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Perry’s Previews Restaurant Review: Tender Greens

Published on: 7th April, 2015


 

Perry interviewing chef Jeff Hubbard best

Teen critic Perry Chen interviewing Tender Greens Chef Jeff Hubbard at its La Jolla UTC store (photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry’s Previews Restaurant Review: Tender Greens

4.5 starfish TM

 

 

(4.5 out of 5 starfish)

April 7, 2015

Many people dislike the unhealthy aspects of fast food, but also hate the idea of emptying their wallets only to receive tiny portions at a fine restaurant. As a pioneer in the restaurant industry, Tender Greens is smashing down the barriers of two distinctions in dining once thought to only operate in mutually exclusive niches. With the cheap costs and efficiency of made-to-order food, and a quality and presentation to match upscale cuisine, this locally-sourced Californian restaurant chain combines the best of both worlds. Tender Greens specializes in serving soups and salads with seasonal organic ingredients (vegetables, fruits, grilled meat & fish) and sweets, offering a healthy alternative to traditional fast food in the bustling lifestyle of this day and age. The restaurant makes seasonal desserts daily, and serves up new, avant-garde specials for both lunch and dinner.

Perry & chef Jeff Hubbard pointing at specials 1

Perry Chen and Chef Jeff Hubbard showing Tender Greens specials of the day (photo by Zhu Shen)

For this review, mom and I visited Tender Greens in the UTC mall in La Jolla, the one that we go to every week.  Before the food critique, I sat down with Jeff Hubbard, the sous chef at the UTC store who has been in the culinary arts for more than eleven years. Hubbard is a friendly, burly, bearded guy with a no-nonsense demeanor in the kitchen. He is one of the three chefs at Tender Greens who determines the specials of the day. “One good thing about Tender Greens is, in its concept, it’s not fixed to Italian, or Mexican, or Asian,” Hubbard states. “With our specials we’ll experiment and go a little out there. I usually start as ‘what am I in the mood to eat?’ and I kinda go from there.”

grilled meats

 

Grilled meat station at Tender Greens La Jolla UTC store (photo by Perry S. Chen)

Thai octopus salad & desserts

 

 

Grilled Thai Octopus Salad (photo by Perry S. Chen)

The first big salad that I dug into was the Grilled Thai Octopus salad. “Our Thai Octopus is actually very popular, surprisingly enough. It’s kinda unusual and you don’t see it very often,” says Hubbard. “I like that menu option personally because it is very indicative of what sets us apart from other fast, casual restaurants.”

The octopus itself was neither chewy and undercooked nor cooked to a pulp. The fact that Tender Greens knows how to properly cook octopus shows a classically-trained skill that no other fast food restaurants have that I am aware of. The green papaya was very interesting in both taste and texture. It had very little flavor and a texture almost like a soft carrot, and was cooling and refreshing. The salad was paired with Thai basil, juicy oranges, crunchy peanuts, coriander, and a chili lime vinaigrette. A very unique salad, it’s a bargain at only $11.5, where octopus of this quality would probably sell for double at most gourmet restaurants.

Perry Chen watching Chef Chris Kenney putting finishing touch on the Duck Confit Salad in the back kitchen (photo by Zhu Shen)

Perry with chefs Jeff Hubbard & Chris Kenney & dinner special 1

 

Perry Chen with Tender Greens Chefs Jeff Hubbard (R) and Chris Kenney (L) and their dinner special Duck Confit Salad (photo by Zhu Shen)

duck special

 

Tender Greens Dinner Special: Duck Leg (photo by Zhu Shen)

I moved onto the daily special: the slow-roasted duck confit salad. The flavorful duck leg was cooked to a soft, velvety, melt-in-your mouth texture. Juicy and savory, the duck was seasoned and cooked to absolute perfection; just the meat itself made the whole meal. The crunchy, deep-fried brussel sprouts on the side were absolutely incredible. I never knew that brussel sprouts could be deep fried, but I sure was glad to find out! The warm lentils on the side had just the right amount of salt, and were thankfully not mushy. The only thing I felt the salad could have done without was the knotted red chard stem that the chef used for garnish; it was a bit of overkill. Personally, I thought the salad looked just fine without it.

meat & cheese board

 

Meat & Cheese Board at Tender Greens La Jolla (photo by Perry S. Chen)

Crossing into full-blown fine dining territory, I sampled the restaurant’s seasonal meat and cheese board. First up was the blue cheese, boasting a strong flavor throughout with a powerful stimulating finish. This cheese in particular really erases your palate and leaves you tasting nothing but stifling blue. With an intense, peppery aroma, it had a smell to match this taste. The next cheese was the soft, crumbly Drake’s goat. With a relaxing, soft, and velvety texture, this buttery goat cheese ends with a powdery finish and a subtly sweet aftertaste.

