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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
 Dining in Paradise

Editors' Note: On this page in our September, 2000, issue we published a review of Santé La Brea restaurant in Los Angeles. We are sorry to report that this excellent restaurant has closed its doors. They will be missed.

Sante La Brea Z: Patio dining is such a delight when the weather presents that perfect evening with the temperature just. . . well, perfect. It's even better when the ambience allows nature to show off her prettiest flowers. Santé La Brea presented us that idyllic setting on their patio situated on the south side of the restaurant.

R: Colorful bougainvillea in bloom climbed up the latticework all along the edge of the patio that separated the restaurant from the Indian restaurant next door. We sensed the aromas of both eateries as we made our selections from the menu.

Z: We could have eaten inside where the ambience was equally inviting with large floor to ceiling windows lending a brightness to the room with a variety of plants including a large leafy tree that reached the ceiling.

R: I noticed the small fountain with black river rocks and some potted bamboo plants on the counter around the corner from the deli counter that displayed their tempting desserts. I rather liked the blue tables and redwood stained chairs and couldn't help noticing that the entrance door was painted bright red as was the trim around the windows. The inside setting, although different from the patio atmosphere, was striking.

Z: Sante' La Brea is not exclusively vegetarian. There are a few dishes that feature chicken and salmon, but a quick perusal told us that most items on their menu are vegetarian. Many of their dishes can be served strictly vegan as well. Our host and waiter, Gus, described the daily specials with a continental flair and tempted Reuben with the Eggplant Lasagna and was quick to add that it could be prepared with vegan cheese. (They use Soymage.)

R: I'm such a pushover for a tasty eggplant dish. Did I resist? Of course not, and neither could our friend Ed. That night the specials included a creamy Asparagus Soup, another dish I am powerless to resist. It came quickly and was thick, hot, creamy, and very tasty. I knew it was made from scratch when I saw the generous quantity of fresh asparagus chunks that filled the bowl. The soup was served with two Mini Cornbread Muffins that were topped with sesame seeds. What impressed us greatly was that the muffins were vegan.

Z: I started with the House Salad, a colorful, heaping, plateful of romaine, arugula, cucumbers, tomatoes, shredded carrots, shredded red cabbage, and sprouts and garnished with whole wheat pita wedges. The dressing I chose was a zesty Cilantro Lime. As always, Reuben and I share everything and the portions were ample enough for the two of us to share easily.

R: Dining out is always more enjoyable when friends are along. That night we brought Chuck who ordered the Asparagus Penne, sauteed in a light, flavorful ginger tamari sauce along with wild mushrooms, fresh onions, red pepper and spears of fresh asparagus. Chuck requested the addition of tempeh chunks that were sauteed into the mixture. We all tasted and gave the dish a thumbs up.

Z: Our friend Joyce ordered the Asparagus Risotto special. Joyce also special-ordered tempeh chunks which were included in the rice dish topped with an Asparagus Tofu Sauce and garnished with pine nuts. Radiating outward were spears of fresh asparagus. It seems we were heavily focused on asparagus that night, but, heck, why not take advantage of the season. With its brief season, fresh asparagus is such a treat that we immersed ourselves in succulent asparagus creations while we're able. This evening's experience certainly made asparagus a stand-out item on their menu.

R: Many of the dishes on the menu borrow from international cuisines, such as their Vegetarian Burrito, the Falafel Platter, Mexican Lasagna, and Sante' Chow Mein, Black Bean Fettuccini, and Mediterranean Platter. Zel happens to adore spinach in any form. This restaurant prepares a south of the border style Spinach Enchilada she found very satisfying. The serving was so large we had to help her out a little, but she didn't mind, and we didn't suffer a bit.

Z: Oh, the memory of heavenly flavors are returning as I remember that dish. In the center of the platter were two corn tortillas stuffed with garlic lightly sauteed spinach and topped with spinach tofu sauce and melted cheese (We requested the vegan cheese.) Black beans hugged the enchiladas on both sides of the plate while a cilantro lime dressed salad perched on top.

R: Don't forget that colorful garnish!

Z: Right! You remembered it, too! There were red and blue corn tortilla wedges standing up around the plate and a tiny dollop of delicious, red salsa which we couldn't quite identify.

R: We began our dinner about 6 p.m. while the restaurant was almost empty. However, by seven, it was a lively place humming with the sounds of congenial conversation and the background of tasteful, soft music. As the sun set, we found the candlelight a nice touch. Did you notice the outdoor heaters on the patio? We can even enjoy outdoor dinners in the winter.

Z: That appeals! We should mention that you can start your day with a variety of breakfast dishes including Scrambled Tofu, Garden Omelette, and Hot Cereal. Side dishes include Corn Bread, Rosemary Potatoes, Fresh Fruit Bowl, Black Beans, and much more.

Bird Diner R: There's no shortage of choices offered on the menu. The challenge is making decisions. There are many appetizers that were tempting, such as the Veggie Tamale and the Hummus Quesadilla. If you feel like a light meal, their salads offer creative selections such as Oriental Noodle Salad or Caesar Pasta Salad. Sandwiches include Boca Burger and Tempeh or Veggie Burgers in a choice of two sizes. They even have Sante' Pizzas!

Z: And there are Pastas and Wraps as well as Fresh Orange or Carrot Juices and organic coffee beverages like Cafe Latte or Chai Latte. Prices are really reasonable. Entrees range from 7.95 to 9.95 for a truly bountiful meal. Breakfast averages 6.95, while most appetizers are 4.95.

Santé La Brea
345 N. La Brea, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Reviewed September 2000

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