Thursday evening, nearing the end of the one day of separation between my birthday and Meridith's birthday, Meridith decided on where she wanted to go for dinner on her birthday: Souplantation.
Across the country it's known as Sweet Tomatoes, but in Southern California, it's called Souplantation. I don't know why. Tax reasons come to mind, but then that's always the case when I learn of changes in business between states.
When we first went to this Souplantation last September, I loved it. I loved the blueberry muffins full of tiny blueberries that burst blue inside, the chocolate muffins with syrupy centers, the fettucine alfredo with enough four-cheese sauce to make me get two more bowls. What may also have made the difference was going there on a late Wednesday afternoon rather than a late Friday afternoon, when the Valencia Town Center mall shopping district becomes the premier social hub of the Santa Clarita Valley. Add to that four regular screens and an IMAX screen given over to The Hunger Games at Edwards Valencia 12, and it was easy to see why the tables were crowded so.
Souplantation starts at the entrance with a loooooooong salad bar with spinach and various hand-tossed salad, including a Caesar salad that's made every 20 minutes that Meridith waited for. She loves freshly-made everything, so watching lemons squeezed and garlic pressed and cheese sprinkled on was worth the wait. I didn't take any, but she really went for it.
Along the salad bar are various accessories including shredded cheddar, crumbled blue cheese, and pasta dishes, including tuna tarragon and country macaroni salad with ham. Keep this in mind.
When you reach the end of the salad bar, nearest to the tables, you pay your $10+. You can go back to the salad bar while you're there without having to pay again, since you're already there and somehow the people at the two registers opposite each other (there's two salad bar lines, left and right) know if you've been there for a while. Perhaps it's from walking slower and slower as you eat more and more.
We found the ideal table, directly across from the soup bar, in front of the soda machines, diagonal from the door through which employees go carting trays of dishes, and pushing carts with containers of cut vegetables for the salad bar placed on both levels. That door would be annoying to some, especially with the banging of dishes in the back, an employee slamming soup bowls atop other soup bowls near the soup bar, and people walking up to the soda machine that sits behind the table, a partition in between. We didn't mind it, since Meridith loves hearing the activity of a kitchen, and it was easier for Mom than walking across the main dining room to get soup, buttermilk cornbread, and pasta.
The soup bar had many different kinds of soup, such as a New England clam chowder that had very few clams and a lot of potato, Irish leek potato soup, broccoli cheddar soup, tomato basil soup, and a chicken noodle soup in which all the noodles and chicken sat at the bottom of the pot, which I suppose is the best way of it if you want more broth than noodles, but there wasn't enough chicken. The thick noodles, however, were good. And there was a vat filled with baked potatoes with appropriate condiments on the side.
The bread station, in between the soup bar and the pasta station, had those chocolate brownies, the blueberry muffins, grilled cheese focaccia and four-cheese focaccia, and slices of sourdough bread wrapped in red cloth, with small paper cups of butter on the glass shelf above it, and a squeeze bottle of clover honey next to the butter.
To the right of the bread station, the pasta station, with four-cheese fettucine alfredo, the same disappointing, watery macaroni and cheese like last time, and penne arrabiata.
Potatoes. Starch. Pasta. Starch. Breads. Starch. The pasta salads at the salad bar. Starch. What's the best way to keep turning over tables, to make sure that no one stays too long? Give them potatoes and pasta and breads and pasta dishes at the salad bar!
It is nice at the start, with a lot of selection, but then is easily seen as a genius scheme at the end. It's obviously not a buffet restaurant that can easily offer seafood (my favorite kind of buffet), but there is no food there to lighten the load while you're eating. You're there for a short time as a result, and then you're gone. Considering its location, near the mall and closer to the movie theater, I'm not surprised. Eat and go. Eat and go.
It was nicer on that Wednesday last September, being that it was fairly empty, and felt leisurely. Meridith liked it, though, and that's what mattered most. But geez, sitting at that table, watching people pour out of the parking garage to walk across the street to the movie theater, wow! However, I won't read The Hunger Games until sufficient time has passed, if I read it at all. I don't like to ride hype. I decide what I want to read in my own good time.