Friday, January 23, 2009

Who Knew Eating Healthy Could Taste So Good?

In this era of cheap and convenient fast food, it's easy to forgo a sit down, home made meal that's actually good for you and may not be as likely to clog your arteries. Even if you choose to go to a restaurant with tables, chairs and nice linens, the menu may still not offer enough "healthy" options for the diner trying to make a life style change that includes eating better.

One of the things that California is known for, is its culinary focus on natural, organic, local and sustainable foods and that's reflected in the type of eateries you'll find from one end of California to another. Two such eateries that I visited within days of each other were Hugo's in Studio City and A Votre Sante in Brentwood. While both restaurants offer meat options, they're also known for having vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes on the menu as well.

First, let's talk about Hugo's. I've actually driven past the Hugo's location in West Hollywood several times over the years, but based on the restaurant name alone, I really had no clue what kind of food was served there. For some reason, I thought Hugo's was a French restaurant and I didn't even know that Hugo's had a second location in Studio City until I met a friend there for lunch one afternoon. After sitting down and perusing the menu, I have to tell you that I fell in love. There were a lot of interesting dishes from a Fried Green Tomato Napoleon to a Hippi Hemp Seed Black Rice Salad to a Roasted Beet Casserole. While I was trying to decide, I had a glass of their fresh lemonade sweetened with agave, which was nicely tart and not over sugared.

Craving greens, I started with their House Salad which was mixed organic spring mix, tomatoes, carrots and sunflower sprouts topped with sesame-ginger dressing. That salad was a thing of beauty. It had a lush green freshness to it that was appealing to the eye and the taste buds. I also liked how they brought the dressing on the side. There's nothing more unappealing than salad that is wilted from being over-dressed. As for the dressing itself, it was light, nutty with just enough ginger to give it flavor without overpowering it.

For my entree, I went for their Create-A-Plate, where you could choose between three to five options from a list of various vegetables and proteins. I love veggies, so I actually chose three of them, which included the broccolini with garlic, roasted beets and green beans and shallots, but I also wanted a little protein so I went for the Turkey Loaf. The Turkey Loaf was made up of free range turkey with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, egg and fresh herbs, served with mushroom herb gravy.

Just like the salad, everything on my Create-A-Plate tasted really fresh and you can tell that the chefs really know how to cook their vegetables. I've been in places where the veggies are cooked to the point of being way to soft, sometimes even a bit soggy. At that point, why even bother? There was a nice little crunch to the beans, a crispness to the broccolini and I liked how roasting the beets added a little caramelization to it. I was the most surprised by the turkey loaf. I was worried that it would be dry, but it was tender, moist and the herbs and sun-dried tomatoes added wonderful zings of flavor.

The only two things I'd point out is that I wish that the broccolini was more garlicky and although I didn't get much in the way of the mushroom gravy, the turkey loaf was really able to stand alone without it. Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at Hugo's and am definitely looking forward to a return trip.

A few days later, I paid a visit to A Votre Sante in Brentwood. At A Votre Sante, which means "To Your Health", I ordered a starter and an entree. I chose the appetizer simply because one of the ingredients caught my interest. Without it, I would have opted for something else. That dish was their Hummus Quesadilla, which consisted of a whole wheat tortilla, hummus and carrot sauce. I've had my share of carrots in the past, including carrot juice, but I've never tried a carrot sauce before. When the dish arrived, the carrot sauce looked like orange ketchup, thick and a little runny at the edges.

I liked it alot. It was sweet, but not overly so and it reminded me of Filipino banana ketchup, but less sugary. I use banana ketchup sometimes instead of regular ketchup with French fries and will even pour it over eggs and rice and mix it all around. I'm not sure if carrot sauce would work with those foods, but I could easily see pairing it with a variety of savory options. I wouldn't mind having a bottle of it so that I could experiment.

For my entree, I was definitely having a turkey fixation because I ordered their Turkey Chili with ground turkey, lentils, tomato sauce, herbs and spices. Chili in the past for me has always been about the beef, so I was looking forward to what a turkey version would be like and I wasn't disappointed. With every spoonful, I had a taste of the ground turkey and I liked the lightness of the lentils in comparison to the slightly heavier pinto beans that one usually sees in chili recipes. The cheese added the right amount of salt and gooeyness plus the spices they used added a nice bite of heat with every bite. In short, this is comfort food I wouldn't mind having again.

Both restaurants really won me over. Sometimes the words "eating healthy" makes some people cringe, but when food is done well and cooked in imaginative ways, "eating healthy" is a mantra more people could definitely follow.

12851 Riverside Drive
Studio City, CA 91607
(818) 761-8985

Hugo's Tacos on Urbanspoon


teenage glutster said...

Kudos Abby!

absolute kudos!

pleasurepalate said...

Thanks TG! Glad you enjoyed the article. :)