A couple of vegetarian friends blew into town last week, so I had to come up with places to take them. They were eager to point out that most Italian restaurants have dishes suitable for vegetarians. But after a little serious thought, I came up with a more exotic choice: Canopy of the Sky Cafe.
This tiny Northridge place has a propitious location directly across the street from a branch of Whole Foods Market. I should mention, however, that it's not a strictly vegetarian restaurant. Most of the dishes on its menu are meatless, but it does serve a few seafood and chicken dishes (made with free-range chicken).
It has a starry-eyed New Age style, as you might expect from the name. The powder-blue walls are painted with little golden stars, so you feel as if you are being protected by a magical canopy. The music is (what else?) New Age.
Longtime chef Evi Colombo once cooked at the Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga Canyon, which will give you an idea of her style. Most of her dishes are several cuts above the gummy casseroles and insipid steamed vegetables served in health- and whole-food restaurants.
Every diner gets a basket of hot, crusty whole-grain rolls with fresh sweet butter. Assorted charbroiled vegetables are terrific, served slightly blackened and beautifully seasoned. The vegetables are tomatoes, sweet red peppers, eggplants, zucchini and mushrooms.
The best appetizer would be the corn turnovers, not on the menu but advertised on a blackboard. These are pastry triangles that look like Indian samosas, but inside the flaky crust is a spicy mixture of potato and corn kernels. The best non-vegetarian appetizer is the warm seafood salad: marinated bay shrimps, scallops and calamari in a light sesame-ginger dressing.
Pizza is a specialty here. Columbo makes an organic whole grain crust that crisps nicely around the edges. My friends are not vegans, but they insisted on substituting nondairy soy cheese for the mozzarella, and then on toppings of spinach, artichoke hearts and capers. The result was surprisingly good.
The pastas are made on the premises from organic flours and served with interesting toppings. One of the best is lemon black pepper fettuccine topped with prawns sauteed in clarified butter, garlic and wine. In fact, it's probably too rich for a health-conscious diner. A lighter choice would be the angel hair pasta made from a blend of wheat and Jerusalem artichoke flours. The kitchen does simple justice by it, tossing it with fresh tomato, basil, olive oil and garlic.
Not all pastas are in the Italian style. Soba with stir-fried vegetables and tofu is quite Japanese. The components--bean sprouts, broccoli, carrots, onions, tofu and the noodles--were all nicely cooked. Unfortunately, though, someone in the kitchen overdosed it with tamari soy sauce.
A couple of the best entrees are non-vegetarian. Colombo makes a dense, mildly spiced turkey loaf--the best turkey loaf in the city--which she serves with terrific mashed potatoes and a flavorful brown sauce. And my tender, delicious charbroiled swordfish filet was blanketed in a nice Dijon mustard sauce.
The desserts are surprisingly good. There is a fudgy chocolate raspberry layer cake laced with a subtle chocolate cream, for instance, and a classic macadamia nut pie that you can have with organic vanilla bean ice cream. In fact, even the coffee here is organic.
Canopy of the Sky, 9351 Reseda Blvd., Northridge. Sunday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Beer and wine only. Self parking in lot. All major cards. Suggested dishes: corn turnovers, $5.50; assorted charbroiled vegetables, $5.50; angel hair pasta, $9.95; turkey loaf, $12.95. Dinner for two, $25-40. Call (818) 885-1875.