Thursday, May 5, 2011

Breeze: Vegan Eats in Century City

Breeze, the restaurant in the Hyatt Century Plaza Hotel, recently launched a series of vegan options to their menu. I was recently invited to check out the new meat, dairy and egg free dishes to see what Executive Chef Manfred Lassahn had been working on. The hotel had been getting an increasing number of requests for vegan food offerings and the Humane Society's Genesis Awards this Spring was the impetus for the R&D that led to the dishes and the launching of them on the lunch and dinner menus.

I am not a vegan or vegetarian, so I was curious to see how delicious and satisfying these vegan dishes would be.  It is unusual for a hotel to create specific vegan dishes, so it is commendable that the Century Plaza has launched this program.  However, I do not grade on a curve as you are eating food, not intentions.

Our meal began with several shared appetizers: Beet Carpaccio, Macadamia Caprese, and Wild Field Green Salad.  The Beet Carpaccio (above) uses beets as the "bread" in the sandwich of edamame hummus and mango emulsion with basil oil.

The Macadamia Caprese is made with house-made macadamia nut cheese, semi-dried tomatoes, baby mizuna and green olive oil was my favorite of the appetizers.  The "cheese" is rolled in tarragon and chives and a basil vinaigrette with a balsamic reduction was sprinkled on top.  The semi-dried tomatoes were new to me; their texture went well with the macadamia nut cheese; fresh tomatoes would have been too wet.

The third appetizer, Wild Field Greens, is a salad of market stand greens, dried cherries and blueberries, sunflower seeds, house made tofu-ricotta, Harry's Berries strawberries and a warm vinaigrette.  The berries were delicious but this dish could have been tasty and vegan without the faux-cheese.

The meal continued with several main courses, some of which included Gardein, a plant-based protein designed to mimic chicken.  The main courses were Gardein Chicken, Gardein Chicken Scaloppini, and Red Beet Quinoa and Zucchini Noodle.  The Gardein Chicken, below, was my favorite of the entrees.  It was served with a green bean and fingerling potato salad, baby arugula and white wine and cashew cream sauce.  The "chicken" had been spiced very well and had a pleasant texture.  It almost passed for chicken and tasted very good.   The green bean and baby potato salad was also a good and well executed foil to the "chicken."

The Gardein Chicken Scaloppini was dusted with spiced flour and was served with garlic pea shoots and asparagus-meyer lemon risotto.  I did not care for the texture of the risotto, although the "chicken" and pea shoots were good.

The Red Beet Quinoa and Zucchini Noodle with toasted almond, golden raisin, micro greens, yellow beet chips, avocado-basil pesto and aged balsamic vinegar.  The quinoa was served in a disc shape, much as tuna tartare often is.

To conclude the meal, the chef prepared a special dessert of Tiramisu made with egg-free lady fingers, tofu marscapone, Kahlua and cocoa.  This dessert is available by special advance request, although there is not a currently a vegan option on the dessert menu beyond fresh fruit.  This was a satisfying end to the meal, although I must confess I would have preferred a bowl of berries from the farmer's market.  Sometimes simple is best and there is no need to mess with the bounty of produce available to us here in Los Angeles.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and thought put into the vegan options and by how much I enjoyed the Gardein chicken.  Breeze is evidently putting a lot of effort into expanding their offerings to guests who are often offered uninteresting options like a grilled vegetable plate.  I think that they should also work to design dishes that are vegan but don't rely on mock meat or cheese.  There are plenty of flavorful salads that are already vegetarian/vegan and I can't help but think of Tender Greens and the amazing salads and cooked vegetable dishes that they offer.  The faux product should really only be used to supplement the natural abundance of fruits, vegetables and grains available to us, and need not be the focal point of vegan dishes.  Chef Lassahn already shops at the various farmers' markets as evidenced by the Harry's Berries strawberries and the red, peruvian and fingerling potatoes in the Gardein Chicken entree, so he is well aware of the product available to him.

Breeze is a comfortable restaurant and the vegan options make this jump to the shortlist of places I would go to with a vegan dining companion on the westside, especially near Century City.  The menu, because it offers healthy and vegan options in addition to its regular menu, makes it easy to find something for both the meat and vegan eaters in the crowd.  It is also more upscale and has a less preachy/crunchy menu than most vegan spots.  Whether it is vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free etc, it is great to see more general restaurants offer options that meet the needs of diners with dietary restrictions, without everyone having to go to a specialized restaurant.

Breeze: 2025 Avenue of the Stars in the Century Plaza Hotel, Century City.  (310) 551-3334.  Website:

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