Friday, December 19, 2008

M Cafe de Chaya, Culver City

M Cafe de Chaya, Culver City
9343 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232

Telephone: 310.838.4300

Sunday - Thursday:
9:00 am - 9:00 pm
Friday & Saturday:
9:00 am - 10:00 pm

I went to M Cafe today for lunch with a good friend. It's nice and close to my work (about a block away) and it has a laid-back vibe. The place really got our attention, though, because there was a little blackboard sitting outside that had a few menu items on it.

First of all, the blackboard was quite nice- framed in wood, clean, and with fantastic penmanship. Those kinds of things draw women in.

Second of all, there were a few items on that board that looked really enticing. (Kabocha croquettes and miso salmon, in particular). My friend also liked the sound of the miso salmon, so in we went.

(By the way, we met because we both worked at Rhythm + Hues. And we were nowhere near R+H, but we met two other people (separately!) at M Cafe that worked at R+H. So weird).

I ended up trying the seitan katsu bowl, because I'm fickle and decided it sounded better than miso salmon. It came with brown rice, steamed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots), and shredded cabbage, plus their own katsu sauce. I was a little doubtful about shredded cabbage in a bowl of hot rice and fried seitan, but I braved it. And it was a good risk to take, because the cabbage was really quite lovely in the dish. The vegetables were steamed very well, with just enough bite to them (I hate mushy steamed vegetables) and the katsu sauce was good, if a bit excessive.

The actual restaurant is nice- simple, clean lines and very macrobiotic-y. (By which I mean clean, wholesome, etc.) The people that worked there were all friendly, and when I admired the handwriting on the blackboards inside, the lady who was taking my order told me whose writing it was and we chatted for a bit about men with pretty penmanship. (Another aside- from looking at the writing, I deduced that it was an Asian person. And lo and behold- Korean man. Do I know my writing or what?)

We opted to sit outside, at the large picnic table that was really too modern and straight-edged to be described as a "picnic table." Someone brought our food out to us as it was ready, meaning mine came first, with silverware and napkins. Very prompt, no hesitation to find the proper person that had ordered the dish.

Because the place is macrobiotic, I knew that it was all healthy. And even knowing that, I still really enjoyed the food. I'm not a vegetarian, I love meat, and I still loved the seitan (it could have been a touch more crispy). I also saw bibimbap on the menu (a Korean dish, basically a rice bowl with vegetables, meat optional, and usually with spicy chili pepper paste), which I didn't try because I am not at all a fan of "fusion" Korean food. Now that I know one of the guys that works there (manager?) is Korean, I feel like I could try it.

They also have a quasi-deli section, a glass case of pre-made food. The sandwiches looked good and the cold salads (kabocha couscous, in particular) looked great, but I think a case of pre-made sushi is pushing it. Granted, it was mostly inari with different toppings, and none of the toppings were raw (seared ahi was the closest to being raw fish), but there are very few rice dishes in the world that can be made and left for hours on end without an impact to taste and texture.

The desserts in the glass case looked okay, but they seemed a little ... healthy. Dessert, by definition, should not be healthy. We ran across the street to Trader Joe's and bought dessert there (mini peanut butter cups from TJ's are delicious. Mini, not the regular-size! And the gingersnaps, too).

I was pretty impressed by the overall impression I had. They were efficient, the place had a nice feel, and the food was good (and healthy! Bonus!). But for a kind of fast-food place, it was a little pricey. It's fast-food the way a mall food-court is fast food, where you order at the counter and specify whether it's dine-in or take-out. Still, that makes it fast food, no? And whoever heard of any dish at a fast food place costing $12?

Still, it was yummy. We're going to go to Meltdown next, because cheese? Even more delicious than seitan, any day of the year.