Monday, December 8, 2008

Zephyr Vegetarian Cafe

I am on vacation this week, but Michael Doss, from the OC Register, kindly agreed to write a guest post for Go Eggless. Thank you, Michael! You can find more of his reviews at the Liberal Atheist Vegetarian blog, which is still online even though he is no longer adding more posts to it.

When I quit writing the Liberal Atheist Vegetarian blog last month, I thought my reviewing days were over. Luckily for me, Sarah asked if I could do a guest spot, which is great, as I visited a new restaurant, and its left me with a lot to say...

When those of us in the OC want to get together with our Westside LA friends, Long Beach is the logical conclusion - it's right in the middle and offers many dining options, including many on the vegan/vegetarian side of things. The one spot I'd heard about but never tried was the Zephyr Vegetarian Cafe, at 340 E 4th St (downtown, between Atlantic and Long Beach Blvd).

As far as the menu goes, it's a California veg*n's paradise. Most items are strictly vegan, with organic "cow cheese" available as an add-on. As someone who's looked and asked at almost every veg-friendly restaurant in the area, organic cheeses are a rare find. But if that's not your style, soy cheese is the default on most items. I couldn't find a menu online (not surprisingly - see more on disorganization below), but there are many veg*n, eggless, and even raw options.

My "M.F." Works Burger was huge, with avocado, cow cheese, and the standard burger toppings. The kitchen scored major points with me for actually putting a diner-style char on the patty - too often, veggie burgers are warmed through, but not much else. Other than the burger falling apart (I blame the bun), it was everything I expected. Like most menu items, it's served with tortilla chips and a slightly overblended, but delicious, fresh salsa.

In addition to burgers, the Zephyr offers a variety of bowls and other dishes, many with seitan. Alas, this is also where the problems start. On a Saturday night, the restaurant was out of seitan. This is like Black Angus being out of steak -- it cuts the menu in half, and is inexcusable (especially considering there were no signs telling us this - everyone who ordered was told individually). While it didn't affect me, most of my co-diners had to scramble for other options.

What did affect me, however, was the service, or lack thereof. For a place with 3 people working the counter, service was amazingly slow, even on things like drinks. There was an aura of disorganization as well, with our meals coming out one or two at a time (we were a party of 7). As a result, one friend's dinner just never showed up until we asked about it, a good 20 minutes later. Our after-dinner coffee had to be brewed after we ordered it, and took 20 minutes to show up - one friend had to leave before it appeared.

As much as I hate knocking a place with very good food, I can't be sure I'll have a good experience the next time I go to Zephyr. In all honesty, I'd be surprised if it's still open in a year. Get the grub while you can, because it's tasty.

Michael Doss used to review veg*n eats at the defunct Liberal Atheist Vegetarian blog, and you can find him now at insignifica.org.

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