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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Editors' Note: Since this review was written, Jade Café has changed its name, chef, and menu and is now known as Cru. Cru features a raw menu.

R: Nestled in a unique, bustling triangular niche where Sunset Blvd. meets Griffith Park Blvd. and Hyperion is a small sidewalk forest of potted bamboo plants that mark the entrance to Jade Café, the newest all-raw vegan restaurant in Los Angeles.

Z: Step across the threshhold and the ambience speaks serenity, comfortable feng shui, and intimate dining. The quietly bubbling fountain takes up residence in front of the French doors that face the street. My first impression of the very dim lighting was that I had entered a lovers' hideaway but once settled in at our table, I quickly adjusted to the cozy, intimate, and romantic environment. Jade Restaurant

R: After Wilson, our cordial server, seated the three of us, he described the daily specials and gave us time to browse the offerings. Returning to our table, he faced a flurry of questions and received our praise for his thorough knowledge of the menu's offerings.

Z: We decided to share all the dishes to experience a good sampling of Chef Lesa Carlson's creations. For starters, we settled on the Cheddar Fondue and the Creamed Summer Squash Soup. Our three entrée choices included Ginger Coconut Noodles, Layered Cheese and Chutney Rounds, and Squash Hash Brown Stacks. High marks go to the restaurant's owners for creating a menu so descriptive that choices were easy.

R: That slight pause between ordering and receiving the food gave us the opportunity to explore the details that comprise this restaurant's unique dining ambience. As its name implies, Jade creates a sleek, Asian impression, simple, understated, yet comfortable. A long, upholstered couch in deep chocolate brown provides the seating along both side walls while highly lacquered wooden tables and chairs with slender, simple lines complete the furnishings.

Z: Ingeniously designed is the tall, wooden cabinet with Asian style intricate wood carving that hides the utilities meter near the front of the restaurant. Diffused lighting floats downward from the small drop lights giving the room its warmth while soft, eclectic music infuses the air. Lending a tasteful touch to each table was a small, rectangular glass bowl filled with river rocks and a single exotic blossom.

R: Our Creamed Summer Squash Soup was presented in an oval white bowl garnished at the edge with a colorful fresh corn salsa. Lending color contrast to the creamy golden yellow-orange potage were two long green spindles of chives. The soup was silky smooth, tastefully seasoned, and spiked with a lively top-note of chile.

Z: It's apparent that Chef Lesa and her partners recognize presentation is as important as the labor-intensive preparation that goes into each unique dish. The Cheddar Fondue is a fine example encompassing both aspects. Perched on a bed of baby greens were skewers of marinated shiitake mushrooms and red bell peppers accompanied by a thick, fluffy, melted "cheese" served in an intriguing hooded white bowl. The fondue, composed of a nut base of almonds, macadamias, and young coconuts, was reminiscent of a medium cheddar. Adding a tangy foreground was a hint of balsamic vinaigrette.

Jade Restaurant R: Before the entrées arrived, we were primed for the extraordinary. When they appeared on the table, we were not disappointed. The Squash Hash Browns was a signature dish worth a photograph. Baby greens comprised the base and formed a volcanic cone. Artfully arranged vertically around the cone were thick strips of marinated and dehydrated portabellas on one side and marinated, dehydrated shredded squash pancakes around the other. The top garnish was an engaging tuffet of Almond Cream Cheese, dehydrated red bell pepper rings, and a spicy chili sauce.

Z: I was in heaven devouring those squash pancakes with their toothsome texture and spicy flavors. Then we sampled the Layered Cheese and Chutney Rounds that cozied up to a generous serving of baby greens. Standing in for soft tortillas were two delicate rounds with an almond meal base. Layered between the two rounds as well as mounded on top was a zesty chutney of jalapeno, cilantro, red onion, and corn. Adding definitive verve to the dish was "melted cheese" and a tasty red sauce that pleased Reuben enormously.

Jade Restaurant R: Our last entrée dished up yet another delight in the form of Ginger Coconut Noodles, a creation that may have been inspired by traditional Pad Thai but differed with its unique mile-long noodles made from young coconut and almonds. A mixture of long, thinly shredded carrots, Napa cabbage, green onions, cilantro and chopped peanuts were piled high over a bed of ginger and dried chili sauce all designed to fit perfectly into its oval shaped bowl.

Z: Though we were quite sated, we felt something tugging us toward the menu's dessert section. When Wilson mentioned the Coconut Cream Pie was the restaurant's most popular sweet finish, we were ready for yet another sharing moment. Topping the shallow, round ramekin was a thick coverlet of coconut snow. Beneath the surface a creamy fudge-like carob-date layer was tangled in a web of slivered and sliced almonds.

R: Jade's pride rests in its commitment to serve organic foods made from scratch. Proper food combining, soaking and germination, and modest fruit sugar use are techniques that are employed in preparing all their original creations.

Z: A host of unique elixirs, tonics, and super foods employing fresh herbs is available along with salads, tempting sides, and appetizers like Stuffed Squash Blossoms, Bruschetta, Fried Eggplant, and Spring Rolls. Chef Lesa has a way with nuts and veggies that result in picture-perfect presentations that are seasoned and garnished with innovative touches.

R: Consider Jade a restaurant for special occasion enjoyment where extraordinary food presentation is accompanied by outstanding service. All-organic raw foods and innovative, labor-intensive preparations translate into an exceptional dining experience. Expect to pay a little bit more for meals this special.

Jade Café
1521 Griffith Park Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026
Phone: 323-667-1551
Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily
Moderately expensive

Reviewed December 2005

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