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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Dining in Paradise



R: As soon as we walked into Hugo's Restaurant on the corner of Riverside Drive and Coldwater Canyon Avenue in Studio City, we knew we had found a true, cozy home-cooking comfort zone. At least that was what our noses were telling us. The savory scents that infused the air recalled many nostalgic memories when Mom had something delicious bubbling away on the stove.

Z: The ambience, too, put us at ease with its restful, coffeeshop atmosphere of uncluttered décor that included the ever-popular light wood tables and chairs, light wood wall paneling laid horizontally, and dark carpeting. A few photos donned the two walls that were not lined with windows. At each place was a cloth napkin folded uniquely so the utensils could be tucked neatly into a little pocket.

Hugo's R: Though the restaurant is well lit, we noticed the light fixtures are burlap-covered, giving the room a soft, diffused light. The half-open kitchen right opposite the entrance offers the diner a glimpse into the bustling cook's corner with occasional puffs of steam rising and frequent sizzles of searing delicacies.

Z: Though the popular trend of loud music and deliberately bad acoustics featured in many restaurants attract some diners, we found Hugo's soft acoustics a comforting respite. There was no jangling music, but rather a pleasant din of background sounds that included diners conversing, kitchen sounds, and soft music. We could actually enjoy lively conversation with the friends who came along for a delightful dining experience.

R: The California bistro-style menu offers a gigantic selection of choices that encompass every preference. While vegetarians can rejoice with a bevy of dishes that challenge even the most efficient decision-maker, the carnivore will also find plenty of offerings.

Z: The special soup of the day is always vegan. On this day the special was Miso Soup-- last time they offered a tasty, thick Black Bean Soup. Miso Soup is hard to resist, so I didn't. It was attractively presented in a wide bowl resting on a dish. Chunks of tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and lots of chard floated on top. While the soup was hot and even a little spicy, it was a little weak on the miso flavor.

R: I ordered the Tantric Veggie Burger that arrived on a plate with a salad of well-dressed baby greens. The burger was served open-faced on a bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and radicchio. Made in their kitchen, the well-seasoned burger itself is a healthy combination of tempeh, breadcrumbs, carrots, onion, almonds, sunflower seeds, Tamari, herbs and spices. Flavorwise, the burger was exceptional and so large it filled the entire surface of the bun.

Z: One of the special features of the restaurant is the Farmers Market Plate, a vegan special that includes the chef's choice of the freshest vegetables available that day. On that day he prepared a beautiful selection that consisted of four different items served on a large oval platter. Attractively arranged on one side of the dish was a colorful, cold marinated lentil salad with bits of green onions and red bell pepper. Another was an appealing orange-colored ragout of root vegetables with the earthy blend of parsnips, celery root, and yams. A pairing of steamed spinach and sliced shiitake mushrooms took its place at the top of the platter, while two naturally sweet beets roasted with shallots and horseradish sat at the left. I was dining in veggie heaven! Every bite was succulent, fresh, and perfectly prepared.

Burger Bird R: Our friend, Andy, who is not vegetarian, ordered the vegan Linguini with Summer Vegetables that came in a bowl with a generous serving of sliced shiitake mushrooms, sugar snap peas, spinach, and tomatoes in a garlic and olive oil sauce. He uttered a few mmmm's and didn't leave a single noodle in his bowl.

Z: Alicia, our other friend, decided to go vegan that evening by chosing the Tofu-Vegetable Grill, a robust platter that was colorfully stacked with polenta cakes on the bottom, grilled zucchini, Asian eggplant, and tomatoes mounded on top, and grilled tofu steaks crowning the eye-appealing medley. In addition our friends each ordered a glass of Merlot.

R: Our well-trained, delightful server almost tempted us with dessert but we each opted for one of Hugo's numerous exotic teas. She brought us the Tea List that is an impressive six-page brochure with detailed descriptions of each selection.

Z: I chose the Rooibos Africana, Reuben had the Rooibos Anastasia. We learned that Rooibos tea is considered the Rolls Royce of herbal teas. Though it contains no caffeine, it has the rich flavor of a black tea.

R: Andy's selection was the Hot Chocolate served with a topping of whipped cream, and Alicia ordered the Yogi Tea Cappuccino. These flavor-charged beverages were the perfect ending to a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

Z: Other vegetarian choices include the Potent Sweet Potatoes that could be made vegan, the Lentil Veggie Loaf, Soba Noodle Bowl, the Avocado Sandwich, and the Grilled Vegetable Sandwich. Hugo's chef is vegan savvy and offers a nice variety of options.

R: We had to visit the little teashop before leaving. The display, which is to the right of the entrance, includes a variety of teas, tea pots, scented candles, and other gifts to please the tea lover such as little dishes to hold a used teabag. For summer dining, Hugo's provides a sizeable outdoor patio that faces Riverside Drive.

Hugo's Restaurant
12851 Riverside Drive
Studio City, CA 91607
Phone: 818-761-8985
Daily 7:30 to 10:00 p.m.
Moderately Priced

Reviewed April 2003


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