R: Vegetarian Los Angeles has at last come of age! While we can boast of many veg eateries throughout the county, none have offered upscale, sophisticated French style vegan cuisine with elegant presentations that rival those of noted chefs like Joachim Splichal, Mark Peel, or Michel Richard. That is, until now.
Z: We have tasted nectar and ravished manna from heaven! Vegetarian or not, Madeleine Bistro located in Tarzana in the San Fernando Valley, is THE place to dine. Inspired chef-owner Dave Anderson and his wife, Molly, opened their chic, all vegan restaurant in June 2005 to a welcoming vegan community hungry for that exceptional experience one finds only in haute cuisine.
R: While Los Angeles and San Francisco have often competed for recognition in many arenas, the Northern city has been able to enjoy the acclaim Millennium chef Eric Tucker brings to the vegan dining scene. But Los Angeles need no longer live in the shadow of our rival city. Chef Dave's benchmark cuisine is redefining LA's dining scene with his artisinal presentations, bedazzling flavor combinations, and inspired, contemporary food styling.
Z: Before the restaurant officially opened, we enjoyed a sneak preview with a tasting menu that introduced some of the dishes Chef Dave was considering for the menu. It was an auspicious inauguration into the genre of haute cuisine vegan style.
R: That night we sampled an earthy Walnut Mushroom Pate encased in a light filo dough strudel accompanied by a richly flavored Mushroom Bisque served in a diminutive flared glass.
Z: We noticed the elegant Mushroom Bisque is now on the menu among the Starters. Also included on the menu is another of the tasting dishes--the Red Beet Tartare that was perched atop a tuffet of Tofu Cheese Crouton. The melt-in-the-mouth creations were exquisitely seasoned with undertones of unique herbal infusions, yet the flavors did not overpower.
R: The Chicken-fried Seitan with Mashed Potatoes and Pan Gravy is the perfect down-home choice for newcomers to the veggie world who may still be a little vegetable shy, even though the entrée includes baby carrots and haricot verts. The crisp surface of the chicken-like seitan delivered both exquisite texture and manly flavor (Please excuse the sexist adjective. It just happens to have that rich depth of flavor guys gravitate to). And who doesn't like mashed potatoes and gravy anyway!
Z: The tasting dinner concluded with a memorable Crème Brulée, a thick, creamy, custard with the definitive flavor of aromatic vanilla bean. The serving was so generous we could have easily shared its captivating perfume. The Crème Brulée is now one of the dessert offerings.
R: We returned to Madeleine Bistro for brunch and were equally impressed. It was a dining experience one could repeat over and over and over again. The restaurant's ambience is quietly elegant with a backdrop of pleasing shades of olive green and wall sconces that warm the room with soft lighting. Abstract black and white artwork grace the walls, while light earthtones dress the tables and chairs. Tulips to decorate the tables were the fresh flowers of choice, some in white, some red, while purple tulips sat like a row of sentries along the half-wall dividing the two rooms of the restaurant.
Z: Fresh organic juices and unique juice blends splashed with herbs and spices are abundant on the menu. We began our sipping with the Apple-Cinnamon Caramel Juice garnished with a cinnamon stick and loved the amalgam of flavors that complemented each other so well. Each flavor remained distinct, yet they blossomed together.
R: The Beignets, little fritters dusted with powdered sugar, were a taste sensation with the Strawberry Rhubarb Compote we spooned over them. Their golden crunchy outside and feather-light inside made them so irresistible we couldn't leave a single one behind.
Z: My choice for brunch was the Omelet Torta, a cutting-edge, tri-layered dish with a base of saucer-size potato pancake. Resting on top were two slender layers of velvety, well-seasoned, tofu-based omelette with incomparable flavor. Nestled between the omelet layers were delicately sautéed asparagus, spinach, shiitake mushrooms, and a confetti of homemade smoked farmer's cheese. Presented with a garnish of tempeh bacon chips, a mound of arugula, and a light drizzle of balsamic reduction, the dish was positively elegant. Myra, our cheerful and efficient server, couldn't help enjoying our enthusiasm.
R: I selected the Waffles and Chicken that arrived on a "stretch" rectangular platter looking like an architectural design reminiscent of a Frank Geary creation. Large, thick Belgian waffles lightly dusted with powdered sugar lined the rear of the platter like giant fallen dominoes. In the foreground were the crisp Seitan Chicken patty, the fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy, and a mound of freshly prepared Strawberry Rhubarb Compote that became the bright color accent. A small pitcher of maple syrup completed the dish.
Z: I couldn't imagine a Belgian waffle without the traditional eggs, milk, and white flour, but Reuben's first bite drew the comment, "Wow! It's like chewing on air with a crisp texture and fabulous flavor." I couldn't resist tasting, and, indeed, the waffles were feather-light with a crispness that almost dissolved on the tongue. The dish is a classic concept with a complexity of flavors that displays Chef Dave's creative freedom.
R: Well, I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but we didn't end our meal at that point. Myra asked if we would like to see the dessert menu. I shouldn't have said yes, because one look at the selections and we had to make a difficult choice. We're convinced it was Chef Dave's sorcery that compelled us to order the Flourless Chocolate Cake we shared with chocoholic fervor. Stunningly displayed on a large white platter was a three-inch circlet of creamy, bittersweet chocolate with a thick, mousse-like texture. A fluff of vegan whipped cream decorated the top, while droplets of Raspberry Coulis and Crème Anglaise dressed the plate and encircled the chocolate island. The dessert was the perfect finish.
Z: Molly mentioned that Dave plans to change the menu offerings regularly, keeping his customers wondering what surprises he has in his veggie cache--we liken it to a game of menu intrigue. Another sampling that may appear on a future menu is the Artichoke Tortellini and a companion sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, kalamata olives, and artichoke coulis.
R: Dave didn't always have the inclination to be a chef. He began his career as a musician, playing guitar in a band and cooking in restaurants to earn money. He gradually began managing restaurant kitchens and became inspired to attend culinary school when he heard noted chef Charlie Trotter speak at an event. Dave trained at the Johnson and Wales Culinary School in Rhode Island and worked in many 5-star restaurants such as Pot au Feu in Rhode Island. For 20 years he followed the vegetarian path and was vegan for four years when he began working at Real Food Daily.
Z: Now Dave and Molly are realizing their dream of a restaurant of their own. Madeleine Bistro, named after their 7-year-old daughter, is on track to become THE RESTAURANT for vegans who want to enjoy elegant dining in Los Angeles. With its well-trained kitchen and serving staff, the restaurant offers diners the ultimate in plant-based cuisine that features organic produce, wines, and beer.
R: No need to be concerned that the bounteous menu sports extravagant prices. Dinner menu items range from $6 to $8 for starters, $12 to $16 for entrées, and $7 for all desserts. Sunday brunch entrees range from $6 to $10.
18621 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, CA 91356
Reviewed July 2005