Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sweetgreen Makes Eating Your Veggies Fun

Sweetgreen is a concept that you will enjoy as much as their light and healthy salads and frozen yogurt. I visited their new Dupont Circle space several times this month and their Georgetown location, which opened earlier, once. The Georgetown location is a much smaller, busy, takeout joint for hungry tourists and Georgetown students on the go, and the Bethesda restaurant just opened today, with high ceilings, seating for 40 and an outdoors patio area.

Sweetgreen tosses up seven $9 signature and four $8 traditional salads, along with serving a tart and slightly sweet frozen yogurt with live cultures and toppings ranging from fresh fruit to candied walnuts. If you prefer, you can create your own salad and add a dressing and some of the many available veggies, crunchy bits, meats and cheeses of choice. Drink selections are $2 Honest Tea and Honest Ade organic beverages, along with similarly priced still and sparkling waters.

Owners Nicolas Jammet, Nathaniel Ru, and Jonathan Neman take environmental sustainability seriously. It is also evident, however, that they had fun and took great care in testing the concept for this restaurant until they had created a cohesive and successful business model. All Sweetgreen restaurants are Green Certified by the Green Restaurant Association and powered by 100 percent wind energy from Clean Currents. At Dupont Circle, the laidback, hip atmosphere is also airy, enhanced by high ceilings and a beautifully cool, abstract wallpaper design reminiscent of their ribbed salad greens. Reclaimed hickory wood lines the walls, utensils are made of biodegradable corn, and the typical trash bins have been recreated as an old-fashioned farm compost/recycling area. Even the napkin dispensers feature “green” facts about the restaurant. (My favorite is “hey Lebowski—the tables and seats are made from reclaimed pre-1980s bowling alleys!”) Wall niches contain reusable canteens and salad containers available for purchase. Takeaway menus are printed on biodegradable recycled paper and contain California wildflower seeds, so you can plant them in your window box or back yard.

This cheerful dining fills you completely, gradually and almost imperceptibly, so it is particularly well-suited for steaming summers in DC. The cool salads are generous and accompanied by a long slice of warm baguette. I liked every one I tried, but perhaps my favorite was the $9 Curry Gold signature salad, featuring chopped romaine, curried chicken salad, raisins, almonds, celery and coconut. The pineapple curry dressing, made with nonfat yogurt, honey, and white wine vinegar, among other ingredients, was delicate and delicious. Another one I will order again is the $9 Bondi, with mesclun and baby arugula, grilled chicken, avocado, sweet corn, hearts of palm, and wasabi peas sprinkled with white balsamic vinaigrette. At first I wondered whether the wasabi peas’ heat would overwhelm other ingredients, but they blended in perfectly and added a complementary sweet-hot crunch.

Next I tried the $9 Santorini, with chopped romaine, small roasted shrimp, feta cheese, grapes, fresh mint, chick peas and a splash of lemon juice topped with a cucumber basil yogurt dressing. Again I was pleased with the way the small fresh shrimp fit perfectly into the salad rather than overpowering it. My friend, J., declared the $8 Chinese Chicken salad, an “old school favorite,” absolutely delectable, and enthusiastically said that she would be happy to return the next day to devour it again. I liked the Caprese “old school favorite,” but ended up preferring the more multi-textured salads the owners have dreamed up on their own.

One of Sweetgreen’s many strengths is the salads’ consistent textural balance. This culinary high-wire act is not necessarily easy to achieve, but the veggies, crunchy ingredients, cheeses, meats, fruits, and greens combine in sometimes unexpected but always harmonious ways. Ingredients chopped this small are also easy to digest for busy people on the run.

The slightly sweet frozen yogurt with live cultures made my tongue tingle, having a tart, plain taste reminiscent of the yogurt I make myself. I tried it two times, once covered with candied walnuts, mango, and raspberries; and another with dried apricots. It was yummy with all toppings. Do not expect your typical super-sweet frozen yogurt, however.

When dining at the Dupont location, I simply took pleasure in sitting there, swaying slightly to the beat of the alternative tunes and classics that were playing, relaxing within the restaurant’s arboreal design and gazing out the large bay window at Connecticut Avenue passersby and the Starbucks across the street. (Check out sweetgreen’s blog to find out more about the music they play.) I actually felt sorry for Starbucks’ lunch customers. They would have gotten a tastier, fresher meal with better value sitting with me.

So I recommend this new entrĂ©e on the scene very highly. With its eye-and tongue-pleasing array of fresh, high-quality ingredients, it is the best “salad bar” I have frequented in a very long time. Sweetgreen fills a much-needed gap in the DC quick-casual dining arena, and I hope it does as well as it deserves.

Sweetgreen in Georgetown view menu
3333 M Street NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 337-9338

Sweetgreen in Dupont Circle
1512 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, DC 200036
(202) 337-9338

Sweetgreen in Bethesda
4831 Bethesda Ave
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 654-7336

Sweetgreen on Urbanspoon

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