Ah, there's that Papyrus typeface again. I think we're going to be seeing that for a long time, anywhere an eatery gets remotely healthy and modern.
Despite the high turnover rate of businesses along this tiny triangle between Sunset and Griffith Park Blvd., Cru has managed to survive here for a few years after the previous raw restaurant went away. Past the black awning the interior is relaxed modernism, amber teardrop lamps hanging from a brown ceiling. I also like sitting at one of the two small tables outside, listening to the confused traffic and the loud conversations from MorningsNights next door.
Chef Rachel Carr has carefully considered the intricacies of vegan, organic and raw food, and compiled an ever-changing menu of both raw and cooked dishes (considerately separated on the menu so you don't gulp nervously when presented with crunchy things you'd think to bribe a parrot with). Everything here is gluten-free, organic, and vegetarian (except for an occasional use of honey).
This bowl is filled with stuff I thought I'd never willingly place in front of me: kale, celery, zucchini, squash. Yet it's all puréed together with onion and other things into a mossy military olive color, and is warm and fulfilling.
A measure of what looks like vinegar is poured atop, which turns out to be Australian pumpkin seed oil*. It adds an oily nuttiness to what would be understandably vegetal, and it also swirls into neat Kanji characters while eating. This kale soup is savory.
The Gluten-Free Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes are exactly that, a pair of griddle-darkened, heat-retaining moonscapes with a dense, gluey texture. They smell good, and taste better, especially when drizzled with agave syrup, that high-fructose, ruinous rockstar of the sweet world. (You can get honey instead if you like.) Cinnamon is dusted around the edges of the plate for additional noms.
Each is half again the size of the buckwheat pancakes at Flore, so these are good for taking home.
On to the raw experience. I hesitate to call it a pizza any more than tomatoes and garlic on a crisp slice of brioche is a pizza, but the Raw Marinated Vegetable Pizza is pretty tasty. The crust is sunflower flatbread, somewhere between a tortilla chip and a pie crust in texture, and really rather good, not shattery or birdseedy.
The toppings are cool like a ceviche. Peppers and onions are sautéed and layered with shiitake mushrooms, over a spicy, zesty, squash-colored paste which turns out to be a pepper jack cheese made from cashews. I think it's the foundation of this dish.
Looming over this is a leafy salad wetted by a thick, creamy dressing that is reminiscent of pesto, cilantro, and which I'm told has ground-up pumpkin seeds.
During the day I like the honey-sweetened Ginger Limeade, clean and not too saccharine, with serious chunks of ginger prepared to shoot up your straw and set fire to your mouth.
Cru is slightly on the expensive side for lunch, but not for Silver Lake; an entree with soup or a special drink will often run past fifteen dollars. Parking is metered until you get up into the hills, and the parking enforcement cars are energetic around these parts.
* I can lie and say that I deduced it with my uncanny senses of taste and smell, but actually I asked what it was.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
The interior of the Santa Monica Hugo's is typically modern, calmly lit by a field of dimpled white shades. The vibe is close but efficient and friendly; however, we like the side patio, amber glass candle holders glowing on each table.
I always peruse the beverages menu for something interesting, and I settle on the Yogi Smoothie: mango, apple, toasted almonds, soy milk, cooperating in an even-handed way until the aftertaste suddenly jumps out shouting in ginger. It's a little rude, but I'd order it again.
These are fantastic. Rice Paper Lentil Rolls. Organic lentils are mixed fine with caramelized onion, surprisingly subdued celery, green pepper shaking hands with green apple, scallions, and a vegenaise. They are good by themselves, a delicate experience, but brought to a sophisticated level by a dip in the avocado/pepita dressing. The entire affair has the confident balance of a monk.
It's a salad, Dave. That's, um, great. Please tell me how this is innovative.
Glad to. This is Hugo's Mexican Salad. What's Mexican about it? Not entirely sure, although there are black beans and avocado, and a pico de gallo involved. This is not important. What is important is that along with the above ingredients they've somehow taken romaine, black olives, parmesan and nicely grilled, skin-on chicken breast, piled it into a grand hillock, and made it into one of the best salads I've tasted all year.
