UPDATE: Gr/eats has permanently closed.
I really want to like this restaurant. It's quiet. Charming. Peaceful. There are fresh, colorful flowers on every table. The service is attentive, and so polite and friendly that you'll think you've been transported to the midwest. The not-too-loud, not-too-soft music is the Cranberries, David Bowie, and other American artists imitated very convincingly in what is probably Japanese, mixed in with some other upbeat but not cheesy stuff that I didn't recognize but enjoyed. The menu is an eclectic mix of El Salvadoran, American, and Japanese. The food took long enough to prepare that it had to have been made-to-order.
The food falls short, though, and I tried four different dishes, which I feel is enough to provide a fair judgement. I also heard a microwave door close at some point while I was waiting for my food--were they microwaving my food?
The mixed fries, which I'd read were good on Chowhound's board, were--well, I probably couldn't have done much better myself, but this is a restaurant. The dish was described as a "lightly fried mix of shoestring potatoes, yams, and bananas." The shoestring potatoes were not shoestrings, and just like ordinary French fries, but they were kind of tough and seemed over-fried. There were very few yams, and even fewer bananas (maybe four slices on the entire plate). The yams were a bit undercooked, and seemed too wet and too heavy in contrast to the potatoes. The bananas had been sucked dry--they were like the banana chips you find in trail mix, but without the banana flavor.
Miso nasubi, fresh eggplant dish served with tasty miso sauce
The next dish I tried was significantly better, and raised my hopes for the rest of the meal. The eggplant was tender but not mushy, retaining just enough bite. The sauce was sweet and had a bit of heft to it, and was a perfect match for the eggplant. I thought. After I had been eating it for a while, I realized that the dish tasted like yams. Was I going crazy? No. I ate a yam fry to confirm. I think that much like Pepsi in the Pepsi challenge, the dish tasted good at first because it started off sweet. The problem is that it stayed sweet--too sweet (thank you Malcolm Gladwell). Also, the sesame seeds could have been roasted to bring out their flavor. The radish sprout garnish was a nice touch.
The Mayan chicken promised to be an "extra-tender El Salvadoran dish with a mole-style sauce." I don't know a lot about mole, to be honest, but I the sauce didn't live up to my expectations of what mole is. I think it had more tomato than I would have expected. The chicken was indeed extra-tender and came easily off the bone. It was also dark meat, which I like because it has more flavor and moisture, but I think these days most people expect a white chicken breast when they order chicken unless the menu says otherwise. The sauce was a little bland, and I'm not sure what it was trying to taste like. The waitress brought a bottle of hot sauce with it in case we wanted to make it spicier, which showed nice foresight on her part.
What I stared at during dinner
Finally, I tried the paella. Apparently the folks down in El Salvador have their own version of paella, at least, according to Gr/eats, whose paella is "loaded with fresh vegetables, calamari, green mussels, and baby clams." It would have also had shrimp, but shrimp and I are not friends. The rice was overcooked and mushy, and something about the flavor just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The presentation of the dish was well-conceived, at least--purple potatoes really brightened it up. The baby squid were very tender, and so were the calamari rings. But why the kalamata olives? And, worse, the Spanish olives with the dreaded pimento in the middle? (In what part of Spain do they defile their olives with soggy peppers?)
At the end of our meal, the waitress brought us almond jello on the house (was it because she saw me snapping photos earlier?) and encouraged us to stay as long as we wanted and enjoy ourselves. How often does that happen? Most places want to get you in and out as quickly as possible so they can turn another table. We were the only people in the entire restaurant, though (I'll admit that it was a Tuesday, but it was slow even for a Tuesday). Clearly, there are advantages to eating at restaurants that aren't in high demand. The almond jello (also known as dofu) was excellent and I could have eaten plenty more. If I had paid for it though, the portion would have seemed small for the price. Maybe they serve more when you actually order it. None of the other portions were skimpy, after all. Maybe I should have tried the blueberry ice cream.
I might go to Gr/eats again in spite of their culinary shortcomings, simply because everything else was so pleasant. If you've had a bad day and just want someone to be nice to you, go to Gr/eats and enjoy the peace and quiet, try something that I didn't eat (perhaps a burger or one of the specials), and let me know how it is. Or just get dessert.
Most entrees $7.50
Most appetizers and sides $4.00
Assorted sodas, coffee, and tea $1.00-2.00
Chef: Nelson Magana
2050 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025