Turning the tables
RFD’s Vegan dishes persuade reluctant carnivores
By Dan O'Heron 08/09/2012
Joined by a lady friend and a group of confirmed carnivores entering a new vegan restaurant, we were contemplating the menu and tasteless remarks.
Before long, between giggle and ugh, streamed comments like “heads bent over their salad, like sheep bent over their pasture,” and “we’re likely to be served waiters in lab coats.”
But after dining on salads like the “Farm Chop,” which sprouts seasonal vegetables and greens, plus avocado, all dressed in lime cilantro, and the “Caesar” — pebbled with capers and crunched by romaine hearts and wheat-free, blue corn croutons — our bibulous behavior turned biblical.
Like in a Garden of Eden, the plant life at the Real Food Daily organic vegan restaurant was so enriching that, like Adam and Eve, my lady friend and I didn’t want to leave. But after splitting a lunch bill for $21, plus $3.95 each for acai berry iced tea, we’d wait for other
I’m still skeptical about the extravagant claims made elsewhere regarding the anti-aging properties of the acai (pronounced ah-SAH-ee) berry. In a May 2011 issue of New Yorker magazine, staff writer John Colapinto reminded us that Oprah Winfrey sued to have her name removed from the marketing of the fruit, and the Federal Trade Commission shut down the operation of a major Internet supplier.
But even though the pitches for acai might contain snake oil, I love the taste. As for anti-aging, licking the fudge icing off the Real Food’s “faux-stess” chocolate cupcake (a mock version of the Hostess variety) made me feel a lot younger.
Along with the “wonderberry” controversy, there’s the water. Here the water is softened, passed through charcoal filters and purified before adding a mix of minerals. It tastes much better than Pasadena hard water on tap, and I suppose it’s better for me. But as high as my DWP bill is, I don’t need to add $5.75 for one little bottle.
In subsequent visits, after tasting main courses like “Salisbury Seitan,” we agreed that RFD raises the standard of vegan cookery and that its “organic vegan” is “real cuisine.” Ingenuously devised from wheat gluten, seitan is protein-rich, chewy and meat-like. While it has an interesting wheat flavor of its own, it marvelously absorbs all the other flavors of the foods with which it is cooked.
Named after Dr. J. H. Salisbury, the 19th-century English physician who recommended eating beef for all ailments, I really enjoyed picking up this faux “Salisbury” prescription.
Another magical and most versatile meat substitute is tempeh. I am amazed as how chefs here can turn this fermented, cooked soybean paste into the tastiest faux bacon, burgers, corned beef, meatloaf and enchilada meat. In these dishes, the natural taste of soybean curd disappears into the background while bringing intense, natural meaty flavors to the fore.
From these churns, the main tempeh dishes run from $11.75 to $13.95. But if you’d like to get just a feel for tempeh before ordering main courses, the nori maki vegetable sushi at five pieces for $6.75 is a quality/value plate you won’t get in just any sushi bar. Each piece is centered with an accordion-folded collard green. This packages veggies and a firm, chewy tempeh morsel that invites plucking out for a taste test. The green is surrounded by sticky brown rice and banded with paper-thin dark nori seaweed. The plate is sided by slices of pickled ginger, a dab of wasabi and a mellow tamari soy sauce dip.
Other than tempeh dishes, most RFD salads, sandwiches and small plates go from $8.95 to $14.75. Yet, most guests probably feel good about putting their dollars toward Real Food’s environmentally friendly practices: The kitchen is free of animal products (flesh, dairy, eggs, butter, cholesterol and saturated fats), preservatives, pesticides, artificial sweeteners, food dyes, trans-fats, soy-isolates and genetically modified organisms.
In all, the plant primacy menu is inspired by global tastes and the use of fresh seasonal, locally grown and certified organic produce and products. The food, balanced according to Eastern health philosophy and heart-healthy Western nutritive persuasions, is inflected with Mediterranean, Mexican, Italian and Asian flavors. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m told that the Yin Yan crunchy cabbage salad is worth more than a mere fortune-cookie comment.
While most guests appear to be fit as a fiddle and ready to play anything with vigor, I spotted a few middleweights and heavies. One fellow, who looked like he’d never seen lettuce except on a cheeseburger, was munching on a big mound of something and appeared to be savoring every bite — there’s no guilt about pigging out at RFD.
With high health and moral standards, I was surprised to learn that RFD has applied for a beer and wine license. But I’m sure the bar will help getting enlistments to the cause.
Soon to open its fourth outlet in SoCal, RFD was started by TV personality Ann Gentry, who has authored the books “Vegan Family Meals,” “Real Food for Everyone” and “The Real Food Daily Cookbook.” She’s brought out many whimsical titles on her menu, such as “Not Chos,” and “Tac-o-the-Town” and, of course, “faux-stess” cupcake.
Thanks to RFD, “vegetate” no longer means to “stagnate.” Organic and vegan go together like peaches and — forgive me, vegans — cream.
Real Food Daily
899 E. Del Mar Blvd.,
Beer and wine soon