"Pure and simple cuisine" is BAACK. This time it's a short walk away from Bloomingdale's.
Right across from a Cheesecake Factory as busy as a border crossing, there is True Food's lemon-twist-yellow patio awning. The outside is alive with fresh-juice devotees and folks drawn to locally sourced crudités, panang curry, grass-fed bison burgers, Tuscan kale salads, roasted chicken with basmati rice... The menu has the kind of whole grains, healthful Cali-Med ingredients and food-sensitive options (gluten free, vegan) you'd expect at a Big Sur retreat.
The True Food concept comes from a best-selling wellness author (Dr. Andrew Weil, Spontaneous Healing; 8 Weeks to Optimum Health), an Arizona-based dining chain (Fox Restaurant Concepts), and one of San Diego's farm-to-table pioneers.
You remember Michael Stebner. (pictured) Back in 2003 when the chef opened his hip Hillcrest restaurant, Region, its motto was "pure and simple cuisine."
One hundred percent of Region's produce came from local farms, and the daily-changing menu was strictly limited to those farm finds. Imagine the stink diners caused when they couldn't get a tomato on their wintertime cheeseburgers. (If tomatoes weren't in season, Region didn't serve them.)
"It was truly market cuisine," Stebner said of the old days, then confessed, "it was a little elitist at Region."
He calls True Food more approachable.
"We're appealing to a large group, we're not for the foodie elite...People don't want to be preached at or talked down to. (But) we're trying to teach people to think about what they're eating, about what they're putting into their bodies. "
True Food Kitchen is a 300-seater, including that patio and a deep-set dining room textured with wood ceilings and floors, leather banquettes and stools. Grass stretches out of dividers.
The open kitchen is overseen by executive chef Nathan Coulon (a Beard "Rising Star" Award-nominated chef, whom you remember from Quarter Kitchen and Modus Supper Club). The average meal-per-diner runs $22.
The fifth incarnation of this concept, True Food is nourished by seasonal, regionally sourced philosophies. There's an heirloom tomato and watermelon salad just like Stebner did at Region.
"How we treat the product (is important). We don't mess with it too much, that's what makes it healthy. We don't add a bunch of sugar and butter and cream," said Stebner, who is True Food's brand chef. ("I float around the restaurants. Nathan will be running this one. He ran the one in Newport Beach.")
When I popped in for a $6 made-to-order juice today, the Crows Pass Farm truck was parked out front. On a chalkboard writ large were quotes from Dr. Weil and unprocessed-food preachers Michael Pollan and Alice Waters.
A muscled physical trainer who moonlights at True Food's juice bar took time to explain the natural ingredients in the refreshments - sea-buckthorn berries add tartness to a liquefied antioxidant blast called the Medicine Man.
Read Keli Dailey's full review and more on utsandiego.com