Monday, November 16, 2009

Veggie Grill: A Vegan Fail

What’s the point of eating meat without the meat?

That’s what I kept asking myself as I left West Hollywood’s new outpost of the Veggie Grill, a restaurant that’s caused a sensation in Orange County before opening at 8000 Sunset last month, perfectly placed for all those sweaty, fake-n’-baked, taut, toned Crunchaphiles to curb whatever minor cravings they might be willing to indulge after a hard workout.
I am not much of a meat eater and prefer clean cuisine, but Veggie Grill has a warped perception of what “Good for you” means and how it should be prepared. It’s a bad sign when the best part of your meal at a health food restaurant is the fries. The ones at Veggie Grill are sweet potato (the idiot-proof fry, if we’re being honest) and they’re crispy, sweet and salty; you can’t deny their deliciousness. What you can deny is what they accompany. For my first (and probably last) foray into the Veggie Grill, I decided on the Baja Fiesta Salad ($8.95) and the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ Sandwich (also $8.95) with a side of the aforementioned fries.

Thrilled at the idea that each salad includes quinoa, an edible seed from South America that is recognized as a perfect protein, has a nutty flavor, and texture similar to bulgur, I dug into the salad first. In a brimming white plastic bowl sat chopped romaine lettuce, a few under-ripe chunks of papaya (the Mexican, blander, cheaper variety rather than Hawaii’s prized, sweet papaya), a few soft, browning squares of avocado, a sprinkling of quinoa, and chopped cucumber. I searched for the roasted corn salsa promised on the menu but all I found were a few sad charred corn kernels strewn amongst the lettuce. For a veggie restaurant, they don’t seem to take much pride in their produce, but that was the least of my concern. Upon first bite, I was struck by the intensely sweet ginger-papaya vinaigrette. It was cloying, viscous, overpowering and had nary a hint of ginger. If they wanted something that tasted like it came out of a bottle, why not use Annie’s Asian Sesame dressing? That’s delicious. This salad was not. From limp lettuce to vile vinaigrette, it was a $9 salad fail.

Next, my “Chickin’” sandwich arrived. On a dense, sweet, whole wheat bun lay a faux fried chickin’ breast topped with mushed avocado, two dried up slices of red onion, a leaf of lettuce and two whitish tomato slices. On the side sat what I discovered to be the prize of the night, the “Southwestern spiced vegan mayo,” which is basically just thin, runny chipotle mayonnaise. Much like the sweet potato fries, if you take chipotle and anything on the mayo scale and put them together, it’s going to taste good. Who cares if it’s vegan? What made less sense was the utterly tasteless chickin’ patty desperately parading as its meaty counterpart. I understand the desire to put lipstick on a pig (not that there would be any pig at the Veggie Grill, but go with me here), but it’s still a pig. Why create a vegan restaurant that serves mangled vegetables next to tarted-up, pretend versions of forbidden foods if they’re not exceptionally executed? M Café de Chaya served a vegan burger called The Big Macro that is the most satisfying, delicious burger in all of Los Angeles. And it never tries to be something it’s not.

No comments:

Post a Comment