September 29, 2016
Luz translates to light, and casa seems to be as much a part of the English vocabulary as it is of the Spanish language. This restaurant is not just a house of light, in fact it's more of a retreat from the bustle with the addition of whole, unprocessed food. Citing macrobiotics, the Taoist principles of balance through diet by way of pure prepared foods, Casa De Luz focuses on serving all-organic foods based from whole grains, plants, beans vegetables and soups made from scratch; all of which is prepared completely gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian, naturally.
While the trend of healthy alternatives for the dietary conscious is well documented and perhaps over emphasized in some cases, Casa De Luz is unique in its approach; the mission statement simply supports the concept of healthy offerings as a genuine response to the imbalances of modern eating and living. This holistic, all-natural attitude was put to action when the restaurant opened over two decades ago and is a reflection of what one experiences here, from the tranquil, zen setting right down to the pre-soaked grains and beans. Casa De Luz is a breathe of fresh air, a slice of serenity among the bustle of Barton Springs Road, but mostly it's an example of what can be achieved with simple ingredients and a genuine approach toward food and the community.
From the point of entry, one is engulfed by lush greenery and led down a winding walkway paved with brick and shaded by twisted vines and overhanging greens, which feeds to an outdoor dining area that covers a raised deck and string of umbrella covered tables to create ample shading opportunities. Inside is an open kitchen crossed with a vast dining area, as well as a tucked away shopping area which contains anything from books on microbitioics and nutrition to bulk beans and various coffees and teas. The way the tables are set and how people group together makes it feel like a bit like a school cafeteria.
Once you pay the flat fee ($9 for breakfast), all portions and presentation are in your control, as everything is self serve. Coffee is replaced by Kukicha - a Japanese tea with alkalizing and digestive properties but low in caffeine - while filtered water free of fluoride is included as part of the meal. Dessert, if you can manage to save room, is worth the extra money.
The spread on this particular morning suggested one start with the soup and move on to the steamed vegetables, beans, sauce and homemade corn tortillas to devise fixings for tacos (at least that is how I naturally approach most meals). Following the nutritional bulk of the meal, a tall pot of porridge awaits, with the additions of granola and raisins to round out the meal and satisfy a sweet tooth or two.
Composed of mixed greens, carrots and onions, the soup had a heartiness to it that was still tolerable in hot weather, though the base stock was a touch too salty. On their own, the pile of leafy greens - cabbage, kale and collard greens - were about as inspiring as any blanched vegetables could be, but a dollop of tahini sauce went a long way in adding a little zest. Unless refried, black beans don't often vary in consistency or presentation, and these fell in line with the standard as they held shape while remaining soft and mushy to the touch.
These individual parts, however, were much greater as a sum when combined and stuffed into the crisp, freshly constructed corn tortillas. Hints of cumin and other spices from the tahini sauce successfully recreated the feeling of devouring a real taco, while the beans added weight and the vegetables structure. Having to reluctantly abandon a half-eaten spread from my seat on the patio in order to run inside for another tortilla, I was fortunate to have avoided a siege of grackles and came back to find my plate intact.
As a base, the amaranth provided a gooey filler that was, on its own, bland. When added, however, the granola, raisins and a heavy dose of cinnamon spiked the flavor to create a balance of sweet and nuttiness that served as retribution for all of the greens consumed. Yet, out of sheer curiosity for the true desserts offered (advertised as vegan and gluten-free), I fell victim to a helping of Carob pudding ($4) to conclude.
With a consistency that was wet and sponge-like, much like true pudding, the carob - a naturally sweet plant that resembles chocolate - added the finishing touches on a hearty meal. As the pudding began to disappear, notes of anise and clove began to reveal themselves.
Casa De Luz provides not only whole, nutritional meals but also represents the type of mindset that thrives in this city. From the signs in the bathrooms that suggest voluntary clean-up, to the vast offering of cook books and various health resources, this establishment is certainly unique and worth visiting, if not frequenting.
Ate: Breakfast buffet, Carob Pudding
1701 Toomey Rd, Austin, TX 78704
Rating: 5 Green Beans (out of Five)