R: Leading the way to a nuanced dining experience with a fresh, upbeat concept, Lyfe Kitchen opened its doors along a popular strip on Washington Boulevard in trendy Culver City, February 2013. Though the restaurant is not all vegan, most of the offerings can easily be made vegan. Many items are gluten-free as well.
Z: And it's a beauty! The walkway leading to the restaurant entrance is lined with an herb and vegetable garden on one side and fresh greens with multiple varieties of kale, mustard, and chard on the other. Surrounded by these vigorous looking, fresh, and health-promoting foods, we knew we would find the good stuff here and were pumped up in anticipation of a very special meal waiting inside.
R: And it truly was that special. We came with our non-vegan friends Chuck and Gregg who loved the uplifting ambience as well as the tasty foods. We planned to have a light lunch but found ourselves tempted by many of the menu items. Zel ordered the vegan Chopped Chimichurri Salad and Chuck chose the same, with the addition of Gardein chicken chunks. Gregg was enticed by the Crispy Gardein Chicken Sandwich, and I went for Tal's Grain Bowl. In addition, we thought the Edamame Hummus along with Flatbread with BBQ Sauce might give us something to nibble on while waiting for the heartier dishes.
Z: Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash sounded so compelling, especially since they're so seasonal. So, they also joined us at our table and completed the order. Our table in the front section of the restaurant provided a pleasant view of the sizeable outdoor patio outfitted with heaters, the order counter, busy Washington Boulevard, and the lush wall of vertical greenery that replaced the micro-greens previously occupying the space.
R: The unique Lyfe Kitchen restaurant was the concept not of classically trained chefs or experienced restaurateurs. Instead, a McDonalds chief operating officer, an investment banker, and a brand-communications director of McDonalds teamed up to create a restaurant for the cool modernistas drawn to the healthy, sustainable, local foods movement. And that they did. Recognizing the emerging trend toward more healthful, plant-based, high-quality food, the entrepreneurs offer inspired options that provide a delightful dining opportunity for everyone, while satisfying all dietary preferences.
Z: Upon entering, diners can peruse menu selections from the Everything, Gluten-free, or Vegan menus conveniently placed on a stand at the entrance. The order counter is just ahead and is staffed with smiling and well-informed assistants who added our selections into the computer.
R: We were given a weighted, strange sort of programmed, palm-sized disc to place on our table to direct servers to our location. Water is available at a self-serve counter, and utensils are placed at the end of the order counter.
Z: The ambience is airy, enhanced by high ceilings with multiple exposed wooden beams and large floor-to ceiling windows facing Washington Boulevard. The furnishings have a hip, streamlined style with tables of many heights and various seating choices with aluminum chairs, soft couches, upholstered banquettes, and even stools. The dining area expands into an L-shape with plenty of additional seating, including community tables. There's even a small room at the back for private parties.
R: The matching floor and tabletop wood really engages with its dramatic, variegated dark and light streaks. Parts of the room retain the industrial look with cement flooring and aluminum heat/AC ducting traversing the ceiling.
Z: The first dishes to arrive were the gorgeous Brussels Sprouts with Butternut Squash and the BBQ Flatbread. Those delicious sprouts were a dazzling trio of brilliant colors bathed in Dijon vinaigrette and accented with dried cranberries. The pungent blend of sweet and zesty flavors made a delightful starter that we attacked instantly.
R: The whole-wheat flatbread, attractively presented on a long, rectangular wooden plank tasted just as lively as it looked. The flatbread was embedded with flaxseeds and spices and was topped with BBQ sauce, melted Daiya cheese, and sprinkles of fresh sweet corn. Cut into many wedges, it was easy to eat and so pleasing we demolished them at rapid-speed as if we were rushing to catch a plane.
Z: Chuck and I were the devoted salad eaters at the table. Though the salad itself was an appealing combo of romaine, roasted red and yellow peppers, crisp green beans, snap peas, edamame, red onion rings, and roasted Portobello strips, the lightly seasoned chimichurri dressing lacked the lively flavor it needed to take it to the top. Chuck made the right choice by adding the Gardein chicken chunks that brightened the flavor considerably.
R: I loved my Tal's Grain Bowl and found the chili-ginger sauce the perfect medley of flavors to complement the stir-fried banquet of veggies and grains. The dish is an inspired blend of quinoa, black rice, and chunks of Gardein beef tossed with chopped cilantro, shredded carrots, green onions, snow peas, and broccoli--literally a veggie feast in a bowl with a lime wedge adding the finishing touch!
Z: Gregg said he would eat anything made with shishito peppers. The perfect choice for him was the Crispy Gardein Chicken Sandwich with shishito pepper relish, romaine, tomato, red onion, and chipotle aioli on a nine-grain bun! He was in shishito heaven wearing a very happy smile! A small salad of bright, lightly dressed greens made the perfect accompaniment to the sandwich.
R: Did we forget to mention the delicious, smoky flavored Edamame Hummus? Blame it on the stimulating company and great conversation. The hummus definitely deserves an enthusiastic thumbs up for its unique flavor and attractive presentation. The small cup of edamame hummus occupied the center of the platter and was surrounded with crisp flaxseed bread wedges, sliced cukes, long, cylindrical radishes halved lengthwise, and cherry tomatoes. In addition to flavoring the hummus, edamame also served as a garnish along with a dusting of what appeared to be smoked paprika.
Z: Anyone for dessert?
R: Zel was teasing, of course. Unfortunately, we didn't plan ahead and ordered way too much food. But, next time we might be tempted by Chocolate Budino or a freshly baked Chocolate Chip Cookie.
Z: Though the restaurant was quite busy, it was not one of those noisy places that practically stops conversation dead. Adding to the pleasantries was background music that was not overwhelming. Selections included top 40s mixed with classics like The Beatles.
R: Lyfe offers much more than just tasty lunches. The restaurant opens early everyday to serve the breakfast crowd with a variety of exceptional dishes like Farmer's Market Frittata, Breakfast Burrito, Morning Tofu Wrap, Breakfast Sandwich, pancakes, and muffins. Breakfast items range from $1.99 to $6.99.
Z: The lunch and dinner offerings include starters $5.99 to $7.99, soups $3.99, salads $6.99 to $8.99, flatbreads $8.49 to $9.99, sandwiches and burgers $8.49 to $9.99, entrees $11.99 to $14.99, side dishes $2.99, desserts, iced teas, and smoothies. Wine and beer are also available. Diners with children can find a special selection of items on the Child's Menu from $4.49 to $5.49.
R: Great tasting foods served attractively don't just happen by accident. A team of executive chefs with impressive credentials conceived Lyfe Kitchen's tantalizing menu items. Art Smith, owner of Table Fifty-Two in Chicago, is a cookbook author and was Oprah's personal chef for 10 years. Tal Ronnen, also a cookbook author, was former Executive Chef at Gardein and is now owner of the all-vegan restaurant Crossroads. He also led Oprah's 21-day vegetarian and vegan diet. Jeremy Bringardner is a graduate of the highly respected Johnson & Wales Culinary and Nutrition program and worked under well-known chefs like Charlie Trotter.
Z: Lyfe Kitchen has a number of pluses:
9540 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
Reviewed December 2013