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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Au Lac in Fountain Valley: What's In Those Rolls? Not Rice but Try it!

My next stop was famed vegan and raw/semi-raw food restaurant Au Lac in Fountain Valley, which calls the food it serves "Humanese," whatever that means.

As a hard core carnivore, I was intrigued by the creativity of the raw dishes. I wasn't interested in fake "soy chicken" or "soy fish" that actually gross me out.

I liked the raw dishes because they truly celebrated the vegetables and used them in unexpected ways. For instance, the rolls you see above aren't made with rice, but with jicama and the creamy cheese-like thing is actually ground tofu. Since kimchi goes well with tofu, Chef Ito added that too although it was a bit watered down (I think he literally washed the spice away to make it milder. Minus points.). Genius.

One of the most popular rice dishes is the curried rice, which was creamy and had a crunch from the semi-raw vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, corn peas and mushroom. It also had what seemed like dehydrated onions that had the texture of fried onions. It had some green olives that provided the saltiness and brought it all together. Soft chunks of avocados complemented the whole dish nicely, giving it an even creamier texture.

I also liked the use of coconut meat in rolls that gave the rolls a soft texture and refreshing edge. Meet the Cali Roll, which has seaweed (dulse, not the dried black seaweed it was rolled in), cucumbers, avocado, coconut meat, tamari ginger, chives and pine nuts (again, acting as the "rice" that holds it together). The rolls came with a soy sauce-based dipping sauce that provided the saltiness it needed.

The last rice dish was had was the fried rice, in a manner of speaking, of course, since it's not entirely cooked. Our server told us the rice is actually "sprouted rice," that's basically rice where hot water is poured on and soaked for a while. It tasted like al dente rice to me -- incredible it was semi-cooked.

The dish's descriptions are always interesting: grass seed, corn, cilantro, dulse, red chili, tamari, "fried onion" with ranch, which of course isn't the real ranch but it tasted lighter and better. I'm really eating grass seed? Who knew it could taste decent?

The fried rice was crunchy and it made for a winning combination with the vegetables and toppings.

My apologies for skipping the starters. They were good but we liked the mains better so I jumped the gun.

 The Pop Eye spinach salad with spiced macademia nuts, cashews and pistachios with red onions and orange smothered in a creamy tofu dressing (dubbed "Kenchur" on the menu, a type of Indonesian ginger) was hearty, crunchy, juicy, spicy and sweet. I got a new found appreciation for ways of incorporating nuts into everyday cooking.

We also had Da Bowl, which had romaine lettuce with some onions, olives, tomatoes, flax and pistachios with a sweet mustard dressing. I didn't like this one as much as the spinach salad as it was too sweet for my taste.

The Au Lac raw soup sounded very promising but was far too salty. I think they poured too much miso. It was a warm miso saffron broth with dried seaweed, tomatoes, garlic, onions, shallots, bean sprouts, celery leaf, red bell peppers, pine nuts, macademia nuts, avocado with some lime juice. It was frothy but the even with the addition of more water to dilute it couldn't save it.

For dessert, my friend recommended the donut holes that looked like any old mochi from the outside but turned out to be these wonderful concoctions made with funky sugars and powders made from nuts. They weren't too sweet and they were delicious. 

I know raw food isn't everyone's cup of tea but if a meat lover like me can appreciate it, trust me, you will too. The menu also has full cooked vegan dishes that I didn't try at all for the above mentioned reasons. Enjoy!

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