Vegetarian

A.O.C. – Still one of my Favorites

by Franklin on August 23, 2015

A.O.C. continues to be my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. The food price is right around my budget, new space is larger and has so much character. Suzanne Goin is a legend in LA, and A.O.C. stands on its own. I still remember the day I went to their first location. The food was still memorable, and left me wanting more from the city. Here is the link to the older A.O.C., and back when I was starting this food blog.

The farmer’s plate was so vibrant and hearty. It is exactly what I imagine a farmer would eat. Whatever there was plenty of, grill it, pair it with some nice bread and call it a meal. The summer vegetables included squash and eggplant. the chicpea puree, muhammara, burrata, and grilled toast gave the dish the added flavor and vibrance. I am a meat-eater at heart, but this vegetable plate made me a vegetable lover.

Another healthy and flavorful dish was the grilled peaches, ricotta, and pistachio aillade. The ricotta and grilled peaches were so good together. Adding the pistachios and greens just gave it a nice balance of crunch and bitterness. This was my favorite of the night.

The arroz negro is a classic here and I always get this dish. The squid was cooked so perfectly tender and the saffron aioli rounds out the whole dish perfectly. The green onion gives a nice balance to the rich squid ink and rice.

The halibut dish was spectacular. Paired with tomato, dungeness crab, and horseradish creme fraiche, everything was creamy and fresh. Seafood done simply is all that is required. The acidity from the tomatoes gave the dish a nice bite and contrast from the buttery fish and sea salty crab.

The location is so perfect and steps upon steps better than their last location down the street. The outdoor seating is some of the best in Los Angeles, and the Spanish architecture is prevalent throughout the restaurant. The food is always consistently perfect here and I always come back. I hate going to the same restaurants over and over, but at A.O.C., I don’t mind it much.

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Cafe Gratitude – Vegans are People Too

by Franklin on February 6, 2015

Super Bowl is a day of feasting, and not in the sense of a holiday meal, but in a snacking and binge eating sense. We Americans put down nearly 30 million pounds of chips and over a billion chicken wings. A single chicken can only make four pieces of chicken wings — that calculates to 250 million chickens. Not to mention all of the avocados, burgers, pizzas, beer, nuts, pretzels, nachos, hot dogs, and whatever people eat on Super Bowl Sunday, its a lot of food.

Sometimes putting the Doritos down and putting something good in your body is refreshing. Cafe Gratitude is just what you need after a gorge fest of junk food — vegan/raw. Their food is clean, healthy, and at least for me, something I will rarely eat or enjoy. Ultimately, for a vegan meal, I thought it was great but not something I’d switch over to.

The “COMMUNITY” was a warm dip of spinach and baby artichoke. The choice of toasted gluten-free buckwheat crackers was a poor one as the crackers were just terrible. I mean, a vegan would probably love them, but the taste, texture and smell was something I wasn’t used to. The crostini bread was a little more what I was used to. The spinach and artichoke dip was healthy. No globs of cheese or mayo — just good and healthy veggies and some kind of vegan cream sauce. It was guiltless and somewhat tasty.

The “VIVACIOUS” were baked kale chips. These were more my kind of vegan snack. The baked kale was very crisp and one would think they were fried in oil. They had good texture and taste, especially dipping in the choice of garlic tahini, cashew nacho cheese, or creamy salsa verde dipping sauces.

The “BOUNTIFUL” was a baked gluten-free pasta. I guess it was the closes thing to mac and cheese. Their quinoa shells were crisp and almost crunchy. The roasted eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, and spinach gave the dish a lot of needed flavor. The almond basil bechamel was not creamy, but gave it enough sauciness to keep me interested — and the Brazilian nut parmesan gave the fake dish of mac and cheese seem cheesy. This was a great rendition of a classic mac and cheese, and though it was all vegan, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

The “AWESOME” was an eggplant parmesan panini. The Herb-cornmeal crusted eggplant was tasty and hearty. The absence of meat was almost forgotten. The grilled panini bread soaked up the marinara sauce and the cashew ricotta really tasted cheesy. The addition of tomatoes, Brazil nut parmesan, arugula, and basil gave the sandwich a lot of flavor and depth. A side of country style potatoes made this a very fulfilling dish. It was the least vegan of all of them, so I guess that makes sense.

