This isn’t fine dining, and the food might not be Instagram worthy, but in many cases, it’s flavorful, filling, and designed with nutrition in mind.
According to a 2013 article in Forbes, around 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8 percent of us who do manage to stick to them. We’re only a week into 2016, and already comedians and food bloggers are talking about abandoning resolutions and reverting to our regular, richer, more indulgent ways.
Eating healthier is always a popular goal, but let’s face it: We’re busy, and we don’t always have the time or the energy to concoct nutritious, home-cooked meals. If you’re in a hurry or in a bind, you could turn to Love Your Self Café — a small café on the east side of the DeVargas Center that adjoins the Light Vessel spa. This isn’t fine dining, and the food might not be Instagram worthy, but in many cases, it’s flavorful, filling, and designed with nutrition in mind.
The menu covers a pretty broad range, from breakfast dishes like waffles, pancakes, Benedicts, and porridge to salads, gluten-free pizzas, and “build your own” bowls and skillets that are based on rice, quinoa, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Every meal begins with a small mug of complimentary Love Water, a spring-green combination of apple, cucumber, and coconut waters as well as silica and something called “cell food.” Many dishes are vegan, though cheese and eggs make appearances, as do red and green chile.
If you have a hankering for huevos rancheros, Love Your Self Café probably wouldn’t be your first choice, but you’ll find that dish on the menu all the same. It and a few other more recognizable offerings are here, possibly for the sake of diners who want something familiar for lunch rather than needing to know what terms like sattvic, prana, or chlorella mean before they order.
There’s a Caesar salad, for example. The romaine was super-fresh and crunchy, with that telltale mild bitterness, and the dressing was bright with citrus and easy on the garlic. The Parmesan was the waxy pre-shredded industrial sort, though, and the “rosemary croutons,” while definitely herbaceous, were oddly crumbly and tasted stale.
The kale salad has become an almost comically ubiquitous phenomenon, and you’ll find one of those here as well. The greens were well macerated, tender, and nicely coated in an avocado dressing that was rich but overpoweringly hot with garlic. The bed of quinoa, wide ribbons of carrot, and studs of diced cucumber and tomato provided some cooling, carby respite.
Sometimes your soul cries out for pizza, whether or not your health requires you to avoid gluten. The menu at Love Your Self includes two pizzas, though there’s probably not much that’s strictly healthy about them. We tried the white pizza, basically a crackery flatbread topped with a hefty layer of fresh milky mozzarella along with some slices of surprisingly flavorful tomato, aromatic basil leaves, a generous drizzling of extra virgin olive oil, and some dried herbs.
One of the house “favorites,” the LYS Skillet adds hints of golden, aromatic curry powder to roasted potatoes. They arrive at the table in a fiery-hot pan, topped with cheddar, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, and artful drizzles of richly colored, deeply flavorful chimichurri and red chile sauce.
You can also construct your own different skillet or Power Bowl (for which quinoa, sprouted brown rice, or the daily legume are bases). Much as you’d choose toppings for a pizza or fillings for an omelet, you can add ingredients and select a sauce as a finishing touch. This is a good way to satisfy any nutritional hankerings you have — for, say, avocado’s buttery richness or the crunch of calcium-filled almonds. This is the sort of “back to basics” vegetarian dish that I often crave, simple and focused on the essence of the ingredients. My only complaint was that my bowl was in dire need of salt and seasoning, miso sauce notwithstanding.
The dining room at Love Your Self Café is small and cozy. The walls are swathed in a warm yellow, and though its windowlessness might foster feelings of claustrophobia, a dramatic trompe l’oeil ceiling depicts golden clouds in a bright blue sky as though viewed through a glass dome. A row of banquette tables runs along one wall, and the U-shaped bar offers additional seating.
At prime times, there’s a fairly constant stream of customers, but during odd in-between hours, the space can be empty and quiet. Everyone is exceedingly friendly in an earthy, flower-child sort of way. During one visit, I witnessed more than 10 hugs given and received by employees and customers — and I don’t mean the passive, one-armed, lean-in-but-not-too-closely kind, either. Maybe “eat more chlorella” isn’t on your list of New Year’s resolutions, but if you ask me, everyone could probably use a few more hugs.