True Food Kitchen Lights Up Taste Buds in San Diego

True Food Kitchen San Diego

Mission Valley

7007 Friars Road

San Diego, CA 92108

Tel: (619) 810-2929

True Food Kitchen

By Dina Eliash Robinson & Catharine L. Kaufman

The story goes that Dr. Andrew Weil, pioneer of healthy lifestyle—the cornerstone of his integrative medicine concept—suggested to Sam Fox, CEO of Fox Restaurant Concepts (FRC), that they open restaurants serving wholesome, farm-to-table fare.

To attract a wider market, however, these restaurants would highlight the wide variety and rich flavors of dishes and drinks prepared by master chefs and mixologists, while understating the fresh and nutritious ingredients they use. The goal was to create menus that satisfy different preferences and thus attract both health-conscious gourmets and those who tend to avoid places suspected of serving “health food”—including even fast food aficionados.

When Sam Fox—whose company had by that time launched more than 30 special concept restaurants—showed no interest in the  project, Dr. Weil invited him for a home-cooked meal for a taste of menu items he had in mind.  It’s a good bet that Fox’s decision to go for the restaurant idea was due in large part to Dr. Weil’s kitchen virtuosity and the flavors he coaxed from ingredients that included fresh-picked organic veggies and herbs from his own garden.

Dr. Andrew Weil and Catharine Kaufman

(The idea of underplaying the ‘it’s good for you’ aspect of TFK dishes was proven correct soon after, when a construction crew was preparing the San Diego restaurant for its opening. Chatting with one of the workers during his lunch break, a Fox Restaurant Concept executive was pleasantly surprised to hear that he liked the ‘crunchy green’ on his plate and thought it tasted better than French fries. He thought it was spinach and had never heard of kale. A truly unbiased testimony, indeed.)

To date, Dr. Weil and Fox Restaurant Concepts have opened five True Food Kitchen restaurants in California (Santa Monica, Newport Beach, San Diego’s Fashion Valley) and two in Arizona (Phoenix and Scottsdale).

Visionary Trio

A Harvard-educated physician and expert on health-promoting plant foods—especially mushrooms—Dr. Andrew Weil is a best-selling author, inspiring educator and tireless promoter of healthy lifestyles.

Fans of his culinary tips might recognize some of his recipes as they eat and drink their way through the True Food Kitchen menus. Among them are Andy’s Favorite TLT, made with tempeh, lettuce, tomato, avocado, Vegenaise and whole grain bread and Andy’s Elixir, a refreshing blend of sea buckthorn, agave nectar and TFK’s seasonal soda. His influence is also easy to detect in such dishes as the Market Vegetable Scramble with sweet potato, the Tuscan Kale and others—many of which attest to Dr. Weil’s belief that olive oil, broccoli and dark chocolate are the three main necessities for healthy living.

The heart-healthy olive oil makes appearances in flavored drizzles over seafood and salads and in such baked True Food treats as the aromatic Almond Olive Oil Cake with marinated blackberries and Greek yoghurt.

Broccoli is almost as ubiquitous as olive oil on the TFK menu, providing a plethora of benefits, from a vigorous workouts for jaws and teeth when served raw in salads, to nutritional boosts and taste bud pleasures of  cooked dishes flavored with herbs and spices. This cancer-fighting, antioxidant, cruciferous vegetable dials up the immune system, keeps brain cells on their toes, vision sharp, blood pressure at bay, bones strong and digestion on track.

Dr. Weil’s third favorite is also comedian Sandra Dyke’s, whose motto is (to paraphrase), “Forget love, I’d rather fall in chocolate.” While also packing fair amounts of caffeine, this “food of the gods”—although only in its dark, high-octane (i.e. 60% or more) cocoa content is famous for its antioxidant phytochemicals (flavanols) and heart- and brain-healthy qualities. Chocolate also stimulates the release of endorphins, pleasure hormones produced by the brain, which include the amino acid tryptophan (needed to create the mood-lifting serotonin).  As a sensual stimulant, chocolate is also believed to be an aphrodisiac, referred to by renowned sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer as a “wicked pleasure” that “exists in the same world as sex.”

On True Food Kitchen’s dessert menu, chocolate stars in the gluten-free, (72% cocoa) Flourless Chocolate Cake and in the dairy free Organic Chocolate Pudding with walnuts and pistachios.

Sam Fox is unstoppable. Nominated for three years in a row as Restaurateur of the Year by the prestigious James Beard Foundation, the CEO of Fox Restaurant Concepts is one of the nation’s most successful, outside-the-box innovators, who counts an impressive number of wins in an industry known for its unpredictability and frequent misses.

The 13 creative concepts developed by FRC, have so far grown into 31 restaurants located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas and Texas.

Executive Chef Michael Stebner, the culinary spark igniting the True Food Kitchen’s globally inspired menus, has fused favorites from Mediterranean, Asian and California cuisines. His signature dishes range from Shirataki Noodles, Steelhead Salmon with

caramelized onion tart

Quinoa, local beet and preserved lemon and a Tuscan Kale Salad, to a Grass-Fed Bison Burger, Roasted Corn Pizza and “TLT” (tempeh, lettuce and tomato). His stated mission for the True Food restaurants is “to celebrate high quality, locally and regionally sourced ingredients to create simple, internationally focused menus with amazing flavors, while nourishing mind, body and spirit.”

