Editors' Note: On this page in our April, 2009, issue we published a review of Casa de Tree in West Los Angeles. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.
R: Warm fuzzy sensations stir within when we're able to welcome a new vegan restaurant into our growing Los Angeles metropolis. Approaching Casa de Tree, we smiled with anticipation when we saw the easel holding a sign that read "Organic Vegan Buffet $7.99 a pound." A pleasant surprise awaited us when we stepped inside this cozy little West Los Angeles cafe. We remembered meeting the cordial husband and wife team of Shinya and Ayano Kagimoto and enjoying a delightful lunch at Casa de Tree when it was located in Torrance. At this new hip urban location, open since October 15, 2008, the energetic pair offer a greatly expanded menu of Japanese style vegan victuals.
Z: The cafe is tiny, with only six small wooden tables inside, an intimate dining corner with comfy couch and chairs flanking a coffee table, and three tables outdoors. But its owners were thinking big with a very impressive lunch buffet that forms a horseshoe at one end of the eatery.
R: Large windows bring plenty of bright light into the cafe to warm the pleasant dining area that features wooden floors, walls painted in a soft hue of taupe, and one wall of several small wooden shelves accented with colored bottles of various shapes and sizes.
Z: Exploring the buffet to the right, we began filling our large china dishes with tidbits of nearly everything on the buffet. We marveled at the choices and wondered how it was possible to offer so many items.
R: A bowl of green leaf lettuce, Homemade Soy Dressing and Yuzu Dressing, and a platter of colorful, mouth-watering Seasoned Vegetable Sushi occupied one section of the buffet corner. I counted 14 different items on the hot buffet that was sending out savory aromas and stirring my eager appetite. Zel noted there were 10 beautiful salad combinations in the cold buffet section.
Z: Our friend, Chuck, joined us for lunch and led us to the deli counter where our heaping dishes were weighed and paid for. At the counter I noticed the attractive bento boxes that were also available for both lunch and dinner. Perhaps, next time we'll choose the bento that looked like a banquet in a box with 8 selections from their daily deli offerings plus brown rice.
R: Just as we sat down, Chuck commented on the tasteful alternative pop music softly surrounding us as we took our first bites of Japanese delicacies so innovatively recreated in vegan mode. He also ordered a soy latte and lapped that up pretty quickly. The Seitan Katsu was a bit chewy for me but the Tofu Ginger Dumpling was a winner, and so was the tasty golden brown Potato Croquette made of tofu and veggies, the Broccoli with Garlic, and the Ganmo Ball.
Z: My first bite was the beautiful sushi with chunks of avocado and carrots rolled inside. It honestly tasted as wonderful as it looked. I found the Tomato Stew very appealing and also loved the thick slices of sweet potato bathed in white curry. Because this was lunch, I was aiming for lighter foods like the salads from the cold buffet.
R: There were so many great-tasting choices. The Wakame Seaweed Salad was deliciously marinated in a well-seasoned base of oil and vinegar, while the naturally sweet beets had a lighter dressing. The Cabbage Salad consisted of finely shredded red cabbage lightly steamed and perhaps seasoned with a rice vinegar marinade. Chuck was enjoying the very colorful Kidney Bean Salad that had lots of chunky veggies, the Pumpkin Potato Salad, and the Avocado Salsa.
Z: Some of the buffet items are regulars on the menu, while others change daily. With such variety it would be easy to enjoy return visits often. Those who dine in the cafe can take advantage of the lovely china and regular utensils, while the take-out bunch turns to the paper and plastic goods.
R: The buffet is only available for lunch, but now that Casa de Tree is open for dinner, customers can enjoy a host of tasty sandwiches like the Curry Flavored Fried Tempeh Sandwich filled with cabbage, soy cheese, tartar sauce, curry fried tempeh, and tomato sauce. Other sandwich offerings include Casa De Tree Tacos, Panini Paradise, Vegan Tuna Sandwich, and Katsu Sandwich.
Z: I'd like to return for dinner for one of the Rice and Homemade Curry bowls-perhaps the Seitan Chicken Curry Rice that comes with a green salad, or the Loco Moco Bowl with a soy patty, onions, sauce, brown rice, a deli side choice, and a bowl of miso soup.
R: Sounds like wholesome and hearty eats. The dinner menu could tempt me with their selection of sushi and a plate of their Eggplant Miso Pasta. Then for dessert--hmmm, maybe the Pecan Tart or a Vegan Cheese Cake Tart.
Z: I remember that Mr. Kagimoto is a highly skilled baker and offers wonderful homemade breads like Curry Bread, Red Bean Bread, Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls, Yeast-free and gluten-free breads all displayed at the counter.
R: With so much focus on the budget these days, we can easily recognize good value at Casa de Tree with Sandwiches and Burgers all priced at $8.95, Salads $8.25 to $8.75, Rice and Homemade Curry from $8.50 to $12.85, Sushi $7.95 to 9.85, Homemade Deli & Bento $7.50 to $14.99, Pasta dishes all $11.99, and Homemade Sweets from $2.50 to $3.95.
Z: Casa de Tree uses organic products when available, organic canola oil, and wheat-free organic soy sauce, and prepares foods without MSG and refined sugar. The restaurant also offers catering for special occasions.
Reviewed April 2009