Did Upstein get an upgrade? A vegetarian’s review

One vegetarian’s thoughts on the new and not-so-improved Upstein dining hall.

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The renovation at Upstein brings upgrades to both the decor and the menu. (Max Mimaroglu for WSN)

Sarah Whitacre, Contributing Writer

Though it was before my time, I often hear upperclassmen reminiscing about the days of yore, when Downstein’s upstairs neighbor had Chick-fil-A and Jamba Juice. Those days are long gone, and this year, NYU has come back with another major update to this well-known dining hall. When I think of Upstein, I see a packed room full of students milling about, waiting for their Grubhub number to turn green. Upstein was my go-to for a quick, reliable meal last year. I was ecstatic to learn that more plant-based options would be available for me to eat. Thus, I decided to venture back to University Place and see what the new Upstein had to offer.

Upstein welcomed two new concepts: Vedge Craft and Global Eats. Vedge Craft has a variety of vegan and vegetarian options while Global Eats features a rotating menu. Sadly, the sandwich section, Upstein Daily Press, is no longer with us – may she rest in peace. Thankfully, the smoothies from the Daily Press remain, becoming a new section called Smoothie Lab. They’ve also added a retail section with sushi, dumplings and bubble tea. 

When I entered post-renovation Upstein, I was stunned. The once-empty room now has a  seating area that can hold roughly 40 people. The booths, high-tops and solitary seating areas create a perfect atmosphere to grab a bite between classes. For decor, they’ve opted for a mural of the Washington Square Arch and some cute faux-brick wallpaper. The makeover is stunning in comparison to the dated and dingy waiting room. The upgraded Upstein is situated much more like a dining hall, with each station having a designated spot along the perimeter of the room. I was impressed by the visual updates and excited to discover if the food improved just as much.

As a vegetarian, Upstein’s new Vedge Craft station was especially appealing. I ordered a build-your-own bowl with garam masala spiced cauliflower, farro, cucumbers, onions, zucchini, and green goddess dressing. The bowl was lukewarm, leaving me to wonder if the intention was for it to be hot or cold. The cauliflower was not spiced in the slightest, but what the vegetables lacked was made up for with the flavorful dressing. It was average, but I ate at the Third North Dining Hall every day my freshman year, so I can put up with a tolerable dish. I wasn’t especially impressed, so I traveled onwards to the next station. 

From Global Eats, I ordered spiced soy chicken tacos. The tacos were just fake meat and tortilla with the tiniest pinch of cheese and onions. The fake meat had good flavor but was very dry. The Mexican street corn, a side I was very excited about, disappointed me. It tasted like plain corn but worse. This dish was a cold disaster and not even a few seconds in the microwave could save it. Fourteen dining dollars down the drain and all for tacos I couldn’t even finish. 

My experience was looking up when I found the vegan desserts station. The banana bread was fairly good, though cold and a bit overpriced for the small portion. Unfortunately, after one bite of the vegan cookie, I found that it was tooth-breakingly hard. The flavor was its saving grace.

Although the renovations did a great job beautifying the space, my dishes were unfortunately not as carefully curated as the decor. Upstein was ambitious with their new vegetarian menu, but Vedge Craft was okay at best. Honestly, let’s be glad that Global Eats has a rotating menu. My food tasted like the overnight meals served on a Spirit flight and I spent 30 Dining Dollars only to leave hungry and disappointed. The only shining lights in my failed mission were the four Cluckstein lemonades that I finessed throughout my meal. 

Even with the slight triumph of the veggie bowl and the average banana bread, I left Upstein feeling down. I shared my woes with a friend of mine who scolded me for not just going with “old reliable” Cluckstein. He was right. I’ll stick to my Cluckstein vegan tenders for the time being.

Despite being disappointed in my experience, I applaud Upstein for finding interesting options for plant-based students. I’m glad to see that there are now more options available even if the execution fell short. Hopefully, Upstein will move onwards and upwards as the semester progresses.

Contact Sarah Whitacre at [email protected]