In honor of @MaladyNelson and a recent request for some healthful places to eat, I was reminded of one place I enjoyed a few times, but hadn’t been back recently.
M Cafe de Chaya is a more casual and macrobiotic focused spinoff from Chaya Brasserie and Executive Chef Shigefumi Tachibe. Helmed by Chef Atsushi Kenjo, M Cafe de Chaya bills itself as Contemporary Macrobiotic Cuisine. It’s not totally vegetarian (they serve Fish and Shrimp), but they are dairy-free and focus on whole foods as much as possible (with vegan options as well).
M Cafe de Chaya occupies a busy, but brightly lit spot along Melrose (with additional locations in Beverly Hills and Brentwood). Walking in, you are greeted by a casual vibe, with a nice open case displaying their daily Salads, Sushi Rolls, Juices and more.
On our 3rd visit, I started with the Lemon Kick In the Grass (Green Apples, Ginger, Lemon, Kale):
The name is not a joke, you get a nice wake up call with the potent blast of Fresh-Ground Ginger, the tart burst of fresh Lemon Juice, a vegetal grounding of Kale and only a touch of sweetness (and more tartness) from the Green Apples. But it’s refreshing and a nice way to start the day if you like Ginger.
Blueberry Multigrain Pancakes (Buckwheat, Spelt and Oat Pancakes & Organic Maple Syrup):
This tasted so-so (probably the worst item we tried on the menu in all our visits), but it wasn’t “horrible”: It just tasted like the stereotypical “healthy” option you might conjure in your head when eating “healthy pancakes.” You really taste the Buckwheat, Spelt and Oat in these Pancakes.
It’s not the blast of white carbs you get from a normal Pancake mix, it’s definitely grainy, Oat-y, which is actually OK (see Gjusta’s Housemade Multi-Grain Porridge Waffles), but in this case they were overcooked, leading to dense, dryish discs. The addition of Vegan Butter and Organic Maple Syrup helped though.
Hijiki Inari (Tofu-wrapped Organic Brown Rice with Marinated Sea Vegetable):
Part of their daily offerings of Sushi Rolls, the Inari’s Tofu is pliant and dainty, the Hijiki is nicely marinated.
Quinoa-Barley Bibimbap (Housemade Organic Kimchee, Organic Seitan, Ginger-Sesame Dressing):
This is a reasonable facsimile of the Korean dish Bibimbap, but M Cafe’s version utilizes a nicely tart Housemade Organic Kimchee, along with Pickled Lotus Root, Organic Bok Choy, Seaweed, Kaiware (Daikon Sprouts) served over a Quinoa and Barley mixture, which was IMHO, a big improvement over standard White Rice.
More importantly, it actually tastes pretty good. It’s sufficiently spicy, the Sesame Ginger Dressing isn’t overpowering, and the Organic Seitan adds a meaty quality. It also left us feeling not heavy after lunch.
On our 4th visit, I started with a Pick Me Up (Apples, Carrots, Ginger):
This was a simple, classic blend of juices you find in many places these days. A nice balance of natural sweetness from the Ground Apples and Carrots with a little spicy kick from the Ginger.
Spicy Tuna Roll + Shiitake Avocado Roll:
Shiitake Avocado Roll:
The Shiitake Avocado Roll is delicious as a little snack / starter, with Marinated Shiitake Mushrooms, Avocado and Kokuho Rose Brown Rice. It’s definitely not traditional Sushi, but it’s quite nice and there’s a natural creaminess from the Avocado and a very umami meatiness from the Shiitake Mushrooms.
Spicy Tuna Roll:
Their Spicy Tuna Roll was OK. The Tuna tasted fresh, lightly spicy and the Kokuho Rice was fine. The Nori was just a bit soft. I loved their Pickled Cucumbers.
Japanese Breakfast Bento (Miso Soup, Grilled King Salmon (option for Grilled Organic Tofu), Mixed Grain Porridge, Seasonal Vegetables, Hijiki Seaweed & Housemade Pickles):
I couldn’t resist ordering a Japanese Breakfast Bento Box to see how it was.
Their Seasonal Veggies consisted of Steamed Broccoli, Carrots, Brussels Sprouts, Radish and Bell Peppers:
Which were literally Steamed Veggies. No added Salt or other seasonings. So if you’re looking for something really light, this is the way to go.
Their Housemade Miso Soup was delicious!
I really liked their two types of Mushrooms, a bit of the Green Onions and the Miso Soup itself, which was nicely balanced, not overly salty but seasoned just right, offering a counterpoint to the Mixed Grain Porridge and Steam Vegetables.
Housemade Pickled Vegetables + Hijiki:
These were full of flavor, sufficiently tart and salted, and the Hijiki Sea Vegetable offered a bit of a Sweet Soy note, when eaten with their Mixed Grain Porridge.
Grilled King Salmon:
Nicely grilled, still tender and moist inside, their Grilled King Salmon was perfect for this Breakfast Bento Box, a nice way to enjoy it along with the Mixed Grain Porridge.
Avocado Crispy Toast (Crispy Brown Rice and Quinoa, Mizuna, Lemon & Shichimi Togarashi):
This was SO GOOD!
