Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Little M has me rethinking my brown-bag lunch policy

Like most perfectionist type-A personalities, I often live my life according to a list of mostly nonsensical self-generated rules. I don’t eat lunch before 1 pm or dinner before 7 pm (unless forced). I don’t drink beer or hard alcohol (unless forced). And I generally don’t eat lunch out or order lunch in (unless forced or my significant mother is treating).

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the mid-day break from whatever work or errands I’m doing. There is something to be said for taking a time out from responsibility to breathe and enjoy a $3 glass of iced tea and overpriced mixed greens salad with apples, gorgonzola cheese and candied walnuts. It’s a luxury that every girl deserves on occasion lest she start feeling like a lesser person because she brown bags it every single day while her acquaintances and colleagues debate the merits of getting take-out from the gourmet cafe down the block or running over for a slice at the vegan-friendly pizza joint across the street.

Then again, most of the time, that girl (who looks and talks a lot like me) never feels like a lesser person because she shuns the salad bar offerings from Mrs. Winston’s Green Grocery. Shocking as it may seem, I actually like brown bagging it, and genuinely look forward to my turkey sandwich with hummus and cucumbers on whole wheat bread and Ziplock bag of baby carrots. It’s healthier, more economical and often tastes better than what I could purchase out.

As such, I would be perfectly content to continue on my path of self-made lunches like quinoa salad and split pea soup were it not for two popular lunching restaurants that I actually deem worthy of the take-out and/or eat-in: Joan’s on Third and M Café de Chaya.

I’ll never forget the first time I ordered take-out from M Café de Chaya, the trendy macrobiotic eatery with locations in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Culver City. It was a revelatory meal that made me reconsider my mid-day thriftiness. I wanted to drink their refreshing iced green tea and eat their kale salad with peanut sauce, scarlet quinoa, Gado Gado salad, M Chopped, and Madras tempeh wrap every day for the rest of my life. My turkey sandwiches paled in comparison to the thoughtfully prepared, health-conscious cuisine, and I thanked God that none of the locations were close enough to my Santa Monica office to make it a weekday habit.
Recently, however, the Beverly Hills location was reincarnated as “Little M,” with a new menu specifically designed for the health-conscious folk who need to grab their food and go as quickly as possible so they can carry on with very important activities like finding the perfect pair of Christian Louboutin shoes at Sak’s. Or, alternatively, get back to that work stuff that some people do between the hours of 9 and 5. (When they aren’t being distracted by Twitter.)

Not only does the refurbished/condensed menu feature my standby favorites at lower price points – the aforementioned tempeh wrap ($9.75 instead of $10.75) and Gado Gado salad ($10 instead of $11.45), it also contains other tempting offerings like a dilled tofu salad sandwich ($8.25), a wild salmon salad baguette ($9.75), and the piece de resistance, sweet potato fries ($3.50). The innards for the wrap, salmon and tofu salad sandwiches are also available to purchase sans the carbohydrate shell, which would probably be pleasing to those (not me) who shun bread-like products.

When I received an invitation to experience everything Little M has to offer its more harried patrons, I eagerly accepted. It’s not often that I get a free lunch – especially a free lunch that I actually want to eat (and, incidentally, do eat even when it’s not free). Plus, I was really excited to try the chili, sea salt and lime speckled sweet potato fries (I had a soft spot in and around my belly for sweet potato fries during my “fatter” college years).
On the surface Little M is exactly what it portends to be – a littler version of the bigger M Café de Chaya locales in West Hollywood and Culver City. Underneath, however, it is packing just as much heat as its older sisters. Flavor and quality have not been sacrificed in the management’s efforts to make the M Café experience more efficient and affordable. My tempeh wrap and peanut kale were just as good as they are when I pay a dollar more for them, and the sweet potato fries (fried in rice oil) were just as addicting as I predicted them to be. While I wasn’t particularly fond of the dilled tofu sandwich (the tofu needed further flavor enhancement), I loved the sample of the deli lentils, and found the desserts from the Mmmm Café Patisserie case to be more agreeable than expected.

I normally subscribe to a policy of eating as much refined sugars/fat/dairy as possible in my sweets, so have never been inclined to try the restaurant’s egg-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free offerings before. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the chocolate truffle ($2) still tasted like a chocolate truffle even without the dairy, and that the strawberry cupcake, while reminiscent of a muffin with whipped strawberry topping, was a decent healthy reincarnation of the trendy treat. Even the chocolate pudding captured my heart – a hearty feat considering that I ceremoniously dropped my brand new digital camera into it when taking a picture. (The camera has yet to make a full recovery).

Little M has subsequently put a kink in my brown-bag only lunch policy. Considering that the outlet is only a 13-15 minute drive without traffic (according to Google) from my office, and I can order my tempeh wrap and kale or Gado Gado salad on-line prior to my arrival, the Beverly Hills location is now a viable option for me. I can easily get out to the 90210 and back to 90405 within my one hour lunch period. Most importantly, I can do so without (completely) breaking the bank. Especially if I stick to just an order of the sweet potato fries with soy-based yuzu dipping sauce…

Little M
9433 Brighton Way
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Telephone: 310.858.8459
Fax: 310.858.8942

Monday thru Saturday
8:00 am - 7:30 pm

10:00 am - 7:00 pm


Gastronomer said...

I would've been totally lost at M Cafe without you! Thanks for navigating the macrobiotic terrain like pro.

Jenn said...

I have my set of rules for myself too. For me, it's try to eat lunch before 1pm and dinner before 7pm. Unless otherwise noted. Total opposite of you. hahaha... I love M cafe. They definitely have some good eats there. Good to know about Little M.

yutjangsah said...

Those sweet tater fries sound amazing! and I think i might be dating you - sang packs a turkey sandwich with carrot sticks every day of the week. he also ran cross country in high school. coincidence? i think not. turkey- carrot stick conspiracy more like.

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Diana said...

Cathy - Anytime. I'm counting on you to help me navigate the pho terrain! (And the SGV terrain too!)

Jenn - Hah, we are totally opposite! I think it's because I grew up eating dinner late. We never sat down before 8 pm!

Sook - We will rule the planet some day.

SinoSoul said...

I'm reading, really.

Something about sweet potato fries..

Esi said...

9-5? Hahahaha. I don't even know what that means. So happy this place is around the corner from my office though!

Ashley said...

Oh I'm such a sucker for sweet potato fries.

Bianca said...

Those pictures are wonderful! Thanks for the photographic tour! I wish it was closer to me! Heck I wish a lot of places were!

Diana said...

Tony - Ha. Ha.

Esi - I forget you work entertainment hours! I have to say I'm really glad those days are behind me!

Ashley - We'll each order our own the next time we go! :)

Bianca - I'm sure you'll have some opportunity to go to M Cafe! The Culver City location isn't too far from the South Bay - is it?

LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! said...

i had no idea about Little M. I can't wait to try it for a meal on the go!