Whole Life Magazine

October / November 2016

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Page 19 of 43

Photos: Genie Davis By Genie Davis Chic and Vegan in Santa Monica ERVEN RESTAURANT T he demise of Real Food Daily was a loss to Santa Monica, but the sorrow for vegan diners on the Westside has now ended. Erven, a stylish, chic space with a vibrantly creative chef, has taken its place. Chef and owner Nick Erven has created a menu that is entirely plant-based in a comfortable yet hip setting, designed by his partner Jim Hustead along with Vein De- sign's Nicole Palczynski. The center- piece is a massive painting of Mick Jagger planting a kiss on Gandhi. The painting was commissioned, Erven says, when he came up with the idea the moment he walked into the space. If he was looking for something attention-getting, he has succeed- ed—with his menu as much as with the painting. While the sleek yet casual setting and friendly service are good, it's the food itself that is the draw. Born in New Mexico, Erven seems to have infused some of the fl avors of the menu—bold and well-sea- soned without being overpower- ing—with his southwest birthright. Previously helming the innovative Saint Martha's in Koreatown, that innovation is also present here. These are not pallid veg ver- sions of standard dishes, nor are they comfort foods shaped into vegan fare. These are interesting, complex dishes that just happen to be sustainable and plant-based. We had lunch at the restaurant, which begins with a compli- mentary bowl of roasted corn nuts dusted with sesame seeds and lemon zest already on the table. "The beer battered tofu is all you'd ever want," Erven told us, recommending this sandwich as "soul satisfying." The description was correct: beer battered tofu is crispy, like a light- as-air version of tempura, served with a fresh tasting celery slaw, pickle and machmantal. The batter was slightly sweet, a fl avor-enhancing addition to moist and juicy tofu. We also tried the sweet potato sandwich, made with black olive spread and almond dukkah, an Egyptian blend of spic- es. This one was a surprise, as I expected a mix of the black olive spread—used here more like a condiment —with a paste of sweet potatoes. Instead, the potatoes are the "meat" of the sandwich, served soft but thick. Under "salads and such" on the menu, the carrots are a sim- ple but wonderfully seasoned handling of the venerable orange veggie, made here with harissa, pistachio and mint. The dish is refreshing, no thickly glazed over-done carrots here. Mint and carrot make a stellar combination. My favorite dish was the peach and avocado toast, made with pine nuts, chili and shiso. A thick spread of fresh avocado is applied to a baguette, and served open- faced with sliced grilled peaches. The contrast is fl avors and tex- ture—the crisp, the creamy, the sweet—is highly effective, and pleased everyone from a tot to a long-past-adult diner. The menu is broken into slur- pables—which include a wonderful white gazpacho soup made with radishes and mint; the lovely se- lection of "between bread" items; the salads and such category, toast, and sweets. Baked without butter, milk, or eggs, the desserts were light in texture and deploying the right amount of sweet without be- ing cloying. Signature items include a chewy rye chocolate chip cookie and a creamy carrot cake topped with burnt orange. Beverages include the not-too-sweet but fragrant vanil- la bean lemonade, and a nicely curated selection of wines and beers. The fragrant sangria rojo is heightened with fresh squeezed lemon and lime. While we'd like to see some gluten-free breads added to the menu, that's a quibble. The variety of the food and the chef's multi-faceted approach with complementary but complex sea- sonings are not to be missed. Even if you're not vegan, dining at Erven is just as exciting and unexpected as a kiss from Mick Jagger to Gandhi. 514-516 Santa Monica Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401 (310) 260-2255 ervenrestaurant.com taste of health EAT NOW HERE 20 wholelifetimes.com

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