WARNING…this article contains nothing fried or frosted.
If the last post’s content of so-deliciously-messy-I-must-gobble-them-immediately-in-a-most-unladylike-fashion tacos, milkshakes so molten-candy thick you can feel them filling your veins with sweetness, and crisply dunkable sweet potato fries has left you craving something fresher and greener, relax. Take a deep yogic style breath, salute the sun and give thanks for the literary menu here today which responds only to words like ‘clean’, ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ and which will leave you feeling brighter-eyed, rosier cheeked & bushier tailed than the love child of Gwyneth Paltrow and Jillian Michaels.
Welcome to the very LA side of the LA dining scene…
Let’s get a few things cleared up before we go any further; yes, the name of the place in the photo above is Cafe Gratitude. No, there may not be anything on the menu that you recognise. And yes, it is wonderful.
The thing about loving ‘food’ as opposed to loving, say, ‘Italian’ or ‘Japanese’ or ‘Atkins’ or ‘macribiotic’ is that you generally love all food. You don’t limit yourself to one way of eating or cooking. The downside of this is that you will literally never be able to tackle all of the new & interesting places that open up because hey, you want to eat at all of them. However, the bonus of being an all-round-equal-opportunities glutton is that the world of food for you is as vast as the universe in which this tiny, baking obsessed, Jamie Oliver loving, Instagramming-everything-you-eat planet sits. It means that I can dive headfirst into sweetly, sticky pulled pork one day, and a kale salad the next. Steamed edamame beans and salted caramel brownies hold equal pull and I can’t choose between pink bubbles or a glass of cold frothy milk as my all-time favourite beverage of choice.
So let’s take a look at 3 of the best places to eat in LA when you feel the urge to cleanse yourself from the inside out without the need for anything more intrusive than being asked if you’d like your dressing on the side or mixed in…
So back to the first place on my list whose name alone will have either inspired you to read quicker or resulted in a derisive eye roll…Cafe Gratitude started 11 years ago and was born out of a board game created by founders Matthew and Terces Engelhart. Their desire to inspire people to see how much they really had to be grateful for manifested itself in the game being played on the table tops of their first cafe in San Francisco and the combination of positive affirmations, deliciously fresh food and a welcoming environment in which to enjoy both meant that one location was soon not enough.
There are now 5 locations across LA, each one practising real life versions of the game between customers and colleagues…if you’re asked by your server what is blessed about your life, you could do worse than actually take a second to consider that because honestly, how often do you do that? Aren’t you more likely to think about all the things that you don’t like or can’t have? And really, are you entirely surprised that your dining experience would start this way in a place with this name…?
So if you want to be Radiant, Fresh or Fabulous this is the place for you. That just means you’ll have enjoyed a seasonal mimosa alongside grilled asparagus and raw lasagne, as every dish has its own cheery, optimistic title. Tempted? You will be.
Seated on the outdoor patio of the Larchmont Boulvard branch, the lovely D and I were warmly welcomed by a willowy waitress who exuded calm and contentment. Although the number of comparable restaurants in London is growing, the variety is still nothing compared to LA, a place where healthy living is as much a way of life as breathing or attennding pre-dawn, sand-dune located pilates classes so the choice on offer here overwhelmed & excited me beyond belief.
The Incredible smoothie was ordered and nearly downed in one, its creamy, milkshake-esque texture concealing the fact that it was packed full of goodness in the form of kale, coconut milk, hemp seed, almond butter, maca powder and banana. Accompanying this was a Gracious salad, picked because I didn’t know what half the ingredients were but I was pretty sure I’d be unlikely to stumble across cashew mozzarella, basil hempseed pesto or brazil nut parmesan even in the leafy north suburbs of London. A side of coconut bacon chips sprinkled over the top added a sweet-seguing-into-salty dimension to a bowlful of food I could have eaten again the moment it was finished. There was so much flavour and texture packed into every greedy forkful; forgive me an LA moment here but I could practically hear my body whispering ‘thank-you’ as each mouthful was enjoyed.
There was nothing I didn’t love about Cafe Gratitude and it’s whole positive ideology. Call me naive for thinking some people are this hopeful, encouraging and thankful all the time and maybe they’re not because heaven knows we all have edges & limits and modern life can often push you towards both…but they try and to me, that counts for more in the end.
Next up with a slightly less peace-and-love sounding name is the straightforward and unpretentious Tender Greens. Billing itself as slow food done fast, the chain prides itself on a ‘farm to fork dna’ philosophy, building strong working connections with local farms & suppliers and encouraging young people to learn about and build relationships with food that are both fulfilling and motivating.
Their belief that there should be a connection between the diner and the food that they’re dining on does not mean that you have to ask permission & forgiveness of each ingredient before sending it to that great vegetable garden in the sky; it means you should know where it was sourced from, how it was cultivated, grown and matured and why it’s important to support local & emerging growers and chefs. Makes sense to me – ever struggled to read the ingredients in a bottle of mayonnaise or a jar of sauce and yet fed it to yourself anyway? No such issues like that here.
