Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Au Luc Restaurant Review

by a friend

(pictures by me)

Whenever I have a craving for vegan food, I rest assured that once I get to the location, my tummy will be filled.  This is always the case unless things go awry.  Such was my experience visiting Los Angeles.  My friend lived right by the subway station which would take us to Downtown L.A.  While many Californians don't make use of the subway, as a native New Yorker, I had no qualms.  So after an eventful morning visiting some Disney Studios(or visiting the outside at least), we headed out to get our cruelty-free meal.  Fortunately for me, the restaurant was a few blocks away from the Japanese American National Museum where a Hello Kitty exhibit was that I wanted to check out.  So I could experience both, all on foot.

We got off of the subway and walked down some narrow sidewalks past ramshackle toy shops or bargain electronic stores.  Over one mile of this and we finally get to our destination--

--only to find that they open at 5pm.  Now we were stranded in the middle of nothingness with aching hunger, no vehicle to escape, and no plan B.

My friend pushed me into traffic.  I fell onto the hood of a car and continued on miles and miles until I landed at the front steps of a vegan restaurant in Chinatown.  "Now this is more like it,"I thought as I brushed myself off and ventured into Vegan Delite which serves any seitan, tofu, or tempeh dish you could dream of.  Okay, that didn't happen.  My friend asked his Siri for nearby vegan restaurants with his shaking hands, starved of nourishment and exhausted from strenuous activity. I also texted some people. Siri said "I don't understand the question but there are no vegan restaurants nearby."  We cried and sobbed and held each other for warmth.  He then suggested we walk to the Hello Kitty exhibit and get it out of the way while we strategize further.

It was so close.  If the restaurant had been opened, it would have been perfection.  A nice meal, then a brisk walk to the museum, then headed back to the subway, satiated and satisfied.  Instead my voracious friend desperately suggested we step into a Subway sandwich shop to hold us over.  "I came all the way from New York," I snapped as he turned red with humiliation. "I want to try vegan restaurants; not fast food chain restaurants that I can get anywhere."  I could see I hurt his feelings and he ran away in the opposite direction leaving me far, far behind.  Well, this last part didn't happen but we still couldn't figure out where else to eat and both of us were too fatigued to walk back to the subway without any food.  Then I got a text from one of my vegan friends who suggested I try Âu Lạc, a mostly raw restaurant that has a location in Fountain Valley and now one in Downtown L.A. which would be about a mile away.

We got to the museum. I went inside and enjoyed the exhibit while he stayed behind, appreciative of both the air conditioning and the fact that I had convinced him to get a protein bar that morning.

The Hello Kitty exhibit was super cute!

While in the exhibit, my friend looked up the location on his phone and it was a little over a mile away but fortunately close to a subway station which we'd have to venture towards anyway.  We were so hungry & fatigued, so I suggested we use an Uber to go there. Due to it being the afternoon, the rates were $35! It seemed crazy to pay that much for a 12-block car ride.  So, despite our exhaustion, we decided to walk to the restaurant, 1.2 miles away. 

And fortunately, this part of town (just a few blocks north of where we walked initially) was a much easier venture with much nicer scenery.  There was City Hall, The Civic Center, Grand Park,The Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Before we knew it, we arrived at Âu Lạc.  We had made it in one piece.

The restaurant looked upscale. The ambiance was stunning, like we had entered the lobby of an expensive hotel.  The place was entirely empty; apparently nobody waits until 4pm to eat lunch.  Our jovial hostess/waitress greeted us right away and I asked her how to pronounce the name of the restaurant -- I was told it's Aw Lock.  She said it was a Vietnemese word. When she asked if we had parked downstairs, we told her how we had taken the subway, reached a dead end with our initial dining experience, and then had to trudge back to our current destination.  She took mercy on our hunger and retreated to the back for a surprise.  She returned with complimentary Cheezy Lime Popcorn that we had seen when we looked at  the menu.  It was perfect! Salty, tangy, light and fluffy -- probably air popped.  We devoured it quickly and were appreciative of her gesture of good will.    

The waitress suggested we start off with the eggrolls as appetizers(not really egg, don't worry). She returned shortly with them and explained that they are best when wrapped in the lettuce and mint, then dipped into the accompanying sauce.  [note: now it explains why Lan Cafe always gave mint & lettuce with their spring rolls.. I never had any clue!) She showed us how to roll it.  When we dipped them into the sauce, wow… the combination between the crispy hot eggless rolls and the crispy cold lettuce and mint, dipped into sauce was amazing.

Now it came time to order our entrees.  My friend was balancing his time between Shazaam-ing every song that played in the restaurant (something he is notorious for) and looking up reviews on Yelp to get a sense of what to order.  He was interested in the Ito Burrito because he really liked the vegan burrito he had had at V Spot in Brooklyn… but then remembered that this was a raw restaurant and it would be a different experience altogether.  We then both decided we wanted the Sweet & Spicy Tempeh but I didn't want to get the same thing because with two separate dishes, I could experience them both.  I picked a dish that came highly recommended on Yelp -- the Curried Rice.
The dishes arrived shortly and the Curried Rice was so cute, in the shape of a heart!  My friend tried some bites of his tempeh and he seemed enamored, too.  It was exactly what he had been in the mood for so he chose correctly.  On the side of his plate was a jalapeño pepper which the waitress warned him about.  He promised to at least give it a try at some point in his meal.

Halfway through savoring every bite, he decided to take a bite of the pepper to live up to his promise.  And then everything changed.  He spit it out almost immediately but the heat and flavor had altered his tastebuds.  Now whenever he took a bite of tempeh, the texture had changed for him, as did the taste.  It was hard for him to swallow.

Hooray for me!  We switched plates and I finished off his tempeh while he much appreciated the lighter, creamier curried rice.  
When the waitress returned, I commented on how the pepper had changed his palate and she said it happens all the time.  It's so odd something very, very minuscule in size can have such an effect.  The entire thing seemed to have completely altered his perception of the meal which he had initially loved so much.
I wanted to try some dessert and couldn't decide, despite their being limited options -- Baklava, Gelato, Choconut X-tasy, and Tirawmisu (all raw versions of the popular desserts).  Every Yelp review warned not to get the tiramisu and my friend even reminded me of this.  My friend isn’t a fan of coconut so that took the Choconut off as an option.  When the waitress returned and tried to help me decide, I spontaneously decided on the Tirawmisu.  He seemed optimistic about the choice despite it clearly being disliked by all reviewers online. 


When it came, we finally learned that the reviewers were correct -- the entire thing had a weird texture and wasn't very tasty in any capacity. It was made with macadamia cheese. It wasn't creamy and rich like you'd expect, nor was it chocolatey, Our favorite part was the beautiful presentation.
Our meal was now completed.  I took in the stunning atmosphere, appreciated the savory meal, and was thankful for the attentive service.  Âu Lạc was a high quality yet affordable vegan dining experience.  It made me want to rush back to Los Angeles to take the subway to experience it all over again -- fortunately, the restaurant is right by the subway since we walked a mile east to get to our first location and then a mile west to get back.  So if you live along the Red Line in Los Angeles, you can get there in no time.  Bypass the traffic!  Escape the $35 Uber fees!  But if you're up for a walk, by all means, work up an appetite.  We did.  And it made Âu Lạc the perfect place to get a vegan meal.