The purpose of this blog is to illuminate the [mainstream] restaurants that somehow manage to cater to a vegan.  Let’s face it: being a lacto-vegetarian is simple at any restaurant; there is always plenty to choose from on the menu.  But vegan?! Well, that’s a whole ‘nother story my friends. How can I possibly have the audacity to walk into a traditional French restaurant & expect the chef to drop what he is doing to create something not only off menu, but that requires special cleaning of pans & utensils before he begins? Now that is what I call high-maintenance dining.
In light of that, I always try to walk into new dining experiences with an open mind. I always read the menu online first, and if we are making reservations, Friand always mentions that there will be a vegan in the party, specifying that this means no meat or dairy. I don’t dismiss anyone’s suggestions for restaurants, it’s kind of like an addiction at this point: what will this chef think of next?  It’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s becoming a passion.  Remarkably, I’ve had very few bad dining experiences (meaning times that I’ve become ill after eating something that was presented as vegan when in fact the kitchen staff failed miserably).
So this weekend we wanted to treat ourselves to dinner, some place we’d never been, but somewhere that Friand has been dying to go for a while: “Fraiche” in Culver City.  We began our experience as usual: looking at the menu on line.  Gorgeous photographs of their food creations point to nothing less than what will undoubtedly be a religious experience.
But what about this vegan?  I go through a cycle of panic before each & every outing.  Yes, it’s true.  I don’t broadcast it, but there is this little knot that always forms in my stomach when I start reading these menus that include veal cheeks and sweetbreads. My first reaction is always “this is impossible…” but I let that feeling pass and allow myself to move into “let’s see what happens on the phone…” I always listen intently as Friand makes the call, and his reactions either send me back into a panic or joyfully sliding into impatience for the meal.  He was assured on the phone that our server would be more than pleased to take care of us and offer a few vegan options.  Great!  Sign us up!!
And so… we arrived at Fraiche (pronounced “fresh” in case you were wondering…) and found ourselves seated close to the kitchen and eager to order drinks. Our server, Eden, was not one of these eager girls that want to dazzle you with their conversation, she was straight to the point, not pretentious at all, and completely enthusiastic to immediately offer me several vegan suggestions.  She began by pointing out several salads that were already vegetarian that could be made vegan very easily.  She then told me that the chef could make me a vegetable plate (yeah, you all know my feelings on the ultra-fancy vegetable plate) or a pasta with tomatoes & vegetables, or a risotto.

“Risotto?” did she say?  Well well well, she just said the magic wordto the right vegan!! Bring it, sister. Let me see this vegan risotto!  She asked if I had any special requests or if the chef could just do whatever he thought best.  I didn’t even let her finish that sentence.  Dude, let the chef work.  Who am I to tell a chef what to make!  Just make it yummy, make it vegan, and I’m a happy girl.I won’t divulge what Friand ordered; let’s just say it made Eden chuckle and Friand to say “we are complete culinary opposites!” I allowed her to then choose which salad to bring me (she chose the mushroom salad without the reggiano) and of course to bring me some of that risotto!!  I also ordered the St. Tropez cocktail — which is best described as an over exaggeration of the flavors of gin.  The lavender was a fantastic touch, though the cucumber ice cube became too much for me toward the end (I have a love/hate relationship with cucumbers as it is…).  It was light & refreshing and for once I enjoyed drinking something that was green.

The mushroom salad was fantastic.  There was a heaping pile of mushrooms on baby arugala, with a very light oil dressing that was neither overwhelming or overused. No need to add cracked pepper or salt, just grab a slice of rustic bread from the middle of the table & start shoveling this salad into my mouth.  Yep, you read it first here folks: I actually enjoyed a salad! Though… I can not tell you exactly what kinds of mushrooms were in this salad… baby bellas? Shemiji? Oyster? I really don’t know and for some odd reason I didn’t ask… Not that qualifies me as a BAD food writer!  Lesson learned… I will remember next time…

And then the risotto arrived…. Oh glorious al dente aborio rice, in all your creamy goodness.  Who needs cheese & cream mixed into this rice anyway? Doesn’t anyone understand just how rich & creamy this rice gets thanks to its natural starches? I have yet to have a “vegan risotto” while out to eat that wasn’t just as creamy & delightful as the dairy laden version.  This risotto had asparagus, zucchini, and again an assortment of wild mushrooms, and was surrounded by a beautiful light green sauce.  The presentation was beautiful, the whites & greens  made me want to just stick my face in the bowl & slurp it all up. The green sauce did not penetrate into the rice, so I had the pleasure of controlling my dosage.  But, that was in vain!  The sauce was so fantastic, I couldn’t help myself but mix it all together.  Now I had this delicately green risotto staring up at me, begging for me to eat every last grain.I am not one to disappoint such a heartfelt plea, and so I ate all of the risotto, I even used a slice of bread to soak up the remainder of the green sauce.  What is the green sauce, you ask?  Eden informed me that it was a puree of zucchini with 3 kinds of basil: Thai, sweet & Italian.  Yeah. That’s the kind of sauce I could keep in a squeeze bottle in my refrigerator & squirt on everything just like Bobby Flay and his chipotle oils.
Dessert time!  This was a no brainer. My eagle eye for all things coconut spotted the sorbet in another dessert, so as soon as Eden suggested sorbet with berries I said “yes please! With 2 scoops of coconut sorbet!”  Re-reading this paragraph is making me wonder if she thought I was a little too enthusiastic and if perhaps I scared her a little bit…?
I ordered a hot Chai Tea to accompany my dessert.  I understand the hot/cold thing may be a problem for some people, but the combination of coconut & chai is so orgasmic you have to be crazy to pass on that.We had an uber-fantastic time at Fraiche, my initial worries over not being able to enjoy myself quickly extinguished as soon as Eden arrived at our table.  My food was fantastic, Friand’s meal exceeded his expectations, and we look forward to our next meal there.

Fraiche Culver City
9411 Culver Blvd. Culver City, CA 90232
Phone : 310-839-6800
Fraiche Santa Monica:
312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401
Phone : 310.451.7482

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