The caesar dressing isn't even that strong, but creamy and polite. The salad is as strongly tasty as if there were bacon and bleu cheese to boss everyone around (there isn't). The chicken is chopped into inch-wide cubes and hidden everywhere your fork penetrates. The avocado is fresh and influential, the black olives seem freshly sliced.
Another dish that refused to take a good photo, this is Very Slowly Roasted Portabello [sic] Stew, and the fact that they painstakingly point this out in the title is prominent in its presentation. Portobello mushrooms are so often rubbery and elusive, and not worth their impressive-sounding name, but this is, apparently, very slowly roasted, and therefore soft and meaty in texture, and darned good, and other things that make me run my sentences on.
Also in this is carrots, squash, zucchini, all the things that make my inner grade schooler say "yuck", plus garlic and french green lentils, which don't. It's assembled with a tomato and red wine sauce that is hard to describe, but almost sweet. Bianca likes the vegan mashed potatoes with this, which are not as whip-creamy as they can be since there is only soy milk to deal with, but combining a bit of that with a bit of stew makes every bite ridiculous.
The Grilled Mushroom Enchiladas are a grand repast, strips of sautéed mushrooms and onions wrapped in thick corn tortillas. The three amigos are then coated with a roasted tomatillo-jalapeño sauce, which is chunky and green and fairly sparkling with spice and flavor. Occasional heat darts toward your throat to stick it with a rapier.
On the left is long grain Spanish rice. Such texture! Tiny bits of corn and carrot add to a pan-roasted feel, although the rice loses its heat quickly. To the right are white beans, stirred in a red Guajillo-chili sauce, gentle and rich. The entire dish is an illustration in contrast: gritty fluff of the rice, red blanket of beans, layered nobility of the enchilada trio.
All this is gluten-free, by the way, something with which I've been concerning myself, and the parts that aren't vegan can be made vegan when requested. Each menu item considerately details whether it's vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and whether it can be made so.
We did not take a photo of the desserts, but there is something you need to try, and that is Chef Nabor's Chocolate Mousse.
In my longtime, lantern-lit search for an honest mousse, mousse usually falls to either of two waysides: it is an airy, tasteless sponge, or it is a dense clay. This is neither. The chocolate is Cordillera, with a soft-spoken, rich finish that brings smiles and hits itself out of the park. And, oh yeah: gluten-free.
Bianca: I'm having one of those "I'm young and and I'm licking my spoon" moments.
The location on Coldwater is a distant country cousin that has its own lot. Santa Monica is next to a public parking structure with a nice four-dollar flat rate for the evening.
Oh, and related to Hugo's Tacos? Yes.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Burbank/North Hollywood )
I wish they were closer. I wish I had some chili in front of me. I wish a lot of things, not least a status of independent wealth so that I may eat chili tri-weekly.
The place is small, square, sparsely tabled, and shouts at you in electric Lego red. The floor is a sea of penny round tiles. A man behind the counter awaits you in a relaxed and friendly manner, knowing you must take a moment with the menu and the array of bowl sizes and options. They will have eight recipes to taste, out of--what is Johnny up to at this point? Seventy? More? These are no runny ground-beef-and-tomato-and-kidney-beans concoctions from our youth*, but a dizzying list of state-fair-dominating ideas.
A sampler? Why, yes. It's not large, and I could probably tackle two orders of this, but here goes.
The leftmost lovely ladleful is the Prime Rib Chili, the current all-meat flagship, ground into bulky chunks, dark like molasses with a sweet brown sugar tang. This is a chili over which I could shake chopped onions and dashes of hot sauce and do serious damage, yet is not my favorite, at least not today.
I am hooked on the middle, Exotic Chicken Verde Chili. I expect I shall have dreams of pouring this onto a tortilla, wrapping it up and eating it like a burrito. Tender ground chicken is mixed with green chilies and rich tomatillo. It has a little laid-back bite, and I sadly scrape the bottom. It's gooone, oh, I, I'd better learn how to face it.
