Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Glad I ate at M.A.K.E. before it closed down, and veg* eating in Los Angeles

I just found out that the famous raw food vegan restaurant M.A.K.E. in Los Angeles closed down, so I am glad I ate there while I was in LA last December, since it was a unique chance to try Matthew Kenney's cuisine. In a way I am not surprised, he is supposed to be such a famous chef with a cutting-edge raw cuisine, several restaurants and a cooking academy, but the place was empty. To tell the truth most of Santa Monica Place mall was empty, we did all of our Santa Monica shopping in the street, not the mall, and I guess this is what everybody else does too, as there are plenty of good shops 'outside' (and I don't  particularly like malls). 

So the closing of this restaurant may only be because of the bad location, but to me it has also another meaning. But lets start from the beginning to give you an idea of what vegetarians and vegans travelers can find in LA.

It was the first time in the US for the kids, and they were really keen to try a 'diner', or similar, and we got to this burger place which offered three different vegetarian and vegan patties instead of meat for all its burgers. The idea is quite cute, you choose the burger combo you like but get the meat free bun instead, and there is also a 'brown' bun as an option. Of course it may take time to remove cheese from your chosen burger, or check about mayo, so Vegans need to spend more time talking to the friendly waiting staff, but the patties were ok (i.e. not fantastic but good enough). The nachos were nothing special and far too cheesy, thus incredibly filling.

Ok, done the burger/diner thing now I was ready for all the juices, healthy, raw, green stuff that I though everybody in LA was eating... but I was wrong! Most people seemed to walk around not with a fresh juice but with a big Starbucks cup... Maybe OK in NY where it was so cold that it was comforting, but here in LA? Even in Hollywood and Venice Beach processed food seemed to rule, and very meaty too! You really need to look around to find places that offer an interesting Veg* alternative. My top choice would then be Asian: most Asian eateries would have at least one or two vegetarian and vegan option, often brown rice, and if South-East Asian (not Indian) some fresh vegetables too. ShopHouse in Sants Monica was great for this, we all managed to have different Vegan dishes too, with lots of greens! (Pictures below). Or you can go to Whole Foods and stock up with juices and healthy food options there.

There is also Mexican food, and we wanted to have some while we were in LA. This is really when you think that being a Veg* tourist becomes a chore: you are in a city for less than a week, you want too see the main tourist attractions, you walk a lot and get hungry... and nearby there food choices seem to be all the same. I am sure that there are some truly excellent Mexican restaurants in the city, and some may even have some great veggie dishes, but for us it was always the same nachos and quesadillas. 

Disappointing (food-wise) was Disneyland: compared to Tokyo Disneyland the quality of food was poor! Of course you may say that one doesn't go to Disney to eat, but I disagree. Everywhere you go (and spend an entire day, plus lots of money) you should also be able to find good food! For vegetarians there was very little, it was too expensive, and the whole place seems very much built on sugar. 
I will be very happy if Disneyland pays me to get back there and design a Veggie (and a healthy) menu for them and, of course, my kids need to come too :-).

So this bring me back to the famous raw food vegan restaurant M.A.K.E.
The boys went to the NASA centre and the girls went shopping, and since Arantxa is also interested in food I though that we two should have at least one famous food experience in a proper vegan restaurant! Raw food is still quite unknown in New Zealand (a part from the Little Bird cafes in Auckland) and there is still too much processed and packaged food even for Vegans.
Not that I am on a raw food diet myself, but I do like to have a good percentage of raw, and I like to try new things. Well, the setting here was lovely, the prices high, but that was to be expected, and the food was good, with just a few reservations. 

Arantxa had the ramen with kelp noodles, chickpea miso, shitake, kimchi, nori and sprouts. It looked beautiful and was very filling, but even with all those ingredients listed it tasted a little bland... it lacked unami perhaps? Plus Ramen soup needs to be piping hot, this is mandatory in Japan, it was not the same having a lukewarm broth...

I had the flatbread pizza with smoked almond ricotta, black olives, tomato marinara sauce and basil. The flat bread was definitely the best raw bread I had tried so far, the almond ricotta was lovely, but the tomato marinara sauce was far too salty, which is a real pity as it spoiled the overall effect.

Raw cuisine is really suited to desserts: this raw pecan pie with maple ice cream was fantastic and definitely the best of the three dishes. This makes me think that, after all, my diet has raw food mostly in terms of salads/dips, juices/smoothies, and desserts! I am not one for raw noodles and raw pizza, good to try it of course, but I could not eat it everyday. Some food is meant to be raw and some ... well, it won't taste as nice, with desserts being the great exception. For restaurants like M.A.K.E. to survive you need a dedicated clientele, and maybe a few more decades of 'experiments' to perfect the art of raw.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

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