• madeleine bistro – vegan dining on a higher plane

    February 23rd, 2009mr meanerLA restaurants, madeleine bistro

    We’ve been contemplating a “Top 5 Vegan Restaurants in Southern California” post for a while, but with the notable fact that we’d never dined at Madeleine Bistro in Tarzana (frequently referred to as one of, if not the best vegan dining establishments on the West Coast). We couldn’t possibly start listing the wonderful restaurants we have here in SoCal, so we held off publishing this seminal piece.

    Well, after a trip to Madeleine’s last weekend for brunch we can (spoiler alert!) confirm what we’ve been told for the last couple of years: Madeleine’s is without a doubt, and by a far margin, the absolute best vegan dining in Southern California. It’ll be #1 on our list, if – that is – we ever get around to writing the “Top 5” post! And, we only sampled the brunch menu — from what we’ve heard, dinner is even more astounding.

    We’re talking menu composition, ingredients and food preparation waaaay beyond the norm here. After every first bite of each new dish we tried, we had instant eye contact followed by gasps and almost disbelief at what it was we were eating. For starters (although it was the dessert!) take a look at the chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream, this picture cannot begin to do it justice:

    chocolate souffle with vanilla ice créme. $12

    chocolate souffle with vanilla ice créme. $12

    As my aunt could testify, a soufflé is almost impossible to cook successfully, as it has to be crispy on the top, spongy on the bottom and a smooth gradation in between – and that’s using non-vegan ingredients like eggs, cream and even GELATIN to prop up this most delicate of sweets. At Madeleine, though, the soufflé was incredible – I’m talking a perfection of texture and taste in every bite, and served at just the right temperature with cold ice cream on the side that (even on its own) would have been a completely scrumptious dessert.

    Skipping back to the beginning of the meal, yet sticking (no pun intended) to sweet things, we enjoyed a donut that reminded me 100% of the French-style snack served all over Europe, yet with a lighter, purer texture that only non-dairy sweets can have. It was plump, round, slightly crispy on the outside yet perfectly fluffy on the inside and, just like the soufflé, served at exactly the right temperature, lightly dusted with crunchy sugar. It is, without a doubt the best donut I have ever eaten – vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous.

    fresh organic donut. $2

    fresh organic donut. $2

    So much for the beginning and end of our meal, but the in-between was even better!

    the bigger maque: two no beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions. $11 add a side of potatoes. $3

    the bigger maque: two no beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions. $11 add a side of potatoes. $3

    I ordered the “Bigger Maque” with a side of breakfast potatoes, and had to have it ‘splained to me that the Bigger Maque was a pun on “Big Mac”, the ubiquitous McDonald’s ‘dish’ which, by its very existence, proves beyond a doubt that billions and billions are so misguided. Looking at the cross section of the Bigger Maque which (thankfully!) comes cut in two you see the complexity of this meal – meatless patties, lettuce, ‘cheese’, onions, pickles (thankfully optional in this case!) so carefully and beautifully packed inside a bun cut into three horizontally.


    I polished off the Bigger Maque in record time, and punctuated every other bite by one of the breakfast potatoes – again, predictably, perfectly cooked and seasoned (crispy on the outside, soft on the inside yada yada, etc. etc. hopefully you’re noticing a theme here?).

    porcini-crusted tofu benedict: smoked portobella mushrooms, rosti potatoes, hollandaise sauce. $15

    porcini-crusted tofu benedict: smoked portobella mushrooms, rosti potatoes, hollandaise sauce. $15

    I only managed a bite or two of our other entree, the “Porcini-crusted Tofu Benedict” which seemed not to be of this world. Again, perfectly designed, prepared and served with tastes and textures that defy words. Just like the Bigger Maque, this baby was layer upon layer of scrumptious ingredients. On the ground floor was a perfect medley of grated, fried potatoes all scrunched up into something resembling a burger patty, right above that were thinly sliced and (presumably) sauteed porcini mushrooms, the whole thing being topped off with a soft and tasty slab of tofu all hidden under a splash of yellow, tangy hollandaise sauce and surrounded by asparagus spears.

    side of tempeh bacon. $3

    side of tempeh bacon. $3

    Oh, I almost forgot that we ordered a side of Tempeh Bacon which disappeared pretty quickly. Crunch, crunch, munch munch and there was an empty plate. My only criticism of this side is that there wasn’t more of it. Like, a thousand times more of it so I could take it home and eat it forever – morning, noon and night. All night.

