Restaurant Review #152: Rosalind's, Little Ethiopia

Rosalind's interior

Rosalind's is unquestionably my favorite restaurant in Little Ethiopia, the stretch of Fairfax between Olympic and Pico that's home to around ten Ethiopian restaurants (along with a couple of wedding cake stores, furniture stores, and a grungy 7-Eleven). Though I have a compulsive need to try new restaurants, I go back to Rosalind's over and over.

The $12 vegetarian sampler is big enough for two to share, making it one of the best dining bargains around. Rarely can you get so much good food in a nice, sit-down setting. Rosalinds' atmosphere is peaceful--the service is friendly (usually), you're never rushed through your meal, and it's pretty quiet--though if you're sitting in the middle of the restaurant, you may have the cacophonous experience of hearing Ethiopian music in one ear and hip hop in the other. The restaurant is divided in half, with one side housing a bar and an Ethiopian-themed dining room, and the other a dimly lit party room with a wall of mirrors that make the restaurant look double its true size. On most of my visits to Rosalind's it's been largely empty, but this is one case where a lack of customers does not indicate bad food.

Talk about atmosphere

Some of the seating in the dining room is at conventional tables, but some is underneath small huts. The chairs and tables look interesting, but they're far from comfortable--you can't lean comfortably against the chair backs, so be prepared to practice your best sitting posture. While many restaurants in LA suffer from putting their tables too close together, at Rosalind's, the tables are plenty far apart, but the backs of the chairs in the hut section of the restaurant are so close together that you can barely squeeze into your table. Fortunately for us, the surrounding tables were empty, but under more crowded circumstances, it would be pretty unpleasant. The best table is probably the one in the front corner (on your right when you first walk in). That table is under a hut and relatively secluded from the other tables, making it a great choice for a date or a small group.

If you're new to Ethiopian food, Rosalind's is a great place to start. Not only is their menu extensive, but they also have a page long "how-to" on eating Ethiopian food. An extra plate of injera (a spongy, tangy, pancake-like bread made from a flour called teff) will arrive with your food, and rather than utensils, you eat the food by scooping it up with torn-off pieces of injera. Done properly, your hands will still be clean at the end of your meal. Rosalind's menu is very encouraging though, saying that adjusting to a new way of eating is always a challenge and it's okay if you're messy at first. I love to eat with my hands, so Ethiopian food is great fun for me. Though the plates are enormous, the portions can seem small, scattered out as they are. Keep in mind that you'll be eating bread with each and every bite--you'll get full fast.

Yam balls

For an appetizer, I like the deep fried yam balls, which are actually a Ghanian specialty. They're sweet, slightly gooey, and come with a tangy, spicy dipping sauce. They're filling, too, so watch out.

Vegetarian sampler plate

Going clockwise and starting with the green stuff at the bottom, the vegetarian plate contains:
- sauteed collard greens
- yemiser wet, a spiced lentil dish easily identified by its deep red color
- salad
- another variation of spiced lentils
- vegetables alicha, a mildly spiced sauteed cabbage dish with carrots and potatoes
- more salad
- yet another spiced lentil dish.

Each dish has a very distinct flavor, with the lentil dishes being the most heavily spiced (spiced as in containing many spices). The dishes are also spicy hot, but in a way that sneaks up on you after several bites when you suddenly notice that your lips are tingling.

The vegetarian sampler also comes with salad. Rosalind's used to serve their salad as an appetizer on a plate before the meal, which I liked better because I don't think injera tastes good with salad, but I can understand why they switched to a more streamlined presentation.

Vegetarian sampler plus meat dishes

Some of the meat dishes I've tried include a yellow colored lamb dish and a deep red beef dish. The beef dish was richly spiced and disappeared quickly. The lamb dish, however, contained large chunks of bone, which was a turnoff. The meat sampler we ordered only came with two meat dishes, providing a bit less variety than the vegetarian sampler, but it was actually served with most of the dishes from the vegetarian sampler, as well.

