Tender Greens

Sometimes, I feel a little protective over my very favorite spots--those restaurants that I visit as often as once a week, places where I have to get my fix.  Something inside of me gets greedy and wants to preserve their familiarity, my feelings of ownership about these gems.  But today, I'm feeling generous.  So I'm sharing the latest episode of LA on 20's web series, and this time I am visiting Tender Greens in Santa Monica with my little brother, Sam.

I find that one of the most difficult things about being on a budget is being able to eat healthfully.  Fresh produce, especially organic and sustainably farmed/caught/raised fare just costs more to procure, and sometimes it can feel out of reach for those of us looking to get the most bang for the buck. 

Which is why I really treasure Tender Greens.  Seriously, it's a special place.  Because not only have they created a model where they can offer all of those things--seasonal, ethically raised, fresh, organic food--at an affordable price point, on a large scale, but they go above and beyond by also offering a consistently excellent, inventive specials menu each and every day.  I have had a beautifully cooked piece of cod with braised hen of the woods mushrooms for $12.  I have had delicious and light pea tendril ravioli with a side of arugula salad for $12 for dinner.  Free range beef and pork meatballs in a slowly simmered, rich marinara for $4.

It's cafeteria-style dining, because that's what allows them to offer these really elevated, well-executed, healthy, delicious dishes at that price.  But it feels like a nice sit-down restaurant--they have beer and wine on tap, and seasonal and decadent desserts, including some really good vegan ones.  There are multiple locations throughout LA and in the Bay Area, San Diego, and Orange County, so wherever you find yourself in California, this affordable and healthy option isn't far away.  I really cannot say enough about how cool this place is.  So I'll let the video do the rest of the talking.  Please enjoy!

Ink. Sack

I've been following Michael Voltaggio since I first had the privilege of tasting his food at his pre-fame gig, The Dining Room at the Langham Huntington, about three weeks before he was named Top Chef in Season 6. And I literally mean following, I see the guy everywhere. Anyway, if I was maybe rooting for Kevin before that meal, I was all about Michael the moment I tasted his chestnut soup with pressed chicken. It was divine. I'll refrain from going into more detail, since you can't get it anymore anyway. Since then I've had run-ins with MV at his service at Test Kitchen, at the Rising Star Chefs Gala last summer, and finally at his newest project, Ink.Sack on Melrose in W Hollywood. Just a couple doors down from Ink., his fine dining spot slated to open (at long last) in September, Ink.Sack is a casual sandwich shop serving up inventive slider-sized sammies for $4-$6. Michael has always impressed me with his flawless execution of playful concepts--see: his Test Kitchen offerings (a molecular "tiramisu" where the white creme was the coffee and the coffee-colored pearls were mascarpone; veal sweetbread "mcnuggets" with rhubarb ketsup, etc.) His talent level is equaled by his creativity and ambition, and I love his creations. I also love that Ink.Sack is fully committed to its hip street food concept--the cashiers wear neat tees designed in a special collaboration between Michael and The Hundreds, the beverage options are thoughtful/fun (Mexican coke, apple beer), and the sides are lowbrow-chic, like BBQ pork rinds or street fruit with chile, both $3. It's affordable, it's laidback, and it's simple. Well, as simple as MV gets. Can you call a mini sandwich with crispy curried chicken skin, chicken liver mousse and tomato simple? I suppose you can. Do not miss the cold fried chicken sandwich, it's a delight. Ink. Sack is just the right amount of whimsy, and the right amount of "only in LA"-ness. With the proliferation of food trucks and pop-ups in our city, a casual sandwich shop by a celeb José Andrés protegé is just so right now.

Speaking of the Spanish Godfather, I did enjoy the sandwich named for him, stuffed with three kinds of pork and manchego cheese. I don't think you can go wrong at Ink.Sack--more likely, you'll be back in line for another round...like me. The sandwiches are so petite, it's all too easy to justify getting another.