Santa Barbara’s dining scene for health-conscious cuisine has long been a temptation for enlightened epicureans. But many remain vague about eating vegan and where to find it. Fortunately, downtown is now graced with two sensational new vegan venues that will astound and delight even the most carnivorous of customers.
Adama Vegan Comfort Cuisine
Mmm the hearty, full-flavored, belly-satisfying taste of comfort food…vegan style. At Adama, all animal products are off the menu, but that doesn’t mean casting away your favorite dishes. Serving American fare with Mexican flair, the restaurant provides all the things that vegans would normally veto but with meat substitutes. “KFC” chicken, meatball subs, and pastrami sandwiches are just a few of the options that jump out at you screaming, “Can you believe I’m vegan?” But it’s all part of the philosophy that molds this creative, conscience-based establishment.
Owner Deeahna Arrieta opened Adama about one-and-a-half years ago. Their location on Chapala excludes them from mass tourism, pulling in only genuinely interested customers who hear of them mainly by word of mouth. Although the place is completely vegan, front-of-the- house manager, Marsha Matanick describes their client base as anyone who is, “conscious about their food and where it comes from.” Eliminating consumption of animal products prevents Adama from participating in cruel treatment of animals as well as from providing food that has been injected with hormones and antibiotics. Moreover, all of the ingredients are local and organic.
As for the menu, breakfast opens with a variety of sweet and savory recipes including pumpkin pecan pancakes and a protein scramble with “tofu, seitan, pumpkin seeds, onion, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomato, butternut, squash, zucchini, “cheese”, a side of quinoa or beans, and toast or tortillas.” The “cheese” is either Daiya cheese—a gluten-free, soy free product—or cashew cheese made from ground cashews, agar, miso, and nutritional yeast.
For lunch the creativity soars with options like the “tuna” melt, jackfruit tacos, or the club sandwich with imitation bacon. Many of the meats are made of seitan, which is composed of whole-wheat flour or wheat gluten and mimics the texture of real meat.
Dinner is generous in flavor and portion. The “Vegan KFC” is southern-fried gardein, mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw, and sautéed greens. There is also the hearty shepherd’s pie, which has imitation beef strips in a mashed potato crust.
But aside from their restaurant options, Adama also houses a bakery. Large blueberry tarts, brownies, carrot muffins, chocolate cupcakes with white cream centers, and blueberry lemon poppy seed slices peer out from under a shiny glass case. Sitting next to them are homemade loaves of vegan, gluten-free bread that, as any baker knows, is quite difficult to perfect.
Adding even more charm to this home-styled restaurant, is their community call for support in building a greenhouse. “Is there anything more local than out the back door?” These words line the back of the menus that also explain the difficulty of obtaining building permits, the desire to be self-sufficient, and the staff’s respect for the earth. In fact, the name Adama means earth and reflects the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability. According to the owners, caring for creation as a whole and using as little as possible, while not discounting flavor, are the moral requirements that have brought Adama steady success.
Adama Vegan Comfort Cusine, 428 Chapala Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; (805)560-1348; adamavegan.com
Alchemy Arts Café
Alchemy Arts Café is a sanctuary for those looking to escape the mainstream’s ravenous appetite for processed, or fried food. Inspired by a two-week retreat to Samui, Thailand, owner and visionary Emma Narachi decided that Santa Barbara needed a place that is both mentally and physically invigorating.
The restaurant embraces earthy tones, offering high-backed wicker chairs, large palms, and tall arched windows half-veiled in wooden panels of East Asian décor. Upbeat, bluesy guitar plays in the background while dark-wood ceiling fans cool from overhead. The words of Hippocrates greet you in the blue-gray hallway before the cafe’s entrance: “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.”
At Alchemy Arts Café, the rule of thumb is that food should be bio-active, in other words, alive. The menu is almost entirely vegan and mostly raw. Under the principle that cooking oil destroys beneficial qualities, any oil in a meal will be added more as a finishing touch than a starting point. Aside from some exotic items like coconut, most ingredients are from local vendors or the farmers market. Moreover, the menu is completely consistent with their 7-day and 13-day liver cleanses.
The extensive drink menu begins with “Elixirs—medicinal remedies to heal the body and enliven the spirit”—and continues with “extracts, smoothies and potions, and premier nutrition.” The Vital Latte is a cold-dripped coffee floating on coconut crème and topped with almond cream. Another star drink is the Alchemy Cooler which has coconut to, “replenish and cool the body while basil and pineapple aid digestion and support the adrenals,” according to the menu.
Narachi describes the selective food menu as “dynamic and evolving,” relating itself to the changing body and annual seasons. It opens with alchemy salads, the most popular being the Piñon Kale Salad with a tender seasonal kale blend, toasted pine nuts, balsamic currants, shallot, carrots, avocado, and parmigiano with an olive oil and lemon dressing.
Next are the soups. Here, the Eastern influence comes to the forefront, rendering ingredients like ginger, mushroom miso, fresh Shiitake, and wakame. The latter list comprises a medicinal Mushroom Miso Soup that the menu mentions supports liver and kidney function as well as helping you adapt to stress.
A small list of wraps and rolls are next. Here, the recommendation goes to the Cabbage Wrap with blanched leaves filled with shredded cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, celery root, sprouts, mung beans noodles, spicy mango sauce, and tahini dip.
As for the mains, Narachi cited her two favorites as the Sweet Potato Mash with Broccolini served with ginger sauce, and the Mung Bean Kitchari, described as a traditional Ayurvedic dish with organic mung beans and quinoa, fresh almond milk, steamed vegetables, healing spices, and garnished with lime and cilantro.
To top off a delicious and healthful meal are the desserts, with the most eye-catching and luxurious being the Chocolate Velvet Pie consisting of cacao, cashew, and avocado cream on a brazil nut, walnut, and coconut crust. It’s topped with fresh seasonal fruit and cacao nibs.
In essence, The Alchemy Arts Café is more than just a fountainhead of nutritious foods; it’s a transformer of earth’s base properties into the necessary components for personal balance and wellbeing. Narachi explains, “We are a transformational center. Most people need support in some part of their lives whether it has to do with jobs, injuries, or stresses. We want to guide you back to that healthful place.”
Alchemy Arts Café, 35 West Haley Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; (805) 899-8811; http://www.alchemyartscenter.com