Dinner Blooms in Venice At the iconic Rose Cafe, alfresco dining blossoms

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Lush ivy-covered walls, beds of herbs and flowers and glowing wicker lamps—this describes the enchanting patio of Venice’s Rose Cafe.

When the beloved neighborhood restaurant reopened last fall after a snazzy, eight-month revamp by new ownership, it initially continued its 35-year tradition of serving breakfast and lunch only. But it has recently added dinner service, and we’re ecstatic—because nighttime is the best time to experience the covered patio’s enchantment and chef Jason Neroni’s globally influenced California fare. At dinner, Neroni—who previously made a splash at now-shuttered Superba Snack Bar and who owns renowned pizzerias in New York City—moves beyond daytime breakfast, salads and sandwiches to present a wider range of more complex and market-driven dishes.

The brick-paved, ivy-covered patio is the perfect place to enjoy a magical California night.

The buzzing cafe embodies the hip-‘n’-healthy ethos of Venice with its boho-chic vibe and conscientiously sourced ingredients, which include primarily organic meats and dairy and seafood that’s either wild-caught or farmed with organic practices. The menu changes almost daily, but expect rustic entree choices like aromatic lavender-honey chicken roasted in the wood-burning hearth (half, $29; whole, $52) and moist grilled Alaskan halibut ($39) lip-smackingly sauced with celery root crema and charred Meyer lemon marmalade.

While the housemade pastas and charcuterie draw raves, the dishes that most impress us are the ones that showcase the restaurant’s chiefly organic, locally grown vegetables—and Neroni’s skill in preparing them. This might be best exemplified in the smoky grilled asparagus ($15), which is topped with herbed ricotta, summer truffle vinaigrette, a fried duck egg and peppery nasturtium leaves from the cafe’s garden.

Neroni practically started the city’s cauliflower steak trend back when he was cooking at Superba Snack Bar, and his charred cauliflower “T-bone” ($16)—served over fava bean puree and topped with a crunchy, sweet-salty mix of chopped roasted almonds, capers, golden raisins and nasturtium blossoms—is not to be missed here.

Enjoying these dishes while sitting under the ivy-shrouded patio’s awning, with fairy lights twinkling above, is a magical way to welcome summer.

Rose Cafe
220 Rose Ave., Venice
(310) 399-0711
rosecafevenice.com

Richly Raw Sample delicious raw and vegan fare at 118 Degrees

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As much as we’re fans of raw and vegan dining, many restaurants in this category don’t move beyond “I’m-only-eating-this-’cause-it’s-good-for-me” food.

But at 118 Degrees, a recently opened upscale-casual cafe in Tarzana, chef Jenny Ross is elevating raw and vegan cuisine from ho-hum to awesome. The combination of impeccably sourced seasonal ingredients (primarily organic and local, and never heated above 118°F to preserve their natural enzymes), culinary craft and stunning presentation makes the global-by-way-of-California cuisine something even non-vegans will savor.

The spiffy setting at 118 Degrees perfectly matches the food.

At breakfast, you’ll find fruit-forward selections like a juicy pineapple sandwich with strawberries, avocado and custard-like vanilla “cream” stuffed between slices of fresh pineapple ($9). At lunch and dinner, the satisfying lasagna ($15)—layers of dehydrated zucchini “noodles,” housemade macadamia ricotta and sun-dried tomato marinara—rivals conventional versions in taste and texture. The fantastic “fried” avocado tacos ($12) incorporate sliced avocado rolled in flaxseed batter, dehydrated until crisp and then stuffed into flax tortillas along with tahini cheese and tomatillo salsa.

Our favorite dish, the beautiful marinated kale salad ($8.50), is seriously the best version of this ubiquitous dish we’ve encountered in our kale-loving city. Chopped kale is massaged with avocado and garlic dulse dressing until silken, then tossed with crunchy walnuts and savory olives.

