Being a vegan would be relatively easy if I just had a talented personal chef. Short of that, a budget for eating out all the time would work too.
Since I decided to eat a vegan diet for the month of January, I've eaten in some places I had not tried before – eating out is part of the research, right? There's no need to be stuck in a burger cafe ordering the bun and condiments. There are plenty of naturally vegan dishes on menus these days; many chefs are having a field day using vegetables in creative ways.
Matthew Kenney, for example, has classical training, but the owner of the raw food restaurant M.A.K.E. said, "After many years as a traditional chef, my desire and passion for health took precedence. So I took my passion for cooking and my passion for health and put them together."
He is opening a restaurant this spring, Plant Food and Wine in Venice, that will serve a vegan menu of cooked and raw foods, using, he said by phone, "a lot of modernist techniques being used in fine dining establishments around the world."
Many diners, he said, "even if they are not eating vegetarian, are eating more consciously," by which he means more conscious about the effects of their food choices on their health, the environment and on animals.
The diets of those people might be called plant-based – which people are using when they don't exclude all animal products from their diets but tend to eat few of them – maybe eggs for Sunday brunch, or ice cream occasionally.
Last year, Kenney said, he had a 20-course tasting menu at Noma, a restaurant in Copenhagen considered by many as one of the world's best, and most of the courses were vegetarian.
Like other chefs, Kenney is not trying to recreate meat dishes without meat. Instead, he said, he is taking the ingredients available to him and creating from there. At M.A.K.E., that means with dehydrators, slicers, extractors and other equipment. But raw is a step further than my path.
The Happy Cow, a website that lists vegan and vegetarian restaurants, turned up 60 vegan ones in L.A – from cafes in food stores to full on special occasion restaurants such as Crossroads, where chef Tal Ronnen makes diners happy no matter their usual grocery list..
A few chefs suggested that vegans can ask any chef to accommodate them. Many will like the creative challenge. Or, for a simpler solution: Order a salad with an olive oil dressing; ask for food cooked in oil rather than butter. Suggest other simple changes, such as leaving off the cheese.
Here are a few spots I've tried and liked, both vegan and vegan-friendly. I still have a pretty long list of others to sample (Gadarene Swine in Studio City, Sage and Crossroads at the top of the list), and I'd love to here your ideas by email or @mmacvean on Twitter.
Gracias Madre, on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, has a beautiful dining garden and a fun cocktail menu that includes alcoholic icy drinks. From the people who own Café Gratitude, it's an organic, Mexican menu, with entrees under $20 and no attitude. The nopales salad and taco trio were serious hits at my table. 8905 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood 90291, (323) 978-2170 graciasmadreweho.com
Mohawk Bend on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park served some of the best Brussels sprouts ever. Its mostly vegan menu also has cauliflower wings (vegan blue cheese, celery and hot sauce). The food and drink are locally sourced, and the soaring space is appealing. Pizzas and salads too. 2141 W. Sunselt Blvd., 90026, (213) 483-2337 mohawk.la
Real Food Daily, a few locations, including La Cienega Boulevard north of the Beverly Center. The service was slightly ditzy the night ate with two friends, but the food made up for it. RFD is a regular favorite of all the vegans I asked. Burgers, salads, bowls and other options. 414 N. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 289-9910 and other locations. realfood.com
Veggie Grill, a fast-food chain that blends convenience and vegetables. Salads, sandwiches, etc. Locations in Califoria, Oregon and Washington. veggiegrill.com
Rahel One of the many Ethiopian restaurants clustered on Fairfax Boulevard between Pico and Olympic. Rahel serves traditional dishes, but the food is all vegan and all delicious. It's a cozy spot, and not expensive. 1047 S. Fairfax Ave., 900019, (323) 937-8401. rahelvegancuisine.com