You've been great about sticking to your New Year's resolution to eat: vegetarian, vegan, raw or just plain healthier. But it's been weeks, and staying home is getting to be a real drag. Here's a list of interesting places where you can hang out and still keep your vow.
Inn of the Seventh Ray
Fairy lights twinkle in a garden filled with roses and flowering rosemary beside a creek in Topanga Canyon. The Inn of the Seventh Ray might be a throwback to the Aquarian age, but it's also a perfect setting for a romantic vegetarian dinner date. There must be a tofu sculpture garden out back the size of Legoland, says one diner.
The soy creations include a tasty "duck" served with French chestnuts, walnuts, leeks and cherry sauce. So much is magic at this place that when the smoked tofu en papiotte with shiitake mushrooms, eggplant and curry arrives, they have to tell you not to eat the parchment it comes wrapped in.
The inn still offers real fish, game and meat but is now featuring a raw menu that changes frequently.
Come as you are to Mani's on Fairfax and settle into one of the tiny tables inside or out for coffee drinks -- with soy milk -- and healthy desserts. Most folks wear T-shirts and jeans or sweats, and the typical accessories include dirty hair, big, thick books to read or kids in strollers begging for sweets.
Mani's serves sandwiches and salads, but the real attraction is the huge dessert case with pies, layer cakes, cookies, scones and more made with organically grown wheat flour and sweeteners such as fruit juice concentrate, honey and granulated maple syrup.
A moist, dense coconut macaroon tastes almost like the real thing. And the eclair also does a good imitation with authentic-tasting pate a choux pastry, a light but vividly vanilla custard filling and a chocolate topping dusted with crushed pistachio. The fat shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate are sophisticated in flavor but earthy in texture; not too sweet yet crunchy and feathery at the same time.
At this Vietnamese restaurant in the middle of a Fountain Valley mini-mall you'll have to get past the faux wisteria hanging from the ceiling and the piano soundtrack so hopelessly new agey it could be, as one diner dubbed it, "music for George Winston's funeral." The real fun at Au Lac is discovering Vietnamese vegetarian, vegan and raw cuisine. For dinner there's "grilled fish with special sauce." That's rich, creamy tofu, covered with a seaweed "skin" and served with rice pancakes dipped in warm water to cook.
At lunch there are specials served with soup and your choice of white or brown rice. One includes "shrimp," "pork" and "beef," all made of textured, formed tofu covered with a savory caramel sauce. If tofu sculpture isn't your thing, there are curried vegetables, rice paper rolls and other dishes. Don't skip dessert. From the raw menu there's a rainbow "cheesecake," actually a striated frozen fruit mousse of raspberry, blueberry and other flavors with a date-nut crust, garnished with a nasturtium and fresh raspberries.
Across from the Bodhi Tree on Melrose Avenue, there's an oasis for meditation and sipping smart drinks. Enter Elixir through a gift shop selling tea, soaps and self-help books and stop at the bar. Choose from 17 energy, vitality and balance drinks: "Chi Devil" helps you to be a sensual woman with lemon and herbs, ginseng, guarana and yerba mate; "Blues Buster" is intended to pick up your spirits with peaches, herbs and white peony; "Morning After" claims to help ease you out of a hangover with mixed berries, Asiatic Cornelian Cherry, milk thistle and white willow.
Your tea comes on a lacquer tray in a clay pot with a tiny hourglass timer letting you know when it's perfectly brewed. Take it out to a courtyard and enter into a serene Zen garden with a fountain that looks like a mandala. At sunset, tiki torches light a green lawn, a single birch tree and a love seat nestled under a bamboo shelter. Get a reading from a numerologist who has set up shop in the corner or just meditate, sip your tea and listen to piped-in Sarah McLachlan.
Real Food Daily
After the vegetarian lasagna or meatloaf, or maybe as a midday coffee break, go for a dessert from Real Food. There are giant chocolate-chip cookies, tofu cheesecakes, puddings and coconut-cream pies, but the real attention grabbers are the cakes. They're finished with a satiny chocolate that looks and tastes like ganache.
Try the chocolate-banana cake with moist, caramel-colored layers and milk-chocolate icing topped with banana slices or the marble cake with a dark chocolate frosting. Both are served with a sweet chocolate sauce so you can dip every bite and wonder how they do it without using dairy products.
Trying to be vegetarian while out with friends can be tricky, but one place to stick to your diet is Axe (pronounced Ah-shay). Its contempo Zen look is so minimal it's an adventure finding the powder room -- two white doors tucked into a hallway so you won't know if you chose correctly for your gender until you open the door. But there's something so sensible-chic about its soft lighting from naked bulbs strung along the ceiling and the glow of votive candles in tiny dishes on each table.
There are no flowers and no linen, and the cuisine is presented on white dishes with no garnishes. There are healthful drinks, such as green tea, organic beer and an India pale ale, and there are wines by the glass. Vegetarian appetizers include vegan vegetable soup, salads and lots of shareable snacks, such as olives and nuts, a meatless antipasto platter of bread and spreads -- grilled flatbread with mushroom pate, hummus, white bean dip and caramelized onion.
Buckwheat soba and shiitake mushrooms make a filling entree for vegetarians. For meat eaters there's roasted free-range chicken and such specials as paella with chicken, shrimp, chorizo, saffron-flavored arborio rice and more vegetables.
Where healthful tastes good
Where: 1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
Info: (310) 664-9787
Real Food Daily
Where: 414 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, and 514 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica
Info: (310) 289-9910 or (310) 451-7544
Where: 519 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, and 2507 Main St., Santa Monica
Info: (323) 938-8800 or (310) 396-7700
Where: 16563 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley
Info: (714) 418-0658
Inn of the Seventh Ray
Where: 128 Old Topanga Canyon Road, Topanga
Info: (310) 455-1311
Elixir Tonics & Teas
Where: 8612 Melrose Ave.,
6801 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 157, in Hollywood, and Hollywood & Highland at Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Ave.
Info: (310) 657-9300 or (323) 978-1818