Perched on Hoover Hill overlooking Virgil Village, the former Hot Hot Food space has been transformed by the Springs chef Jasmine Shimoda and wife Sharky McGee into the plant-based concept Jewel. The lavender corner building welcomes foot traffic with a colorful mural celebrating flora and the vegetable kingdom. Inside, the simple luncheonette space is flooded with natural light with an adjacent covered outdoor patio.
Shimoda kept a lot of the dishes on the menu that developed a cult following at the Springs — the forbidden fried rice, kale salad and her famous L.A. Phil wrap. The wrap, by the way, has nothing to do with the Philharmonic but is her vegan take on a Philly cheesesteak, with braised yuba sheets, shiitake, caramelized onions, jalapeño and cashew fondu ($13).
“Before the Springs, I had never cooked plant-based food. I actually come from a fine-dining restaurant background in New York City and really embraced the challenge of filtering my classic training through a plant-based lens,” Shimoda tells L.A. Weekly. “Jewel is more or less a continuation of that journey, but more informed by the two years I've been able to spend in L.A. absorbing the culture and falling in love with California produce."
And produce-rich the menu is. Fresh from the South Pasadena farmers market, the L.G.B.T. is a colorful mix of lettuce, guacamole, Shimoda’s house-made tempeh "bacon" and heirloom tomatoes on gluten-free seed bread ($9). The avocado toast comes with cashew-herb spread, puffed quinoa togarashi and crunchy house pickles, which give a great contrast in texture and bite ($9). For non-vegans, you can add a Chino Valley Ranchers farm-fresh egg to any toast.
The Jewel box is a rainbow of brown rice or sweet potato, avocado, black beans, garlicky greens, turmeric tofu, raw veggies, pickles and amaranth-pumpkin crunch with miso-ginger sauce ($12). You may want to share this one — it’s huge and will fill you up for the rest of the day. I’m kind of a salad Niçoise snob but was not disappointed with the Jewel version made with activated almond and sunflower seed “tuna,” greens, Weiser potatoes, Kalamata olives, green beans and red wine vinaigrette ($12).
Shimoda has given an exotic new face to plant-based foods, taking eating with your eyes to a whole new level by combining colors and textures. The best thing: She appreciates and never underestimates the power of a good crunch.
There are plenty of cold-pressed juices on the menu; try the Radiant Skin — apple, lemon, ginger, cayenne, chia seeds, collagen and maqui berry ($10). Jewel also offers wellness and turmeric shots with a kick ($5). One of the most popular gems on the menu at the cafe is the selection of vegan doughnuts: matcha, red velvet, cinnamon, strawberry or maple coconut bacon ($3.50).
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Shimoda has helped transform the neighborhood, where women-owned businesses keep cropping up. Sparked by Jessica Koslow's Sqirl down the road, there’s also Vinovore, a wine and goods shop with a focus on female winemakers across the globe, and the homey Melody’s for pescatarians and oyster lovers.
“With Jewel, our goal was to create a comforting neighborhood restaurant with options for everyone and an element of magic. I think people are surprised when the food comes out and the plating is so artful,” Shimoda says. “You can really see the technique on the plate, but more importantly you can taste the freshness of the ingredients and the thoughtfulness behind each dish. It’s important to me that people leave feeling good.”
Shimoda is excited about the changing face of her block. “I’m really happy to be a part of the girl-power moment in our neighborhood,” she says. “The more empowered females running their own businesses the better. Why not start in Virgil Village?”
Jewel, 654 N. Hoover St., Virgil Village; (323) 522-6927, jewel-la.com.