Planning a healthy night at Cafe Rivva, an organic vegetarian eatery in Brentwood, we discovered that the kitchen had closed at 4. Fortunately, the nearby Coral Tree Cafe (11645 San Vicente Blvd., east of Barrington) provided us with an affordable and comfortable, though very likely more fattening, dinner. The experience was similar in many ways to our meal at Panera (see July 5 review) but with a much higher level of quality. We started with the vegan vegetable soup, a mixture of zucchini, onion, carrots, mushrooms, and barley with a bright, peppery flavor, not too sweet or salty, and not utterly dominated by the tomato base like similar versions we have had. Our sandwiches, a house-made veggie burger and a grilled portobello, both came with a simple but elegant salad, fresh mixed greens tossed with a sweet, acidic balsamic vinaigrette; the sandwiches themselves were served on good, toasty house-made ciabatta. The veggie burger, a fried patty made with peas, carrots, black beans, and onions, was golden brown on the outside, albeit dry and mushy on the inside, as house-made veggie burgers tend to be (see June 16 review of Upper West). It nonetheless had a decent flavor, oniony with a sweet undertone from the carrots and peas, and worked well with the accompanying sliced Roma tomatoes, lettuce, and mustardy rémoulade (wisely served on the side). The portobello sandwich was tastier, sporting roasted red peppers, spinach, caramelized onions, basil, and a moderate amount of smelly but flavorful Fontina cheese. Though full, we found room for the staff-recommended coconut cake, three yummy layers of coconut sponge, like a light, fluffy macaroon, frosted with coconut-sprinkled butter cream. In Los Angeles, sandwich-and-salad cafés with tempting desserts are ubiquitous, but it isn’t every day that one finds food like this done so well.
Update: On a second visit (July 30), we liked both the Mediterranean Veggie sandwich and the Creamy Tomato soup better than before. The soup seemed lighter and brighter; and with less feta cheese in the sandwich, the other, more appealing flavors came through, especially the spicy peppers. We can now also recommend the Greek salad, a flavorful blend of romaine, red onion, and black olives, with a light vinaigrette and a reasonable amount of feta, and the black-cherry smoothie, which was thick, fruity, and not too sweet, with a subtle yogurt tang. Once again, we found that Panera offered a more than satisfactory meal for very little money.
Update: As of May 2014, Veggie Grill is up to 24 restaurants (16 in Southern California, the rest in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington State).