4237 Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 92612
I'm starting off this year by checking some places off of our list, the first of which is Tender Greens. On my restaurant wish list, I usually write down the city a restaurant is located, and then I write down a few random bits about the place. On my notes next to Tender Greens I jotted down, "mashed potatoes." Not sure where I heard about their mashed potatoes, but that gave us plenty of reason to head out and try this place.
It was the day after Christmas, and we had the bright idea to head to the Irvine Spectrum location of Tender Greens. Unable to find parking after about a ten minute drive through the cluttered parking lot, we decided to try the other OC spot for Tender Greens, which just happened to also be in Irvine, at UCI, which was far from the throngs of shoppers returning all their gifts for something that they truly wanted.
I was pretty shocked that there were so many people out and about at University Center in Irvine. Classes ended early in December, and the next quarter doesn't begin until January, but there were plenty of people out on this cool night. Back when I was going to school, I wouldn't have been caught dead around school during Christmas break, so this gave me hope that Tender Greens was going to be very good.
Tender Greens describes itself as, "slow food done fast." Ordering is done at a register, and then the food is placed on a tray, and you pick it up at the end of the line. Kind of like a modern day cafeteria. You pick your protein, then choose whether to have it on a sandwich, as a plate, or on top of a salad, then you finish it up by choosing a side salad to go along with your meal. There are also entree salads, soups, and some bakery goods to round out your meal. We ordered, got our trays, and found a table in the very relaxed dining room. Let's see how it all turned out for us.
Since it was a night in the low 50's, Katie tried some Rustic Chicken Soup ($4) to warm her up. This soup came with potatoes, carrots, celery, leeks, thyme, and of course shredded chicken. Katie enjoyed this soup, even though it had both dark and white meat chicken. The chicken was tender, the veggies were plentiful, and this soup had a real comfortable feel to it. It definitely did the trick by warming Katie up.
Staying with Katie's meal, we'll take a look at her Albacore Tuna Sandwich ($11.50) with a simple salad of Baby Spinach. Katie liked this sandwich as well. It was not very fishy, it could have used a bit more aioli, but the ciabatta did a great job of keeping things together. The spinach salad included goat cheese, hazelnuts, and a Cabernet vinaigrette. The produce was definitely fresh, and the goat cheese really made its presence known. She left Tender Greens very satisfied.
I had heard good things about their Backyard Marinated Steak ($11.50), so that's the way I went here. The menu promised that this would come medium rare, and they did not lie. It was cooked perfectly, but needed to come out warmer. Temperature wise, this was just a tad over lukewarm. Good flavor, and very tender, I would still not hesitate to get this again. Those potatoes that I had made note of on my list, they had a good texture, but needed more pop to them. A sauce or gravy would have made the meat and potatoes even better. I went with a Romaine Hearts salad, which is their version of a Caesar. It was good, but could have used a little more dressing on it.
Katie gets soup to go along with her meal, but I could not resist the urge to try one of their Cowboy Cookies ($2.50). They really nailed the texture of this cookie. A little crunch around the edges, and softer in the middle. It had coconut and chocolate chips inside of it. A little more chocolate would have made this cookie even better. Still good though.
We left Tender Greens feeling pretty good about our experience here. The food did have a few minor flaws, but it ultimately was fresh, tasted good, and came out quickly, which is probably the goal of Tender Greens. The prices were pretty fair, and the portion sizes were about what I would expect from a place like this. The food here is not too heavy, and we had more than enough room to make a trip to Stax Cookie Bar for some of their great cookies. A good start to our year by having a good meal, and knocking down our list of restaurants we want to eat at, by just a bit.
Out of five koala bears, (because there are 33 species of eucalyptus trees on the UCI campus, and those happen to be the favorite trees of the koala), five being best to zero being worst, Tender Greens gets 3 koala bears.
For more information about Tender Greens, head to their website here: http://www.tendergreens.com/