Saturday, 7 September 2013

Cafe Gratitude

Cafe Gratitude Los Angeles
Cafe Gratitude is one of the most popular vegan/raw restaurants in greater Los Angeles. The vegan restaurant scene down there is much more expanded than here in Vancouver. I have never dined at a vegan restaurant before but have much interest in doing so. I took the opportunity to visit one during my vacation in Los Angeles; it would be an interesting experience for the rest of my family as well. It was my 'special day' that day, since my parents let me choose all the restaurants we would eat at for lunch and dinner. It started with a late brunch at Little Next Door and ended with a healthy, clean dinner at Cafe Gratitude. We are all vegetable-lovers so I figured a vegan dinner wouldn't be too much of a shock for them. 

After getting at mani-pedi at Marie Nails (which, by the way, I do recommend!), we drove down Beverly Boulevard to Cafe Gratitude. It is located outside of the busy Hollywood area in what appears to be a more residential area. We thought our GPS has brought us to the wrong destination, but it wasn't wrong! Cafe Gratitude is part of a tiny plaza that even has free (but limited) underground parking! Free parking in Los Angeles is nearly unheard of... Just watch for the bright blue A-fold sign that points to the garage entrance. 

My mom still needed a bit of coaxing before actually agreeing to eat at the restaurant. We walked into the cafe (not restaurant) side and asked to see the menu. The prices were decent and it was getting late so we asked for a table. There was a covered patio seating area that would've been a lovely place to eat; evening temperatures in Los Angeles are extremely enjoyable. Unfortunately, eating outdoors would have to wait for another time. Seating is a bit dim, especially as the sun begins to set. 

We were served water in unique glass bottles that matched the hippie-style of the whole restaurant. Now, descriptions of the dishes on vegan menus doesn't really do much more than listing all the vegetables used. Photos are much more effective in showing how the ingredients were transformed into a work of art, so I suggest taking some time to look at the photos on Yelp and Urbanspoon before visiting to get a sense of what interests you. I also asked our waitress for recommendations and what the most popular dishes are. She was very patient and kind to us newbie vegan diners while waiting for us to make decisions or taking our order. Oh, I've heard you're supposed to order by saying "I am..." then the dish name, cute huh? 

After writing down our orders, the waitress or waiter will ask you the question of the day, which is written on a chalk board by the cashier. Our question was 'What are you proud of?' and served as an opening topic for our table to chat away some of the wait time for our food. It is a clever way for the restaurant to keep the atmosphere lively and the guests less focused on how long it takes for food to be made.

I am Warm Hearted ($13)

My dad got one of the summer monthly specials, called I am Warm Hearted, with a base of polenta topped with a summer vegetable ratatouille and cashew creme fraiche. We weren't familiar with polenta and didn't know exactly what it was. Although this wasn't the best dinner my dad has ever had, he gladly finished his portion.

Mucho ($13)
My brother chose one of the watiresses recommendations, Mucho, which was a bowl of rice or quinoa (or both) mixed with a variety of Mexican flavours. It was such a hearty entree he barely finished it. It was a beautiful bowl of vibrant colours and fresh flavours from the pico de gallo. Plenty of creamy avocado and cilantro too!

Humble ($14)
My mom's ordered another popular dish at the restaurant, Humble. A bowl of Indian flavours from the curried lentils, mint chutney, and tamarind sauce atop a bed of brown rice (or choice of quinoa). It was one of the hot entrees as she thought eating raw food was too unconventional for dinnertime. She said it was a very good vegetarian dish and enjoyed eating it. The nugget potatoes were perfectly roasted; it also led us to think if the 'curry sauce' was thickened with pureed potatoes, which is the method we use at home. This was another very filling dish. See? Not all vegan food is miniscule and raw lettuce.

Terrific ($13)
Before even arriving at Cafe Gratitude, I knew I wanted to get Terrific, kelp noodles. Mine was the only raw entree and I was completely fine with that. When my dish arrived at the table, I was a bit disappointed to see the small serving size. It looked more like a spinach salad than it did a plate of noodles. However, I was proven wrong and this was actually very filling; the noodles are hiding underneath! The sauce for the kelp noodles was a basil hempseed pesto and cashew ricotta cheese. While I loved the springiness of the noodles and the plentiful raw spinach, this dish was too salty and sour. The olives contributed to part of the saltiness but the sauce was very salty as well. I think a peanut-y sauce would've worked better with the dish.

Cherished ($8.50)
Dinner wouldn't be complete without dessert! I was especially excited to see what vegan desserts Cafe Gratitude offered. Cherished is their cashew cream cheesecake and one of the best sellers. Blueberries are currently in season (funny, since they're grown in BC) so blueberry cheesecake was the flavour of the day. While the texture of the cake was very smooth, it was missing something, a major something. It lacked richness, which I would've assumed the cashews would have delivered, but I think I have put my finger on what it was missing: coconut oil. The feeling of satisfaction comes from fat, and in a regular cheesecake, the cream cheese does that job. The crust wasn't very good either. It had a strange bitter taste and lacked any distinct flavour. I think a crust made with lots of dates and nuts would have served this dessert better. This vegan cheesecake was a disappointment, didn't match up to the photos I saw from other people's reviews. I think Peanut Crumpet could easily create a better one. My dad said eating this cake was like "eating an eraser". It wasn't exactly rubbery, but something about this cheesecake reminded us of an eraser. That cracked us all up for a few minutes. I wouldn't recommend this cheesecake.

Praising ($3.50)
Surprisingly, even after deciding we'd share a slice of cheesecake, my mom said she was craving ice cream. She chose to order Praising as well, which is a cashew and coconut milk ice cream. I expected two scoops of two different flavours, cashew milk and coconut milk, but it is one flavour, the two milks combined. At first bite, it was a bit gritty and icy, not as creamy as ice cream should be. So we were a bit let down. However, after eating a few more bites, it seemed to taste better. Perhaps we were beginning to pay attention to the flavours and compared it to the cheesecake. The scoops were quite generous and we ended up pushing the last bites back and forth between my family. Between the two desserts, Praising was more preferred. 

There was a long table containing a large group of adults that came to celebrate a birthday at Cafe Gratitude. The restaurant has a routine when a birthday is celebrated; a special happy birthday song is blared very loudly over the speakers and all the waiters and waitresses come out to sing and present a birthday dessert. The sudden loud music was frightening and made everyone jump out of their seats. The table of two fashionably-dressed women sitting next to us even muttered "What the-" due to the sudden change in music. It was all rather amusing really.

Throughout the meal, my parents continued to poke fun at the fact we were eating vegan food. "It looks like we're eating out of dog bowls" or the eraser comment were just a few remarks I remember. Nevertheless, my family had a fun time trying something completely new and out of their comfort zone. Mom said it was tastier than she had expected it to be. I, however, really enjoyed the overall experience. My kelp noodles were good, not the best, but I'm sure there are other menu items that better exemplify the art of vegan food. Cafe Gratitude is a very hippie-esque restaurant, but I didn't feel intimidated at all. The range of customers is very broad, everyone from families with young children, businessmen, or young adults came to enjoy a veggie-ful dinner. For locals needing a mix-up in their restaurant routine or tourists looking for an adventure for the taste buds, Cafe Gratitude is the place to go! We desperately need more vegan restaurants where I live, to dine at when I'm craving healthy feel-good food. Until then, I'll ask Peanut Crumpet to be my vegan chef ;)

Reviews on Yelp
Cafe Gratitude on Urbanspoon 

Love from Coconut Crumpet's Corner ♡

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