It's a clean, pretty, well-lighted place, the kind of joint that has come to signify L.A. You know--blond woods and barely pink walls, cactus doubling as both nature and art and a pastel neon sign beaming on the flat white stucco facade out front.
Feel like having a casual meal, the kind you might make for yourself if you weren't too tired to cook? Don't feel like going to a hipper-than-hip venue? The menu at Nowhere reads like the Moosewood Cookbook Goes West and picks up fish and chicken on the way. Whole wheat croutons grace the Caesar salad, enchiladas are made of blue corn, there's artichoke linguine, lots of ginger and herbs, even a turkey burger, made from turkey which once roamed free. And you can range free over the menu: there's barely anything that isn't healthy to eat. Besides pastas and salads, there are clean-cut vegetable dishes and not a tad of red meat.
The Nowhere Cafe is next door to the under-the-same ownership Erewhon natural foods store. "You do know, don't you," my woman-about-town friend said, "Nowhere is Erewhon spelled backwards." So this is what those fat little jars of crayons that seem to be gracing tables all over town are for! I wrote Erewhon backwards in bright blue-green and came up with Nohwere. "Almost, but not quite," I murmured, little knowing that would be a portent for the night.
Appetizers, like nearly everything else on the menu, are modest and uncontrived, soothing for the body if not the foodie's soul. There are absolutely no surprises here. Grilled vegetables are just as announced, although someone wisely set zucchini and eggplant against crisp leeks. Two little skewers of range-fed boned and skinned broiled chicken came lightly cloaked in a ginger sauce with a pot of thin peanut-vinegar-soy sauce on the side. Shiny black mussels Italienne were timidly done, with neither enough basil nor garlic in that translucent tomato red coulis. My favorite appetizer was cabbage kombu, a not-for-everyone pink bird's nest of red and white cabbage, green seaweed and a garlic-ginger-sesame oil dressing that had real punch. On the other hand, a lunchtime seafood pasta salad lacked verve. The linguine was gummy, the herbed vinaigrette like Taittinger gone flat.
Whether you are watching your weight, your carbohydrates or your cholesterol, it is nice to be able to choose among most of the dishes on the menu instead of feeling restricted to a tiny section of the page. One night we selected chicken fajitas and Oriental shrimp; neither were inventive yet both were gracefully made. The chicken was pink and tender, cooked with onions and bell peppers in very little oil. Even the guacamole that came with it, lightened with fresh salsa, was less caloric than the usual variety. The Oriental shrimp, generously served with heaps of crunchy vegetables, is lightly sprinkled with cashew nuts.
Moo shi vegetables with roll-your-own chapati bread is a whole wheat rendition of this traditional dish. Only the black bean sauce failed. More like a sweet hoisin, it needed the dark salinity of a real bean sauce. Acorn squash stuffed with curried vegetables was full of pep, a swell light dinner on an autumn night (but I couldn't taste a note of pecans in the pecan sauce).
If you happen to believe that honey is more nutritious than sugar (and, moi , I'm not convinced), then perhaps you'll want to try a number of the made-on-the premises desserts. The macadamia nut pie is a rich, fattening, Hawaiian equivalent of pecan torte. If you're craving something chocolate, there is a confection known as chocolate roll sweetened with only grape juice. (It is, however, packed full of unsweetened whipped cream.) There is reputedly a raw strawberry pie without any sweetener at all; unfortunately it's been unavailable each time I was there. And as for the tofu pie--I'd prefer a ripe piece of plain old fruit.
If you're not looking for a gourmet paradise, Nowhere is a swell place to eat. The food does not taste like it was cooked in a restaurant, but rather in the kitchen of a well-meaning friend who studies nutrition charts and cooks food that is good for you.
Nowhere Cafe, 8009 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood. (213) 655-8895. Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner daily. Parking behind and on the street. American Express, MasterCard, Visa. Dinner for two: (food only) $25-$45.