I never wanted meat more than during this meal. I hardly often eat vegan, but when I do, I feel a little better about myself. After a binge of potato chips and ribs and chicken wings, sometimes, this kind of healthy stuff is needed. I don’t foresee myself eating vegan anytime soon, but if so, I suppose Cafe Gratitude can do me right.

Cafe Gratitude on Urbanspoon

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There are times when your body needs a refresh. I had all the intentions of living up to my carnivorous nature, but sometimes, one just needs to give the delicious meat a rest. That is where Samosa House and Bharat Bazaar comes in.

I ordered the combo plate. The pakora curry had yogurt cream with cauliflower. The cauliflower taste was masked by the curry and yogurt mixture. The barbecued soy protein nuggets was delicious as well. In a pool of spicy (not really spicy) barbecue sauce, the protein nuggets had full of flavor and all the characteristics of actual meat. My favorite was definitely the jackfruit curry. It was a bit salty and sour, but the texture was quite interesting. It was like nature’s meat. Not really sweet like a fruit, but more like a artichoke flavor and texture wise. All were delicious with the basmati rice and naan.

The garlic naan was just ok and nothing special. It didn’t have the pliability and tenderness as other good naan is. Theirs was more stiff and a bit burned on most spots. A little less time in the tandoor would have done wonders. Still though, I enjoyed sopping up the curry and sauces on the plate.

Samosa House and Baharat Bazaar was a nice place to enjoy the vegetarian side of eating. I always enjoy some meat with my meals, but experiencing all these meatless dishes wasn’t that bad. The flavors really stood out and the textures were really meat-like. They did a great job getting all the flavors and textures to represent meat in a positive way. I would probably dine here frequently if I were vegetarian.

Samosa House on Urbanspoon

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Some days, you just have to treat your body good. As a food blogger, I eat some gut busting, heart unfriendly meals. Fried pork belly this, carbo-rich that, and anything fried, laden with butter, sugar, and Nutella is the name of the game for a food blogger. Sometimes, you have to treat your body right. The Veggie Grill offers some awesome vegetarian dishes as well as salads. The extra needed healthy foods really regenerated my digestion and rejuvenated my body. For a moment, I thought to myself that I can eat like this every day. Eating healthy is important indeed, and The Veggie Grill makes it a little easier to handle.

Kale has been a huge part of my healthy diet these days. Back in the day, it was only good for food decor, but now is considered a super healthy food. The All Hail Kale salad was wonderfully zesty and flavorful. It included marinated kale, quinoa, red cabbage slaw, corn salsa, and agave-roasted walnuts. I switched out the ginger papaya vinaigrette for the lemon vinaigrette. I am not a fan of sweet dressings at all. The lemon vinaigrette was fresh and the flavors popped. The bitter greens and the acidic flavors melded together to great a healthy dish.

For some, there is no substitution for beef. At The Veggie Grill, substitution is the only option. As a natural carnivore myself, eating the boca protein “beef” in the All-American Stack burger was a shocker. I know it wasn’t meat, but it really tasted like beef. If someone had to make a meat substitute to be the closest thing to meat, this would be it. It just had the consistency just right and flavor. Topped on this gorgeous burger, it really didn’t feel like it was missing anything. Topped with grilled veggie steak, pickles, lettuce, tomato, crispy onion rings, and thousand island dressing, the “burger” tasted quite like the real thing. With the addition of sweet potato fries, nothing was missing. I know having fried onion rings and fried sweet potato isn’t quite the healthy meal you were looking for, but come on. Compare that to a full on fatty beef patty, and this is quite healthy.

The Veggie Grill is probably my go to healthy joint. It has some great options for meat lovers like me. The salads are on point and always offers a fresh option for everyone. They even have protein style bowls and entree plates as well. This is indeed a perfect place for a vegetarian looking for some meat.

Veggie Grill on Urbanspoon

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Tender Greens (Culver City) – A Healthy Eye Opener

by Franklin on February 23, 2014

Eating healthy is a choice, and a good one at that. As someone who eats fairly unhealthy, I have a tendency to stay away from places such as Tender Greens. How wrong was I to think like this? Tender Greens really opened my eyes. Not only can healthy food taste good, but also makes me feel good. The farm to table concept is amazing to me. Eating something that was locally sourced, and picked or harvested less that 24 hours ago is exciting. This truly was an eye opening experience. I may never be able to eat another store bought vegetable again.

