Make Out (Culver City, CA)

In the shadow of the Culver Hotel, the wellspring of Matthew Kenney’s Make Out quietly places vegan—mostly raw—foods in a glass front case for viewing.  The shelves offer a colorful selection of huge rolls of green, tiny rolls of carrots, flatbreads, and bowls of kelp noodles. Further back, stainless steel holds two daily soups. Samples of both were offered to us and the velvety Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup—drizzled with cashew creme and crunchy pepitas—leaped to the top of our order.

In heyday of NYC’s Pure Food and Wine, Kenney dazzled me with his dehydrated jicama pine nut sushi rice rolls. So I couldn’t pass up his new rendition, the Spicy Carrot Rolls,  with jalapeno cream cheese and shredded carrots. Stuffed with red bell pepper, cucumber, avocado, and young pea shoots these cool and crunchy bites almost lived up to expectation.

Wrapsespecially collard green ones—are the crutch dish of vegan cafes. So I was least excited by the Cobb Collard Green Wrap. But my trepidation was unfounded, this wrap is exceptional. A massive collard husk filled with crisp romaine, sweet and smoky coconut bacon, meaty portobello, creamy avocado, and ranch. I would definitely order this sucker again.

Make Out: Everyday Plant Food
9426 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
makeouteveryday.com

Instagram: @makeouteveryday

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!

Au Lac DTLA
710 W 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
www.aulac.com

The Vedge: The Springs LA

Life changed a lot this year. My beloved Slice was laid to rest along with my monthly pizza column. Unsure of future writing pursuits and research, I meandered through restaurant news in Los Angeles but have been mostly disconnected from it all. Slowly, the void filled with vegan food options research throughout Southern California. In the most lovely happenstance, just as I was feeling comfortable speaking on vegan dining options, The Vedge put out an open call for writers. I had a new writing home with a new vegan focus.

The Vedge writers are a dedicated group located across the country who will be sharing national vegan food news and reports. I’m thrilled with my first post, The Springs LA Combines Raw Vegan Food with Yoga, Music, and Pure Class, and look forward to sharing many more vegan adventures.

Kimberly Helms (Co-Founder of The Springs) and Joyce Rockwood (Colon Hydrotherapist) sharing a sweet moment during our tour of The Springs.

SunCafé (Los Angeles,CA)

I rue the day I assumed SunCafé was a commonplace sandwich/salad/smoothie joint. It is so, so, so much more. The converted 1920’s ranch home (formally Zach’s Café) on Ventura Blvd extrudes warmth and comfort while the menu promotes whole food in comforting and familiar forms.

Chef Roy Elam—who shreds guitars along with carrots—heads the inventive menu of colossus salads, raw burgers, golden beet linguini and Reuben themed pizzas… but we had no room for those because we—Elana, Hanna, Alice and I—filled up just about everything else.

Sun Nachos—one of the most popular menu items—were the obvious starter. While debating whether to get the dish with baked blue corn chips or with raw thin-sliced jicama chips, the waitress chimed in “You can do a split order.” So that’s exactly what we did. Topped with “SunChorizo,” nacho cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, jalapeño, green onion and cashew sour cream this concoction makes the best vegan nachos I’ve had to date. Half of us loved the corn chips, the other half loved the jicama, so a split order is the perfect way to go! Me? I preferred the chips.

The Caesar Salad was not what we expected.  Crisp leaves of romaine lettuce and quartered cherry tomatoes are tossed in raw Caesar dressing with capers then lightly coated in garlic pecan crumble. Apparently there was also raw croutons in here… do you see them? I don’t. We asked the waitress and she swore they crushed up in there. Still, the subtly dressed salad refreshed the pallet; although I may eat my way through the rest of the salad menu before coming back around to the Ceasar.

Raw Cream of Mushroom Soup… I didn’t care for this one. The taste is subtle and refined, but the thick and frothy texture is not for me.

I had nearly given up on all vegan mac & cheese. From the ashes of the sloppy glue or watery plastic of most vegan versions rises the glory of SunCafé’s Mac & Cheese—and it’s gluten free to boot! Slender tubes of quinoa pasta are tossed with tiny diced tomatoes and then broiled in the smoothest-richest-most-perfect-ever cashew cheese sauce. Browned tips of pasta periscope up from the bubbling bath as chewy charred bits stick to the sides was we scrape it from the cast iron dish.

