Wednesday, February 27, 2008

M Cafe de Chaya

I have been hearing of M Cafe de Chaya for a couple years now, and finally made it out there for lunch last week. I loved it. A part of the Chaya Venice/Brasserie group, this is their macrobiotic outpost. Macrobiotics is a diet consisting of whole, natural, seasonal foods. No refined sugar, dairy or meat. Seafood is the only animal protein in the diet.

At the cafe, you may dine in, or take out. They have some covered outdoor seating, and a few tables inside, including a communal table. They have a large deli case filled with various salads, sushi (made with brown rice) and pastries (made with natural grain sweeteners). I ordered their fantastic grilled tuna burger ($14.25) with a side of soba noodle salad. The tuna was seared rare, topped with avocado, pickled red onions, daikon sprouts, yuzu mayo and served on a toasted whole wheat bun. Please don't let the sprouts and whole wheat scare you away, it was really the best health food I have ever had. It was so good, that on my second visit, I couldn't help but order it again, this time with a side of kale in peanut sauce. Paired with a carafe of mint green tea ($2.50), it is not the cheapest lunch, but it is well worth it. I also ordered (for take-out) one of their rice bowls for the next day's lunch. A scoop of brown rice, topped with teriyaki salmon and sauteed vegetables ($15.45). Like the tuna burger, it was very satisfying and left you with energy, unlike how most regular, carbo-loading lunches can leave you wanting either coffee or a nap.

They also serve breakfast: teas, organic coffee, soy lattes, pancakes, tofu scramble, smoked salmon benedict, to name a few. Here is the best part for us Westsiders: they are opening a second location in good ol' downtown Culver City, on Culver Blvd. next to Pacifico's this April. I cannot wait.

M Cafe de Chaya
7119 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

La Provence Patisserie and Cafe

La Provence is a little French cafe in a shopping mall on the outskirts of Beverly Hills. The large lunch crowd intrigued my mom and I, as we were patronizing another business in the mall, so we stopped in for lunch. The portions are large, and the pastries beautiful. Look at all those pretty macaroons! The chocolate one I have was as good as any in town. My red velvet was the moistest I have every had.

The entrees were a mixed bag. My prociutto and brie sandwich had pre-packaged prociutto (rather then freshly sliced on the premises) and, dare I say it, too much brie!

My mom's spinach quiche had all the rich, buttery, eggy goodness you should expect, it was just gigantic! They are working on a second location in Brentwood on San Vicente in the mall with CPK.

La Provence
8950 W Olympic Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Afternoon Snack at Akasha

I dropped in the bakery section of Akasha today for a little pick-me-up. Their pastries looked fabulous, and many of them were vegan. I enjoyed a vegan chocolate cupcake with ganache icing ($3.50). It was like a really good Ding-Dong. I also tried a lavendar shortbread cookie, which was buttery, flaky, with just a hint of lavendar ($1). They were all out of any kind of black tea, so I had a mint tea ($2.75). Service was friendly, but I did indicate my order was "for-here," and my tea came in a paper cup, my cookie in a bag, and my cupcake on a plate. Oh well. The bakery is open from 7AM to PM, serving organic coffee and espresso drinks, tea and a house-made Chai that is not available yet. There are a few tables outside, but that is the only indication that they are open. The windows are tinted so you cannot see any activity inside. Perhaps if they had some kind of sign outside it would increase traffic. There is plenty of comfortable seating inside, but beware it seems to double as the staff office.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Akasha - Now Open

Akasha in downtown Culver City opened last night and my friends and I checked it out. The space is huge. Akasha took over the old San Gennaro spot, on the corner of Watseka and Culver Blvd. On the Watseka side, they have a bakery and coffee counter with a large communal bench and old panoramic photos of downtown Culver City. On the Culver Boulevard side is the large dining room and bar. It is a modern, sleek space, while maintaining a comfortable warmth. I particularly liked the glow from the mobiles dangling overhead. We sat at the bar, right in front of the chalkboard wine and cocktail lists.

