Gratitude 4

The Raw-Vegan Movement Trends Upscale 
in Newport Beach

The first time I experienced Café Gratitude was two years ago when my husband and I dined with an aspiring pastry chef from Chicago named Yvonne. When this spritely brunette moved to California in 2012, she completely embraced the sunny “SoCal lifestyle.”

Every morning, Yvonne woke at dawn to practice yoga at Runyon Canyon. After exercising, she biked to work in Beverly Hills, where she dabbled as an artisanal chocolatier. Before that position, she baked baguettes and rolls for Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery at the Montage Resort. So when it came to scouring fine ingredients, Yvonne was one of my favorite chefs to accompany.

That is how on the morning before our lunch at Venice’s Café Gratitude, we found ourselves at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. I introduced Yvonne to my favorite strawberries, delicate red Seascape berries grown by Harry’s. Then we scoped out the citrus–blood oranges, Kaffir limes and Oro grapefruits that dotted the stalls. There were flushes of red, marigold and bright green beautifully displayed on farm stands constructed out of wooden crates. The heat was a balmy 80 degrees, which didn’t feel all that oppressive, since we had a cool ocean breeze that licked the back of our hair as we strolled towards the open-air cafe.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were quickly seated on the patio deck across from a cluster of statuesque blondes donning Lululemon yoga capris. The women gabbed on about the benefits of their latest health craze: the Paleo diet. As they dissected the attributes of each fava bean, I began to wonder, is this really the future of California dining?

Café Gratitude’s fast-casual plant-based menu first drew national attention for its extremely popular “I am Renewed” cleanse program. Available in one, three and five day plans, the program’s intent is to concentrate on detoxification rather than dieting. The fresh-pressed organic juice concoctions incorporate unexpected ingredients, such as chia seeds. Regarded as one of the Aztec superfoods, these seeds are nutrient-dense and fairly low in calories. They are also found in Cafe Gratitude’s “I am Cheerful” peach and strawberry juice blend. The seeds’ squishy exteriors and crunchy centers add a delightfully unexpected texture to this beverage.

All the dishes and beverages listed on the menu are written as mantras: “remarkable,” “transformed” and “liberated.” While it’s difficult to do this at first without a smirk, it’s definitely a fun way of placing your order. The Gratitude restaurants throughout southern California have gained even more traction, thanks to a celebrity following that includes starlets such as Anne Hathaway and Emma Stone.

The next phase for this innovative restaurant group is a much-anticipated expansion into Newport Beach. Gratitude, which is slated to open on Westcliff Drive in January 2016, plans to change the way OC diners think about vegan cuisine. Several differences with the Newport Beach location will set it apart from its sister restaurants in Venice Beach, downtown LA and San Diego.

The first big change is the name. Gratitude, instead of Café Gratitude, signals that this OC outpost will far be less casual and far more upscale. Another welcomed addition to this new Gratitude includes a full bar program, complete with a cocktail list curated by Jason Eisner, the brain behind the bar at Gratitude’s popular sister West Hollywood restaurant Gracias Madre.

While the other Gratitude Cafés serve a small selection of California white wines, such as the Zaca Mesa Rousanne blend from Santa Ynez and the Gamble Sauvignon Blanc with notes of ripe peaches and honeysuckle, the Newport Beach Gratitude will have an even larger bottle selection. Currently, the other restaurants rotate their wine list. The five-bottle selection of red wines offered is slightly more encompassing. Pours include Cercius Cotes du Rhone from France’s Rhone Valley to an herbaceous Malbec from Salta, Argentina and a California offering bottled by a semi-local vintner in Paso Robles.

Embracing our local love for Mexican flavors, we tasted a dish called “transformed,” which features two corn tacos stuffed with blackened tempeh, pinto beans, a mole sauce blended from raw cacao and a smattering of raw vegetables.

Dishes, such as the “I am Magical,” feature a vegan take on a double cheeseburger. The ample house-made patties are a blend of protein-rich black beans slathered with spicy ground cashew thousand-island spread and chipotle ketchup. Served on a gluten-free amaranth and millet bun, these “magical” burgers are surprisingly satisfying.

At the end of the meal, we agreed: Yvonne had led us in the right direction. We all enjoyed the clean feeling that came after our lunch. I was truly satisfied, not stuffed. Gratitude had another convert. I couldn’t help but drink the Kool-aid–or should I say Kombucha.