    We also really loved the “Red Beet Tartare”, another creation of such taste and uniqueness that it’s difficult to describe in writing.

    red beet tartare: warm tofu cheese crouton, english cucumber, balsamic glace. $13

    red beet tartare: warm tofu cheese crouton, english cucumber, balsamic glace. $13

    Basically, you’re looking at a succulent patty of tofu cheese under a medley of finely diced and prepared beet, pickled to perfection all sitting on top of finely sliced cucumbers. After coming down off the entrees, our expectations were somewhat schizophrenic – on the one hand, sky high with anticipation, yet on the other wondering how they could possibly better what we’d just eaten. Well, the Red Beet Tartare delivered on every level imaginable. It kinda exists as a bridge between an entree and a desert, both in appearance and taste. Every bite starts with the cooler beet at the top, followed by the warm ‘cheese’ underneath, then a crunchy slice of cold cucumber to round off this diversity of textures and flavors. I define this dish as the ultimate synergy, defined as “the working together of two or more things to produce an effect greater than the sum of each”. This, my friends is an example of the real brilliance of culinary genius.

    Oh, and not being familiar with the Madeleine menu, we were not aware that this is one of the signature dishes of the restaurant – an accolade so rightfully deserved.

    Anyways, enough about the food. Ambience is important, and the high standards of the menu indicate that the interior of the restaurant has to be a notch or two above what you’d expect, and it is. Even allowing for the fact that all restaurants look better at night (those candles are strategically placed on every table for a reason!), Madeleine’s was relatively calm and peaceful on a Saturday late morning. People were bustling past outside, other customers were calling for reservations and the other clientele were clearly regulars – as will we after a few more more visits!

    Our server was courteous, attentive, and knowledgeable. All the food appeared magically at just the right time, and the dishes were bussed with a smile. I can usually pick fault in any service, but not this time for sure.

    The location is psychologically and physically far away from the Westside and all the potential well-heeled, guilty-rich-liberal types from Santa Monica that “dine vegan” as an occasional trend rather than a lifestyle commitment. However, it has an adjacent parking lot and is less than two minutes from the 101 freeway, so from West Hollywood it takes about the same amount of time to get there as would the tony establishments of Santa Monica (which can’t hold a candle to this place).

    Talking of Westside vegetarian/vegan resturants, Madeleine’s delivers striking good value for money, especially when you consider that my Bigger Maque was priced at $11, less than the (inferior, prepared by line cooks, crappy dine-in experience) M Cafe Big Macro and $6 less than Real Food Daily’s “RFD Burger with The Works” which is basically inedible. Yeah, $13 for the “Red Beet Tartare” might seem like a lot of money at first glance, but it’s an entree that you will never, ever forget.

    I only regret only one thing about Madeleine’s: that it’s been nearly three days since I ate there, and I have not been back for dinner yet – a travesty I fully intend to rectify as soon as possible!

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15 responses to “madeleine bistro – vegan dining on a higher plane” RSS icon

  • Ha! I just made a post about Madeleine, too. Yours is much better worded than mine, I stick to my usual “this dish is awesome/amazing/delicious”.

    I haven’t been for brunch yet, but the burger, the benedict, and the donut are all beckoning me.

  • Oh my god yum, Madeline’s bistro is so freaking good. I’m glad you agree!
    Ugh I want to go eat there right now. I haven’t had their dinner menu either. Meh.

    I’m definitely going to try the beet tartare now. I would also have to recommend the beignets. YUMMY.

  • Can we have a Madeleine’s group outing? Pleeeease vegan friends. Get a group and ask for a prix fixe menu at a discount. Ha. It’s worth the field trip!

    And yes on the beignets, but ask if you can get a side of whip cream. The apple compote + whip cream on top = awesometown.

    Next, I’m gonna make all of you LA peeps venture out beyond the Orange curtain and have dinner with me at Au Lac. The best raw food on the whole earth!

  • HOORAY! I’m glad you liked it & got the souffle, donuts, & Bigger Maque. Now I’m off to write my post about the same thing! ha.

  • I’m so glad that my favorite restaurant of ALL TIME was so well received — and this is before trying the Chicken Fried Seitan or special night’s Chef’s tasting menu. Dave is nothing short of a genius and I’m so glad you discovered that. Yay!!! 🙂

  • I’m so happy you guys love Madeline as much as I do! I know they have issues,but the pro’s WAY out way the con’s.Dave & Molly are very good people as well.

  • Excellent review and I’m so happy you enjoyed the experience! I agree that the souffle, ice creme (all flavors included), and donuts are impeccable. The donuts are absolutely the best I’ve ever eaten, as well. I’ve not tried the Bigger Macque (I need to find out if there are onions cooked into the patty), but I love the benedict and the red beet tartare.

