• m café: to go, or not to go?

    May 24th, 2008quarrygirlLA restaurants, m café

    at my job, i am that “weird vegan”. you know the one i mean. i don’t eat anything at company meetings because i’m skeptical that any of the catered food is vegetarian, let alone vegan (vegetables have been known to take baths in butter or chicken stock before making their way to your plate)! i don’t eat birthday cake on co-workers’ birthdays. when benevolent people leave a tray of homemade goodies in the conference room, i don’t indulge. i err on the side of eating nothing that’s given to me, trusting nobody, and finding solace in my grocery store noodle bowls when everyone else is chowing down on company paid for meals. since you have reached the bottom of a paragraph on this vegan blog, maybe you are that “weird vegan” as well, and you can identify.

    well, imagine my shock when my meat-eating co-workers insisted that i join them for lunch at a restaurant that was “right up my alley”. a restaurant i’d never tried. a restaurant that was almost entirely vegan. a restaurant that ended up being so good, i’m pretty damn pissed at hadn’t already discovered it myself. a restaurant called m café de chaya.

    m café is a macrobiotic restaurant, which means almost all its food is vegan. the only animal product they use is fish, which is marked clearly on the menu in some dishes—everything else is completely meat, egg, and dairy free….even the pastries!

    gado gado: organic mixed greens, napa cabbage, crisp vegetables, golden tempeh triangles marinated with ginger, lemongrass & lime, frizzled onions & spicy peanut dressing $11.45

    the food was so good in fact, that i emailed my husband from the restaurant and insisted that i bring home m café carry-out that very night. please note, i specified carry-out. the atmosphere in the restaurant left much to be desired (tons of pushy customers, tiny tables, long wait times). so i thought i’d see how the food held up on its own.

    and that all begs the question…m café: to go, or not to go?

    the m chopped: organic hearts of romaine & mixed greens, avocado, cucumber, chickpeas herb-baked tofu, scallions, ume-pickled radishes, carrots, beets, tamari-roasted almonds, crumbled tempeh “bacon” , tofu-peppercorn ranch. $11.45

    the big macro: whole grain brown rice and veggie burger, special sauce, lettuce, tofu cheese, pickles, onion & sprouts on a house-baked whole wheat bun. $11.45

    so what was the result? should you order food at mcafé to go and have to warm it up yourself and do your own dishes? or should you suffer the fools and claustrophobia, and eat your food at the restaurant?

    keep reading…

    let’s start with “not to go”, not because i want to go out of order, but because i want to go in the order in which i tried m café. my first experience was in their restaurant dining in.

    i arrived with my party at approx 1:15 pm and we valet parked for “free” (of course i ended up tipping a dollar). the restaurant was uncomfortably packed with la yuppies (the very worst kind) and it took us maybe 15 minutes to order. it was impossible to find a seat, and when we did, it was on the “patio” (a shaded area of a strip-mall parking lot that i’m supposed to feel honored to sit in) at an un-bussed table. we had to wait until the first order arrived before the waiter finally bussed the dirty, half-eaten plates of food from the under-sized table we sat at. in total it took about 20 minutes for all the dishes to arrive, leaving me precisely 25 minutes to eat, get my car, drive back to the office, park and be working away at my desk before my boss began lifting his eyebrow and questioning me in regards to my lengthy lunch hour.

    when my food finally did arrive, it was flawless. the portion was just the right size and of high quality—the salad was light, the dressing flavorful, and the tempeh was savory.

    (yep, that is an un-advertized bell pepper. luckily it was huge, not chopped into little pieces. therefore, it was very easy to pick out and disregard.)

    the “frizzled onions” atop the salad were also superb. i needed a bit of grease and fat to compliment the crisp, raw and uncannily healthy-tasting leaves of the gado gado.

    while the food was utterly incredible, i constantly cringed between every bite, realizing we were eating in a restaurant surrounded by so many assholes. i mean, come on, the only reason these people were here was because it was a trendy cool place to go, not because they gave a shit about vegan food. or even macrobiotic food for that matter. ugh.

    now, on to the “to go”. i ordered two meals for pick-up via phone at around 6pm, and when i arrived at the restaurant approx. 15 minutes later, my food was ready and waiting. oh, and i also found a parking spot right out front, so i didn’t have to pay the free valet or wait for him to fetch my car. i guess because it was a tad early for dinner, the restaurant was completely empty. no older women with fake tans and fake nails, pushing me out of their way as they rudely chatted on their cell phones. no hipsters clad in american apparel, laughing loudly and sharing inane stories of the past weekend at a silverlake hotspot. just a clean, semi-empty, welcoming restaurant with my food awaiting on the counter. was this really the same place i was sitting in just 6 hours prior?

