Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to eat vegan: Native Foods Cafe

Cooking vegan reminds me of Ginger Rogers' famous statement about doing everything backwards in high heels to get half the recognition as the man. In the same way,  I feel vegan food has to be 100% spot on to even have the opportunity to overcome the stigma of the "vegan" moniker.

I'm not a vegan.  I'm not even a vegetarian.  But I am an appreciator of deliciousness. So, the great thing about Native Foods Cafe opening in Culver City, California, is that west-side, meat-and-three types of which I am a sometimes-member won't miss the flavors and textures they are used to in their diets. In fact, our dining options just increased. (I never visited the restaurant that previously inhabited the space given new life by chef Tanya Petrovna.)

Onward. Off a large menu of bowls, salads, sandwiches and "handholds" or wraps, I ordered the Moroccan bowl. It is a warm, hearty mix of grilled fall vegetables, currants and "Native chicken", a signature mock-meat protein, on a bed of nutty, tender quinoa.  The cheerleader in this dish is a homemade spicy and earthy Moroccan sauce that is a companion to every flavor it touches.  The texture of the quinoa and bold statement of the sauce are the parts a grandma would write home about. Win.

On the bright, light end of the menu, the Ensalada Azteca is a bright, fresh combination of lettuce, mango, jicama, also on a bed of quinoa. Again, the magic is in the team captain effect of the mango-lime dressing; Chef knows how to marry sauces with flavors. We pummeled our dishes and went in for dessert.

Which was... a rose-cardamom cupcake, vegan, of course.  The cupcake is topped high with an airy frosting and sprinkled with dried rose petals.  I found the delicate flavors a little overwhelmed by the amount of sugar in the frosting, but that aside, everything we ate had this je ne sais quoi about it, via reinventing a cupcake or challenging the limitations that had previously been placed on salad. 

The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook, by Tanya Petrovna.
I came home with the instruction manual.  From vegan hollandaise to Hungarian goulash, the namesake cookbook is filled with creative and simple recipes that consider the traditional applications of fruits and vegetables and then turns each one on its head and into something intriguing. Think about it, who can elevate cabbage to interesting? That's a small crowd.

This is not chef Tanya's first restaurant, it's her seventh. So, from a non-vegan, Native Foods, welcome to Culver City and thank you for making inspiring food for all of us.

Native Foods Cafe
9343 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232

Wheelchair users: Native Foods Cafe is on the ground level, with a wide ramp inside and spacious dining, with accessible bathrooms. There are metered parking spots all along the storefront street which may be your best bet if you're traveling with a driver. Alternately, the Trader Joe's parking lot at 9290 Culver Boulevard is fully accessible by elevator and there are curb ramps down the entire block and across the street down to Native Foods Cafe.


  1. I know I could use a detox after the holidays.

  2. Nice segue from holiday sweets land back into the routine of the living. Agree on your assessment of vegan food and needing to be top notch. Still think there are many ill informed people who presume what it is...Happy New Year! Working on my recipe...

  3. Gosh, Native Foods is one of the things I miss about living in So Cal! I made it a point to go the last time I was in town (and got the very same cupcake). Gosh...I love me some Native Foods. Thanks for bringing back good memories!

  4. I visited Native Foods in Westwood for the first time and really loved it! I only wish they had more items on their menu that didn't include soy...

    Happy New Year! Hope 2011 is off to a great start for you.


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