Roots and Vines - 409 Grand Street, New York NY 10002
F, J, M or Z Train to Delancey Street
I recently attended a food and drink tasting at Roots and Vines, a Lower East Side coffee bar that's been recently renovated. Also adding a unique menu of street food, this casual neighborhood spot offers a cool amalgamation of Vietnamese and Mexican cuisine. Lisa was my guest that night, and together we embarked on a colorful tasting of food, learning some new things along the way.
Situated on Grand Street, which is in the Southern part of the Lower East Side, Roots and Vines differentiates itself from the competition, which primarily rests North of Delancey Street. Grand Street itself isn't populated with too many restaurants, so you really have to keep your eyes peeled to notice Roots and Vines.
Once you step inside, you feel comfortable, as you're greeted by an open space with high ceilings and a modern, clean decor. You can tell that the place has been revamped without trying too hard--the tables and chairs look new but somehow achieve a lived in look. I especially like the long, wooden communal tables, which create a relaxed, social vibe.
The place was definitely bumpin' on a Wednesday night. I wouldn't exactly call it full but we saw a handful of people looking situated, drinking coffee, eating burgers or busily typing on their laptops, since Roots offers free Wi-fi.
Husband and wife team, Nguyen (Win) Huynh and Natalie Krodel who co-own Roots and Vines have a unique story. He's Vietnamese, raised in California, she's American raised in Minnesota and Florida. His passion lies in food, hers lies in coffee. Together, they've constructed a place that's near and dear to their hearts, melding both passions under one roof.
While Lisa and I got to experience the food, we're still curious about the coffee, which was missing from this tasting. Here are some of the highlights of our meal. While we tried everything, we had a strong preference for the Mexican food, feeling a bit underwhelmed by the Vietnamese offering.
Roast Pork Belly Taco - We were glad when this arrived, as the two dishes that preceded it were underwhelming. The pork was juicy and tender, topped with fresh veggies and herbs such as tomatoes, onions and cilantro. My favorite part was the homemade tortilla, which was light and not at all greasy. The side of avocado-cilantro sauce was so delicious and zesty that we hung on to it even after we finished the taco, intending to use it for other dishes yet to come.
Roasted Corn and Zucchini Quesadilla - What a great veggie option! Unlike some Mexican veggie dishes which can be tasteless, this one was bursting with flavor and originality. I loved the sweet onions in it--they were almost translucent and were a nice complement to the sweet zucchini and corn. The lattice of avocado-cilantro sauce and spicy mayo was yet another embellishment that made the quesadilla come to life.
Corn Avocado Salad with Carne Asada - This dish really surprised us and stood out as one of the best of the night. I appreciated the generous pieces of avocado--my favorite veg--along with pickled peppers onions and perfectly roasted corn. The best part of the salad for me were the thin, crunchy slices of homemade tortilla chips--they injected a whimsical element into the dish and made it fun to eat. The carne asada was missing completely, as I neither saw or tasted a trace of it and I think that it was forgotten. A helpful suggestion would be to use larger serving plates. Because of our small plates, the salad was hard to eat and we kept having to pick fallen scraps off the table, which was very annoying.
Cheeseburger - An absolute show-stopper of the tasting, both Lisa and I agreed that it was our ultimate favorite. We could hardly believe that we had room for it, as the dishes that preceded it were so hearty. But once it was placed in front of us, we couldn't wait to dig in. The bun was a work of art with a glaze so shiny that we could almost see our reflection in it. But the meat is what really impressed us--it was tender, juicy and as rich as butter. Although the portion was plentiful, it felt light and I easily could've dug into another piece.
Beer - We had the pleasure of tasting a variety of international beers. I took a look at the price list and saw that they're offered at reasonable cost. My favorite of the night was the 33 Export from Vietnam--it tasted fruity, with a hint of coffee. Other beers that we tried included Aguila from Colombia--lighter than the 33 but not as tasty--Imperial from Costa Rica and Tiger from Singapore.
Service and Cost:
The service was fantastic and the dishes were well spaced out. We felt special because we were waited on by Nguyen, one of the owners, who explained all the dishes to us and answered any questions that we had. He was also gracious to introduce us to his cook who made all the food, and it was nice to put a face to the delightful cuisine that we consumed.
Roots is fairly priced, especially compared to its hefty neighborhood competition. Appetizers range between $3.50 - $4.50, salads are in the $9 neighborhood and street food runs from $2 for a taco to about $6.50 for that delicious cheeseburger.
I'd recommend Roots for a casual weekday dinner, lunch or even for weekend brunch.