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Cafe Gratitude is one of those places people will either love or hate. With locations in Santa Cruz, Venice and Larchmont, it is the epitome of 100% organic vegetarian California cafĂ©s, including a spiritual vibe and raw/vegan options. If you’re still reading this, then you either live in California or are OK with eating a meal without any meat or fish. Since I get my weekly rations of meat at Lindy & Grundy, I have no problem going vegan for a meal or two.

They offer beers and wines by the glass from $5-12, but I decided that since I was going meatless, I would also go without alcohol while I was here. It was fitting that I chose the drink called I Am Healthy for $5.25. Made with cold pressed vegetable and fruit juices, it was a refreshingly simple mixture of cucumber and pineapple juice. Every drink and dish is listed as an affirmation so when you order it you must say it. Yes, I know some of you are rolling your eyes now, but I think it’s a better idea than naming a three pound burger a Triple Bypass (however appropriate that name may be).

Staying with my clean meal theme, I had the I Am Pure salad for $13. It’s a ginger tahini marinated kale salad with avocado, sea palm, nori, cucumbers, carrots, cilantro, basil, green onions, sunflower sprouts, and sprinkled with teriyaki almonds. It was indeed pure and I loved the ginger tahini marinade which tenderized the kale without overwhelming it. The sunflower sprouts were a bit hard to eat because they were so long, but the varied textures of the ingredients and the savory dressing made this a delicious way to eat vegan.

I came on another day when my stomach was not happy after a heavy meal the night before, so I ordered the I Am Fiery, a digestive 1 oz shot for $3.50. Made with Noni, ginger turmeric, cayenne, and colonial minerals, it is spicy and it definitely cleared out my system. Do not order this if you can not handle heat; it is about as hot as diluted Tabasco in a shot!

The neighboring table had two I Am Awesome sandwiches and they looked so good, I ordered one too. It’s a herb cornmeal crusted eggplant Parmesan on grilled panini with marinara, cashew ricotta, sliced heirloom tomatoes, arugula, basil, and served with a side salad for $12. This is the perfect sandwich to order for someone who isn’t sure they like vegetables. The crunchy cornmeal crust with the creamy ricotta and fresh tomato marinara tasted just like a fresher version of the traditional eggplant Parmesan sandwich. There is an option of hemp seed pesto with this sandwich for an additional $2.25, but I felt the flavors were fine without any addition. The side salad dressed with a balsamic dressing was as tasty as the sandwich.

All their teas and coffees are also organic, and they offer desserts, but since I rarely have room for anything after my main meal, I did not partake of either. Other tables did order desserts, so I can only surmise that the mostly coconut based sweets are as good as their other offerings.

The sweet ending to my meal came from my server who asked if I wanted to hear the question of the day. When I said “Yes”, she asked “What would you like to be acknowledged for?” I could tell you my answer, but as the saying goes, I would have to kill you, and that would be very unVegan 🙂

Parking in this area of Venice can be tough, but the restaurant will validate for the parking lot on 5th Street.

Cafe Gratitude on Urbanspoon

I have never been to Austria, but I have met Austrians (no, they were not the Von Trapps) and I like them. So when I saw Bier Beisl, which translates to “Beer Pub”, even though I do not generally drink or like beer, I wanted to try Austrian food. If the food in Austria is anything like the food at Bier Beisl, then I like Austrian food.What is more Austrian than Bratwurst and sauerkrat? Maybe some mustard on the side? Ok, it’s all here and made in house. The sauerkraut had caraway seeds and a juniper berry in it and was divine. The bratwurst was tender, juicy and unlike any bratwurst you have ever eaten from any place else in Los Angeles. All this for only $10. The two sausages and sauerkraut was plenty for me, but if you want to try more, they offer a FIVE course sausage sampler with five beers that you can try for $45.

I tried their schnitzel sampler plate for $26 because I couldn’t decide if I wanted veal, pork or turkey. After tasting all three, I still could not pick a favorite. I loved the various accompaniments, from the mustard potato salad to the cucumber salad (hidden under the turkey on the right). The lingonberries were a refreshing counterpoint to the schnitzels and every meat was juicy without being greasy, so if you have never had schnitzel, try it here and you will never accept anything less than great schnitzel (the best I’ve ever eaten was in Zurich, but this was the best I’ve ever eaten in the US).

Service can be spotty when they are busy during peak times, but everyone is friendly and does their best to be helpful. The chef has a great rapport with regulars and German speaking guests, so if you are from Austria or the region and speak some German, this could be the place to find your comfort food and have a schnapps or a bier.

BierBeisl Authentic Austrian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sometimes an intention is all that is needed when you head towards a goal. My intention was to eat lunch at a nearby place which served local or organic ingredients in creative and tasty combinations. I’ve been meaning to try Gratitude Cafe and Superba Snack Bar for quite awhile, so I simply parked on Rose and walked around figuring I would choose a place to eat lunch once I got to the area. Superba was closed and Gratitude was just a block too far to walk to in the 90 degree heat.

Serendipitiously, I ended up at Cerveteca. They have a large enclosed patio, so you can enjoy sunny Southern California beach weather even when the beach (six blocks away) is overcast.

