Corporate quinoa

Ed gets the lowdown on inside-out superfoods

Inside Out Quinoa Burger, with hummus, tzatziki, tomato, cucumber, red onion, avocado, and feta
  • Inside Out Quinoa Burger, with hummus, tzatziki, tomato, cucumber, red onion, avocado, and feta

True Food Kitchen

7007 Friars Road #394, Mission Valley

‘Look, I’m telling you,” says my buddy Daley, “this place is the real deal. Ya gotta have the quinoa burger.”

He’s talking about this health chain. I mean, Daley was in the Army. Likes no-nonsense comfort food. But yesterday he was in Fashion Valley, eating quinoa burgers at True Food Kitchen. Now I can’t stop him raving.

Today, happens I’m at Fashion Valley, too, asking the Apple Store guys about oversize Bluetooth keyboards for my undersized iPad Mini.

And just around the corner, thar she blows: True Food Kitchen.

It’s a huge place. First thought: This is Corporate America moving in on the Green Revolution, now that the real greenies who pioneered the movement have done all the heavy lifting.

Except, can’t help liking what I’m seeing: a big, French-style outside deck that bathes customers in a golden light under a yellow awning. And the place has little gardens on wheels with all kinds of herbs and veggies growing in them, like kale, lavender, tarragon, basil, even something called “curry.” Curry’s a plant?

I want to try this quinoa burger because it is said that the grain is one of those “perfect foods.” Like, it’s the most protein-rich, with twice as much fiber as most grains and lots of iron, manganese, phosphorus, calcium. They call it the complete grain. It was the Incas who discovered it, maybe 5000 years ago.

Inside, the place is big, airy, with a huge open prep kitchen at the back and line cooks cutting and washing, doing it all in public at great gray marble tables. Makes you think of those huge kitchens back in the day of, say, Henry VIII.

I sit up at a crowded counter. On my left, this gal Sheila’s eating a big dish of dark green… spinach?

“Kale salad,” she says. “This is the only place I know that can make kale tender and interesting.”

I check the menu. “Tuscan kale, vegetarian,” it says, “with lemon, parmesan & breadcrumb, $9.”

And on the right, Rich is slurping away at a glass of green stuff the counter guy produced from a giant juicer that looks like it was a leaf blower in its former life.

Where I discovered my hibiscus sparkling sweet tea

Where I discovered my hibiscus sparkling sweet tea

“Kale-Aid,” Rich says. “Really good for you. Basically, kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon, bit of ginger. Good way to start.” I see it costs $6.

I notice on the menu everything’s labeled gluten-free, vegan, local, whatever. Even wines and beers.

“Something to drink?” says Zak, the counter guy.

All the drinks are in the vein of Kale-Aid. Libations such as Medicine Man, an “antioxidant blast” of sea buckthorn, pomegranate, blueberry, cranberry, black tea and soda ($6). “The Natural” (ginger, agave, soda) goes for $4, and they have a “Hangover Rx,” which is coconut water, pineapple, vanilla, and OJ ($5).

But I end up taking a hibiscus sparkling sweet tea ($5), which tastes like a sort of bubbly strawberry drink, and then have to search out that quinoa burger.

This place ain’t cheap. Even the starters run 10, 12, 13 dollars. Salmon dip’s $12, shiitake and tofu lettuce cups are $10, and vegetable crudités are $13. Salads do start at $4 (for a dish of baby greens) but mostly top $12, and you add $5 if you want chicken or $10 for grilled salmon. Pizzas (Margherita, chicken sausage, mushroom, corn or eggplant) run $12–13. And entrées, even “street tacos,” are $16 (although you’re getting grass-fed steak or sustainable sea bass in them). Cheapest entrée is Spaghetti Squash Casserole ($13).

Rich is now onto a panang curry with chicken, a big veggie-and-spud-filled soup in a big bowl ($16).

I finally spot my quinoa under “sandwiches.”

“Inside Out Quinoa Burger, gluten-free, vegetarian, $12,” it says. Comes with hummus, tzatziki, tomato, cucumber, red onion, avocado, and feta, $12.” You get a side: that kale salad or sweet potatoes.

“Or you could have half and half,” says Zak. Great. Go for that. The sweet potatoes are orange and taste like pumpkin, and the kale has a deep, almost lemony flavor, with a sprinkling of cheese on top.

But the prize has to be the quinoa burger. There’s something addictive about its taste. The burger is called “inside-out” because it’s the dark discs of quinoa (quinoa can be black, red or yellow) that act as gluten-free buns for all the hummus, lettuce, tomato, feta, and a big, juicy slab of avocado inside. They also command the flavor buds with their own savory crunch. Think Rice Krispies, minus the sugar.

“We have onion, salt, pepper, garlic, and egg to hold it all together,” Zak says. “Then the kale is a black Tuscan kale mixed in lemon-oregano dressing, topped off with breadcrumbs and sweet-potato cheese.”

Zak says this idea for a “green” restaurant has been around for 13 years.

“It’s a Sam Fox restaurant concept, and he paired up with Dr. Andrew Weil [the famous holistic doctor], who paired up with the executive chefs. We change the menu seasonally. Farm-to-table is happening. We’re opening three new restaurants this year alone.”

He keeps talking about “superfoods” like kale. For me, the superfood is this quinoa, and beautiful slippy-slidey slices of avocado, along with that hummus. So fresh. Of course, it is a mess. I have to eat it with my knife and fork. But it fills me right up.

On the other hand, I have to wave goodbye to one Mr. Jackson. With tip, we’re talking $22.

But, no regrets. When I leave, I feel like maybe I’ve just experienced the Next Big Thing in restaurants. Places like this, yes, corporate culture and all. But at least they’ve got the right message. If this is the future of food, I ain’t complaining.

  • The Place: True Food Kitchen, 7007 Friars Road #394, Fashion Valley, 619-810-2929
  • Prices: Salmon-dip starter, $12; shiitake and tofu lettuce cups, $10; vegetable crudités, $13; baby greens salad, $4; summer market salad, $13; Margherita pizza, $12; “street tacos,” $16; Inside Out Quinoa Burger, $12; panang curry with chicken, $16; plate of Tuscan kale, with lemon, parmesan, and breadcrumbs, $9
  • Hours: 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m. Friday; 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m., Saturday; 10:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. Sunday
  • Buses: 6, 20, 25, 41, 88, 120, 928
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest trolley and bus stop: Fashion Valley Transit Center, 1205 Fashion Valley Road

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