As a food critic, you’ve got to eat everything. That carries with it many pitfalls. And not just because you might come face to face with a dish or two that you loathe. You also must come to grips with calories and fats and gluten and dairy and sodium and everything else that might not make your body happy. Many of the food components we have grown to love take us down a fork in the road toward unhealthy eating habits. So what’s a person to do?
Well, you could follow the hot trend for 2015 of guilt-free to-go and take a trip to Fresh Kitchen. The concept has four simple steps: 1) Toss in two bases; 2) Pick two proteins; 3) Pile on two veggies; and 4) Sauce it up. All the ingredients are fresh, fresh, fresh — which is a good thing, considering the name. FK takes its mission seriously. All items are gluten- and dairy-free. All meats are antibiotic- and hormone-free. The cold-pressed dressings are made daily.
As you make your way toward the head of the queue, you are met by friendly servers who scoop your meal up, much like they would with gelato. They snag a clear plastic container and fill it up as your eyes race over the bases to establish your meal’s foundation. It’s a tough choice. Luckily, I rarely eat alone, so I’m able to taste all the offerings. What’s wonderful is that each selection is tasty and made with care. As I work my way through the menu with its myriad variations that you shape to your whim, there’s not a single bite of food to regret.
The bases are straightforward, but well done. You may opt for cool brown rice, veggie quinoa, sweet potato noodles or herb-sprouted rice blend, or go green with kale slaw or a chopped romaine-spinach mix. If you want to build on a warm foundation, try the cauliflower mash or spicy sweet potato mash (my favorite), which almost tastes like pumpkin pie.
Now it’s time for protein. The chicken selections (barbecue, citrus or baked tenders) are included, and the others carry a $3 upcharge. Each chicken selection is juicy and well cooked. Add barbecue for a touch of sweetness, citrus for brightness or the larger tenders if you prefer strips to smaller cubes. You could also luxuriate in the smaller-cubed rare tuna dotted with chia seeds, some excellent tofu full of flavor, or a touch of char on the medium-rare beef or grilled shrimp cubes. As with the bases, each brings its own charm to your meal. Whether it’s the allure of tuna or tasty beef, you can’t go wrong.
The biggest surprise is the treatment of the veggies. The broccolini is grilled to perfection; local seasonal vegetables (in this case, green and yellow wax beans) have lovely resistance instead of mushiness. And the roasted vegetables soar. Although the Brussels sprouts are too salty, they, too, are nicely al dente. The mushrooms are yummy, and the coconut cauliflower florets, with their tinged brown edges, are the top taste of the night. If you have any interest whatsoever, don’t miss these.
Then you get to choose a sauce that comes in its own container on the side, so that you may incorporate as you see fit: creamy white ginger, holy kale, herb balsamic vinaigrette, avocado green caesar, coconut Sriracha or cucumber jalapeño. They’re all so full of flavor and superbly balanced that it’s hard to choose a favorite. Each cooling flavor component is matched by another to add some zing. The ginger sings, the sriracha sizzles and the jalapeño slowly emerges from the crisp cucumber to make its presence known. Whichever one strikes your fancy, they’re sure to add a happy grace note.
Desserts as a health-food concern are problematic. True desserts are out to kill you. They are filled with poison: sugar, fat, etcetera. And I adore them. So the attempt to create sweets at a restaurant focused on healthy eating creates many challenges. That said, FK’s desserts are delicious within that framework. The rice crisp bars with almond milk and honey are fun — equal parts gooey and crunchy. The zucchini brownie is moist and flavorful with what seem to be carob chips dotted about. Given the chips’ healthy pedigree, they’re surprisingly satisfying. As a confirmed addict of all things sweet, I have my doubts but am not disappointed. These sweets don’t make you forget your favorite traditional candies, cakes, cookies and pies. However, they hold their own, considering the constraints.
To accompany your repast and quench your thirst, FK offers a range of cold-pressed juices. We try Plant City Greenery (spinach, romaine, strawberry, lemon, apple, pineapple) and Chi-Wee Strawberry (strawberry, pineapple, orange, chia). They are bright and fresh, but distinctly not sweet, so be prepared. For holiday time, I can’t resist Egg(less) Nog (nutmeg, almond milk, vanilla, sea salt, maple). It’s nog without decadence.
If healthy eating is on your New Year’s resolution list, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit. This fork in the road may change your life.