A Culinary Jewel in Los Angeles

Out with the old and in with the new. When Executive Chef Jasmine Shimoda left downtown Los Angeles’ vegan oasis, The Springs, she and Gjelina alum Sharkey McGee dreamed of opening an affordable, plant-based casual dining spot in or near Sliver Lake. Their friend Coly Den Haan opened Hot Hot Food last year, and then Haan opened a new wine shop and social gathering place, Vinovore. Curating an inventory of dynamic wines made by female winemakers, Haan introduces her wines to the community through Wednesday wine tasting evenings. Since Haan was focusing on her wine shop, she asked her high school chum Chef Shimoda, if she wanted to partner with her in Hot Hot Food. Together with McGee, they revamped Hot Hot Food into a new concept, Jewel.IMG_8761

Jewel’s exterior features an appealing floral mural by Chef Shimoda’s brother, Danny Shimoda, and macramé hanging plants near the entrance.

Inside it’s vibrant, inviting, and hip, with a relaxed sophistication with blonde wood tables, cool blues and pastel colors offering a pop of creativity. The jukebox is still near the entry, and a pastry cabinet is filled with appealing vegan donuts and pastries. IMG_8723

Chef Shimoda isn’t hyper-focused in serving only vegan-forward dishes, she is happy to add an egg or two to any dish upon a customer’s request. While sitting down with a group of friends, Shimoda approached our table to talk about her philosophy for the restaurant. “Our goal is to separate Jewel from other health food restaurants, getting rid of the dogma and polarizing stances. We won’t ask you to make any affirmations or say ‘namaste,’ but we will serve you seasonal, local, and sustainable plant-based food without sacrificing flavor,” she said.

Shimoda has worked with legendary chefs such as Masaharu Morimoto, David Waltuck, April Bloomfield and George Mendes. Her partner McGee has also enjoyed a dynamic hospitality career, while managing for Jean-Georges Culinary Concepts in Atlanta and New York, and Pastis in New York City before joining Gjelina in Venice. IMG_8742

Both are deeply drawn to their food philosophy, restaurant ethics, and high standards. Shimoda enjoys cooking that is more aligned to her beliefs and eating habits. “I believe that people have a right to know where the ingredients come from and how they are cared for,” Shimoda said. She seeks out farms that go beyond “organic,” seeking those that also abstain from pesticides, practice sustainability, and have pride and integrity in their product. “Jewel is my dream project, marrying my love of cooking and design with my passion for wellness and the community.” She never uses refined sugars or processed ingredients in any of of her dishes.

I started with a two ounce shot of Wellness made with ginger, lemon, cayenne and pepper. It massaged the back of my throat with a little heat and offered a pleasant lingering aftertaste. To cool my palate down, I also ordered a Glow cold-press juice bottled by Made With Love Wellness Co. This smooth green juice is a combination of pineapple, cucumber, apple, spinach, kale, moringa (resembles horseradish), and chlorophy11. Other beverages include UNITY Fair Trade organic and locally roasted drip coffee. They make hot chocolate, matcha latte, hot and cold teas. For the time being, Jewel is BYOB, and encourages guests to walk a few storefronts down to Vinovore to buy a bottle to enjoy with their meal. Jewel will not charge a corkage fee.IMG_8743

While looking over the menu, I noticed even though it is a plant-based restaurant, the menu is not exclusively vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free. Jewel offers something for everyone, starting with breakfast burritos and overnight oats made with almond “mylk” and chia seeds. They also make three different types of toast served on multigrain or sub gluten free seed bread. The L.G.B.T is visually spectacular toast offering a rainbow of colors made from lettuce, guacamole, tempeh bacon, and cut heirloom tomatoes. 

Another colorful toast has sliced avocado with cashew-herb spread topped with house pickles, and puffed quinoa togarashi. Togarashi is made from a spicy powdered mixture of dried red chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed. It’s delicious. 

Seeking a salad Shimoda makes Ah! Sunflower salad with a scoop of vegan “tuna” made from ground almond and sunflower seeds mixed with shallots, dill, dulse (sea lettuce flakes) and dijon mustard. 

Hearty sandwiches include the LAPhil that is a vegan take on a Philly cheese steak. It’s made with braised yuba sheets, shiitake, romaine, caramelized onion, pickled jalapeño, cashew fondú, all rolled into a whole wheat wrap. This was a table favorite. 

Burger fans may discover that they like The Impossible Burger better than a real beef burger. It’s topped with grilled red onion, heirloom tomato, romaine, and a slightly spicy, beet enhanced 1000 island-style dressing.IMG_8750

What makes the pizzas at Jewel visually attractive is the activated-charcoal crust. We ordered a gluten-free pizza named Black Diamond. It’s topped with heirloom tomato slices, and spinach-artichoke ‘cheese.’ Diners can also build their own pizza on the same black crust topped with marinara and a choice of three toppings that include cashew cheese, mushrooms, kale, spinach, red or caramelized onions, olives and jalapeños.

Another kaleidoscope of colors and flavors is the Jewel Box that starts with either brown rice or sweet potato. It’s then layered with avocado, black beans, garlicky greens, turmeric tofu, pickles, raw veggies, amaranth-pumpkin crunch, miso ginger sauce. 

They make a Pad Thai with chilled kelp noodles, zucchini noodles, carrots, cabbage, coconut-tamarind sauce, crispy shallots, cilantro and fresno chiles pickled with vinegar, coriander seeds, sugar, salt, and peppercorns.

As with many restaurants, there is a secret menu. If the ingredients are available, Chef Shimoda will make a ceviche with thin slices of lychee fruit, chopped red bell peppers, cucumbers, citrus, red onions. The lychee almost has the same mouthfeel as scallops. You can scoop up this goodness with yellow and blue corn tortilla chips sprinkled with paprika. 

Another secret dish is the heart of palm and chickpea ‘crab cake’ topped with a pleasing aioli. It’s so popular that they feature it as a wrap on the menu. 

Even though we were thoroughly satisfied, we enjoyed little bowls of Ebony + Ivory for a sweet treat. It’s a chia pudding made with cashew milk, date, cacao, vanilla, berries, and delightful buckwheat crisps for texture and crunch. This is also a great breakfast dish. IMG_8729

Both Shimoda and McGee wanted us to taste a few of their vegan donuts. They brought two plates to our table holding maple donuts topped with coconut “bacon”, red velvet donuts, strawberry donuts, matcha donuts and a clean tasting churro. Since they are made with plant based ingredients, enjoying these sweet treats didn’t leave an unpleasant film on the roof of my mouth. Once again, they were better than a traditional donut. IMG_8784

Looking for a new dining destination for healthy and sophisticated plates for breakfast and lunch? Jewel sparkles and shines in Los Angeles. Stop in at Vinovore for a bottle of wine to pair with this delicious cuisine. There is no corkage charge at Jewel.

The restaurant opens on Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to  4:30 p.m. On the weekends it opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m. $ 654 N. Hoover St. (323)522-6927.

This article was also published in the Beverly Press – Click here to read

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