The specialty of the house, special tibs, is reminiscent of fajitas--beef served with bell peppers and onions on a sizzling platter. The meat is not tender though, and not nearly as flavorful as the other dishes. Aside from the dish's large meat content, I'm not sure why it's considered a speciality. I wouldn't recommend this dish.

For dessert, Rosalind's serves baklava--and that's it. It's not the greatest baklava--it's a little dry, and I prefer the honey-drenched kind.

Overall, Rosalind's beats out other Little Ethiopia dining choices in every area: the service is faster and friendlier; the atmosphere is prettier, cozier, and more tranquil (unless you sit on the dark side of the restaurant); the menu is more extensive, and most importantly, the food is more flavorful. While I love trying new places, sometimes I'm not in the mood to take a chance on the unknown--in my experience, I only like about a third of the restaurants I try. That's not a bad success rate, but at Rosalind's, my success rate is 100%.

1044 S Fairfax
Los Angeles, CA
Rosalind's Website (10% off coupon, too!)
Rosalind's Menu
The online menu is not the same as the in-restaurant menu, but it will give you a general idea of the types of dishes served.
Rosalind's on Urbanspoon


Farms, Farming, and Farmers' Markets

Gorgeous heirloom tomatoes from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, and to celebrate, the beautiful new Santa Monica Public Library is hosting a three part discussion series called Farms, Farming, and Farmers' Markets.

This week's discussion addressed the question, "what is the future of California's small farms and how can farmers' markets help keep farmers on their farms?" Laura Avery, who you may recognize from her weekly farmers' market reports on Evan Kleiman's KCRW show Good Food, did an impressive job of moderating the discussion.

Russ Parsons, multi-award-winning food journalist, columnist for the LA Times' Food section, and author of How to Read a French Fry opened the discussion. He believes that we are on the edge of a produce and agriculture revolution. Farmers' markets used to be common, but after the war, the supermarket industry grew and farmers' markets shrank. Now, farmers' markets are coming back with a vengeance, and they've begun to have an impact on the supermarket industry: for example, items that used to be rare have become mainstream, and major grocery stores are starting to provide organic options (Safeway's "O Organics" is one brand).

Farmers' markets give farmers the opportunity to reap a financial reward for doing good work and provide an incentive to grow crops that are outside the mainstream. A traditional farmer selling to a national supplier may make a profit of only a few cents per pound on his peaches, but if he sells directly to his customers via a farmers' market, he can earn a couple of dollars per pound. Similarly, while a national supplier may not pay a farmer enough to make it worth her while to grow tricky produce like Snow Queen nectarines, farmers' market customers will.

Before you start complaining that farmers are taking advantage of their customers and charging ridiculous premiums for their produce, keep in mind that farming, just like real estate, computer programming, or any other business, has significant overhead costs like rent, fuel, labor, and insurance. These things aren't cheap, especially in California. Farmers' market produce reflects the real cost of food--the cost to bring you fresh, sustainably grown produce. Unfortunately, the price does not yet reflect the true labor costs involved in raising food: due to the very high cost of living in California, it is rare that a farmer is able to pay his workers a living wage (keep in mind that most of the businesses you frequent aren't paying their workers a living wage, either).

Persimmon from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market

At the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, customers pay similar prices but get a vastly superior product--one that was picked the day before, at peak flavor and nutritional value. Even at stores like Whole Foods and Wild Oats where we pay a premium for what we think is better produce, that produce has likely been sitting around for up to a week before we even buy it. Add to that the time the produce probably sits around once you get it home, and you have to wonder, "why bother?"

I like to go to the market and buy 2-3 days' worth of produce. I eat most of it within an hour or two of buying it--I can't help myself! I'm not quite sure how the prices compare to, say, Ralphs, but I don't care, either--there is no contest between a Chilean avocado and a California avocado, a green zebra heirloom tomato and one of those mealy pink things, fresh figs and -- oh yeah, the big stores don't tend to sell those.