This marvelous place serves some of the best Latin inspired food I’ve ever eaten. They use free range chicken, wild caught salmon, and organic mixed greens for their salads, so quality is paramount. The fact that they use handmade tortillas speaks volumes about how much they care about their food. It’s the equivalent of using bakery bread rather than using cellophane wrapped supermarket bread when you are making a sandwich.

Since their Happy Hour lasts from 3-7pm, you can get here earlier for drinks and appetizers before your dinner, or make your dinner from the Happy Hour menu which offers smaller bites of the menu items.

Mama’s ceviche, made with lime cured fish, tomato, cilantro, radish, jicama, mango, and cucumber for $9 at Happy Hour ($16 regularly) is a fresh citrusly medley of ingredients. We added some of the pickled relish from the table to perk it up with some jalapeno, but for those who want no heat, it is good by itself. The accompanying chips are made from the handmade tortillas, so they can be addictive.

Since we couldn’t decide whether to get the barbacoa beef or pulled pork slider, so we got one of each for $6 at Happy Hour ($14 regular). The five spiced beef was the clear winner of the two with a marvelously subtly smokey spice (but not hot) flavor.

The Baja taco was the best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten. Period. For $4 at Happy Hour or $12 (for three) on the regular menu, the beer batter dipped and fried cod with slaw, crema, salsa, and aji sauce was the perfect combination of soft, crunchy, warm, creamy, and  spicy (if you add the sauce served on the side). If anyone you know does not like fish or tacos, I would bet that after a bite of this taco they would change their minds (and I’m not a gambler).

The special of the night was seared Diver scallops on a bed of Romesco sauce with grilled and raw asparagus. The scallops were perfectly seared and slightly under done, so it was almost sashimi. The Romesco sauce added a nice flavor with a counterpoint of creamy texture to the scallops and asparagus. If this is on special when you go and you like scallops, make sure you save room for this dish.

I chose the Herb and Garlic Basted Game Hen for $18, made with achiote, tomato, thyme, rosemary,  arroz ajillo, with a side (I chose the brussel sprouts with bacon), and tortilla. This game hen was one of the best versions I have ever eaten, with the skin and meat both infused with achiote and perfectly roasted. The brussel sprouts had incredible chunks of thick bacon, but it was a bit overwhelmed by the cider finish. The Arroz Ajillo was delightful, with just a hint of flavor that complimented the game hen perfectly.

Serendipity is defined as a “lucky coincidence”; I’m glad my luck was good enough to end up at Cerveteca.

Oscar's Cerveteca on Urbanspoon

Nanban-kan is literally steps away from the Nuart Theater so you may be wondering how I’ve managed to walk by this neighborhood favorite for so many years. My answer is simply that I usually watch movies in the afternoon so by the time Nanban-kan opens I am no longer in the vicinity.

 

I finally went one day because I was stuck on Santa Monica Boulevard at 6pm and my favorite butchers, Lindy & Grundy love it. I figured it was a sign to stop and eat when I was literally stopped at one traffic light for THREE changes and had moved ONE car length. It is not an exaggeration when the news reports that traffic is the worst aspect of life here in Los Angeles.

 

I am grateful there was so much traffic because I loved the food, service and ambiance at Nanban-kan so much that it is now on my “regular” list of places to eat, i.e., places I go when I am not trying new spots that I write about here on this blog:)

 

Like my nearby favorite Italian restaurant, Il Grano, this place is quiet, refined, and comfortable, with an owner who cares about every guest and the food on every table. The ratio of servers to diners is nearly 1:2 so my water was constantly refilled, my empty plates were instantly whisked away, and my next course was promptly fired as soon as I finished what was in front of me.

 

They serve both yakitori and sushi here, and since it was my first time, I concentrated on the yakitori. Most skewers were between $10-$20 and they had specials hand written on a blackboard. I asked my waitress what she recommended for a vegetable and she said the asparagus with bacon was a favorite. I could taste why when it arrived. A thin layer of bacon draped over the grilled asparagus made it a nicely luxurious and meaty bite.

 

One of the regular menu items was “five fishes”, and if you like fried smelt, you will love these lightly battered, crisp filets.

One of the blackboard specials was the sea bass and it was probably my favorite skewer of the evening with freshly chopped scallions and an almost sushi presentation of grated radish with ponzu.

I don’t know if it was my desire for iron or my love of pâtĂ©, but I had to order the chicken livers. They were nicely done but I would have like a bit more salt on them instead of the slightly sweet teriyaki glaze.

I finished with the special grilled quail. It was so simply and marvelously grilled that it needed nothing except my fingers to pick it up so I could clean off the delicate meat from the small bones. If you love quail or have never had it, this is a wonderful place to experience it.

They say that we only use about 10% of our brains, so if I extrapolate that to trying restaurants, I’ve only eaten in 10% of the restaurants in my neighborhood. Living in Los Angeles, the percentage for me is probably more like 1% since I not only walk, but drive. I would never have thought I would be thankful for terrible traffic, but it was due to horrible traffic that I stopped at Nanban-kan and added to that 1% with a fantastic find that I don’t have to test my patience to drive to in my neighborhood.

Nanban-Kan on Urbanspoon

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