Instead of Bread, M Cafe uses a mix of the Kokuho Organic Brown Rice, Quinoa flash-fried which creates this incredible nutty, crispy, crunchy base, on top of which they use ripened Avocados, Pickled Lotus Root, Mizuna Greens and a bit of Shichimi Togarashi. And it works.
Creamy, luscious, crunchy, crispy.
Yellow Coconut Curry Udon (Thick Wheat Noodles, Organic Tofu, Seasonal Vegetables, Roasted Cashews, Frizzled Onions & Cilantro):
Sure, this isn’t a traditional Curry of any particular region, but this was another great dish. The addition of Coconut and the base Curry spice blend recalled a Thai-style Curry, but it’s different and still tasty.
It’s creamy, surprising with a bit of heat (but nothing overwhelming), and it nicely saturated and infused the Seasonal Organic Vegetables, giving them a great Coconut Curry Flavor.
The Thick Wheat Udon Noodles were fine, soft, but still with enough body to them.
The Seared Organic Tofu actually had a nice sear and took on the flavors of the Curry. It tasted pretty much like Tofu. There’s an option for King Salmon instead for those looking for an alternative.
On the 5th visit, I started with a Wellness Shot (Lemon, Ginger, Cayenne Pepper):
Bracing! But so good if you love Ginger.
The Big Macro (Heirloom Brown Rice & Mushroom Burger, Special Sauce, Lettuce, Vegan Cheese, Tomatoes, Sprouts, Red Onion, Dill Pickle & Toasted Whole Wheat Bun):
Clearly a play on the Golden Arches’ “Big Mac,” this is M Cafe’s Macrobiotic version, “The Big Macro.” But I’m always on the lookout for a good Veggie Burger for those times when I’m in the mood for one.
Their Housemade Heirloom Brown Rice and Mushroom Patty has pretty good flavor for a Veggie Burger, although it’s a bit on the softer side. But there’s a nice Mushroom flavor exuding from it.
But what makes this Veggie Burger stand out is the crisped crunch you get from biting into the crisped Lettuce, Pickles, and Red Onions. It’s a very satisfying sound & texture, and M Cafe’s version of the McDonald’s Special Sauce actually makes this taste a little bit like a Big Mac in some ways.
The Whole Wheat Bun is sturdy, maybe a bit too dense, but it holds up throughout the Burger (i.e., it doesn’t disintegrate or fall apart). We liked this more than some of the local Veggie Burgers (like at The Counter).
Organic Fries (Shiso, Nori & Sea Salt):
OK, there’s nothing “healthful” about these - sorry @MaladyNelson - but we were curious how M Cafe’s Fries might turn out. They were delicious!
Crisped on the outside, fluffy on the inside, the Organic Fries benefited from the bits of Nori and Shiso, although I wish they had more Shiso (I might ask them to add more next time). They were nicely seasoned and were just very good French Fries.
This looked pretty - the vibrant deep green color - and might have seemed basic, but it was perfectly cooked Broccolini, softened, but still having a little bit of a snap in the steams, with a subtle, very light heat from the Peperoncini Peppers. Nicely seasoned with just a bit of Salt and Olive Oil. Delicious!
Vegan Bolognese with Truffle Cream (Gluten-Free Rigatoni, French Lentils, Burdock Root):
I cautiously ordered this, bracing for a potential generic, basic tasting “Vegan Pasta,” but nothing could be further from the truth:
This was creamy, tasted of a long-stewed Tomato base, and the French Lentils and Mushrooms added a real meatiness to the dish. I’m not joking when I say this was one of the best tasting Pasta dishes I’ve had this past year.
On paper it sounded rather generic, but it was so crave-worthy, there was a real depth of flavor, I would imagine the Japanese invented the word “umami” for times like this.
I had to ask the kitchen a bit more about this dish, and it turns out Chef Atsushi Kenjo infuses their Vegan Bolognese with a long stewed sauce made of Gobo (Burdock Root), Mushrooms, French Lentils, Tomatoes, Garlic, Bay Leaf, Oregano, and other Vegetables.
But it’s the inclusion of a Housemade Shio Koji (Fermented Rice with Aspergillus Oryzae and Salt), along with Hatcho Miso, Shiso Leaf and Konbu that I think is what I’m finding to be so compelling.
Those looking for a rich, fatty meat-based Sauce will be disappointed, but I’m not vegetarian and found it to be really tasty even without any dairy or meat in it. Definitely something I’d reorder in a heartbeat.
When I think back on our 5 visits to M Cafe de Chaya, other than the Buckwheat Pancakes, everything we had just came across as light and clean tasting. While I’ve been to some vegan / vegetarian places that have felt gimmicky or made of heavily manufactured ingredients, M Cafe’s food has generally tasted pretty good and not heavily processed.
There are some genuinely delicious items here, like their Crispy Avocado Toast (with Brown Rice & Quinoa), the Coconut Curry Noodles, their daily selection of Market Salads like the Peperoncini Broccolini, but especially the Vegan Bolognese Pasta.
M Cafe de Chaya
7119 Melrose Ave.
West Hollywood, CA 90046
Tel: (323) 525-0588
Additional Locations at:
9433 Brighton Way
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Tel: (310) 858-8459
Limited Grab & Go Menu at:
Market at M Café Brentwood
11678 San Vicente Boulevard
Brentwood, CA 90049
Tel: (310) 207-1122