The harvest salad was so fresh and delicious. If I ate this everyday, I would be fit and healthy. This citrus salad had cara cara oranges, oro blanco kumquats, shaved fennel, candied pecans, goat Gouda cheese, tender greens, frisee, golden balsamic vinaigrette. The best part of this salad was the cara cara oranges and kumquats. They gave this salad such a brightness and clean taste. It literally opened my eyes after eating it. I guess I was a bit tired and just wanted to something to revive me, and this was it. The citrus really popped, and wasn’t overbearingly sour. It had a nice sweet note with hits of citrus, and went great with the salty, yet tangy goat Gouda cheese. Bites from the tender greens, fennel, and frisee were fresh and the candied pecans gave a nice crunch. I liked how this salad wasn’t drenched in dressing. It had a nice light coating of the golden balsamic. The true flavor came through not from the dressing, but the quality ingredients.

I’ll admit. Not all of the stuff I ordered was healthy. I ordered the mac and cheese because I am a sucker for it. I loved it as a child in the blue box, and I love it now as an adult. Tender Green’s mac and cheese was simple. They used seashell pasta — and it was cooked so perfectly al dente. Each bite had a nice chew and mouth feel. The cheese sauce wasn’t overpowering — quite subtle actually. The bits of herb breadcrumbs had just enough crunch and gave the dish some dimension.

Another not so healthy thing was the savory tart. I liked how this one was all vegetarian, yet it tasted meaty and delicious. The tart crust was better than most. It had a nice flakey texture, but not too messy. Inside were yams, mushrooms, carrot, and cauliflower. A total plus was that the cauliflower was totally masked from the other ingredients. As you may already know, I hate cauliflower. The whole package was nice as each bite was a savory mash of everything nice. Think quiche, without the eggs, instead with a whole lot of roasted veggies.

Tender Greens really opened my eyes. Eating healthy doesn’t mean disgusting quinoa salads with no flavor. The balance and flavors of all of the ingredients together really stand out. The farm to table concept is here to stay, and something I want to look into and explore more of. It looks like salads will make more appearances on my plate.

Tender Greens on Urbanspoon

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Crossroads – A Rant by a Voracious Carnivore

by Franklin on July 22, 2013

Have you ever been tricked by a restaurant? I have. Many times actually. Though I wouldn’t say Crossroads, the all vegan Mediterranean restaurant duped me, I felt like I did. (I don’t have anything against those who are vegan, or those who have dietary needs of gluten free foods. I don’t want to offend anyone here, but this is more of my issue. I mean, if you are a vegan, I guess this is just the post for you. Trust me, there aren’t lots of posts like this for you. Anyways, back to my rant.) Not only was their Dine LA menu wrong online, but I had no idea going in that the restaurant was all vegan. I guess the latter part of that rant was my fault, but man oh man was I surprised. My logic was, a 5 course meal for $25 — that was a legit deal. To my surprise, they only offered a 4 course, and all were vegan dishes and portioned out smaller than normal. Honestly, I had reservation to The Spice Table, and blew it off for Crossroads — a lot more of a drive, but at the time, I thought it was worth it. The next night, I went to The Spice Table and my angst was all gone.

First course:
I love kale, and this kale salad was good, but I wish I had more of it. Just because it’s Dine LA, doesn’t mean you can just give a taste. I like that the pine nuts gave a good crunch and currants gave some sweetness. With a lemon thyme vinaigrette, the salad was very intense. Each bite gave you a little shock and woke you up.

The Pee wee potato salad was interesting. The Haricot Verts were crunchy and baby arugula gave it depth. The whole grain mustard was a good addition, but the tarragon vinaigrette was too obscure for me. I guess they needed to impart flavor somehow.

With the appetizers being so small, by appetite just grew exponentially. If they aren’t going to give me a 5 course meal, I guess I was going to have to make it that way. We ordered the artichoke oysters which were off the Dine LA menu. These were kind of cool to look at and cleverly plated. The artichoke acted as the oyster shell. A fried oyster mushroom sat on op of artichoke puree and a yellow tomato béarnaise sauce. On top sat kelp caviar. I mean, the whole thing looked better than it tasted, but it was interesting to see how the chef creatively created something oyster-like without any.