Moving onto the meats, the first salami was rich, meaty, and succulent, while the fennel and chili flake salami had mild undertones of licorice and a spicy kick. Both of the salami were made in small batches by Peter Balistreri, the head chef who specializes in handmade charcuterie.

Lastly there were some fruits on the board to compliment the meats and cheeses. I tried the bittersweet, fulvous orange marmalade, which offered a strong contrast. Made exclusively with only oranges and sugar, the peels are left in for a strong, pleasantly bitter taste. A stack of thinly cut green apple slices was tart, cooling, and refreshing; a nice balance to the strong flavors of the other foods. The last items on the table were a few crimson pickled radishes, with an overwhelming and unpleasantly acidic taste. I did not like those radishes, and felt they were completely unnecessary. The board could have used an extra cooling fruit or vegetable like the crisp apple instead.

desserts 2

 

Tender Greens dessert station (photo by Perry S. Chen)

The first dessert I tried was the apple turnover.  A stereotypical sugar-coated turnover in appearance, the ratio of tart to sweet was perfect; neither flavor dominating the other. The crust could have used a little more “crunch” to it, but it was not bad overall.

Next up was the lemon-frosted cupcake. A creamy, light yellow hue, the cupcake itself was only lightly sweet, with most of the sweetness coming from the moist, saccharine frosting. Starkly different from this cupcake was another cupcake, the flourless chocolate cupcake. Crunchy and not too sweet, the flourless chocolate cupcake was dark and rich. Overall, the desserts that night weren’t the best, but I won’t place judgment on Tender Greens for just the desserts from that day. Their panna cotta and strawberry cheesecakes are some of the best I’ve ever had.

Perry & Zhu with feast

 

Perry Chen and mom/producer Zhu Shen ready to enjoy dinner at the Tender Greens La Jolla UTC store (photo by Jeff Hubbard)

Perry closeup 5

Teen critic Perry Chen (photo by Zhu Shen)

When asked about why he decided to become a chef, Chef Hubbard replied, “I always loved cooking, and I did a lot at home. I decided to go to culinary school, and decided to roll the dice on that before working at any restaurant.”

Many kids dread hearing the words “eat your greens” at the dinner table. Hubbard has his own opinion on why so many children hate eating their vegetables “Salads or vegetables that they’ve tasted at home or at other places are not cared for as well as the proteins,” Hubbard explains, “I think children, if they develop a taste for […] food that contains a lot of fat or sugar or salt at an early age, it’s hard to lose that.”

When I asked the chef how the restaurant sources its ingredients, he replied, “We try to use local as much as possible.” Tender Greens gets its choice, farm-to-fork ingredients delivered daily from Point Loma Farms, Shoemaker Farms, Scarborough Farms, and Suzie’s Farm, most of which are local and near the San Diego area. “Beyond great food, one of the biggest things of sourcing locally is to keep that economy, to keep the jobs and everything cycling.” Unfortunately, a challenge that the restaurant faces is the fact that local produce is quite pricy. Since I first ate at Tender Greens in 2009 at its Point Loma store (Liberty Station), the price per salad has gone up by $1, not bad after seven years in business (Point Loma store opened in 2008).

Perry & Chef Jeff Hubbard interview 6

 

Chef Jeff Hubbard sharing the secret of making great dressing for salad with Perry Chen (photo by Zhu Shen)

Fresh produce is great, but it’s the dressing that truly makes a salad extraordinary. The chef knows this fact well. “It’s up to us to add a vinaigrette, or add a certain combination of flavors that makes it tasty as well as nutritious,” says Hubbard, “we add a nice balance of flavors, which, a lot of times food lacks; […] and just enough dressing to enhance the natural flavors of the great produce that we use.” The dressings they use at Tender Greens are a lot simpler than one might think; “Most of them are as simple as shallots, mustard, vinegar, oil.”

roasted veggies

 

Tender Greens La Jolla UTC open kitchen (photo by Zhu Shen)

Tender Greens can whisk salads out of the open kitchen at breakneck speed; assembling a salad within minutes. The process is reminiscent of an assembly line, with an open area where the cooks quickly throw the salads together. Behind the salad area, an open grill where the meats are roasted, and a compact, ergonomic kitchen where everyone knows what he or she is supposed to do with minimum talking.