The amber one on the right is a meaty rich... wait, it's vegan? It's chili for damn sure. It's called Hom-inous Chorizo. Fermented soy and hominy doesn't sound like it would cause the ranch hands to come a-running, but this is spoons-down the finest vegan chili I've ever had** after a long day of driving forty head of cattle. The hominy is thick like chickpeas and hearty without being overly corn-flavored.
We've also tried the Texas Gold Vegan Chili, a tan, smoky concoction with pinto beans and a soft cornmeal feel. It is a perfect hot-dog chili. Chili Addiction uses Match Foods products from St. Louis, which is all good with me.
Bianca: "I would have serious lunch troubles if I worked at Trashy Lingerie next door."
The Chorizo Madness is a chicken chili, dark, spicy, thick, a grandly meaty affair with traces of cumin and great half-spheres of chicken chorizo. It tastes incredibly rich, as if it should leave orange streaks of grease everywhere, but it won't.
It's bad form to lick the bowl in this state, isn't it?
As if you didn't already didn't owe them for the most pleasurable experience of your day, they make their own hot dogs and sausages here. The Chicken Hot Dog has a grainier, more robustly woven texture than the typical pale pink squeezed-baloney one gets. The casing is nicely snappy and the flavor is absolutely stunning. There are no store-bought dogs that can match this. None. With a sine wave of spicy homemade ketchup and homemade mustard, it ranks up there with the best hot dog I've tasted in years.
On Bianca's Vegan Hot Dog, itself snappy and delicious, they've done something with sauerkraut, making it not as bitter, not as stringy and defeated. It has solid mouth-feel and great taste.
They have other things to accompany your spoon-and-bowl mission.
Potato chips bore me. When I'm getting a sandwich somewhere and they offer some combo special that consists of choosing your own bag of chips, I go without.
These are an order of magnitude better. Homemade German Fried Potato Chips is already a good name with which to attract my attention; I'm not sure what makes them German, but they are nearly as robust as pork rinds, warm and salt-dusted with a slight give to the tooth. Homemade ketchup tones them down, zesty and not too sweet.
What else do they make there: Cornbread, Chili Mac, a Prime Rib Burger, Chili Cheese Fries, homemade hot dogs... I may be a while trucking back and forth from Silver Lake to La Cienega. And, oh: a chocolate chip chipotle ice cream? Red velvet cake ice cream? Sheesh.
You can snag one of the precious spots in the back of the building, or find metered spaces on La Cienega. Do not attempt parking on the surrounding streets, for you are on West Side, and you may park here at this time, or at this time, but at NO OTHER TIMES may you park, unless you have a permit and have made the proper sacrifices to the gods of expensive purses.
Chili Addiction is closed Mondays, since they have to sleep sometime.
* Well, my youth anyway. It was watery, slightly purple, and after a while my mom started adding corn to it, much to my chagrin. It led me to create my own personal recipe for chili, for which my friends can vouch.
** Sorry, Chili John's, I find the vegetarian barley chili to be a little alien and uncomfortable.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
The exterior is loud and yellow and has a typeface that makes my inner graphic designer weep, but SunPower is a raw/vegan/organic gift from the heavens, and I believe most fervently that they should be in L.A. proper, closer to me*.
The interior is newly designed, elegantly jazzy with creamy mango walls and slick mahogany furniture. A bluesy wailing drips from the speakers.
The people here are friendly and positive. As in "they know secrets of the universe" kind of friendly and positive. In a good way.
I am not entirely sure how they do this, and it looks much better in real life, but this smells amazing. The left half of this dish is Raw Kelp Noodles: glass noodles made of kelp, not overly elastic or clumped, tossed with a creamy marinara. There are vegetables chopped inside, indecipherable (although I suspect mushrooms, onion and tomato are harmonizing here) but adding texture. Red peppers lie atop with a drizzle of basil ranch. I am impressed. It is incredibly rich and flavorful.
