Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Casual, Stylish Vegetarian & Vegan Cuisine of Fatty's & Co.

When going out to eat (not for a special occasion), a number of factors probably come into play when deciding where to go. For myself, the excellence of the food is king, but if there's one thing that supersedes every other factor from time-to-time, is the soft spot I have for the "casual, but stylish" restaurant; that relaxing, low-key eatery that has just the right amount of style and ambiance to make the night out feel special, while not compelling everyone to dress up for dinner. While I will always relish standing out in the street, enjoying an amazing Carne Asada Taco in Tijuana, I sometimes just want to go out and relax for a quiet dinner without it being too fussy or too rushed. Fatty's & Co. in Eagle Rock is one such place, and they happen to serve some good Vegetarian and Vegan dishes in the process. :)

The ambiance is apparent the moment you first approach Fatty's: Its exterior architecture exudes a quaint charm that hearkens back to early 20th century American design, with large windows showing off the warm, low-key lighting of the main dining room. Co-Owners Kim Dingle and Chef Aude Charles took over what used to be an ultra modern auto shop known as the Dahlia Motors Building, built in 1931(!). It remained intact until 2001, when Kim and Aude debuted Fatty's & Co (named after one of their beloved dogs that passed away during the remodeling).

The interior is a nice balance of maintaining the 1930's architecture while complementing it with dark wood tables, soft, warm lamps and a charming little backyard patio (opened up when the weather gets warmer).

The kitchen is helmed by Chef Aude Charles, a native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She's put together a simple but stylish menu of appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts, that happen to be 100% Vegetarian, and most of which, can be made Vegan as well.

During my 1st visit, my guest and I start off with their soup of the day: Moroccan Soup.

It turns out to be a light, fragrant Soup made up of Garbanzo Beans, Carrots, Celery, Sweet Potatoes, Onions, Cilantro and a squeeze of Lemon. There are beautiful notes of Cumin and Turmeric to finish things off. It's incredible how well this soup stands out, despite its Vegan restrictions; I'd order it again in a heartbeat.

From their appetizers section, we try their simply named, Oils, which is a Tasting of White Truffle Olive Oil, Pumpkinseed Oil and Extra Virgin California Olive Oil, served with warm Artisan Bread.

The Pumpkinseed Oil turns out to be a bit underwhelming, while the White Truffle Olive Oil has a bit of the woodsy pungency you might expect with a Truffle Oil, but it's nothing like the fragrance of real White Truffles. The California Extra Virgin Olive Oil turns out to be our favorite of the trio, a straightforward, light fragrant accompaniment to the doughy, sweet-smelling warm Bread.

While Fatty's has a nice selection of Wines (spanning France, Italy, Argentina, Germany and California), I wanted something to warm me up on this chilly evening, so I order their Homemade Organic Masala Chai. A custom blend created by Chef Aude, it's incredibly perfumy and aromatic, reminding me of a great Homemade Chai a friend from India had made for me.

Our next appetizer arrives at this point, Little Dumplings (Butter Poached Broccoli and Potato Dumplings with Cilantro Remoulade).

These Dumplings are surprising on a number of levels: Visually, it looks a bit overcooked (and messy), but after taking a bite, the combination of spices and flavors are surprisingly engaging. The Potato and Broccoli don't dominate the Dumpling itself, but mix well with the blend of Onions, Garlic, Thyme, Nutmeg, Dill and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

But when tried with some of the Cilantro Remoulade - with a strong Garlic and Caper accent - it really makes them stand out. They're a bit too salty for my tastes (just a touch), but otherwise, a pretty satisfying starter. :)

While there are numerous successful Vegetarian and Vegan "replacements" for various meat and seafood dishes, there are also many that falter, unfortunately. One of those would have to be Fatty's Paella (Brown Rice, Trumpet, Oyster and Shiitake Mushrooms, Corn, Hearts of Palm, Heirloom Tomatoes, Olives and Sweet Peas with Saffron).

The Paella falls apart too easily, and many of the ingredients end up fighting each other, rather than combining to create the classic Spanish dish. The Olives do help to give a certain salty, briny aspect to the Paella, but it's not enough to save this dish.

Their Vegan Ravioli bounces back nicely featuring Hand Cut Spinach and Red Bell Pepper Pasta.

Chef Aude's stuffing of Seasoned Edamame, Herbed Tofu and Onions create a surprisingly cheese-like sensation as you're eating the Ravioli. And the accompanying sauteed Broccoli, Tomatoes, Garlic and Mushrooms in Olive Oil are fabulously tasty. :)

To finish up dinner, we decide on their Peanut Butter Soy Cream Cup (with Dark Chocolate Syrup).

Taking a bite: It's *so* nutty and fragrant, really bringing a great Peanut flavor to the forefront, with a nice contrast to the Dark Chocolate. I can't believe this is Vegan, and it's thankfully not overwhelmingly sweet nor heavy. Excellent! :)

On my 2nd visit, my guest and I start with their Cavulo Nero (Sauteed Black Tuscan Kale with Red Onion Confit).

Kale can be a challenging vegetable to wrangle, and Chef Aude's version is a hearty, fibrous, earthy dish. The Red Onion Confit's Balsamic touch helps to break up the repetition of flavors. Ultimately, a nice celebration of vegetables as an appetizer.

Their Potato Tacos turn out to be another surprise.