Phil McGrath of McGrath Family Farms is a fifth generation farmer from Camarillo. He explained how a farmer that sells at a farmers' market has to become both a nutritionist and a chef to be able to answer his clients' questions about the health value and preparation of his produce. He also explained how it was because of his customers' requests for organic produce that he started growing organically. The direct contact between farmer and consumer at the farmers' market makes it much easier for customers to share their wants, needs, and opinions with farmers than the impersonal, multi-level structure of large chain grocery stores does. Alex Weiser, second-generation owner of Weiser Family Farms, is a self-professed seed catalog enthusiast who loves seeking out new and exciting products to bring his customers. Without farmers' markets, however, he would have little incentive to keep at it.

The accessibility of farmers' markets makes them a great venue for change. The Santa Monica Farmers' Market is starting up a zero waste program whereby the utensils and plates that are used to provide samples at the market will be turned into compost in Bakersfield. We tried out the compostable cups after the discussion--they look and act stunningly like ordinary, clear plastic cups.

Brown Turkey Figs from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market

Most people, it seems, don't really know what "organic" means, including members of Thursday's audience--folks more likely than most to be in-the-know on this subject. Maryanne Carpenter of Coastal Farms explained that in order for food to be certified organic, farmers must comply with a bevy of requirements, including time-consuming, labor-intensive documentation and record-keeping processes. For some small farmers like Maryanne, it's more extra work than the farmers can handle. Being certified can add significantly to a farmer's costs, not only due to the fees involved, but also due to the time that is sacrificed to document compliance with regulations and the possible need to hire additional staff to process all the extra paperwork.

She is one of several farmers at the market whose produce is essentially organic but is not allowed to be described that way because the farmer can't or doesn't want to deal with the bureaucracy involved in being certified. Look for words like "sustainably grown," "pesticide-free," and "all-natural," not just "certified organic," when you want to be responsible in your produce choices. At the same time, keep in mind that less scrupulous farmers or their employees (not to mention major corporations) may be willing to feed you the organic line even though it's not true.

Sugar snap peas from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market

I also learned about the market's involvement in our schools. The Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District has teamed up with the farmers' market to provide a hot lunch alternative in its schools. I'm jealous--I ate PBJ or turkey sandwiches on white bread for most of my childhood. Also, every Wednesday the farmers' market gives tours to schools, and the kids receive a voucher to make a purchase from the market after the tour. I wish I'd had an opportunity like that growing up -- I was raised on Dole mandarin oranges, Chiquita bananas and Red Delicious apples. There were no farmers' markets where I grew up, and the family budget did not support luxuries like Whole Foods' produce. I didn't even like produce until I started going to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market.

Afterwards, we got to enjoy plenty of panini provided by Evan Kleiman of of Angeli Caffe (and the aforementioned Good Food). Fortunately for me, she also serves these sandwiches at her restaurant. I so loved the panini rustico, a heavenly combination of balsamic marinated chicken, arugula, mustard, and raisins that I had four! I made sure other people got their fair share first, of course. (Shame on you for doubting me.) Evan's restaurant is one of fifty-one in Los Angeles that gets its produce from the farmers' market, and the food she provided last night showcased these ingredients. If you've ever been upset that your favorite stand is out of your favorite produce because they've sold it all to a restaurant before you got there, get over it--without the support of chefs, we wouldn't even have the market as we know it. If you'd like to know which restaurants support our markets, stay tuned--I'll be providing the information on Foodie Universe next week after I pick up a flyer at Wednesday's market.

If you're interested in learning more about Southern California's best farmers' market and its farmers, the next two sessions will be held on August 17th and September 21st from 7:00-9:00 pm. Meet in the MLK Auditorium at the Santa Monica Public Library (main branch), located at 6th St. and Santa Monica Blvd.

By the way, if you haven't been to the new library yet, you have to go! It's the most beautiful, peaceful, sunny library I've ever seen--and it's a green building, too! Arrive early if you can and check it out.


San Francisco Restaurant Reviews

Burma SuperStar

Rainbow Salad at Burma SuperStar

Having never eaten Burmese food before, I was determined to brave Burma SuperStar's long lines for a taste of an unfamiliar cuisine. Despite its popularity, my friends and I agreed that the food was underwhelming. We expected a cuisine influenced by its Chinese, Thai, and Indian neighbors to be flavorful and spicy. Though nothing was bad, it wasn't worth the money or the wait. The lemonade was so strong that I had to dilute it with water (and I'm someone who likes intense flavors, so that's saying a lot). Most entrees are under $10.