The other half is an all-kale salad. Now, kale is one bossy, opinionated leaf, but this is "massaged" kale, whatever that means, and the raw basil ranch dressing is so persuasive, that the shiny curly kale relaxes and becomes a salad to reckon with. Pine nuts add crunch.
I just had an entirely kelp-and-kale-based meal. That was raw. And it rocked.
This is the Raw Supreme Pizza. It is indeed raw, it's confidently supreme, but it's only pizza in the sense that there is a supportive disc on which toppings repose.
The crust is made of sunflower seeds. And while it looks as if you need the beak of a finch to properly peck it apart, it's actually like a crunchy granola cereal in consistency, and sweet but with a hint of cumin and chili powder. The marinara appears again, almost like a barbecue sauce, spread thinly over the surface.
The SunPower "Sausage" is no closer to sausage than tempeh is to bacon, but it provides a crumbly, seasoned variance in texture. Tomatoes are here, with a flare of marinated red peppers and onions. The basil ranch is drizzled over all, but I'd just as soon have more of the marinara.
That familiar green stripe is more of that kale salad.
Is this for real? Should I be making fun of myself, "eating birdseed" and "rabbit food"? Should this be tasting this good?
They also have pizzas with whole wheat pita crusts if you're terrified of the raw sunflower seed affair.
If anyone from SunPower offers you a Sweet Kale Shake, take it. Everyone else in the room will nod appreciatively.
It tastes like nothing else, and not at all like you'd expect "kale" and "shake" to taste. It is sweet like it says, strong with almond and vanilla extract, banana, and agave. Shavings of coconut, cacao beans and goji berry are strewn for color.
When not getting a smoothie, I like a Lemon/Ginger Blast, a frothy juice made of mouth-squeezing awesome.
There is lots of iffy metered parking along Cahuenga; about every second meter will swallow your money but suddenly remember to tell you FAIL. Some spots open up at night in the alley behind. However, since Cahuenga at night becomes absolutely unreasonable, with every automobile in Studio City trying to get onto the 101 South, and every meter full, and every car occupied by an irritable and not-entirely-wailing Ventura Boulevard driver, getting to SunPower for dinner is a cause for weeping and gnashing of teeth. It's one reason why they should relocate close to me. For my health.
* They aren't really that far from me. Eight minutes north on the 101. It's the principle of the thing.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, The Valley )
I admit to prejudgment upon walking into Masa. My thoughts: "Oh, no. This decor. Saffron walls and flowers and oak chairs and peeling-paint rustic furniture and wine list and loud tablecloths. This means it's another gentrified bistro wishing it was French, 'rated' by 'Zagat' and 'blithely' 'ignoring' its own 'neighborhood' until nicer people move in."
I am wholly, utterly, shamefully wrong.
The people are wonderful. Masa is aware of its history and its locale, even the businesses that existed in this spot back to the '20s. It knows and loves Echo Park without a sense of exclusion.
The seating is casual, as if a restaurant quietly grew around a bakery counter and coffee bar. They make their own dough here, use organic local produce, and import what they need to make the Chicago-centric part of their menu. You may be seated near Echo Park local personage Miss Judy.
The Parmesana Panini is bigger than expected, layered under neutral but harmonious butter-slicked bread. If this was by itself with some pasta, it would already be a paragon of Chicken Parmesania. The chicken is superbly done, thoughtfully seasoned, lush and just crunchy enough. The marinara is a deep Sicilian red, and shouts of tomato freshness.
The salad is tangy, and of greater interest than I can think to write about it. The dressing is low-key, suggestive of shallots, lemon and a trace of balsamic vinegar.
There are Spinach & Mushroom Crêpes, to which you can add rosemary chicken or grilled veggie chicken. The thin, elastic sheets of crêpe taste of peppercorns, hiding the spinach, sliced mushrooms and swiss cheese; the effect is almost stroganoffian in robustness.
They make thin crust "bistro" pizzas here, without making claims to being authentically New York, which is fine with me. It is a successful rendition.