In addition to being an awesome chef, Ross is a holistic nutritionist; the restaurant’s co-owner Sharyn Wynters (a former actress who played Cat Girl in the “Batman” TV series) is a naturopath. Both credit raw vegan food with resolving their individual health issues, and they collaborate on 118 Degrees’ healing meal plans, which range from a one-day wellness program to weekly personal chef services and can be delivered anywhere in Los Angeles.

In other words, as you feast on the “I’m-only-eating-this-’cause-it’s-delicious” food, don’t forget that it’s also really good for you.

118 Degrees
18636 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana
(818) 660-1118
118degreesla.com

Fresh Fishmongers Visit Cape Seafood for the ultimate in sustainable seafood

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If you love to cook clean seafood at home, you already know that something fishy is going on in the seafood department at many grocery stores. Farmed fish may be raised with antibiotics and chemicals, while wild-caught fish may be sourced from depleted species or in ways that harm other sea life.

Which is why we’re ecstatic that Michael Cimarusti—the celebrated Providence chef and sustainable seafood advocate—has waded into new waters. At his recently opened Fairfax retail shop Cape Seafood, all of the finfish is wild-caught, the shellfish is either wild-caught or sustainably farmed and everything is sourced seasonally in accordance with the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch recommendations.

Cape Seafood is stocked with wild-caught and sustainably farmed fish. (Photo: Meghan Patke)

In the shop’s glass case, large whole fish like John Dory and tai snapper share space with pristine fillets like Columbia River king salmon, Pacific halibut and Atlantic striped bass. The shop is also invested in stocking under-appreciated species of fish like thornyhead (a California rockfish). Additionally, there’s a wide selection of shellfish, from meaty Bouchot mussels to a range of oysters (shucked upon request).

In the prepared foods section, you can pick up noshes like Connie & Ted’s crab cakes and chunky tuna salad studded with capers and cornichons. A small, rotating menu of to-go meals includes choices like the juicy lobster roll and delightful fennel-orange salad topped with smoked-in-house scallops.

Raid the larder before you leave for everything you need to make an outstanding seafood meal at home, including a selection of house-made sauces and stocks and much more.

Need cooking tips? You just might encounter Cimarusti there, offering them himself.

Cape Seafood
801 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles
(323) 556-2525
cape-seafood.com

Vegan Delight Indulge in tasty organic, vegan doughnuts at Donut Farm

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Biting into the blueberry doughnut from Donut Farm—Silver Lake’s newest doughnut shop—is a dream: the dense vanilla cake is flecked with pieces of fresh Oregon blueberries and sweetly topped with bright blueberry glaze for a double shot of berry goodness.

You’d never know this doughnut was vegan.

“Vegan doughnuts are like an oxymoron,” says Donut Farm’s founder Josh Levine, who before becoming a vegan baker thought the guilty treat of sweet fried dough was contradictory to his health-focused dietary preference. But he made peace with the juxtaposition by crafting the healthiest version he could, using 100 percent organic ingredients and primarily local, seasonal produce.

Sweet stuff: These tempting doughnuts are completely vegan.

Conventional doughnut batters and glazes typically contain dairy and sometimes eggs and are often fried in unhealthy oils. Donut Farm’s batter is made with vegan baking tricks—like adding freshly ground flax seeds in place of milk powder—that render the doughnuts similar in texture to conventional ones but without any animal products. They’re fried in organic, sustainable palm shortening that’s sourced from producers who do no harm to fragile rainforest habitats or their orangutan inhabitants.

The small shop sells up to 25 flavors daily, including rotating seasonal selections ($2.50 to $3.50 each; half dozen, $16; one dozen, $29). The majority are cake doughnuts, with a few raised doughnut and fritter options (we loved the sweet potato fritter with bright chunks of the vegetable, $4.25).

Glazed cake doughnut flavors run the gamut from sweet confections like salted caramel and Mexican hot chocolate to more produce-forward choices like lemon poppy seed, coconut and blood orange. The bakery also sells organic, fair-trade coffee and tea, and several of the doughnut flavors—like coffee, lavender earl grey and matcha green tea—riff off these beverages.

