Austin Extravaganza, Day 3: Casa de Luz & Beets Cafe

Don’t miss the vegan eats and adventures of my first two days in Austin here and here.

The penultimate day of my visit to the liberal-hippie-progressive-veg-friendly city of Austin, TX commenced with a scenic stroll along Lady Bird Lake, which eventually led Ashley and I to our lunch destination of Casa de Luz. The “favorite place in the world to eat” of one of my ultimate vegan inspirations James McWilliams, who attests to patronizing the restaurant for breakfast every morning, Casa de Luz serves macrobiotic vegan fare out of an open kitchen in a community-centered atmosphere, with a group of different chefs providing each meal. The restaurant offers a set meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day (no menus here!), which always includes tea, soup, salad, and an entree complete with a whole grain, a bean, a leafy green, and a pickled vegetable—all for $12, not including dessert. On the day that Ashley and I patronized Casa de Luz, the menu boasted a creamy soup of cauliflower and yellow squash; a salad of crisp greens and red cabbage in a tangy sunflower seed, basil, and parsley dressing; meltingly tender pinto beans swimming in their own silky broth; short-grain brown rice in an earthy mushroom sauce; a saute of crisp-tender burdock root, carrots, and green beans; steamed greens topped with a dollop of sesame-almond-pecan sauce; and pickled red sauerkraut. I sprinkled my serving generously with a Japanese sesame seed condiment known as gomasio, a jar of which graced every table.

The picturesque walkway into Casa de Luz.

Casa de Luz’s open-style kitchen.

Creamy cauliflower and yellow squash soup.

Crisp Salad with Sunflower Seed, Basil and Parsley Dressing.

Entree plate.

Gluten-Free Pecan Pie.

Nourishing to both the body and the soul, macrobiotic cuisine never fails to impart a feeling of having given a generous gift to myself; indeed, I would argue that nothing more holistically fulfilling exists than the act of enjoying and truly appreciating a wholesome vegan meal prepared by caring hands. Surrounded by diners and restaurant employees who clearly shared in my sentiments, I could certainly understand why James McWilliams speaks so highly of Casa de Luz. Before departing from the oasis-esque nature of Casa de Luz, Ashley and I shared a slice of sticky and scrumptious gluten-free pecan pie, and browsed through the shelves of the restaurant’s mini macrobiotic market, which offers books on macrobiotic principles, animal rights, and veganism, as well as traditional Japanese food products and cooking supplies like miso, umeboshi plums, mochi, bamboo rolling mats, and suribachi.

Raspberry-flavored brown rice syrup; yes, please.

Love me some mochi, especially with medicinal herbs thrown in!

Harboring an avid sweet tooth and a passion for crafting baked goods, Ashley requested to learn the ways of animal secretion-free baking from the experienced vegan gastronomer that she held at her fingertips for the next couple of days. Thanks to the multiple dairy-and-egg-less desserts we’d enjoyed prior to our baking excursion, Ashley already felt quite confident about the high quality of sweet vegan treats, and ardently awaited the opportunity to craft her own. Unfortunely, our first bout of recipe experimentation with a veganized version of this Pomegranate-Soaked Almond Hazelnut Cake fell rather flat due to my mistaking of the 1/2 cup measure for the full cup measure to yield a lack of flour…oops. Determined to fully impart to Ashley the joy and success that usually ensues from vegan baking, I searched for recipes that would use up the rest of the baking ingredients we had purchased from Whole Foods, and discovered two cookies: Almond Flour Cookies with Almond Butter and Pistachios (we subbed peanut butter for almond butter and walnuts for pistachios), and Banana-Flax Crackers. Both of these recipes yielded infinitely more delicious results than our failed cake, and even impressed Ashley’s skeptical meat-eating boyfriend.

Our baking extravaganza filled up most of the afternoon, but Ashley and I decided to while away the remaining few hours before dinner by perusing the area around Guadalupe Street, which includes such desirable locations as the nostalgic wonderland of Toy Joy; the vintage, thrift, and clothing swap store of Buffalo Exchange, which recently participated in the noble endeavors of discontinuing the use of plastic bags and accepting used fur apparel donations to benefit Coats for Cubs; and my new happiest place on earth, the Wheatsville Co-op, of which I’ll provide a full review in the blog post regaling my final day in Austin.

For dinner, Ashley and I excitedly visited Beets Café—a raw restaurant serving up gourmet uncooked cuisine in a chic yet unpretentious and quite welcoming dining room to everyone from moms with strollers to bulky machismos to bespectacled hipsters to college students. After a bit of a bus-induced planning hiccup (thank you, Austin bus system, for picking us up an hour later than scheduled), Ashley and I yearned to fill our growling tummies immediately and began our meal with raw treats from Beets Cafe’s dessert case. While all of the sweets looked absolutely beautiful and surely ambrosial (can you say Blueberry-Lavender Cheesecake and Chocolate Macaroons?), Ashley and I decided to partake in the Almond-Raspberry Cookies and the cacao-coated Superfood Clusters (chock full of goji berries, coconut, brazil nuts, spirulina, raisins, inca berries, maca powder, and mesquite powder), respectively. Bittersweet, chewy, crunchy, and creamy all at once, the Superfood Clusters served as the perfect beginning to a stunning meal. However, even though Ashley regaled the wonders of her Almond-Raspberry Cookies, the bite I snuck of them left me unimpressed by their miserly amount of raspberry filling and rather unflavorful cookie exterior. Glad I made the right choice on pre-dinner dessert.

While I beat Ashley on dessert choices, she prevailed in entree selection by ordering the Raw Reuben—two pliable slices of sunflower seed flatbread layered with Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, marinated portabella mushrooms, dehydrated “caramelized” onions, and cashew Swiss cheese, served alongside a shredded beet salad and a pile of dill-and-nooch-dusted sweet potato chips. Ashley generously offered me a bite of her sandwich, which transported me to veritable raw food heaven due to the genius mingling of creamy-tender-tangy-umami-ness bursting from in between the flatbread, the hearty and chewy texture of which impressed me more than most of the raw flatbreads I’ve sampled in the past. With Ashley’s blessing, I also finished off the last of her sweet potato chips, which exactly resembled an oil-free, dehydrated variation on sour-cream-and-onion potato chips.

Though Ashley’s entree proved a tad more extraordinary than mine, I still thoroughly enjoyed my Cha-Lu-Pas—two crunchy corn tostadas spread with sunflower seed “refried beans,” topped with shredded lettuce, salsa, guacamole, and olives, drizzled with a cashew sour cream, and served alongside a kale salad in a tangy marinara-style dressing. All of the components proved quite fresh-tasting, though the creamy sunflower seed beans served as my favorite aspect of the dish, which satisfied my intense day-long craving for avocado. While quite tasty, the Cha-Lu-Pas simply could not match the sheer perfection of Ashley’s Reuben. I suppose I’ll just have to return to Beets Café during my next visit to Austin—darn.

On the bus ride back to her apartment, Ashley expressed her happy surprise at how much she enjoyed her first experience at a raw food restaurant. In fact, for the remainder of my trip, she continually waxed poetic about her sandwich at Beets Café, and even asked me if she could make a version of the sunflower seed flatbread at home (I passed these two recipes from Gena at Choosing Raw along to her). If not for the slightly out-of-reach price tag, Ashley would have suggested that we dine at Beets Café again the next day. Instead, we planned our meals for my final day in Austin to include ice cream at Sweet Ritual and dinner from the Wheatsville Co-op (more details on our eventful lunch excursion in the next post).

Until next time, Ali.

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