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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

R: A great find for those seeking organic, unadulterated foods prepared simply and tastefully in traditional macrobiotic style, Inaka is an oasis in a land of refined, processed, and frequently unrecognizable substances ingested as food. Located on La Brea Boulevard between 1st and 2nd Streets, Inaka is an unassuming little gem in an area that features restaurants, upscale shops, and art galleries.

Z: One would imagine that this huge Los Angeles metropolis would provide opportunities to enjoy macrobiotic dining, but that's not the case. Fortunately, this small dining spot is a rare find. Though the restaurant serves some fish and seafood dishes, it offers many choices for vegans who can substitute with tofu and sea vegetables.

R: In keeping with its Japanese roots, Inaka adopts simplicity in its décor. Think minimalist. At first we were surprised by the lack of décor, the stark walls, and absence of enhancement for the huge window facing the busy street. As we began to relax and drink in the environment, we realized careful thought went into this unadorned ambience.

Inaka Restaurant Z: Yes, the atmosphere became warm and cozy within minutes. Classical music provided soft background flavor while three, huge globe lanterns glowed softly and sent forth a comforting, diffused light. A large, rectangular canvas filling the back wall had its top half painted white, the bottom black. Pastel green tablecloths and white napkins stood out against the pale yellow walls and the in-vogue bleached wooden chairs. Along the window was a simple counter with stools. We soon realized the focus is on the food, rather than the décor. Tea candles were the only adornment on the tables.

R: The menu, while not extensive, offers the diner an ample array of choices. One special meal, their 5 Pieces Veggie Combination, gives diners an opportunity to compose their entrée by selecting favorite items from a list of traditional Asian foods. Also available on the menu are Appetizers, Salads, Vegetable Plates, Seafood Plates, Japanese Style Hot Pots, Desserts and three traditional Japanese teas. Our helpful server, Mia, made some excellent suggestions for our tasty and well-rounded meal.

Z: We began with the Soba Salad, then shared the Japanese Hot Pot Ozoni, and the 5 Pieces Veggie Combination. Reminiscent of the Korean dish Bibimbop, the Soba Salad was composed of a variety of tast edibles with steamed vegetables arranged in sections over a bed of buckwheat noodles. Tucked underneath, at the bottom of the large celadon bowl, was a serving of baby lettuces. Greeting the eye at first was a colorful array of items that included broccoli, hijiki, mashed, lightly seasoned tofu, chopped kale, beansprouts, and carrots. It was an entire meal served with a selection of three dressings--Miso, Tofu, and Sesame.

R: A delicious beginning, the Soba Salad was light and tasty, but, most of all, impressed us with the freshness and purity of each ingredient. We didn't have to ask what anything was made of--we could easily recognize every item on our plates. Of the dressings, we favored the darker colored Sesame for its pleasing, definitively Asian flavor.

Z: While we were enjoying our salad, Mia placed two deep bowls on our table along with a bamboo ladle. These were in preparation for our Ozoni, the Japanese Hot Pot which offered a choice of soups. The soup selections included mixed bean, vegetable, kabocha, and miso. Mia said, "The bean is really good today." How could we resist? Her recommendation was excellent. It was thick, hearty, and richly flavored and came with two puffy pillows of mochi floating on top of a unique selection of vegetables.

R: Zel ladled some of the dark, chocolate colored soup from the huge bowl into our smaller bowls and divided the somewhat unfamiliar vegetables between us. Our favorite veggie turned out to be the lotus root, Swiss cheese-looking thick slices that were simmered in a soup stock delicately sweetened with barley malt. She again dipped the ladle and out came chunks of perfectly cooked kabocha squash and slices of burdock or gobo root. The mochi cakes, made from brown rice, were deliciously crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.

Inaka Z: Ozoni with bean soup is unquestionably a taste pleaser with generous portions enough for two diners. Our third dish, the 5 Pieces Veggie Combination, was a meal we assembled from a listing of items. Our choice of kabocha, lotus root, the day's bean selection, stewed vegetables, and tofu were simply prepared and placed in separate mounds on a platter.

R: We commend Jay Abe, Inaka's owner and chef since 1976, for his commitment to offer healthy, nourishing foods, most of which are organically grown. A blackboard just outside the restaurant lists daily items that are unavailable from organic sources. The soy sauce he uses is naturally brewed and organic, the miso is made from organic whole soybeans, and the water used for cooking and serving is purified. For sweetening his desserts and broths Jay uses fruit juice, maple syrup, or barley malt. The name he chose for the restaurant, Inaka, is the Japanese word meaning countryside--well suited to his home-style macrobiotic cuisine.

Z: For a sweet finish we might have had Soy Ice Cream, Grape Kanten, Chocolate Tofu Mousse, or Apple Walnut. Curious about the Apple Walnut, we shared an order served in a small glass bowl. The lightly sweetened chunky apple compote was highlighted with toasted walnuts and raisins and garnished with a mint leaf artfully positioned at the edge of the bowl. While Mia compared it to the inside of an apple pie, we recognized the dessert as a light, very delicately sweetened dish that featured stewed apples.

R: It was refreshing to encounter a flavorful cuisine that doted on uncomplicated, fundamental foods prepared with a wisdom that recognizes the value of simplicity. While Inaka may not find itself placed on a top-ten list of hip, trendy, and hot dining spots in Los Angeles, it has proven to be a landmark that has succeeded where others have not. Thirty years in Los Angeles has made Inaka a dining destination for the macrobiotic community. Hopefully, vegetarians and vegans will also discover what a treasure it is.

131 South La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: 323-936-9353
Hours: Tuesday through Friday Lunch 12:00 noon to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 6:00 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.
Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.
Sunday 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Closed Monday
Moderate prices

Reviewed January 2006

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