Soups offered at Café Gratitude vegan restaurant in Venice include a red pepper bisque with fennel and a thick tomato-eggplant with aioli.

“I didn’t know there were this many complimentary adjectives in the English language,” I mused to my spouse, as I looked at the menu at Cafe Gratitude in Venice.
With the exception of wines and beers, every item on the menu has a name that is a short affirmation – among the salads alone are “I am festive,” “I am liberated,” and “I am fabulous.” It’s earnestly kitschy but oddly endearing, to use a few adjectives that didn’t make the cut.
Café Gratitude is the most interesting of the places I’ve visited on Rose Avenue, which says something given the competition in this lively neighborhood. The restaurant is stylishly decorated and boasts a pretty patio, like many of its neighbors, but there is one difference. It may take a moment to notice as you scan the menu, but no meat or dairy is served.
Some people just stopped reading this. For the rest of you, Café Gratitude is fully vegan, but it effortlessly breaks the stereotypes of the genre. Silly names aside, the food here is amazing.
My first experience was at lunch, when I was headed to a different restaurant and noticed the beauty of the food people were eating on the patio. I impulsively changed plans and took a seat, only afterward finding that I was in a vegan bistro. The veggie burger (“I am magical”) didn’t try to taste like an actual hamburger and was therefore excellent, and the kombucha-ginger tea spiked with apple and beet juices (“I am bright”) hit the spot.
I returned for dinner with my wife, and we took a spot on the romantically lit patio instead of the louder interior. She ordered a mineral water with peppermint, citrus, and ginger (“I am opulent”) and I had a glass of Quinta Cruz organic Albarino (“I am wine.” Just kidding.) My wine was excellent, though her soda was a bit too minty for my taste.
We were attracted to a zucchini cilantro hummus starter, but ended up ordering soups as starters – red pepper bisque with fennel and a thick tomato-eggplant with a drizzle of aioli. The tomato-eggplant was all about the concentrated flavor of the vegetables, while the bisque was more ambitious, with cumin lending South Asian overtones to the mild red pepper. The thinly sliced fennel was an inspired flavor combination, but was sliced in long thin ribbons, making it difficult to get just a bit rather than blend it into multiple bites – an error that could easily be corrected.
For main courses we selected an eggplant parmesan sandwich (“I am awesome”) and hempseed pesto over quinoa with kale, tomato, and a nut-based version of parmesan cheese (“I am gracious”). I had been mildly skeptical about both of these since they included faux cheeses, which I usually find to be pale shadows of the real thing.
Either they’re making them better or this kitchen knows how to use them with uncommon skill, because they fit in perfectly. My wife enjoys eggplant parmesan and orders it often, so we have a benchmark, and this one hit all the right notes; the cornmeal crust on the eggplant was still crunchy, the marinara was rich and herbally spicy. The large sandwich was served with salad with a delicate vinaigrette, and it was a fine and balanced meal.
As good as it was, I was even more enamored with the pesto bowl, which I chose with quinoa instead of brown rice. The pesto had an intense flavor that was similar to basil but not quite the same, and it went very well with the kale and tomatoes cooked with quinoa. I’d consider trying this again with the brown rice to see how the more full and nutty flavor would stand up to the other elements, if it wasn’t for the fact that so many other interesting things are on the menu.
We finished with a quinoa-based version of a rice krispies treat (“I am kind”) and a chocolate mouse pie (“I am bliss”). Both achieved effects I had thought were impossible – I had no idea that quinoa could be popped, and my previous experiences with vegan desserts had been that they might look beautiful but they didn’t have the richness of eggs. I am now a believer – the chocolate mousse on a chocolate-pecan crust was delicious, and the popped quinoa bar was nutty, subtly sweet, and vastly superior to the original.
The total for dinner was $76 – above average for a vegetarian dinner for two in Los Angeles, but totally worth it. Café Gratitude, I really am grateful – you just showed me what could be done with vegan cuisine.
Café Gratitude is at 512 Rose Ave. in Venice. Open daily 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. Validated parking in underground lot, children welcome, wine and beer served. Menu at cafegratitudevenice.com.

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