You Never Know What's Cookin' in This Garden of Eatin'
It just figures. The day my Cheap Eats crew decides to walk to Sascha's for lunch turns out to be the coldest damn day of the winter. With our teeth all a-chatter and fingers almost blue from the frigid air, we entered the Mount Vernon eatery and gratefully soaked up its sunny, warm atmosphere. All around the small café sprang welcome harbingers of spring: Fresh-cut flowers decorated the few tables--nasturtiums, lilacs, and daisies were scattered around the serving counter and provided colorful accents for plates of iced cupcakes, cookies, and pastries. It seemed we had entered the Garden of Eatin'.
We laid claim to the large picnic table in the center of the dining area and took our places in line to order our food. I helped myself to a cup of steaming hot, freshly brewed coffee ($1.25, large; $1, small) while I waited. As I stood, absorbing the warmth of Sascha's, I noticed how well the place was laid out. Sascha's Daily is small, but even with several customers it never seemed crowded. The restaurant's fast service gets part of the credit for that. Plus all of the menu offerings are prepared in advance. That isn't always a good thing, to be sure, but one benefit is the elimination of backups.
When I reached the counter I opted for the salad trio ($4.50), a plate with your choice of three side salads plus two slices of French bread. Choosing only three salads wasn't easy--they all looked fresh and inviting. I finally decided on the grilled vegetables, Szechwan noodles, and bean-and-corn salsa. The noodles lacked the peanut-flavored sauce usually associated with the dish, and its omission left the combo of spaghetti noodles and shredded carrots sadly zingless. But the salsa salad was a hit: Black beans and corn seasoned with a mild but flavorful salsa made a perfect companion for the grilled chunks of squash, onion, and red and green bell pepper. The herbed vegetables were quite delicious but a little too greasy--they left a puddle of oil on my plate. Overall, the salads were satisfactory is not especially filling.
The hot focaccia ($4.50), on the other hand, was wonderfully substantial. Several fillings are available each day--our eater chose to have his Italian sandwich stuffed with turkey and cole slaw. The focaccia, flavored with rosemary and Parmesan cheese, was warm and aromatic, with a chewy crust--it tasted as if it had come straight from the oven. And the sliced turkey and cole slaw inside made for a winning combination of flavors.
Another dining companion opted for the calzone ($4.50), a big, doughy loaf filled with spinach, dried tomato, caramelized onion, and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, sliced off to order. You can get a side salad with it for 75 cents, but wanting something a little more substantial, my friend asked for grilled chicken. The chicken usually costs $3, but the nice folks at Sascha's gave it to him for the salad price. The meat had a nice taste with hints of Cajun spice, but it was a little dry.
At only $5.50, Sascha's paella was definitely a good choice, fiscally speaking. The fragrant mélange of mussels, shrimp, chicken, and savory saffron rice, which came with a side salad, was a wonderful deal--but alas, not one to depend on. As a special of the week, it's not always offered. The paella was filled with a generous amount of tiny shrimp and mussels, but the chicken here too was a little dry. That's the downside of having entrées sit in warming dishes all day.
Another come-and-go offering was the vegetable-stuffed pasta shells ($5), which survived their wait in the warming dish rather well. These hardy jumbo shells were stuffed with a flavorful mix of ricotta cheese and spinach, and were topped with a zesty tomato-basil sauce. A side salad of deliciously marinated low-fat string beans was included.
Sascha's offers a wide assortment of soft drinks, juices, and sparkling waters. We had cranberry juice ($1.25) and a can of Coke (75 cents). Smoothies and cappuccino are also available, as is a generous array of desserts.
Our trip to Sascha's Daily was worth braving the cold. The food was flavorful and reasonably priced in most cases, the service speedy and helpful. The menu changes constantly, so if you don't like surprises it's a good idea to phone ahead to find out what the week's specials are. (Chicken and focaccia dishes are a constant, but the preparation and ingredients change daily.) Given that all of the food is prepared in advance, it's probably smart to visit early in the day.