Earth-conscious eating in Culver City:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Dig deep enough into Akasha’s details and it’s easy to see how the restaurant might remind some of that nagging culinary stereotype that paints Los Angeles as a city of light-stomached grazers, a population seeking little more than patches of macrobiotic greens and oxymoronic slabs of cruelty-free meat. Chef Akasha Richmond, after all, is dedicated to green ideals, and her Culver City restaurant follows through with organic everything. Even the servers are outfitted in eco-friendly garb. But visit Akasha for its stated purpose – food – and any thoughts of overzealous environmentalism will be pushed right out of your mind.
With its spring and summer menus, the restaurant’s healthy bent found strong seasonal support, as the warmer months brought naturally delicate dishes to the kitchen. But in the restaurant’s embrace of fall flavors Akasha truly proves itself, serving stouter plates that could pass the test of classic American comfort just about anywhere.
In the restaurant’s spot in the historic Hull Building, those culinary strides are made all the more striking. Up front, there’s a bakery for breakfast-bound eaters and a bar soused with organic cocktails and biodynamic wines. But beyond the bar, it’s all open space – a back wall of reclaimed wood seems a mile away, the sound-dampened ceiling looks to be up at cloud-level clearance. The place is terribly attractive – contemporary mid-century cues – and impossible not to like.
Most of the New American menu is equally agreeable. The worldly conventions of modern California cooking are everywhere, easily edible in everything from the appetizers (order the masala shrimp) to the pizzas (try the pie of shiitake mushrooms, roasted squash and basil). Not all of the restaurant’s smaller plates are worthwhile, however, so it might be wise on the wallet to follow Akasha’s guiltlessly global menu straight to the entrees.
There, the South Indian-style salmon is a necessary plate for even the most meat-headed among us. The fish is cooked to a perfect pink and served with a tamarind-date chutney so sweet it could easily secure a spot on the dessert menu. Even so, the chutney isn’t overpowering and actually makes a great foil to the fish, a tongue-pleasing pairing of sugar and salt that even cuts well against the accompanying curried cauliflower.
As poultry goes, there usually isn’t much reason to order chicken at a restaurant like Akasha, but here it’s a more-than-worthy option. Most of the dish’s success is derived from its obvious autumn flavors. Alongside the chicken, which, again, is cooked to the juiciest specifications, there are roasted hunks of heirloom squash, an apple puree and crispy cardamom spaetzle – all the makings of a near-Thanksgiving meal. So it’s no surprise that the plate marries those components with ease, a classic seasonal dish that might just be one of the best examples of the restaurant’s simple style.
One marquee main plate that stumbles, though, is the Asian-style braised short ribs. The meat turns out plenty tender (there’s almost no knife work necessary), but the short ribs simply don’t taste a bit of their advertised star anise and ginger. That said, the parsnip-potato puree is a nice way to break up the typical meat-and-potatoes monotony.
The restaurant rebounds at dessert with an excellent carrot cake that’s matched with a tart ball of tangerine sorbet. There’s also a surprisingly smooth hemp-chocolate gelato with caramelized slices of banana. With the gelato, as with a lot of Akasha’s menu, it’s possible to find the stuff so green-minded that it might be misconstrued as prejudicial evidence of overbearing environmentalism. But it’s also exceedingly easy not to notice those organic attitudes at all. And when the restaurant’s food stands alone as well as it often does, that’s probably for the best.
Akasha, 9543 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 845-1700. akasharestaurant.com. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Valet and street parking. Vegetarian friendly. Full bar. Food for two, $50-$100.