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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Au Lac Restaurant Los Angeles R: Los Angeles vegans have a sparkling new dining spot to welcome into the city with the grand opening in January 2015 of Au Lac in the downtown area within walking distance to Disney Hall and the Music Center. Located in a charming strip mall on the corner of 1st and Hope Street, the restaurant is only a short walk from the Metro Civic Center Station.

Z: We've enjoyed the foods at Au Lac in Fountain Valley for many years and feel so fortunate that Chef Ito makes the daily freeway trek to Los Angeles to prepare his memorable raw specialties.

R: Looking forward to another delicious meal at Au Lac, we brought our friends Joan and Larry to explore the new menu and the new digs. Well, we quickly discovered that digs is hardly the best label to hang on this gorgeous and elegant dining spot. It's breathtaking, yet extremely homey and comfortable in its brilliantly-designed new home.

Au Lac Restaurant Los Angeles
Z: Because we chose an early dining hour, we were seated immediately without reservations. News of this special restaurant is spreading quickly, and reservations are a must. The large, softly lit dining room is a long, rectangular space with upholstered banquettes in light grey fabric along the left and right walls. Matching chairs were soft and cushiony and pulled up to black tables set with imitation woven placemats, black napkins, and flatware of impressive weight.

R: Parallel to the charming dining room is the attractive bar area separated by a curtain of multiple plastic strands that cascade from the ceiling. Indirect lighting shines upward from the top of the banquettes. The bar area is lit with a definitive lavender glow, while lighting in the dining room hints at subtler lavender hues and features three large round chandeliers hung from the high ceiling.

Au Lac Restaurant Los Angeles Z: Our server, Brian, greeted us warmly and quickly brought us a large bottle of water and a small, footed bowl of Cheezy Lime Popcorn as we perused the menu. Unconsciously, we popped pieces of popcorn into our mouths while we focused on the menu. Almost immediately and nearly in unison, we stopped and reacted with a WOW! to the delicious popcorn. Who knew popcorn could deliver such exceptional flavor!

R: Well, that little snack just happened to be popped in coconut oil and flavored with nutritional yeast and lime zest. I think it's that lively punch of lime zest that absolutely jumped to the foreground and made this little starter stand out.

Z: While the menu offerings include both raw and cooked dishes, the focus is mostly on exceptional raw creations, which are Chef Ito's specialty. We began our dining foray with two appetizers, Eggrolls, and Crimini Pesto, which were both cooked. The three, small Eggrolls were nicely presented on a large, oval platter with a giant slice of romaine and sprigs of mint. Crisp on the outside, the rolls were filled with a tasty medley of diced and minced mushroom, carrot, jicama, taro, and almond and served with a light, well-seasoned dipping sauce.

Au Lac Restaurant Los Angeles R: The Crimini Pesto stuffed mushrooms are a winner and presented a striking appearance perfectly lined up on a long, thin olive dish. They were pleasantly warm, which served to tease out the flavors of basil, pine nuts, and bell peppers. A fluff of sprouts and cilantro garnished the tops.

Z: Our two salads, Song and Da Bowl Salad, arrived together and made for a fun, unhurried salad course. Da Bowl is composed of a chunky combo of romaine, cucumbers and tomatoes topped with sliced green olives, pistachios, slivers of purple onion, and generous chunks of fresh avocado. A light, delicately sweet spiced mustard dressing coats the salad that's topped off with a crispy dehydrated flax cracker.

R: My favorite was the tasty Song Salad bathed in Au Lac's well-loved teriyaki dressing splashed over whole fronds of watercress, jicama, dehydrated onions, carrots, and tomatoes. A bit of advice, while the salad was very tasty, we needed a knife and fork to tackle the watercress and avoid getting tangled in those long green clusters. Group consensus was we especially loved the dressing and the crispy dried onions that heightened the salad experience.

Z: Our favorite entrée was the Curried Rice, a raw dish so flavorful we were tempted to order a second one. Served on a large, square platter and adding to its visual appeal, the tantalizing creation was formed into a heart shape with slices of avocado molding the border. This dish was a wild miscellany of ingredients including wild rice, green olives, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms. What made it so exceptional was the ultra-creamy, curry-spiced macadamia sauce that bound the composition together so tastefully.

Au Lac Restaurant Los Angeles R: Our second entrée was the Green Pyramid, also an attractive raw dish with a base of wild rice, yet vastly different from the Curried Rice. Forming the pyramid shape was a mound of diced zucchini, coconut, corn, and bell peppers zapped with a Thai basil pesto. Dramatic garnishes of flax crackers, a fluff of dulse, strips of red bell pepper, and a sprig of Thai basil contributed to its colorful presentation.

Z: Our sweet finish took us into dessertland to taste Chef Ito's raw Tirawmisu and Baklava, two fun and tasty little sweet treats that provided the perfect finish to our meal.

R: Toward the end of our dinner we noticed a few musicians passing by our table and turning left and were curious to know where they went. Peeking around the corner we discovered a large, banquet room with a performer on stage at the far end. This room could hold up to 80 partygoers for dinner and entertainment.

Z: Softly flowing throughout the bar and dining room was a pleasant variety of old and new tunes played on the grand piano in the bar, a charming touch. Across from the bar was a row of high banquettes and tall tables where diners could order snacks or a full meal. Between the two rooms at the far end was an exceptionally attractive wine rack that was brightly lit from the back.

R: The best part of our dining experience was receiving a warm hug from Chef Ito, who we had met several times at the Fountain Valley location. Although he has taken vows of silence for many years, his ability to communicate never fails to amaze us. Au Lac offers an exceptional, upscale dining experience in a stunning, almost zen-like ambience of elegance.

Z: Prices are moderate with Appetizers ranging between $6 and $10, Soups $12, Wraps and Rolls $12 to $18, Salads $9 to $12, Rice and Noodles $16, Sides and Extras $4, and Snacks $5.

Au Lac Restaurant
710 West 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: 213-617-2533
Hours: Daily 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Reviewed March 2015

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