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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
 Dining in Paradise

In most restaurant reviews the reader sees the restaurant experience from one person's point of view. In the reviews of the Vegetarians in Paradise, the reader experiences the eatery from the point of view of two people in dialogue form. Vegetarians in Paradise brings you those two intrepid restaurant aficionados, Zel and Reuben Allen, who will take you along as they eat a swath across the Los Angeles environs.

Real Food Daily R: Finding a totally vegan restaurant in the Los Angeles area that is not Chinese or Indian is quite a challenge, but the challenge has been met by Real Food Daily which draws flavors from many cultures to create its own innovative California vegan cuisine.

Z: Since they have two locations, we decided to have lunch in West Hollywood and dinner in Santa Monica, but not on the same day. The portions are quite generous at both locations which have the same menu. Because the two of us can only consume so much, we invited friends to join us for the dinner in Santa Monica so we could sample more items.

R: It's definitely the way to go. We tasted and tasted and tasted throughout the evening, and enjoyed every bite. Our immediate impression was that this is certainly a happening place.

Z: Agreed. We were lucky to get a table. The trick is to go before the crowd converges. About fifteen or twenty minutes after we sat down on the upper level, every table was filled, and the sounds of multiple conversations filled the room. It had a warming effect, rather nice.

R: For "Starters" we ordered the NoCheez . I could make a meal of this appealing presentation with freshly made guacamole, a tasty black bean dip, a really creative carrot salsa, and a tofu sour cream all served up with blue and yellow corn chips. As we all dug in and tasted the first bite, we were aware of almost everyone uttering things like "yum" or "mmmgreat."

Z: I was tempted by the Lentil-Walnut Pate. Had to have it, and am I glad we ordered it. This gets a 10! One of the best appetizers I've ever tasted. It seems that everyone in our group agreed, because I only got to take home a smidgeon. Darn! The texture was as creamy as any gourmet pate, but the flavor was rich with a hint of tamari, possibly some miso, and a touch of lemon (I'm only guessing). Anyway it was way cool. It's presented beautifully, too. In a small bowl sitting on a dish is a heaping mound of the pate with tofu sour cream streaming down the sides and a rice cracker wedge mounted on the top. It was reminiscent of an ice cream sundae, appearance wise.

R: We also ordered the Nori Maki. Are we gluttons, or what? Well, we rationalized that it was OK to order big, since there were so many of us to share the spoils. Besides, each of us got only one piece of this restaurant's vegan version of sushi. I could make a meal of this, too! They are BIG rolls of Nori filled with sweet brown rice, tempeh, avocado, carrot, greens and umeboshi. The dipping sauce is to die for. It's a ginger tamari served on a dish with wasabi and pickled ginger.

Z: As we were licking our fingers, Reuben and I both nodded to each other. Without uttering a word, we knew that meant, "Hey, we really like this place!"

R: Before our entrees arrived, some of us ordered the special soup of the day. With our spoons in hand we all tasted the Tortilla Soup, a delicious, spicy tomato base with onions and toasted tortilla chips garnished with chopped chives.

Z: It arrived so hot, it steamed up Reuben's glasses, but he said it was worth it. Salad is my thing so I ordered the small House Salad with the House Dressing. The salad was fabulous. Why can't every restaurant serve salad like this! There were shreds of red and white cabbage, grated carrots, beets, cucumbers and clover sprouts topping a wonderful variety of lettuces. The dressing of tahini, tamari, lemon and watercress is outstanding.

R: If you're a vegan who wonders what meat loaf, gravy and mashed potatoes taste like, Real Food Daily's excellent adaptation, called Salisbury Seitan, is a dish worth ordering. The seitan, made from wheat gluten, is lovingly homemade, melts in your mouth, and bursts with flavor.

Z: One friend ordered the Seitan Fajitas, a dish served with sauteed onions, peppers and tomatoes, Spanish rice, black beans, guacamole, carrot salsa and tortillas. He was a little disappointed that even though the seitan and sauteed vegetables looked good, the dish lacked flavor.

R: Well, I had to try the Reuben Sandwich, naturally. Definitely enjoyed it. This restaurant really knows what to do with tempeh and seitan. My sandwich had a generous portion of baked marinated tempeh on caraway rye bread. They used a tasty miso mustard spread and then added just the perfect quantity of sauerkraut. I thought the plate was very colorful with a heaping salad topped with sprouts and served with a little pitcher of tahini miso dressing.

Z: One of our friends enjoys macrobiotic foods and was in heaven with the Real Food Bargain. This dish comes with a cup of soup, followed by a heaping platter of you name it and it was there, namely, sea vegetables, steamed seasonal vegetables, black beans, brown rice, steamed kale, a salad, and a generous slice of cornbread with real corn kernels throughout. The plate was heaping, and this was only a half order!

R: The menu offers a nice variety of other salads, sandwiches, and entrees, and has a host of side dishes you can add to any meal, such as whole grains, noodles, beans, tempeh, tofu, hummus, tabbouli and even daily greens, all at reasonable prices.

Z: By this time I was holding my sides, but my eye kept wandering over the menu for possible next time choices. I noticed their selection of Three Grain Corn Bread, Southern Style Cornbread, and even whole grain breads made from whole wheat starter. Very tempting. The menu lists some unique spreads to accompany their breads, such as a Carrot Butter or Ginger Squash. Mmmmm. They also feature freshly made vegetable and fruit juices and a variety of herbal teas.

R: Rachel, our server, had a sweet smile and patiently answered all our questions. When she brought the dessert tray to our table, we groaned but all agreed to order one dessert and five forks. Difficult choice, but with our combined votes the Carob Raspberry Cake won out. It was a grand finale! Delicious, chocolaty and very moist.

Z: The menu at Real Food Daily is more than just a listing of food offerings. It proudly states the restaurant's philosophy about certified organic, vegan food benefiting the body's health as well as the health of the planet. They are fully committed to foods that are as close to natural as possible and cooked in the healthiest manner possible. They don't even own a microwave!

R: Real Food Daily's owners, Ann and Rob Gentry, also want to inform their patrons about vegan foods and have thoughtfully included a glossary on the back of their menu of ingredients contained in their dishes.

Z: The Gentry's have a new chef on board, Thomas Hartwell, who plans to offer some innovative daily specials along with the regular menu. We recently had an opportunity to enjoy some of Thomas's culinary magic. Things should be tasting pretty perky at Real Food Daily these days.

R: When the bill came, I didn't fall off my chair. It was actually quite reasonable. You can even call in the morning to find out about their daily specials each day.

Real Food Daily
414 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood
Phone: 310-289-9910
Open 7 days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.


Reviewed November 1999

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