(Westwood, CA - Feb. 20, 2009) Native Foods in Westwood is a vegan restaurant, where the food is fresh, complex and delicious, and the setting is casual. Every bite of the scrumptious selections is created with heart by owner and chef Tanya Petrovna "to entice and satisfy vegetarians and meat eaters alike."
Tanya first became involved with the treatment of animals in a ninth grade school project where she learned about animal cruelty and resolved to do something about it. She grew up in Palm Springs, the daughter of two Eastern European immigrants with careers and enjoyment in food. Her mother's cooking was always fresh and delicious in the European style. Her father worked in high end resort restaurants - a five-star maitre d' for many years at the Eldorado Country Club - where Tanya also ended up working and learning firsthand about the business.
So fifteen years ago, she started the first Native Foods restaurant in Palm Springs. Since then it has grown to five locations. (including Costa Mesa, Palm Desert and Aliso Viejo) Tanya is in negotiations with investors now to expand all across Southern California, then Northern California, Arizona, Nevada and beyond.
Her love and advocacy of animals has always been a driving force. She worked hard for the recent passage of California's Prop 2, which allows more space for farm animals. She is also deeply committed to the freeing of Billy, the lone elephant at the L.A. Zoo, who desperately needs to socialize with other elephant friends and more space to roam in - which he could get if he were transferred to P.A.W.S. Sanctuary in Northern California. (The L.A. City Council recently voted to keep Billy in the zoo and allocated funds to continue work on the new elephant exhibit which experts say is still too small.)
I first met Tanya at a benefit for Billy that was held during the course of the many contentious City Council meetings to discuss zoos and elephants. Eminent elephant biologist Joyce Poole, visiting from her elephant research in Kenya, gave a presentation. (Written about here in LA Splash.) Tanya's vegan spread was so delightful that I couldn't help but find out more about her and her restaurants. She is a joyfully enthusiastic warrior for her beliefs and her dishes.
So how is the food?
"Mamma Mia Pizza" - oh my goodness. This is it. If you are a vegan and always wishing there were a pizza for you-look no further. Portobello mushrooms, seitan sausage, pomodoro, caramelized onions, pesto and sweet roasted garlic on organic wheat crust. (Seitan is a meaty-textured protein of wheat.) You will be so happy. I dined with three nonvegetarian pizza lovers and they ALL screamed for more.
For appetizers we started with "Save the Chicken" wings with ranch and barbeque dressing on the side. I don't know how she does it, but these things are better than chicken.
How great that we don't have to slaughter animals to feast well!
The "Native Nachos" were another filling and tasty appetizer with tortilla chips, black beans, salsa fresca, guacamole, corn, cilantro, green onions, and "native cheese." When asked, Tanya revealed the ingredients in the cheese which include cashews, sunflowers, garlic and nutritional yeast. It all made for a dish that was flavorful and complex and could compete any day with traditional nachos.
Another favorite was the "Greek Gyro," which consisted of steamed veggies, quinoa, peppered seitan, hummus, grilled flat bread, and garlic lemon sauce. Broccoli never tasted to good.
And when our waiter Christopher brought out "Scorpion Burger"-Tanya's homemade tempeh (a cultured food made of soybeans, usually with a grain or two added) blackened, chipotle sauce, lettuce, carrots, onions with avocado-we were all pretty full. But we cut one in fourths. Every one of us agreed it was the best and tastiest veggie burger we ever had.
Vegan cheesecake and "Chocolate Tofu Love Pie" were among the rich and creamy-lacking nothing in taste or substance-but tempting and satisfying sweets. Mostly maple syrup and agave nectar are used for sweetening and sometimes organic sugar.
A goal of Tanya's is to "dispel the myth that vegetarian food is bland and boring." The UCLA college students whose campus is blocks away, have dispelled that myth and keep her tiny restaurant full. She recently added more table space with the small building next door, although there is no passageway between the two. She proudly reports that in a food service study sponsored by Aramark, 25 percent of college students today request vegan meals.
And as for those who are still leery of trying this cuisine, Tanya says to tell them to come along and "I'll take you for a hamburger afterwards." Naturally once they have supped on her gourmet delights, all thoughts of hamburgers vanish in thin air.
My friend and I both bought copies of her book, The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook on the way out. Tanya invited us to come back on Saturday, February 28 from 3 to 5 pm for free appetizers. It's a "Save Billy Bash and Cookbook Signing" with raffle. The public is invited to come and learn more about why we must continue to fight to get Billy out of a small space in the zoo and into some serious roaming space while meeting others who care and enjoying some good eats.
Tanya is a person who is living her dreams of creating events, with delicious food for people to find out about and discuss important social issues. I'll be there and hope to meet some of you readers there too!
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Photography courtesy of Native Foods except where noted.
Native Foods Westwood Village
1110 1/2 Gayley Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 209 1055
Mon. - Sun. /11AM - 10PM (7 days)
Private catering available