R: Wait 'till you see Gracias Madre's shiny new West Hollywood location that opened mid-January 2014! It's stunning, it's large, and it's tastefully elegant, yet not at all pretentious. The interior seats about 80 patrons, while the gigantic patio accommodates about the same number. We were warmly greeted and asked if we preferred indoor or outdoor seating. We chose the patio and sat near the fireplace that was in the throes of a crackling fire--yes, a real fireplace that never fails to add a delightful spark of hominess.
Z: Located on the corner of Melrose Avenue and La Peer, the large, rectangular building was once a jewelry store and underwent extensive remodeling to show off its gleaming white brick walls, high ceilings and large windows. Rough-hewn wooden floor boards laid on an angle, wooden table-tops, an attractive L-shaped bar, comfy couches and chairs, and soft lighting comprise the interior décor.
R: Once a parking lot, the humongous patio offers marble-top tables of various sizes and shapes, along with comfortable chairs and many upholstered couches. Tall hurricane candles that light every table and strings of light bulbs add just enough light to create a charming ambience for outdoor dining. Plenty of outdoor heaters make the patio completely comfortable for year-round enjoyment. Two, large, 80-year old olive trees transported from Northern California shade the patio during the day and also contribute night-time charm.
Z: Gracias Madre, specializing in vegan Mexican food, is the innovation of the Café Gratitude family, the Engleharts, and their awesome chef and Director of Operations, Chandra Gilbert, who created the restaurant concept in Northern California. Though we have never visited, we were told Gracias Madre in San Francisco is a small café with a devoted fan base and a reputation for damn tasty food. Lucky for Angelenos, the talented Chef Chandra is now based in Los Angeles and says she is happy to be here.
R: Let's talk about the menu--after all, that's what brought us hungry vegans here. The staff is very proud to announce that everything is 100% organic and sourced from local ingredients. Inspired by the cuisine of Mexico, Chef Chandra created menu offerings that may seem extremely familiar with dishes like pozole, chilaquiles, flautas, sopes, enchiladas, and tacos. But that's where the familiar takes a stroll down the vegan pathway.
Z: We came with our friends Joan, Larry, and Chuck and found it challenging to make selections from so, so many enticing dishes. Finally, Reuben chose El Plato, I ordered the Pozole, Larry decided on Flautas de Camote, Joan ordered Sopes con Pina, and Chuck couldn't resist the Enchiladas con Mole.
R: Those were our Principales or main dishes. For Antojitos, or starters we chose two dishes to share--Quesadillas de Calabaza and Papas al Horno. The restaurant offers complementary Bebidas, or beverages--filtered water or sparkling water, and our server brought some of each to our table.
Z: Rachel and Roberto, our two attentive servers brought our Antojitos and placed them close to me. That's because I'm experienced at cutting individual servings and willing to divide the appetizers into equal portions.
R: There were two quesadillas, but no worries. Everyone had the opportunity to taste a hearty portion of a very delicious creation. The hand-made corn tortillas quesadillas were stuffed with butternut squash and caramelized onions. Then they were slathered with a spicy rich green pumpkin seed salsa and artfully drizzled with cashew nacho cheese followed by a sprinkle of toasted almonds and fresh cilantro.
Z: The consensus was a chorus of mmmmm in unison! Papas al Horno was a platter of quartered baby potatoes tossed with olive oil and garlic and roasted to tender perfection. What made them exceptional was the lightly spiced, very flavorful cashew nacho cheese that blanketed the tops. Both proved excellent choices for sharing.
R: My El Plato was a tasty sampling platter that offered tidbits of flavor variety. Included were refried black beans, roasted mushrooms topped with cashew crema. Hidden beneath the mushrooms was a dollop of chorizo with a brilliant cilantro pesto nestled beside. Other accompaniments featured rice topped with pico de gallo, roasted butternut squash tossed with cashew crema, and accents of escabeche--house-made pickles. The platter was a flurry of bright colors and lively flavors to match.
Z: Picture a long, black, rectangular dish topped with an oval, black bowl placed at an angle somewhat perpendicular to the long dish. That bowl contained my succulent pozole, a Mexican soup with an ancho chile broth. Floating in the broth were kernels of fleshy hominy, shredded cabbage, and chunks of avocado, all garnished with mini drops of red chile sauce and cilantro.
R: Larry loved his Flautas de Camote, also served on the long black dish. Placed at one end was a bowl of refried black beans that accompanied many of the dishes. On the right were three rolled house-made tacos filled with sweet potatoes and caramelized onions. Heaped over the tops were pico de gallo, guacamole, and cashew nacho cheese.
Z: The Sopes de Pina, Joan's entrée choice, was also served on the long black dish and accompanied with a bowl of refried black beans. The Sopes consisted of two plump round cornmeal masa cakes topped with guacamole, pickled cabbage, and accents of fresh pineapple all topped with cashew crema and cilantro--a luscious bevy of flavors.
R: Mushroom lovers would love the Enchiladas con Mole just as much as Chuck did. His house-made tortillas were filled with a spicy mole and topped with red sauce, thick slices of sautéed mushrooms, and a drizzle of cashew cheese. Sautéed kale topped with pumpkin seeds and refried black beans completed his flavorful entrée.
Z: We couldn't leave this haven of tantalizing Mexican cuisine without a taste of Postres, or desserts, and chose one order of Flan and another of Mexican Wedding Cookies accompanied with Coconut Ice Cream. Both desserts captured the flavors and textures of their beloved originals without a hint of animal ingredients.
R: While the staff planned a soft opening in mid-January, they encountered a flurry of excited patrons eager for the Gracias Madre experience. In spite of its newness, the service was outstanding and the food was exceptional.
Z: So many thoughtful touches make this dining spot a coveted choice. Of particular note was the pleasant feeling of intimacy in spite of the many diners present. The space and furnishing are creatively designed to accommodate large numbers without crowding tables together.
R: Patrons will find good value for their dollars. Just a little heads up--parking spaces are difficult to find and valet parking is $7. Bocados Pequenos or snacks are $4, Antojitos (starters) $8 to $11, Principales (main dishes) $12 to $16, Accompanantes (side dishes) $3 to $8, Postres (desserts) $7 to $9.
Z: We're positive our vegan-happy city will welcome Gracias Madre with enthusiasm and predict success will come quickly. The menu and service are excellent.
Reviewed February 2014