• in & out of m café

    July 8th, 2008quarrygirlLA restaurants, m café

    as you may well know, i’m pretty conflicted about m café. they have some of the most amazing food combined with the crappiest, trendiest atmosphere. small tables crowded onto a strip mall patio and pushy patrons tend to overshadow the amazing vegan fare—that’s why i often get my food to go. however, over the past few weeks, i’ve decided to give dining in another try and i’ve found that during certain times of the day, it can be tolerable. here’s some of the stuff i’ve been eating up from m café, on the premises and at home. 

    panino tuscano: tuscan white bean spread, spicy seitan “salami”, caramelized onions & arugula on house-baked focaccia grilled hot & crisp to order. served with a side deli salad (kale!). $11.45

    california club sandwich: a triple-decker of savory tempeh “bacon”, lettuce, tomato, avocado, carrots, sprouts & soy-mayo on your choice of house-baked toasted sourdough or multi-grain & seed bread. served with a side deli salad. $11.25

    seitan katsu bowl: crispy seitan cutlet, tangy katsu sauce, shredded cabbage salad & steamed vegetables. $10.95

    bi-bim bop: marinated pan-fried tofu, Korean-style vegetables, spicy miso sauce & house-made kim chee. $11.45

    as i’m sure you can see, the food at m café is extraordinary. if this place served tap beer (or any alcohol for that matter), didn’t offer fish, and didn’t have such shit ambiance…it might be my favorite restaurant. i know that sounds like a lot of conditions, but what i’m trying to say is: the food kicks ass.

    these dishes for example…

    first off, let’s talk about the panino tuscano. i thought this sandwich sounded perfect from the description. but by the time i read through the first few words on the menu, my mouth was so busy watering and my mind was so bemused with the fantasy of my upcoming meal, that i completely overlooked one very important adjective (“caramelized”) describing the onions. blech! yick! gross as that sounds, it was not m café’s fault, the fact was clearly stated on the menu at the point of order that my onions would be destroyed carmelized. i just wish i’d have seen this bloody detail in time for my precious, freshly-pressed, warm and tasty sandwich to be saved from the noxious taste of sweet sweet onions. i mean honestly, i love sweets and i love onions. but never the twain should meet, imfo!

    other than that, the sandwich was on point. light & refreshing arugula, flavorful seitan salami and crispy/moist bread helped to mitigate the sickening sweet taste of carmelized onions.

    this sandwich also marked my first time dining in m café since the old “to go or not to go” debate i had when i first discovered the place. let’s just say, to have a decent experience, i had to arrive for lunch (not breakfast) at 11:30 am. parking was still a total nightmare (enjoy that tip, “complimentary” valet) and the line was still annoying. there was, however, a seat on the patio! joy. the coveted outdoor space was all mine, so i could at least enjoy my overpriced meal with an incredible view. the sight of melrose avenue is such a calming late-morning retreat. 

    feeling a bit jaded, i got my next order from m café to go. the california club was brilliant—perfect for summer, light and delicious. this meal consisted of a gi-normous sandwich with a deli salad of kale. both completely edible at home, on the deck, with a beer, no re-heating necessary. i sooooo recommend this for anyone who wants to swing by m and grab some picnic food that’s guaranteed to please all. the tempeh stuff is off the hook—serve it to your carnivorous friends and trust me, there will be no backtalk.

    next up: eating in, again. this time with the seitan katsu bowl. i arrived at 11:45 and while i managed to beat the noon rush, i must say that the line was much longer and the place more crowded than it was previously at 11:30. i placed my order for a seitan katsu bowl (no bell peppers) and waited for a seat on the aforementioned patio. waiting for 20 minutes was fine, because my food took another 20 to arrive after i was seated. grrr. when the bowl finally showed up, the seitan was not to be believed.

    maybe the best and most devilish seitan i’ve ever had, this shit was fried, battered and juicy. seriously, it was better than it looks. how is that possible?

    plump, crisp and “meaty” (not in a disgusting way), it was the perfect seitan. my only guff with this bowl was the quality of the vegetables. limp shredded cabbage lay atop boring steamed and brown-on-the-edges selections such as cauliflower, broccoli and whole baby carrots. i probably wouldn’t order this again…and it’s a pity, because the seitan was sooooo good.

    lastly, i grabbed my most recent order from m café to go: the incredible bi-bim bop. this rice bowl is definitely my favorite dish i’ve tried so far. i was pretty disappointed that it didn’t come with a free side deli salad (i love that kale!), but all the vegetables inside made up for it. the bowl comes filled to the brim with exotic produce, some that i couldn’t even name.

    the tofu is lightly fried, to the point where it has tons of flavor but still tastes deceptively healthy. i don’t think they could have made this bowl any better.

    overall, i really can’t fault the food from m café. sure i like some dishes more than others, but it’s all pretty ace. that being said, i am still not a fan of the atmosphere, service, or clientele. i highly recommend you call in an order and pick up some food to go. and be sure to try the california club and  bi-bim bop!

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  • I go to M Cafe on an almost-daily basis and find the staff and clientele to be great. Sure, sometimes it takes a little while to get your food (but not generally), but if I’m in a hurry, I grab something from the To Go case. The breakfast enchilada is to die for and the blueberry pancakes are awesome. It’s also cool to go to the tea house next door for some yummy vegan deserts (although M has some great ones too, like the chocolate pudding or cup cakes) after lunch or dinner.

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