R: Tiny and vegan terrific, A Taste of Life, located on the second floor of a strip mall on the southwest corner of Fountain and Vermont, quietly opened its doors August 1, 2008. Our first visit was on a cold, rainy night in early October, and all we could think of was warming our palates with bowls of steaming hot soup along with hot and hearty comfort food.
Z: After climbing the stairs leading to the restaurant, we approached with some reserve. My first thought was that from humble beginnings spring some great surprises, and, indeed, we were the beneficiaries of some amazing revelations in the form of delicious foods.
R: On our second visit a month later we could appreciate what a difference a little paint and polish could make. The ultramarine blue walls with accents of canary yellow created a welcoming ambience, giving the small cafe a comfort zone to match the tasty comfort foods.
Z: We met our friend, Gregg, at the restaurant and sat at one of the two small inside tables. Outside, on the balcony that extends out from the restaurant, were two more tables. We filed a mental note to return to this great spot for summer terrace dining.
R: Craving that bowl of hot soup, we asked about the chef's soup of the day. Yishai, the restaurant's only server, busser, cashier, and everything but chef, proudly announced that the daily special was Split Pea. It sounded great and lived up to its reputation as hearty and wholesome. What made it special were chunks of well-cooked mushrooms added by a chef who knows how to make foods flavorful. Fully expecting to be served on paper plates and Styrofoam bowls with plastic utensils, we were delightfully surprised the foods arrived on real dishes accompanied by silverware.
Z: Gregg ordered a Mock Chicken Sandwich. A great choice, the huge spice-infused faux chicken patty was served on a giant whole wheat bun, and heaped with tomato, onion, and romaine and well sauced with soy mayo and ketchup. The patty is made with a TVP base, but the recipe remains the chef's secret.
R: The menu, listed on a colorful, glossy, oversized postcard, offers entrees that include three sides along with Kale Greens, Cornbread, Soup, and Salad. We chose the Mac & Cheese, BBQ Tofu, and Roast, a homemade wheat-meat seasoned to mouth-watering perfection. We were amazed at the generosity of the servings. No diner could possibly leave this eatery feeling hungry or unsatisfied. This is delicious home cooking to the max!
Z: Curious to try one of their raw offerings, I ordered the Nutmeat Chili. This uniquely prepared creation is packed with chunks of Brazil nuts in a mixture of well-seasoned tomatoes, salsa, and a host of Chef Ben Amiel's secret ingredients. Nicely presented, the raw specialty is served on a bed of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber.
R: Yishai is the friendly server every restaurant would feel fortunate to have on its staff. He would say, "Did you taste our Ginger Delight?"and then bring us a small sample. He followed with, "Did you taste our Cheesecake?" and out would come another sample. Each was a delicious tease, and, naturally, we had to order these items.
Z: The Pineapple Coconut Ginger Delight and the Strawberry Cheesecake were both excellent. The Ginger Delight Juices come in a multitude of flavors and were the creations of Hoshea, another member of the Taste of Life team. Gregg decided to try one of their shakes and finished with an awesome thick, rich Almond Joy Shake that we can highly recommend.
R: On our second visit we brought our friends Eric and Annie who instantly recognized the exceptional quality of the foods. That day's special soup was Noodle Vegetable, a very tasty, well-seasoned stock packed with noodles and veggies and served in a coffee cup with a saucer underneath.
Z: Wanting our friends to experience a number of the chef's treats, we ordered the Battered Mushrooms and Cauliflower along with the Nutmeat Chili. Off to a good start, they nodded agreement that each dish was one they would order again. I could tell the mushrooms were exceptionally fresh--with each bite they offered a juicy burst of mushroom goodness inside the crisp batter.
R: New items on the menu included a Chickpea Burger, Lentil Burger, Veggie Burger, and Macaroni Salad. Eric wasted no time devouring his Chickpea Burger served on a whole-wheat bun with all the typical fixings along with fries. Annie enjoyed the heaping Entrée platter and was especially impressed with the delicious Roast.
Z: Chef Ben Amiel is constantly working on new items to enhance the menu. Growing up in a vegan household, he experienced first hand how to prepare tasty, wholesome vegan foods and follow the vegan lifestyle. Though he receives compliments regularly, his demeanor remains humble, quiet, and shy.
R: Partnered with Hoshea and Yishai, he first introduced his foods several years ago at the Harambee Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. Wanting to open a stand at the Hollywood Farmers' Market, the team prepared some special dishes and treated the market staff to an exceptional meal. The following week, they had their wish and have been serving their tasty offerings every Sunday at the Hollywood Farmers' Market for the past four years.
Z: Yishai, recognizing the four of us were appreciative patrons, couldn't resist introducing us to a few more items. Tiny samples of raw Carrot Supreme brought carrot salad to new heights. The Chocolate Cheesecake offered total pleasure and would satisfy even a discriminating chocoholic. The Cherry Cranberry Ginger Delight Juice landed on the tongue with a pleasant tart-sweet note and a lively zap of ginger.
R: The reasonable prices are an outstanding value. A Taste of Life's beyond-midnight hours on weekends make it the ideal spot for an after-the-show late-night meal, snack, or irresistible shake.
Z: We came away knowing we'll soon return for the great food and friendly welcome. Embedded in our palates are the pleasurable sensations left by lovingly prepared home cooking.
4817 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90019
Reviewed December 2008