Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Restaurant Review: Zoë's Kitchen

This afternoon, Jacques Wool and I had lunch at the wonderful Zoë's Kitchen. Located in the Shops at Oberlin Court, a center full of interesting places underneath apartments, Zoë's is an awesome dining experience. Jacques pulled into the ample parking lot and we walked over to the restaurant. When we stepped inside, I became disoriented--which is no fault of the restaurant, I was merely preoccupied with some thought I was exploring and expressing. What else is new. I think I was looking for a hostess station, but Jacques gently guided me to the front counter. There is no hostess station. For ZK is a fast casual restaurant, and you needn't worry about a hostess when it's fast casual. I don't know if I've told you this before, but I love fast casual. To me, it's the best of both worlds. It has that relaxed fast food or quick serve feeling, but with the quality food of a sit-down restaurant...along with all the ambiance. We walked up to face the menu board. I could tell immediately that the eatery had on offer the types of items that I am currently looking for in my quest for better eating habits. I will not sacrifice flavor, however, and there's no need to at Zoë's place.

Let me tell you about the interior. Have you ever been to a library built in the 1970's? Have you ever been in a school built in the 1970's when the "open classroom" model was in vogue? Well, then you have a pretty good idea of what ZK looks like, because it's fabulous. The restaurant has these terrific 1970's colors. I mean, I'm talking seventies orange. Colors like that. And it also features a charming "high-tech" look. You know I love the exposed pipes of "high tech" and ZK has them to spare. And these pipes are huge! It's delightful to dine while glancing up at these giant orange pipes. I mean, from a design point of view it's matchless. It's like eating in some great university student center, or a restaurant in a really with-it art museum. I love it!

Speaking of art, ZK does feature some brilliant art. What they have is some astounding naive art lining the walls--with sophisticated portraits above the naive art. What a mixture! I immediately wanted to find out how to offer my drawings to be displayed there. You know you're in a good restaurant when you wish your art were hanging there. I mean, seriously.

OK, here's their system. Once you've ordered from the friendly, helpful cashier, they hand you one of those tiny flagpoles with your order number on it. And listen to this--Jacques and I ordered separately and yet we got the same flag! Isn't that efficient? We walked over next to the drink station. You won't believe this, but they actually have Coke Zero on tap there. I mean, I have never EVER seen a drink station where they had Coke Zero. I mean, they always have Diet Coke but never the Zero. Coke Zero is mystifyingly great to me--I mean, it tastes EXACTLY LIKE COKE. I don't know how they do it. I mean, there is no other diet item on the planet Earth that somehow replicates in perfect measure the thing it's meant to calorie-lessly clone. I mean, I can't think of anything--can you? Coke Zero? I think they ought to call it Coke Everything! Because it's even better than Coca-Cola. Because it has no calories, no caffeine I don't think. I mean it has nothing but flavor. And they have it there! They also have three urns of iced tea.

I really chuckled when I saw the sign stuck magnetically to the sweet tea urn. "Sweet Tea served with Southern Hospitality." Isn't that great? Because it's self-serve, which means ZK is such a tremendous place even when you're serving yourself it's in a gracious style full of southern hospitality. I mean, eateries don't get better than that!

So Jacques grabbed an iced tea and I my Coke Zero and we sat down--among the many choices--at a table near the window but not too close that the hot sun would bother us. In a few moments, a server brought my salad. Now, pay attention here, because it's fast casual--but with table service!! Isn't that great? This is part of what I mean by the best of both worlds. Now, remember, it isn't fast food--far from it. Which means, you have to wait a little longer than you do in some place where they're just grabbing a burger from a heated chute for you. Since Jacques didn't have a side salad with his entree--I believe he had the Mediterranean Tuna Pita, though I'm not sure because I was so caught up in my meal, which I will be describing for you--he graciously suggested that I tuck into my side salad. It was great! I can still taste the olives. And the pita. And the red onions. It was just right, and then we were served our main meals.

I made a great decision, because I ordered the Veggie Pita Pizza. This was astonishingly good. The spinach was full of flavor, and the pizza had just enough tomato sauce. The pizza had a nearly-stuffed quality while retaining a crispy crunchy crust, really terrific. I enjoyed it a great deal. I enjoyed it immensely. And I can't wait to go back there.

In fact, I haven't been this enthusiastic about a dining establishment in a long time. The menu seemed to offer so many healthful, flavor-filled favorites that I think I'd like to eat there every single day until eternity, sampling one dish after another.

Remembering that he had left his Panama Hat at Fosters at our last luncheon meeting, Jacques wisely brought a less costly chapeau with him to Zoë's Kitchen. But the service is so great there, I assume that if he had forgotten this hat as well, the servers would have made sure to secure it until it could be safely retrieved.

Again, the service was amazing. Table service! As we ate, a server came and took our plates out of the way. I love that in a fast casual restaurant. It really helps out the conversation when you aren't distracted by plates you've eaten from. Take them away! And they did--without our asking.

It was very easy to hold a conversation in ZK. I mean, it wasn't noisy, I don't even recall if there was music playing or not--always a good sign. I mean, I think there might have been, but I can't attest to it. Which means it probably was, but wasn't in the least bit distracting.

I really regret not having ordered dessert. The entrees were so good that I truly believe that the desserts are probably fantastic there, and I know that the next time I'm there I'm going to order a dessert.

I also want to mention the wondrous Greek salad dressing--a wine vinaigrette--that awaits you on each table. Isn't that amazing--they already put out the salad dressing for you, and it's a great signature dressing--it had a faint taste of mango, but I don't really know what they put in it aside from awesome. I poured it on my side salad and was very pleased with the result.

I have seen the future of the restaurant industry, and its name is Zoë's Kitchen! Go there--try it--you will thank yourself later--actually, you will thank ME, since I'm the one who suggested it. I give it an enthusiastic FIVE OLIVES!!!!!

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