Every ingredient on the simple but generous menu is recognisable. You may not have tried them all and some might sound rather unusual but none of them start with an ‘E’ number or end in some form of ‘illin’ which is a good start as far as I’m concerned. Everything was laid out in the large, clean, open plan kitchen inside of which, staff worked together in a well-synchronised symphony of order and dedication (all TG executive chefs have worked in first-class restaurants) and the decor was fresh, modern and indicative of the regional community thanks to local artwork adorning the walls.
First pick from the menu was a Salami & Kale Salad which came mixed with roasted fennel, plump golden raisins, crispy garbanzo beans, parmesan and a roasted garlic vinaigrette. Generous discs of artisan P Balistreri salami nestled among the crispy greens and garlic, parmesan and fennel added hits of flavour to each leaf; a definite tang to the salad made a nice change from the array of overly sweet dishes we’d recently gorged on.
Alongside this and battling for supremacy of our cutlery was a Chinese Chicken Salad comprising of Asian greens tatsoi & mizuna, golden pea sprouts, crunchy carrot & wontons, roasted peanuts, cilantro, green onion and a very more-ish sesame dressing topped off with shredded chicken. The combination of soft and crunchy, sweet, sour and spicy here was brilliant and made each bite literally mouth-watering.
Super friendly service and exceptional value for money (both plates plus drinks gave change from $25) meant that every aspect of this visit was a pleasure and the place itself was refreshing in it’s forthrightness around food that’s both good for you and the communities it originate from. No apology was made for the way they think the relationship between eater and what is eaten should be and honestly, none was needed.
The final stop on our impressive tour of places to feed your stomach and your soul is somewhere that served such amazing avocado smoothies alongside such delicious food, it was the only place we visited twice in our stay. Caffe Primo on Sunset Boulvard is situated next door to one of LA’s most well known gyms so if star-stalking sits alongside good eating on your list of California must-do’s, you can happily tick off both here.
Founded by Tony Riviera and Charlton E Lui, the pair have combined over 4 decades of senior management experience with a fervor for creating companies from the ground up; proclaiming itself as leading ‘the next generation of cafes’, if that means that you can find guilt-free food alongside creamy pillows of gelato and a relaxed ambience in which to sit back and soak up both the sun and the food, then hell yes, Primo leads the way.
J had been here on a previous trip to LA but this was my first time so anticipation and expectations were higher than the palm trees lining the surrounding boulevards. The decor inside was opulent without being pretentious and modern without being stark; leather sofas & appreciatively muted big screen tvs were placed alongside clean blonde tables and glass cases under which sat platters, bowls & vats of treats. Outside, a generous and stylish patio allowed business meetings, leisurely brunches and post workout fixes to take place without ever feeling so squashed up against your neighbours that you that you might as well be eating from their plate and sharing their skinny lattes.
There can be no-one who reads this blog and is unsure of my feelings towards the humble avocado so you can only imagine my feelings upon finding an avocado smoothie listed on the menu; the only surprise would be to hear that I didn’t scoot off into the kitchens for an impromptu lesson on how to create them. Almond milk, peach, banana and protein powder combined with the avocado and made for a gorgeously virtuous smoothie, as decadent in texture as it was fresh in flavour. At only $7 for a generous bowlful of granola topped with yoghurt and piled high with seasonal, local berries, value is another key selling point of Primo; it may look like a classy million bucks, but it won’t cost you a fraction of that to enjoy.
The real winner here though had to be the Crab Eggs Benedict – I didn’t know there could be another way to eat this dish that I would love so much and yet here, sneaking bites from J’s plate, I found it. Perfectly toasted muffins topped with fresh crabmeat, poached eggs & a buttery soft Hollandaise is oh so very much the best way to start the day and they absolutely have this dish nailed; richness topped with a light salty ocean kiss on a plate. The pickier part of my reading population might question the health aspect of any form of Eggs Benedict and no, I appreciate it’s not really in the same league as some of the other dishes we’ve looked at but it was fresh, local and served with a helping of fruit that on it’s own would have been a considerable serving so I think I may just have to politely ask you to back off the Benedict here…said with love and light of course.
People who don’t know LA as a food destination really should do themselves a favour and get on board with this idea immediately. As it’s the land where the only thing sought after as much as eternal youth is a decent parking space, you’re never going to struggle to find a place to eat green here. As it’s part of that supersized bear of a nation that we call America, you’ll never find yourself unable to dine on burgers and wings the size of your own limbs. But a place where you can do both? That’s definitely a destination for your culinary wish-list so go ahead and embrace your inner yogi, step out of your comfort zone, ask for something you’ve never heard of and treat your body for a day or two like the temple Los Angelenos believe it to be.