Avant Garden Bistro is a surprise vegan addition to a block that’s home to Melrose Umbrella Company and a couple of taco and pizza joints. In the furthest reaches of West Hollywood, the entrance is up a flight of stairs; once you arrive, the skill of the stage designer who did the interior is evident. The Garden comes close to kitsch, with giddy flowers everywhere, and the cozy dining room and bar are soaked in strong blues and greens. The cacophony of Melrose Avenue fades as soon as you’re seated.
Named after the original Avant Garden in New York, this bistro is serving some of the best vegan food in L.A. All hail Chef Sarah Stearns, who takes vegan cooking to the next level. She steadfastly refuses to make food that is an imitation of the so-called “real thing;” there are no fake meat-based dishes or veggie burgers here.
“We respect the plants and work with them to bring out their authentic taste,” Stearns, an L.A. native, tells LAMag. “Rather than copy a dish made with animal protein, we’re maximizing the plants.”
The bistro doesn’t have a liquor license, so for alcohol it’s beer, wine, or clever cocktails ($15) made with vermouth, sherries, Madeira and handmade syrups and shrubs. We started with the tart Sunsprite and a glass of Cotes Du Rhone ($13) from the list of European and American wines. The soundtrack was noted as we settled in. It was created by the bistro’s manager, who says that the owner asked for Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn with some funk mixed in. She nailed it.
The relatively small menu is divided into five sections: Cold, Toast, Hot, Noodles, and Dessert. The Avocado with Sushi Rice, Carrot Ginger Dressing and Miso is a revelation to those who think of avocado only in terms of a dip. The Toast section seems odd on a dinner menu but contains some of the stars of the show. Anchored by sourdough, the Cremini ($14) is a triumph, and the Walnut Puree, Red Grape and Calabrian Chili combination is intriguing enough to linger over.
With olives, capers and red chili, The Puttanesca is a perfect pasta for a chilly night and the Roasted Carrot ($19) was. as Stearns said, “a way to present the pure vegetable in a heightened state.” None of the food is bland; it’s well-spiced, and presented so beautifully. It’s worth another visit. The desserts are not to be missed, either, particularly the Apple Caramel, a perfect ending to a fall dinner.
The staff is uniformly proud of Avant Garden Bistro and eager to please regulars and first-timers—even the ones who point at the menu and say, “What is that?” Vegan or not, try this delightful new addition to West Hollywood’s offerings.
Avant Garden Bistro, 7460 Melrose Avenue
Tuesday – Saturday: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday and Monday: closed
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