R: Nestled among the many shops and restaurants that make PCH an exciting, colorful, and vital artery is a beautiful little piece of earth called Terra Bella Café where the vibes are high, the food is raw, the focus is organic, and the kitchen is kosher to boot!
Z: Entering from the parking lot in the rear, we strolled past the narrow alcove of lighted bookshelves with titles spewing out words like "raw, living, uncooked, vibrant, energizing." Just beyond is the attractive condiment bar with Nama Shoyu, olive oil, agave nectar, and chiles as food enhancers.
R: Dominating a large portion of the room is an attractive, L-shaped, mirrored bar elegantly framed in dark walnut wood. Completing the bar is a high counter and tall wooden barstools. Formerly a coffee shop, the restaurant inherited the bar that adds an appealing focal point to the dining atmosphere.
Z: Tasteful, intimate lighting warmed the dining area, generating an instant feeling of comfort to the long, rectangular dining room. Soft eclectic music, glass-top tables, and colorful ceramic dinnerware create an ambience of carefully designed informality.
R: Because the attractive menu zings with such a banquet of offerings, we called on Debbie, our server, to make suggestions for our hungry group of five all primed for a taste of adventurous cuisine. And Debbie was as zesty as the food. While she was listing a few of her favorite dishes, another server brought a platter of Sampler for Deux to the next table. That dish was such a stunning display we ordered it as our starter along with Coco Shakes and Berry Me Softly beverages.
Z: Vibrantly alive with dazzling colors, the Sampler for Deux arrived while we were still decoding the menu to make our other selections. The platter was lined with at least two varieties of crisp dehydrated flaxseed crackers while the center erupted with little mounds of tasty tidbits like spicy beans, mano-cotti rolls, salad greens, pine nut chive cream cheese, guacamole, and toonah.
R: Hovering like a swarm of locusts, we attacked the platter and concluded it was an ideal introduction to several of the menu specialties. Packed with such variety of flavors and textures, the tiny tastes we shared only primed us for more serious eating. The dish is so hearty one person could enjoy it as a complete meal along with a salad or soup.
Z: We chose the Bruschetta, Tomato Basil Soup, Ghetti and Neatballs, Riviera Ruby as a Samm-ich, Toonah Wrap, Spicy Thai Noodle Bowl, and the Savory Loaf. Without hesitation we approached each specialty with our communal sharing and discovered Terra Bella is a delightful haven of eating pleasure.
R: Clearly, each dish is a labor-intensive innovation flavored by combining a complex of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Gourmet raw cuisine is still a nouvelle idea in the culinary world, yet is making a definitive statement that it's here to stay.
Z: Among our favorites was the Spicy Thai Noodle Bowl with its long strands of soft zucchini noodles dotted with chunks of mango, carrots, bell pepper, and sprouts. Seasonings relied on basil, mint, and cilantro, to enhance the overall spicy, sweet, sour, salty flavors.
R: The other "noodle" dish that left a memorable forkprint was the Ghetti and Neatballs with its soft zucchini noodles, marinated mushrooms, spicy olives, and a killer marinara sauce.
Z: Riviera Ruby was a definite crowd pleaser. We could have had the pine nut/chive cream cheese and a heap of salad fixings in a collard wrap, but chose the combo as a sandwich on Ezekiel bread instead. Another winner, it was well seasoned and went down mighty easy.
R: Italian to the max was the beautiful Bruschetta, a delicious combo of basil pâté, roma tomatoes, and garlic piled onto an herbed cracker. The menu says, "You won't believe it's raw!" but tasting is believing. This little Tapa-tizer received unanimous thumbs up.
Z: Curious about the Toonah pâté wrapped in a collard leaf, we divided the wrap carefully and found the collard so overpowering, the pâté was barely noticeable. By contrast, the Tomato Basil Soup was well defined and quite tasty.
R: Since each of the gourmet entrees came with either soup or salad, we chose some of each and sampled all three salad dressings: Super Food Vinaigrette, Cilantro Vinaigrette, and Ginger Orange. While none of the dressings were thick or creamy, each was distinctive and tastefully flavored.
Z: Across from our table was a two-shelf refrigerated deli case filled with desserts so stunning we simply couldn't leave without a sweet finish. To satisfy our many tastes, we took a vote and chose one piece each of the Chocolate Almond Butter Pie, Chocolate Raspberry Torte, Pumpkin Patch Pie, and the Chocolate Ganache Pie. While chocolate dominated our choices, clearly the favorite was the Pumpkin Patch Pie richly seasoned with all the typical spices one would expect from a pumpkin pie. But the surprise was that the pumpkin pie contained no pumpkin. Chef Melissa created her Pumpkin Patch Pie with an unexpected ingredient--carrots. The captivating, sweet, spicy flavors still linger.
R: Owner Melissa Davison is a warm, personable, self-taught raw chef who learned most of her culinary skills by spending time in the kitchen and learning from her collection of raw cookbooks. Open only two months, Terra Bella is off to a great start with full tables of diners devouring fresh, organic, uncooked delicacies prepared by Melissa and Chef Jason. Some of their herbs are grown on the site with plans to create an extensive herb and vegetable garden behind the parking lot. None of their foods are heated above 110 degrees to insure the best of living cuisine.
Z: Entrees at Terra Bella range from $9 to $15, appetizers $6 to $14, salads $7 to $15. The beverage menu includes warm drinks and special teas along with juices, kombucha cocktails, and smoothies.
Reviewed November 2006
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