We’re glad Donut Farm is filling a (healthy) hole in L.A.’s doughnut landscape!

Donut Farm
2609 West Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
pepplesdonuts.com

Brilliant Bowls Fast and fresh Korean dishes at Eko Eats

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Grain bowls have become the trendiest meal format in town, but our newest favorite bowl dish is actually an update on something pretty old school: bibimbap.

At Eko Eats—a new Korean-inspired, fast-casual eatery in Downtown—chef Judy Han (who previously worked in fine dining and as Mendocino Farms’ executive chef) is putting a healthy stamp on this traditional Korean dish, which Han calls the world’s “original rice bowl.” Her tasty version of bibimbap features organic, steamed Koda farms rice (white or brown) topped with a vibrant, colorful array of ten vegetables, crispy seaweed and kochujang (Korean pepper paste, also spelled gochujang).

Eko Eats’ chicken jook, a comforting rice porridge, will fix what ails you.

It’s an extremely satisfying vegan dish (small, $7.95; large, $9.95) because of the umami flavors and mix of veggie textures, from meaty braised shiitake mushrooms to chewy seared kale and tender slices of lotus root. For a protein boost, you can add roasted, organic tofu (+$2), a pasture-raised egg (+$1.35) or gluten-free tamari chicken (+$2) sourced from local, sustainable poultry purveyor GoneStraw Farms.

The tight menu features other yummy stuff in bowls, too. House-made chicken bone broth serves as the basis for chicken jook (small, $6.95; large, $8.95), a comforting rice porridge topped with sautéed Asian greens. (You can also order a cup of Han’s vegan “bone” broth, thickened with sprouted cashews, $2.55.) The knockout kimchi fried rice bowl (small, $8.95; large, $10.95) incorporates burdock, kale and Han’s vegan kimchi, which gets its funk from kelp powder and fermented soybeans instead of the traditional fish sauce. A bountiful salad ($11.85) of romaine, Napa cabbage, baby spinach and more is accompanied by either fried tofu or crisp Korean fried chicken, a house specialty.

No matter which dish you choose, you’ll be bowled over.

Eko Eats
630 W. 6th St., Los Angeles
(213) 622-1616
ekoeats.com

Greek Out Cava Grill does healthy Greek fast-casual right

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There’s a new Greek spinoff in town that you’re going to love. And no, it’s not My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.

Cava Grill—which recently opened with locations in Woodland Hills and Westwood—is a fast-casual spot that spun off of a more upscale Greek restaurant in Washington, D.C. It delivers the kind of chef-driven ethos and clean, high-quality sourcing you’d expect at a sit-down venture.

Cava Grill’s build-a-meal concept ($7.75 to $8.85) starts with a pita or a choice of healthy bases including brown rice, black lentils, organic arugula or “SuperGreens”—a tasty salad mix of raw kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and chicory. (Produce is sourced locally, primarily from farms using organic practices.)

Warm woods and a wall of windows give this fast-casual outpost a classy feel.

The made-fresh-daily Mediterranean spreads and proteins—prepared with the Greek-American founders’ family recipes—really set Cava Grill apart. You have a choice of up to three spreads like citrusy organic hummus, creamy tzatziki, hot harissa and their addictive “crazy feta,” which is feta whipped with jalapeños (look for their spreads in local Whole Foods soon, too).

On top of that goes either roasted seasonal veggies or your choice of protein, including crisp vegan falafel, succulent grass-fed lamb braised with turmeric and coriander (+$2) and grilled lemon-oregano Jidori chicken (all meats are antibiotic- and hormone-free). Because they cook up the proteins continually throughout the day, you might have to wait a minute or two for a sizzling hot batch, but it’s totally worth it.

Once you get toward the end of the line, have your server add unlimited toppings like cauliflower-quinoa tabbouleh, cabbage slaw and pickled banana peppers; choose a dressing (we like the lemon-herb tahini) and you’re done!

Trust us, you’re going to want a sequel.

