R: Sunday afternoon was the perfect time to gather some friends for a drive out to Hermosa Beach, take a stroll along Pier Avenue, and enjoy a much anticipated dinner at Naked Garden, an intimate, all vegan restaurant.
Z: Early birds that we are, we arrived at the restaurant about 15 minutes before opening and began to ponder the daily specials posted on the easel outside. Hmm, both soups sounded tempting. Should we have the Tomato Vegetable Pasta Soup or the Yellow Split Pea with Dulse?
R: I think we were all salivating over the appetizer special of Buckwheat Pancakes filled with Vegetables and Brown Rice and served with a Coconut Peanut Sauce.
Z: The specials were so numerous and so appealing, we decided to try the regular menu next time. One of the entrees was Burger d'jour, a burger on a whole wheat bun with Mostarella Cheese, Grilled 'Shrooms and Spinach with a Russian Dressing. Then there were Tofu or Tempeh Tacos filled with Grilled Vegetables and Potato and topped with Roasted Tomato Salsa and Guacamole and served with White Beans and Spanish Rice. Whew!
R: I was drawn to the Sechwan Eggplant and Tofu over a bed of Spinach and Rice Noodles. Almost anything with eggplant attracts me like a magnet with the right polarity.
Z: I noticed a lovely wooden bench outside with wrought iron legs in bronze patina just right for dinner guests waiting to be seated in case the restaurant was full. On either side of the bench were lots of plants framing the large window that faced the street. Celeste, our server with a sweet smile, came out to tell us the restaurant was now open.
R: We swarmed in, all five of us, and sat on comfortable chairs. There were tablecloths with a glass top covering and cloth napkins, each one a different soft color. Zel loved all the original paintings that hung on the bright yellow walls and the ceramic candle holder and vase that displayed fresh carnations.
Z: Actually, some of us sat on chairs and some snuggled in to the upholstered booths along the wall. We were all commenting on the lighting fixtures in the shape of large calla lilies sculpted from wire. The place had a feeling of uniqueness and creativity from the decor right down to the food.
R: Now that you mention food, my mouth is watering just visualizing the attractive presentation of the Buckwheat Pancakes we ordered to share. They arrived on an earthy colored ceramic platter with a scalloped edge and were cut in half and arranged to form a pinwheel. In the center was a little mound of tasty cole slaw topped with a brilliant purple and yellow pansy. Drizzled over the pancakes was a light peanut coconut sauce.
Z: One bite and we all "ummmmed" in unison. These were outstanding! Chef-owner Francois Galipeau really knows how to season with just the right touch. Each bite offered the hearty flavor of buckwheat filled with succulent grilled carrots and broccoli. Great start!
R: Since each dinner entree comes with either soup or salad, Zel and I ordered one of each. The Yellow Split Pea Soup with Dulse was my kind of soup, thick with chunks of carrots, celery, onions and corn, richly seasoned, and hearty. The Salad was alive with a colorful selection of tomatoes, shredded carrots, scallions, shredded beets, and cucumbers arranged on top of torn red and green leaf lettuce. I chose the Herbed Vinaigrette, a lightly sweetened dressing with zesty herb flavors.
Z: Celeste brought our entrees, and again, we were dazzled by the lovely presentations followed with a discussion of what defines gourmet. We each had a different concept of the word but all agreed that Francois definitely prepares gourmet food. Reuben's Sechwan Eggplant arrived on a platter that was ringed with fresh spinach that surrounded a generous mound of rice vermicelli. Arranged on top of the noodles were chunks of sauteed eggplant with cubes of delicately flavored tempeh in a succulent light sauce and garnished with sesame seeds. When Reuben realized that his dish had tempeh instead of the tofu, Francois was quick to remedy his oversight and brought a bowl of sauteed tofu to the table.
R: The error was actually a benefit. I got to taste the exceptional tempeh served here and will definitely make an effort to order a tempeh dish next time. Zel's dish was equally as appealing with two Tacos filled with Grilled Vegetables and chunks of Tempeh and Tofu. These were topped with a tasty picante Roasted Tomato Salsa and garnished with Guacamole. Accompanying the tacos was a generous mound of White Beans and another of Spanish Rice. The piece de resistance was the fresh orchid garnish artfully placed between the tacos.
Z: Michael ordered the Mac & Cheese served with corn pasta and a sauce made from tahini, miso, and nutritional yeast to give it a cheese flavor. On the side was a dish of grilled vegetables. Our friend felt this dish was a little too light on the seasoning.
R: The Warm Spinach Salad, Jennye's choice, was heaping with sauteed onions, mushrooms, smoked tempeh, and shreds of carrots and beets. This colorful mixture was topped with wilted spinach and garnished with broccoli sprouts. The dressing on this extravaganza was a lightly sweetened celery and honey blend.
Z: Marilyn, also ordered the Tacos, and the two of us carried half our dinner home for the next day. Chef Francois, who was wearing a green-and-white striped knit cap, came out of the kitchen and told us that The Naked Garden had just celebrated its first birthday three weeks ago. Some of their other offerings include a Caesar Salad with Herbed Croutons. Appetizers feature a Hummus Pinwheel Wrap filled with avocado, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and radish sprouts.
R: One of their staples is a Grilled Vegetable Burrito that sounded quite tempting. There are a number of side dishes such as Beans of the Day, Garden Slaw, Baked Tofu or Tempeh, Steamed or Sauteed Vegetables and Tofu Sour Cream. For regular customers the menu maintains a refreshing array of choices with three nightly specials served with soup or salad.
Z: For the kiddies there are four healthy choices for lunch or dinner as well as fruit and vegetable juices that are freshly squeezed. Smoothies are made with a choice of soy milk, orange juice or apple juice, seasonal fruit, and a choice of sweeteners.
R: For those with a sweet tooth, Francois makes special homemade desserts daily. They use no animal products, sugar, artificial sweeteners, or refined flours and grains.
Z: They also use purified water and support local farmers by purchasing organically grown produce. We wished Francois a happy birthday and took note of the unique, colorful items on the shelves above the door and window as we left. As we departed, I was wishing it was closer to home. This is definitely a restaurant to share with friends and family for an evening out or even a special celebration.
R: And it's not bad on the pocketbook either.
The Naked Garden