The Farmer’s Market Pizza was an unexpected pleasure. While the gluten free rice flour crust is mearly passable, the toppings sing. Market fresh figs sit atop white sauce (a blend of cashews, garlic, shallots, and nutritional yeast), with smokey tempeh bacon, peppery arugula, meyer lemon vin and drizzled with a balsamic reduction.

Owner Ron Russell approached our table as we debated who got the last slice. A tall (or so I think… we were sitting down) man with a beaming smile who accepted our raving compliments on the pizza but deflected them into the kitchen. “The kitchen suggested this combination… I wasn’t too sure about it. I mean figs? On a pizza…?” We all laughed. This moment of commodity distracted everyone as I stole the last slice.

I would have been happy to end the meal here, but most people love dessert. My friends are no exception. The loose, mouth-coating texture of cheesecake is one of my least favorite desserts ever; but cheesecake is the star of the menu here. I quickly learned why. The Cookie Dough Cheesecake is firm and dense—perfect for me—not too sweet and plenty for four hungry girls. The base is a mixture of cashews, coconut oil, and cacao nibs with other stuff (I’m not sure what) on top. It made a fan out of me; I still haven’t shut up about loving this cheesecake!

SunCafé
10820 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 308-7420
suncafe.com

Zoetic Supper Club: A Vegan Pop Up Dinner (Los Angeles, CA)

The Californication of Detroit’s popular vegan pop-up dinner series Chartreuse unveiled this month as the Zoetic Supper Club.  In the spring of 2013 Chef Corinne Rice moved to Venice, CA, bringing her organic, plant-based pop up dinners with her. A graduate of the raw culinary Matthew Kenney Academy, her dinners express restrained elegance bursting forth with complex flavors that I’ve rarely encountered in raw vegan dining.

All of Zoetic menus are organic, gluten- and soy-free elegant displays of local produce and healthful intent. With roaming locations and musical accompaniment, each Zoetic Supper Club experience will be unique; no two venues, menus or musicians will ever be the same.

I was fortunate to attend the very first of the series—held May 22, 2014 at the G2 Gallery—and enjoyed an evening with new friends and four artistically crafted courses. The incredible Sasha Mari played tunes for us throughout the evening; and through she has directly behind me her music was like a hushed secret in my ear. An intimate dinner like Zoetic brings together like minded people, so although I arrived alone, I carried on conversations with everyone around me. I left with the contact information of a found wood craftsman, a new found interest in exploring the culinary offering of Reno, NV and a new PETA-employed friend.

At my seat I found a BYOB glass of wine and eatable words. Nestled in each napkin was a poem by Jacqueline Suskin to guide us through the evening.

To begin we pluck purple from earth
and know the tender tune of carrot,
sweetness of pea and all hints
of bitter blended with cool cream,
with kind herb and gentle seed.

Follow this with the warmth
of soup that sings its healing verse,
spice of ginger, bright bloom
of chamomile and bold bite
of nasturtium yo balance the cure.

Reliable brassicas steady
the tradition of curry
made sweet by calming coconut
and even sweeter by the grand guide of grape.

Southern sugar sends the final
message with what Mexican reds
can conjure in custard and pulling
its weight in purity the pistachio
provides proof that all can be good
when topped with wisdom
of relish held well by chocolate
and smoked salt.

first | purple carrots. peas. brussel chips. avocado cream. mint. basil. black sesame foam.

This was my favorite dish of the evening. Young peas and floral herbs play so well together. But it was the curls of purple carrots, crisp and smoked with a subtle ‘bacon’ flavor that  amazed me. Before this meal I’d never encountered these flavors in raw food. Simply astounding!

second | ginger. chamomile. nasturtium.

The unexpected soup, different from the published menu. Afterward Chef Rice explained she felt the menu might be too puree-heavy so changed this course to a vivid vegan consommé.  A mild broth with the heat of ginger and one peppery bite of nasturtium.

third | brassicas. saffron coconut curry. cilantro pesto. grapes.

The pale green puree hide a simmering spice that lingered after every bite. The plump florets of rainbow cauliflower, steeped in the coconut curry, were a satisfying end to the savory courses. I swept up every last bit of the cilantro pesto… with my finger!

fourth | Mexican red velvet custard. pistachio pastry. reishi chocolate sauce. smoked salt.

A stunning end. Two quenelle of raw chocolate custard splatted in chocolate relish—a ruddy mushroom—sauce holding a delicate pistachio wafer. It tasted as beautiful as it looked.

The next dinner will he held Saturday July 26, 8pm at C.A.V.E Gallery 1108 Abbot Kinney, Venice… and it’s BYOB!