We West Coasters are a pretty demanding lot when it comes to dining. We want to eat out, but with the comforts of home. We want healthy fare without sacrificing flavor. We want it free-range, and organic, and sustainable, and affordable. And we want it all with a smile.
Lucky for us there’s Tender Greens, where you can get all of the above and more. It has a lineup-for-your-food casual vibe, an inviting interior with light hardwood floors and big sunshine-transmitting windows, an L-shaped patio interspersed with growing herbs and greenery, congenial staff and a tempting lineup of salads, salads, salads and more, made-to-order right in front of you.
Opened on June 16, 2006 by friends David Dressler, Erik Oberholtzer and Matt Lyman, who met at their former workplace, Shutters on the Beach, Tender Greens is obviously a labor of love. Previous to Shutters, Dressler was the food and beverage director at Four Seasons for many years, Oberholtzer worked as a chef at numerous five-star restaurants in California and Hawaii and Lyman was chef de cuisine at La Cachette.
The friends’ vast experience is apparent in not only the venue — which is unself-consciously and utterly comfortable — but also in the food.
During a recent visit with my partner Johnny and our foodie friend Tony, I was blown away by a couple items, in particular one of the evening’s specials: a butternut squash soup for $4. We passed the bowl among us, alternating spoonfuls, each one trying to sneak the occasional extra. The soup was incredible — warming and autumnal, dense and deeply articulate with flavor.
Similar in heartiness and just as memorable was another root vegetable of the evening: a creamy, rich and addictive helping of Yukon gold mashed potatoes that can be ordered as a side or accompanying the free-range meats they also serve. Though we had a lot happening on our dinner table, these two items, the soup and potatoes, made an otherwise chatty Tony almost dreamy and pensive.
I asked him what it was about these two dishes. “They’re like,” and he thought a second, “gourmet Grandma.” Family-style, with heart and soul.
According to Dressler, the eatery serves up to 600 plates a day, and surely a good number of these hold big salads, the $10-dollar feature items at Tender Greens. They are all made to order and are available as vegetarian versions or with meat. In this recent visit, we had a delightful harvest salad on special: greens dazzled with blue cheese, candied pecans, pomegranate seeds, olives, halved grapes and thinly sliced apple. We also tried the “happy vegan”, an alluring bunch of greens surrounded by an assorted ring of teeny pasta pearls, farro wheat, tabbouleh and hummus. The plate as a whole was tasty and nourishing, though the latter two items were just slightly too lemony for my buds.
Desserts ($3), made by LA-based Breadworks, tend to be simple but satisfying affairs and the carrot cupcake, with a fluffily frosted topping, was delicious.
Tender Greens takes the utmost care in its ingredients. As for its produce, “Everything we use is either certified organic or organically grown,” said Dressler. “We buy from small farms.” This allowed the restaurant’s chefs to be certain where the spinach was coming from during the health crisis earlier this year. “We have personal relationships with all of [our] farms.”
The eatery’s salad greens, all of the herbs and many of its vegetables are from the family-run Scarborough Farms in Oxnard. The meats served are also chosen mindfully; the beef is hormone-free, the chicken comes from the free-range Petaluma Poultry and the tuna is line-caught.
The care the owners take to provide a reliable and homey venue for the conscientious consumer is also evident in its physical space. In its creation, Dressler said they used only reclaimed timber whenever possible and non-toxic environmentally friendly paints. “All of our packaging [including to-go containers] is post-consumer recycled,” he said.
With Tender Greens living such an inspiring concept and sharing such inspired, wholesome foods, it should be no surprise that its owners are looking to grow. Now with 7 locations in California, where will they stop?