They have a few house cocktails, made with fresh juices and organic liquors. I tasted the Red Velvet Margarita, made with 4 Copas organic tequila, lime juice, blood orange juice and agave nectar. It was very refreshing and the blood orange juice made for a beautiful appearance. My friend had The Akasha, made with kiwifruit vodka, cucumber juice and Thai basil elixir. It was good - not too sweet, but the foggy mossy color was most unappealing.

For their first night, service was pretty good and the food was well executed. Wait times were appropriate, and employee nerves seemed calm. We enjoyed all the wines we sampled and ordered. Minor quibbles: The bar stools weigh a ton. Forget about dismounting gracefully in front of your date. Service was swift, but the bartender tried to remove our unfinished plate, which I was able to stop her in time, but the other bartender whisked it away when I wasn't looking. If there is still food on the plate, please ask before you take.

We tried some appetizers and sides. My favorite was the wild mushroom and goat cheese tarte with arugula on the side. The crust was thick and flaky. It must have been made with whole wheat flour, which gave it a nice nutty flavor and pleasantly chewy texture.

The onions rings were battered in rice flour, which fries up to a sharp crisp. The highlight was the smoked paprika dipping sauce (which we were trying to deconstruct. Our guess: mayo, mustard, lemon and smoked paprika), which we also requested with our fries. The rings weren't cheap: $7 for six.

Portions were small, which is nice when you want to try many dishes, like we do. They offer a selection of pizzas, and ours was our least favorite item of the night. It had a crisp, thin crust, that was just a bit too hard. It was topped with "Orgonzola" cheese, Quercia prociutto, fig caramelized onions and wild arugula($15). I love all those flavors, but just didn't dig the crust. We still ate it, of course.

The menu boasts their use of local, organic, handcrafted ingredients. It is divided into "small plates" (examples include: mushroom tart, hummus, albacore lettuce wraps) "pizza" (Margherita, slow cooked broccoli, chicken sausage and shiitake with eggplant and squash), "bowls" ( Punjabi mung beans with rice, and red quinoa and edamame), "big plates" (Asian style braised shortribs, South Indian style salmon, organic turkey burger and Heritage pork chop) and "sides" (onion rings, French fries, mac and cheese and roasted curried cauliflower). There were several items on the menu that my pescatarian, dairy-free friend could enjoy and plenty of meat and cheese for the rest of us.

We really enjoyed ourselves last night and I look forward to returning and sampling more of the menu. I am still so excited over downtown Culver City's thriving restaurant scene. We now have such a dense concentration of fine dining establishments all within walking distance of each other. Now, let's get the City to work on the conspicuous lack of taxis...

9543 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Restaurant Week at Chinois on Main

I had a lovely, leisurely lunch today at Wolfgang Puck's Chinois on Main in Santa Monica. This place has been here since 1983, and today was my first visit (a testament to the success of Restaurant Week). The Barbara Lazaroff decor is a bit dated, yet very lively and festive. The other tell tale sign this restaurant was built in the 80's: a pay phone next to the bathroom. For starters, my friend and I shared the Chinios chicken and fried calamari and rock shrimp salads. Both were nice. Slightly spicy fried eggplant joined the shrimp and calamari in a wonton cup, and the chicken salad was light and refeshing, without being too sweet like most Chinese chicken salads.

For the main course, we shared the duck pancakes and stir-fried egg noodles with shiitake mushrooms and beef. The duck pancakes (actually crepes) were good with their rich demi-glace sauce. The noodles were a bit overdressed and over salted, but we finished them anyway.

For dessert I had a nice little chocolate cake, and my friend had the apple spring rolls, which I thought were a bit bland and not sweet enough.

Our server was very friendly and knowledgeable of the wine list and menu. The pace was nice and slow, and the ambiance lively and loud. With thier regular lunch appetizers in the teens, and entrees in the 20's, our Restuarant Week lunch for $22 a piece was quite the bargain. If you are sqweamish and don't like hair in your food and the like, don't look at this next picture of silverfish in the lights.

Chinois on Main