Casa de Luz: 100% Vegan
UPDATE: AS OF 12/9/2013 CASA DE LUZ IS CLOSED. THEY WILL BE MISSED
NORTH PARK. Casa de Luz is a 100% vegan, 100% macrobiotic, 100% organic, and 100% gluten free restaurant in North Park. Further, Casa de Luz offers itself as an educational community center. This is what makes it special. Casa transcends the common boundaries of a restaurant to focus on events, classes, and bringing the community together.
What is Macrobiotic Food?
For most folks walking into Casa for the first time, the question immediately becomes: “What is macrobiotic food?” Turns out, however, that this is a challenging question to answer.
The word “macrobiotic” derives from Greek and means “long life.” But the diet originated in Japan, then spread across borders of nationality and culture. Today, many advocates of the macrobiotic diet embrace both principles of East Asian philosophy and the objectives of the western vegan diet. And for many, it is a lifestyle choice.
Whether a diet or a lifestyle, macrobiotics promotes eating local, seasonal foods that are “balanced.” Specifically, this targeted balance is a function of (1) each food’s inherent acidity versus alkalinity, and (2) the dueling energies of yin and yang. First, because most people in modern society consume highly acidic foods – which yield a lower pH level in the blood – macrobiotics recommends more alkaline food and drink. The list of highly acidic foods is long and surprising. For example, both milk and sugar are highly acidic. If you want to see where other foods land on the spectrum of alkalinity and acidity, here is a good website:
Second, and much more mystifying to me, is the pursuit of a balance between the energies of yin (the expanding, outward force) and yang (the contracting inward force). The good news: the body seems to crave a balance between the two. The bad news: it often craves the extremes, paired together. Wine (yin) and cheese (yang). Beer (yin) and burgers (yang). Unfortunately, each of these foods is highly acidic and – huge surprise – not so good for you. As a result, macrobiotics relies on foods that are inherently balanced – even on their own – such as certain grains and most of the plant kingdom. Here is a more robust listing:
Bottom line, with macrobiotics, it feels like you need at least a Masters degree just to put together a single meal. But this is where Casa de Luz comes in! Casa has the experts who do all the thinking, all the planning, and all the cooking for us simple folk. All we have to do is show up!
Meals at Casa de Luz:
The menu at Casa de Luz changes daily. If you don’t like surprises, simply check Casa’s website for the daily menu! You can also consult the schedule outlining which cuisines (Asian, Italian, etc.) are served on certain days. Except for Friday and Saturday, because those days are Chef’s Choice!
Lunch: 11:00am – 5:00pm
Dinner: 5:00pm – 9:00pm
For both Lunch and Dinner, Casa offers two options: (1) Plate or (2) Seasonal Bowl.
The Plate consistently offers the same building blocks for a true macrobiotic meal: leafy green + grain + bean + veggie + pickle. The Plate also comes with soup, salad, AND tea. In fact, you pick up your soup and salad immediately after ordering and paying at the front desk. Then, later, a Casa staff member will bring the main Plate to your table.
On my most recent visit, the soup was Wild Rice and Veggie. The veggies, celery, zucchini, onions, and carrots, were perfectly tender (but not overly soft). The flavor, sublime and wonderful, is an excellent example of how macrobiotic food stands apart. It is not salty, not spicy, and not infused with other flavors seeking to dominate the taste buds. This soup relies on the quality of its vegetables. And this soup disappears quickly.
Next up was the salad: mixed greens, carrots, and cabbage with a nutty fig balsamic dressing. Casa’s salads never disappoint. The greens and veggies are always fresh, and the salad dressings are unique and home made. The nutty, fig, balsamic dressing was a special treat.
The Plate showcased how simple, sturdy blocks can build something wonderful. The leafy green was kale with a walnut-dill sauce. The grain was a blend of coconut quinoa and brown rice. The bean of the night was the reliable black bean, and the vegetable was lemon-herbed broccoli. Finally, the pickle was not a single stick of cucumber but, rather, a fun medley of unexpected veggies.
The delight is in the details. The walnut-dill sauce brings the kale alive, and the grains are cooked to the point of perfection – not beyond. Also, pickled vegetables inject the plate with acute flavor that somehow ends up on the alkaline end of the spectrum. It is a weird science, but delicious.
2. Seasonal Bowls:
Your second option when ordering lunch or dinner is one of two Seasonal Bowls. These bowls are a recent (and welcome!) addition to Casa’s menu. They are great for those times when you are not hungry enough to eat a soup, salad, AND entree plate (or when you don’t have a lot of time to eat).
