[slideshow]Have you ever had an experience that was absolutely perfect? The kind of thing you plan far in advance, all kinds of excitement and build up, and when it finally arrives not only does it go exactly as planned, it exceeds all of your expectations. I have to say that I am very fortunate to live the kind of free-flowing life that presents me with this kind of success on a fairly regular basis, whether it be eating turkey legs at the Ren Faire or cooking brunch for 15 people on 48 hours notice. After all, I am the starving artist. But I have to say, for someone used to gathering people for outstanding food, atmosphere, and camaraderie, even I was completely blown away by the Beer Garden at Tender Greens in Hollywood on Sunday.
Those of you who follow me on here or on Twitter (hopefully both) are very familiar with my love affair with Tender Greens. If not, you can read my original post here. In short: no other place on earth gets me excited about eating salad. On one of my visits at the beginning of May (I live just a few blocks away from the Sunset location) I noticed an advertisement for their first Beer Garden of the year, which boasted an all-you-can-eat menu and all-you-can-drink beer from a local brewery for $40 per person. Apparently this is something they do once a month from May through October. Every month a different animal is roasted, a different local brewery is showcased, and it is all done in their lovely outdoor garden… how the hell did I not know about this last year?? Immediately I was on the phone to my posse. Eric, my frequent TG buddy, was an immediate yes, and it turns out his boyfriend would be in town as well. Perfect. Sherri, one of my besties, whom Eric and I converted into the TG following some weeks earlier, was also instantly on board along with her man. I made reservations and the excitement began to bubble.
Now I have to confess, I was feeling just a small pang of nervousness as we walked from my apartment to the restaurant. Let’s face it, $40 is no small price for the starving artist and truthfully none of us really knew what to expect. Would it just be some free-for-all buffet? I envisioned the five of us tripping people and clawing for appetizers in an overcrowded, overbooked patio. Pulling hair, crying children, sloppy drunken encounters…. We arrived, got out into the garden, had an exchange with the always charming TG staff, sat down, and immediately all fears were squelched. Not only did they book just enough people to comfortably fill the space, but they spaced the buffet out into courses – first appetizers, then switched over to mains, then dessert. Total class. This event’s animal was a pig, acquired from a local farmer north of Los Angeles, which they roasted in a box right at the garden. I’ve posted the menu below so you can see what they served – it was all beyond delicious. The smoked trout appetizer was one of the best smoked fishes I’ve ever had – I’m pretty sure I ate no fewer than 12 (not ashamed). Though the pig was the showcase, it was absolutely vegetarian friendly event (it is TG, after all): fried baby artichokes, snow peas with mushrooms, and a sublime stew of monkfish, mussels, clams, and shrimp among many other exemplary dishes. I had never eaten pig from a whole roast before. I was amazed at how crunchy skin became and how tender some of the cuts were. It was a truly irresistible feast. We all were literally freaking out. I would expect nothing less from our beloved TG.
I have to tell you I don’t even like beer, but the local brewer brought samples of their seasonal “Mountain Meadow”, which was brewed with honey, chamomile, and tarragon. Clean, a little herby/floral, smooth, and above all totally unique. I drank two full glasses and could have probably gone for more. That was the real surprise of the day for me. And I don’t even have to tell you how good all the desserts were. Strawberry rhubarb crisp with fresh whipped cream? Please. But I think what really made this a total food-gasm was the atmosphere. We got to meet the head chef, who chatted us up and shared his own home-brewed beer with us. All of his staff, from Angie the manager to all the servers were super friendly and didn’t even flinch at my shameless flirting, a very important selling point for me (wink). Being the subtle and shy creature that I am, I chatted up a bunch of fellow diners, shared laughs, cracked jokes, even met a guy from my home state of Massachusetts.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is one of the best events I’ve been to in a long time. It is all around the perfect starving artist event: chill, classy, exceptional food, vibrant atmosphere, no sloppiness, and above all no complaints. All of us plan to be back every month and you can bet I’ll be bringing more people, so prepare yourselves, Tender Greens, I will be back. As for the cost, it is far and away one of the best deals you could ever hope to find in Los Angeles. Both the variety and quantity of food (not to mention the alcohol) would easily run you up a 3-digit per person tab in any restaurant setting. And they even let us take food home. Seriously. I was able to bring dinner home to my incredibly jealous and grateful roommate who is studying for the bar and couldn’t peel herself away for the event. Even in a take home container she was dually impressed.
As you’ll see from the slideshow we were all so completely blinded by food and jollity that we neglected to take a group photo. Next time for sure.