because you live here, because friends want to go to the Beer Garden but eat out first, whatever - it's not a bad choice. It's pretty and secluded enough to be a decent date spot as well, as long as it's not prime time.

My favorite way to eat there? Two people, two lentil soups, then split the red sonjas and the two dips. Then on the way home or elsewheres, pop into one of the dozens of bakeries and pick up something awesome, like marzipan in the shape of fruits. Ta da! And everyone lived happily ever after.

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