Sunday, December 9, 2007

Reasons To Love L.A. (Part 2)

Today is rainy and dreary in NYC, so what better time than to recount more of my time in sunny California? So if you recall, not only had we left yummy Native Foods with a full belly, we also had a list of other restaurants to check out.

We decided to sample some Ethiopian cuisine which we love love love. Would we feel the love too for Rahel's on Fairfax in Little Ethiopia? Well, I already love a restaurant that proudly mentions vegan twice on their storefront (just in case you didn't catch it the first time!).

There were so many things to chose from that we ended up with one of the many combination platters. This platter below is for two and what's interesting is that they split up the portions for two- in case you have food sharing/double dipping issues, which was not a problem because I was with Fcat, but I fully appreciated the gesture! What can I say that except that it was extremely tasty and I would be a regular if I lived here, though Fcat & I agreed that we preferred the injera at our NYC place, not that the injera was bad here, we just preferred ours a little thicker & spongier, but I am definitely not complaining. I highly recommend it.

There was another restaurant on the recommended list, but I will get back to that fabulous place in a little bit. Want to interrupt the eats journal with a roadtrip!

Fcat & I decided to take a little 2+ hr drive to Joshua Tree National Park. Let me preface this by saying that I am a full-on city girl. Never did the camping/nature thing- it's always been a beach or European vacation and it's a shame that I have never seen the natural wonders of my own country. I was excited for this trip, but as with most things, I always do the research- in other words, I am that person that reads the instructions/warnings that comes in every box. A bit uptight/worrier? Yes indeed.

Sometimes too much information can create anxiety, which definitely occurred as I read that we had to be sure to have 1 gallon of water per person per car in case the car breaks down and you are stuck in the desert without a soul in sight. I read about all the snakes & tarantulas which I proceeded to think of them as Booboo Tarantulas to quell the know furry & cute like my Booboo, but I know they do not bite unless provoked- unlike my Booboo. Then I wondered about scorpions...yes, this fun nature trip was creating much anxiety. I put on a brave face and reiterated to Fcat that we needed the recommended gallon of water per person per car...he bought only one and ignored me, which was probably best in the case of spending a few hours on the road with a worry wort.

Not long after being on the road, of course I needed a bathroon pit stop. I love Starbuck's dotted all over this Cali landscape- even the tiniest towns with a McDonald's & a gas station had a Starbuck's- hallelujah. This one only had a drive-thru & a pick up window with outdoor dealing. If I can get a clean bathroom and a soy latte on a road trip, I am easily overwhelmed with joy.
I buy 100% wind energy through ConEd Solutions so I was thrilled to see areas dotted with wind turbines.
We had stopped by Whole Foods where I made a lunch for the road. I was certain that there would be no real options for me. My road trip provisions: beet salad, babaghanous/hummus, tabouli salad, wheatberry salad, lentils & broccoli. The two falafel balls are for Fcat because for some strange reason Whole Foods makes falafel balls with egg (boo hiss).

Well, my packed lunch was tasty, but lo and behold there was no need because right at the west entrance of the park was Crossroads Cafe where they offered tempeh reubens & tofu scramble- I had provisions but it was good to know that I had options!

Here we are and slowly the anxiety starts to fade...(the gallon water warning is for summer months I think because it was quite chilly out in the park)

Wishing we had the U2 cd, I belted out my own version of the album...look at the cute Joshua Trees! It was so amazing to be in this strange natural landscape that my anxiety completely faded (well also I realized that since it was winter in the desert, snakes & tarantulas weren't out sunning themselves...). It was truly beautiful.

Me amongst the giant rocks and a raven- black dot to the right.
Majestic vista of the Mojave Desert which Joshua Tree Park is a part of:

Here's Fcat working on a shot towards the end of the was cold & the day had been long but I waited patiently while looking for Big Horn Sheep in their rocky terrain. Spotted none this day. Check out Fcat's shot from that day on his website:

Foreign landscape with a road running through it- was hoping to see a kit fox because they come out at dusk to start hunting, but no such luck.

