Review: LYFE Kitchen
Here at eatists, we tend to shy away from reviewing restaurants because we truly believe in sharing everything we do. If we reviewed a fantastic local, or even regional, restaurant, there are many of you who would be unable to try it for yourselves. It’s just not practical. Today, however, we make an exception for a new franchise concept.
LYFE Kitchen opened its doors to the public today at 4:00 PM in Palo Alto, California. Because LYFE is not only a breakthrough concept, but also because they plan to go nationwide we decided that a review would benefit every reader, as soon you may have a LYFE Kitchen in your hometown. LYFE Kitchen’s concept is simple: Love Your Food Everyday. Eat good. Feel good. Do good. In their own words “LYFE Kitchen was founded with the simple notion that great-tasting food can also be great for you.” LYFE has five core values:
1. LYFE tastes great
2. LYFE is good for you
3. LYFE is socially and environmentally responsible
4. LYFE is ready when you are
5. LYFE gives back
When I first read about this concept, I loved it. I love where the message is, I love the concept, and I love the chefs (Chef Art Smith was paramount in making the food delicious and Chef Tal Ronnen made it good for you). But no matter how much I love a concept or a message, when it comes to restaurants I have to also love the food. I have been waiting eagerly for the launch of LYFE so that I could be the judge of whether or not health food could also satisfy.
I arrived in Palo Alto and amazingly found a parking space less than a block away. This is a Palo Alto first, so it definitely boded well for this trip. LYFE was abuzz with activity as I approached the front door. I saw several photographers and videographers shooting the staff, incoming guests, and of course the well known Michael Donahue and Mike Roberts (formerly of McDonald’s). I slipped in quietly and made my way to the ordering counter to read the menu. My first impression: there is a LOT here! Not a lot in the sense of overwhelming, but a lot considering what my mind had foolishly condensed into the idea of “health food.” As I stood there, mouth agape, perusing the menu, a kindly gentleman in a suit walked up to my left and shook my hand. It was none other than Mike Roberts. Seeing one of the masterminds not only in his restaurant but also interacting with the guests was a great sign. Mike is obviously proud of what he is doing with LYFE and it shows in his smile, in his posture, and it is audible in his laugh.
Something else I noticed was that the prices were all surprisingly low. Entrees for $12, flatbread for $8, appetizers for less than $5. I found this surprising, as folks often complain that eating well is expensive, hence why America is growing more obese. I’m happy to see that LYFE is challenging that. I was the second person in line, and as soon as the registers were up and running, I placed my order. Now, I could have easily bought one of everything ont he menu, but I thought I would try and be a little reserved. I chose the three items that immediately jumped out at me: Margherita Flatbread, Eggplant Parmesean, and Shrimp Risotto.
After paying for my fare, the cashier handed me a nifty little device that I hadn’t seen before. Relatively new, these little locators will tell the servers at what table you are seated regardless of the size of the crowd. Just place them on the neat little mats on the tables and your food will arrive shortly. Nifty!
Only a five or six minute wait later, my three dishes arrived. What immediately struck me was that every plate, even the wooden board the flatbread came on, was hot. I loved that. Hot plates for hot food. Keeps everything at temperature so that you are guaranteed to taste the food how it should be tasted. Thumbs up LYFE!
I decided to try the Shrimp Risotto first. What is different about this risotto is that it is not made with rice, but steel cut oats prepared risotto style. It is an inventive concept, and here it is carried out pretty well. The oats were thick and creamy, exactly like a good risotto should be. Mixed in among the oats were strips of carrot and sweet pea pods. The second I took a bite of the vegetables, I was greeted with a fantastic freshness. These vegetables tasted like they had not been within 3 miles of a freezer. Crisp, fresh, and totally delicious. The four shrimp atop my risotto showed evidence of charring, which told me they were cooked on a real grill. You know, with actual fire. What a concept, right? The shrimp were prepared wonderfully. Very well cooked and seasoned. My only issue with this dish was that the oats were just a tad bit bland. There was a bit of parmesan delicately sprinkled over the dish, and that’s great. I just wish there was more mixed in with the oats to help give them more flavor. But keep in mind, one of the tenants of LYFE is keeping less than 1000 mg of sodium in each dish they serve. That’s admirable.
Next I tried the Eggplant Parmesan, which smelled heavenly and looked great on the plate. These baked, not fried, discs of joy were utterly fantastic. The pomodoro sauce (which means tomato sauce in italian) was zesty and perfectly spicy. Under the sauce was a healthy dollop of ricotta, who was more than welcome to this taste party. The eggplant was cooked wonderfully tender. I could cut through it with a spoon, even with that notoriously tough skin of the eggplant. Crispy, melty, savory, and satisfying, I have had better eggplant parmesan only in Italy, and that was at a Michelin 2-star restaurant. Not too shabby, LYFE!
Finally, I went for a slice of the flatbread. My mouth had been watering from the scent alone. I was not to be disappointed. This flatbread did so much right about a pizza and not a single thing wrong. The bread itself was a perfect mix of crispy and chewy, a combination that is found in the best Italian pizza. What is so remarkable about this flatbread is that it isn’t a traditional dough, it’s made with a mix of whole grains and flax seed. The combination is almost beyond words. Doughy, crispy, savory, chewy, earthy heavenly goodness. I’m not overstating this flatbread when I say it is one of the best pizza’s I’ve ever had- and it’s not even called a pizza! The sauce has the same spicy bite as on the eggplant, but this time it is offset by a beautiful sweetness coming from the cherry tomatoes. My hat goes off to the chefs. Cherry tomatoes have a much higher sugar concentration than regular tomatoes, making them ideal for pairing with savory dishes. Here, it worked in a wildly successful manner. Melty cheese, fragrant basil, sweet tomato, spicy sauce, and perfect dough? Well done LYFE. Well done.
Ask any of my friends about my attitude at restaurants and they’ll tell you I am difficult to please. When I pay for a meal, I expect a certain quality. If I feel like I can make it better, I wonder why I paid for it in the first place. So in short, I’m hard to impress. There have been a handfull of restaurants that have served me food that truly speaks to my soul and keeps me wondering the secret behind the perfect flavor. LYFE, you have joined the ranks of a very select group of eateries that I will continue to frequent.
If LYFE can keep this quality of food going across its soon-to-be-quite-large network of restaurants (the plan is for over 250 across the country), I have no doubt that it will be successful. To see their full menu and offerings, check out their website: http://lyfekitchen.com/