2nd Course
The wood roasted okra was my favorite of all the things I ate that night. First off, I want to say that okra is actually my top 5 worst vegetables on my list. However, the way they prepared it was magical. It had a nice crunch to it and the sweetness from the calabrese peppers and tart from pickled ramps and Spanish sherry vinegar was an amazing mixture. The crunch from the Marcona almonds finished everything off.

The spiced chickpeas was a bit uninspired. The oven dried tomatoes and parsley had a nice spice to it. I liked the garlic whip on top of the dish. It was creamy and had lots of flavor, and the spice was an added kick that helped as much as it could. At the end of the day though, I felt like I was eating tomato sauce mixed in with chickpeas. This needed cheese or some kind of cream sauce, which I guess is not allowed.

3rd Course
I don’t know how Pappardelle Bolognese is on the menu at a Mediterranean restaurant, but it is, randomly. The 3ish noodles of pappardelle were chewy and over cooked. The bolognese was just tomato sauce. That is all.

The scaloppini piccata was pretty good for being meatless. The picatta was a dredged and fried slices of protein “meat.” The piccata was zesty and flavorful. The caper and lemon sauce mixture was a bit too sour, but the creamy sauce and the meatless meat was a good combination. Again though, this was the main dish, but there was too little of it.

4th Course
The chocolate ganache tartlet was surprisingly awesome. I like eating the mildly sweet spiced caramel popcorn on top. The mascarpone and chocolate went nicely together. The tarlet with the chocolate ganache was rich and imparted deep flavor.

Their sorbet was also good. The cucumber lime made a nice balance of not too sweet flavors. The cucumber essence really shined in this sorbet. The candied watermelon rind on top was subtly sweet and delicious.

At the end of the day, I can’t be mad. Though they did switch up the menu last minute, I chose the restaurant on my own. The restaurant inside is exquisite — classy chic with a bit of comfortable. The servers and staff were all nice, though it was a little slow that night. Honestly, this may be a rant from a voracious meat lover, but any vegan or anyone staying away from gluten could appreciate this restaurant. This just wasn’t for me.

Crossroads on Urbanspoon

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I know, it is hot as heck out there. Despite Korean myth, the fans are on at night and I did not die. AC in the car is always on, and summer isn’t leaving without a fight. Thank goodness we have beaches. Gosh I love the beach. The people, the relax atmosphere, and the smell of the sea just makes me happy. And we all can’t forget that the beach is always like 10 degrees cooler than the city. Walking around Manhattan Beach, the Orange County beach of L.A., I couldn’t help but notice the growth of restaurants and eateries around here. One in particular, Lemonade, was an eye catcher. The bright colors and the casual/cafeteria style of everything made this a unique spot. Lemonade’s food and the interior design goes well hand in hand – It is fresh, vibrant and well, all that equals to something delicious and healthy. Usually healthy means bland, but they do a good job using fresh ingredients to make their dishes flavorful.

My favorite was probably the tandoori chicken. With chunks of mango, yogurt, coconut, and tamarind, the dish was sweet. The coconut flavor is prevalent in the dish and worked well with the tandoori chicken. More sweet than savory, the dish isn’t for everyone, though most would probably appreciate the different flavors. This is a must order if you are a tropical fruits kind of person.

The watermelon radish was unique. Never having tried watermelon radish before, I was intrigued. Filled with ahi tuna, snap peas, and sesame it was a healthy side. The snap from the peas and radish worked well with the tuna. The tender meat and the crunchy veggies made for a nice texture contrast.

The arugula salad was amazing. The mission figs and the blue cheese played nicely together as usual. The asparagus gave it a nice crunch to the dish. I am a sucker for blue cheese, and this was probably the reason it was my favorite of the bunch.

The orecchiette pasta was probably the least favorite of them all. The goat cheese was nice as was the asparagus. There was nothing special or unique about this dish, and this was probably the least healthiest of the bunch. The flavors didn’t really pop.

At Lemonade, one must get lemonade right? Not really, but it is pretty hard to resist. It’s like walking into a Porto’s and not ordering a dozen cheese rolls. That just doesn’t happen. I opted for the blood orange and ginger guava. The blood orange was a bit sweet as was the ginger guava. The sourness of the blood orange made it seem even sweeter. The ginger guava had a nice mellow flavor. I tried samples of the watermelon rosemary and cucumber mint — those were quite refreshing as well. Whichever flavor you get, it is sure to quench your thirst and keep you alive in this heat wave.

