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Jonathan Gold didn't expect a Nick Erven vegan restaurant, but it might be L.A.'s best vegan dining

When you walk into Erven, Nick Erven's newish restaurant in Santa Monica, you may not immediately place it as vegan. There's a kind of deli counter up front selling salads and sandwiches to go, and the guy at the host station may hand you a shot glass of sangria as a gesture of goodwill. The smell may be typical of vegan restaurants, the funk of many simmering brassicas instead of the scent of charring meat — but the sharp angles and textile blocks of the double-height dining room seem more welcoming than they did when this space was Real Food Daily.

The snacks that everybody seems to be popping into their mouths — jet-black squares of chickpea fritter scented with yuzu; crisply fried sunchokes with what tastes like a cross between romesco sauce and ketchup; crunchy nuggets of savory deep-fried dates — are pretty much what you would expect to taste in a sleek tasting-menu restaurant. You bite down into what looks like a doughnut hole, and although the sour, dark purée of sauerkraut and smoked apples squirts halfway across the table cloth, it is hard to see how Nick Erven has anything but pure animal pleasure on his mind.

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