• Native Foods Café, The CAMP, 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, CA www.nativefoods.com

…Last summer
To satisfy my vegan craving I head to The Camp, a charming fortress tucked away in Costa Mesa and surrounded by all things earth. Native Foods, one of the their most popular  café, is at the heart of that philosophy.
I order the Baja Fish Tacos, a summer favorite. Given my choice of preparation, I opt for my tempeh blackened. Just because it doesn’t taste like fish doesn’t mean it’s not delicious.

The home made white sauce is delicate and adds a hint of sweet. Fresh cabbage, tomatoes, cheese, topped with a chunk of guacamole, and corn tortillas make this dish both healthy and satisfying. I also get accompanying soy beans. Unexpected, but pitiful. I finish it nonetheless, all nine of them.

I return to the counter to scour their desserts. I decide on their Cheesecake, a rich cream cheese imitation on a ginger granola crust, sweetened with agave nectar and served with a side of blueberries. It’s good, but stacking it next to a NY cheesecake would be comparing a Mini Cooper to a Tahoe. I devour it but when I’m done, I’m wishing there was more.

I return to Native Foods with high hopes. If it’s anything like the last visit, I am in for a treat. I skim the menu for my tacos. Nowhere. “What happened to them?” I ask the waitress. “We change our menu four times a year,” she tells me. Impressing. New menus mean fresh and seasonal ingredients. Feeling adventurous, I order the Tandoori Kabobs: grilled Seitan and tofu skewers, marinated in Tandoori spices, topped with a mango-apple chutney and served with their homemade raita (tzatziki imitation).

I follow it up with the Scorpion Burger, a blackened tempeh base topped with chipotle sauce, avocado, romaine, carrots, onions and melted cheddar. “Will that be all for you?” I can’t resist. “This too,” I say, pointing to the Chocolate Love Pie.
When the Kabobs arrive, I try the tofu ones first. Their spongy texture and their harmonious blend of spicy and sweet are fantastic. The mango chutney is a perfect companion, but the raita sauce lacks potency and flavor. I set it aside. The Seitan Kabobs are just as good, grainy, with a rubbery calamari texture. I finish all four without pausing to breathe.

When the burger arrives, I am “oohing” with pleasure. It is so large I have to squish it together to take a bite. It takes me several mouthfuls to realize I’m not enthralled. I search for the culprit and try the blackened tempeh. It’s mundane. Worse, the cheese is is too heavy. Out of spite, I eat the bloody beast waiting for it to get better. It never does.

The pie is sure to provide relief. The spiced almond crust is good, but the boldly flavored cardamom creates an awkward spice that stands out like a pimple. The pudding filling is clumpy and feels like goo. I’m tempted to finish. This time, I resist.



It would have been better if…. I had waited for summer.