Filled with pastries and hot stews and roasts, they have almost anything that you would want in a nice hearty meal. Though I didn’t quite get the relation of the lemonade, pastries, cold dishes and hot pot dishes, everything seemed like it was made from the freshest ingredients. When I think of lemonade, I think of something refreshing and fresh. I guess all of their menu items translate into that exact motif. Everything is good eats without the guilt.

Lemonade on Urbanspoon

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It was Good Friday yesterday.   It was also Earth Day.  That meant no beef, no chicken, no pork.  Shucks.  This also meant no driving to work, recycling all of your trash, and free coffee at Starbucks.  Though I didn’t walk to work, I did eat at Rutabegorz.  These guys are serious about going green.  As much as they are conscious about the environment, they have a hefty vegetarian friendly menu.  This poor carnivore was not happy.

We started off with the 41 cents Earth Day Delight Dip.  It was a blend of cream cheese, almonds, mango chutney, curry, and cranberries.  At first I got the cream cheese flavor, then the nutty texture, sweet fruit, and the kick from the curry.  At first it was a bit odd, but I loved it in the end — the curry needed a bit getting used to.  And why 41 cents?  They were celebrating their 41 years in business.

I tried the boca veggie chili burger and the Mexican Cesar salad.  This burger was humongous, but no size or soy patty is going to fool me!  Don’t get me wrong, the thing was delicious.  Melted cheese, red onions, bean chili, and the soy protein all mixed forming an open faced sandwich in front of me was a task.  It was messy, and it was filling.  The way I look at it, it made me appreciate meat a little more.

The best was the salad, hands down.  My favorite cheese was in there — feta!  That’s all you really need to keep me happy — all you need to get me to eat salad.  I loved the crunch of the tortilla chips and the bite of the pepitas were so mouthful.  You won’t see me eating a lot of salad, but if anyone can make me, it’s Rutabegorz.

Boy do I miss meat.  Eating like a vegetarian is like giving a T-Rex twigs for breakfast.  Eating a boca burger is like giving a great white shark a human shaped blob of seaweed.  Eating like a…well, you get the idea.  Despite my animalistic ways, I enjoyed my time at Rutabegorz — I get them.  They are all about the environment and vegetarian eating.  They aren’t like a bunch of hippies serving food and saving the world.  They are passionate about what they do and they surely found their niche in the Orange County.

Rutabegorz (Fullerton) on Urbanspoon

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This cafe was a new addition to the Atlantic Times Square shopping center.  The food here is very casual, as is the atmosphere.  The inside was very clean (something you don’t see everyday in Chinese restaurants in Monterey Park).  They had flat screens everywhere which was good for days my Los Angeles Lakers play.  Prices for entrees are really affordable and it is always a relaxing time here.  The icing on top is that they offer a free drink with every entree.  That is a great deal!

My favorite thing here is their chow mein.  Do you like chow mein?  Do you prefer the thick kind or thin kind?  I prefer the thin kind and Cafe Express does it wonderfully.  Something simple as chow mein was so delicious here.  It didn’t even have meat in it — just soy sauce chow mein.  Grabbing some with my chopsticks and eating it plain was a treat. This dish is simple as it gets, and as good as it gets.

I also tried the squash casserole.  It was a great vegetarian dish, as it had nicely cooked squash and mushrooms.  Squash is something I don’t eat often, but this time around seemed like a good time.  It was very hearty, though not my favorite of the bunch.  This vegetarian meal calls for some meat, thought I didn’t get any this time.  As you know, I am a carnivore at heart.

My go to meat dish would be their calamari.  It is so good, and the best there is.  It seems to me that restaurants take on the calamari differently.  Some fry the rings, some fry calamari nuggets,  but this place uses real squid.  The batter is very light.  My favorite is the spicy salt they sprinkle on these fried morsels.  The dish was so flavorful.

Eating at Cafe Xpress is always great.  Clean environment, good cheap food, and lots to choose from makes this place stand out from the rest.  I guess that’s the beauty about eating at cafe’s because they offer so much variety.  Despite having lots to choose from, I will stick with my chow mein and calamari.  Eating good food, watching the Los Angeles Dodgers, cheering for my Lakers, all in the comfort of Cafe Xpress.  That is the good life.

Cafe Xpress on Urbanspoon

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