Vegetable Curry Deluxe at Burma SuperStar

Burma SuperStar
309 Clement St. (Inner Richmond)
San Francisco, CA 94118
Take-out available
Hours: Mon-Thur 11:00am-9:30pm (closed from 3:30-5:00)
Fri-Sat 11:00am-10:00pm (closed from 4-5)
Sun 11:00am-9:00pm (closed from 4-5)

Cafe Gratitude
Cafe Gratitude is quintessentially (or stereotypically, depending on your viewpoint) San Franciscan. The menu items have names like "I am insightful" and "I am adoring," and the water carafes are etched with uplifting words as if to make your spirit more generous or loving with each sip of water. Hemp rags replace napkins and all the food is raw. If you're into spirituality or health food or are intriguied by the idea of a tiramisu made from creamed nuts, you'll love this place. I could sit in its sunny windows and enjoy the uplifting atmosphere for hours. Don't expect the dishes to taste like the real thing, though--the tiramisu is more like a raw food interpretation of tiramisu than actual tiramisu.

Cafe Gratitude
1336 9th Ave (Inner Sunset)
San Francisco, CA
Hours: 10am-10pm daily
Cafe Gratitude Menu

Also in the Mission at:
2400 Harrison Street
San Francisco, CA
Hours: 9am-10pm daily

Cole Valley Cafe
This lovely, quiet, breezy cafe with relaxing world music has both outdoor and indoor tables (with mismatched chairs), large windows, and lots of trees both inside and out. The orange walls are decorated with art-for-sale and ceiling fans will keep you cool. Use their computers to check your email, or bring your own. To eat, choose from baked goodies that range from healthful to sinful, as well as freshly-made Mediterranean-influenced sandwiches (including several vegetarian options). Of course, Cole Valley Cafe also serves all the usual coffee shop drinks as well as smoothies and assorted bottled drinks (you can even check out their colorful menu online). They also have a blessed no cell phone policy. I enjoyed my roasted eggplant pesto and bellpepper sandwich, which was served on a fresh, airy, focaccia-like bread. If you're really hungry though, make sure to order something heavier--this sandwich is more of a snack than a meal.

Cole Valley Cafe
701 Cole Street (Cole Valley, corner of Cole and Waller)
San Francisco, CA 94117
Cole Valley Cafe Website

The three kinds of regular coffee and one kind of decaf are self-serve at the Beanery, a small chain whose two San Francisco locations are within spitting distance of each other. I tried a chocolate muffin, which was rather dry, and a slice of zucchinni bread, which wasn't bad. The coffee was pretty good and very hot. I love the free newspapers, the way the sunlight streams in through the front windows on a nice day, and the tabletops, which are inlaid with coffee beans. If you care about maintaining the character of the neighborhood, you'll skip Starbucks and visit the Beanery instead.

1307 9th Ave(Inner Sunset)
San Francisco, CA 94122

Also at:
602 Irving St (Inner Sunset)
San Francisco, CA 94122

Tart to Tart
Not surprisingly, this place serves lots of tarts. I tried the apricot almond tart, which was good but would have been better served warm. Tart to Tart is one of the only places in the neighborhood that's open late, and as such, it's pretty busy even at midnight on a Friday. The atmosphere isn't too enticing--it's noisy and bright in a bad way--so maybe you should get your food to go, take it home, and warm it up.

