Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Dec. 12
Grabbing a (Healthy?) Bite at the Mall
When I heard about a "great new healthy restaurant" from a friend who is a proponent of "cleanses," I thought, Awesome, I'm off to spend an hour politely nibbling on an alfalfa and flaxseed dish with the texture and flavor of cardboard. Even the restaurant's name -- the new-age-y, imperious True Food Kitchen -- exuded a sort of yoga-pants-wearing pretension.
At first I was surprised to find the huge, mostly outdoor restaurant in the middle of the Fashion Valley shopping mall, just a crosswalk away from The Cheesecake Factory. But after a moment's consideration, this made a lot of sense -- when did you ever see a Yoganista take a break between Nordstrom and Nieman Marcus to "grab a bite" at the Cheesecake Factory? Or any of the usual shopping mall food court fare, for that matter?
I met up with my friend and we grabbed a table outside. I was ecstatic to find alcohol on the menu. Before looking at the food options, I ordered a cocktail called Flower Child (Juniper Green Organic Gin, St. Germain, Fennel, Mint, Pineapple). Most of the cocktail names -- Peacemaker, Spontaneous Happiness -- seemed overwrought, as though someone were trying a little too hard to convey a tranquil, SoCal spa resort aura.
It was about the second sip in that my preconceived opinion began to change, and not just because I was enjoying an adult beverage -- the drink was good, it was well-balanced flavor-wise, and beautiful to look at. I scanned the menu, and was amazed to find more than a few dishes that caught my interest. In the end, I settled on the street tacos (grass-fed-of-course steak, avocado, cotija cheese, sour cream, with a side of beans). Everything on my plate was delectable, and so well seasoned that I didn't need to add the salt I'd already had in hand when the food was set before me.
My friend ordered something with cauliflower in it. That's all I could see, because I really don't like cauliflower. But later, after a second cocktail (this one with a house-made cinnamon soda and vodka), I finally gave in and had a bite of Brussels sprouts and squash from her dish, and I admit it was pretty tasty. It was the "Autumn Ingredient Salad," with roasted cauliflower, the sprouts and squash, mulberries, pomegranite, and a horseradish vinaigrette.
By the time we left, I was sold. "I would totally come here for lunch and shopping," I said. "I might walk around and browse right now, just because I'm already here." We parted ways to hit up the stores that filled our respective needs, and for the first time ever, I left a mall restaurant without feeling even the slightest bit gross.