Editors' Note: On this page in our March, 2013 issue we published a review of M.A.K.E. restaurant in Santa Monica. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.
Z: Santa Monica has become the coolest, hippest, go-to hot spot for vegans seeking a raw food dining experience. Open since September 2012, M.A.K.E. is capturing the attention of those who love eating their veggies uncooked. The restaurant is located in the Market Place on the third floor of chic Santa Monica Place in the heart of the city. Walking down the main corridor of the building, one first encounters the culinary school portion of the restaurant before arriving at the airy dining spot.
R: M.A.K.E. is the third restaurant location and unique concept of owner Matthew Kenney. The others are in Miami and Chicago. The ultra modern restaurant offers an appealing menu of stunningly presented gourmet, plant-based living foods. Set apart in a separate section of the space is a cutting-edge living-foods kitchen where small groups of students have a hands-on experience learning state-of-the-art techniques for preparing living foods. The large windows surrounding the Matthew Kenney Academy allow onlookers to watch the classes in action. Lining one wall are a dozen dehydrators whirring quietly as various ingredients and food medleys reach their desired state of dryness at a temperature of 115 degrees F.
Z: Kenney has an impressive bio. He graduated from the French Culinary Institute, giving him a background in classic cooking techniques that he brings into his original living foods creations. He is also the author of several books on raw food preparation, a food instructor, restaurateur, and TV host.
R: Soft, warm lighting and muted colors bring a comfortable mood to the dining room that opens onto the mall corridor. Bordering the open space is a high counter with comfortable bar stools for informal munching. The exposed white ducting gives the dining area its stylish industrial look that blends with the innovative design and simplicity of clean straight lines.
Z: The menu features two approaches to experiencing the world of raw dining. One dimension offers a number of exceptionally tasty food combos that people might actually prepare in their own home kitchens: smoothies, guacamole-style blends, and hummus variations. But what makes this restaurant stand apart from other raw eateries is the chef's approach to bringing truly artful presentations and exceptional flavors to the table.
R: The chefs at M.A.K.E. employ an array of gourmet techniques that result in dishes that deliver a divine taste explosion and give the diner a feeling of delicious surprise and fulfillment. Techniques like dehydrating, soaking, sprouting, marinating, blending, juicing, and layering enter into the preparation of these foods.
Z: We met our friends Marilyn, Wendel, and Chuck and began our taste adventure with an order of Zucchini Hummus, Muhumarah, Sesame Tabbouleh, and Za'atar Crackers from the Shared Platters section. Our starter arrived on a large, square white platter looking very perky. One section had several Za'atar Crackers standing upright tucked into the mound of Zucchini Hummus. Alongside was the Muhumara also sporting the upright crackers. In one corner of the dish stood a small, square bowl with the Sesame Tabbouleh.
R: I especially loved those crisp exotically flavored Za'atar Crackers and learned that za'atar is a traditional herb blend used throughout the Middle East. Each region has its own favorite mixture of herbs, but most will include sumac, sesame seeds, thyme, and oregano. And those herbs blended so well with the thick and savory spreads. The Mahumara, usually a blend of red pepper paste, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, and hot pepper flakes, also included smoked paprika, giving it a pleasantly distinctive flavor.
Z: We each ordered a dish to share and totally relished the multi-flavor feast. The stunning California Kale Salad consisted of torn pieces of bright purple ornamental kale enhanced with wedges of Valencia orange, sun-dried olives, wild dulse, and spiced almonds topped with plump sunflower sprouts. The complementary flavors, colors, and textures made this a gorgeous salad with every bite.
R: The Flatbread with Hummus was accompanied by deliciously sweet jewel box tomatoes that made this a jewel of a dish. The creation consisted of four individual hummus-topped flatbreads garnished with wedges of tomato, voluptuous capers, and curls of thinly sliced and pungently marinated fennel accented with bits of torn romaine. The gleaming colors looked like a festive Christmas celebration with red and green accents.
Z: If the Market Tomato Lasagna were a woman, she would be described as well stacked! This dish is impressively stacked three layers high but can be quickly dismantled for ease of eating and sharing. Taking the place of lasagna noodles are thin slices of zucchini topped with creamy mounds of macadamia cheese, divinely seasoned tomato sauce, and basil pesto. Between the layers were thick slices of golden heirloom tomatoes, and forming a circle around the lasagna stack were small dots of pistachio sauce. Reuben agreed the lasagna was as photogenic as a fashion model.
R: Dazzling colors exploded from the Wild Mushroom Taco perched on a dehydrated cracker base. Covering the cracker was what looked like guacamole but may have been almond crema, long shreds of wild mushrooms, shredded purple cabbage, and red chile avocado. Garnishing the platter were green streaks of what appeared to be guacamole and a thin, dark line of mole. Diced bits of tasty marinated jicama and thin slices of mystery vegetable completed the composition.
Z: Our group consensus named the Black Pepper Kelp Noodles our blue-ribbon favorite for its irresistibly rich cashew sauce and unique accompaniments. We can still feel the spicy heat of the black peppercorns and taste bits of snap peas, shreds of chanterelle mushrooms, pea vines, and crunchy dehydrated sun-dried olives. The blend of flavors and textures were masterfully conceived and left us with lingering memories.
R: Our final decision of the evening was choosing a dessert. Without hesitation, we all voted for the Chocolate Walnut Cake. To make sure we could all have enough for the shared experience, we placed two orders. No regrets--it was just as amazing as we had anticipated.
Z: And gorgeous, too! The little round, 3-inch, flourless "cake" was not only stunningly presented, but also addictively delicious. The chocolate was divinely rich, rich, rich. To make the dessert orgy last longer we took tiny bites, savoring each one as it rested on the tongue. Nearby diners might easily have heard us humming with pleasure. Cuddling up to the cake was a mound of sassafras ice cream and a paper-thin slice of fresh pear marinated in a fennel bath. The dessert was a treasure of heavenly flavors truly meant for each other.
R: Our server, Paul, was pleasant, attentive, and completely knowledgeable about the ingredients in each of the dishes. That was impressive considering the innovative dishes were quite complex. Each presentation was a delight to the eye and ambrosial to the taste buds. Because the fruits and vegetables are whole, fresh from the farm, and organic, they tasted crisp and zestful.
Z: M.A.K.E.'s menu offers two Share Platters at $14 and $16; Market Starters range from $10 to $18; Classic Mains are between $15 and $18; Sweets are $10 and $11. Though we agreed the menu is upscale and admittedly pricey, we loved our dining experience and hope others will consider the restaurant for their next special occasion.
Reviewed March 2013