Trail Mix: Pluto’s

Nov. 5, 2010, 12:36 a.m.
Trail Mix: Pluto's
The store front of Pluto's, an American-style fresh food restaurant, on University Avenue. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford hosted the “food summit” this week to discuss national issues related to food, so it seemed like an opportune time to review Pluto’s, a restaurant striving to provide healthful options for the busy consumer.

Pluto’s has a casual and friendly atmosphere. The décor matches the vibe with a comfortable setting that allows the restaurant to move quickly without overwhelming. Pluto’s is best as a quick option with friends for lunch or dinner.

With an almost entirely customizable menu, Pluto’s is difficult to rate. In one sense, it is hard to miss completely because you choose what goes into your meal. On the other hand, it is also difficult to provide a memorable experience because Pluto’s becomes similar to eating at home, at least when you’ve just been to the grocery store.

The centerpiece of Pluto’s is the salad bar. The ordering process is not particularly intuitive, but eventually you will figure out that you can choose the size, the leafy base and up to seven toppings. The additional ingredients are fairly standard but can be augmented by an optional cut of meat or hearty vegetarian offering and dressing.

Trail Mix: Pluto'sThese meat and vegetarian options are not particularly interesting. The tri-tip is not sufficiently tender and can be chewy at times. The chicken is well-cooked but not particularly flavorful. The grilled Portobello mushroom is a nice option but can be easily overwhelmed by the bread of a sandwich or drowned out by the other ingredients in a salad.

The bread selection is also disappointing. The focaccia is forgettable, the ciabatta can be a bit too tough and the whole wheat falls completely flat in both taste and texture. The bread is almost certainly store-bought or “par baked” (about 80 percent baked in a factory, frozen, shipped and then finished in-store), and the sandwiches in general suffer due to the lackluster options.

Pluto’s offers a series of sides to accompany your salad or sandwich, generally characterized by extraterrestrial names such as “Orbital Onion Rings.” At least the “Mushrooms of the Moment” ended up tasting like a standard mushroom sauce, and it is unlikely that any of these sides are actually out of this world (excuse the pun).

Pluto’s mission statement is very clear – provide an inexpensive, fast and relatively healthy experience somewhere “between fast food and full service restaurants.” However, it’s difficult to claim that in between there is “vast nothingness” with, for example, Sprout Cafe just down the street. Pluto’s can certainly deliver a wholesome and filling meal on a student budget. Still, with nothing unique on the menu and some legitimate competition in the same niche, it ends up in the “middle of the road.”

C’est une contradiction bien sûr mais aussi c’est ce que nous devons nous débarrasser de.

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