Friday, May 16, 2014

Like Souper Salad, Without the Self-Service

Salata
700 East Sonterra Boulevard
(in the shopping center on the corner of Sigma Road)

I'm pretty sure the people behind this Stone Oak salad shop will not be best pleased at being compared to Souper Salad, but despite the vaguely upscale look of this much smaller franchise restaurant, that's basically what it is, but with two significant differences.

One is that, at Salata, the counter is staffed by people who will put your chosen ingredients in your bowl for you, like the "sandwich artists" at Subway. At Souper Salad, you have to do that yourself. 

The second is that Salata only does soup and salad. You can have your salad wrapped in a tortilla, but that's not really something significantly different. At Souper Salad, after starting off many years ago with just salad, they have added all the high-fat, high-margin foods that keep the business going at a low unit cost: baked potatoes, something vaguely like pizza, things resembling desserts, and a host of other additions to the basic salad bar, including of course a "soft serve" ice cream bar. (It's probably not ice cream but mellorine, because they just call it, I believe, "Soft-Serve.")

Souper Salad has a distinctly working-class aura about it, while Salata cultivates a more professional, hip, slightly upscale ambience.  We went at half past noon on a Thursday, and found the place packed with medical and realty people from the surrounding area. There was no parking available in the immediate area, but I didn't consider having to park beyond the driveway a great inconvenience. (Though, as is my wont, I didn't pass up the opportunity to grouse about it to my friends.) The line was longer than the architecture of the place anticipated, but apparently that was only because someone ahead of us in line was one of those people who just cannot make up their mind. As soon as that person was through, the line dwindled down to something more in line with the architect's expectations.

Your first choice, on reaching the service counter, is lettuce. There were romaine hearts, spinach, something called Spring Mix, and something called Salata Mix. The Salata Mix had a small label identifying its ingredients, one of which was Spring Mix. So, I asked the woman behind the counter, What's in the Spring Mix? She didn't know: "It just comes in a big bag." (It turned out to be red and greenleaf lettuce, arugula, baby spinach and I forget what else. It was fine.) Once you have your lettuce, you pick the veggies you want, just like at Subway. They had all the same things, plus broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas and green beans; things like that. The red onion was cut into very fine dice, which was a nice touch. In fact, except for the lettuce, all the salad ingredients were nicely sized for polite consumption. Plus everything was reasonably fresh, and the work area was kept clean and neat.

The next station offers more toppings: cheeses, eggs,  nuts, croutons, and so on --- the sort of things dieters will want to be a little more wary of. Then you pick your dressing.  There are eight or so dressing choices, including two low-fat or fat-free options. I chose the fat-free sun-dried tomato dressing. Normally they put on two ladles, but I wanted less and they were happy to oblige. (That pleasure didn't work in reverse: my friend Roland wanted more of some of the vegetables on his salad, and was a little put off by the reluctance that produced. He said they claim you can have unlimited vegetables on their website, but I didn't find that claim. I don't much care anyway, because the bowl they serve the salads in is only so big, and it was plenty full.) 

Finally comes your meat selections. These add cost to your salad: two bucks for chicken, three for seafood or turkey. I consider that reasonable, though I wonder why turkey adds more than chicken. Next comes bread --- only three choices, and I did not choose well, getting a dry slice of wheat bread that was run through a barely functional toaster-oven on its way to the checkout station. Once you have all the desired ingredients collected in your bowl, an employee tosses the salad (or wraps it, and with some flair I may say) and passes it on to the cashier.

last city inspection: February 2014
4 demerits (very good)
One nice thing about Salata is that their posted prices include tax, so a salad with chicken is exactly ten bucks; and while some people may leave a tip on the table, most don't, which means the three of us ate a nice, satisfying lunch for exactly $33, including drinks (one soft drink, one Perrier, and one plain water). This makes it a better-than-average value overall.

The noise level in the restaurant was sufficient to irritate one of my tablemates, though I was only dimly aware of it. My only real complaint was that, at the peak of the lunch rush when we arrived, the floor staff seemed unable to keep up. I got the last fork, and the last napkin. And the only vacant tables large enough for three people had not been bussed.  We made do, and once the rush subsided the staff caught up.

There's another location of this chain on Huebner Road at I-10.
Salata on Urbanspoon

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