Restaurant Review #89: Real Food Daily, Santa Monica

Club sandwich with Asian slaw

Real Food Daily is very popular and almost always full, though I don't think the food itself is exactly the cause for its popularity so much as the concept behind the food. The food can be a bit hit-or-miss, especially if soy milk and tempeh aren't for you, but the stuff that hits is awfully good, and healthy, too.

A lot of people in LA, and especially in the yuppie-friendly north side of Santa Monica where RFD is located, are very health conscious, and RFD really caters to these people with their menu full of fresh, balanced, organic offerings. And I get it, because I really do like seaweed, tofu, and tofu cheesecake. Really. And I definitely like not putting weird chemicals into my body, be they food chemicals or pretty much anything else except wine and the occasional martini. And I used to be plenty concerned about staying thin. If you're trying to eat healthy, RFD isn't a place where you'll have to ask for a million substitutions to keep the tablespoons of butter away.

RFD is also a completely animal-product-free restaurant, which I think is wonderful. At so many restaurants, vegetarians get stuck ordering whatever the one meatless dish is and vegans often have a hard time going out to eat at all. Here, the entire menu is available to these groups.

RFD's food is also grown locally and organically, which I have become a very staunch advocate of after reading a book called Eat Here. Have you ever noticed how many of the avocados in the grocery store come from Chile? Have you ever wondered why, when we produce plenty of avocados right here in southern California? This book will tell you. It reveals about produce what Fast Food Nation reveals about meat.

The atmosphere at RFD in Santa Monica (there is another location in West Hollywood, which I haven't been to) is cozy, particularly upstairs. Some of the tables are a bit close together, but I still feel like I could sit upstairs by a window and write or read for hours. The restaurant's popularity makes it noisy, but it's the kind of din that makes it easy to block everything out and work. The service has always been very friendly and. . . peaceful. How often do you come across a restaurant employee who is neither weary nor unnaturally perky? The management must be doing something right here.

Here's a rundown of the dishes I've tried:

Nori Maki
Sweet brown rice with tempeh, avocado, carrot, collard greens, scallions and umeboshi rolled in nori served w/ ginger tamari dipping sauce, daikon, wasabi & pickled ginger

Disappointingly dry and refrigerator-cold, a dead giveaway that it wasn't made fresh, which seems contrary to the restaurant's philosophy. Also, does anyone else think that calling it nori maki is really odd?

The Club
Lightly breaded seitan served club-style on toasted sourdough bread with tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato and vegenaise $10.25

This sandwich could convince anyone that being vegetarian or vegan doesn't mean you're missing out--it's incredibly flavorful. In fact, I fantasize about this sandwich (now you know).

I'd much rather eat breaded seitan than the usual slimy coldcuts and dry turkey breast. By the way, seitan is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten. It tastes better than it sounds--it has a richer, more complex flavor than than tofu and doesn't have the bitterness of tempeh. I think it's the most accessible and effective meat substitute (did you hear that, Boca?).

Create your own dish from a selection of vegetables, grains, and proteins. I've ordered the sea vegetable of the day with tofu and house dressing
(purée of tahini, tamari, lemon and watercress). The seaweed goes very well with the house dressing, but the tofu is lackluster. I think you'll get a better feel of what the restaurant has to offer if you order a real menu item, though I do like this option because it makes life easy for people with dietary restrictions or very limited budgets.

Asian Pear Ginger Kombucha Wonder Drink $4.00
A slightly tart, slightly sweet effervescent wellness drink.

This is a bottled drink that you used to be able to get at Wild Oats (I guess I didn't buy enough to keep it on the inventory list, sigh. Home Grocer carries it though). It's fizzy, but not explosively fizzy like ordinary soda (soda gives me the hiccups instantly!). I'm predisposed to like this drink because it has ginger, but damn, it's good, though $4.00 is pretty expensive for a small bottled drink (to be fair, it is $2 even at the grocery store).

Teeccino Latte
A caffeine-free coffee-like beverage blended from herbs, grains, fruits and nuts capped with steamed soy milk $3.95

Since caffeine makes me batty, I tried this drink. I really didn't like it, which probably is at least partly, if not completely, because I really don't like soy milk--I think it tastes like glue. By the way, don't ask for sugar with your coffee--RFD only has maple crystals. I would like to give this drink another shot without the soy milk.

I've had both the coconut cream pie and the tofu cheesecake. No instant toothache here--I really liked both of these, particularly because RFD only uses natural sweeteners. In fact, if you've never tried an RFD dessert, you might not even realize just how incredibly sweet most desserts are! I love sugar, and have no issues with my waistline, but for some reason I find a little less sugar in my dessert incredibly refreshing. And if you're skeptical of tofu in a dessert, let me just say that you really can't taste the tofu. The best cake I've ever had was actually a homemade tofu chocolate cake--wow, was it moist.

I really respect Real Food Daily's mission and the niche they've both filled and created. As long as you go with an open mind and a recommendation for a good dish, you'll really enjoy your meal, even if you aren't a vegetarian or a health nut.

Wednesday's Soup of the Day: Squash and Apple Bisque

Real Food Daily
514 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 451-7544

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