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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Editors' Note: On this page in our August 2009 issue we published a review of Cafe Flourish in Los Angeles. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.

R: Angelenos in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles can now celebrate the opportunity to flourish in delicious vegan style since Café Flourish popped up along the busy corridor of Wilshire Blvd. near La Brea on April 13, 2009. Look for the two wooden tables outside the café as your landmark, and you've found the tiny eatery.

Cafe Flourish Z: The moment we entered we recognized that Sarasai Yutuc and Letecia (Tish) Figuracion, partners in the restaurant venture, had created a true jewel for the vegan community. This sparkling jewel has a feel-good ambience designed by Tish's son who created the earthy aggregate flooring and the recessed arches that lend visual interest along the walls just under the high ceiling. Mirrors give the small space a more expansive appearance.

R: I was drawn to the creatively arranged exotic air plants and moss that fill those attractive recesses and bring a touch of nature into the bright room with large, floor-to-ceiling windows that face Wilshire Blvd. The chic space has retro touches, yet looks fresh and thoroughly mod with lemon yellow and soft saffron walls and light, natural wooden tables and counter recycled when actor and environmentalist Ed Begley redecorated his home. The cleverly fashioned droplights look like newly manufactured bent balsa wood but are actually plastic from the 1970s.

Cafe Flourish Z: Our eyes were riveted on the large, intriguing living wall hanging of succulents and air plants designed by Big Red Sun, an environmentally conscious landscape design company. We are well acquainted with the ways of watering lawns and potted plants, but how does one go about watering a wall with living plants? Jagran, Sarasai's husband, said they care for it by spraying with a mist.

R: On our first visit we shared the Love, Reuben, a voluptuous sandwich neatly wrapped in a brown and black checkered recycled paper served on what appeared to be paper plates but are actually made from sugar cane. Sandwiches are served with a side of either 3-Bean Salad, Quinoa Tabbouleh, or a House Salad with Fig Balsamic. We chose the Quinoa Tabbouleh nestled in a tuft of red leaf lettuce.

Z: The sandwich was alive with fabulous flavor. The thick slice of marinated tempeh was accompanied with sauerkraut and enhanced with a tasty house-made Swiss, fresh avocado, and a succulent Russian dressing all tucked into a crisply toasted rye bread dotted with caraway seeds. It's a whopper of a treat that literally drips with creamy and savory delight.

Cafe Flourish R: The Quinoa Tabbouleh was darn tasty, too, with an array of add-ins like raisins, pine nuts, green onions, and parsley and seasoned with a pleasant hint of sweetness. Looking for a glass of water, I was directed to the large, clear, self-serve dispenser on the upper counter. Floating along the top, of the water was a truly innovative departure from the usual lemon slices. Clearly visible was a thick layer of sliced cucumbers that added a taste of fresh vitality to the water.

Z: The glasses, which look like clear plastic, are completely biodegradable. Tish said the glasses actually begin to melt when tossed into the compost of kitchen waste. The forks, too, are ideal for the compost because they're made from sugar cane.

R: On our return visit we introduced our friend Chuck to the café and feasted on Love Caesar, Hooray for Burritos, and a pizza called That's Amore. We recommended the Love, Reuben Sandwich to Chuck and enjoyed watching him devour it with gusto, give nods of approval, and occasionally explode with sounds of pleasure.

Z: A coffee aficionado, Chuck noticed a sign over the order counter announcing Cold-Pressed Coffee and gave us a very animated description of how coffee beans are ground, then steeped in unheated water for many hours to produce a pleasantly smooth, less acidic concentrated coffee. Water and ice cubes turn the concentrate into a refreshing iced coffee, but with the addition of soymilk it becomes an enjoyable latte. He loves the stuff and plans to return for a cool cup of iced java the restaurant steeps for 24 hours.

R: Our shared Love Caesar Salad was jumbo heap of dark romaine tossed in light garlic dressing, topped with thin julienne strips of tempeh bacon, and enhanced with tiny bits of pine nut Parmesan and black sesame seeds. Very large for one, the heaping salad provided all three of us with an ample portion of crisp and tasty greens.

Cafe Flourish Z: Picture perfect, the Hooray for Burritos evoked a moment of instant seduction. It was visually stunning and stunningly delicious. Could we say it was almost as good as sex? Well … Wrapped in a spelt tortilla and tucked into the black and brown checkered paper wrapper, the portion that was exposed was layered and oozing with traditional burrito fillings--chipotle refried black beans, brown rice, smoky salsa, vegan Jack cheese, a generous serving of guacamole, and a topping of house-made sour cream artfully drizzled across the top.

R: I was dazzled by the burrito's good looks and had to agree with our team of discriminating tasters that it was pretty darn irresistible. While waiting for the pizza, we savored the burrito to the last bite and polished off what was left of the Caesar Salad. That's Amore is photogenic as well, brimming with color, and emitting plenty of Italian aromas.

Z: All the pizzas at Café Flourish are made with a flavorful, thick cornmeal crust that forms a sunny yellow base for the ingredients. An Italian indulgence, the pizza was topped with chunks of herbed vegan sausage, tomato sauce, caramelized onions, sliced mushrooms, zesty red pepper flakes, and shredded vegan mozzarella.

R: Our final indulgence was a shared smoothie called It's a Wonderful World!, one of their daily specials that could easily turn a sad mood into a joyful smile in one sip. Ultra rich, creamy, and thick, the smoothie is made with bananas, fresh house-made coconut milk, cacao nibs, raw almond butter, medjool dates, and vanilla bean.

Z: Though the café has only five small tables inside, it doesn't lack for customers streaming in for take out, or sitting at the two outside tables downing a quick sandwich or one of their cute little cupcakes. Filling the room were the sounds of soft jazz, early 80s pop, and soft rock along with a whirring blender, buzzing conversations, and a few kitchen rumblings. It's a convivial dining spot that vegans are discovering and sharing with their friends.

R: In addition to our tasty choices the menu features appetizers like a hummus plate, quesadilla, lettuce wrap, and a stuffed avocado priced from $3.95 to $8.75. Caesar and Raw Salads are priced from $6.50 to $12.95; Reuben, BLT&A, and Soy Dog Sandwiches from $6.50 to $11.95; entrees from $8.95 to $9.95, and pizzas at $12.95 and $13.25.

Z: The daily special entrée that day, Gracias Taco, featuring two Baja style tacos filled with jackfruit, mango salsa, guacamole, and lettuce is one of many specials the café is exploring for future additions to the menu.

Tish Figuracion and Sarasai Yutuc

R: We often wonder what motivates people to open a restaurant and found many have a long history with food. Here, both partners have a childhood connection to food with Tish spending many hours in her family's restaurant in the Philippines. Sarasai found pleasure watching her two grandmothers prepare meals. One grandmother was a great cook, the other an excellent baker. Tish and Sarasai began their connection at Sur la Table where Sarasai was teaching a cooking class.

Z: A welcome newcomer to the cluster of vegan restaurants recently opened in Los Angeles, Café Flourish promises to become a favorite gathering spot for delicious informal dining.

5406 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Closed Sundays

Reviewed August 2009

Click here for past Dining in Paradise reviews

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