Monday, February 3, 2014

Veggie Grill

A couple weeks ago, one of my friends mentioned a vegetarian restaurant that she had tried recently called Veggie Grill.  She's not a vegetarian, but she doesn't eat beef or pork.  She was raving about it and even said how much her husband liked it, and I know he enjoys a good steak from time to time.  I'm not a vegetarian either, but I'm definitely not anti-vegetarian and thought that my husband and I would have to eat there sometime.

Then, my husband decided to eat vegan for a week.  We also decided to extend last year's New Year's Resolution to this year - try a new restaurant once a month.  Since it was the last week of January, I knew we needed to eat somewhere new very soon.  I was on Yelp looking up nearby Vegan restaurants, and I came across one in Encino that got great reviews, and I liked what I saw on the menu.  Then I noticed the name, Veggie Grill.  Yup, that just had to be our restaurant to try for January.

On January 31st, (just under the wire for our New Year's Resolution, I know), we went to Veggie Grill for lunch.  The restaurant wasn't very crowded, and there was no line.  We walked up to the counter and looked over the menu.  My husband asked the lady at the register, "Is everything vegan?"  She assured him that it was.  I guess it's pretty good when the menu looks so good that you can hardly believe it can really all be vegan, and many of the menu items are also gluten free.

My husband was immediately drawn to the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin' which is described on the menu as "Fried Chickin', lettuce, tomato, red onion, avacado, spicy vegan mayo."  I know, "chickin"?  According to the menu, "chickin'" is "specially seasoned and marinated proteins...made from organic and non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas."  Each sandwich comes on a whole wheat bun, but if you're gluten free, you can request to have it "Kale style."  Each sandwich also comes with a side item.  The options are coleslaw, chili or Yukon Gold Fries.  He decided to try the chili, which is listed on the menu as Southwestern Chili with Soyrizo and is described as "red and white beans, soy cream, chopped green and red onion."

I had looked at the menu online ahead of time and had already decided on my order before arriving.  I ordered the Papa's Portobello, their portobello mushroom sandwich.  Since I recently made portobello mushroom sandwiches at home (that were awesome!  See my blog post about it here.), I wanted to compare the Veggie Grill version.  The Papa's Portobello is described on the menu as "grilled mushroom, chopped tomato, basil and garlic pomodoro, caramelized onions, cilantro pesto, lettuce, red onion, chipotle ranch."  For my side, I ordered the Yukon Gold Fries which are described on the menu as "skin on, grown in the Northwest."

The lady at the register asked if we wanted to add tea or lemonade to our order, but we decided just to stick with water.  She also mentioned that they provide 1-hr parking validation for the parking lot behind the building.  That's good to know for the future.  We found street parking, but on a weekend it may be necessary to park in the lot.  She gave us a number and 2 glasses for water and said they'd bring out our order.

We picked up our own silverware and napkins while we filled our water glasses.  Then we found an empty booth and settled in.  The restaurant was pretty empty since it was early afternoon on a weekday.  It was a refreshing and clean atmosphere that had a happy vibe to it.  I also liked that there was an abundance of outdoor seating.  If it had been a warmer day, it would've been pleasant to sit under one of the outdoor umbrellas.

Our food was ready pretty quickly.  They brought out my husband's order first, but mine wasn't far behind.

On first impressions, we thought the food looked awesome.  The servings were big, and we definitely needed to cut the sandwiches in half to have a chance of picking them up.  My sandwich was oozing sauce, which made it extra messy to pick up.

Now, the most important part, my review of the food's taste.

I tasted my husband's meal. 
According to Yelp reviews, you'd think you were eating meat if you didn't know any better.  I must disagree.  Those Yelpers must not have eaten at Chick-fil-a recently.  The Chickin' tastes like a block of tofu to me.  I think the texture is the real issue here.  It doesn't have the same texture as chicken, which pulls apart and has individual fibers.  I guess the flavor's okay, but the texture issue needs to be fixed if you're going to fool my palate.  I have a real issue with vegan and vegetarian food where a non-animal product is supposed to taste like meat or cheese or something.  It never works, not if you know what the real thing tastes like.  I'd rather just have a plate full of veggies and grains that are delicious in their own right and not because they're "supposed to" taste like something they're not.  My husband liked the sandwich okay.  He agreed with me about the texture issue, and he'd probably try something else next time.

His side of chili was very heavy on the tomato taste.  It had too many beans and not enough onion.  He wouldn't order that again either.  I'm not a huge fan of beans.  Traditional chili doesn't have beans in it at all.  I'm definitely glad I didn't order the chili.

On to my sandwich.  I had very high hopes for the Papa's Portobello.  I wanted it to be better than what I make at home.  I really, really wanted that.  I was very disappointed.  My first thought was that it needed more seasoning.  There was seasoning on my fries, and a dose of that on the mushroom would've added so much.  About a quarter of the way through the sandwich, I realized a much bigger issue.  The mushroom wasn't cooked long enough and was watery.  My bun was getting soggy.  You have to really cook a mushroom well to get all the water out.  I first learned this when putting mushrooms on a pizza and getting a soggy crust.  If I, an amateur cook and food lover, can learn to cook mushrooms properly, you'd think a vegan restaurant would have it down to a science.  I finished half of my sandwich, and then took apart the second half to inspect it.  The fins hadn't been removed from the mushroom either, which might have been one reason it wasn't fully cooked and was still watery.  Learn to cook your portobello mushrooms, Veggie Grill!  The sauce on the sandwich was the best part.  A little more seasoning and a fully cooked mushroom, and I would've been happy.  Instead, I'll never order it again.  The sandwiches I make at home blow this one away.

The best part of everything we ordered was the Yukon Gold Fries.  They tasted like seasoned fries.  I mean really, they're naturally vegan.  It's a vegetable getting to be a vegetable and show it's own natural taste.  It's not trying to be chicken.  I would order the fries again if I came back.  I just wish the fries were baked instead of deep fried.  Vegan doesn't necessarily equal healthy, at least not if you fill up on fries.

So, would I come back?  Yes, I think so.  I'd give it a second chance with different menu items.  I'd probably try the VG Cheeseburger without the cheese (because I know I'll just be disappointed with soy cheese).  My hope is that the burger is full of grains and veggies that taste like a patty of grains and veggies and aren't trying taste like ground beef.  I used to eat Gardenburgers all the time and loved them.  I would hope that the veggie burgers at a vegan restaurant would taste better than what I can get in the freezer section at the grocery store.  We shall see.

Happy eating!

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