Ask any L.A. native, or even a tourist dipping into L.A. and they’ll tell you it’s a city of yogis, green juice drinkers, health food enthusiasts, and all around eating clean type crew. It’s a phenomenon, and one certainly not to be discouraged. However, these vegan/vegetarian/ gluten-free friendly restaurants such as Cafe Gratitude, and Juice Served Here don’t necessarily have the reputation of being the life of the party instead these are spots to go cleanse your system the day after the party.
Yet Josef Centeno, head chef of the nearly one year-old downtown spot, P.Y.T, offers a seamless combo of both scenes. You’ll find cocktails… mixed with beet juice. An indulgent bowl of pasta... with fresh green garlic cream. P.Y.T. is a restaurant where carnivores and vegetarians can exist in harmony at the same dinner table; where someone who just started a new diet can split a dish with someone on their “cheat day.” But notably, this restaurant isn’t about vegetarianism or even healthy eating. Instead, it successfully tackles the important challenge of focusing a meal around something other than a sirloin or seared salmon — Plants.
Serving no meat and fish, P.Y.T., is the designated “vegetable restaurant,” as opposed to a label with stricter implications such as “vegan” or “vegetarian.” The inspiration for it came from Centeno’s frequent work and partnership with local farmers. This idea of eating fresh and local, after all, is really the foundation of this place. It promotes the idea of mindful eating; knowing where the food on your plate comes from. The amuse-bouche is fresh chickpeas, still on the vine — mind blowing to the average individual that typically eats their chickpeas out of a can. It is a clever reminder that vegetables come from the earth, a fact that is so often forgotten in a world of processed food.
With a small, ever rotating menu, it would be difficult to find something at P.Y.T. that isn’t satisfying, as the food is always fresh, always seasonal, and always beautiful. The experience of digging into one of these plates is like hunting for treasure. Each dish has a hearty, “meaty,” main component covered or surrounded by grains, sauces, and vegetables highlighting it. The precision in each dish is simply elegant. The braised wood ear mushrooms in the bok choy dish accompanied by Tehachapi grain salad and chile oil is an absolute revelation that can make even the most skeptical, pickiest eaters see the light. And let’s not forget one of the best things that come from plants — carbs. The Green Piri-Piri Rice with an over easy egg (a vegan option is available, as well) is filling, crunchy, and surprising — making the dish an all around joy to eat.
Then there’s the lush, textured Chef Salad which is a combination of cooked and raw vegetables served on top of a “walnut bahza” — which somewhat mimics what mere mortals would call “hummus.” With loosely torn farm lettuces, Shishito peppers and a whole mess of other local, seasonal ingredients, this dish blurs the line between art and food, until you take one bite and realize, “Yup, it’s food. Damn good food.”
The menu, the atmosphere and the motto of P.Y.T. ask diners: Can we change what type of food is in the center of our plate? What does it mean to consider where food comes from, who harvested it, and how it got in front of us? What if, when we sit down for dinner, we think about how what we eat affects the world? Sounds like P.Y.T. not only promises good food and drinks, but thought provoking conversation. P.Y.T. is grounded, current and inventive, giving insight into the future of cooking and eating. It is compelling. It is hopeful.
Written by Delaney Rowe
Photographed by Natasha Lee