Exploring the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, my husband and I wandered into True Food Kitchen for an early evening drink after witnessing a spectacular sunset.
The manager Serene Murray welcomed us and escorted us to the bar. She introduced us to bartender Renn Hershey and asked him to make us a few of their upcoming Valentine’s Day cocktails.
As we sat on stools at the long, solid wood bar, we watched Hershey pour, shake and garnish a variety of drinks. There is a produce bar behind the bar, for him to freshly juice citrus and ginger to dazzle each one.
(Mixologist Renn Hershey creates four special cocktails for Valentine’s Day – “Hot in the Dark,” “Bows and Eros,” “War of the Roses,” and “Love a Pear.”)
We started by sharing a spicy tequila-based cocktail called “Hot in the Dark.” Hershey told us that it is made with Greenbar Distillery tequila, one of his favorite spirit makers. Greenbar Distillery is a local, award winning husband-and-wife company founded by Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew. They began making spirits in 2004, working with organic farmers who grow aromatic produce to enhance the flavor of their vodka, gin, tequila, rum, bitters and liqueur. Greenbar distributes the world’s biggest portfolio of organic spirits in lightweight bottles with 100 percent recycled labels. They give back to earth by planting a tree for every bottle sold. To this day, they have planted over 500,000 trees.
Hershey used Greenbar’s IXÁ organic tequila for this cocktail. The tequila is handmade the traditional way from fully mature agave plants.
After a generous pour of tequila, he added lime juice and a little pomegranate juice for a float of pretty pink color. It was poured into a shallow, champagne coupe. This type of saucer shaped stemmed glass, was originally designed in the 1600s for sparkling wine and champagne in England. Filled to the rim, Hershey topped it with a sliced jalapeno pepper, giving the drink a little kick.
We ordered the kale guacamole and baked pita chips. The guacamole was chunky with slices of pink grapefruit, chopped cilantro and roasted poblano pepper. It’s crunchy with toasted sunflower seeds and healthier than traditional guacamole and tortilla chips.
The next cocktail was made with another Greenbar organic spirit – a dark Crusoe rum made with organic molasses, offering a dense caramel aroma. Named “Bow and Eros,” Hershey added fresh ginger juice and honey syrup, coconut cream and a squeeze of lime juice. It tasted similar to a mellow piña colada. Served in a highball glass filled to the top with ice cubes, the frothy yellow beverage was adorned with a pineapple crown leaf and spear of fresh pineapple chunks.
This drink goes well with one of the four pizzas on the menu. The simplest is a Margherita and the sweetest is the butternut squash with smoked onion, kale, vegan almond ricotta, and dried cranberry. The most savory pizza is the chicken sausage with tomato and roasted fennel.
The most festive looking drink is the “War of the Roses” made with Smirnoff vodka and rose petals. Hershey adds pomegranate juice and rose petal syrup and tops it with a Prosecco float, a slice of lime and a pinch of dried rose petals for decoration. Served in a tall champagne flute, this cocktail pairs well with one of the five bowls on the menu. My favorite is the spicy Panang curry bowl filled with organic potato, long bean, bok choy, carrot, Thai basil and a coconut shrimp broth.
We finished with a pleasing, smoky flavored pear and vanilla flavored bourbon drink titled, “Love a-Pear”. The cocktail offers the essence of cinnamon with a trace of lemon juice. It’s hearty and pairs nicely with one of the six entrées, especially the sustainable seabass with grains drizzled with an umami sauce and served with broccolini, sugar snap pea and roasted mushroom.
Hershey said the lasagna Bolognese with housemade chicken sausage would pair nicely with any of the four drinks or a glass or bottle Italian Cannonau Sella & Mosca “Riserva.”
For a sweet ending, the flourless chocolate cake adorned with caramel, vanilla ice cream and cocoa nibs promotes a look of love with each spoonful. The four amorously appealing cocktails we enjoyed are available starting Feb. 10 through Valentine’s Day for $11 each. The regular craft cocktail list is also available.
True Food Kitchen is open for lunch and dinner starting at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, Saturday and Sunday open for brunch 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Weekend dinner after 4 p.m. $$ 395 Santa Monica Place, Suite 172 (310)593-8300. For other locations, go to truefoodkitchen.com.
This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park La Brea News on Feb. 9, 2017 – Find True Love at True Food Kitchen
It’s always fun walking along the fashionable Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood. I park in the public parking lot next to the West Hollywood library, and enjoy walking towards Lisa Vanderpump’s Sur, Craig’s restaurant and over to the vegan favorite, Gracias Madre. In March, the stylish restaurant Au Fudge opened on Melrose.
Last month, I met a friend there for lunch. Stepping inside the lively pink, white and black decor space, a hostess dressed in similar colors ushered me past the light and bright outdoor dining patio. The centerpiece of this room is two white decorative trees providing columns to frame a wall with a large, shiny mirror.
I was led to another dining room in the middle of the restaurant with a handsome marble bar top with stools, natural woods, and chic furniture. Behind the bar are shelves displaying a variety of spirits and a wine list offering sparkling and rosé wines, whites from France, California and Italy and reds from Washington State, Argentina, California and Italy. They serve a handful of craft beers and cocktails named Mo Momma, Jessica Rabbit’s Rabbit and The Little Prince.
Looking around the restaurant, I noticed it was filled with young mothers and children. Au Fudge was designed to be a community social gathering space for families to enrich their lives with food, classes, and even au pair services at a nominal fee.
Celebrity Jessica Biel is part owner. Other partners include Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop founder Jonathan Rollo and his partner Joey Gonzalez of Barry’s Bootcamp, along with fashion stylist and interior designer Estee Stanley and children’s book author Kimberly Muller. Just after opening the cafe, Muller debuted her newest book – “The Story of Au Fudge,” with illustrations by Kristen Doyle and Melanie Vugich.
