Living in the age of Tender Greens and Café Gratitude, it’s easy to forget that until very recently, health food restaurants were perceived as patchouli-scented arenas where punishing plates of cold tofu and brown rice were served to the beat of Enya.
That change in thinking—and the city-wide explosion of health-minded eateries—can arguably be credited to M Cafe. The Melrose Avenue eatery, under the guidance Lee Gross (a.k.a. Gwyneth Paltrow’s former personal chef), managed the impossible: It made macrobiotic food super sexy. Now, after a decade and three L.A. locations later, the celebrity go-to is marking its big anniversary with a design refresh and a slew of new menu items.
Macrobiotic food was first introduced stateside in the 1950s by Michio Kushi (a student of the diet’s originator George Ohsawa), who along with his wife Aveline would eventually start up natural food company Erewhon and the Kushi Institute. Kushi’s approach to clean, healthy eating has been a guiding force for the “contemporary macrobiotic cuisine”—no to refined sugar, eggs, dairy, red meat, or poultry but yes to fish—that M Cafe pioneered in L.A.
“Macrobiotics comes from Japanese technique,” says Atsushi Kenjo, who moved to the U.S. in 2000 to work at Chaya Brasserie, rising through the ranks of the restaurant group to become M Cafe’s executive chef earlier this year. Together with Gross (who is still on board as a consultant), Kenjo draws on M Cafe’s signature Japanese-meets-California influences for the new dishes while also creating an entirely new brunch menu.
Sharing the menu board with long-time customer favorites, like The M Chopped Salad and The Big Macro, there’s now a hearty banh mi made with chasu-style seitan, sliced cucumbers, pickled daikon, and Thai basil; as well as a take on avocado “toast” with a crispy rice-and-quinoa patty acting as the toast topped with mizuna and a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi. The prettily composed Kenjo‘s Katsu Kare is a boldly flavored house-made seitan curry served with kabocha, pickled lotus roots, zucchini, and kaiware sprouts. The Japanese root gobo gets the tempura treatment with the addictive Gobo Fries.
French toasted walnut bread and enchiladas with scrambled tofu and tempeh bacon are two brunch highlights while the grab-and-go section, which features sushi, wraps, and bento boxes, along with bottled juices has been expanded.
The look of the casual spot hasn’t changed too much, but the space has been given some brighter, more fanciful touch ups. Tapped for the redesign, Creative Director C.S. Valentin (formerly of Miu Miu) has added white hexagon-tiled flooring, cedar wall detailing, lots of greenery, and Japanese wara juraku stucco. Even the menu has been updated with fruit and vegetable drawings from French artist Julien Roux.
Don’t worry, the dessert section remains the same, so you can still get those giant ginger cookies, donuts, and cinnamon rolls—they’re zero calories, right?
M Cafe, 7119 Melrose Avenue, 323-525-0588. A soft opening of the new menu and space is underway right now while the official grand re-opening will take place Saturday, December 5, starting at 11 a.m.