As an editor at Vegetarian Times and Vegetarian World, I’ve reviewed hundreds of meatless dishes at restaurants that were vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian (dairy and eggs used), and mainstream diners. Many of the meals were in the 70s and 80s when plant-based diets were less popular, but the figure of hardcore vegetarians (including vegans) hasn’t risen above the 3% of the U..S. population it was then. However, another 10% of Americans have significantly reduced the amount of meat they eat in large part because the evidence of the health benefits (not to mention lower impact on the environment) have become better known (there is still a lot of anti-vegetarian misinformation out there and I recommend my friend John Mackey’s recent The Whole Foods Diet, written with the two doctors form the recent documentary “Forks Over Knives,” as the best compilation of the global scientific consensus on nutrition).

Today, natural food stores offer every kind of knock-off of foods Americans are used to, making the transition easier. Restaurants are also serving a more health-conscious population, changing the stereotype represented by Woody Allen’s quip in “Annie Hall,” after looking at a “health food“ menu at an L.A. restaurant where I just to work: “Just bring me a plate of yeast.”

For my 68th birthday (healthier and more energetic than when I started this diet when I was 22), my wife, Sandra Wells, and I went to Sage Vegan Bistro in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles near downtown. They serve alcohol, but since I don’t drink and she rarely does, we simply wanted to find out if this place lived up to the hype we had heard. Even with our limited sampling, we can confirm that its cooks and recipes are some of the best anywhere.

First, we had no idea that there was truly such a thing as fast food when using natural ingredients—you can’t just fry up stuff ready to scoop–and many whole foods eateries only bring the food out after a long wait. Somehow, the waitress brought our dishes out within a few minutes on a busy Saturday at noon, the quickest service we’ve ever had.

Second, both the main dishes were both innovative and delicious to our sometimes jaded palates. From the brunch menu she chose the Dill Cheese Tostada, with a raw nut cheese with dill flavor, plus a cashew cheese with nacho flavoring. Moderately spicy, it also comes with black beans, picked cabbage, avocado, romaine lettuce, and salsa verde. Very reasonable at $14.

I had only recently seen a pile of jackfruit at the Sprouts Westwood store where I do nutritional consulting. I was surprised and skeptical to see Jackfruit Nachos listed on the menu at $15: how can you make nachos with fruit? But it worked, along with the cashew nachos cheese, black beans, jalapenos, guacamole, picked cabbage, pico de gallo and garlic aioli served on organic tortilla chips (I did not opt for the new breakfast style with tofu scramble and hash browns). This was even spicier than the tostado, which I preferred, though Sandra found it too hot.

For dessert we had a cashew white chocolate cheesecake sweetened with agave that was nicely tart.  We should add that the bottled house water was excellent.

Sage also has locations in Culver City and Pasadena, as well as a food truck and catering service. Check out its menus and easy reservation service

Submitted By : Scott S. Smith

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