    Just wait until you eat dinner there! Chef Dave is a genius!

  • We love Madeleine Bistro! I have to have the beet tartare every time we go, it’s my favorite thing there, followed by the chicken fried seitan and heavenly mashed potatoes. And the chocolate souffle is so yummy!

    But beware of the special event menus. They are pricey and we were very very disappointed in our New Year’s Eve meal there two years ago. Half of it was wonderful, the other half was HORRIBLE, blech, patooey. There was this rice cake thing that was as hard as cement that would require a trip to the dentist – if you were able to actually get a bite of it. And did I say expensive?!

  • Go for dinner. Seriously, just go, even if you have to spend quality time on the 405 to get there. Not that brunch/lunch isn’t great, it is, but if you haven’t had dinner, the following comments won’t make as much sense.

    What this place is doing for vegan food, no, vegan CUISINE, is seriously game-changing. I don’t even think most vegans truly get what is happening at this place. Sadly, many of us vegans have grown used to glorified cafeteria food like the “inedible” (amen) RFD or cheaper/faster foods like the earnest, but uninteresting Native Foods.

    Yet I refuse to be treated like a second-class citizen in one of the other upscale SFV restaurants like Cafe Bizou, Pinot Bistro, Rive Gauche or Mistral.

    It’s not just that Madeleine’s is a place where vegans and the people who love them can have an honest-to-god, dressed-up, wine-fueled date night or family celebration in a pretty place with a gourmet meal served by knowledgeable and professional staff. I can think of another local place where that’s almost achievable (Cru), and of course you can attempt to get a vegan meal at a decent omni restaurant, if you don’t mind sitting next to people who are smearing the organs of a dead goose on each other or smelling dead cow or fish carcasses coming from the table behind you. (Of course by doing so you are actively supporting a business that kills animals, which would be unacceptable to many.)

    As important as all these things are, that’s not even the whole point.

    You can take a vegan, a vegetarian, and an omni to Madeleine, and they will never miss the meat or dairy. (Sure, they’ll ask what tempeh or seitan is, but they may also ask what shitake or celeriac or hoisin is, because these terms are just as exotic to most Americans.) You can take a smug foodie, and they’ll say “I never knew vegan food could be so good!” That’s the point. Chef Dave is eliminating the stereotype that vegans don’t care about food, can’t eat anything good, or aren’t totally lustful and gluttonous about food when we want to be. My food choices are not a sacrifice and people shouldn’t pity me because I don’t eat animals. This place removes all possible objections to veganism from the class of people who think they know more about food than you do.

    Imagine if every time you heard someone say “but I couldn’t give up cheese,” you could hand them a plate of artisanal vegan brie, blue, parmesan, manchego, etc. that is just as satisfying as the cheese they’re used to, and also organic, cruelty-free and sustainably produced. There would be no excuse for eating non-vegan cheese ever again. That’s kind of like Madeleine Bistro.

    My only frustration is that if someone like Wolfgang Puck suddenly decided to become a vegan, and make all his restaurants vegan too, people would say he’s a genius and flock there in droves. Well, that’s who Dave is – a vegan Wolfgang Puck – but he’s not getting the respect he deserves for what he’s doing for food and for veganism in general.

    Okay, rant over.

  • I’m so glad that you gave them a second chance. I’ve had all these things and they are outstanding! glad that Madelaine’s now has the review it deserves on Quarry Girl : )

  • I’ve been there for dinner. I’ve definitely had better food, and for my money, I think RFD is a better value. But the chicken-fried seitan I had was pretty good. Tarzana is just a long way for me to drive. 🙂

  • I have been going to Madeleine for at least three years. Lucky for me, I live around Hayvenhurst/Ventura so I’m a five to ten minute drive from the best food on earth. I could eat Madeleine breakfast, lunch, and dinner and have tried most everything on their menu… it’s sooooo incredible.

    I’ve also had the pleasure of taking cooking classes with Chef Dave and they are truly amazing: he is so knowledgeable and creative!!

  • The food looks incredible. I’m curious about how to make a vegan hollandaise?

  • The food at Madeleine Bistro is delicious and the presentation is artistic. Recently my husband and I brought several out of town visitors there for dinner. They were amazed at the choice, the taste and the presentation. They were not vegan or vegetarians and all they could talk about was the food. I would highly recommend this restaurant not only for dinner but lunch or branch as well.

  • Wow, this is great… thank you so much for the review! I have to go there NOW.

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