Last night, we had the pleasure of dining at La Ventura, the newest restaurant by celebrity Chef Jeffrey Saad, probably best known for his appearance on The Next Food Network Star. As runner up, he was given his own web-series: The Spice Smuggler. It’s fun to dine with celebrity chefs, but even more fun when they come out and socialize at the tables. It was great to get to meet Chef Saad last night, and unlike the old couple at the table next to us, we knew exactly who we were speaking with.
The Menu is focused and easy to read: meaning you’re not so overwhelmed that you have no idea what to order. I also believe that the more succinct a menu, the more precise the kitchen and when it comes to vegan items, this means the more knowledgeable everyone is with ingredients. This was absolutely true last night.
As always, the first thing I tell the server when we sit down is “I’m vegan” and then watch the mayhem ensue. Not so at La Ventura! Our server (I’m so sorry, I missed his name) was not only quick to offer suggestions, but seemed genuinely interested in making sure I was taken care of. As he rattled off the evening’s specials, my ears perked up at the mention of black bean soup. Sam, I believe you’re playing my tune. He assured me that without the sour cream, the soup would be vegan, but he would double check with the kitchen while we waited on our drinks and chips.
Returning shortly with our drinks, I was told that indeed the black bean soup was vegan and a cup was on its way. My drink, Smoked Citrus, is made with mezcal and grapefruit, and in the background you can see my husband’s ginger mojito. The drinks were fantastic! Mine was all it promised to be: smoky and citrus, as if someone had actually charred the grapefruit before juicing it. And mezcal? Seriously. My brother-in-law, in Mexico, calls me “Mezcalita” so that might give you some idea of where I stand on that particular goody. The ginger mojito had a little kick to it, ginger adding some spice to the sweet drink. But drinks and salsas managed to compliment each other well, so there was never a bite that interfered with the enjoyment of a sip. Eventually, we were brought a little cup of the diablo salsa. I’m not easily amused by so-called “hot” salsas, but I could see how someone who doesn’t like spicy might be afraid of this one. It was fantastic, smoky and flavorful. The heat from the peppers did not overwhelm or injure. But, if you’re not a fan of spicy, this may not be for you.
We did receive a basket of chips and guacamole. The guac was clearly hand smashed because there were beautiful chunks of avocado floating around in there and not a single grey spot to be seen, and the veggies were subtle and perfectly balanced. Nothing (and I mean nothing) ruins guacamole faster for me than too much salt and too much onion. This may have been an almost perfect guacamole. In fact, it worked out great with my soup.
The black bean soup also had a bit of a kick to it, but I would hardly call it spicy or hot. It was delicious! Creamy and also well balanced. The crumbled chips on top gave the soup a little salt and oil, and I continued to crumble more chips on top as the soup diminished. And did I mention it tasted great on a chip with a little guacamole?
The menu itself is very vegetarian and vegan friendly. If you’re vegetarian, you’ll have zero problems ordering something directly off the menu. The nachos are meat-free, as is the fried queso fresco and plantains, but I would ask about the soups to make sure they are not made with meat stocks. In the entree section, you’ll find enchiladas (which can be made veggie), and a grilled vegetables plate to share. It sounds like a build your own taco kind of plate, so vegans, ask your server if the cilantro pesto contains any dairy. Of course there are tons of veggie friendly sides: plantains, green rice, epazote-agave black beans, cumin-roasted potatoes, yucateco roasted cauliflower and sauteed kale. I don’t know about you, but this is vegetarian heaven! And then, there in tacos & burritos section is an actual vegan option!
My initial comment to the server was not really anything to do with the choice being vegan, but that I couldn’t decide between a taco or burrito. He quickly jumped in and made the decision for me, saying that the taco comes with the slaw inside, and the slaw is not vegan. Got that kids? *The house slaw is not vegan* it is made with mayonnaise. I was to have the burrito with a side of beans. Ooh! More beans: goody for me (good luck to my husband).
My burrito arrived and as promised it was chock full of yumminess. It seems that chefs have finally discovered that cauliflower is a delicious staple of vegan cooking. We don’t all live on tofu and fake meat, we actually eat real vegetables that not only can be found right in the grocery store, but that you probably already have in your walk-in in the kitchen. Go for it! Grill some cauliflower and see just how adaptable this white veggie can be.
And this thing was GIGANTIC! Luckily, my tummy was already half full from the black bean soup, so I was able to control myself and only eat half of this little beauty. The rest I had packaged up and brought home, you know, so I could eat as a bedtime snack. The soyrizo, though at first I was a little discouraged to see it would be in the burrito at all, actually worked out great. Just a little goes a long way, and that stuff is so close to the real thing that I’ve personally seen people eat it an not know they were eating cursed “vegan food.” It was sparingly used more for spice and flavor than for bulk. Most of that came from the rice and beans. The cauliflower was grilled and retained its place as star of the show.
If you’ll notice, the slaw still ended up on the plate (luckily in its own little dish, so no run off) but my husband took a few bites of that and said it was delicious. Personally, I’m not a fan of any kind of slaw – I really really do not like raw cabbage (not to be confused with cooked versions). There are no words to describe how it turns my stomach to even consider the idea of putting it in my mouth. See? There are even vegetables that vegans don’t like!
Overall, La Ventura must received 5 sprouts for its wide array of vegetarian and vegan options. I did not phone ahead, so I will say with full confidence that I didn’t even see a reason that I should have. Just go, drink, eat and be merry. This is a great little place right on Ventura Blvd, it’s fun to watch the traffic and pedestrians, so as long as the weather permits, sit on the patio and enjoy your day!
11929 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, Ca 91604
Hours of Operation
Saturday & Sunday 9am-11pm