By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
Few experiences are so pleasing as serendipity – when some accident results in an outcome more favorable than what you intended. It takes a certain flexibility of mind to recognize; some folks pout when they don’t get what they want instead of appreciating what they got.
I went to Tender Greens thinking that it was a vegetarian restaurant and salad bar, having mistaken it for a similarly named place. We might have left, but decided to see what was going on there. The location in an upstairs corner of the Marina Marketplace had me curious – how did a large restaurant in such a strange location survive?
We surveyed the menu at the counter while figuring out the system – order here, pay around the corner, and wait for food at the table. It’s the classic quick serve model, but with stylish food and a healthy focus – organic vegetables, wild caught seafood, and free range chicken, but moderate prices.
Our party of five ordered chipotle grilled chicken, steak, ahi tuna and fried chicken, all as lunch plates. You can also get proteins as a sandwich or on top of salad. The plates offer a choice from a variety of vegetables, starches and salads, so it took a bit of time for the ditherers in our party to order. We then moved to the drink ordering area, where the line is arranged in front of a large selection of desserts. Whoever worked out the architecture there knew what they were doing, since we discussed which confection we would sample while waiting to order minted lemonade, hibiscus drink, or more conventional beverages.
Most of our meals arrived quickly – we had been warned that the fried chicken would take a few minutes. That was fine with us – as the Chinese say, it is better for the man to wait for the food than the food to wait for the man. This man had plenty to try in the meantime, most of it very good. The chipotle chicken was a pounded boneless breast in a seasoning so mild that I wouldn’t have recognized it as chipotle – the delicate heat could have been a lightly smoked paprika. The chicken was moist and tasty, but I’d have preferred it a bit zippier. I had no complaint about the grilled zucchini, mushrooms and cauliflower that came with it, because they were first rate, and so was the kale Caesar salad. I’m a Caesar purist, but kale instead of romaine worked exceptionally well.
The seared ahi tuna was ordered with mashed potatoes and a bowl of pureed cauliflower soup, a creamy, rich accompaniment to the lightly peppered fish. The “backyard marinated steak” was actually sliced tri-tip cooked Santa Maria style – not most people’s definition of a steak. That said, it was cooked a beautiful pink medium-rare and nicely done. The person who ordered it selected roasted potatoes with garlic as a side, which he likes so much that he ordered a double portion. They must have been good because from the look of the plate he might have vacuumed it.
Another in our party had ordered a daily special sandwich – a Philly cheesesteak. This is one of those cult items that I don’t get – a good sandwich, but not worth fussing over the way some acolytes do. This version was unusually good – tender beef and toasted cheese with grilled red bell peppers on a fresh toasted roll. I’m still not nuts for them, but would have one when in a sandwich mood.
Partway through our meal the fried chicken arrived, tantalizing us with its aroma for some time before it was cool enough to sample. The crust was crisp and interior moist; I prefer a bit more seasoning in the batter, but found it above average for the Westside. It had been ordered with creamy mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables, and came with a cobette of corn to help make it the all-American favorite.
Our meals were generously sized and we might have departed full, but one of my companions was so curious about the goat cheese panna cotta that we had to go back for one. (Putting the checkout line by the desserts worked). The panna cotta had a delightful texture and flavor, and was richly creamy with the merest hint of goat funkiness to give it character.
Our meal for five ran just under $80 with soft drinks, and tasted fresh even though all but one item was on the table within minutes after we ordered it. It was a rare example of healthy food delivered quickly at moderate prices, and one I’ll keep in mind for pre-show meals – and perhaps sometimes when I’m not in a hurry but just crave what they do.
Tender Greens is at 13450 Maxella Ave. in Del Rey – upstairs at the west end of the Marina Marketplace building. Another location is at 201 Arizona Ave. in Santa Monica. Open daily 11 a.m., close 9 p.m. Su-Thu, 10 p.m. Fr/Sa. Parking downstairs, elevator and escalator available, wheelchair access good, patio dining. Beer and wine served. Menu at tendergreensfood.com. 310-827-3777.