Beat the summer heat at Pasadena’s Tender Greens
By Erica Wayne 08/02/2012
The “dog days” of August are fast upon us and I, for one, can barely look at my stove, much less turn it on. For the past several summers, I’ve managed to coax my husband to Souplantation a number of times each month, but he’s begun to balk due to minimal red meat, having to compose his own salad, all the kids running loose and the absence of alcohol. So I’ve had to find a substitute for hot weather dining.
Voila! Tender Greens on East Colorado Boulevard, one of a small chain of restaurants, seven in Southern California and one in Northern California, appeared last year, just as temperatures were nearing triple digits.
The menu’s simple but with plenty of variety; hubby can get his beef, beer and wine, and I can enjoy the kind of “hopey-changey” food (whole grains, free-range everything and, yes, tender greens!) that makes me feel, at least temporarily, as if our planet has a chance.
Tender Greens isn’t quite as pure as some of the vegetarian and vegan places that have opened up in Pasadena recently. If it were, I certainly couldn’t get my mate anywhere near it. (The mention of tofu “meat” induces a gag reflex, and “cleanse” is a word he doesn’t want to hear, unless it involves an open wound.) Nevertheless, as TG says on its Web site, most of the produce “comes fresh picked daily from Scarborough Farms in Oxnard, where … the family grows things naturally.” Other purveyors are also small local farms, and TG uses organic ingredients whenever they can.
Their beef and chicken are grain-fed and hormone/antibiotic free, so I don’t have to worry about my husband dropping dead of mad cow. And the chickens are not just cage-free but raised “on the range” in Northern California. Great! Happy chickens and cows who won’t make us resistant to antibiotics — just the kind I prefer to eat.
While TG has only a duo of delicious “comfort soups” (roasted roma tomato bread soup with basil oil and rustic chicken soup with lemon thyme) on the menu, specials augment the list each day. Last week, I tried a fabulous chilled watermelon-cucumber soup that brought my heat-stressed body temperature down at least five degrees. And their heirloom tomato gazpacho is another guaranteed cooler-downer.
I almost always have a “big salad.” My latest favorites are Thai shrimp with little gem lettuce (a cross between butter and romaine), tangerine segments, peanuts, shredded papaya and a tangy coriander chili lime vinaigrette, and Chinese chicken salad with tatsoi (a Japanese mustard green that looks a little like spinach), mizuna (another one with a dandelion leaf shape and a peppery flavor), golden pea sprouts, carrots, wontons, peanuts, cilantro and green onion with a sesame dressing.
If I’m in more of a European mood, I’ll order the Mediterranean spinach salad with cucumber, feta, kalamata olives, marinated tomatoes and green peppers tossed with a lemon oregano dressing. Or, alternately, I’ll choose tuna nicoise with tomato, potato, capers, green beans, quail egg, olive, mixed greens and, of course, tuna with a sherry vinaigrette.
My husband will only eat one big salad, the one with slices of marinated steak, radishes, red and gold beets, red and green butter lettuce and horseradish vinaigrette. But mostly he gets his steak, medium rare, on a ciabatta roll with roasted red peppers (I eat those) and a small Caesar or spinach, goat cheese and hazelnut salad.
One of the things I like best at TG is the pricing. Every big salad and hot dish (freshly sliced steak, chicken, albacore or grilled and roasted veggies on a sandwich, as a hot plate or on a bed of greens) is $11. Soups are $4. Small salads are $6. And, daily changing sides are $5. Simple, eh? And those sides (for instance mac and cheese, heirloom tomato salad, potato and caramelized onion salad) are definitely worth trying.
One of the things I like least at TG is ordering at the beginning of a cafeteria line and collecting my food to pay at the end. But there’s a method to the madness. The ends communicate electronically, so if you decide to add a soup or side you’ve fallen in love with on the journey, it can easily be added, along with beverages (local “boutique” wines and microbrews, organic teas, Zona Rosa coffee, aqua fresca, mint lemonade, etc.) and fresh-baked sweets (e.g., carrot cupcakes, fresh fruit crisp) — all reasonably priced.
All eight Tender Greens restaurants, if the Web site pictures are to be believed, are equally light and airy. Their philosophy is “to bring the outside in.” The Pasadena store has huge windows, lots of greenery, bright artwork, light wood furniture, pastel walls and (not for mid-summer days but great anytime else) a lovely patio with umbrella-topped tables, murals and lots of boxed plants, including fragrant miniature orange trees and colorful succulents.
Equally inviting is the attitude of the servers who urge you to accept free refills of all non-alcoholic drinks, even packing seconds to go (perfect for taking to the steps-away Laemmle Playhouse 7 theaters). Again, this is not a fluke. The Web site explains: “Tender Greens is intended to impart a feeling of comfort … a place to escape from the pressures of the job or the routine of the apartment. Everyone you meet is hired to enhance that experience,” it states. “We hope your visits to our place will be numerous and that, each time, our colleagues will provide ample reason to smile, un-hunch your shoulders and chill.” They (and everything else at Tender Greens) certainly do.
621 E. Colorado Blvd.,
Beer and wine