PCH passion project [restaurant review]
by Richard Foss
Most businesses follow strategies dictated by marketing studies.
Then there are places like Fruition Organic Market, which moved into the former El Tarasco location at Goat Hill in Manhattan Beach. I’m pretty much certain that no marketing consultants were involved in the choice of location, menu, hours, or anything else. The business is located in the slightly shabby Goat Hill development and has poor visibility; their hours are odd – they serve breakfast but don’t open until 10 a.m., after most people have their first meal of the day; and they close at 3 p.m. so miss any potential dinner business.
Fruition is branded as a market, and has shelves stocked with spice blends, grains, and sauces, but doesn’t sell produce. The action here is at the deli counter where enthusiastic chef Alison Cruddas presides over a kitchen with no animal products. Alison is from South Africa but has done some globe-trotting and brings a wide array of culinary influences to a menu of soups, salads, bowls, and wraps. A variety of breads and pastries completes the menu, some made in-house, others brought in from boutique suppliers.
We enjoyed a brunch of one of those pastries, a blueberry cinnamon roll, along with a breakfast burrito and a yogurt parfait. The parfait was generally conventional but used coconut yogurt along with the layers of bananas, fresh berries and granola. I didn’t expect to like this innovation, as many things using coconut taste oily or overly sweet, but it was tasty and the flavors were well-balanced. I wasn’t as impressed with the cinnamon roll, despite wholesome flavors, because the pastry was dense and moist. That was because of the nature of vegan baking — pastries made without milk, butter, and eggs tend to be denser and rise less than those made by traditional methods. This one was good for what it was, but there are other things on the menu that will bring more joy to the omnivore who is exploring vegan options.
This includes their breakfast burrito, which was very good despite a wildly different flavor balance than usual. Egg substitute was used, of course, and plant-based chorizo and cheese, but that wasn’t even the oddest part. What was inside that whole wheat wrap with the aforementioned ingredients was a mix of quinoa, black beans, avocado, pico de gallo, and a very small drizzle of an extremely mild chipotle sauce. The chorizo was mild and sparingly used, the sauce barely detectable, so the spice and zip of a traditional burrito wasn’t there. Instead, there was a wholesome nuttiness of quinoa and a variety of vegetable flavors with just enough spices to keep each bite interesting. The burrito was served with a substantial green salad with avocado dressing, making for a full and enjoyable meal. I wouldn’t order this when hungering for a vegan burrito with sauce and heat (I’d head for the Grain Café for that), but as an excellent wrap with a mild Mexican accent, I’ll have it again any time.
On another visit I picked up a dinner of cups of their soups of the day (mushroom and tomato-bell pepper), and two entrees, the “Soul Bowl” and the amusingly named “Soba Up.” The Soul Bowl nods to African American culinary traditions by using sweet potatoes, corn, kale, beans, and tomato, mixed with quinoa, tomato, purple onion, and hemp seeds. The kale has been “massaged,” rubbed with herbed oil to break down the rough texture and make it slightly less bitter, a procedure I was unaware of until now. The mix of vegetables in mild avocado dressing was solid comfort food, and thanks to the roasted sweet potatoes it was filling enough that two could share one as a main course.
As much as I liked the Soul Bowl, the Soba Up was more my style. The Japanese noodles were tossed with carrots, cucumbers, edamame, scallions, and sweet chili tofu, along with a sesame-ginger dressing before being topped with slivered almonds. The hint of chili in the tofu and the ginger sharpness made an enjoyable counterpart to the sesame oil, giving just the right, gentle kick to complement the freshness and vegetable crunch.
Chef Alison likes her soups uncluttered, the flavors focused on vegetables rather than seasonings. As an omnivore who likes mushrooms and finds that most restaurant mushroom dishes taste more of butter and cream, this soup was a nice change. The tomato-bell pepper soup had the same aesthetic with the natural fruitiness of tomato and aroma of mild peppers. My wife compared it to drinking a warm, mild salsa. Once the heat comes around this summer, I hope Chef Alison makes a gazpacho based on this recipe, because it would be fantastic.
With the soup we had slices of their crusty bread, which is vegan like everything else. This is baked in-house and is very good. On any given day several varieties are available that might include olives or other add-ins.
The prices at Fruition Organic appear slightly high, but the portions are substantial and quality produce is expensive. It’s a destination restaurant for those who prefer a plant-based diet, and also for those who just enjoy really tasting the flavors in their food.
Fruition Organic Market is at 350 N. Sepulveda #2, Manhattan Beach. Open 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Tues. — Sun. Parking lot. Wheelchair access good. Online ordering and delivery via ChowNow. (310) 374-0070. FruitionOrganicMarket.com. ER
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