Thursday, December 9, 2010

Love Me Tender Greens

“I can’t believe you haven’t been to Tender Greens,” people said to me before I finally tried the growing, upscale fast-casual Los Angeles chain during the second Eat My Blog last June.

Even though the restaurant is committed to using the finest ingredients, and makes an effort to source its produce and meats from local farms, I never felt particularly compelled to give their specialty salads and composed plates a spin on my tongue.

“There’s not really anything that sticks out to me,” I’d explained at the time.

While I do enjoy my healthy eats when I’m not cramming chocolate and cupcakes into my mouth, I’m not all that excited about ordering salads when I go out for meals. Mostly because they aren’t all that filling and I can make a more satisfying one with quinoa at home, but also because restaurant salads are notorious for being bigger calorie/fat bombs than the sandwich or even burger options.

If I want to consume 1,000+ calories in a sitting, I’m going to do it with a drippy meaty burger – not a plate of oil-drenched greens, thank you very much.

That said, during the last Eat My Blog, I did find myself ordering up a Chinese Chicken Salad ($10.50) from the West Hollywood location on Santa Monica Blvd. It was a decent affair – loaded with lots of pungent green onions and cilantro, but not something that I was particularly “wowed” by. My friends – the ones who had tut-tutted about my Tender Greens virginity – informed me that I should have ordered the Tuna Nicoise or the Happy Vegan instead.

I nodded. “Next time,” I said.

But next time didn’t come until this past weekend during our last iteration of Eat My Blog that was once again held at the West Hollywood location. I was intent on ordering one of my friends’ suggestions, so I could do it “right” this time. But as I was walking by the restaurant’s grill where all orders are made fresh, I noticed two plates filled with a heap of wholesome grains and roasted veggies.

I stopped dead in my tracks, “What is that?”

“It’s a special – from the Muscle Menu. We top it with fish grilled with a minimal amount of oil.” The man behind the grill responded.

I was sold. I marched up to the counter and immediately put in my request for the wholesome plate of red fish, mung beans, black barley, zucchini, delicata squash, trumpet mushrooms, eggplant, and arugula ($10.50). I also tacked on an order of the restaurant’s famed roasted roma tomato bread soup with basil oil ($4) for good measure.

While the fish took a few minutes to prepare (as previously mentioned, everything is cooked to order), it was well worth the wait. I was shocked at the quality of everything in the dish for that price point. The fish, which seemed to me like salmon, was grilled with a precise hand – it was crisp and caramelized around the edges, yet still meltingly tender inside. The accompanying barley and roasted vegetables were equally compelling. I loved the satisfyingly chewy texture of the barley pearls, and was thrilled with the complexity of flavors imparted by all the vegetables. The eggplant was especially well-done – roasted in slender rounds, the pieces shriveled up like sundried tomatoes. Prepared this way, they developed a slight sweetness that was a nice counterpoint to the earthiness of the mushrooms and barley, as well as the peppery heap of arugula.

After finishing my plate, I turned my attentions to the tomato soup for “dessert.” It’s a fine bowl of tomato soup, though possibly a touch acidic due to the absence of any cream. I much appreciated the generous hunks of bread and swirl of basil oil that helped to balance out the intensity of the sweet tomatoes.

Overall, it was the perfect savory lunch to help boost my energy for the next four hours of selling baked goods at Eat My Blog. Most importantly, I was so satisfied by my meal that I wasn’t at all tempted to cram any of the remaining cupcakes or cookies on the table into my mouth. I will, however, be tempted to run back to Tender Greens for more of their thoughtfully-prepared specials and rotating items on the “Muscle Menu” soon. There’s definitely something that sticks out to me about Tender Greens now.

To hear about their daily specials, follow Tender Greens on Twitter.

Tender Greens
8759 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 358-1919


weezermonkey said...

I've never been to Tender Greens.

But this is probably shocking to no one.

Esi said...

Funny! I was just there yesterday and my friend was raving about the roasted vegetables that were on her salad. Try the happy vegan next time. You won't be, it has quinoa!

Roxan said...

I. LOVE. Tender Greens!!! I didn't like salad as a meal either, when i was a little younger, but I really love them now. They are actually really filling!

Ashley said...

I've also walked in and not been particularly inspired by the menu. Good to know some suggestions that may get me to go back. I'm only sorry your meal was a special b/c it looks awesome!

Monet said...

Isn't it funny how certain menus can speak to you, while others are completely uninspiring? It sounds like you ended up finding something pretty tasty! I, like you, don't enjoy ordering salads when I go out, but I'm always interested in some quality fish! Thank you for sharing with me. I hope you have a blessed Sunday!

bagnatic said...

the grilled prawns salad was awesome too. i too, am impressed with the evolution of the tender greens menu.

Diana said...

Weez - I know you are a closet salad lover! You are always talking about them -- the duck confit one from Corkbar, the one at El Prado... I think you should check it out! They did have a duck confit special salad on the menu that day too...

Esi - I don't know, if there's another special like this one, I'll be hard pressed to order anything different. It rocked my mouth like Aerosmith.

Roxan - I do like salads for lunch, but I definitely need some bread or grain or soup to go with it. Otherwise I get kind of shaky afterwards! Me = carb fiend.

Ashley - Yep, it was definitely AWESOME! I kind of wanted to go back the next day for more!

Monet - The fish definitely sealed the deal for me - so delish!

Amy - I'll have to check that one out too some time - it looked awesome!