The letter “M” in M Café de Chaya stands for macrobiotic, a dietary approach of Japanese origins that is embraced by health nuts and Hollywood-types alike. At M Café, seafood, seasonality, and whole grains get the green light, while refined sugars, eggs, dairy, red meat, and poultry are given the boot. I prefer to simplify the matter and think of macrobiotics as veganism, but with a side of really fresh fish. The Astronomer and I met up with the lovely D takes a B for lunch at M Café in Beverly Hills last weekend.
Executive chef Shigefumi Tachibe provides a fresh take on the macrobiotic philosophies of Michio Kushi at all three M Café locations. What sets the Beverly Hills branch apart from the ones in West Hollywood and Culver City is its concise bill of fare and smaller space. Additionally, the “Little M” menu emphasizes convenience and affordability—to-go items are always available in the store’s refrigerator, and prices are a buck and some change lower across the board. However, considering that the typical clientele are lunching ladies taking a break from shopping on Rodeo Drive, I don’t think that prices or lack of free time are an issue. Zing!
Whether I’m slumming it at hole-in-the-walls or breaking the bank at Michelin starred establishments, I generally feel at ease when dining out. However, a funny thing happened at M Café—I felt totally like a fish out of water. While eating healthfully has always been important to me, I was out of my element navigating a terrain of egg-less egg salads and dairy-free puddings. Thank goodness Diana was by my side to help shed light on the soy bean-intensive menu.
When Diana suggested that we start with an order of sweet potato fries ($3.50), The Astronomer and I happily agreed. Dusted in chili powder and sea salt, the fries were well-seasoned and delightfully crisp. A squeeze of fresh lime juice added a pleasant tang. The fries were accompanied by a beet-tomato ketchup and a soy-based spicy yuzu mayonnaise. The faux mayonnaise was positively creamy.
I snuck an order of tuna tataki inari ($2.50) all to myself. The slightly vinegary brown rice and sweet tofu pocket paired perfectly with the slab of sesame speckled tuna.
Taking a cue from our M Café veteran Diana, The Astronomer settled on the Madras Tempeh Wrap ($9.75) with masala-baked tempeh, brown basmati rice, toasted almonds, raisins, frizzled onions, and crisp vegetables with curried soy yogurt dressing in a whole wheat lavash. From the nutty tempeh to the sweet raisins and creamy dressing, The Astronomer loved everything about the wrap.
I bullied The Astronomer into ordering the scarlet quinoa for his side item. The grains were visually and texturally interesting, but quite ordinary flavor-wise. The little chunks of beets weren’t enough to jazz up the salad.
I ordered the dilled tofu salad sandwich ($8.25) with diced celery, dill pickles, sliced tomato, and mixed baby greens on sourdough bread. Following the savory fries and curry wrap, my sandwich tasted sadly bland. The notes of dill were too subtle to breakthrough the mildly flavored tofu. I wished I had consumed the sandwich before assaulting my palate with intense spices.
My side of kale greens was as tasty as Diana promised. Coated in a spicy peanut dressing, the crinkly leaves were a pleasure to eat.
To finish, we shared a strawberry cupcake. The cake was very moist and dotted with fresh fruit. The frosting wasn’t as smooth or as rich as a traditional buttercream, but it still had an appealingly airy quality about it. M Café’s cupcake ranks alongside Babycakes in New York City as exemplars of vegan sweets. We also shared a chocolate pudding that was nearly spot-on, save for its mildly toothy texture.
M Café de Chaya
9433 Brighton Way
Beverly Hills, CA 90210