R: A very hip, all-vegetarian restaurant right in the heart of the Sunset Strip couldn't get better exposure. We were very excited at the recent opening of the Sprout Café in West Hollywood. And, of course, it doesn't hurt one bit that it's located next door to House of Blues.
Z: We did have some concern about parking, since finding a space on the boulevard is next to impossible. Fortunately, we found a reasonably priced lot close-by and walked a block to reach our destination.
R: Because the restaurant is set back from the sidewalk, it features a sizeable patio that can accommodate plenty of outdoor diners at the many small, round umbrella tables. The exterior stands out with a 50's modern sort of metal structure that forms an A-frame roof peak. The green neon Sprout Café sign hangs prominently in the large floor-to-ceiling window.
Z: We shared our evening's safari with Chuck and Gregg, two eager veg diners who enjoy discovering green leafy treasures in the wilds of the Los Angeles food jungle as much as we do. We chose one of the three large booths along the side wall and were greeted by Vildi, our effervescent server who comes from Indonesia.
R: We ordered, knowing that it would be a community tasting experience. The menu offers plenty of diversity, from light eating to hearty indulging. Collectively, we ordered The Raw Deal, Hickory Smoked Burger, Steak au Poive with Mushroom Sauce, Tangy Tofu Rice Bowl, and Chocolate Shakes. Sounds like a vegan feast? It truly was!
Z: Though the ambience is simple, there's a clean mod sort of look about the restaurant with its cement floor painted a warm olive green and its high ceilings a lighter shade of olive. The round wooden tables and chairs are highly finished in a rich, dark mahogany or cherrywood stain.
R: The counter that faces the door is finished in a burnished aluminum and banded with back-lit glass blocks reminiscent of art deco design. A small, dark wood Buddha sits on the counter, and with its smiling face, it takes on the role of welcoming greeter.
Z: The Raw Deal, our salad course, arrived on a large white platter with a heaping mound of colorful veggies. We deemed it a distinctly creative coleslaw. Composed of shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, pea shoots, sprouts, watercress, scallions, sunflower seeds, almonds, sprouted red lentils, and cilantro, the salad was complemented with a tangy carrot ginger vinaigrette. As we all lunged toward the salad with our forks, we noticed that the forks had three tines rather than the usual four. These we named "threeks."
R: The salad tasted just as good with the "threeks" as it would have with forks. What I quickly noticed was the freshness of the vegetables. Everything was perky, crispy, and crunchy as vegetables ought to be. On the flavor side, we all agreed it was definitely a 10.
Z: The entrees arrived, each attractively plattered. We didn't think to bring our camera and were sorry we couldn't share our visual pleasure. The centerpiece of the Steak au Poive is the 3 1/2 to 4-inch tofu steak that stands clearly 1-inch tall. The "Steak" was generously covered with cracked pepper that's pressed into the tofu before grilling to create a crusty surface. Completing the dish is a robust mound of garlic mashed potatoes, a serving of garlic sautéed fresh spinach with a spicy kick, and a tasty mushroom sauce for the "Steak." Every bite was succulently delicious.
R: All the burgers are served with a choice of mixed green salad, coleslaw, tabouli, or garlic mashed potatoes. We chose the tabouli. Our Hickory Smoked Burger was a burger-lover's delight. The toasted whole-wheat sesame bun was abundantly filled with a thick soy patty, onion, tomato, red oak lettuce, and avocado and dressed with a hickory smoked barbecue sauce. Even the tabouli stood out as unique with its finely ground parsley and tangy lemon flavor. Another 10.
Z: Our final entr&eacut;e, the Tangy Tofu Rice Bowl, was, again, a knockout dish (actually a large, wide bowl) with brown rice forming the base. Curried lentils were spooned over the rice, sautéed onions and spinach dotted the lentils that were topped with a red pepper relish in the center. Finishing the platter were three long wooden skewers sporting seasoned grilled tofu fingers that rested on top with the tofu pointing into the center. A dramatic presentation that we gave another 10.
R: The finishing touches were the sinfully delicious Chocolate Shakes. This was truly regal dining, yet the atmosphere was warm, comfortable, and undoubtedly informal. The restaurant has only been open about three months but operates as if it had been well-managed for years.
Z: Our meal was certainly a feast, but for lighter dining there are many items to please from four soups, such as Love this Lentil Soup or Chunky Vegetable and Basil Soup to six Salads that include The Caesar Pleaser and Mucho Mexican Taco Salad. There are nine Standard Fare entrée dishes and an array of burgers and sandwiches.
R: They also feature Fresh Juices, New Fashioned Shakes, and Organic Coffees, Teas, and Herbal Magic Potions (elixir shots that invigorate the mind, body, and soul). Prices are reasonable, servings are generous, and the service comes with an easy smile. Most dishes are vegan. Some items like the lasagne or pizza have mozzarella or soy cheese that can be left off by request.
Z: The Sprout Café is definitely the place to introduce friends to great tasting veggie food. Those new to vegetarian fare will easily find this spot a very "in" Sunset Strip turn-on!
Reviewed July 2003