Monday, July 29, 2013

Life Alive: Fast is the New Slow?

For my first and only dinner out this July, I went to Life Alive, an organic cafe in Cambridge. I was with two friends who had come up from Rhode Island just to have dinner with me, and this fact combined with the memory of so many really exceptional homemade meals that I've had this month, and the strong recommendations from three separate people, set the bar high.

Luckily, the food was great. I mean, it was great. And there wasn’t anything mysterious about it. It was all fairly straight-forward, and almost all the entrées were built around the basic principle of vegetables and sauce on a bed of grain. Nothing revolutionary here, but it tasted so good. The best way I can think to describe it is that is tasted like food. They say you can tell the difference between organic and conventionally raised crops just by the taste, and in this case, I think that theory is absolutely correct. The bold yet simple flavor of every single thing on my plate stood out in every bite in a way that reminded me how simple and yet difficult it is to just make good food using good ingredients. My entrée was “The Lover,” a bowl full of shiitake mushrooms, carrots, beets, broccoli, and dark greens served over brown rice.  The textures balanced extremely well; the mushrooms and beets were soft, the dark greens (kale, I think) were crunchy, and the rice and carrots were somewhere in the middle. The dish was served in a ginger-lemon-garlic kind of sauce, so there was also a great combination of sweet, tart, and savory in every bite.

Maria got “The Rebel,” featuring carrots, beets, broccoli, dark greens, and sprouted legumes over quinoa & brown rice in sesame ginger sauce.

Mark chose “The Goddess,” (yes, the dishes all have names like that) with carrots, beets, broccoli greens, and legumes over brown rice. The added avocado made the dish a little more savory and filling.

What wasn't so great, though, was the service and overall ambience at Life Alive. It's less "restaurant" and more "coffee and sandwich shop." This isn't really what any of us were expecting or wanted.

Since becoming a....God I hate the word "foodie," don't you? I've gotten very persnickety about where I eat. I’ve adopted the experience of eating almost as a crusade. Food tastes better to me when I’ve had fun cooking it.

In much the same way that some concerts or other events will plant trees to offset the amount of carbon they used, I want to spend hours at a time savoring everything about the experience of food to offset all the occasions when I’ve barely noticed the flavor of Chinese takeout while my mind was on something else. And the next best thing to having fun cooking a meal is relaxing at a table with a drink while you peruse the menu.

But Life Alive is one of those places where you stand in line to order and then go find yourself a table. Now, I was with friends. We were talking about the menu and debating what we should get, it would have been a pleasant enough experience had it not been for the Saturday night bustle of people constantly coming and going in an aisle that was too small. It made for a constant feeling of having to be aware of your surroundings in case you’d have to move out of the way quickly. Not to mention that, although the menu encouraged customers to "Talk to us about your cravings and questions and if you're curious as to why you feel so great eating our food!" the place was just way too busy for this to be possible. It was all I could do to make sure the cashier had heard my order correctly before she made it clear she was done with me by answering the phone.

Once we found a table, things got much more relaxed. The hard part was done; we just had to wait for the server to come find us. At least we didn't have to wait to hear our numbers called like you do in some places. The eating experience was actually quite nice. And now I know that there is a place where you can grab a quick lunch to go that's healthy, organic, local, ecologically responsible, all the things I find important in a meal. In fact, the menu boasts that,

"We know you no longer want to compromise between whole food goodness
and fast food convenience, so we have devoted ourselves to making nourishing
& delicious "slow" food convenient and full of pleasure."

This had me scratching my head just a little bit. Do I really no longer want to compromise? Is quick, convenient, quality food really a good thing or is it an oxymoron that misses its own point, like microwave dinners from Whole Foods? Am I just being disagreeable, or is there a deeper, more tangible level on which your stress level correlates to the amount of physical nourishment you get? What does Woody Allen think?

What about you? Are there places like this in your area? Do you see this becoming a trend? Take the poll!

No comments:

Post a Comment