THE PLACE: “How do you think the Basement is doing?” my friend asks me recently, referring to the shops beneath the West Elm building (once Reno’s main post office) on South Virginia Street.
With several merchants now open, I’d wondered the same thing. And so the other day, when she suggests a late lunch at Chomp, a made-to-order salad bar in the Basement, I’m all in. We can have a bite and check out the scene down under.
THE LOOK: The Basement turns out to be fairly busy, with many seats taken at the communal tables in the common area. Three laptop lizards, a thicket of cords and adapters between them, take a table for themselves.
I love the name Chomp. It’s so much better than something annoyingly earnest (and expected) like Fresh or Greens.
CHOMP: BITES BY DESIGN
Address: The Basement of the West Elm Building, 50 S. Virginia St. (entrance on Center Street side)
Hours: 11 a..m. to 8 p.m. daily
On the web:www.chompreno.com
What’s $10 or less: Create-your-own salads (proteins are extra) and some of the already designed salads.
Chomp lies open to the common area. It’s bright and white, with a refrigerated case, naked hanging bulbs framed by metal cages, and a spread of prepped ingredients and dressings.
Numbered signs guide customers through the ordering process. At back, the soup of the day awaits ladling.
THE MEAL: Chomp’s tagline — Bites by Design — is apt.
The menu (printed partly on graph paper) offers salads that are tossed, chopped or stuffed in a wrap (standard or gluten-free). Many ingredients are locally sourced.
Several salads have their mix of ingredients already designed. If you don’t like those choices, you design your own, ticking off components on a slender order strip, much like you tick off rolls at AYCE sushi.
You select the salad style (tossed, chopped, wrap) and the type of greens, then you choose from among ingredients like red bell peppers, avocado, feta, quinoa, goji berries and roasted organic free-range chicken. There also are several dressing and seasoning options.
In each ingredient category, you’re given a certain number of ‘”included” items, with anything beyond that extra. (The 4-ounce portions of proteins are outright additional.)
I’m way too lazy this lunch to think about what I want in my salad, so I go with one of the pre-designed models. The Minden Inn mingles spinach, cucumber, red bell pepper, avocado (I skip it), hard-cooked egg, goji berries, a seed mix and lemon basil vinaigrette. I have it as a whole-wheat wrap.
My friend, however, is feeling like a designing woman, so she starts checking off embellishments to her tossed romaine: shredded cabbage, cucumber, grape tomatoes, avocado, roasted chicken, vegan cashew dressing.
We have our lunch at a counter that looks onto Global Coffee. I didn’t add any protein to my wrap, so I’m done fairly quickly. My friend eats half of hers, then snaps the handy lid on the bowl and takes the rest to go. (There’s a reason she’s as slender as a javelin: portion control.)
KUDOS: I like Chomp’s commitment to using locally sourced ingredients when possible. The wrap and the salad taste fresh and clean. And much of the menu (without added protein) is about $10, making it a fit for 2 for $20.
QUIBBLES: The ordering process seems involved at first, but now that I know the drill, it’ll be a cinch on a second visit. The vegan cashew dressing (salad) and lemon basil vinaigrette (wrap) aren’t strongly flavored enough for us; we both added a couple of grinds of salt to our dishes.
And the goji berries, while appealingly sweet-tart, are also unappealingly chewy-tough, and therefore hard to eat. Maybe they needed more softening in water?
All this said, Chomp has only been open about a week, so the folks there are surely still refining their processes (as is the case with any new restaurant).
ALTERNATIVES: The create-your-own salad slip features more than 40 ingredients, so the number of combinations, while not countless, is certainly large. I’ll let you do the math. Among the salads already designed, I’d like to try the Post Office (baby spinach, quinoa, goat cheese and so on).
RETURN TRIP?: Yes. But no kale ever.