If you’re like 21.4 percent of the population, your New Year’s resolution was to lose weight or eat healthier. After the excesses of the holidays, it’s the single most common resolution. Reminders are everywhere to stay determined: Gym membership deals fill our inboxes, diet ads litter the airwaves, stores move their nutritional supplements and healthier foods to high traffic areas.
It’s up to you to navigate your way through the come-ons and find a healthy lifestyle you can, well, live with. Sometimes you just need a good starting place. I’ve found one that’s not just easy, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. True Food Kitchen, the recently opened eatery on the edge of Old Pasadena, is dedicated to health, vitality and delicious food.
While they do serve vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free foods, True Food Kitchen is not just for the digestively disciplined. The menu sports beef, chicken and seafood, as well as cocktails and sweet desserts. The creativity, preparation and taste of the items we tried were as good as many high-end dinner houses. The difference is that each starter, entree, pizza, juice, sandwich and bowl is made with an eye on nutrient-rich ingredients that are good for the body, the mind and the earth.
Take the ginger tulsi tea, for instance. A large cup of hot lemon water lightly sweetened with ginger honey arrives, an aromatic adaptogenic tea bag perched alongside ready for steeping to your specifications. An adaptogen is any herb which specifically reduces stress, both physical and mental. Adaptogens, in short, help you adapt. Hot lemon water is a known digestive aid, tulsi (holy basil) detoxifies, and ginger is good for pretty much anything that ails you. This satisfying cupful helped me segue nicely into my meal.
My dinner mate, on the other hand, went for the ginger margarita. Lemon is once again mixed with ginger honey — the whole restaurant, in fact, smells wonderfully of lemon and ginger — but this cocktail has the added kick of añejo tequila and elderflower liqueur. It was quite delicious and reminiscent of the restaurant that occupied the same space many years ago, Clearwater Cafe. At the time, it was the only place in town to get cocktails made with fresh fruit juice. That cafe, as well as prior and subsequent ones, just couldn’t make a long-term go of it. But the interior design professionals at True Food Kitchen, a Phoenix-based restaurant chain, took their time (three years) creating this new iteration and I believe they’ve finally broken the curse of the bad feng shui. The layout is bright, clean, and modern with vibrant green banquettes, a lovely outdoor patio and two beautiful extra dining rooms perfect for group events.
Our waitress, well-informed and attentive, let us know that the menu changes four times a year to make the most of local, seasonal offerings. Specials change daily. So I was surprised when she suggested tomato bisque as the soup of the day. I can’t think of a worse month for tomatoes than January. She explained that they come from a farm in Phoenix but that they’d just run out of the soup due to its popularity. The green curry cauliflower soup was a wonderful, and what seemed to me, more seasonal substitute. Lemongrass, Thai basil, coconut cream and ginger brought out the best in the creamy cauliflower.
The edamame dumplings are a must-try. Light, airy edamame mousse laced with truffle oil fill delicate dumplings swimming in a thin dashi broth. Even the smattering of green onion rounds and cilantro sprigs are not an afterthought —- they’re full of spunk and complementary flavor.
Sitting back and waiting for our entrees to arrive, I am suddenly cognizant of a feeling of well-being. Honest to Pete, I sense the nutritious food in my belly and it makes me happy as a Buddha. The girl sticking to her New Year’s resolution might stop eating now but the reporter is on a mission.
Curious why the menu put the word “salmon” in quotes. I came to learn that Scottish steelhead is actually a trout but tastes remarkably like salmon and is far more sustainable. Some items, including fish and grass-fed burgers, may be ordered raw or undercooked for greater nutritional benefits. I choose undercooked for my steelhead. Beautifully pink on the inside, seared on the outside and hot throughout, it sits atop cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto and smoked onion farro with arugula and perfectly cooked gold and red beets. At $24 it’s pricey, but that’s as high as the menu goes.
In his daily life, my dinner mate loosely follows the Paleo diet, rich in meat, so he was surprised to find himself sated after finishing the fully vegetarian Ancient Grains Bowl ($15 plus $3 for tofu). Each building block of the bowl is separately and carefully prepared making for a satisfyingly diverse eating experience. Miso-glazed sweet potato, awesome charred onions, snow peas, grilled portabello, avocado, hemp seed and turmeric play together nicely. The tofu seemed too heavy but I’m a silken tofu fan. It was improved with a slathering of the house umami sauce, which you must ask for alongside any order. Made from garlic, nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, tamari, lemon and grape seed oil, this stuff is good on everything.
Dessert at True Food Kitchen is mandatory. Normally I’m not a dessert person, but once again, reporter … mission … Chia seed pudding is all the rage for healthy breakfast these days so I tried their version. When mixed with liquid, in this case rice milk, the chia seeds take on a gelatinous consistency. Sounds weird but it’s fabulous with the crispy coconut shavings and banana slices on top. The real killer dessert though is the flourless chocolate cake. Gluten-free and vegan (no butter here), the cake has a dense but not gooey consistency and a rich, bitter chocolate taste. The “ice cream” tastes and mouth-feels like real ice cream but is made with coconut cream and rice milk. The dessert is not low-cal but it sure is better for you than a Bob’s Big Boy chocolate hot fudge cake and a whole lot tastier.
I have very little negative to say about True Food Kitchen. The menu items are innovative, well-prepared and rich in vegetables and healthy grains which are not always easy to find. I have heard that lines can form on busy weekdays and that service can be spotty but I found neither to be true. It would be hard to get out of True Food Kitchen without spending at least $50 for two. That’s more like date night dinner prices. There’s little romance to this restaurant, unless you find freshly mown grass romantic, which oddly I do.
So after the excesses of the holidays, get back on the right track with your own personal kick starter campaign at True Food Kitchen.
Lisa Dupuy has written for the Los Angeles Times, Pasadena Star-News, Westways and Arroyo Monthly.
True Food Kitchen
168 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 639-6818
truefoodkitchen.com | Full Bar/Major Cards