Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dining Alone - Sustainable virtue at the lunch counter

Lately I've been eating lunch at my desk, or walking for take-out with a co-worker, but sometimes I just want to get out by myself. That's exactly what I did this week.

At the lunch rush, single diners are encouraged to sit at the counter or bar instead of occupying the valuable real estate of a table. This being Santa Monica, the lunch counter was part of a large new natural healthy food restaurant on the ground floor of a newly opened trendy urban mall.

I perched on a brushed-steel stool upholstered in lemon-yellow crocodile-patterned patent leather, at the natural wooden butcher block bar, unrolled my natural linen napkin and read the menu.  I ordered a nice, refreshing agave-sweetened cucumber and yuzu antioxident lemonade. Actually, no; I ordered a plain lemonade, but felt somehow as though I was disappointing someone with such an unhealthy choice.

I was torn between exotic and militantly good-for-you offerings like kale salad, tofu lettuce cups, ahi sliders and edamame dumplings (with truffle oil!), and items intended for the more conventional diner, like burgers, pasta, and pizza. Of course, it was "grass-fed bison burgers," "brown rice penne pasta" and the pizzas were available with gluten-free crusts, but still, if you were too picky an eater for Panang curry or squash-stuffed ravioli, you had your options.

I decided on a noodle bowl with shrimp, shitake mushrooms and red chili, and while I waited I watched the cook and waitstaff work behind the counter.

That's one of the fun things about sitting at the counter of a busy restaurant during the lunch rush - you can watch the intricate choreography of a busy team working together while under pressure. The menu features lots of fresh-juiced fruits and vegetables, and during the half hour I was there, one woman went through a huge bowl of peeled apples, chopping them into chunks for the juicer, while others side-stepped behind her for nozzle-topped bottles of syrup to drizzle or brown paper cartons for to-go packages. Here - again, it being Santa Monica - all the staff were young, slim, attractive and just a little unconventional, sporting full-sleeve tattoos on this one, an assymentrical hair style on that one, and steel and horn ear gauges on the one over there.

Everyone was pleasant, though. Beside me a young woman scrolled through her phone as she ate her salad, while on the other side, a young couple shared vegetables and hummus. My noodles were served in a rough earthenware bowl, with knife and fork or chopsticks - my preference - and while they were tasty, they were far more expensive than the same dish would have been at a San Gabriel Valley or Sawtelle noodle joint. Clearly, the trendy-mall ambience doubled the price of any dish.

It's a bright, pretty place, too, with clean walls tiled in bright shades of chartreuse and yellow, and planters of succulents separating the bankettes of tables furnished with curving wicker chairs.

I think after a while, the studied self-conscious sense of sustainability would start to seem priggish and dogmatic - Which makes it a perfect fit for Santa Monica, with its combination of affluence, progressive politics and eco-conservatism. A place where the ex-wives of television executives come after power-yoga class to nibble at organically grown greens while planning fundraisers for Crossroads School featuring unplugged performances by aging rock stars. And window-shop at Tory Burch after lunch.

It's nice to get out of the lunch-at-the-office grind, isn't it?


Alexia said...

I love your interesting commentary on this kind of place - self-consciously trendy and politically correct. I did follow the link and look at the lunch menu; but your comment about your noodle bowl was very telling. Most of the time I prefer to make my own lunch :)

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Clearly, the trendy-mall ambience doubled the price of any dish.

I'm of the "give me an inexpensive mountain of really good food in a dining room with the ambiance of a bus terminal" school of thought.

shrink on the couch said...

Move over,thee of the timid palate. *I* shall have the agave-sweetened cucumber and yuzu antioxident lemonade.

Nah. I'll have the plain lemonade, too.

A Paperback Writer Photos said...

I'm lucky if I get time to make a trip to the restroom during lunch!
Your shrimp bowl sounds like a great choice, but I could've gone for the squash ravioli, too.
I'd definitely pass on the tofu, though.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

A place where the ex-wives of television executives come after power-yoga class to nibble at organically grown greens while planning fundraisers for Crossroad School featuring unplugged performances by aging rock stars.

tee hee!

No doubt spot on.

Janet said...

the menu sounds great :-) I'm having bulger wheat mixed with asparagas, mushrooms, onions and roasted pork for lunch today.

Breakfast was oatmeal mixed with a medjool date, some raisins, a bit of peanut butter and some pumpkin. Yum!

Dinner? Who knows...going to a Mexican place to surprise my brother for his birthday :-)

Jen on the Edge said...

When my husband and I go out for lunch, we love sitting at the counter and watching the action on the other side.

Chubskulit Rose said...

Such gorgeous pink! Happy weekend!

Shade of Pink at my page.