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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Cafe Gratitude R: While some Los Angelenos see Cafe Gratitude as an appealing, trendy, thronging vegan newcomer, we feel it will be an important player on the LA restaurant scene for a long time. Its seven bustling locations in the Bay area confirm its popularity and success. Those yearning for Cafe Gratitude to come to Southern California were delighted when the restaurant opened its doors on March 2, 2011 in a space on Larchmont just north of Melrose. We were surprised to find a buzzing full house on the Tuesday night of our visit. Because their parking lot is miniscule, we advise hunting for parking on the street.

Z: Though we had never had the opportunity to enjoy Cafe Gratitude's tasty offerings in Northern California, we knew of the cafe's impressive reputation for preparing exceptional raw and cooked foods. Accompanied by five friends, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal that turned us into confirmed groupies. From the enthusiastic welcoming committee at the entrance to the last nibble on our plates, we were bathed in warm, accepting affirmations and enjoyed every moment of special attention. In our encounters with members of the serving staff, we realized each one was not only well-trained, but also joyful and generous of spirit.

Cafe Gratitude R: True, one could not help being enveloped in zesty feelings of happiness. Soft, low lighting warms the room from ceiling track lights that give the large, two-level space a cozy intimacy. One long wall on the lower level features an appealing pastoral forest mural, while the two remaining walls of floor-to-ceiling glass offer a sense of openness and provide plenty of light during the day.

Z: One of the glass walls opens onto a large, uncovered patio outfitted with large umbrella tables, chairs, and outdoor heaters for comfortable wintertime dining. The huge group gathered at a long table on the patio periodically stood up, clasped outstretched hands, and appeared to be chanting in unison.

R: The restaurant only accepts reservations for parties of six or more. Fortunately, our group of seven was able to reserve a table and filled one half of the gigantic, richly finished oak community table illuminated by two large droplights. The other half of our table quickly filled with friendly diners. Even though the restaurant had only opened two weeks before, every table was full, and the noisy hum of lively conversation meant raising our voices to be heard by others in our group.

Cafe Gratitude Z: The unique menus are informal, printed on grey paper, and dated daily. Instead of following the tradition of most restaurants and naming dishes by foods featured, each item bears a name of positive affirmation. I ordered I AM ELATED, Reuben and Chuck chose I AM TRANSFORMED, Gregg selected I AM FORTIFIED, and AJ called out I AM EXTRAORDINARY. Jen and Zeke were tempted by I AM HEARTY and I AM COMPLETE, respectively.

R: We began with a starter of I AM CONNECTED, a well- seasoned guacamole served in a green ceramic ramekin that was centered on a platter printed with "What are you grateful for?" Accompanying the guac were large, thick, Living Buckwheat Chips. Because we wanted enough for sharing, we also ordered a side of Flaxseed Crackers. Our vivacious group gave this starter an "I AM DELICIOUS" rating.

Cafe Gratitude Z: My dish was one of the raw specialties. I AM ELATED featured a forest green Live Spinach Tortilla filled with an irresistible, creamy concoction of sprouted seeds topped with a smooth cashew sour cream and spicy mole. This treat was accompanied with Creamy Chipotle Coleslaw and an abundant portion of well-dressed, lightly spiced spinach salad topped with a mountain of voluptuous sprouts. Anyone ordering this dish would be as Elated as I was--it was gooood!

R: Chuck and I were willingly TRANSFORMED after feasting on the two double-decker handmade corn tortillas filled with brown rice, black beans, chopped tomato salsa, and a topping of guacamole and cashew nacho cheese. The tasty tacos were accompanied by a heaping bed of spinach salad with one of the tastiest dressings I've ever experienced.

Z: Zeke's attractive I AM COMPLETE, was a bountiful Mediterranean raw combination of almond hummus, three scoops of live green-tinted falafel, shredded beets, and a salad topped with creamy mint tzaziki sauce. Completing the platter was a triangle of live buckwheat bread. Zeke enjoyed this creation so much he returned a few days later with his partner and ordered the same dish to share.

R: Gregg's I AM FORTIFIED was bursting with a colorful array of sautéed seasonal vegetables, brown rice, and steamed kale. He chose a topping of sesame ginger, but could have also selected garlic tahini or Thai almond sauce. I tasted it and found the dish fortifying, fragrant, and very flavorful.

Cafe Gratitude Z: Jen's I AM HEARTY was a pizza extravaganza on an onion crust layered with marinara sauce, followed by a tasty pesto, then tapenade topped with snowy white cashew ricotta. A sprinkle of Brazil Nut Parmesan and a dusting of basil added the finishing touch to the platter that included a mound of spinach salad.

R: AJ's I AM EXTRAORDINARY went well beyond the classic BLT and was kicked up with sautéed maple-coconut, plenty of romaine, tomatoes, and avocados on thick panini bread generously slathered with chipotle aioli.

Z: Mountains of healthy greens and innovative medleys of fresh 100% organic ingredients prepared by knowledgeable vegan chefs--these are qualities that entice diners to return. The menu says the food is prepared with love. They mean it. Cafe Gratitude's chefs have mastered the art of great seasoning and compelling presentations.

R: In addition to table seating, the restaurant also serves food and beverages at their eight-stool bar. Just beyond the bar is the refrigerated dessert case where diners can ogle the featured desserts of the day.

Cafe Gratitude Z: And we simply couldn't leave without tasting a sweet tidbit from the pastry chef. After perusing the 14-item dessert menu, we all agreed upon I AM BLISS, a stunning Chocolate-Hazelnut Mousse Pie with a hazelnut-macadamia date crust and a thick blanket of coconut meringue. It was indeed Blissful.

R: Our second dessert was a featured sweet of the day, consisting of a marbled, two-tone, light and airy Truffle Cheesecake attractively garnished with chopped pecan bits and chopped chocolate pieces. Both put the perfect finishing touch on an evening of fun, fabulous food, and friendly service.

Z: We noted the dishes, though tasty, are liberally endowed with many varieties of nuts. The menu says, "We recommend that those with severe nut allergies not dine with us." The restaurant is wise to place that caution on their menu, since nut allergies can be serious.

R: The average price of a full meal that includes a starter, entrée, and dessert is in the range of about $30. That does not include any beverages. Starters are priced between $6 and $12, Raw and Cooked Specialties range from $7 to $13, Sides are $1.50 to $3, Juices and Smoothies run $3 to $8 depending on size, Desserts are priced between $3.50 and $8. Wines are priced at $7 to $9 per glass and $21 to $27 for a bottle. Beer $5.

Cafe Gratitude
639 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004
Phone: 323-580-6383
Hours: Daily 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Website: http://www.cafegratitudeLA.com

Reviewed April 2011

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