Cava Grill
cavagrill.com

1073 Broxton Ave., Los Angeles
(310) 860-6288

6256 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Ste. 1280, Woodland Hills
(818) 860-7670

Taco Utopia Tacos don't get much healthier than the ones at Trejo's Tacos

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As an actor, Danny Trejo has made a career of playing menacing roles in films like “Machete” and “From Dusk Till Dawn.” So, when arriving at his newly opened Trejo’s Tacos on La Brea, you might see the mural of him wielding two machetes and think, “I’m in for some seriously macho tacos.”

But don’t read the wrong thing into Trejo’s burly image. This isn’t thumb-your-nose-at-health “dude” food. On the contrary, health and sustainability are the muscles behind this operation.

Danny Trejo takes his tacos seriously.

Trejo tapped chef Daniel Mattern (who previously cooked fabulously healthy dishes at the former Cooks County) to help design the menu, which offers better-for-you tweaks on typical taco stand fare with impeccably sourced ingredients. The meats and produce are primarily organic, as is the tofu. The organic, non-GMO corn tortillas are made locally in Boyle Heights. The kitchen is sourcing organic brown rice from family-run Koda Farms and heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, and the hot sauces are fermented in-house.

That translates into a whole lot of deliciousness on the plate. The super-fresh, chunky guacamole dusted with crushed pistachios ($7) is a must-order starter. The tight taco menu currently includes four options ($4 each): tender slow-roasted pork shoulder, succulent pulled beef brisket, juicy fried Jidori chicken (served in a lettuce cup) and vegan black pepper tofu. On the side, we loved Danny’s super rice ($4), a mix of organic quinoa and brown rice with aromatic cinnamon and cumin.

As for drinks, there’s kombucha ($6) and housemade, date-sweetened horchata ($4) on tap; Trejo’s own Mexican-style lager, brewed in the Arts District, will be added soon.

In a couple of months, the menu will also expand to include a selection of salads, which will be an ideal addition as temperatures heat up on the restaurant’s large, umbrella-shaded patio (most of the seating is outside).

We think “restaurateur” is Trejo’s best role yet.

Trejo’s Tacos
1048 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles
(323) 938-TACOS
trejostacos.com

Game Changer NYC's healthy burger joint Bareburger has landed in Santa Monica

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When you’re trying to please the lunch or dinner cravings of everyone in your family or group of friends, a burger place might be the last choice on your list. Burger joint menus are often too limited to please a crowd or simply not healthy enough.

That’s why we’re excited about the arrival of New York-based Bareburger, which just opened its first West Coast location in Santa Monica. It’s upping L.A.’s healthy burger game with something for everyone—from vegans to Paleo adherents and picky to daring diners.

Get cozy in one of Bareburger’s booths.

The customizable burger menu includes organic grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken and vegan patties alongside more exotic, pasture-raised elk, bison, duck and wild boar ones. As tasty as the more traditional burgers are, it’s these unusual game meats that we’re wildest about. Like Bareburger’s grass-fed beef patties, they’re nutrient-dense with a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. But they’re also much leaner than the beef and make for more adventurous, earthier burgers.

Studying all the burger options can take awhile, so it’s good that this is a (casual) sit-down restaurant. Choose your patty and bun (for the wheat averse, gluten-free brioche and collard wraps are available) and then pile your burger with add-ons ranging from veggies to cheeses to bacon (definitely try the lean, smoky duck bacon), plus unique sauces and spreads (we loved the tomato-fig jam). You can also opt for one of the kitchen’s signature burger creations ($10 to $14).

And if someone in your party is not up for burgers at all, don’t worry: There’s a wide selection of salads and sandwiches as well. Just be aware that although the sourcing is impressive at Bareburger—with primarily organic vegetables and clean meats and dairy—it’s easy to overindulge here with treats like milkshakes, onion rings and fries. But there are plenty of healthy and delicious side options, too, like the crispy Brussels sprouts ($7) and collard Caesar salad with watermelon radishes, grape tomatoes and buckwheat groats (small, $4; large, $9).

