To be honest, I'm always in awe of those 9-to-5'ers who seem to consistently make time for that elusive post-work food and entertainment. I'll find myself stuck in traffic and staring at passing restaurant patios filled with people in suits grabbing a drink and just hanging out with their friends and coworkers. Who are you? Where do you work? Where do you come from? What is it like being you? Though it's all too easy to blame my erratic schedule, my lack of coworkers, and inconsistent work space (but I'm figuring it out thanks to Ignited Spaces!), let's be real: I usually just rush to get home so I can put on sweats, watch Netflix, and drink wine. Which is really a shame, because there are so many great happy hour offerings and post-work events all over the city. One of my current favorites weekday eve rituals is live music and light bites at the new(ish) Café Gratitude in the Arts District. My visit to this location was actually my first Café Gratitude experience ever, and even though I was a bit skeptical (ordering by saying "I Am Brilliant" takes some time getting used to), I was blown away by how much I enjoyed it.
The restaurant itself is exactly how I expected it to look; light, airy, and modern with plenty of white marble counter/table tops, rustic bohemian accents like succulents and woven planters, but still with a natural feel to match their organic, plant-based menu. In case you're unfamiliar with the CG empire (the same that brought you Gracias Madre), they launched their first space in LA in 2011/2012 and now have locations in Venice and on Larchmont. Striving to support local farmers, environmentally friendly products, and sustainable practices, Café Gratitude has actually succeeded in the difficult task of making plant based food that is, admittedly, really tasty. And every Tuesday night from 7-10pm, the Arts District location is featuring music by local musicians and groups, including the gypsy/blues ensemble Vignes Rooftop Revival. Their folksy tunes were fun and upbeat to keep my awake and alert after a long day, but still laid back to provide some necessary chill vibes when I just want to relax. Along with the free music, beer and wine is 50% off!
Since wine and beer are 50% off, I had to start with a nice Rosé (which I learned recently is actually one of the most versatile varietals), which boasted a little bit of fruitiness and the right amount of acidity that paired really nicely with the lighter bites.
We started off the meal with a Coconut "Ceviche," that utilizes chunks of coconut instead of raw fish. Aside from the lack of fishy flavor, this did really remind me of ceviche-- the chunks of coconut were a bit more firm than your average raw whitefish, but still had a nice, mild flavor that was enhanced by the lime and provided a good vessel for the roasted tomatillo sauce. The chipotle coconut "bacon" was impressively smoky and added a lovely crunchy element to the dish. Of course, avocado added a necessary creamy element. Definitely a perfect way to start off the meal, it was the epitome of light and fresh.
As brussels sprouts are a staple on pretty much every menu in town, it's easy to get a little tired of them right now. But their maple miso take was actually quite nice. They weren't as crunchy as the popular fried variety, but instead really tender which was a nice change of pace. And where most restaurants usually inject flavor into the veggies by drowning them in a sticky, overly sweet, syrup-like sauce, these were lightly glazed in maple miso, which provided just the right amount of sweet, savory, and salt. It was a surprisingly bright and simple approach that really worked.
After dining at Gracias Madre, I guess I just really crave Mexican flavors on the few occasions when I'm eating plant-based, so I was really excited to try these enchiladas. Filled with pinto beans, grilled mushroom, and butternut squash, they were sweet, savory, and crunchy on the outside with a tender filling. Between the mushroom and butternut squash, I really didn't miss any meat filling, especially as the spice and creaminess of the sauces rounded out the dish for a satisfying finish. Another really tasty plant-based take on a classic.
For our last savory dish, we got the Pad Thai Kelp Noodles. The shredded kale was actually fairly tender, and the kelp noodles were thin, but still retained a nice texture. It was a great substitute for a typical noodle dish, without feeling overly sauced, heavy, or salty. I really enjoyed all of the veggies and the crunchy teriyaki almonds, as well.
Finally, we had to end the meal with something sweet, and I love a good tiramisu. Though this was the one dish where I could really sense the difference between a traditional version and the plant-based version, it was still a nice dish. I really enjoyed the addition of the coconut cashew cream, and it still retained classic flavors of the espresso and raw cacao.
Overall, stopping by Café Gratitude in the Arts District for some Tuesday night music, drinks, and bites was a nice break from my usual weeknight routine. Listening to some live tunes with a glass of rosé is a lovely way to relax and reflect on the day, while the restaurant's plant-based food provided a much lighter and healthier (but still just as tasty!) alternative to my usual meals that actually made me feel good about my day's caloric intake.