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Cheap Eats

Revitalize with veggies

(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Burge
Globe Staff / December 8, 2010

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One gray afternoon in Central Square, I confuse life and love. And so instead of the strawberry banana smoothie I am expecting, I get a glass of beet juice.

The mistake is mine, a casualty of the soulful names attached to food at Life Alive, the exuberant new vegetarian, and almost vegan, restaurant that has sprung up beside Cambridge’s City Hall. A strawberry banana smoothie ($5.79) is called Love Alive; but fiddle with a few letters and you end up with Life Alive ($5.99), a drink that — with all due respect to the healing power of beets — tastes like rusty water. Even though I got exactly what I ordered, the kind waitress whisks away the beet juice and brings the smoothie.

Entering Life Alive, which calls itself an “urban oasis & organic cafe,’’ feels a bit like slipping into church. “Our mission is to feed the vitality of the world,’’ the menu tells us. “We are here to renew your energy & connection to life.’’ The menu is nearly free of animal products — smoothies are made with almond or rice milk — although some cheese and eggs occasionally sneak in.

One of those rare dishes, the Romantic ($8.55), is a keeper: Cheddar (it’s real) is melted over avocado, broccoli, and garlic sprinkled with nutritional yeast, all tucked inside a tortilla and grilled — a perfect meal for a cold, dreary day. So is the Lover ($8.99), rich with shiitake mushrooms added to carrots, beets, broccoli, and greens, ladled over rice. The star of the combination, though, is ginger nama shoyu sauce, which shows what Life Alive does best: makes healthy, vegetable-packed meals taste very good. It helps that the vegetables seem extremely fresh — in our visits, we never saw a brown lettuce leaf or a limp carrot. The Mystic Mountain (pictured, $8.95), a salad of greens, vegetables, apple, and cashews, topped with a mound of lemon-garlic hummus, is crunchy with nuts and kernels of sweet corn.

Most meals at Life Alive, which also has a restaurant in Lowell, can be ordered in a bowl, inside a wrap, or in a smaller portion. These options, and the ardent names on the menu, lead to orders that sound peculiar. “Can I get the Lover in a bowl?’’ my husband says. Drinks are also inventive. We love Ginger Crush ($4.25), a potent combination of fresh ginger, lemon, and maple syrup. For now, the only desserts are prepackaged. We’d love to see Life Alive make their own. If they can get vegetables to taste this good, imagine what they could do with chocolate.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.

LIFE ALIVE 765 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-5433, www.lifealive.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

PRICES Salads $5.55-$9.05. Entrees $5.35-$9.25. Wraps $4.99-$9.25.

HOURS Mon-Sat 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

LIQUOR Wine.

MAY WE SUGGEST The Romantic, the Lover, the Mystic Mountain, Love Alive, Ginger Crush.