First Look: Au Lac DTLA (Los Angeles, CA)

A sputtering fountain in the shadow of the Disney Music Hall marks the entrance to the softly open Au Lac DTLA. Retaining the opulence of the former First & Hope, the modern Art Deco dining room is a refreshing upgrade from the Fountain Valley location. We take our seats in the dinning room as Chef Ito takes the helm of the kitchen. From there he executes a handful of favorites plus a few new tricks. Still in the dawn of the restaurant (official opening on January 1, 2015), Chef Ito’s working menu promises many more new item to come.

Stuffed with mushroom, taro and carrot, the eggless Eggrolls are served with lettuce, mint leaves and soy fish sauce. These rolls are simple with a light but tight interior. The greens, confusing at first, are used for gripping the rolls and lighting the oil fried wraps.

Vegan sushi in Los Angeles is a tricky subject, many strong opinions exist, and I frequently find myself in the minority (aka: I think Sojin is just okay). So with that caveat, I say Au Lac’s varietal of raw vegan sushi is some of the best in Los Angeles. While I prefer Chef Ito’s Dragon Roll, the Cali Roll filled with pine nuts, dulse, bell pepper, cucumber, avocado and coconut flesh wrapped in nori is light, crisp and delicious.

My go-to dish has always been the Salt & Pepper Tofu, creamy tofu lightly battered in a saline shell. Peppered with jalapenos and sprigs of cilantro, this delicate dish comes off as bland if you don’t take time savor each bite and let the salts develop… like a Polaroid picture.

Raw rice is a real thing… I had no idea. This Curried Rice starts with soaked organic wild rice tossed with broccoli, cauliflower, peas and corn tossed in spiced macadamia sauce. It is served over avocado, olives and cucumber and topped with marinated mushroom, crisp onion, carrots and cilantro. It’s a lot of elements, a lot of flavors and a lot of goodness.

The Downtown menu includes the new Garlic & Basil Noodles. Slippery brown rice noodles are tangled with pinenuts, large cloves of roasted garlic, nutritional years and apple sage sausage (or your can sub veggies for a gluten free option).

The best dish of the entire night–nay the entire menu–is the Tostada. The sweet cornmeal shell is piled high with shredded cabbage, macadamia cheese, ground mushroom, salsa, dill-ranch sauce and cilantro. Complexly layered with savory and sweet element, this dish is very share-able but I’ll likely be ordering one all to myself from now on.

In addition to the new menu, Au Lac DTLA also has a full bar, complete with mini grand piano and crystal chandeliers. This beloved Orange County institution is a welcomed addition to the DTLA vegan dining scene.

Thanks to my dining crew: Elana, Tim and Alice!

710 W 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Saito’s Sushi (Los Angeles, CA)

Furry green pods… it tastes better then it’s description…

In a benign strip mall, on Sunset Blvd, hides a sushi bar that many people refer to as “the best in town!”  Saito’s Sushi is walking distance from my prime Happy Hour haunt, Tiki Ti, and has become the number one spot my friends and I hit up after sloshing it up on rum and pineapple and Toro chasers! Er…  I realize tropical drinks plus sushi sounds like a terrible idea, but there have been no ‘regrettable moments’ from this mix: A testament to the quality of Saito’s fish—and vegetables. The interior is sparse, a somewhat understated mess, with a simplicity reflected in the sushi.

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Manpuku (Berkeley, CA)

The hand roll is blurry because it is irrelevant

The evolution of vegetarian sushi stalled a long time ago. I love kappa maki, avocado rolls, inari, futomaki and tomago as much as the next vegetarian, but after years of eating these monotonous platters over and over, I’ve grown completely disenchanted. So whenever I come across ANY vegetarian sushi innovation, my attention is piqued. Continue reading