Tart to Tart (Inner Sunset)
641 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122

Naan and Curry
Naan and Curry serves both Indian and Pakistani cuisine, according to their menu, but almost all of the dishes were the same things you'll find on any Indian-only restaurant. The naan got hard quickly and didn't taste very good. The restaurant was very busy and some of the patrons looked Indian, so the food must be reasonably authentic. The quirky thing about Naan and Curry that you should really know before you go is that it's self-serve: you get your own plates, silverware, cups, and drinks from a cubbyhole in in the far corner of the restaurant. The creamy chai is quite good once you add some sugar (and it's free!). After you order, you'll get assigned a table and your food will be brought to you. Your meal ticket will be returned to you after all the food has arrived--save this, because you'll need to take it to the register with you to pay. The lamb chops were spicy and delicious (but not enough for a meal, despite the dish's placement in the entree section). I also liked the palak paneer, but found the lamb with bitter melon (possibly a Pakistani dish, as I've never seen it before and I've never had Pakistani food before) to be greasy and full of bones. My order got screwed up and took a long time to arrive, which dampened an otherwise good experience. The huge murals and loud modern Indian music really liven up an otherwise drab space. The music was so good that I wanted to get up and dance.

Naan and Curry
Multiple locations
This review refers to the Inner Sunset location.
642 Irving St
San Francisco, CA 94122

Bodega Bistro
Bodega Bistro serves some of the best Vietnamese food I've ever consumed. The papaya salad with bits of beef jerky is sweet and refreshing. The intense iced coffee comes pre-mixed and is twice the usual portion size. The pho is rich and complex. Despite its Tenderloin address, you should have no problems visiting Bodega Bistro during the day as long as you keep your eyes open--the streets are a little empty, but Little Saigon is not in the part of the Tenderloin that you really want to avoid. Inside, the bright violet walls provide more atmosphere than you'll find at most Vietnamese restaurants, but the prices are still stunningly low.

Bodega Bistro
607 Larkin St. (Tenderloin)
San Francisco, CA


Restaurant Review #151: Senor Fred, Sherman Oaks

Cheese enchilada plate

Should you be afraid to eat Mexican food at a Zagat-rated place named Senor Fred? It depends on what you're looking for. In some ways, Senor Fred exceeds expectations: the margaritas are strong, the chips are thick, the salsa is spicy, and the atmosphere is a pleasant departure from the usual cheesy Mexican theme.

On the other hand, with the more upscale setting, the Sherman Oaks location, and the mostly white crowd come less authentic food, higher prices, and valet parking (or a spot on the street, if you can snag one). Our server was a little condescending and not too attentive--I think she had a wannabe actress complex.

The huge, Cheesecake Factory-style menu is ad-laden, but filled with options. Senor Fred is the only place I've seen include a couple of Oaxacan dishes on an otherwise traditional Mexican menu, so they get points for that even though they don't describe the moles very well. One dish is described as "chicken enchiladas with mole sauce"--but what kind of mole? That's like listing cake on the dessert menu but not saying whether it's flourless chocolate cake, lemon chiffon cake, or cheesecake.

Margarita on the rocks with salt

The cheese enchiladas definitely seemed Americanized--the cheese was too chewy and the red sauce was scarce. They tasted good, but got too dry when I ran out of sauce. There were too many mushy peas hidden in the rice. Refried beans taste pretty much the same no matter where you eat them. I got carded when I ordered a margarita--don't minors order their margaritas frozen? I can't remember the last time I got carded.

There is an outdoor patio, but it's pretty open to the street so it won't give you much protection from traffic noise or smokers. The best tables are the booths (inside), but you'll want to make a reservation if you want one since they seem to get claimed quickly.

Churros and hot dipping chocolate

The churros were sort of like beignets--very puffy and smooth, and the only non-ridged churros I've ever seen. They're smothered in cinnamon and sugar that coats your lips with each bite. The chocolate doesn't live up to its "Mexican hot chocolate" description--it isn't very sweet, has no trace of cinnamon, and seems to be thickened with flour rather than with heavy cream and eggs. Nonetheless, it's perfect for dipping the churros into. Maybe when they said Mexican, they meant that it was prepared by a Mexican. But maybe not, because a Mexican probably would have done a better job with my enchiladas.

The best things about my visit to Senor Fred were the decor, the salsa, and the margaritas, but even though I didn't love my enchiladas, I'd go back again and try something else.

