Sunday, June 29, 2008

Native Foods

Right down the street from the luxurious South Coast Plaza mall (the third-largest mall in the United States) is "SoBeCa District" which includes The Lab (aka the Anti-Mall) and The Camp. Although I have shopped at The Lab on occasion, I visited The Camp for the first time upon invitation from my vegan friend to try Native Foods.

In addition to having a fire ring, which I thought was appropriate for a place called "The Camp", the plaza includes a bicycle shop, an outdoor/camping supply store, a scuba school, a vegan and sweatshop free clothing store, vegan/vegetarian and organic restaurants, and other natural resource shops.

I think it's also very appropriate that there is a dog on site, since The Camp also has a shop which sells cosmetics and beauty products which are not tested on animals. As you can see, the dog's presence comes with your training at the scuba school. I wonder if the dog has its own scuba gear...

Native Foods offers organic and vegan foods, providing those who adhere to a vegan diet a variety of options without having to worry about whether the dishes follow their vegan guidelines or asking the chef to make substitutions. They have seating both indoors and outdoors on the patio.

Upon entering the restaurant, we picked up a menu from the stack just inside the doors and asked the man at the register if we could look over the menu at one of the tables and also order from the tables. He insisted that we look at the menu and also order at the counter. Luckily, my friend already had in mind what we should order, so we didn't have to stand too long perusing the menu. We were handed a number and proceeded to a table.

The dining area of Native Foods resembles a yurt and has a large propeller-like fan in the center. I ate at Native Foods on the afternoon of a relatively hot day and unfortunately noticed that the fan moves too slowly and its arms are too thin to generate a cooling breeze.

Although there was no breeze, what I found pretty cool was the plastic deer head mounted on the wall since a vegan restaurant wouldn't put a real deer on its walls (one goes to Cabela's for the real thing). The animal friendly theme runs throughout all of the restaurant's decorations and is even present on the menu. Some menu items include: Chinese "save the" Chicken Salad, "Save the Chicken" Wings, and BLTease (made with veggie bacon).

We had The Mama Mia, a cheese-less pizza topped with portobello mushrooms, tomato sauce, pesto, basil, roasted garlic, sausage chunks made out of seitan, and caramelized onions. This had a lot of flavors going on and the ingredients tasted very fresh. The seitan sausage chunks were chewy but retained a lot of oil, so the only flavor I could discern of the seitan sausage was that of oil. I was hesitant to bite into the whole roasted garlic cloves because I thought the spicy garlic flavor would be too powerful, but I discovered that roasting the garlic cloves significantly reduces the sharp taste of raw garlic and even adds a hint of sweetness to the garlic. Except for the addition of the seitan sausage, this pizza tasted similar to any other pizza loaded with vegetables. I didn't even notice this pizza doesn't have cheese until I got home and looked at the photos! I'm not a big fan of meat substitutes because they tend to fail horribly in texture and flavor, so I probably would have liked this pizza more if it didn't have the seitan sausage, especially since the sausage substitute didn't add much flavor.

The Peanut Butter Parfait was silky smooth and had the texture of pudding. As a sucker for anything peanut butter, I found the parfait to be very delicious, especially with the addition of carob chips and chunks of Boogie Bar layered on the top and bottom of the parfait. Boogie Bars are also sold separately and are made from wheat flour, almonds, oats, coconut, carob chips, and vanilla. The desserts are all prepackaged in individual servings.

Although it looked moist, this Elephant Chocolate Cake ended up being on the dry side. Luckily, the cinnamon peanut butter icing on the side was very thin in contrast to standard cake frosting and tasted almost like chai. Given the option, I would definitely choose the Peanut Butter Parfait over this chocolate cake, anytime.

Sam's Native Cheesecake unfortunately did not have very much cheese flavor and was quite bland. The texture was a bit stiff instead of creamy and was very reminiscent of tofu. Much of the flavor came from the accompanying berry sauce, which was fresh and sweet instead of tart. The graham cracker crust had a nice toasted flavor, but again, I would much rather have the Peanut Butter Parfait.

Native Foods
The Camp
2937 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626


Devin said...

I wonder if the dog has its own scuba gear...

It probably just rents. That gear gets expensive.

Afishionado said...

devin: I imagine the scuba dog as a sort of St. Bernard-rescue dog, but instead of carrying a cask of brandy around its neck, the scuba dog would have to carry a tank of oxygen, I guess!

Anonymous said...

I have been vegan for several years, and I get very excited when an all-vegan business opens up. I patronize such businesses as much as I can, not only because they sell me the vegan fare I'm after, but also because I want to support them. After all, I'm on board with the cause, and want to see them succeed.

As vegan restaurants go (and I've been to several all over the country), Native Foods has always ranked closer to the bottom than the top. The food has tended to be reasonably decent, albeit not as good as some of the other incredible places I've been like Real Food Daily in Santa Monica, and Herbivore in SF, to name just a couple. Unfortunately, Native Foods, never much of a dazzler, has gotten worse and worse over time. I think it's because they've gone "corporate" full throttle and therefore the emphasis is now heavily on making money for as little expense and effort as possible. I know I'm not alone in thinking this, because I've read some reviews of the place on other sites, and several other people have expressed the same thing. What disturbs me most about this is the fact that non-vegans whose first vegan eating experience may be at Native Foods will be more likely to come away from their meal thinking vegan food is undesirable (and heaven forbid, this could influence a fence-sitter into not making the plunge into a vegan lifestyle). There is so much TERRIFIC vegan cuisine out there!! It's a shame that a business that purports to want to do the right thing is now (in my opinion) actually doing harm to the movement by making vegan food relatively unappealing.

I know I won't be going to Native Foods anymore. With food that sometimes seems like it's been sitting under heat lamps way too long (which is what happened to my and my friend last time I went - it was bad!!!), and a pricey menu offering ever-smaller portions of sometimes unnecessarily bland food, Native Foods has become a real disappointment.

Anonymous said...

to the anonymous poster right above mine.. i'm just wondering what gives you the opinion that native foods has gone "corporate"? that's actually completely opposite from the truth. tanya has spent so much time and effort to keep that from the truth. she still oversees all of her restuarants personally. i know this because i am a native foods employee, although not at costa mesa.

unfortunately, the rise in price is a sad reality. the economy is hurting, and so is the restaurant business. because of the fact that native foods is NOT corporate, it hurts even more than a larger business with better means to shield itself against times of economic depression.

if you really feel this way about native foods, i sincerely suggest you email tanya (the owner/creator or native foods) and let her know your concerns. she is a genuinely nice person who is very concerned with the vegan community and their opinions. she's really done alot in the past 10+ years to spread the vegan message, and i think that deserves appreciation and support!