There should be a course at cooking schools called the Psychology of Restaurants. What makes us go into one restaurant and avoid another?
For instance, my personal biases make me resist places that look corporate and slickly merchandised. So I was a little distrustful of the new Panera-like Wild Carvery on Olive in Burbank. When I saw the words “organic,” “natural” and “fresh” bandied about like an Olympian volleyball, I grew even more suspicious. Then when I saw the pumped-up prices, I was sure I was going to hate this place.
Turns out, I enjoyed my meal immensely and left feeling nourished and rejuvenated. Not unlike the feeling you have after leaving a spa. This makes sense because the owners of Wild Carvery also own the popular rA Organic Spa just down the street. There, the motto is “physical, mental and spiritual renewal.” Through the use of pesticide- and hormone-free foods, ethically raised meats from family-owned ranches and produce grown in dynamic locales like the foothills of the Himalayas, they've brought that same goal of personal vitality to their food preparation.
After ordering at the counter, we settled into the corner of this casual sunken eatery and watched the pedestrians go by at knee level. Moments later, we were presented with a tray of complimentary samples of South African vanilla rooibos tea. Unsweetened but naturally sweet and ruby- red in color, I'd definitely come back for a full-size order.
Then plate after plate of gorgeous greens surrounding impeccably built sandwiches arrived. Our sizable group made it possible to try quite a few, and I made quick work of tasting each one. Every meat has its own unique flavor. Even the meats in the mile-high Italiano sub ($10), which normally meld together in a sort of cold-cut cake, can be distinctly discerned. The nutmeg-y mortadella, fragrant ham and spicy salami are all nicely offset by the lemon basil, veggies and homemade dressing.
The wild-caught albacore in the tuna sandwich ($10) is lightly dressed and stacked onto nutty honey- wheat bread with avocado and sprouts for flavors as refreshing as a sea breeze. For those wanting a more “yang” experience, head directly to the short-rib sandwich ($12). Hand-selected, grass-fed beef from the Midwest plains is slow-cooked, pulled off the bone, then placed on a fresh toasted ciabatta bun spread with a heady horseradish sauce and topped with true caramelized onions. Running a close second is the slow-roasted Australian pulled lamb on ciabatta with seasoned mayo and those decadent onions ($12).
Each sandwich comes with a salad. No puny mound of Iceberg here. This is nature's bounty on a plate with field greens and other seasonal vegetables in balsamic vinaigrette. I had even more of these greens in my chicken salad ($12) and never tired of them, eating every last morsel of the lettuce, plump chicken breast, dates, tomatoes, avocado and creamy dollops of goat cheese.
My son was the only one with room for more, so he perused their impressive shake and smoothie menu, settling on the Mayan chocolate shake ($4.95 small, $5.95 large). Available with soy or rice milk, this one had the cow kind (organic, of course). The raw cocoa powder gave this outstanding shake a rich, earthy undertone.
We stayed and chatted comfortably, and afterward felt so much happy food energy, we did some impromptu parkour on the streets outside. I did spend more than I expected at a casual deli, but the carefully sourced, health-conscious foods really brought more pleasure, nourishment and vitality to our lives for a while. Considering the money we may save in healthcare bills, I think it was worth it.
LISA DUPUY welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.
Where: 150 E. Olive Ave., Burbank
When: Daily, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Contact: (818) 859-7233; www.wildcarvery.com.