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Resolution solutions

January 23, 2003|Anne Valdespino | Times Staff Writer

You've been great about sticking to your New Year's resolution to eat: vegetarian, vegan, raw or just plain healthier. But it's been weeks, and staying home is getting to be a real drag. Here's a list of interesting places where you can hang out and still keep your vow.

Inn of the Seventh Ray

Fairy lights twinkle in a garden filled with roses and flowering rosemary beside a creek in Topanga Canyon. The Inn of the Seventh Ray might be a throwback to the Aquarian age, but it's also a perfect setting for a romantic vegetarian dinner date. There must be a tofu sculpture garden out back the size of Legoland, says one diner.

The soy creations include a tasty "duck" served with French chestnuts, walnuts, leeks and cherry sauce. So much is magic at this place that when the smoked tofu en papiotte with shiitake mushrooms, eggplant and curry arrives, they have to tell you not to eat the parchment it comes wrapped in.

The inn still offers real fish, game and meat but is now featuring a raw menu that changes frequently.

Mani's Bakery

Come as you are to Mani's on Fairfax and settle into one of the tiny tables inside or out for coffee drinks -- with soy milk -- and healthy desserts. Most folks wear T-shirts and jeans or sweats, and the typical accessories include dirty hair, big, thick books to read or kids in strollers begging for sweets.

Mani's serves sandwiches and salads, but the real attraction is the huge dessert case with pies, layer cakes, cookies, scones and more made with organically grown wheat flour and sweeteners such as fruit juice concentrate, honey and granulated maple syrup.

A moist, dense coconut macaroon tastes almost like the real thing. And the eclair also does a good imitation with authentic-tasting pate a choux pastry, a light but vividly vanilla custard filling and a chocolate topping dusted with crushed pistachio. The fat shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate are sophisticated in flavor but earthy in texture; not too sweet yet crunchy and feathery at the same time.

Au Lac

At this Vietnamese restaurant in the middle of a Fountain Valley mini-mall you'll have to get past the faux wisteria hanging from the ceiling and the piano soundtrack so hopelessly new agey it could be, as one diner dubbed it, "music for George Winston's funeral." The real fun at Au Lac is discovering Vietnamese vegetarian, vegan and raw cuisine. For dinner there's "grilled fish with special sauce." That's rich, creamy tofu, covered with a seaweed "skin" and served with rice pancakes dipped in warm water to cook.

At lunch there are specials served with soup and your choice of white or brown rice. One includes "shrimp," "pork" and "beef," all made of textured, formed tofu covered with a savory caramel sauce. If tofu sculpture isn't your thing, there are curried vegetables, rice paper rolls and other dishes. Don't skip dessert. From the raw menu there's a rainbow "cheesecake," actually a striated frozen fruit mousse of raspberry, blueberry and other flavors with a date-nut crust, garnished with a nasturtium and fresh raspberries.


Across from the Bodhi Tree on Melrose Avenue, there's an oasis for meditation and sipping smart drinks. Enter Elixir through a gift shop selling tea, soaps and self-help books and stop at the bar. Choose from 17 energy, vitality and balance drinks: "Chi Devil" helps you to be a sensual woman with lemon and herbs, ginseng, guarana and yerba mate; "Blues Buster" is intended to pick up your spirits with peaches, herbs and white peony; "Morning After" claims to help ease you out of a hangover with mixed berries, Asiatic Cornelian Cherry, milk thistle and white willow.

Your tea comes on a lacquer tray in a clay pot with a tiny hourglass timer letting you know when it's perfectly brewed. Take it out to a courtyard and enter into a serene Zen garden with a fountain that looks like a mandala. At sunset, tiki torches light a green lawn, a single birch tree and a love seat nestled under a bamboo shelter. Get a reading from a numerologist who has set up shop in the corner or just meditate, sip your tea and listen to piped-in Sarah McLachlan.

Real Food Daily

After the vegetarian lasagna or meatloaf, or maybe as a midday coffee break, go for a dessert from Real Food. There are giant chocolate-chip cookies, tofu cheesecakes, puddings and coconut-cream pies, but the real attention grabbers are the cakes. They're finished with a satiny chocolate that looks and tastes like ganache.

Try the chocolate-banana cake with moist, caramel-colored layers and milk-chocolate icing topped with banana slices or the marble cake with a dark chocolate frosting. Both are served with a sweet chocolate sauce so you can dip every bite and wonder how they do it without using dairy products.


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