Sunday, October 7, 2012

Café Gratitude: I Am So There

The greatest drawback to living on the Westside is the traffic. The area near UCLA is prone to mini-Carmageddon snarls and visits from a campaigning presidential hopeful. The other day after work, there was an inexplicable amount of traffic that kept me trapped on the streets of Westwood Village for nearly an hour.

L.A. Traffic: Cute in miniature, not so cute when you're
in it.
It's amazing that Los Angelenos accept these conditions. I offer no solution, so I am part of the problem myself - I refuse to carpool or take a bus. In Southern California, one's car is a symbol of freedom, a cruel irony when one realizes how many hours and hours and hours are spent sitting in traffic.

Another sad irony of life in L.A. is that getting to an exercise session that is supposed to provide inner peace is usually fraught with stress and anxiety because of the aforementioned traffic. Because of the unexpected traffic jam, I didn't make my 6:30 yoga class. Although I knew I wasn't going to make it, I headed up to The Yoga Collective anyway on principle, hoping against hope that I would be able to slide into class a few discreet minutes late.

Green, green, it's green they say: Cucumber-honeydew
gazpacho with mint
By the time I reached the studio, it was almost 7 p.m. It would be incredibly rude to sneak into class at that point, so I decided to do something I am usually too on task to do when I do attend my class: have dinner at Café Gratitude next door.

Café Gratitude is known for its optimistically named dishes. They are titled with affirmations ranging from " I Am Happy," (a raw food wrap with live falafels,  hummus, and veggies) to "I Am Fabulous" (heirloom tomato, spinach and arugula lasagna layered with zucchini noodles, hempseed basil pesto, and cashew ricotta).

I was considering the 8:30 p.m. yoga class although it seemed too late to stay out on a work night. I wanted to eat light, and opted for "I Am Adventurous" (honeydew and cucumber gazpacho with mint) and "I Am Grateful," CG's grain bowl with shredded kale, quinoa or brown rice, and black beans topped with garlic-tahini sauce.

I thought that "Grateful" would be like a small side dish. I had envisioned tiny shreds of kale and dry, crumbly quinoa, but both of these ingredients were almost luxurious in quality and portion size. A generous amount of perfectly steamed kale, mildly seasoned black beans, and fluffy quinoa were complemented by a subtle yet flavorful garlic-tahini sauce, a perfect complement to the earthy dish.

Almost-instant karma: "I Am Grateful" makes
you realize that you should be.
The menu states that the dish is a community-supported offering, available for a minimum donation of $3 or for the suggested value of $7. I had also read on the Website that paying $14 for "Grateful" would feed someone in need as well. The servers at the counter said that the restaurant supported St. Joseph Center, a Venice-based nonprofit.

What used to be euphemistically called "health food" sure has come a long way. While vegan and organic cuisine is nearly mainstream, there is a certain je ne said quois to eating this way, especially for someone like me, who grew up predominantly on a hearty American meat and starch-based diet. I never thought I would be into this type of food, but I guess I am now.

Not my version of this photo, but we've all taken this one.
It's good that we all strive to be on the same page,
if only for a moment.
Don't get me wrong. I still think that bacon and chocolate deserve their own food groups. However, being able to actually enjoy more healthy options makes indulging in the occasional meatball sandwich that much more pleasurable. And typically, a cuisine like that of Café Gratitude is served with a dose of social consciousness and a vision of harmonious living for all. Whether one subscribes to all of that is up to the individual. But it isn't such a bad thing to think about when seeking nourishment in all its forms.

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