Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Saturday in Culver City

There is no Trader Joe's within walking distance of my apartment. None of my roommates or I have a car. I'm sure you can sense our deep, painful conundrum.

To remedy our problem, the four of us rented a ZipCar on Saturday and made a day of a grocery run. Why not, right? We left our apartment around noon, drove to downtown Culver City, parked, and then ate lunch at a restaurant N had found on Instagram.

Native Foods CafĂ© is located right across the street from parking structure that houses Trader Joe's, and it's an entirely vegan restaurant. Now, before you lose interest in this post, remember that I am the only vegetarian in our apartment. My omnivorous roommates suggested eating at Native Foods after perusing the online menu, which promised satisfying and delicious plant-based meals for a really reasonable price.

We all ordered at the inside counter, then filled up our cups and found a seat outside. It was the perfect 75˚ day, and we took full advantage of the weather.

I sampled the lavender lemonade, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. However, it was a little too strong for my liking, so I watered it down with some ice and water. It wasn't super lavender-y, but there was a nice little aftertaste.

J got the berry hibiscus iced tea, while D got the peach iced tea. Both noted that they weren't extremely flavored, but a nice refreshment nonetheless.

We all shared the butternut polenta bites. Native Foods describes the dish as "pesto baked polenta topped with roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions and toasted pumpkin seeds in balsamic over arugula." While was quite visually impressive, it was a bit boring. The polenta was a little dry, while the butternut squash mixture on top was too subtly flavored. I had half of one, and didn't really want to eat more of it.

I ordered the Sesame Kale Macro Bowl, which consisted of "grilled Native Tempeh atop steamed kale, brown rice, creamy ginger sesame sauce, and tangy sauerkraut. Garnished with gomasio, toasted sesame seeds and green onion and served with crunchy cucumber seaweed salad on the side." I really enjoyed it! It was extremely filling while still tasting fresh and clean. The kale was nicely softened, which was great. Also of note was their homemade tempeh. I loved the flavor and texture of it, since store-bought or mass-produced tempeh can often have a strange consistency.

I also ordered a side salad, which consisted of greens, shaved beets, carrots, and sprouts. The dressing was some sort of balsamic vinaigrette. It was surprisingly huge, and really a nice accompaniment to my kale bowl.

J shared some of my salad and ordered the Rockin' Moroccan Bowl for herself. Its description was "your choice of tofu or Native Chicken marinated in our homemade Moroccan sauce with grilled veggies and quinoa. Topped with currants and toasted almonds." J chose the tofu, and said that there was nice spice, certainly present but not too much. She liked the contrast with the sweetness from the raisins to the smokiness of the sauce. She would order it again!

N ordered one of the specials, the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. I was very curious to see if she liked it, considering there was a lot of seitan and cashew cheese. The verdict? She genuinely enjoyed it! However, she thought there was a bit too much food for a sandwich. She also thought that the seitan was not really used to its full potential either, since it was a little hidden behind the vegetables. The bread was apparently perfect, but she waxed poetical about the french fries! I tried one, and they really were awesome. N would order it again, but probably would try something else on the menu first.

D ate the Portobello Sausage Burger. A really hefty sandwich, it was "juicy grilled portobellos, our homemade Native Sausage Seitan, caramelized onions, salsa pomodoro, sweet roasted garlic, creamy pumpkin seed pesto and mayo." She immediately noticed the lovely pesto, and apparently with the right bite/forkful, she got a nice progression of flavor from the pesto to the mushroom. She found the top half of the bun with lettuce to be unnecessary, though. D also loved her fries!

We settled our bill, then walked across the street to Trader Joe's. Let me just say that we all bought groceries without thinking of how they would fit into our rather small fridge/freezer... after we paid, we came to our first obstacle: we squeezed ourselves and our individual carts into one elevator (astounding one random Amnesty International dude). Then, we somehow organized a total of ten (!) bags in the trunk of a small car.

Unwilling to return home just yet, we drove a little further down Culver Boulevard and found Ugo, a cute little restaurant, where we could enjoy a coffee.

As we walked through the restaurant to the outside tables, we noticed the huge gelato bar with dozens of flavors. D chose to order the Mixed Berry flavor, and it was really, really delicious. We all sampled it, and enjoyed the creaminess of the base with the texture and gentle tartness of the berries. She also ordered mint tea, as seen below!

J ordered mint tea as well. I thought the presentation was particularly nice, with the glass and the lemon. Apparently the tea itself was nice and refreshing too, so that's a bonus!

N enjoyed an iced caramel latte. Again, we all noted the cool glass and the swirling layers of the drink.

And I drank a coffee! After years of priding myself on drinking black coffee, I've started to add cream and sugar when I drink it hot... Judge me, it tastes delicious.

We also enjoyed mixed berries with brown sugar and orange juice. It was something I think I may emulate at home sometime soon. It was like a more sophisticated riff on a fruit salad, while still managing to be extremely simple and delicious. The orange juice really was great as well. It was a wonderfully light and delicious way to end our little trip to Culver City!

After we settled our bill, we piled back in the car and headed home. Then the next challenge began: fitting our food into the fridge...

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