Senor Fred
13730 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Senor Fred website
SeƱor Fred on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #150: El Taco Llama, Van Nuys

Al pastor (foreground) and asada (background)

I haven't eaten a taco in eight years. I'm not kidding. On the plus side, the last taco I ate was actually in Mexico. I was skeptical of that taco--I didn't eat much meat back then, so the idea of eating meat that was roasting out in the open didn't seem very appetizing or very sanitary. And the taco was so covered in onions and cilantro that I don't even remember the meat--I just remember the lingering tang of raw onions on my breath.

Real Mexican tacos are not what I grew up eating--I grew up eating the Old El Paso crunchy shells filled with fried ground meat mixed with so-called taco seasoning and topped with some shredded Kraft cheese and Old El Paso salsa. Every non-Mexican kid in America thinks this is what a taco is, but it just isn't so.

Carnitas and pollo

I keep The Great Taco Hunt's list of taco joints in my glove box. Based on his 4-taco rating (out of 5), I picked El Taco Llama when I was in the Valley one afternoon. By the way, "llama" means "flame," for those of you who aren't Spanish speakers.

Since I had no idea what I would like, I ordered four different kinds of meat--beef (carne asada), pulled pork (carnitas), barbecued pork (al pastor) and chicken (pollo). The staff doesn't really speak English, but you'll get by. They seemed really confused when I was ordering, like no white girl had ever set foot in their restaurant before. Hey, maybe it's true.

All of the tacos were good, but the carnitas was my favorite. I generally don't like pork, but this pork was moist and a pleasure to eat. El Taco Llama's tacos are $1.25 each and only come with onions and cilantro--if you want tomatoes, lettuce, or anything else, you'll have to pay 50 cents per topping. Spicy, deep red salsa is self-serve. The chicken meat was also pleasantly moist and mixed with cooked green peppers. They don't have a huge selection of drinks, but you can get a decent horchata or tamarindo. $2 will get you a huge drink, and refills are only $1.

There are a few tables inside. It's really a hole in the wall and not the kind of place you'll want to linger, but it's great for a quick bite.

I have no basis of comparison for these tacos (yet), so I can't tell you how they stack up against other places. I can tell you that I enjoyed them, but there was nothing so special about them that I'd have to go back.

When you're driving down Van Nuys looking for the restaurant, keep in mind that its sign is a little hard to spot: it's red and yellow, and so is seemingly every other sign on the block. There's free but scarce parking in the cramped parking lot.

El Taco Llama
7344 Van Nuys Blvd
Van Nuys, CA
El Taco Llama on Urbanspoon


Restaurant Review #149: Tender Greens, Culver City

Grilled flatiron steak sandwich

Tender Greens takes the fast-casual concept to a new level. Fast casual is a concept embodied by restaurants like Panera Bread that are a step above fast food in terms of quality, but still get you full for under $10. But Panera has its shortcomings--it has a chainy feel (no matter how hard it tries not to), terrible elevator jazz music, and it gets its food from major national suppliers. Sometimes Panera's food is too heavy or greasy, and it's not particularly healthy. Tender Greens takes everything that's wrong with Panera and fixes it, if you don't mind paying close to twice the price.

Tender Greens recently opened in downtown Culver City next to Ford's Filling Station (pay attention to that, because as of this writing, TG doesn't have its own sign). The restaurant makes a lot of promises on its website. It claims to be a local gathering place where you can eat a homecooked meal made from the finest ingredients--"the kind of food you'd make at home if you had the time." They promise great music (isn't musical taste highly subjective?), a strong committment to using recycled materials and environmentally friendly products wherever possible, and a dedication to enriching urban communities. They also help us all eat locally by getting their food from Scarborough Farms in Oxnard and support small businesses by serving wine from boutique wineries and beers on tap from microbreweries.

Color me impressed. Tender Greens pretty much delivers on every single one of these promises.

The interior dining room is sleek yet cozy, with yellow walls, colorful pillows in the booth seats, and modern tables and chairs. The upbeat music is, in fact, really enjoyable (if on the loud side). The napkins are recycled and most of the food tastes better than you'd expect it to.