At Au Fudge, parents can feed their children, and then finish a conversation, sip a glass of wine and slowly enjoy dishes from the Cal-French influenced menu, while their children play and create art with others. Kids like finding the secret door bookcase with steps leading up to a treehouse for imaginative play.
The creative room is filled with high quality Stokke’s baby diaper bags, car seats, strollers and high chairs for their little ones. Pop-up shops reserve this room to showcase their newest line of products.
Looking over the pink and white menu, I noticed quite a few vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free items. We started with a plate of grilled crostini, naan and crudités that came with a trio of dips that included hummus, tapenade and muhammara (made with red pepper and walnuts). Next, we ordered the heirloom tomato and burrata plate with an eggplant caponata, hazelnuts and balsamic reduction.
Two mothers and their children at a nearby table were nibbling on corn lollipops dusted lightly with parmesan cheese, and dipping cheesy pretzel bites into yellow mustard. On the children’s menu, items include chicken tenders with whole grain mustard, ketchup or ranch dressing; mini all natural burgers; butter pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese; and pepperoni pizza.
Comfort plates include a grilled cheese sandwich cut into sticks to easily dip into warm tomato soup, panko crusted mac and cheese, a BLT and fried egg sandwich on a pretzel bun.
Heartier entrée items include a grilled steak with frites, a variety of burgers, seared fresh fish, grilled Mary’s chicken, and spaghetti with turkey meatballs.
The signature dessert is a fudge flight offering pieces of their milk chocolate, peanut butter and peppermint fudge. They also serve cobblers, s’mores dip, churros, tarts, and build your own ice cream sundaes.
Our server shared with us that throughout the month, they offer classes and special events that include a toddler French music class, parent and me cooking class, story time and donut decorating.
Along the back wall in neon lights are The House Rules – The first letter of each rule is highlighted perpendicularly to spell out Au Fudge – Always Believe, Unicorns are Real, Fudging Behave, U Must Take Turns, Don’t Whine, Give Hugs and Eat. Drink. Play.
Upon leaving, I visited the marketplace boutique filled with unique toys, colorful candy and lollipops, scarves, reusable bento boxes, baby items and a bakery case filled with an array of cookies, baked goods, rice crispy treats, gorgeous cakes, and of course trays of fudge. This is a good spot to pick up a sweet treat for your good girl or boy.
The restaurant and marketplace are open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It opens one hour earlier on the weekends for classes and brunch. $$ 9010 Melrose Ave. (424)204-9228.
This review was featured in The Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on October 27, 2016 –http://beverlypress.com/2016/10/au-fudge-eat-drink-play/
Studies show that eating plant-based food can reduce the risk of some types of chronic disease, including cancer and heart disease. For those who who don’t want to step foot in a 100% organic plant-based restaurant, you may want to think again. Vegan and vegetarian diets are higher in dietary fiber and vitamins and lower in calories and saturated fat.
Cafe Gratitiude welcomes guests with a unique I AM … menu. “Each dish is named after affirmations to inspire you to love yourself, accept the world, and be full of gratitude,” said our server. Instead of asking for lasagna, you say, I’ll have “Fabulous” and your server repeats back to you “you are fabulous,” as she writes down the order.
Servers also present guests with a Question of the Day, “What are you grateful for?” It’s a positive conversation starter for families and friends dining together and inspires people to put away the electronics and talk to one another.
Since Café Gratitude is committed to supporting organic farms and biodynamic wine and beer makers, you feel good ordering off the menu and pairing it with a beer or glass of wine.
For those feeling magical or craving a burger, the I AM….MAGICAL double cheeseburger is made with two housemade black bean patties, grilled gluten-free amaranth and millet bun, shredded romaine, tomato, pickles, red onion, spicy cashew thousand island, chipotle ketchup, topped with cashew macadamia cheddar.
Seeking a BLT type of sandwich? Order the I AM….EXTRAORDINARY sandwich made with coconut bacon, instead of the real animal bacon, and layered with lettuce, avocado and tomato.
For those who like Italian cuisine, the I AM….AWESOME eggplant parmesan panini is made with a herb-cornmeal crusted eggplant topped with marinara sauce, cashew ricotta, tomatoes, brazil nut parmesan, arugula, and basil on a grilled gluten-free amaranth and millet bun. Amaranth is a grain packed with iron and calcium, and its fiber content is triple that of wheat. It’s served with a side of mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette.
Vegans and vegetarians sometimes like to eat a meal in a bowl. The MUCHO Mexican bowl is filled with black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and nopales cactus plant. It’s topped with salsa verde, cashew nacho cheese, spicy pepitas, romaine, and sprouted probiotic brown rice.
Another bowl is the I AM….GRATEFUL community bowl. It’s layered with shredded kale, black beans, garlic tahini sauce, and a choice of sprouted probiotic brown rice or quinoa.
We learned that for every bowl sold, Cafe Gratitude donates $1 to KISS THE GROUND, an organization that son, Ryland Engelhart co-founded. He made five minute movie, The Soil Story, to explain why our health, the health of the soil, and the healthy of our planet are one of the same.
Finish with I AM LOVELY… – a baked gluten-free cobbler served with a scoop of housemade coconut cashew milk ice cream.
If you haven’t experienced vegan cuisine, Cafe Gratitude is one of the best spots to have your first plant-based meal. Not only is the food delicious, the positive staff makes sure you walk away feeling good about yourself. $$ Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. 639 N. Larchmont Blvd. (323)580-6383. There is also a downtown LA location 300 S. Santa Fe Avenue. (213) 929-5580. To find other locations, go to http://cafegratitude.com.