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The Gossiping Gourmet: Try vegan 'Humanese' food at Au Lac

March 02, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • The Curried Rice, right, with broccoli, avocado, cauliflower, corn peas, fried onions, olive and mushrooms, and the Loranowa soup, left, with blended spirulina, coconut oil, bok choy, broccoli, carrot and onion, are available at Au Lac vegan restaurant in Fountain Valley.
The Curried Rice, right, with broccoli, avocado, cauliflower,… (KENT TREPTOW, HB…)

If the notion of a vegan meal makes you cringe, a dinner at Mai Nguyen's Au Lac might very well change your mind, especially if you are a fan of Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese food.

Co-chef Ito actually calls his cuisine "Humanese" because he wishes to break down boundaries between people — "we are all merely and wonderfully human." We think their delicious food will make it an easy transition for carnivores to enjoy a vegan meal. Ito is at the helm of the separate raw food kitchen for those already converted to a plant-based diet who want to take it to the next step.

We were surprised to see a bar when we entered this "healthy," attractive storefront restaurant and saw several young people sitting on stools, tossing back a few. On closer perusal, however, we observed that the bottles lining the back wall of the bar were not booze but supplements and juices. Unsurprisingly, no alcohol is served here; however, you can get elixirs, shots and drinks like Love Juice with frankincense, screw pine, sweet grass and cayenne pepper drops or a marga rita-rita with cultured coconut water, Himalayan salt, kombucha gold and lime.

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After looking at the menus, we decided to focus on the vegan dishes with just a few raw items. We relied heavily on our waitress' recommendations, as the menu is quite extensive. She encouraged us to try the BBQ pork rice paper roll from the vegan menu and the cali roll from the raw menu as appetizers.

We liked the "pork," which looked like fried pork sausage and had a mild, pleasant, meaty taste. Crunch came from carrot, cucumber, lettuce and chive and brightness from mint leaves, but most of the flavor was provided by the tasty, spicy peanut dipping sauce. This dish alone was enough to erode our prejudice against faux meat. Less exciting but pleasant and refreshing was the cali roll, wrapped in nori with seaweed, coconut meat, marinated mushrooms, pine nuts, avocado, cukes and peppers with a light tamari ginger dipping sauce.

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