Perry Chen writing notes for his Tender Greens review (photo by Zhu Shen)

Operating under a fast food system, it’s tough to estimate and prepare fresh ingredients for a variable daily traffic. “Here we basically go off past experience,” explains Hubbard. “We can judge our numbers by our sales, so the amount that we get per day, […], we use that. It’s an educated guess.” Tender Greens doesn’t take reservations or parties. But, even if they can’t always plan ahead with 100% accuracy, it’s no big deal for the chef. “Meat is…you know, one day to the next is still going to be fine if it’s uncooked,” he stated, “With our specials, we order (ingredients) to that day. […] If we think we’re going to sell thirty of them, we make for thirty, and once it’s out, we erase from the board.”

As for his advice to aspiring chefs, Hubbard says, “Make sure you love it. It’s a very, very tough job.”

Perry with Connor Lamb 2

 

Perry Chen with Tender Greens floor manager Conner Lamb at the La Jolla UTC store (photo by Zhu Shen)

I give Tender Greens 4.5 out of 5 starfish, it’s “Perrific!” This is the only San Diego restaurant that mom and I visit every single week.

For fans of Tender Greens, a new store will open in the Westfield Mall in Mission Valley soon, to be helmed by Chef Hubbard. I can’t wait to try it!

More photos from my Tender Greens Review on my Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/perry.s.chen/media_set?set=a.10202793174108878.1073741828.1786357605&type=1&pnref=story

Update:

Perry Chen & Zhu Shen at 2015 San Diego Press Club awards dinner

Perry Chen & Zhu Shen at 2015 San Diego Press Club awards dinner

Perry Chen 2015 San Diego Press Club award certificate for his Tender Greens Review

Perry Chen 2015 San Diego Press Club award certificate for his Tender Greens Review

Update: Mom/producer Zhu Shen and I are delighted that this review won a 2015 San Diego Press Club “Excellence in Journalism” award, and is among the four awards we each received this year, a personal record!

Copyright 2015 by Perry S. Chen

———

About Perry Chen:

Perry S. Chen is a 15-year-old award-winning child critic, artist, animator, TEDx speaker, and entertainment personality, currently in 9th grade from San Diego.  He started reviewing movies at age 8 in 3rd grade using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, and has been featured in CBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, CCTV (China Central Television), Variety, Animation Magazine, The Young Icons, The Guardian, The China Press, etc.  He was a presenter at the 2010 Annie Awards for Animation, and has written movie reviews for Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews blog, as well as restaurant reviews for DiningOut San Diego Magazine and San Diego Entertainer. He won the San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2010, 2011, and 2013 for his movie and restaurant reviews.

Perry is currently writing, animating, and directing his most personal film to date, “Changyou’s Journey,” produced by his mom Dr. Zhu Shen, about his beloved father Dr. Changyou Chen, a cancer researcher who passed away in July 2012 from terminal cancer after a long, brave battle, please watch trailer and donate to support Perry’s animation film:

www.perryspreviews.com

Perry won an “Excellence in Journalism Award” from San Diego Press Club in 2010 and 2011 for his movie and restaurant reviews, an “Excellence Writer Award” from “We Chinese in America” Magazine in 2010 for his movie review column. Perry is widely recognized as an authoritative spokesperson about movies for his generation, and appears frequently at red carpet movie premieres, awards, and film festivals, interviewing prominent directors from such films as Toy Story 3, Up, How to Train Your Dragon.  He was a presenter at the 2010 Annie Awards for Animation in Hollywood.  Perry and his mom Dr. Zhu Shen are featured in a new book about parenting and youth entrepreneurship, “The Parent’s Guide to Raising CEO Kids,” published in Aug 2011.

Perry’s first animation short “Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest,” in collaboration with animation legend Bill Plympton, won multiple film festival awards and has been screened at over 30 international film festivals, now available on iTunes. More info: http://ingridpitt.co.uk

Watch “Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest” on iTunes:

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/ingrid-pitt-beyond-the-forest/id554607718

Watch Perry on “Live Life & Win” national TV show:

http://vimeo.com/51042736

Become a fan on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/ingridpittanimation (Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest official FB page)

http://www.facebook.com/perryspreviewsfan (Perry’s Previews fan page)

Subscribe to Perry’s YouTube channel and watch his filmmaker interviews:

http://www.youtube.com/perryspreviews

Follow his tweets: http://twitter.com/perryspreviews

For inquiries about Perry Chen, his animation films, movie reviews, contact Dr. Zhu Shen, cc0218 at gmail dot com

 

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Readers Comments

  1. As a veteran writer with a long career in journalism & other published works, I am in awe of Perry’s prodigious talents as food writer / critic, photographer and, not least, interviewer–a rare skill even among seasoned reporters. Since Perry is also an accomplished speaker, video story-teller, animator and film critic–among other talents–he is obviously not only a prodigy, but one who is living up to his full potential. A rare ability in someone so young.

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