910 J Street, East Village
Pretty much every New Year of my adult life, I've resolved to eat better. Of course, each year the idea of what it means to eat better changes, depending which nutritional study has prevalence. The reduced fat and low sodium of my youth has toured through sugar free, low calorie, organic, carb free, gluten free, cruelty free, non-GMO, locally sourced, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, superfoods, and for-the-love-of-god-no-soy. At this rate, by 2025 I'll be reduced to standing under a tree waiting for acorns to drop.
So when I stumble upon a place like the East Village's recently opened SolCal, I bite. Part food counter, part market, they make it easy, with just about everything on the menu complying with most if not all of the above. Especially the vegan, non-GMO, soy-free organic superfoods.
It starts with their cold-press juices. But, like all cold press juice these days, it's pretty expensive, roughly 9 bucks for a bottle. For that, I'll just get a bunch of fruits from an organic grocer and eat them whole.
However, I was game for a salad, quinoa chili, cold brew coffee and coconut ice cream. Granted, chili, salad and iced coffee coffee will never go together as a featured lunch combo, but we're talkin' health food here, and I wanted to check it out from a couple of angles.
The Skinny Salad, at $4.99, is a small take on their Sol Kale Signature Salad, which goes for six bucks more. Given the ample size of the Skinny, it should usually suffice, unless you want an extraordinary amount of mixed greens topped by the likes of avocado, diced red pepper, red onions, carrots and watermelon radishes (the actual vegetables used vary by season). Choice of dressing includes coconut curry, mango mint, and Italian herb, though I went with ginger miso with no regrets.
I couldn't point to anything special about this dish — it was fresh, at least partially local and organic (according to the shop's menu board), and pretty much the definition of salad.
Likewise, the chili tasted like chili, with peppers, onions, black beans and corn in a tomato base. It had a pretty decent flavor that would match up to any meat dish you'd expect to find at a cook-off, with the difference being this one doesn't stick to your gut. Which admittedly, would be a turn off to most. However, being served with a couple pieces of whole wheat bread that gave it a little extra oomph to help fill me up. This bread wasn't gluten-free, but it could have been had I requested it.
The cold-brew coffee was pretty solid — beans courtesy of Seattle's Caffe Vita. I would have liked to try it pour over, but that would have cost 5 and a quarter. Has it come to that? I wouldn't call prices at Sol Cal high across the board, but some seemed that way. My small, coconut-cream chocolate ice cream scoop cost $2.75. It started out tasting like chocolate, then finished distinctly coconut, creamy enough but not quite on par with the real thing. Still, my new year's off to a good start, at least until I encounter pork belly on some menu somewhere.