Strange, abstract desert land- seemingly barren but populated by all forms of wildlife. I would definitely come back.

We started the drive home that wouldn't have been so long had it not been the Sunday after Thanksgiving where traffic began at 10am and lasted into the we wisely detoured off the highway to the Morongo/Cabazon Outlet Malls to take refuge from the traffic. Fortunately for my wallet, we only had 30 mins of shopping time til the stores closed so without much damage and 1 Stella McCartney for Adidas dress later, we ventured to Ruby's Diner, a 1940's styled chain diner.

I was so tired & so thrilled to have a carbonated beverage that I forgot that I don't use straws anymore...

I had a Gardenburger with jalapenos, salsa & avocado & fries. Unfortunately, they put mayo on the bottom portion of the bun, which I promptly just ate the other half because I didn't want to wait...all in all, not bad at all for a quick fix dinner. I was just glad that I was able to get more than a salad & fries. Thus fortified, we had a pleasant/traffic-less ride back to L.A.

And now my absolute favorite place in L.A. that we have discovered thanks to the wonderful recommendations by our waiter at Native Foods (well with the exception of Real Food Daily which we visited my last time in L.A. which was not at all good, though am willing to give it another try)...drumroll please: M Cafe De Chaya on Melrose.

I have heard of macrobiotic diets but wasn't exactly sure what it was, all I knew was that there were vegan options, but I had assumed that all the pasteries & baked goods were omnified. Macro diets are basically vegan without refined sugar and with fish. Hurray! All those baked goodies could be for me...

The cafe is really light & airy and deli style. I picked out an assortment of vegan sushi from behind the counter. Everything was fresh, clean and delicious. I had some different inari: hijiki & edamame stuffed in marinated tofu skin, tofu cake, garden roll and shitake avocado roll.

Look at their pretty desserts:
We had to try a mini chocolate cupcake- the cake was a little crumbly but still good & that chocolate on top was so good.

This berry tart was absolutely stupendous and the custard & crust would have stood up at Payard's (french patisserie in NYC) without anyone perfect.

An ice coffee & soy capuccino to round out our meal- those little packets are maple sugar packets!

We love this place so much - we returned in our last day...Fcat had the breakfast enchilada which was filles with scrambled tofu & tempeh bacon, covered with the most delicious & delicate miso/soy cheese which melted, browned & bubbled like real cheese!

I had the BBQ seitan & coleslaw with a side of kale in peanut sauce. This was my least favorite but it was still good. The seitan was a bit too think for me or maybe it needed to be heated a little more...the kale was so simple & so tasty.

Way too stuffed for dessert and you saw those great desserts so you know if there was any room possible to squeeze dessert in, I would have. I love this place! Macro places are perfect for vegan/omni couples because Fcat can have fish here and it doesn't seem like we are going to yet another vegan place. M Cafe, please come to NYC?

Well there were so many other resturants I wanted to try, but will have to save it for another trip...might be back for a shoot in February (yay!). Of course NYC has so many vegan places that I haven't even been to every one of them, I just got carried away by the newness of L.A. and it's vegan paradise and well the sunshine & blue sky...but the traffic did get pretty annoying and the fact that you have to drive everywhere which I do not. I will continue my love affair with L.A. but am definitely not ready to commit.

Look they have jade plants that are so happy from all the sunshine that they flower here. My jade plants have never flowered!
Can't wait to return next year!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Reasons To Love L.A. (Part 1)

Being a native New Yorker with my born & bred East Coast bias, I had never really been intrigued by L.A. or California but boy have things changed since becoming vegan...

California is the closest thing to vegan paradise that I have ever experienced. They speak my language there, well- even if they don't speak my language at least they are familiar with the term "vegan". My last visit involved a crazy hectic shooting schedule, I never realized that L.A. and the surrounding area was chock full of vegan/vegetarian eateries but this trip was a true epiphany. Fcat and I mused about how we might consider living in L.A.: steps to the beach, sunshine, blue sky a plethora of restaurants that cater to omnis & their vegan partners- sounds pretty perfect to me...

