Zpizza: Living in a bubble of joy and happiness in WeHo

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There can’t be many people who come to West Hollywood and don’t want to set down roots at once. Unless you’re a Tea Party member or an anti-abortionist, homophobic republican. Then I imagine that West Hollywood constitutes hell on earth: people living happily without being bothered by other’s intolerances; happy couples (regardless of gender) pushing prams of children; dogs of all levels of fluffiness; and a zebra crossing painted the colour of the pride flag.

I’m already looking at how I can relocate here.

One of the biggest boons to WeHo (apart from the open mindedness and liberal attitudes) is that you can get vegan pizza pretty much on tap. And it’s gluten free. I mean, this is MADNESS. Last night I popped out to get a coffee along Santa Monica Boulevard and pretty much got accosted by dozens of pizza sellers trying to get me to taste their wares. Ok, so maybe not dozens but at least two. Both times I offered my default look of sorry and “I can’t.” But I ACTUALLY COULD.

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I settled on Zpizza and ordered a small “Berkeley Style” pizza which was slightly burnt but who the hell cares because I was actually eating a pizza, complete with Daiya cheese and weird chunks of quorn or something (which I avoided). But the sauce was great, the base was super, and the location was the best for people watching tiny dogs, traffic agro, and men with cute tattoos.

Bliss.

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Mohawk Bend, Silverlake, LA: the best vegan brunch ever

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I am cynical, disgusting person filled with negativity and cloud. Now we’ve put me into perspective, let me just rave for five minutes on how incredible and bowled over I am by Mohawk Bend in LA.

We rocked up on the Saturday of Easter Weekend and were the first ones there. No matter: we got excellent and quick service from an absolutely lovely waitress and we were lead through to sit in the vast space at the back of the restaurant. Mohawk Bend used to be an old movie theatre and the ceiling is vault-like, the brick work is exposed, and the cocktail area is intimate, just as it should be.

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And I know I keep mentioning it, but here’s another difference between London and LA. In London, all the vegan places are like Cafe Gratitude: they pump out great food but it’s all very worthy. This menu was heavy and full of sugars and fast (yay!), and there was an actual bar that served drinks and cocktails. It stays open until 2am. In London, it’s presumed that all vegans are in bed by 7. And this is what I love about LA. Although a lot of people are omnivores eating vegan isn’t seen as eating weird: it’s just something that you do. Vegan food is experimental (it has to be to work out how to get all the awesome flavours that animal products normally impart) and the “vegan group” of people aren’t seen as weirdos here. It really is paradise.

What made me warm to Mohawk Bend all the more is that on IMG_4741its menu things were only marked if they were not vegan. So non-vegans could have bacon if they wanted, but by default, pretty much everything on the brunch menu was vegan. I mean, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS FUCKERY?

I opted for french toast (because I haven’t eaten french toast in three years) which came with a side of sticky peanut syrup and fresh strawberries. I knew the strawberries were superfluous, the server knew they were superfluous, hell, even the strawberries were like “Why am I even on this goddamn plate?”. Yet there they were, trying to convince me that I wasn’t a fat pig as I channelled the moistest, gooiest, stickiest, french toast in the world towards my mouth.

Add a pint of pink grapefruit juice to that, and we’re all set for a day trawling LA’s art galleries. Bingo.

Tidbits from West LA: Top four

I’m pretty sure that every time I come to the US I wax lyrical about Trader Joe’s. Something I think is understandable. But I have to wax lyrical about four things specifically, and they really don’t fit into an overarching blog post, but two are TJ related, hence why it was mentioned in the first place. So here are the four most exciting things about vegan food in the WeHo, in my humble (and hungry) opinion.

1. Trader Joe’s spicy peanut vinaigrette. Hell, this could liven up an old shoe if that’s all you had left in the house for dinner. This creamy, salty, slightly sour, spicy, and most definitely delicious vinaigrette is usually poured liberally over a kale, red grapefruit, and avocado salad in my house. But it’s impossible to buy in the UK, and utterly delicious. So Trader Joe’s, please relocate to Brixton, immediately!

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2. Almond Dream chocolate bites. My dreams came true (all of them) when I found out that Almond Dream was being stocked in Waitrose, UK. I have basically lived off Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream for the last six months and now I’ve discovered Almond Dream bites which are like miniature choc ices but they’re vegan and it’s like a sharing pot of rainbows and unicorns. I honestly can’t think of anything better. In the whole world.

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3.  Vromage. Let’s see if you can guess what this is by the name alone? It doesn’t merit it’s own page because WOE IS ME I haven’t visited this place yet. It’s a vegan cheese shop. I can’t believe that I am 1.1m away from this place yet haven’t been. It is, however, Easter Sunday which means freaky-ass opening times over the whole city (plus I’m in my hotel room drinking wine and working on a project very slowly) so just can’t justify taking the time out. This obviously saddens me more than ever, but it is firmly marker-penned on my schedule for my next trip to LA.

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4. Trader Joe’s Cherry Garcia. There’s like a litre of this stuff. It’s pink with plump purple cherries and nuzzlings of dark chocolate scattered liberally throughout. Need I say more? It’s fabulous.

Why my salad “dazzled”, and other vom-worthy descriptors. Cafe Gratitude and graveyards, Los Angeles

My last trip to Cafe Gratitude was to the Berkeley branch, where the server asked me what I was grateful for when giving me a slice of cheesecake and wouldn’t go away until I’d given her an answer. (I think I fobbed her off with “the cheesecake?”). I like it a lot; the vegan food is exceptional, and unless you’re on the Paleo diet, chances are you won’t even notice there’s no meat-matter on the menu.

