|Forty Carrots clientele is mostly women who are looking for a shopping respite. Above: crab cakes on a bed of salad greens. (photos by jonathan wiggs/globe staff)|
A healthy break from shopping
Forty Carrots is not a typical Cheap Eats spot. The parking lot is filled with well-cared-for high-end cars, like Mercedes and Lexus. Diners wear Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The restaurant is inside The Mall at Chestnut Hill, adjacent to and owned by Bloomingdale’s.
The china, including the futuristic Villeroy & Boch propeller-twirl soup bowls, is white. The rest of the space is a study in neon color. The restaurant decor includes variegated mini-stripes in chroma green, tangerine, violet, lime, and yellow on walls, menus, even the neckties of the servers. The effect is either Museum of Modern Art or Ikea on acid.
The restaurant is part of a small chain in operation for 30 years. Nine Bloomingdale’s locations, from California to Dubai, have a Forty Carrots location. Part of the intent is to keep well-heeled diners at the store - and inside the mall - and away from competing upscale eateries. On one weekday, while Chestnut Hill’s Forty Carrots was packed for lunch (with a line out the door), the nearby off-mall French bistro Aquitaine Chestnut Hill was not.
Lunchtime rush is anything but. At noon, the space fills with women who linger over colorful salads, beautifully plated sandwiches, and a variety of classics like a hearty, healthy Astoria spinach pie ($13), served with Greek salad; “high-protein’’ meatless lasagna ($13), layered with vegetables and ricotta, a bit mushy but still satisfying; and grilled portobello mushroom melts ($12), made with low-fat Alpine lace cheese. Many diners are regulars, settling in for a low-carb confab, and a break from shopping. The crowd begins to abate at around 3 p.m.
This food is meant to be healthy. It’s often excellent, too. Chesapeake crab-cake sandwich ($16) is lightly fried, and sensibly seasoned to showcase quality seafood. Brioche-like rolls for all sandwiches are toasted, fluffy, and tasty. Each arrives with a large portion of mixed garden salad and an incongruously high-fat dressing in a ramekin on the side.
Slow-cooked soups are exceptional. Forty Carrots serves chicken noodle soup ($5) with a rich, flavorful broth, just-firm vegetables, and tender cubes of chicken. It comes with oddly hyper-crisp sesame flatbread. As part of the general carb-minimization of all dishes here, noodles are few but sufficient.
A surprising failure: the Forty Carrots carrot cake ($6). It’s an oversize slab, dry and grainy, with a white frosting that is too thin and far too sweet. For most regulars, dessert here after a light meal is frozen yogurt ($5-$7). Four flavors are prepared daily; all are fat-free (except plain, which is low-fat). Chocolate, coffee, and vanilla varieties have a hollow, icy flavor - possibly inherent in the zero-fat recipe. Women in the dining room do seem to generally enjoy all the flavors. Some stop in just for a take-away bowl.
Staff from chef to server, to the perky and perhaps overzealous PR personnel in Chestnut Hill and New York who monitor all communications, shows a level of pride and attention to detail that some fine dining eateries would be lucky to match. When the competent food doesn’t thrill, service and environment do.
This Forty Carrots location has been open for three years and has the feel of a private club. “Ninety percent of our customers are women,’’ confides my waiter, a young man who seems happy with the ratio. “Most of the other 10 percent are dragged in by their girlfriends,’’ he adds. A small bar is in the back where, he offers, men could come in voluntarily and enjoy any of several imported beers ($7).
It’s a nice gesture, but the men here are in the kitchen, and the best-selling beverage is tea. Blends ($3) are by Tavalon, they’re aspirational: “Calming,’’ “Anti-Aging,’’ “Energizing,’’ “Slimming,’’ and “Balancing.’’
Not unlike the food.
Ike DeLorenzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.