Let's get this show and tell (part 1- splitting this up so as not to bore or overwhelm with my usual mega posts) started:

Fcat has a friend with a West Hollywood bungalow that he only occasionally stays at- so we had this lovely home to ourselves:

It was so amazing to wake up and step out into the sunshine:

No morning was complete without a quick drive to Fairfax for breakfast at Swingers- a hip, retro 22hrs (6am-4am) diner with vegan options:

This was the only thing I ordered, over and over and over again because it was that good- the tofu chilaquiles which is tofu, black beans, corn, salsa in a mole type sauce served with blue corn chips. It was so tasty.

Love how the menu even differentiates bet vegetarian and vegan dishes- thumbs up for vegans!

For Thanksgiving, Fcat was willing to make the 40minute drive down to Costa Mesa so that I could have a vegan Thanksgiving meal at Native Foods. There was a Native Foods closer to us in L.A., but the Costa Mesa one was open for Thanksgiving! I was so excited...

The atmosphere was warm and lively for the Thanksgiving buffet.

The circular shape of the restaurant was unique and already an existing structure when the restaurant took the space.

Fcat and I came ready to feast and feast we did! I am that girl who loads a little bit of everything onto one plate at a buffet. This was the menu:
  • Native Wellington with Mushroom Shallot Gravy
  • Willy's Wheatberry Waldorf Salad
  • Gorgeous Green Salad with Maple Glazed Pecans and Pomegranate Pearls
  • Polenta Terrine with Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Pesto
  • Garlic Roasted Mashed Potatoes
  • Seared Green Beans with Browned Panko
  • Native Stuffing
  • Fred's Fabulous Cornbread
  • Cranberry Orange Relish
  • Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Crem
  • Sam's Cheesecake with Blueberries
  • Apple Cranberry Cobbler with Vanilla Creme
  • Native Iced Tea, Coffee

Our meal was absolute yum. Everything was so delicious. Fcat loved it! (He loved it so much that he was wishing for it the next day.)We were stuffed, but there's always room for dessert albeit after a bit of a break where we just sat and chatted with the lovely staff- I mean really just great people. Our waiter was so sweet- he wrote down a bunch of restaurants for us to check out in L.A., several fortuitously close to our place.

The real highlight of our meal? Chatting with Chef Tanya Petrovna. She was so warm and vibrant and a great storyteller. She was amazing and her food was amazing. We could have talked to her for hours and we almost did- you know when you go to say goodbye to everyone at a party and end up talking for another hour before you get out that door- that's the vibe at Native Foods. Can't wait for the day when Native Foods comes to NYC, hopefully someday very very soon!!

It was truly wonderful to celebrate Thanksgiving in a place where we were able to joyfully celebrate the holiday where no animals were brutalized & slaughtered for our celebration. I even loved the parking lot, imprinted with proper vegan prompts:

The next day, we decided to go to the Getty Center Museum. What I enjoyed most at the museum was it's architecture and outdoor space. It was designed by Richard Meier and simply divine.

We had a light lunch at the museum cafeteria outdoors. I asked what was vegan and they immediately pointed me to the leek/parsnip/apple soup. We also got a portobello sandwich which I thought I could just remove the cheese, but I discovered that there was mayo mixed into the mustard spread...the soup was quite good.
We checked out the Edward Weston photography exhibit which was fascinating, but best part of the museum was really it's outdoor space.

I especially loved the cactus garden because I am partial to succulents, having a small collection of plants myself. I also loved the contrast of these prickly plants against the backdrop of the cityscape.

The Getty Center is located atop a hill which you can take a tram up or a fifteen minute hike up which we did because the wait for the tram was lengthy, plus we knew the walk would be pretty.

Sunshine and blue sky, yet urban city with access to nature, how could one not be happy here?

More to come...
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