R: Zephyr Vegetarian Café arrived in Long Beach in June of 2005 carried by a gentle west wind that drifted ashore to create a haven where vegans and raw fooders could dine on tasty, wholesome, mostly organic foods.
Z: Located in downtown Long Beach, on East 4th Street just off Long Beach Blvd., the restaurant stands opposite a large complex of condos under construction with the city's effort to create an urban facelift to an area that has lost favor.
R: The funky, yet serene ambience greets the diner even before crossing the threshold. The door, with "Zephyr" calligraphed in Gothic black letter on the large glass insert, is framed in uniquely carved wood and painted to give it an aged appearance.
Z: As I entered the large dining room, my first impression was an ambience of relaxed informality suggesting a mildly funky, avant-garde flavor. We met our vegetarian friend, Long Beach resident Lina, who was delighted to discover a restaurant in her neighborhood that features an all-vegan menu.
R: We chose a table and were greeted by Cat, our friendly counter person and server who announced the cooked soup of the day was Corn Chowder, the raw daily soup special was Garden Greens. Without a moment's hesitation, we ordered them both and soon found ourselves scraping the bowls clean. The complimentary relish dish of carrot and celery sticks was a nice touch, but could have been a little more generous so all of us could have had at least one carrot and one celery stick.
Z: The hot Corn Chowder, served in a large white mug with a handle, was a tasty, thick puree with a definitive potato base. Whole corn kernels were abundant in the savory soup that featured a light tingle of spice. Our trio gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up.
R: We also had kudos for the bowl of Garden Greens garnished with a generous sprinkle of hemp and sunflower seeds. Silky smooth and creamy with a lemony tang, the soup was a pleasing blend of zucchini, cucumber, green onions, baby greens, and parsley. Avocado, we learned, was the secret to giving the raw soup its silky smooth texture.
Z: Music by Big Star of the 70's and Colin Malloy of the Decemberists filled the large room that could best be described as uncluttered spaciousness. The ceilings are high, lighting intimate, with dark painted floors and walls covered in deep earth tones. Along the large windows facing East 4th street were light wood tables and chairs, while the center of the room featured tables with green tile tops framed in wood. An upright piano stood in the corner next to a low game table surrounded by fabric-covered chairs.
R: Our entrée orders, placed at the counter, included the Tofu Steak Plate, Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burger, and the Seitan Bowl. Though our table was lit only by a candle tucked inside an attractive wrought iron grillwork lantern, we could easily enjoy the colorful Seitan Bowl that consisted of stir-fried broccoli florets, tomato chunks, snow peas, sliced mushrooms, black beans, and zucchini chunks perched on a bed of brown rice. The stir-fried vegetables had a flavor reminiscent of a fragrant, well-seasoned teriyaki.
Z: The Tofu Steak Plate was an earthy choice with two large tofu fingers grilled in a lightly sweetened soy based sauce. Accompanying the tofu were abundant servings of fresh grilled baby asparagus spears and brown rice. Our friend Lina declared this her favorite dish.
R: I sunk my teeth into the Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burger that oozed with the deep woodsy flavor of sliced mushrooms that were well seasoned and grilled to perfection. Joining the mushrooms were sliced onions and tomatoes tucked inside a tall whole wheat bun that was served with baked tortilla chips and a tomato based chili-style dipping sauce.
Z: A nice homey touch was the nearby small table with a tray holding an array of condiments patrons could add to their foods.
R: Lina and I volunteered to be the water servers for our table. At the end of the long counter was a giant dispenser of water and glasses for self-serve.
Z: Opened in June of 2005, Zephyr boasts their cooked and raw dishes are made with mostly organic ingredients purchased from Long Beach's four local farmer's markets. Owner Breck Docksteder, who has been vegan for many years, is chief cook and bottle washer with occasional help from his mom who rolls up her sleeves for a shift in the kitchen.
R: While street parking is limited, the city has a parking lot one block away, making the restaurant a convenient dining spot for healthy choices like Arugula, Apple, and Walnut Salad or Artichoke Heart Salad with baby greens, kalamata olives, croutons, and tomatoes. Daily soup specials are ideal paired with their many choices of sandwiches and burgers.
Z: Living food choices include Vietnamese Spring Rolls with a number of variations, Vegetable Sushi Rolls, and Raw Pesto or Raw Marinara with Vegetable Noodles. With Zephyr's prices extremely reasonable, and a host of tasty, wholesome menu choices, the restaurant has offerings that even non-vegetarians might find satisfying.
Zephyr Vegetarian Café
Reviewed March 2006