Steak sandwich with spinach, goat cheese, and hazelnut salad

The menu is small, offering just a few salads, two soups, and four meat options that can be eaten as either a sandwich or a hot plate. You can order a small salad for $5 or a large salad for $9. If you want something more filling, you can get a sandwich for $9 or a hot plate with mashed potatoes for $10.

The first dish I tried was the flatiron steak sandwich. The steak was sliced into thin strips and layered diagonally across the bread atop slices of roasted red pepper. A little bit of mayonnaise-based sauce helped moisten the ciabatta bread. The sandwich was just the right size for my mouth in terms of thickness, but between the crusty bread and the slippery peppers, it was a little hard to eat neatly. The steak was cooked only to medium rare, but I wasn't sure how recently it was cooked because it was barely warm. Given that the sandwiches fall under the "Hot Stuff" section of the menu, I would have expected it to be hot. The sandwich still had a good flavor though, and the red pepper/steak combo was a great idea.

I also enjoyed my salad, even though I'm not usually a big spinach fan. The greens were very fresh, and something about the dressing tasted just a little unusual, in a good way. They were a little skimpy on the goat cheese, I thought--of course, I can never get enough cheese.

Chicken plate with butter lettuce salad

Similarly, the chicken was barely warm. I thought the it was better than a lot of the chicken I've eaten lately because it was fairly moist, but my friend pointed out that it was on the bland side, and she was right--it really just tasted like plain old grilled chicken. The mashed potatoes were terrific--just lumpy enough to taste homemade and incredibly creamy. We both thought that the butter lettuce salad didn't taste like much.

Lemon cupcake

The lemon cupcake was one of the highlights of the meal. Though seriously lacking in presentation, the flavor was rich and zesty. My friend said it was the best cupcake in LA, and she really knows her cupcakes. The cake was fantastically moist, and the icing was a surprising buttercream frosting which was more rich and less sickeningly sweet than most icing. To quote Rachael Ray, "yum-o."

To drink, I had a lemonade, which wasn't exciting at all. I was surprised that our drinks came in plastic cups, which didn't seem to be in keeping with Tender Greens' committment to environmental responsibility. It's possible that they had just run out of glasses, though it didn't seem busy enough for that, and it doesn't take long to run a load of glasses through an industrial dishwasher. My friend really enjoyed her Mighty Leaf iced tea.

Though the staff clearly needs to work on getting food served at the right temperature, they were at least friendly, and the gregarious manager came around a couple of times to ask how we liked our food (admittedly, it didn't occur to me to mention the food being cold when I saw him). He seemed very involved in the restaurant's operation, walking around constantly, making sure tables were almost instantly cleared when customers left and that everyone was happy.

$12 is more than I'm used to paying for a sandwich, a side salad and a drink, but much of the food we eat is not priced to accurately reflect its impact on our land, our citizens, and our farmers. In other words, maybe you can get a McDonald's burger for $1, but the real cost of that burger is passed on to the guy who lost a finger because he was forced to work at unsafe speeds in the slaughterhouse. The cost is also passed on to our environment when a bunch of chemicals get dumped into our rivers in the process of making cheap food, and to the small farmers who are put out of business or grossly underpaid for their product because they are at the mercy of the large companies controlling food production and distribution. At Tender Greens you're paying $10 for a sandwich and a salad, but presumably the farmers are being paid fairly for their product, the products are being raised without destroying the land, and the cows and chickens aren't being pumped full of hormones. If you're interested in learning more about eating responsibly, I highly recommend Eat Here and Fast Food Nation.

Would I go back? Well, I support what the restaurant is trying to do and I would like to see more restaurants follow their example. But I don't eat a lot of sandwiches, and Tender Greens isn't on any of my usual routes. If I worked in the area though, I might become a frequent customer, assuming that the cold food kink gets worked out once the restaurant has been open for another week or two.

Tender Greens
9523 Culver Blvd. (between Cardiff and Watseka)
Culver City, CA 90232
Park in the parking structure on Watseka (2 hours free parking)
Tender Greens Menu
Tender Greens Website

Interesting LA Times article on the Culver City restaurant scene