madeleine bistro

My boyfriend Johnny and I have both been so busy lately that we’ve been neglecting to carve out enough “us” time. So we decided to go on a real date, to get out on the town for some affectionate communing over good food. We thought a venture to Tarzana would be just what the love doctor ordered.

Yes, Tarzana. In case you haven’t heard, on Ventura Blvd. sits a sparkling gem of a restaurant, Madeleine Bistro, which has a menu that is tantalizing and 100 percent vegan. For us, it was a thirty minute drive to reach it. It’s worth driving twice that – let’s make that twice that in bumper-to-bumper.

With light olive walls and the waft of scented candles light in the air, this attractive bistro has a very neighborhoody feel. Its staff are incredibly friendly and down to earth, and, even though the restaurant only opened in June 2005, it seems that they already greet quite a few regulars.

It’s a scene that’s a non-scene; even the Hollywood hipsters don’t look like they’re trying so hard here. Among other tables might sit elderly couples, young mothers with strollers, love birds and friends, San Fernando Valley folk, and those who fight the 101 to tuck into the nosh. For a Friday night, we made a reservation, but on that particular evening, we wouldn’t have needed to.

We both decided to start with the French onion soup ($7). It was sweet with large strands of onion and grated Farmer’s cheese (non-dairy) swimming in a savory broth. Salty garlic croutons floated about on top. Even on the chilliest winter night, you won’t have a shiver in your bones after a bowl of this.

For his main dish, Johnny went with the popular chicken-fried seitan ($15), which turned out to be two “chicken breasts” (seitan) fried in a golden finger-lickin’ batter. He loved the moist and meaty seitan contrasted with its crispy coating, and I loved stealing bites of it. The accompanying gravy is made with nutritional yeast, tahini and canola oil, among other ingredients; it even had little lumps in it, giving it a holidays-at-home feel.

“You want an extra side of that gravy?” asked one of the waiters. Why, we thought you’d never ask! Most definitely request an extra side – you’ll want it for the sizeable portions of both seitan and mashed potatoes, which are enough to take home for a next day’s lunch.

My main, the braised king oyster mushrooms ($17), was as handsome as it was delicious. The rectangular plate held large slabs of dense mushrooms in a rich chardonnay sauce, between two cake-like wedges of layered scalloped potatoes and yams, and a small bunch of roasted Brussels sprouts, onions and seasonal veggies.

We ended things off with the bananas foster split ($8). This is Johnny’s favorite dessert in the universe, and I’ve heard him speak of it often over our years together. So when we found out that Madeleine serves this, he even considered ordering it for his appetizer. We had high expectations, and it passed.

The beverages stand out here, too. The imported Samuel Smith’s organic lager ($4) is a good pick, for its fantastic light finish. The fresh juices are also stellar. All of the wines on the list are biodynamic, sustainable and/or organic.

Despite what has been said out there by those who find meatless, dairyless diets unfathomable, vegan fare is not a “make do” fare, and I don’t think anyone who has a meal here would ever think to suggest it is. I would bet that even the most ardent meat-eater would leave here feeling there was not an iota compromised in the food.

Frankly, Madeleine is at the top of its class in not just organic vegan food, but in food, period. Here, veganism holds the same broad scope possibilities in taste adventuring that other cuisines do – and all this while hurting no living creature in its making. Talk about love.Now, speaking of love, pass that gravy.

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