Just south of Melrose, I’d just spent an hour trekking from Vine/Hollywood to Hollywood forever cemetery. This sounds a lot more awful than it was, especially if I tell you I got my eyebrows waxed en-route. But Sam was bemoaning my lack of enthusiasm when it came to embracing the “glitz and glamour” of the city (correct), so after we walked along the grotty stretch of road that constitutes the Walk of Fame, I suggested a detour to the strangest cemetery I’ve ever been to. And I’ve been to a lot.

They’re peaceful, reflective places. This one looked more like a brochure for a housing estate, such was the grandeur of the tombs. As well as Johnny Ramone’s, there was also a tomb on an island on its own lake, and hundreds of metres of mausoleum space complete with a baby grand piano and casually strewn roses. It was all very melodramatic.

Added to the melodrama was a half finished grave, a set of seats, and a sun canopy, which gave the impression that the service had been abandoned mid-speech as the congregation suddenly realised the coffin had gone walkies.

Needless to say, being around so many dead people had made me famished, so I headed a few blocks south to cafe Gratitude, where the correct answer to any probing questions about my state of mind today would probably be “being alive”. However the server asked instead: “what have you seen today in a different light?”

This was taking philosophical questions to a level of conversation I wasn’t prepared to encourage pre-lunch, so I squinted at her until she left. I promptly ordered the caeser salad which was called something like “dazzling”. She looked a little confused when I asked for the “caeser”, until understanding dawned on her face and she said “oh you want to be dazzled.”

When I’d finished throwing up in my hand, I asked for water and a green smoothie called something like “impossible” or “magnanimous.”

This aside, the food at Cafe Gratitude is the best specifically vegan food I’ve eaten in London or the U.S, without doubt. It’s interesting, clever, beautiful balanced food. Sam had the “Yo soy fuerte”, which was a Mexican torta with chorizo tempeh, avocado, tomato, chipotle vegan mayo and lettuce, encased in ciabatta. It was incredible, as was the beet and carrot coleslaw which came with it. I had an enormous bite of it, and although the caeser was clever – Brazil nuts were used to make the fabulous Parmesan taste, and avocadoes and capers gave a creamy/tangy zing – after having spent 50 hours on a train I was ready for something eye-wateringly tasty.

The smoothie tasted (in an excellent way) like blitzed raw cookie dough even though it was made with kale and various other sprouting ingredients.

The table next to us talked about being on set with actors, and those opposite were talking about a screenplay. It was clear the type of people who visited – it was almost like being back at the Guardian, yoga mats and clean living included. I just wish that people wouldn’t assume that because I don’t want to be part of the mass slaughter of animals, that I want to open up about what I’m actually feeling when I’m about to order lunch. Because the answer is almost always going to be, uninspiringly, hungry.

LA’s vegan chow: in raptures!

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A salad from True Food (Santa Monica)

Los Angeles is where the dichotomy of the US seems to be most pronounced. The impoverished street cleaners (Mexican), perky waitress wannabees and the wealthy mansion owners of Bel Air.

Another aspect to this dualism is the American obsession with food. And nowhere is this more pronounced than in LA. Lardy men with stomachs that could have harboured a baby elephant stagger around town with cream topped coffees and donuts. At the other end of the spectrum, people carrying yoga mats flock to hot yoga. Even men go to hot yoga. Afterwards, they have a juice. There are more juice bars in Santa Monica than coffee shops (not a genuine statistic) but they are as ubiquitous as the bar or a Starbucks.

“I’m very health conscious,” a man called Will told me as we sat together devouring salad at the bar in True Food Kitchen, which specialises in organic and nutritious food. I have never to this day seen a man order a salad, nor devour it. “I work out, I watch my food. Me and my girlfriend both do.”

This man had startling blue eyes and had introduced himself as an actor. “But also a writer. Oh, and I do shifts in the restaurant next door too. But it’s not my dream.” He was good looking, and finished off his salad with a cranbery juice. He didn’t drink any more, mainly because “before, when I started, I couldn’t stop. And also, its bad for the figure.”

Will looked as though his whole life was spent sculpting and smiling at people. When the waitress came over, he complimented her eyes: “You have the most beautiful eyes,” he cooed. He wasn’t hitting on her, just boosting her self-esteem. The waitress was a single mother of two children and lived just a mile from the beach. She cycled to work and it made her feel very wholesome.

Vegan cuisine seems to rule in LA. There’s an ice creamery (or five) that sells ice cream made of coconut milk, and there’s a Thai Vegan restaurant, named, creatively “Thai Vegan.” There’s a plethora of vegan restaurants reinventing American classics like Mac n cheese, and downtown there’s a pizzeria that serves gluten free, vegan pies. My day was made when I was in LA’s equivalent of WHSmith at the station about to board my train, and in the sandwiches to go refrigerated section I found at least four vegan options including Seitan garlic rice, pad thai and a variety of veggie sushi rolls. There were also small packages of vegan cookies and crisps. This would never happen in the UK, and it was wonderful.

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A vegan meal I picked up in the station

The salad I had with True Food in Santa Monica was an incredible mix of flavours that was probably insanely cheap to put together here: kale, grapefruit, avocado, almonds, watercress and a garlic dressing. It was an amazingly sweet, sour, bitter combination and for 10 dollars was delicious, inventive and vegan.