Product Review: Candle Cafe’s Tofu Spinach Ravioli

Orange rectangular banner that says "Vegan MoFo" and "Vegan Month of Food 2011."

As a brown-bagger lunch-boxer who brings a lunch to work 90% of the time, I’m a big fan of leftovers. Rarely do I prepare a sandwich or salad for lunch; instead, I just take whatever dinner leftovers are hanging out in my fridge or freezer. Sometimes, though, I like to take a turn down Lazyface Road and buy a frozen meal for lunch. My company makes it easy; our on-campus “general store” stocks a plethora of Amy’s frozen foods, a few of which are vegan. They’re my go-to option when I forget my lunch or didn’t have a chance to prepare anything. But last month I forewent the ease of purchasing my lunch at work and instead went grocery shopping with a meal in mind. I’d heard buzz in the blogworld about the new line of Candle Cafe frozen entrees, and I was intrigued.

So, armed with a Whole Foods LivingSocial voucher (woo!) and a $1-off coupon from the Whole Foods Web site, I perused the frozen foods aisle and eventually choose the Tofu Spinach Ravioli. I’d already decided against the mac and cheese after reading a review at The Noochy Noodle and discovering that the cheese was basically Daiya, of which I am no great fan. The other options (Seitan Piccata and Ginger Miso Stir-Fry) sounded tasty, but I make stir-fries fairly frequently and I wasn’t in the mood for seitan. Ravioli it was! Based on the packaging, it looked pleasant enough:

Image from the Candle Cafe's Tofu Spinach Ravioli packaging. A pile of circular ravioli are heaped high on a white plate. Each ravioli has a light coating of red sauce, and the plate is garnished with basil. No Daiya cheese shreds are visible.

Image courtesy the Candle Cafe Facebook page.

I lunched on the ravioli on a Tuesday, and I’ll admit to feeling slightly shameful as I quickly scurried from the kitchen back to my office – I pride myself on eating healthy, homemade meals, and I felt a little silly walking around with a microwave-cooked bowl of pasta. Once I reached my desk and was in the clear, I went to town with an open mind, ready to enjoy and appreciate my nearly effortless lunch. Unfortunately, things didn’t shake out that way.

The ravioli itself was just okay. The pasta was perfectly tender, but the filling lacked luster – I could barely taste the spinach, mostly because it was overwhelmed by the marinara sauce. And by “marinara sauce,” I mean Daiya cheese. Mislead by the frozen meal’s packaging (see above) to expect a humble sprinkling of Daiya shreds atop a judicious serving of sauce, I was disappointed to instead discover an underwhelming red sauce covered in a patchwork blanket of squishy, half-melted cheese. Although that image might appeal to the Daiya-lovers among you, it gave me a faint feeling of pre-eating queasiness. But I persevered, and the few ravioli I found that weren’t drenched in Daiya-infused sauce were unobjectionable.

Unfortunately, most of the ravioli were bathed in cheesy sauce, and I just found the greasy, fatty flavor of Daiya to overwhelm all the other flavors in the dish (such as they were). My attempt to eat around the Daiya was a spectacular failure, so – much like with my previous Daiya experience – I ended my lunch with an unsettled stomach and a lingering distaste for the meal I’d just finished. Outraged by the misrepresentation of their product on its packaging, I modified the image I showed you earlier to more accurately depict the package’s contents:

Same stock image as before, except this one's been Photoshopped with little yellow lines and a haze of yellow to represent cheese.


Heh heh. Clearly I wasn’t a fan of this meal, and I can’t see myself ever buying it again. Nor will I try the plain mac & cheese, especially if it’s basically Daiya + pasta. I might give the other cheeseless meals a chance, but only if they’re on sale or I have another coupon – their size (and, as far as I know, quality) doesn’t justify their price.

Have you tried any of the Candle Cafe meals? Have you eaten at the real Candle Cafe? I can only assume that their in-house meals are much, much better than their frozen options!

Note: This is a scheduled post, because I’m currently in Italy. Apologies for any weirdness with auto-publishing!