My pal Mary Wagstaff is a restaurant/hospitality/lifestyle uber-publicist in Los Angeles who I recently had drinks with. She was asking me what my favorite veggie spots were on the West Coast and I blurted out “as soon as the plane touches ground, I always have a craving for Real Food Daily.” For those of you who do not know what Real Food Daily is, it is a small chain of organic/vegan restaurants founded by chef Ann Gentry that features everything from fresh Caesar salads (sans dairy, eggs, anchovy) to my favorite, a soy-based Reuben sandwich complete with creamy Russian dressing and smoky tempeh and warm sauerkraut. Yum!
So Mary insisted I go check out this new place on Sunset Blvd called The Veggie Grill. I have to admit, I have driven by the place about a dozen times now with no interest in going in because A: it’s not my Real Food Daily and B: it sounded like a place where they take vegetables and grill them into kabobs. I may be a vegetarian, but I still like food that’s flavorful, indulgent and just outright yum.
Well, I’m glad she insisted and persisted: after a long Style Network taping and feeling famished, I stopped by The Veggie Grill to see what all the fuss was about. After all, Mary had said some kale salad was absolutely divine and I would adore it. I ask you this: If you are famished, does a KALE SALAD sound delicious to you? I really had a hankering for something more substantial, but I figure if Mary Wagstaff says try something (and this is someone who knows what she’s talking about), TRY IT.
Checking out the menu, I noticed this was a vegan restaurant without screaming hippie-love child-PETA-hugging vibe. Instead, it was super-clean, fresh, modern, streamlined and really nice. Since I’m already used to cooking with tempeh at home and I’ve devoured my share of it at Real Food Daily, I thought I’d give the kale salad (with smoked tempeh on top) and this “Chillin’ Chickin’” veggie protein a try. At the register, I asked with “chillin chickin” sandwich I should order and it was unanimous: the Santa Fe Crisphy Chickin’ ($8.95).
After I placed my order and put my order number on the table to wait for the waiter, I marveled at the decor of the place. Again, bright, modern, clean and fun. Bamboo floors (very eco, of course), soft lighting and a mixed crowd of people I would say ranges from hardcore vegetarians to fitness freaks (there’s a Crunch gym next door) to some people who I suspect didn’t even know the “chickin’” sandwich they were eating wasn’t actually from a dead animal.
The All Hail Kale salad ($7.95) is, well, divine. It’s slow-marinated kale (making it tender) with red cabbage, roasted corn salsa, agave-roasted walnuts with a ginger papaya vinaigrette. I devoured it. And now I’m craving even more of it.
The Sante Fe Crispy Chickin’ sandwich comes with lettuce, tomato, red onion, avocado and a southwestern spiced vegan mayo. I had a choice of sides: chili, steamin’ kale, spring salad mix or sweet heart fries. I opted for the chili.
Here’s a confession: when I was a vegan many years ago, I actually ended up gaining a ton of weight. Not a Biggest Loser contestant scale, but a good 10-15 pounds. The reason? On a vegan diet, it is VERY easy to go on all-carb diet: pasta, rice, potatoes, sugar, bread, etc. You replace meat, dairy, and eggs with anything that tastes delicious and voila! fat. So, even though this Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ sandwich was absolutely delicious, I would not say this meal falls into Alicia ’s Silverstone’s ”The Kind Diet” vegan plan. I ate the soy protein patty and left the mayo-soaked bread untouched. Had this been one of my “cheat days” where I can whatever I want, I definitely would’ve licked this plate. The chili, on the other hand, was bland, but it just proves my point on this whole veggie thing: some things should not be made into a vegetarian version ever. (I’m looking at you, soy BBQ ribs from Gardenburger.)
Overall, I say if you’re in the Los Angeles area and looking for a delicious vegetarian restaurant that’s fast, inexpensive and fun, give The Veggie Grill a try. You can’t go wrong.
8000 West Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90046