Friday, January 31, 2014

LYFE Kitchen

One of my omnivorous colleagues has taken an interest in my veganism.  It's amusing because our first conversation was him asking me where I live and then suggesting a ribs place in my neighborhood, to which I had to answer, "I'm vegan."  Since then, he has purchased stock in Tofutti and somehow, of all places near our office, found LYFE Kitchen.  We went for lunch last Friday.

I'm a little baffled by omnivorous LYFE Kitchen.  When it was in its initial phase a couple years ago, I read a lot about it on VegNews and in other sources.  It seems obvious that the intention is to showcase Gardein and compete with Veggie Grill (even LYFE's interior is very similar to Veggie Grill's color scheme).  Chefs Tal Ronnen (of Crossroads) and Art Smith (he's worked with Oprah) are behind the chain, which led me to think it'd have a lot of publicity.  Despite all this, I didn't hear or read a word about the restaurant opening in Culver City last March.  None of my vegan friends have mentioned it in person or via social media.  Perhaps the all-vegan Native Foods directly across the street is more appealing?

This Ginger Mint Chia drink (filtered water infused with ginger, lime, mint, strawberries, and chia seeds) was so good that I'm going to recreate it at home.  I love that it was naturally sweet and full of nutrient-rich ingredients.

The Crispy Gardein Chicken Sandwich (shishito pepper relish, organic romaine, chipotle aioli on a nine-grain bun) was pretty good.  In all honesty, the equivalent sandwich at Veggie Grill is much better.  I was expecting it to be spicy and it was mild, although I did like the shishito pepper relish as a flavorful touch with a tiny bit of smoky heat.  The kale side salad was fresh with a delicious, lemony vinaigrette.  We also shared the sweet potato fries in the background. 

There are a couple other menu items that look interesting, such as the Tofu Tacos and Gardein Sausage and Daiya Mozzarella Ravioli.  I can't say I'll be back anytime soon, with all the other vegan options we have in LA, but I'm happy to have had the experience and I'll always welcome a new vegan-friendly restaurant into the mix. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gracias Madre

Gracias Madre's stunning West Hollywood location opened Friday evening, drawing the likes of Leonard DiCaprio, Toby Maguire, and me during its inaugural weekend.  Although I missed Leo (sigh), a friend and I spent a leisurely few hours dining on the open-air patio on an 80-degree Sunday.
The patio is about as big as the interior dining space.  It features a fireplace, heat lamps, umbrellas are coming soon, trees, and plentiful seating.

I ordered Chilaquiles, "tortilla chips simmered in a spicy tomato salsa, topped with cashew crema, cilantro and avocado, served with black beans."  After passing the avocado along to my friend, I dug into these crisp, hot chips, experimenting with the different salsas they brought me to try.  There was a salsa verde and two different habanero salsas of varying heat levels.  These delicious chilaquiles were the perfect brunch meal.

My friend ordered this lovely Ensalada de Frutas, created from "farm lettuce tossed in chipotle vinaigrette with local guava and mandarins.  Topped with almonds and served with grilled crustini and cashew queso blanco."  She was full and satisfied after eating this local, seasonal salad, noting the dressing had a bit of a spicy kick to it.    

Neither of us could resist an Horchata Latte, even though I rarely drink coffee.  Look at that beautiful angel latte art!    

Gracias Madre has an extremely lengthy list of alcoholic beverages, specifically tequila.  This is something I know almost nothing about, but those who do will be impressed by the care with which this list has been cultivated.

As long as I'm on the subject, I'll share that I visited the original Gracias Madre in San Francisco nearly two years ago.  The space is small and cozy, punctuated by an open kitchen where customers can see all the action.  I ordered the Quesadillas de Calabaza (Be Love butternut squash and caramelized onions folded into tortillas with cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seed salsa) and Flan, both of which are on the West Hollywood menu, as well.   

I have tentative plans to visit Gracias Madre again with another friend this week and I can hardly wait to taste more of the menu.  Within one visit, it has become one of my favorite restaurants in LA.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Rabbit Hole Cafe

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles called Agoura Hills.  Back then, the only health food restaurant we had was a short-lived casual place called the LoCal NoChol, which stood for Low Calorie, No Cholesterol.  It's been gone so long that I might be the only one who remembers it.  That was the last health food restaurant I knew of there until now.

Just down the street, a lovely, vegan-friendly cafe recently opened.  The menu features vegan breakfasts, sandwiches, and comfort food.  They even have vegan, gluten free bagels slathered in Earth Balance.  The bagels are grilled and arrive at the table warm, cut into fourths for easy noshing.  On my first visit, I had an everything bagel and a vegan Potato, Cheese, Egg Wrap that came with one of the best salsas I've ever had.

This Soggs Forrester sandwich was a grilled cheese with grilled, marinated mushrooms on sourdough.  The mushrooms added a rich, savory element to this childhood classic. 

The Curry Tofu Salad Sandwich is essentially scrambled tofu on a Ciabbata roll.  While not my favorite, I really liked the spices and veggies in the tofu salad.

I'm looking forward to trying The Rabbit Hole's reuben, mac and cheese, and shepherd's pie among many other dishes.  This quaint-in-the-best-way, mom-and-pop cafe has become one of my go-to lunch spots to visit when I'm in my home town.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Isa Does It: Harira and Roasted Potato & Fennel Soup

I have barely read past the Soups chapter of Isa Does It.  I'm sure the rest of the recipes are equally enticing; I am simply captivated by the sixteen soup offerings and want to make almost every one of them.

Knowing I had to start somewhere, I made the Roasted Potato & Fennel Soup (pictured at left).  This did double-duty, as it called for breaking in the beautiful 16-cup Cuisinart food processor I received as a holiday gift.  The soup is pure comfort food, yet low in added fat, and contains only a few more ingredients than the title suggests.  It's akin to eating a lightened-up bowl of mashed potatoes.  My only modification was to omit the onion and add an extra potato in its place. 

On the right (and on the book in the background) is Harira.  Harira might be my new favorite soup.  Spicy, hearty, and satisfying, this dish is also low in added fat.  It features lentils and peeled eggplant that softens and soaks up the traditionally Moroccan spices.  Chickpeas, fresh herbs, and angel hair pasta also populate the tomato-based broth.  I modified this perfect soup only slightly by omitting the onion and using quinoa spaghetti rather than angel hair.

Next on my agenda are the Alphabet Soup and Wild Rice Soup.  Then maybe, just maybe, I'll move on to the second chapter.