Trail Mix: ‘Loving Hut’

Jan. 7, 2011, 3:00 a.m.

Trail Mix: 'Loving Hut'
Try the "7 Seas Rice," with organic brown rice, roasted pine nuts, nori, bell peppers, greens, cucumber and sesame seeds at Loving Hut - an organic vegan cafe on University Avenue. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

The word “pesto” is derived from the use of a mortar and pestle to grind up the famous sauce’s ingredients. However, despite the technique-oriented etymology, pesto is currently defined by its ingredients: basil, garlic, oil, pine nuts and cheese (Parmesan or Pecorino). Variations on the theme that still call themselves a “pesto” miss as often as they work. But the walnut-cilantro pesto on Loving Hut’s Pesto Divine sandwich is delicious – and illustrates one of the myriad ways in which Loving Hut is both differentiated and generally successful.

The restaurant’s atmosphere is certainly unique but, unlike the food, not in a particularly good way. The decor is a bit off; why do they have a gigantic sign hanging flush with the ceiling? The restaurant feels like a weird version of a religious Apple store. The vibe works well for a casual lunch with friends but not much else.

Similar to the atmosphere, the menu is a bit confused and combines elements of Asian, Indian and American cuisine. The combination of ingredients in any particular dish, though, usually works much more harmoniously than the menu overall. Loving Hut’s daily soup specials are among their best options. The mushroom-pistachio soup is subtle and just wonderful. Both of these flavors can be easily overwhelmed, but the two pair beautifully in a broth that is not too salty but perhaps not quite hearty enough. Their potato and leek soup is also incredible, a bit heartier and saltier and great for cold weather.

Trail Mix: 'Loving Hut'Loving Hut’s sandwich selection is mixed in its success. The “Pesto Divine” benefits from the aforementioned pesto variation, the soy protein is shockingly good and the baguette is just right, crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. On the other hand, the avocado BLT falls short. The ciabatta is so thick, it overwhelms the flavors of the contents of the sandwich, and the thin strips of Tempeh (deep fried soybeans that are used as the vegan “B” in “BLT”) don’t really come through at all.

Trail Mix: 'Loving Hut'
(CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

Similarly, Loving Hut’s general entrée offerings are mixed with some excellent dishes and some that can be skipped. The “7 Seas Rice” is light and incredible. The sesame seeds, pine nuts and nori make the dish congruent with winter flavors, while the bell peppers and greens allow it to hold up for the whole year as a favorite (a word of caution that the dish shouldn’t be taken to-go). The “Raw Fettuccine,” though, doesn’t perform nearly as well. The plating is beautiful and colorful, and the dish has a nice crunch to it. But the almond sauce they douse the celery root in doesn’t do enough to flavor the dish and degrades the mouth-feel. Loving Hut could reduce the size of the plate and be more successful by converting it into a salad by throwing it on a bed of greens; it would give the dish the same variegated fun as the “Loving Hut Salad” they currently offer.

Any vegan restaurant has to fight an uphill battle with an omnivorous crowd, but Loving Hut is generally up to the task. The food is confident in what it is – flavorful and nutritious, but not an attempted substitute for American fusion. Avoid the weaker dishes and you’ll be able to see casual vegan reach its potential. Loving Hut is not just for the sliver of the population with vegan dietary restrictions; even for meat-eaters it is “definitely worth trying.”

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