Trail Mix: Sprout Cafe

Oct. 15, 2010, 12:39 a.m.

Trail Mix: Sprout Cafe
Sprout's signature "Pomona" salad (front) and grilled eggplant sandwich (back). (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

Sprout Café‘s name is an allusion to its mission of providing healthy food, fast. Sprouts, the vegetable, can mature from seed to salad in about a week, and they are among the most nutritious foods available. There is a very wide range of sprouts, from the alfalfa sprouts most people are familiar with on their turkey sandwich to the bean sprouts you heap onto your Vietnamese pho. In these aspects, Sprout Café is somewhat able to live up to its name and provide a variety of relatively healthy foods in quick fashion.

The restaurant has the modern vibe that characterizes Silicon Valley – health-conscious and eco-friendly while still clean and efficient. Sprout is best considered a lunch destination built for those that have long enough to get out for lunch but aren’t in a siesta mindset.

Sprout’s main attraction is the custom salad bar that allows diners to craft a salad from a wide variety of ingredients. Of course a custom salad cannot be reviewed, but it is noteworthy that while there are tons of options to mix in, few are markedly exotic; they don’t even offer a particularly wide selection of sprouts.

Trail Mix: Sprout CafeThe pre-selected “signature” choices seem to fall a bit short on the taste or health dimension (or both). The biggest offender is the “Steakhouse,” where there is only a marginal resemblance to a salad at best. Similarly, the somen salad is overwhelmed by the amount of somen noodles, making the dish feel very little like a salad and more like a bowl of noodles that lack flavor. The pepper-crusted ahi tuna that comes with the Nicoise is the only thing that can be remembered about this otherwise completely unimaginative and bland salad. Of the salads tasted, only the “Farmhouse” comes through with a satisfying amount of flavor while still feeling like a salad.

The sandwich side of Sprout’s menu does not entirely align with its mission of healthy food, but there are certainly some tasty options. The chipotle sandwich has barely any real spice, but the fontina cheese is layered on in the perfect proportion to give the sandwich a great taste without completely betraying the healthy concept. The portabella sandwich is a bit bread-heavy relative to its contents, but overall was delectable; the sandwich is pleasantly reminiscent of mushroom pizza.

Oddly, perhaps Sprout’s best dish is not a salad or sandwich but a soup. The curry red lentil soup is a fantastic mix of quinoa and chickpeas in a mildly spicy lentil broth. The soup is packed with flavor without being too salty and, while a bit out of place thematically, is good enough to redirect a wandering lunch party otherwise considering one of the myriad Mediterranean alternatives that line University Avenue. The butternut squash soup is also delicious and very appropriate for crisp fall weather (whenever that arrives).

Through its custom salad bar and relatively wide menu, Sprout is able to offer at least a solid dish or two to the entire spectrum of eaters from vegan to carnivore. However, few things at Sprout really warrant a quick return. While it does stand out from the bevy of heavier Mediterranean and Asian eateries in the area, overall, it is a bit forgettable and ends up as “Middle of the Road.”

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