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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Nowhere Is the Place for Health Food

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Part of the pleasure of dining at the Nowhere Cafe is in all the puns that naturally come up when you’re going . . . well, Nowhere. Where shall we eat? . . . Where did you go out to dinner last night? . . . Where can you get a great three-polenta terrine?

Recently, Nowhere has gone through some changes. When the health-food supermarket Erewhon moved to a new location a few blocks to the east of its original Beverly Boulevard corner, it left the Nowhere Cafe behind in the hands of new owners who promptly brought in a new chef, Brian Houde, formerly of Spago.

The new Nowhere is clean and bright and filled with New Age art, that is, an assortment of objects and canvases encrusted with various thicknesses of crystals. You can also make your own art: There’s a glass filled with crayons on each paper-topped table.

The waitresses, who wear tunics made from indigo Guatemalan fabric, are fresh-faced and calm. The clientele is fit, attractive and young-looking; no one in the place looks older than 50.

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The food is also fit, attractive and not at all what so many often construe health food to be. There are no grains you have to chew 250 times before swallowing. The plates are not covered with sprouts and sunflower seeds. And the menu is not entirely vegetarian, though flesh-eaters will have to content themselves with poultry and seafood--there is no red meat.

What you get is fresh, creative, surprising, often subtle and, at times, astonishingly good. There are many restaurants in Los Angeles that aspire to the kind of innovation and good looks that come out of this kitchen.

For starters, I fell in love with the restaurant’s expensive but beautiful bottled carbonated water, which comes in haunting blue or dark-green bottles with a curious pewter-colored dispenser; they resemble seltzer canisters. The water spurts out with a gratifying rush; if you’re not careful, it leaps right up out of the glass. This happened to the woman next to us, who exclaimed: “It’s just like my kitchen faucet!”

The first night I ate at the new Nowhere I was perfectly content with a juicy, well-dressed wild-green salad--until I tasted my friend’s skewered shrimp, which was sweet and fresh with a compellingly crunchy corn-germ crust (like wheat germ) served in a slightly smoky, pleasantly sour tomatillo coulis . We ended up ordering another serving. On another visit I discovered the corn johnny cakes topped with a smooth, flavorful salsa and bright green pencil asparagus. It was an unexpectedly pleasurable dish, all bright tastes and addictive textures.

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Baked egg rolls are made with a whole-wheat phyllo dough, filled with tasty sauteed vegetables and served with a fiery, full-bodied sesame sauce.

Entrees have more of a purity and simplicity about them. Stir-fried vegetables on brown rice is a straightforward dish, yet the vegetables are colorful and cooked in a way that might best be described as charred-rare, not over-cooked, but seared with an almost barbecued flavor. The black-bean burrito is stuffed with good textural items--chewy sauteed mushrooms and bean sprouts, for instance--and topped with guacamole and good chopped ripe tomatoes.

A chicken breast coiled around arugula and poached, comes on a bed of perfectly cooked brown rice, each slice a perfect green-and-white swirl. Shrimp were again fresh and sweet in black linguine with snow peas and fresh dill; a dish which tastes a lot like the ocean.

The only real disappointment came when we tried Nowhere for brunch. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as dinner. The only available coffee was pecan-flavored. The orange juice, though fresh, had not been squeezed from particularly good oranges. An artichoke omelet was filled with good ground-up tomato and basil, but somehow, the flavors didn’t amount to an inspired match. The most remarkable thing about the chicken hash was the vegetable hollandaise, a puree of yellow vegetables that has the exact same intense color and texture as egg yolk (it tastes, mostly, like cooked squash, however).

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Brunch notwithstanding, this is a great little restaurant. Besides, in what other circumstances can one go Nowhere with impunity?

The Nowhere Cafe, 8009 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 655-8895 . Lunch and dinner seven days. Beer and wine. All major credit cards. Parking in rear lot. Dinner for two, food only, $40 - $58.


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