Chef Stebner’s careful selections include GMO-free grains, wild caught fish, certified Angus natural beef and free-range chicken.

Busy Bar

Adding fireworks to the food are the restaurant’s knock-your-socks-off drinks with their exotic virgin and alcohol-spiked combinations of veggies, fruits, herbs and spices. Served at tables, the drinks start up meals with a jolt of surprise. But there is always a crowd bellying up to the bar or standing four-deep from it to watch the juggling act of mixologists, who dispense their tall, cool and colorful libations at uncanny speed.

In keeping with Dr. Weil’s heath-minded ethos, TFK uses a Natural Water Purification Unit to create in-house carbonated and still H2O. All the natural beverages are cool, tall towers of refreshing, multi-tasking and immune-boosting energizers.

Try Medicine Man—black tea blended with an antioxidant blast of blueberries, cranberries, pomegranate and sea buckthorn berries–a super super-food.  A phytochemical powerhouse, buckthorn contains 15 times more Vitamin C than oranges, a dense concentration of carotenoids, Vitamin E, amino acids and off-the-chart antioxidants.

Another tasty treat is Kale Aid, ideal for detox and pumping iron into blood corpuscles to keep the oncologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist and rheumatologist, away. This green zinger seamlessly blends kale, cucumber, celery, apple, lemon and ginger. Or, if you’ve had a rough night, the Hangover RX will zap you back to the land of the living with its blend of coconut water, honeydew melon and pineapple.

Green Ambiance

In harmony with Dr. Weil’s sustainable and eco-friendly mindset, True Food Kitchen is a certified “Green Restaurant,” which utilizes high efficiency kitchen equipment, recycled furnishings, low voltage LED lighting and compostable takeout boxes. Elements of nature in both the interior space and patio, such as natural wood panels and furnishings, colorful flowers, hanging baskets and planter boxes of aromatic herbs set the tone and create a picnic park atmosphere in which free-spirited diners can break whole grain bread with strangers at the large communal tables.

The San Diego venue is a particularly delightful sensory treat, with its spacious, light-filled setup, ingenious serving stations (from which wait staff can quickly supply newly arrived patrons with table settings, bread baskets, water and other necessities) and prep-stations where skillful crews chop, slice and shred produce in full sight of diners.

Even the restrooms are environment-friendly, with the separate Gents’ and Ladies’ rooms fronted by a co-ed vestibule with water-saving sinks and low-flow faucets.

Thanks to the local farmers and other food producers, no craving goes unsatisfied, be it for international flavors, raw foods, vegan and vegetarian fare or surf-and-turf. More gustatory fame and fortune are bestowed upon San Diego County by its microbreweries, wineries, mushroom farms, chocolate and cheese makers and other foodie enterprises.

It must be noted that many of them welcome visitors for pre-scheduled tours and tastings.

Among the featured menu items—all health-oriented, moderately priced, generously portioned and superbly flavored with fresh herbs and spices—are such delicacies as:

Breakfast , Brunch and Lunch

• Egg white sandwich with turkey bacon, Provolone cheese, tomato and mayonnaise

• Tofu scramble wrap with soy chorizo, Pasilla, and Anasazi bean

• Greek frittata with organic eggs, tomato, onion, Kalamata olive, Feta cheese and oregano.

Specialties and Dinner

• Tuscan kale salad with lemon, Parmesan cheese and bread crumb

• Organic tomato and roasted vegetable pizza

• Turkey burger with Provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado on flax seed bun

• Wild ahi sliders with radish, avocado, cucumber, and wasabi aioli on sesame brioche

• Spicy shrimp and asian noodles.

• Spaghetti squash casserole with fresh Mozzarella, organic tomato and zucchini

• Sashimi tuna salad with avocado, cucumber, edamame and ginger

• Spiced roasted chicken

• Grilled steelhead salmon with quinoa, local beet and preserved lemon salad.

Alcoholic beverages served at Brunch, Lunch and Dinner include locally brewed beers, sake and wines chosen from wineries that produce organic  products.

Recipe Bonus

Executive (and local celebrity) Chef Nathan Coulon, who heads San Diego’s new True Food Kitchen, has graciously shared with the’s Kitchen Shrink his recipe for refreshing and lycopene-packed watermelon and Heirloom tomato salad that is sure to please your taste buds and help put your summer body in the pink.

True Food Kitchen’s Watermelon and Heirloom Tomato Salad

(Recipe may be halved)

2 organic watermelons (personal size) peeled and cut into chunks

8 organic, local Heirloom tomatoes  (various colors and sizes) cut into chunks

24 fresh mint or basil leaves

2 tablespoons of red onion, sliced paper-thin

4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar

4 ounces of crumbled goat cheese

¼ cup of toasted cashews

Coarse sea salt and pepper to taste

Arrange pieces of watermelon and tomatoes on a serving platter. Sprinkle with mint or basil leaves, red onion, cashews and goat cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Finish with salt and pepper. Remember, that this salad is only as good as the freshest ingredients you put into it!


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