    i grabbed our food and jetted home, about 30 minutes later i arrived…take-away carriers in hand. it wasn’t quite dinner time yet, so we decided to have a drink first, and unwrap our food a little later. i secretly prayed that my husband’s burger would re-heat just fine and be perfect, that he’d thank me so much for insisting demanding that we order carry-out.

    a side of organic fries: a heaping bowl, served with house-made “macro ketchup” $2.95

    the only thing we did eat immediately were the fries, and even after a 30 minute car journey, boy were they delicious! they were crispy, salty and fattening as hell, no doubt. we tossed the “organic ketchup” in the garbage. it was just too disgustingly sugary and fruit-flavored. i’m not a huge ketchup fan anyway, and this stuff totally crossed the line!

    about an hour later, we decided to warm up the food and give it a go. my husband removed all the produce from the burger, and put the patty, bread and faux cheese in the microwave for about 30 seconds. luckily, that did the trick, and the big macro was delicious.

    it comes in a little more expensive than most vegetarian burgers, but i guess you are paying for all those fancy-schmancy ingredients. it’s worth it if you ask me; the patty and tofu-cheese are both outstanding and completely unique.

    the burger came with a side deli salad, i discovered upon ordering. i didn’t have time to ask my husband what he wanted, so placed my bets on the kale with spinach dressing. everyone loves kale, right? thankfully, my husband did, and the salad was a huge hit. i even tried a bit lot and definitely plan to get my own portion in the future.

    my salad was also da bomb. it wasn’t overly huge, like many salads, and i could tell all the ingredients were top notch. everything in it tasted amazing, even after sitting around for an hour, waiting for me to finish my martini.

    the crumbled tempeh “bacon” was probably my favorite thing, and probably the most unhealthy thing on the salad.

    so, as i sat stuffed on my couch, looking at some empty take-out containers and dirty dishes, i asked myself: “m café: to go, or not to go”? and no matter how many times i went back and forth inside my head, i always concluded that for me, it’s definitely a “to go” restaurant. sure, i have to pick up the food, drive it home, re-heat it (depending on what i order), and then do my own dishes. but i get the same wonderful food, without having to deal with all the inconvenience of the wait and atmosphere.

    don’t get me wrong, i definitely will dine in at m café again, i’ll won’t do it at lunch time. i’ll go back sometime during off-peak hours when hardly anyone else is there…and i will be sure to let you know how it turns out.

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10 responses to “m café: to go, or not to go?” RSS icon

  • M is great, even though it is ridicuously crowded and on the expensive side the food is outstanding. They serve breakfast too!

  • that food… oh that food… I would drive miles, no problem for any of it (and I would have to, it being on the other side of the continent), but anyway! that was pornulicious, and I’m glad you found a good place for lunch!

  • OOHHHHHMYGOSH I miss M Cafe food so hard right now. I always manage to snag an outside seat, which makes the crowd a lot more tolerable. Isn’t that kale the business? My favorites are the bi bim bop, the big macro, the cauliflower salad, and the shiitake inari. Not to mention the chocolate cake and the carrot cake. Man. Can you tell I go there a lot? I am super jealous of your proximity to that restaurant right now!!

  • The kale is my favorite thing. Sometimes I just get the salad combo because their sides are so good. Lots of celebrities there too, like you can be in line with Anthony Kiedis and sit at a table next to Andre 3000 and walk past Kirsten Dunst on your way out.

  • miss anthrope

    yeah i think we can all agree the kale kicks ass! so…the bim bop, eh? i gotta try that out. i also gotta try out the breakfast. it all sounds so good.

  • I’m so surprised that was your first M Cafe experience! I love their food and really don’t mind the cramped quarters of the restaurant for dining in. My absolute favorite dish there is the caprese panini. The faux fresh mozzarella is incredible! I also like their muffaletta. The only items I haven’t enjoyed there so far are the desserts. I’ve yet to find one that I like, but I think that’s actually a blessing. 🙂

  • P.S. Obviously, I won’t ever try the kale because it’s littered with onions!

  • expensive–yes.
    crowded at lunch–yes, never go at lunch, that is when the douchebag set is on hand.
    good food–yes
    take-out–best option
    off hours–good option sometimes, but if you sit inside, then you get a lot of butt in your face as the orderers are not really paying attention to those behind them
    weird ordering set-up–most definitely
    great chewy seitan strips in the bento box

    i saw julliette lewis there–she ordered take out
    i saw sarah silverman there–she ordered a good ol’ sit down out on the patio, but it was 8pm so she made a good choice
    what do i order–take-out, get me the hell out of there unless it is between 1:30pm and 4pm, or after 7pm and i have someone with me.

  • i am talking about melrose m cafe, i did not know there was one elsewhere

  • Go to the Culver City location on the weekend. None of the problems you have will apply in my experience.

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