M Street Kitchen

Top brassica: Brussels sprout salad (half portion)

Top brassica: Brussels sprout salad (half portion)

fixings for vegetarian tacos, with tortillas in foreground

Pain in the tacos: Tortillas, with fixings

Sweet and fudgy: The Magic Brownie

Fudgy and sweet: The Magic Brownie


Who has the best veggie burger? Back in June, the Los Angeles Times food section featured a reader’s letter describing the one at Upper West as “the best…on the planet.” Though we liked the burger a lot, we were hardly prepared to crown it with the world title (see June 16 review). The Shangri La Veggie-Nut Burger at M Street Kitchen (2000 Main Street, at Bicknell, in Santa Monica), however, seems at least to be a plausible contestant. Made from mushrooms, white beans, and onions, according to our waitress (we also tasted carrots and celery), the patty pulls off the textural coup of a crisp, brown outside paired with a moist, flavorful, non-mushy inside. Served on a toasted, buttery bun reminiscent of Upper West’s brioche, along with shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato, red onion, sweet pickle slices, and a sweet dressing, it made for an utterly scrumptious sandwich. (The accompanying coleslaw, a lightly dressed, slightly bland rendition, at least held on to a nice cabbagey crunch.) We were impressed, as well, by the brussels sprout salad, which elegantly combined the autumnal brassica, steamed, tamed of its bitterness, and broken down into individual leaves, with judicious slivers of mild, buttery Manchego cheese; almonds, for a nutty crunch; chewy dried cranberries and blueberries, for little, sweet bursts of fruit flavor; and a light, subtle honey-mustard vinaigrette. The vegetarian tacos were less remarkable: Though we liked the simplicity and wholesomeness of the white rice and black beans (albeit with a gratuitous spoonful of sour cream on top), as well as the bright, fresh guacamole and pico de gallo and the tangy, dark hot sauce, we were underwhelmed by the grilled veggies—red pepper, hot peppers, squash, and asparagus, which were apparently unseasoned as well as partially charred (for a burned flavor that we never really like). Moreover, the five small corn tortillas were not nearly enough to encompass the contents of the plate, which quickly devolved into a mess. For dessert, we chose the Magic Brownie, a generously sized chocolate square topped with chocolate sauce, with a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Though neither the brownie nor the cream was overpoweringly sweet, we would have preferred at least a hint of bitterness as a counterpoint to the sugar. We ended up cutting the rich, fudgy chewiness of the brownie with glasses of milk, which our waitress was kind enough to provide at our request (just as she had thoughtfully divided our brussels sprout salad into two plates). Though we would be inclined to avoid the tacos in the future, we would gladly return to M Street Kitchen for that memorable salad and the excellent veggie burger, both of which exhibit the extra portion of care that makes this stylish but friendly eatery extend its M to an mmmm.

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Sauce on Hampton

Continuing our comparison shopping for veggie burgers, we visited Sauce on Hampton (259 Hampton Dr., on Rose, one block east of Main Street in Venice). As with Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers (see June 13 review), the menu offers a variety of preparation options that correspond to the choices for the various meat patties; we chose Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms for one, grilled zucchini and avocado for the other. Both were served on a toasted but soft whole-grain roll with tomato, spinach, red onions, house-made aioli, and Dijon mustard, as well as a too-sweet Thousand Island-style dressing on the side. Sad to say, in both cases the unexceptional Gardenburger patty was so heavily charred on the grill that all the other flavors shrank into the background. The carrot-ginger soup, a seasonal special, was strangely bland, in desperate need of some salt. The roasted Yukon potatoes, at least, were delicious, golden on the outside and tender on the inside. More striking still was our appetizer, pizzadilla, a spinach flour tortilla baked to create the thinnest, lightest, crispest pizza crust we have ever had, one that still managed to maintain its chewiness. It was topped with a savory, slightly spicy layer of chimichurri, a green sauce made of chopped parsley, garlic, and chili flakes; sautéed mushrooms; Parmesan; and (invisible?) mozzarella (we’re going by the menu here). If only our burgers had lived up to that promising beginning. The dessert was another disappointment, a couple of insanely rich chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies sandwiching two scoops of lackluster vanilla ice cream, not difficult to finish but hardly worth the calories. The memorable pizzadilla left us thinking that, when he tries, the chef at Sauce can astonish, but for vegetarians this promising eatery is still a work in progress.

Finn McCool’s

Sunny side up: Vegetarian Irish breakfast

Sunny side up: Vegetarian Irish breakfast

Vegetable boxty

Potato pancake: Vegetable boxty

To go from the Horn of Africa yesterday to the Emerald Isle today might have seemed like too great a leap. Fortunately, Finn McCool’s (2702 Main St., in Santa Monica) made for an easy transition, combining the traditional atmosphere and fare of an Irish pub with a full page of options for vegetarians and even vegans. So many things looked enticing that it was hard to choose, but over a pint of Guinness we settled on the vegetarian Irish breakfast (available all day) and the vegetable boxty. The breakfast came with savory sautéed mushrooms; grilled tomatoes, cut in half and seasoned with pepper; a dense, chewy slice of whole grain soda bread; and Belfast potato bread, buttery golden disks that we had to fight over. One of us scarfed down the egg, sunny side up by request; the other scooped up the Heinz baked beans. The boxty, identified on the menu as “a large, traditional Irish potato pancake,” surprised us when it arrived; folded like a tortilla, it was filled to overflowing with a flavorful stew of perfectly cooked bell peppers, carrots, spinach, celery, onion, tomatoes, cabbage, and peas in a white-wine cream sauce that was more like a light broth than an artery-clogging blanket. Despite the generous portions, we easily cleared both plates and even managed to find room for dessert, another tough call, with so much to tantalize us. After further deliberation over our Guinness, we went with the black and tan chocolate pie. Though this beautifully prepared flourless torte with a butter pecan crust, white and dark chocolate ganache, and whipped cream proved too sweet for us, our non-Irish eyes were still smiling. By welcoming vegetarians and serving food of such a high caliber, Finn McCool’s made us feel lucky indeed.

Dhaba

On our first visit to Dhaba (2104 Main Street, in Santa Monica) we decided to go with two of the specials, Swiss chard with garlic, and mushrooms and peas in a light curry sauce. Both were wonderfully fresh and simple, the chard savory and slightly bitter, the mushrooms and peas subtly sweet. We ate the two entrées with onion naan, a deliciously crisp rendition, almost like matzo but tender on the inside. For an appetizer we chose samosas, which were smaller than usual but nice and crispy, filled with potatoes, peas, and carrots. One of us liked them without reservation; one of us thought the spice combination was a bit harsh. The green chutney that accompanied the samosas was better than average, a vibrant combination of mint and cilantro. In keeping with the spirit of the place, our mango lassis leaned more toward mango and less toward yogurt, which is to say they were both rich and refreshing. We left feeling light enough to fit in a scoop of ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s across the street. On our next visit, we plan to try some of the regular menu items and, if it’s warm enough, the charming patio.