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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Editors' Note: On this page in our August, 2010 issue we published a review of Mooi restaurant in Echo Park. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.

R: Those who relate to dining and food with every molecule of their senses will enjoy their own experience as we did when dining at Mooi, a new vegan, organic, gourmet, raw food restaurant located on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Logan St. in Echo Park. Opened May 26, 2010, the restaurant is quickly collecting positive strokes from many who have nibbled on their exceptional dishes. Presently, the restaurant has no sign on the exterior of the old 1920's building that wears a touch of old-world charm.

Mooi Restaurant
Z: One might describe our adventure at Mooi as a food orgy. Our friends, Chuck and Matthew, will agree it was certainly a sensual experience. The appealing ambience is a visual delight. The food held our taste buds captive, but we didn't mind a bit! The eclectic furnishings, wall décor, and lighting fixtures, with their early 20th century style, might have been gathered from Grandma's attic and add a colorful, tasteful edge to the restaurant experience.

R: The all-white walls, raised ceiling, and huge floor-to-ceiling windows make the room bright and cheery for the daytime diners, while the fanciful collection of drop lights add a warm glow of intimacy at night. A staircase toward the back of the restaurant leads to an upstairs dining area, affording the restaurant plenty of seating.

Z: Since everything about this restaurant is unique, our visit became a memorable experience. As we were seated, our server, Whitney, gave us each of a copy of a Dr. Seuss children's book. Because we looked puzzled, she explained the menus are found on the first pages of books. Who would have thought to recycle used kids' books in that way! But then, Mooi is exceptional!

R: Using the Dr. Seuss books as a format, the appetizer section is titled, "The Story Begins" followed by the soups and salads section called, "The Plot Thickens." "The Climax" is a listing of the entrees. I must admit it was challenging to make choices because so many items appealed. While we were studying the menu, we were served water from a pitcher sporting slices of cucumber and lemon floating at the top.

Z: We've encountered the fruit and veggie-enhanced water at other restaurants and find it truly does add a subtle, refreshing quality

Mooi Restaurant R: We began our experience of the senses with a plate of 3 Nut Cheeses from the appetizer section and shared it. On one long rectangular plate were three 1 1/2-inch long cashew-based cheese creations: paprika, rosemary, and spicy walnut. These we spread on the strips of dehydrated flax and chia breads arranged on a square plate garnished with a single stem of fresh lavender. The cheeses were each uniquely different, smooth, creamy and well flavored. The walnut cheese, with chunks of walnuts on the top, definitely lived up to its spicy label and was delicious as well. The breads were a bit firm, but softened pleasantly as we chewed.

Z: Reuben and I shared a delicious Bengal Curry Salad attractively plated as a rising mound on a square platter garnished with shreds of carrots and purple cabbage leaves. A streak of chili oil completed the garnish. Heaped on the platter were chunks of green apple, zucchini cubes, cucumber chunks, red bell peppers, garbanzos, and onions tossed in a seductive, creamy cashew sauce seasoned with curry and ginger and sweetened with agave nectar. We couldn't get enough of the sauce and found ourselves scraping the plate clean.

R: Chuck's choice for "The Plot Thickens" Soup and Salad course was the Broccoli Cashew-Cheese Soup, while Mathew went for the Spanish Gazpacho. Picture a wild tasting frenzy as we were all dipping into each other's plates and bowls and audibly expressing approvals and sounds of pleasure.

Mooi Restaurant Z: The Broccoli Cashew Cheese Soup was exquisite! Thick, ultra-creamy and definitively flavored to taste cheesy, this soup was masterfully seasoned and finished with a cluster of broccoli florets in the center. Matthew's Gazpacho was delicious and full flavored, and made a refreshing choice for a cooling summer soup.

R: Chef Stephen Hauptfuhr, slim, agile, and very personable, delivered our freshly made entrees and explained the name Mooi means "beautiful" in Dutch. Zel's entrée or should I say Climax was the Thai Peanut Noodles with Mixed Vegetables. Matthew ordered the Lemon Caper Tomato Pasta with Garlic Bread, while Chuck decided on the Orange Jackfruit Chicken over Rice. My choice was the Enchiladas in Tomatillo Sauce with Walnut Refried Beans and Vegetables. Difficult to describe, each of these dishes was composed of a medley of complex ingredients and seasonings and labor-intensive processes.

Z: Mathew's pasta was made of kelp noodles with a texture reminiscent of glass noodles. Dotted with capers, and deliciously seasoned with a very tangy, tomato-based sauce, this dish says, "I'm Italian" from the first bite. My Thai noodle dish tasted as if it were one I might have ordered in a Thai restaurant. Enhanced with a julienne of red bell pepper and broccoli florets, it revealed flavors of coconut and cauliflower with lime juice dominating

Mooi Restaurant R: Chuck's Orange Jackfruit creation was combined with sweet, savory, and spicy seasonings lending the perfect flavor balance. The dish had an exotic quality, yet enticing with every forkful. My saffron-hued Enchilada was innovatively formed from dehydrated red bell pepper and topped with an outstanding tomatillo sauce. Traditional South of the Border accompaniments consisted of guacamole and a mound of refried beans that were not beans at all, but made from crushed walnuts seasoned with cumin and chili powder.

Z: Fortunately, we were all amenable to the tasting and sampling each other's dishes, giving each of us an opportunity to enjoy a broader selection of items. Forks were frequently criss-crossing the cozy table and occasionally we collided, making for an evening filled with plenty of good humor.

R: Before Chef Stephen opened Mooi, he spent a few years busily engaged making ice cream for a number of restaurants and stores. His unique cashew-based ice cream flavors have earned him a revered reputation in the raw food community. Naturally, we had to conclude our amazing meal with yet another wacky tasting jubilee. We each chose a flavor and had a ball tasting Aztec Chile Cinnamon Coffee, Turkish Apricot Fig Walnut, Pareja Pistachio Saffron and Cardamom, and Chunky Monkey Butter.

Mooi Restaurant Z: Fortunately, the scoops are a comfortable size and reasonably priced, allowing us to choose another round of flavors. This time we tasted Orange Cream with Peppermint Chocolate Fudge, Black Pepper and Mustard Popcorn, Gingersnap Cinnamon Cookie Dough, and another scoop of Aztec Cinnamon Chili Coffee.

R: Chef Stephen's ice creams are extraordinary! He is truly gifted with an adventurous palate and the ability to apply seasonings that give foods a unique flair. By the end of our 3-hour meal, we had tasted seven of the 22 flavors and a great variety of the dishes on the menu. The evening at Mooi was Matthew's first time tasting raw food and was a testimony proving that if foods taste great, they will be enjoyable whether raw or cooked.

Z: The restaurant also serves breakfast dishes like gluten-free oatmeal and granola cereal along with variety of smoothies. All the foods are organic and freshly prepared with Appetizers ranging from $5 to $8, Soups and Salads $6 to $8, and Entrees $9 to $13. Ice Cream is $2 a scoop.

1700 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, CA 90026

Reviewed August 2010

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