Instead of the expected Corn Tortilla filled with Potato, this is actually a Potato Skin (acting as the Taco shell), filled with Corn, Black Beans, Green Chili, Red Bell Peppers, Onions, Chipotle Cheddar and Tomatillo Salsa. The Potato Skin is crunchy and each bite yields a nice flavor explosion with a touch of heat.

For a refreshing alternative to the ubiquitous Mixed Green Salad, try Fatty's Market Herbs Salad, with Arugula, Watercress, Mixed Lettuces, Parsley and Chervil in Balsamic Vinaigrette.

It's truly refreshing, herbal and not overdressed. In many ways, this salad represents Fatty's greatest strength: Utilizing alternative vegetables, herbs and spices to engage the senses over the typical preparation methods for most dishes.

For this evening, they are serving a White Bean and Rosemary Soup.

With no dairy used in this dish, the result is a light, but hearty, earthy soup. Delicious. :)

Fatty's also offers a variety of Pizzas, handmade on a thin, Whole Wheat and Eggless Crust. We decide on The Margherita Pizza.

This isn't going to win any awards for Best Pizza, but Chef Aude's version has a satisfying crunch to the crust. The simple, fresh ingredients in a Margherita also lend itself well to an enjoyable dish regardless of healthy Whole Wheat crust or not. :) The Heirloom Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella and loads of Garlic are a classic combination, especially with their Homegrown Basil. Great ingredients really shine here.

Their Top Crust Apple Pie turns out to be yet another surprising Vegan dessert on their menu.

I'm not sure how Chef Aude does it, but their Vegan pie crust manages to get nice and flaky around the edges. The Organic Fuji Apples are cooked to a nice intensity of flavor. The Soy Ice Cream is decent, but not in the same league as the Vegan Sesame Ice Cream at Shojin (which is absurdly delicious :). Still a nice, healthy dessert to finish off our meal.

On my 3rd visit, my guest wants to try their Mozzarella Tempura to start, which is a ball of Mozzarella, fried Tempura-style, on top of a thick slice of Tomato.

The Mozzarella Tempura's breading is thin and airy, yielding a mild, silky Cheese when the shell is broken. The kitchen uses just the right amount of Balsamic Vinegar to balance out the dish. I still prefer a fresh Mozzarella without the Tempura batter, but it's a good alternative.

Probably one of the standout items at Fatty's is their Macaroni and Cheese.

It's done in a baked Casserole style presentation, with the Macaroni pasta mixed with 5 year old Grafton Cheddar Cheese with Organic Peas, Red Pearl Onions, Cherry Tomatoes and White Truffle Oil.

I've ordered this on two occasions, and both times, the Mac and Cheese has turned out to be a fragrant, pungent, moderately creamy, cheesy creation. The overuse of Truffle Oil hurts the dish, and if it was just a bit more creamy, it'd be perfect. :) Otherwise, the fresh Vegetables add a nice dimension to an already good version of Mac and Cheese.

There's also a new menu item on this visit: A Hearty Ragout (of Four Mushrooms with Sauteed Spinach and a crisp Sweet Potato Latke sprinkled with Asiago Cheese).

I'm a huge Mushroom fan, but this dish somehow manages to mask the flavors of 4 different types of Mushrooms, sadly. The Ragout is slightly bitter, and then when eaten with a bit of the Sweet Potato Latke, it quickly turns too sweet in the process. The Mushrooms are there in texture only, with the normally seductive scent of various slow cooked Mushrooms completely removed.

Our final course arrives at this point: The Zeppelin Pizza (Three Mushroom Varieties, Onions, Herbs, Garlic, Sharp White Cheddar, Provolone and Brie Cheese with Sun-Dried Tomato and Kalamata Olive Tapenade).

Like my last visit, their Whole Wheat, Eggless Pizza Crust has a cracker-like crunch, but unlike the last time, this Zeppelin is much more substantial and hearty. The Sharp White Cheddar, Provolone and Brie Cheese combination creates an interesting blend for a Pizza; it works for the most part, but feels a bit uneven at times. The Mushrooms here, provide a good balance to the Kalamata Olive Tapenade (which would be too overpowering without them).

Service at Fatty's & Co. has been inconsistent during my 3 visits. During one of my visits, we had a great server who was attentive, lively, and checked in on us just enough without being overbearing. The other times, we had different servers who were non-existent through most of the meal, or so busy that they rushed past our table multiple times before we could get their attention. Prices range from $6 - $26; Desserts from $4 - $20 (for a Chocolate Fondue that serves ~2 - 8 people). We averaged about ~$48 per person (including tax and tip).

Fatty's & Co. represents a charming, low-key eatery serving a variety of Vegetarian and Vegan dishes that are generally good (even for a Non-Vegetarian). :) In terms of pure taste, I prefer the Macrobiotic Vegan dishes at Shojin more than Fatty's, but the casual, yet stylish ambiance in this converted 1930's auto repair shop adds a certain charm that can't be replaced. Add in Chef Aude's notable Macaroni and Cheese, Peanut Butter Soy Cream Cup and a variety of interesting Vegan Soups and Appetizers, and you have a nice, healthy alternative for dining out.

Rating: 7.4 (out of 10.0)

Fatty's & Co.
1627 Colorado Boulevard
Eagle Rock, CA 90041
Tel: (323) 254-8804

Hours: Thurs - Sat, 6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.


Dave -nibbleanibble said...

Atmosphere is good and the pizza looks really good too.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Dave,

Yah if you haven't had their Margherita yet, it's a pretty good healthy interpretation of a pizza. :) Let me know if you get a chance to try it. Thanks.

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