I have heard people rave about Brussel sprouts, but the mere mention conjures memories of my grandmother’s pre-1960 aluminum pressure cooker with its regulator cap over the vent pipe (or toggle switch or petcock) with the water vapor building, the toggle hat starting to wobble and act all crazy, steam squealing to be released, and tension building in my ten-year-old self because I’m afraid the cap-type thingy is going to launch and take off my grandmother’s hand and maybe half her face. All the while, the smell of sulphur (glucosinolate sinigrin) slowly but determinedly obliterated the intoxicating smell of roast beef that had permeated the kitchen, hall, and dining room moments before. Of course, having to eat the four sad, sadly grey-green Brussel sprouts that rolled around on my plate was even worse.
Flash-forward four decades and I’m looking at a spread of 20 different salads in the spare, functional, and brightly-colored cafeteria-style eatery known as Lemonade. Oddly enough, this is my first time. I have some spare minutes because my daughter is next door at the Drybar receiving a straightening and slightly curled “do” for a night at the ESPY awards, thanks to a good friend’s dad. But I digress. I’m dawdling, evading, resisting. I am not a salad enthusiast. I enjoy a salad, when I have to eat one. But if something in the bread family, the dairy family, or the red meat family are within reach and can smother my guilt, then those are my choice elements for a lovely, satisfying dining experience. Now if the red meat is surrounded by sauted mushrooms and onions, it’s a win-win. But those annoyingly healthy leafy greens and stuff; simply put, they’re not on my innate craving list.
Back to the 20 salads. My inclination is to get an excessive amount of the pasta pesto because pesto is delicious and pasta is pasta. For bonus points, it has tomatoes (and they are a veggie according to the Gipper, aka President Reagan). But the pesto looks almost lonesome in its ordinariness in comparison to the other salads with their colors, textures, and shapes. I decide to jump all in, ordering not the 1-2 serving “To Go” container, nor the 3-4 serving container, but the 5-6 serving container. And, yes, one of the salads that I force myself to choose contains Brussel sprouts.
And I like it.
Shaved Brussel sprouts, dates, Parmesan, and sage white balsamic dressing. Crunchy, slightly but not overly sweet with the slimly sliced dates, and with a piquant pop from the Parmesan. Brussel sprouts: a good source of vitamin K and sulforaphane, “believed to have potent anticancer properties.” My health-meter reading is rising.
Having dodged the Brussel bullet, I dig into the Israeli couscous with wild mushrooms, Parmesan, and lemon truffle. This is a dish for a truffle lover. Not a person who likes a dab, as the dish has received more of dollop. The couscous is fine, the Parmesan tasty, the wild mushrooms different flavors and textures, but the truffle (I can’t discern the “lemon” part of it anywhere) overwhelms the other ingredients. The salad is good, but I can’t eat all that I have and it’s not a large portion. Suggestion: sprinkle rather than pour the “lemon” truffle and add freshly ground black pepper.
Voodoo Indian lentil salad is next with cauliflower, mango, and toasted cashews. Al dente lentils, sweet mango chunks, and a bit of a bite coming from somewhere. The toasted, salty cashews are a solid, welcome addition. The lentils are black, which is marvelous for my health-meter reading because Joy Bauer writes that “these grains get their deep, dark hue from high concentrations of anthocyanins, the very same antioxidants found in blue-purple fruits like blueberries, plums, and cherries.” She continues: “Anthocyanins are potent compounds that are currently being investigated for their memory-boosting and cancer-fighting properties.” I feel better already.
The snow pea “spaghetti” with corn, cotija, black pepper, and creamy lemon sauce has small bits of red onion, too. The snow peas are crunchy and fresh, the rest creating a smoothness to the dish. The flavor doesn’t pop, but I enjoy it, and I seem to detect a hint of mint, though it’s so slight that I might be imagining it.
Next, Oxnard strawberries with wild arugula, blue cheese, and sherry. Sweet fruit; peppery, spicy, and dressing-wilted greens; and sour moldy cheese. Perfect.
Pineapple chicken with green beans, coconut, and jalapeno with a jerk dressing. I’m not a huge fan of jerk seasoning and I’m glad I have saved this salad for last as the spice would’ve easily drowned out the relatively mild snow pea “spaghetti” and Brussel sprouts salads. The jerk is spicy but not bitter or overly smoky, and the pineapple and coconut flavors compliment the sauce. Do I taste a touch of cilantro? (Also, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve eaten every slice of red jalapeno without breaking out in a sweat.)
Because I am new to Lemonade, I didn’t realize that there’s a slew of meat and fish (land & sea) offerings, as well as mac ‘n cheese, beef bourguignon, chili, and pot roast. They were a bit shocking to see after my health-dedicated decisions, and I wavered over this display of divine looking comfort foods. I contemplated: After I’ve consumed five times my healthy food quotient for the day or even the whole week, perhaps I could indulge in fattening deliciousness for dinner? Reluctantly, I dragged myself towards the cash register, away from all the potential yummy goodness. Then I saw cookies (large cookies), cupcakes, slices of cake, macarons, and pie. I didn’t let my eyes settle. Not for one second.
Maybe next time—after I’ve taken a 5-mile jog or 20-mile bike ride or swum a mile or two.
Lemonade, 146 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena 91101. Open daily: 11 a.m.-9:05 p.m. Tel: 626.304.7700. Salads: 1 portion, $2.75; up to 6 portions, $12.50. LemonadeLA.com.