As nature intended

Natural World Market’s cafe and bakery have a South American twist

The Natural World Market family (from left) Aly LaRiva, Arynmi LaRiva, Rossanny Rodriguez, Ralph Rodriguez and Rose Rodriguez.

While walking from my parking space to Natural World Market, I found myself smiling at the irony of the name. Nothing about the stretch of Artesia where it is located is natural, from the concrete beneath my feet to the power lines that stretch overhead.

The market and café is a concrete and glass box, like all the other storefronts on the boulevard, but inside is an oasis for those who appreciate organic food. Owner Rose Rodriguez opened Natural World Market a year and a half ago as a market and bakery with a small food menu, but the business has visibly shifted its focus. There are still some grocery items and fresh produce, but the area where shelves of packaged foods once stood has been cleared for seating and tables, and a pretty dining patio has been set up behind the building.

The menu has expanded beyond the usual salads, grain bowls, and sandwiches, to include Venezuelan empanadas and other items rarely encountered locally.

The first thing you see inside Natural World Market are displays of baked goods, which are divided into standard, vegan, and gluten-free sections. Toward the end of the day most cases will be empty, because their muffins, rolls, and desserts are very popular. On one visit to pick up dinner, the 24 compartments contained a total of two muffins and a brownie. After I ordered there was one muffin left.

Just past the baked goods is the counter where you order from the posted  menus. They really should post the menus closer to the entrance or in the window, which would speed up the decision process.

Three not very inviting tables face Artesia, but behind the store is a surprisingly serene covered patio with plants and lighting. The tables are widely spaced, and though the view is just of the parking lot and the apartments half a block away, it’s a nice experience.

Rossanny Rodriguez with an arepa. Photo by JP Cordero

We ordered to go for our first meal and got vegetarian empanadas, nachos, a cup of lentil soup, pasta primavera, and a “mama’s bowl” of brown rice, topped with a variety of raw and cooked vegetables, with chicken as an option. The meal got off to a shaky start because the empanadas were underbaked, the thick part of the dough slightly pasty. A few minutes in the toaster oven improved this, but it was a surprising lapse from a place that specializes in baked goods. The nachos were also a disappointment because they had been topped with a large amount of moist salsa, which removed any crispness in the chips. If the salsa and sour cream had been on the side this would have been much better, and if you order this to go, I suggest that you request it that way.

Things got better with the soup, pasta and the grain bowl, though their interpretation of the Alfredo was quite different from the usual. The cashew-based sauce was so lightly applied as to be almost invisible, so the expected creaminess wasn’t there, and while the plant-based parmesan had the right mouthfeel it lacked the assertive flavor of the real thing. What was left wasn’t bad on its own merits, a generous serving of al dente penne pasta with lightly cooked vegetables, but it wasn’t really a traditional alfredo.

The soup was a fairly standard item very well executed, with a bit of carrot and potato adding interest to a classic comfort food. The highlight of the meal was the Mama’s Bowl, brown jasmine rice topped with black beans, butternut squash roasted in hoisin maple sauce, green onions, cucumber, tomato, and avocado. Grilled naturally raised chicken is available as an option and we got it, though this set of flavors would have been excellent even without it. The mix was perfect, the rice and beans offering a flavorful base for salad greens with the crunch and texture of raw veggies and the squash that added aromatics and a sophisticated sweetness. The chicken added a slightly smoky protein punch to a completely successful dish.

The outdoor dining area at Natural World Market. Photo by Richard Foss

For dessert we had the brownie and blueberry-lemon muffin that we had rescued from its lonely perch in the bakery case. The vegan brownie was moist and had a decent flavor but like many vegan desserts was a bit on the heavy side. The muffin had no such problem, and made us likely to explore more items from the baked goods section.

We went back Saturday morning because I wanted to try one of their weekend-only items, the Venezuelan arepas. Arepas look like thick tortillas but are quite different. They’re made with a type of cooked corn flour that gives them a more intense flavor and grainy texture. Colombians prefer them soft and pile ingredients on top, while Venezuelans like them a little more grainy and prefer to split and stuff them. Think of a sandwich made with a corn cake and you’re almost there.

I ordered the breakfast arepa, which is stuffed with your choice of tofu or eggs that have been sauteed with onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, and garlic. This is rounded out with avocado, arugula, and plant-based cheese for a tasty item that is difficult to eat neatly. Thick corn cakes aren’t as flexible as bread and are more likely to crumble, so I started with it as finger food and finished it with utensils, but it was worth hunting for every morsel.

My wife had an American favorite, a vegan cheese omelette with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions. Of the various things we tried there, this was the one where there was no discernible difference between a mild conventional cheddar and the plant-based cheese. It was a very healthy version of traditional diner food, and quite successful. Along with good strong coffee (they have an espresso machine and turn out good cappuccinos and mochas), it was a fine start to the morning.

Meals at restaurants that offer organic and vegan food are often more expensive due to the higher ingredient cost, but the premium here is negligible. That omelet ran about 13 bucks, the arepa nine, on par with conventional breakfasts in similar surroundings. A meal at Natural World Market won’t break the bank, but is good for body, soul, and mood.

Natural World Market is at 2302 Artesia in Redondo. Daily 9 a.m. -7 p.m. Parking in rear, dog friendly patio. No alcohol served at this time. (424) 247-8460. NaturalWorldMarketCafe.com. ER

 

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Written by: Richard Foss

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