If I'm still on a chicken parmesan kick, I get the Lucretia (baked chicken parmesan, pomodoro sauce, mozzarella and bay leaves). Otherwise I like the Douglas: homemade sweet Italian sausage, studded with fennel and falling apart, shreds of green pepper, purple rings of onion, mozzarella melted just so, and more of that impressive marinara, sweet and tomato-strong. I normally do not write sentences that long, by the way, but that's how fast I go through their pizzas: with barely a pause. They are Masa's own interpretation, and fabulous. The crust is thin as a pair of half dollars.
Masa's Chicago Pizzas, however, do make this claim of familiarity; Co-owner Ron was born and raised in Chicago. With a lot of love and the eighty-year-old revolving oven, it takes forty minutes to bake each pie.
Although fully aware that a Chicago pizza out here in California means needlessly puffy, tasteless dough and extra poundage to work off, I normally do not care for Chicago deep dish pizza. If Masa's pies are any indication of what a good pizza might be like in Chicago, I now understand the controversy.
I like the Traditional, with mushrooms and sausage. The homemade sweet Italian sausage appears again, but in sheets instead of crumbled spheres, hence why it looks a little alarming in the photo, but please trust me when I say it's delicious. Garlic is present, and the cheese melts like an underground glacier under the red, red sauce. It is complex, and amazing. The crust is like nothing I've ever tasted, prominent with cornmeal, with a trace of biscuity sweetness. I forget to shake parmesan cheese over my pizza, and I always shake parmesan over things.
Perhaps there is a way to pick this up, but I understand why they call it a pizza pie. I prefer a fork.
Parking for Masa is going to be metered, whether along the street (with fairly forgiving signage if they're not filming something) or in one of the blue-signed public lots.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, French, Bakery/Patisserie, Healthy/Organic, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Pizza )
The perpetually uncertain and blithely decorated Town & Country closed for remodeling, which in Los Angeles means it's never going to achieve the escape velocity necessary to reopen, until something else takes its place. Forage is here now, with better ideas and a higher caliber kitchen staff (think Jason Kim from Lucques and Amanda Bacon of Lucques and Canelé). The decor is clean white and wood.
Do you grow edible things? Lots of people do, evidently, and the concept of Forage is to take advantage of excess crops, helping to share the vitaminal wealth. One can bring in homegrown fruits and vegetables and barter them for credit (call in advance, or check the website for the Forage gatherings). They may figure out what to do with them, create a dish, and name it after you for as long as it's available.
A stable pillar of the menu is their Jidori Chicken, carefully rotisseried and shining with its own juices. The meat has just enough firmness, and while I generally prefer my chicken crisped more by the heat, the browning of the skin is tasty. If you can get some roasted fresh from the kitchen (I always seem to get the last two pieces under the heat lamp), so much the better.
Their everyday Market Green Salad is even better. Not a spiky tumbleweed or bitter red leaf in sight, the lettuces are softened like butter under the subtle lemon bite of yellow oil. Tiny coins of radish add snap.
A Pastrami Sandwich might be available, layered under a twisty torpedo of heavy, abrasive bread of great quality. The pastrami is even-handed, not overly fatty or salty, and mellowed by braised cabbage and thick sheets of Swiss cheese. A mustard aioli runs through it.
As with the Jidori Chicken, the side dish is fully as interesting as the main choice. The Black Bean soup embodies the concept of "soup" as much as any I've tried, rich with vegetables and not at all runny as many black bean soups are. Thin rings of scallion rest atop a swirl of cream.
The Awesome Avocado sandwich looks desaturated and pale, but the avocado is so fresh and solid that it becomes the strongest element. Tomatoes, cool wisps of green cabbage, fennel pickles and a Mexican pationa (I am still trying to figure out what that means) all create comfort without overriding the avocado, and still somehow maintaining sandwichal stability.
I'm told the Nirman Ranch Pork Belly Sandwich, on a baguette with the same toppings and a green garlic aioli, is rave-worthy, so I shan't say no.
To drink there's Blue Bottle coffee, or their Agua Fresca, which may be a homemade lemonade or a tangelo orange which reminds one eerily of a well-mixed glass of Tang.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Bakery/Patisserie, Healthy/Organic, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American )