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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
 Dining in Paradise

In most restaurant reviews the reader sees the restaurant experience from one person's point of view. In the reviews of the Vegetarians in Paradise, the reader experiences the eatery from the point of view of two people in dialogue form. Vegetarians in Paradise brings you those two intrepid restaurant aficionados, Zel and Reuben Allen, who will take you along as they eat a swath across the Los Angeles environs.

Follow Your Heart Z: If you want to go to a restaurant in the San Fernando Valley that is totally vegetarian, you don't have many choices. One evening we decided to go to an oasis in that barren desert out there to visit one of the longest running vegetarian restaurants in the Los Angeles area.

R: People seem to travel miles to visit Follow Your Heart. It's not a posh restaurant. It's a cafe inside a health food store. Not much atmosphere, but the food is great. We wanted to sit on the front patio, but it's only open during the day and Friday evenings.

Z: We've actually been here many times to enjoy their fabulous soups for lunch on the patio. We've both devoured the Popeye Split Pea Yam soup in the past. It's a meal in itself and so thick you could almost stand a spoon in it. Follow Your Heard has even published a cookbook devoted to their famous soup recipes, and it's available at their store.

R: This time I decided to try their Saturday Night Special. It was "Chicken Fajitas," with rice, refried beans, salsa, sour cream, and corn tortillas. I said I wanted it vegan and was told that leaving out the sour cream was no problem. Most of their entrees can be served vegan--only the lasagne and the spanokopita were lacto-vegetarian. The dinner included soup or salad. There were five soup choices. I zeroed in on the lentil soup which contained no salt or oil.

Z: My choice was the Zorro Burrito from their regular menu. Since you were getting the soup, I decided to try the salad with one of their 12 homemade dressings, 9 of which are non-dairy. I was not sure whether I wanted the Sesame Dijon or the Tofu Tahini Dill. When I hesitated, Donna, our server, said she would bring me both on the side--a very thoughtful gesture.

R: My lentil soup was quite hearty with carrots, celery, and spinach in the mix. It came with a whole wheat roll and Ak-mak crackers. If I had been on a low fat, post heart attack diet, the soup would have been great. It needed a bit more salt for my taste. Donna brought me a low-sodium seasoning to try. I did sprinkle on a little which improved the flavor slightly, but not what a salt freak is used to. Soupbirds

Z: My salad was great. It had romaine, shredded carrots, red cabbage, and alfalfa sprouts. It was a small but ample salad considering what followed, and the dressings were both superb. It's going to be the same difficult choice between them when we return.

R: When the main course arrived, I looked at your plate and said, "If Zorro ate a burrito that size, three people would have to lift him up onto his horse."

Z: Your plate was not what I would call tiny, either. Both of our dinner plates looked like they were 14 inches in diameter. Every inch was filled.

R: My "chicken fajitas" turned out to be chewy but tasty, well-seasoned wheatmeat strips combined with onions and strips of red and green peppers. They were accompanied by a white saffron-colored rice with bits of carrots and a mound of refried beans. The salsa was what you would call "lively." It had quite a "zing" to it. It was mounded on a bed of lettuce alongside a deliciously creamy guacamole. There was enough on the plate to feed both of us.

Z: When my plate came to the table, I gasped. The burrito seemed about 8 inches long, 3 inches wide, two inches high, and it was very green. It was wrapped in a large spinach whole wheat flour tortilla. Since I ordered it nondairy, they omitted the cheese. The inside story of the burrito included black beans, rice, salsa, lettuce, and tofu chunks. If you describe the salsa as "lively," the dollop of sauce on top of the burrito was "zinging"--but, then, I like foods with a spicy touch..

R: Donna, our waitress, was quite busy, but not too busy to answer questions about our food and the restaurant. She's been working at the restaurant for almost twenty years and is currently the assistant manager. The restaurant and store have been going for 25 years, 20 at this location.

Z: You should mention that she herself has been vegetarian for 21 years. She would follow a vegan diet, "but," she told us, "I can't give up cheese."

R: Nevertheless, she looked like she was in great shape and quite attractive.

Z: Now, Reuben, you're straying from the subject. We should mention the desserts.

R: How can we? We didn't have room for them. I counted 8 of them on the menu board, and that night all of them were non-dairy. Tofu Pumpkin Pie, Root Beer Float, Chocolate Torte...

Z: Stop! I'm too full to even think about dessert! I couldn't even finish my meal. They offered us plastic doggy cartons, but were not going directly home afterward.

R: Their menu offers a dozen different kinds of sandwiches, 4 kinds of stuffed potatoes, a half dozen salads, different kinds of pizza, 10 different entrees, plus their daily specials.

Z: Don't forget the soups. That evening there were 5 different soups, 3 non-dairy. They do offer a lot of items with dairy, but they'll gladly eliminate dairy from many of them.

R: What impressed me was we could eat very healthy and hearty and not spend the family fortune. The check came to less than $20.

Z: I know, Reuben probably sounds like Scrooge with his focus on the money bit. Truthfully, though, we're often amazed at the excellent value vegetarian restaurants offer.

21825 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, CA 91303
Breakfast: Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m.to 11:30 a.m.
Saturday and Sunday Brunch: 8:00 a.m.to 3:00 p.m.
Lunch and Dinner: Daily 10:30 a.m.to 9:00 p.m.

Reviewed August 1999

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