One would imagine that transitioning into vegetarianism, I'd be filling in the animal flesh void with a variety of fake meats. While it is true that I've upped my consumption of more traditional processed veg-proteins (such as tofu, tempeh and seitan,) I'm pretty much set against the idea of animal aspiring meat swaps, be in the forms of Chik'n tenders, Boca burgers and the infamous Tofurky for several reasons.
First, these fake meats will never truly replicate the distinct flavors and texture of actual meat; second, with the mechanical and chemical processes involved to make them similar to meat, it may be better for the body & environment just to eat the animal; finally for me, there's still a great variety of foods available to eat as a vegetarian and I'd more rather explore horizons and push boundaries with existing foods rather than worry about having to fill my plate/bun/wrap/bowl with a slab 'o something "meaty."
And so I gave in, not because I've been craving foie gras, but more out of curiosity at what Chef Eric Lechasseur can do. And, his version was first runner-up in PETA's faux gras contest (where fellow LA caterers Two Hot Knives got disqualified for using butter in their version -- apparently the contest excludes animal products & derivatives, essentially vegan, despite the contest official rules calling for vegetarian versions. I think PETA needs a dictionary...)
Since the cashier told me the faux gras ($11.95) was fairly small, I also added an order of their $4 soup of the day: Pink Lentil. It was delicious, clean and light with a little earthiness and just a hint of curry spices. I was surprised at the lack of pink in the soup, then the cashier told me the lentils were originally pink, but takes on a yellowish hue when cooked. Also, I had a bit of fun testing their table condiments - instead of the everyday salt and pepper, they got aonori, powdered shiso, and gomashio.
Halfway through my soup, my "side" of salad arrived -- it was ramen bowl sized and easily contained all the vegetables I needed for the day. Like the soup, the salad was simple and fresh, with a bed of of romaine and red cabbage tossed in their house ume-ranch dressing, topped with carrots, roasted almonds, cucumbers and tomatoes. All the components tasted like they're supposed to (you won't find a limpy leaf or an anemic-tasting tomato here) and the combination was a great mix of flavors and textures, and makes me wish more eateries put a better effort in serving salads like this rather than the heavy, too salty and over-dressed Caesar or the usually-meh house salad where the veggies are just vehicles for the dressing.
And of course, the piece de resistance - the faux gras - looking a little whiter and dryer than its poultry-derived counterpart. Having had (more than) my fair share of actual foie gras in various incarnations in my animal-consuming past, I'd say this version is an applaud-worthy effort. It lacks the slight tinge of organy taste and the sausage-casing like snappiness of an actual lobe, but the crispy sauteed skin and the creamy interior of this reproduction does evoke a feeling of eating something luxurious and decadent, delicately cooked so it doesn't fall apart, much like the actual fat-ladened liver.
The blackberry-port wine sauce and the olive-oil soaked croutons were wonderful contrasting accompaniments to the faux-foie, with the bright, tangy, slightly-sweet sauce ever so slightly cutting into the rich oiliness of the other two components.
Would it fool me for an actual piece of gavaged fowl liver? No, but I definitely give props for its close approximation and more so for this being an example of how refined and haute macrobiotic cooking can get. Though personally I might opt out of calling this "faux gras" and label as a "delicately sauteed tofu/seitan" since the dish definitely deserves to be appreciated on its own terms, rather than against such a distant and cruel benchmark. And I would still surely order it again esp. if sharing with friends, and do good on my mental plan to get that macrobiotic donburi.
More photos here (along w my affogato from Intelligentsia Venice afterwards)
1604 Pacific Avenue