Saturday, July 26, 2008

Oh Yum, a Big Heaping Plate of Macrobiotics

Melrose Muffaletta with Scarlet Quinoa Salad

M Cafe de Chaya
(310) 838-4300
9343 Culver Blvd,
Culver City, CA 90232
$10 salads and sandwiches

Out of my element. That's the thought that came to mind when I stepped into M Cafe. The exterior seemed tame enough, patio seating and a chalk A-board displaying the daily specials. But once I saw the menu, I felt a little lost. Granted, I've been to Native Foods in Westwood and health food hasn't been completely left off my radar, but this was a far cry from my usual calorie and fat-laden meals. This was macrobiotic cuisine; it was supposed to be good for me and taste good too. For me that's almost always been a paradox. The truth is, fats and sugars carry flavor. That bold little triangle at the top of the old food pyramid was the source for all gastronomic indulgence. So admittedly, the seitan and whole grains were a little off-putting.

Macrobiotic, as sterile as it sounds, is described on the M Cafe website as
"stressing the importance of whole, natural foods eaten in season, and as minimally processed as possible." The basis is "a theoretical foundation rooted in traditional Oriental medicine" with attention on balance and purity. I can believe this, no one ever has anything bad to say about natural diets. I was more concerned about how they're going to make all those nice-sounding words taste delicious.

I chose the Melrose Muffaletta, recalling my muffaleta experiences in New Orleans. I've been to Central Grocery, which claims to be the origin of the Sicilian loaf with olive spread, salami and provolone. Curiously, I ordered the macrobiotic version to see how good their fake meat could be. In retrospect, I probably should have just ordered something that doesn't pretend to be anything else, enjoy it for what it is, but I've never had seitan before and it was something I was curious to try. Seitan (pronounced Satan, as humorously pointed out by Scott Gold in The Shameless Carnivore) is processed wheat gluten. Wait, processed wheat gluten? Doesn't sound that macrobiotic to me, at least according to M Cafe's definition. And in fact, the fake salami tasted bland and had an eerie texture to it. The miso-cured tofu cheese was also a turn off. Not only did it look like cottage cheese run-off, but it tasted more like tofu than cheese. That wouldn't be a bad thing, if it wasn't posing as cheese. The order came with a side of quinoa salad. It was cooked with beets and had a shocking deep red. It actually tasted pretty good, but I couldn't get over the unease of not knowing what it was at the time I had it. The texture was similar to cous cous.

I think I approached this macrobiotic thing from the wrong angle. I shouldn't have ordered a food posing as something else. Rather, I should've embraced it for what it was. I liked the quinoa salad because I wasn't eating it while thinking of something else like I did with the seitan salami or the tofu cheese. I might come back in the future for the organic fries which looked delicious, but I doubt I'll frequent places like this until I cannot sustain my current diet anymore. I'll save the health food for when I'm dead...or close to it.


Just Cook It said...

Great post. I totally agree.

Anonymous said...

i loooove their kale salad! try it next time :)

Aaron said...

Kale? Interesting, but is it worth another trip...

H. C. said...

I love M Cafe at its original mid-city location and I agree with your insight to never order "poser" vegetarian/vegan dishes. Seitan/tempeh marketed as fake (insert meat here) doesn't really compare, unless for longtime true vegetarians/vegans who don't know what the real deal tastes like.

That said, I do love M Cafe's various deli salads so I usually do the 3/4-salad combo. The Gado Gado entree salad and the Madras tempeh wrap are pretty delicious too.

I personally love the texture of quinoa, a little grainy, a little nutty (and biologically considered a "pseudoceral", at least according to Wikipedia) -- it's a nice change of pace from the more usual rice-, corn- and wheat-based starchy sides. Supposedly more healthy too!