From what I have experienced and observed, some of the best conversations and exchanging of ideas happen when gathered around a table full of good food and amazing company. I was raised in a household where dinner was a time for the entire family to sit and talk to each other about the day, both the good and the not-so-good, share laughs and finish that one more bite before I could excuse myself from the table. To the extent that I've grown to enjoy every bit of what I'm eating on my plate, I still just as much enjoy the company that I'm with and the conversations that I'm having. The culture and lifestyle of New York City has completely proved to be one that's rooted in meeting people and catching up with one another over a bite to eat. There is never any need to rush through your meal, and that is the beauty of it all. Along with an ambiance that is conducive to staying through dessert or just one more glass of wine. I associate so many wonderful memories to the sharing of delicious meals and conversations with friends and loved ones. Very recently, I was able to enjoy a unique dining experience where I walked out with a handful of new acquaintances and full of inspiration for living a wholesome life.
Before I go further, let's first meet Daphne Cheng, someone who thought she was supposed to be an engineer, doctor or some other "prestigious" professional. She withdrew herself from University of California, Berkeley and headed to NYC in order to pursue her culinary dreams. Soon after graduating, she launched her own catering company and in less than 3 years, she was catering to the likes of Vera Wang, Alec Baldwin and Lea Michele. She is the genius behind Suite ThreeOhSix, a beautiful space downtown where she plays host to vegan dinner gatherings. She is humble, extremely intelligent and inventive with her dishes and on to something that is going to transform how people perceive vegan cuisine - and cuisine in general for that matter.
So after keeping an eye on her upcoming dinners for the past year, I finally decided to attend an Autumn dinner that was full of all things love and nourishment thanks to Daphne, Jennifer Kass and Amie Valpone. As Daphne was preparing a six course dinner for us, Jennifer and Amie took turns sharing inspiring stories of how they changed their lives for the better after going through what seemed like hell and back. They both left the corporate world to focus their passion on helping themselves and others adopt a healthier and cleaner lifestyle. Eyes were glued and hearts were definitely touched. It's a story that I (and we) know all too well, but it was refreshing to hear how these two have made it such a successful reality. Turning negatives into positives and sharing their stories and learnings with others.
And then as dishes were brought out, I continued casual conversations with two lovely ladies to the right of me about everything from blogging to the best morning smoothie recipes, rounding out the conversation by exchanging phone numbers and making plans to do more of these types of things together. And then there was the lovely lady in front of me who left the fashion industry to go back to school for interior design. It was so nice to hear that she's finally on the cusp of feeling like she's getting somewhere , and reaping the rewards of making a career change. And somehow conversations with the woman to the left of me led to talking about the best acai bowls in Manhattan (we agreed - it's definitely Juice Generation). I felt in my element at that point, and had to laugh knowing that any of my friends would have said "Allison, this is so you."
As someone who was once that little girl playing with my food, making birds nests with green peas and mashed potatoes, eating only the skin off of fried chicken and wanting to excuse myself from the table so that I could go about my evening....there I was doing everything to sneak in one more bite of each dish that was served, savoring each and every flavor on my plate. It's always nice sitting at a table of familiar faces, but conversations that happen with a table full of strangers who become very nice acquaintances by the end of the meal can be a rare opportunity, but Suite ThreeOhSix makes that happen in such a perfect way.
And now on to the six course dining experience! Or, perhaps you scrolled down straight to this, which I can't blame you for because I do that plenty myself. So here you have it...
Couscous Croquette + Chia Aioli + Pickled Red Cabbage + Sweet Chili Sauce
The looks may have you thinking that this is a veganized version of a hushpuppy? Or perhaps a better comparison would be a very creative spin on falafel. It had a nice crunch and was well rounded thanks to the company of the aioli, pickled cabbage and chili sauce. Excellent on its own, I could see this going very well inside pita or as something crunchy to add to a nice green salad. The beauty of this dish is that it's packed full of flavor just as is, but extremely versatile when incorporating into a larger dish.
Watermelon Gazpacho + Basil
As the second course in the dinner, this was definitely a crowd pleaser. It was extremely light and refreshing, yet packed with all the right flavors - exactly what a perfect gazpacho should be. It seemed to be a nice palate cleanser following the croquettes and in making way for the several delicious, more filling dishes ahead.
Fava Beans + Cauliflower + Popcorn + Miso Apple + Tarragon
In all honesty, I don't go crazy for popcorn (except recently, thanks to Pipcorn), however this ended up being my favorite course of the evening. The plating of the dish itself had me very intrigued, but it was ultimately the combination of these amazing flavors that won over my palate. The bottom layer of the fava bean and cauilflower mix (which is not so evident here) is something that I imagine could be a perfect thick Fall soup. Perhaps I'll channel my inner Daphne Cheng and start topping my soups with popcorn in an attempt to recreate this inventive dish.
Tortilla Lasanga + Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes + Baby Spinach + Champagne Vinaigrette
I love anything that screams tortilla and tomato, so of course this dish had me oo-ing and ahh-ing. I was so tempted to just pick it up with my hands and eat it like a quesadilla, but I restrained and used my fork and knife. Next time.
Penne + Rainbow Carrot + Almond Yogurt Sauce + Lemon Thyme
I only crave pasta every now and then, but this is certainly one pasta dish that I will crave several times more. The vibrant colors of the rainbow carrot stole the spotlight and reminded me of the perfect vegan comfort dish. While pasta may seem heavy, this was surprisingly light. And bonus, we all went home with our own box of penne pasta, so yours truly will likely be experimenting with that in the near future.
Brownie Sundae + Red Beans + Lotus Seed Caramel
Ah, dessert. You know, you wouldn't think to feature red beans (or any beans, for that matter) alongside a brownie sundae, however that is Daphne Cheng for you, throwing all the right curve balls and knocking it completely out of the park. And lotus seed caramel? Genius.
And surprise! She bottled this delicious Quinoa & Turmeric Shake for all guests to sip and enjoy, as turmeric is a great digestive - not to mention the laundry list of other health benefits that it boasts. The base here was a quinoa milk blended with turmeric which gives it the nice, bright golden color. Sprinkle this Indian spice on anything and everything, even your morning latte. It can be an acquired taste, but certainly a very worthy one.
My wish is that one day, we can all eat this way. I was contently stuffed by the time that I left, but not in that way that leaves you feeling like you want to go into a deep food coma since this menu was completely free of any junk that has a way of weighing you down. If you are local or traveling from out of state, I encourage you to add a Suite ThreeOhSix dinner to your hit list. You can always check Daphne's upcoming dinners page and find one that seems appealing to you. You will leave with a heightened appreciation for vegan cuisine, guaranteed.