To each his own!

Bareburger
2732 Main St., Santa Monica
(310) 392-2122
2732mainst.bareburger.com

Good Taste Scratch Bar shakes up the traditional prix fixe

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Tasting menus can be a tricky proposition for clean eaters and special dieters. Often, they’re no-substitutions affairs that leave you totally at the mercy of the chef’s whims. If you’re not down with, say, the gluten in the pasta course, or you’re ethically opposed to foie gras, too bad.

At the recently opened Scratch Bar in Encino, chef Phillip Frankland Lee (whom you might recognize from this season’s Top Chef) is turning the tasting menu concept on its head. The cuisine is seasonal, forward-thinking New American, but instead of serving you only what he wants to make, Lee and his cadre of cooks (who double as servers—there’s no waitstaff) ask you what you want to eat, what you don’t eat or are allergic to and then whip you up a custom tasting menu (6 courses, $40/person; 11 courses, $80/person; 18-20 courses, $120/person). Lee sources primarily organic, local produce and organic, pasture-raised meats, so no matter what you taste, it’ll be clean.

The cooks double as servers at chef Phillip Frankland Lee’s Scratch Bar.

This is the second iteration of Scratch Bar (the now-shuttered original was in Beverly Hills), and the founding concept of everything-from-scratch remains. The dishes are as enjoyable to eat as they are to watch being prepared (counter seats have a front-row ticket to the action). You might start with a sake-lime shooter over avocado mousse, move on to warm seasonal veggies with cashew curry and goat gouda and then savor warm turmeric-spiced salmon “salad” (chunks of salmon mixed with Greek yogurt and vegetables) over carrot puree, followed by hanger steak with baby kale, button mushrooms and potato “foam.”

There’s an à la carte menu too for those feeling pressed for time or just wanting a specific dish, but the chefs (and we) strongly suggest you go for the tasting. It’s a one-of-a-kind, choose-your-own adventure.

Scratch Bar
16101 Ventura Blvd., Suite 255, Encino
(818) 646-6085
scratchbarla.com

Much Kneaded Rediscover pasta at Knead & Co. Pasta Bar

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There are few foods as beloved, yet as demonized, as pasta. It’s the ultimate comfort fare, but—owing to concerns over gluten sensitivity, empty carbs and the potential nutritional deficits of modern wheat—it’s also dietary enemy number one.

So we’re ecstatic that chef Bruce Kalman (the Chopped champion known for his seasonal Cal-Italian fare at Pasadena’s Union) is giving pasta a healthier makeover at the new Knead & Co. Pasta Bar in Grand Central Market. He’s doing so by hand-making fresh pastas from locally sourced, organic grains from Grist & Toll. While most industrial flour is made with a steel milling process that separates the grain’s germ from its bran, Grist & Toll grinds heritage grains in a stone mill—incorporating both the germ and bran and thereby preserving essential nutrients.

Grab a stool at Knead & Co. in Grand Central Market or bring the pasta home.

At Knead & Co., you’ll find pastas, such as charcoal wheat fusilli and rye rigate, made from these small-batch flours. Pick up some fresh pasta to cook at home ($12 to $18 per pound), or grab a seat at one of the stall’s stools to enjoy Kalman’s delectable creations like spelt cavatelli with spicy fennel sausage, chickpeas and rapini ($16). You can also try Grist & Toll’s whole grains in our favorite dish, the Tuscan grain bowl ($11)—a mix of purple barley, farro and rye topped with roasted carrots, carrot-top pesto, walnuts and fresh mozzarella.

All of the meats at Knead & Co. were raised with organic and humane practices, so feel free to indulge in the juicy porchetta panini ($14) or the Nonna’s meatballs with smoked guanciale ($11).

You’re going to want to pig out, but we trust you’ll use your noodle.

Knead & Co. Pasta Bar
Grand Central Market
317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles
grandcentralmarket.com/vendors/541/knead-and-co-pasta-bar-market