R: When we heard about this new vegan restaurant that opened just this past November, our curiosity was unabated. We just had to try it. Since the restaurant is in Westwood, we paired our afternoon trek to the Westwood Farmers' Market with dinner at Dr. J's Healthy and Tasty Restaurant.
Z: It turned out to be a delightful find, though I must admit I was a little hesitant when we peered into the restaurant window to see only three tables that seat four people and a small counter with only five chairs.
R: Yep, it's tiny in size, but Charles Tien, the personable owner, is a young man with a savvy approach to healthy food and a growing clientele of take-out customers.
Z: We were escorted to the cafeteria style counter where an array of a dozen colorful food choices were steaming away. The foods definitely had an Asian flair yet they were unlike any familiar Oriental foods you might find on a typical Chinese or Japanese menu.
R: Let's give these delectables the term "fusion foods," and explain how the system works. You can select as much or as little as you want. You can take a little of everything or simply choose one item. Then you bring your dish to the cash register where it's weighed. Most entree dishes are $6.99 a pound.
Z: In other words, it's a help yourself, weigh up, and pay by the pound system. I was surprised at how reasonable my heaping plate of food was! The first thing I dug into was the soup of the day, Barley Soup. Walking around windy Westwood set just the right mood for the tasty vegetable broth generously sprinkled with bite-size chunks of potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, corn, and peas, a virtual spring garden! Other daily soup specials include Tofu-Seaweed, Lentil, Split Pea, Cauliflower, and White Radish.
R: Each day Charles offers eleven main dishes. Naturally, we had to taste them all. The Brown Rice Medley was a hearty, flavorful Oriental style fried rice with bits of baked tofu, carrots, peas, and corn. Rice Noodle Delight, stir-fired Chinese rice noodles that reminded me of angel hair pasta, is dotted with tofu skin and a sprinkling of diced vegetables. Contrary to the usual Chinese fried rice dripping with oil, this dish had a light coating of oil and plenty of flavor.
Z: I'd like to pause in my food description to mention Dr. J's attention to healthful foods that feature organic ingredients. The oils used in cooking are either canola or olive, both monounsaturated. Everything is free of dairy products, wheat, yeast, alcohol, caffeine, chemicals, MSG, and artificial sweeteners. They use purified water and disposable utensils that are recyclable. Their menu states, "For those who suffer from food allergies, we've got the Healthiest and Safest Food on Earth for you!" I certainly admire their commitment.
R: I'd like to add my commendations, too, and continue revisiting my favorite subject, food. The Tofu Supreme is a tofu scramble with herbs, chopped bell pepper, carrots and onions. That dish was a bit disappointing. If we were eating it at home, we'd bring it back into the kitchen for a little boost in seasoning.
Z: For those on sodium restricted diets, it would be an ideal dish, but I, also, craved a bit more flavor. The Grilled Tofu consists of deep fried tofu strips that are first marinated. We enjoyed the texture and the great protein it offered. Working our way through the maze of dishes, we came to the Curry Potatoes, a deliciously spicy combination of potato chunks, sliced onions, water chestnuts, and peas. If I had had room, I would have gone back for more of those zesty potatoes.
R: I really enjoyed the Sweet and Sour Veggies. This was a stir-fry that featured hearty chunks of broccoli, cauliflower, crinkle-cut carrot sticks, and pineapple. The best part is that the unsweetened pineapple in its natural juice made the dish delightfully sweet without the use of sugar.
Z: We also sampled Garden Fresh and Vegetable Delight, two stir-fried dishes that had colorful chunks of veggies and tofu. Garden Fresh had the baked tofu, while the Vegetable Delight contained fried tofu.
R: The specialty soy dishes were outstanding. First, was the Veggie Fish Steak, a 6"-long fish steak look-alike rimmed with seaweed to replicate the skin on real fish. The taste and texture were an impressive imitation that seemed like the real thing, even down to the mouth feel.
Z: How about that Veggie Ham! A meat-eater's delight, this tofu-based product sure looked like ham, and it also tasted like ham, and it felt like ham, but it wasn't ham. I loved it!
R: That's not all, folks. Veggie Chicken Nuggets and Veggie Chicken Meatballs were both exceptional tofu products that bring the simple soybean into prominence.
Z: During our meal we chatted with young Charles who graduated from USC with a degree in accounting but decided to open a restaurant instead of pursuing the CPA route. Working alongside Charles was Jocelyn, his special companion with a sweet smile and a welcoming personality.
R: The restaurant was inspired by Charles' mother, Dr. Juliet Tien, owner of Dr. J's Health Institute, a Westwood herbal practice she has operated for 20 years. She specializes in Anti-Yeast Therapy and Psychological Counseling. Dr. J graduated from Boston College and taught Psychiatric Mental Health at UCLA for seven years. Her own struggle to overcome yeast problems led her to develop an anti-yeast diet and special herbal formulas. When a number of her patients expressed frustration that they were unable to find anti-yeast foods when they ate out, she decided to open a restaurant with her son, Charles.
Z: We finished our dining with a cup of Dr. J's Cleansing Balance Tea, a refreshing herbal infusion that complemented the meal. We usually avoid desserts, but dessert was beckoning, and I relented to share an Oat Bran Cookie with Reuben. It was a great finish with its soft chewy texture and generous sprinkling of carob chips. We could have chosen other vegan goodies like Carob Brownies, Oat Bran Muffins, or Banana Cake, but we only brought one stomach each.
R: As we were leaving Charles and Jocelyn handed us a Super Snack, a cookie shaped treat made with rolled oats, sunflower seeds, dates, carob chips and herbal seasonings. We shared it the next day.
Z: We certainly enjoyed our new discovery and appreciated the tasty, light sauces that are so unlike the typical heavily thickened sauces used in most Chinese foods. If you're looking for a dining atmosphere with soft lighting, music, and cloth napkins, Dr. J's would not be at the top of the list. The surroundings are simply adorned by a few plants, and the tableware consists of styrofoam plates and plastic forks and spoons.
R: What they do offer is exactly what they post on their sign and on their menu: healthy and tasty, organic vegetarian anti-yeast foods. The prices are reasonable. Both of us ate well with the check total slightly less than $15.
Dr. J's Healthy and Tasty Fast-Food Restaurant
Reviewed February 2000