Monday, April 23, 2007

All Dressed Up

Whenever I’m looking for something healthy at a new restaurant, the first part of the menu I scan are the salads. It’s one of the few items where you can totally control what goes into your meal, and I’m all about customization. With this in mind I was happy to discover “The Dressing Room” in Sherman Oaks; a restaurant that puts a gourmet spin on the salad bar.

Entering you’re presented with two options: order one of their specialty salads where all the decisions are made for you, or take one of their salad checklists and select from all the possible ingredients. For $6.95 you choose a base lettuce, five toppings (each additional for .65 cents), a dressing from a very extensive list, and for an additional nominal fee any meat or seafood you can imagine. The price varies depending on what you choose. In the end you can decide on the bowl or if you want it wrapped. After exhausting all of your decision making capabilities, take your creation to the counter and away they go before you can say “crouton.”

For my salad I selected the mixed greens, avocado, mushroom buttons, broccoli, red and yellow bell peppers (this counts as one), and chopped tomatoes. The dressing was their low-fat honey mustard which I requested on the side, and I added blackened chicken for $1.95. If you like chicken you also have the option of rotisserie or grilled.

The salad master goes down the salad bar, putting all of their incredibly fresh looking ingredients into a bowl. Meanwhile, over at the visible grill another person tosses on a hearty piece of chicken. At the end of the salad line the contents of your bowl are dumped out onto a chopping block, and the salad master chops away with a mezzaluna (a large curved chopping blade). The colorful goodness goes back into a bowl, mixed with your dressing, topped with your piping hot protein, and served.

The salad tastes as fresh as it looks. Lettuce is no where near limp or wilted, each added ingredient has exactly the right consistency, and the blackened chicken has a bit of spice. Overall perfect and exactly what I wanted. The dressing only enhances things further, adding a honey mustard sweetness to the already great tasting salad.

“The Dressing Room” is where you go if you’re looking for a nutritious lunch for less then $10 in the valley. With everything made to order, and the tons of healthy options, it’s hard to go wrong. If you do, you only have yourself to blame.
The Dressing Room
14622 Ventura Blvd #103
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
(818) 788-4882

Monday, April 2, 2007

Cici and Me

If there was one type of eatery I wish was more plentiful in the valley, it would be restaurants that specialize in breakfast. IHOP has been done to death, and while their smiley faced pancakes are cute, their food doesn’t surpass standard breakfast fare.

Looking for something different I stumbled into Cici’s CafĂ©, a somewhat new restaurant in Tarzana (right near an IHOP). Their breakfast menu certainly was extensive, offering a wide variety of pancakes and waffles with interesting sounding names, and at times bizarre ingredients. Take for example the “Pig in the Mud,” a pancake with chocolate and ham. They also offered a nice selection of omelets, as well as the usual breakfast items like oatmeal and fruit. Most breakfast items were in the range of $8-$10.

It took me a long time to decide on what to order. Normally when I go out for breakfast I look for egg white omelets filled with vegetables, oatmeal, and as a side I always get fruit if its an option. When asked about toast I always get wheat, but hardly ever eat it. It normally just sits pushed a safe distance away from me so I'm not tempted to eat two large and normally buttery slices. My decision finally settled on the "Ceec Omelet" as suggested by the waitress; an egg white optional omelet with turkey sausage, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, portobello mushrooms and boursin cheese. I hardly ever get cheese, but today felt like a special day.

My girlfriend opted for the "To Infinity and Beyond" waffles; waffles, banana’s flambĂ©, and vanilla bean ice cream. The beyond part probably has something to do with a sugar high. I couldn't start the day with ice cream, but to each their own. If you do want to start the day with a waffle or pancakes check to see if the restaurant offers a whole wheat option, if not stick to the plain variety. Treat syrup like I treat dressings; on the side, and instead of poured on dipped into with your fork before picking up food. Or do one better and inquire if the place offers sugar-free syrup, or get a side of fruit to top off the waffle. This is a way to sweeten the deal without adding tons of calories.

The omelet was dense but fluffy, exactly what I wanted. The cheese which I was unfamiliar with wasn’t melted like I thought it would be, but plopped on top as well as partially spread on the inside of the omelet. I wasn’t a big fan of its cream cheese consistency, or its zesty herb taste, but luckily there wasn’t a huge amount of it to deal with. Sans cheese I found the omelet only alright. I was hoping it would have been crammed full of the mentioned ingredients, but primarily it was just chunks of turkey and some tomatoes (not sun dried) and mushrooms. It tasted fine, I just wanted more. The side scalloped potatoes that it came with were exactly that, scalloped potatoes. Nothing special to flavor it, they were just ordinary. Come to think of it that cheese probably would have been good with them.

Now my girlfriend’s meal was another story. Hers both looked and tasted great. A large and warm waffle with just the right amount of banana and ice cream, I should have gone for the waffles. They gave her syrup, but as she indicated there was no need. She also noted that because the waffle was warm she had to eat it fast; otherwise she’d be swimming in melted ice cream. Calorie wise it was probably off the charts, but as a once in the while treat it would be a nice reward.

The bill came to about $21 sans drinks, which seemed alright considering portion sizes. But would I go back? To try the pancakes and waffles yes, but I’ll steer clear of the omelets. It’s definitely a place worth considering when in the area.
Cici's Cafe
18912 Ventura Blvd
Tarzana, CA 91356
(818) 881-6704