The Weekly Eater

Nadine Kam

Organic foods
offer pesticide and
hormone -free eating

THE more one learns about the food industry, the more one realizes dietary fat is the least of our concerns. When I was a kid, I worried that ocean pollution would kill all sea creatures one day. I could not have imagined today's operatic reality, with mercury-contaminated fish exacting revenge on man by slowly poisoning fish consumers -- particularly pregnant women's unborn children -- instead!

After giving Eric Schlosser's book "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal" a read, a trip to the grocery store will seem scarier than a trip through a house of horrors on Halloween. Under the sheen of luscious berries may lurk the soul of a pesticide-laced killer, and forget about getting antibiotics from your doctor -- they're everywhere, they're everywhere!

There's no easy solution for the environmental degradation that has robbed our soil of minerals, in turn reducing the amounts of nutrients in produce. Fruits and vegetables may have been nutritious once, but now must get an assist from a daily multiple vitamin.

There is no quick solution for righting the downward drift, but across the globe, many have embraced the organic cause. Here, health-food stores such as Down to Earth and The Source, have always devoted bin space to organics, but others are taking up the cause, taking organics beyond its hippie roots and making it post-millennium trendy. First there was Bizen, and now there's Organic Café, which brings organics to both visitors and residents, including staffers at nearby 2100 Kalakaua for whom eating right must be part of the job description. How else would they fit into their Prada, Chanel and YSL?

At Organic Café in Waikiki, Hiroko Vail shows off the eatery's Chili-Tomato Wrap ($2.95), left, and a large Organic Tofu Salad ($4.95).

ORGANIC Café originated on Ala Moana as Marie's Health Foods, selling vitamins, food supplements and skin-care products. The Waikiki store opened about a year-and-a-half ago, with a cafe utilizing some of the products available to consumers. It's still very much a health store, with a fast-food counter, a few chairs inside, and outdoor seating facing Beachwalk.

According to the Organic Consumers Association, about a 10th of American households currently buy organics. A problem is that as organics exit the health-food arena, in which long-standing purveyors are trusted, there will be those who pass their products off as being organic. The produce is virtually indistinguishable from typically farmed produce, so you pretty much have to take them at their word when they say, as at Organic Cafe, that their food is "locally grown whenever possible" and "grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals."

I have no reason to doubt Organic Cafe's credibility. They invite patrons to sign an OCA petition to place a moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops, convert U.S. agriculture to at least 30 percent organic by 2010, stop factory farming and phase out industrial agriculture.

Can you feel that '60s activist vibe? But the old rustic decor is passé. In the '00s, the small menu of sandwiches and salads are served in a thoroughly glossy, modernist space.

You might start with a mesclun salad of baby greens, at $2.95 small or $4.95 large. Or try the baby spinach salad, with tomatoes, carrots and feta, although canned black olives were served as a replacement for the Kalamata olives on the menu.

Salads are served with your choice of about four Kauai Naturals dressings, with flavors like ginger-miso and lemongrass-ginger, which was excellent.

For another $2 above the large salad price, you can add a serving of broiled strips of lean, free-range California chicken. Though somewhat dry, it does satisfy any craving for meat, which is always a help for those interested in making the transition from mainstream to some form of organic or vegetarian diet.

Organics, of course, never sound like a very sexy proposition, and that's how I felt about a chili-tomato wrap ($2.95): Blah. Luckily, my friend ordered it and that was good thing because it was both delicious and satisfying. Chili-tomato tortillas are spread with hummus, lettuce, baby spinach, carrots, cucumbers, daikon, feta and snow pea sprouts and served with a light and refreshing tomato salsa.

A tuna and black-olive sandwich also hit the spot, served on rosemary foccacia (you can also choose four-grain molasses bread) with avocado, tomato, cucumber, lettuce and alfalfa sprouts.

We thought of going elsewhere for dessert. Because the food was so light, we felt we had been extremely good and were left willowy enough to take in more devilish delights at Cold Stone Creamery across the street.

As it turns out, Organic Café has its own cold treat in the form of a green barley mousse ($3.25) stirred with tapioca pearls and topped with sweet azuki beans. It was every bit as refreshing as a scoop of green tea ice cream.

Throughout the experience, I never felt I had to sacrifice flavor, while looking forward to the benefits of extra doses of vitamins and minerals -- for instance 27 percent more vitamin C and 29.3 percent more magnesium according to research from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health -- that organics possess over their more traditionally raised counterparts.

Organic Café

ANA Kalakaua Center, 2155 Kalakaua Ave. Suite 110 / 926-3900

Food Star Star Star Half-star

Service Star Star Star

Ambience Star Star Star

Value Star Star Star Star

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays

Cost: About $10 per person

See some past restaurant reviews in the Columnists section.

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

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