N, R at 28th St.
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As a culinary genre, the salad bar is inherently less sexy than the burger joint. But Sweetgreen, a chain founded six years ago in Washington, D.C., would like to change that. By design, Sweetgreen isn’t so much a salad bar as a lifestyle. It’s got the hip location, next to the NoMad Hotel; the prominently placed chalkboard that name-checks local purveyors (and the massive photo of kale farmer John Ploch); the one percent of proceeds earmarked for children’s vegucation programs. It’s got a manifesto (“Never get stuck … Find your extraordinary …” etc.). Granted, the Underground Gourmet is a sucker for such things, not least the glorification of kale farmers. Still, you can’t eat a manifesto, no matter how well dressed.
Sweetgreen succeeds by serving good food. There is no air of quiet desperation, of joyless calorie counts or ingrained eating disorders. The greens are unfailingly fresh, the combinations inventive. Thought has been given to texture and crunch, to flavor blasts from fresh herbs and citrus, to dressings that are offered, as you make your way down the salad-assembly line, in “light, medium, or heavy?” applications, depending on the number of revolutions the squeeze bottle makes around the circumference of the bowl.
As is standard throughout the salad kingdom, diners can customize their meal, but we left it to the professionals. Of the eight core salads on offer, the kale Caesar is the one to beat. Even with the absence of anchovy and the unorthodox inclusion of grape tomatoes, the whole exceeds the sum of its parts, thanks largely to the savory Parmesan crisp that adds flavor and crunch. Crushed tortilla chips serve a similar purpose in the satisfying Guacamole Greens, and the morsels of good roasted chicken that populate both are plucked, warm, from a cast-iron Staub cocotte. In general, proteins stand out as well cooked and high quality, be they refreshingly shrimpy shrimp in the quasi-Greek Santorini, or the virtuously baked falafel in the Chic-P. True, they could have picked a sharper Cheddar, and the District Cobb, with its blasphemous clump of goat cheese and too-sweet agave-Dijon vinaigrette, is an insult to the iconic dish. But it’s hard to hold a grudge. Sweetgreen is trying, largely successfully, to source good, fresh food and make it not only satisfying but cravable. And if you want, you can douse your salad in off-the-menu truffle oil. Umami doesn’t only apply to burgers, after all.
There’s wine and beer on the way.Recommended Dishes
Kale Caesar, blueberry-basil lemonade.