Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Case of the Missing Comma

But more about that later.

I was scrolling through Trip Advisor’s list of best restaurants in San Diego and found Tender Greens at thirteenth place and it sounded similar to Vinaigrette Salad Bistro—one of our Santa Fe favorites. Both are farm-to-table and both have menus built around interesting gourmet salads.
“Who knew San Diegans could get so excited about salad? In a city with a fast-food burger or taco joint on every corner, Tender Greens is suddenly the talk of the town. Based on a winning concept in which spinach, butter lettuce and arugula rule the roost, this branch of an L.A.-based franchise is drawing lines out the door.
“…This is no do-it-yourself salad bar strewn with wilted leaves and faux bacon bits. Instead, you move down a counter, watching as your meal is expertly assembled by the staff. And what an assemblage it is, based on fine, fresh ingredients: gorgeous mixed greens and spinach leaves, not a brown edge in the batch.
A still life of roasted vegetables…
Fragrant free-range chicken, rare Angus beef and fresh caught albacore, each grilled throughout the day, as needed.
Talk about working up an appetite” (San Diego Magazine).

Most of the beautiful produce you’ll see in these photos comes from Scarborough Farms near Oxnard, CA, that for “…over 20 years…has been dedicated to growing some of the highest quality, most vibrant, aesthetically–appealing specialty produce on the planet…small–scale, custom farming methods ensure fresh, just–harvested gourmet products that taste wonderful and have a longer shelf–life…. Grown only in the United States, Scarborough Farms produce is grown according to strict state and federal regulations” (
We arrived at the La Jolla franchise at roughly 1:30 and found the line still out the door. A line that remained for the duration of our meal. But a good number of customers were doing “take-out” so seating was no problem. Fortunately, we had both reviewed the on-line menu and had a pretty good idea of what we wanted. You don’t want to dilly-daddle when you have a mass of hungry humanity waiting behind you.

If you’re not into salad, you can select from Backyard Marinated Steak (grilled medium rare), Salt & Pepper Chicken (white and dark meat, garlic oregano, thyme), Chipotle Barbecue Chicken (white and dark meat brushed with chipotle barbeque sauce), Herb Brushed Albacore (grilled rare, lemon, sea salt, olive oil), Grilled and Roasted Vegetables (olive oil, crushed chili, oregano, parsley).
Then you decide whether you want this on a sandwich (with ciabatta, roasted red peppers, aioli, and a choice of simple salad or mashed potatoes), as a hot plate (with yukon gold mashed potatoes and choice of simple salad), or as a side or accompaniment to either a simple or big salad.

We both decided to include one of Tender Green’s soups as part of our meal. Chuck’s choice was the Roasted Roma Tomato Soup that was decorated with a swirl of basil oil.
This was a thick puree with intensely deep tomato flavors with a hint of oregano. I suspect that, in the style of an Italian ribollita, some of the thickness came from the addition of bread.

My soup was the Rustic Chicken that was full of large chunks of white meat chicken, potato, carrot, celery, and leeks in a thyme-flavored broth.
It was a very good version of chicken soup, but was nowhere near as interesting as Chuck’s tomato.

Salads can be ordered as either “Big Salads” or “Simple Salads” the difference being not in the size but the variety of ingredients. As would be expected, the “Simple Salads” contain fewer ingredients. Chuck decided to order the baby arugula and tomato (I know you don’t see them in the photo but they were there.) Simple Salad and add the Backyard Marinated Steak. The tomatoes and greens had been tossed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.
There was one not so minor problem with this dish. Yes, the beef was beautifully medium rare, but had been sliced way too thick for that particular cut of meal. This, along with some large streaks of sinew, made some pieces almost inedible.

I waivered between the Chinese Chicken Big Salad (tatsoi [also called spinach mustard, spoon mustard, or rosette bok choy], mizuna, golden pea sprouts, carrot, wontons, roasted peanuts, cilantro, and green onion with sesame dressing) and the Thai Shrimp Big Salad with little gem lettuce, green papaya, Thai basil, citrus peanuts, and coriander with chili lime vinaigrette. I chose the latter.

The salad contained six perfectly prepared jumbo shrimp and the use of papaya, Thai basil, coriander, and the spicy chili lime vinaigrette reminded me of that staple of Thai food—Green Papaya Salad.
But there was one problem for which both I and the restaurant are at fault. The menu said that the salad included “citrus peanuts,” and I made an assumption that this meant that the peanuts had been flavored with lime. I was wrong. The menu should have read “citrus, peanuts” which would have set off alarms. The salad contained large pieces of orange to which I am allergic. Fortunately, the salads are made to order so I was able to pick out the bits of orange before they had contaminated the entire dish.

This visit was not entirely successful and only earns a 3.5 Addie rating. Still, I haven’t closed the book on Tender Greens and am willing to give it another try—if our time in San Diego permits.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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