The two Seasonal Bowls available right now are the: (i) Tempeh Chili with Tofu Crema and Cornbread and (ii) Grilled Pineapple Curry with Brown Rice. I recently tried the Tempeh Chili. Wow. The chili was warm with a hint of spice. The tofu crema was creamy (move over, sour cream) and the cornbread was soft, moist, and full of actual kernels of corn. Always real food. Always amazing.
Casa de Luz has recently stopped serving breakfast on the weekdays. However, rumor on the street is that Casa will begin a weekend Champagne/Kombucha brunch in November. This is one brunch I don’t want to miss. Stay tuned for a follow up post!
If you have room for dessert after your meal, take a look at Casa’s display case to the left of the cashier. Cookies, puddings, maple bars, cheesecake, and more! How are they vegan? Casa magic.
Most recently, I tried the Mexican Chocolate Mousse. To say it exceeded my expectations would be a gross understatement. This was the richest, most intensely chocolate mousse I have tasted. Ever. The type of rich where you close your eyes each time you take a bite.
Smoothies and Juices:
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the special smoothies and juices offered at Casa de Luz. Casa offers four smoothies or you can create your own juice! Because the ingredients are of the highest quality, each smoothie and juice is a standout.
I enjoy the Leafy Green Smoothie. Made from kale, green, apple, cucumber, Vitamineral Green, almond yogurt, almond milk and dates, it is smooth and creamy. You would never know by its taste that it’s full of veggies!
Even Casa’s water is special, as it is somehow filtered and transformed to an alkaline friendly pH level of 9.5. Drink it straight up, or infused with cucumber.
Tea and Coffee:
I have mentioned that the lunch and dinner plates come with complimentary tea. Customers are able to fill (and re-fill!) their glasses with Kukicha Tea.
Before Casa de Luz, I had never heard of Kukicha Tea. It is made from the twigs of the same plant that produces green tea. Because they come from the same plant, Kukicha Tea shares the same antioxidant properties as green tea. It has a smoky flavor and has 90% less caffeine than coffee (green tea has 60% less caffeine than coffee).
If Kukicha tea doesn’t sound appealing, Casa also has a variety of herbal, green, and black teas available by the pot.
I don’t drink coffee but if I did, Casa de Luz would be my first stop. I often see individuals sitting with a blissful look on their faces as they wrap their hands around their Guatemalan French Press Coffee. And don’t worry, Casa has non-dairy creamers and sweeteners if you don’t like your coffee black!
Casa’s space is the product of the owner’s passion for community. The main floor has beautiful dark wood tables of all shapes and sizes, including large community style seating. The outdoor patio offers a sunny spot for those with dogs. And the upstairs features an educational utopia, complete with extensive seating, state-of-the-art kitchen, and vast counter space for demonstrations. Casa is ground zero for food and cooking enthusiasts.
As I mentioned earlier, Casa de Luz is more than a place to eat. Casa’s online calendar shows the upcoming community events to be hosted in house – check it out at: http://sandiego.casadeluz.org/events–classes.html
I could never list all of the events Casa offers, but I will take the time to highlight a few!
Test Kitchen Tuesdays:
Test Kitchen Tuesdays is a series of vegan cooking classes, taught by Liz Gary, that are held every Tuesday morning from 9:30am – 11:30am. The class is a donation based, hands on cooking class – attendees break up into groups to make the recipes in Casa’s amazing upstairs educational space. I attend almost every week. Our creations range from vegan doughnuts to quiche!
Casa de Luna:
Casa de Luz holds its donation based “Casa de Luna” celebration on the first Saturday night of every month beginning at 9:30pm. The event features activities like partner yoga, meditation, and an art show. And no event would be complete without delicious food and drink: Casa offers organic wine and sake, juice, tea, and desserts to attendees!
On many Wednesdays at 6:30pm (check the Casa calendar for an detailed list!), Casa de Luz is home to the Kale University Meetup group. Kale University advocates a whole-food plant-based diet and is open to individuals who are interested in taking health into their own hands. Kale University uses Wednesday evenings to bring in speakers and to provide classes for its members. To learn more check out Kale University’s Meetup page at:
In sum, life at Casa de Luz is always evolving. Although breakfast will be missed, I expect that the upcoming brunch program will be something special. Hope to see you there!
UPDATE: AS OF 12/9/2013 CASA DE LUZ IS CLOSED. THEY WILL BE MISSED
2920 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104