After reading the Actor’s Diet blog post on True Food in the new Santa Monica Place Mall, I had to try it, and the ideal time was with a vegetarian friend in town for his birthday. With the proliferation of all things healthy and holistic in Los Angeles, it is still rare to find places that serve food omnivores and vegans would eat in the same restaurant, even more rare are places which do a good job with both types of eaters and which have a decor which feels upscale enough to take a friend for a birthday celebration.

Whether you are a meat eater, a vegan, need gluten-free choices, or vegetarian choices,  there are choices on the menu for you. That is choices (plural) for everyone. Their menu is  noted with V, GF, and Veg so you can choose your items in accordance with your preferences.

I was impressed that they had a nice international selection of wines starting at only $6 a glass, and even their wine and beer list has notes on whether the glass or bottle you choose is bio dynamically farmed, certified organically farmed, or sustainably farmed. Their coffee and tea selections are of course organic, and if you take half and half in your coffee or tea, that is also organic.

Since it was Jersey’s Birthday, he started with the Shrimp Dumplings with shiitake mushrooms, ginger, broccoli for $12. Even though he had offered to share, he could not stop eating “just one more” until he finished the appetizer. I did not want to diminish his plate by tasting one, but I did try the broccoli and the sauce, which had a nice light and slightly sweet flavor.

Mika and I split an order of the Monterey Bay Grilled Sardines with salsa verde and grilled lemons $10. They were grilled to perfection and the salsa verde and grilled lemon slices added a nice freshness to the fatty fish. I asked the waitress if many people ordered the sardines and she surprisingly said, “Yes”. Perhaps Los Angelenos are beginning to broaden their fish preferences to more than the usual salmon found on every menu. For those of you not familiar with fresh sardines, be forewarned that there are many many tiny bones, so it will take some work to get bites of the tender flesh.

I had eaten a very hearty lunch, so my dinner was the Tuscan Kale salad with lemon, Parmesan and bread crumbs for $8. You can add grilled chicken or salmon to this, but since I had eaten the sardine, this was perfect on its own. The tangy lemon and the flavorful Parmesan made the kale a hearty and satisfying dish and I could easily eat this several times a week for lunch.

The Birthday boy chose the King Salmon with quinoa, local beets and preserved lemons for $24. He requested the salmon to be done rare and was afraid it would be overcooked, but he was happy to find they had cooked it to his preference. He was a bit taken aback by the “small” portion, but after he began eating his dish, he wasn’t able to finish it all. He had never tried quinoa and was happy to find that he liked it.

Mika ordered the Miso Glazed Black Cod with bok choy for $24 based on the waitress’ suggestion and she loved it so much she literally screamed “Oh my God” after taking a bite. She insisted we all taste it and it was delectable; perfectly seared, just to the point of doneness, with a marvelous miso glaze. If you only order one dish here at dinner, order this one.

Mika loves bananas, so she ordered the banana chocolate tart with a mesquite flour crust, and brazil nut $6. She didn’t like the hard crust, but loved the flavors. I like the tart, but I would describe it as more of a hard cookie than a crust because there was no way to eat this with a fork, you had to hold it and bite into it like a big cookie topped with chocolate and banana.

I ordered the Almond Olive Oil cake with blackberries and Greek yogurt $7 so everyone could have a taste. It was a nice rendition of an olive oil cake, very moist and light, and I would have said I would order this again, but then I tried Jersey’s choice.

For his birthday, Jersey got a free dessert of Strawberry Rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream $7 (he had to fill in a card with his email). I loved the tangy rhubarb and the sweet strawberry flavors so much I was taking spoonful after spoonful “just to taste”, this was by far my favorite dessert of the evening.

I don’t know what Jersey wished for when he made his birthday wish, maybe it was for another birthday dinner at True Food next year.

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