Good nutrition is not my buddy.
I dawdle around the periphery of eating clean, and only for limited periods. Then I fall off the kale wagon and go right back to nature's most perfectly soothing foods, hunks of meat floating in clouds of potato.
When I first heard about Caldo, a small restaurant inside the Centered complex on North Ashland that specializes in bone broth, I guffawed.
But then I did a bit of research, and it turns out that bone broth is literally and figuratively a hot nutrition trend. The Los Angeles Lakers drink it! Gwyneth Paltrow drinks it! New York is full of broth stands!
Regular ingestion of broth allegedly can help protect your joints, "plump" your skin without the use of cosmetic products, promote healthy sleep, support immunity and build stronger bones.
I'm fat, I'm 57, I have a countertop of Olay Regenerist products and I can hear my joints pop in a nice little arthritic symphony. Yes, I'm down for some bone broth.
Caldo has organic chicken or grass-fed beef bone broth. An 8-ounce cup of chicken broth is $3; a 12-ouncer is $4. You can add in extras such as chili oil, which I did. That turned out to be a good idea, since the broth is not like the old salty Swanson-in-a-box that you ladle into your turkey stuffing.
This is a more artisanal broth. My taste buds, admittedly corrupted by years of Doritos and chili dogs, struggle to describe what it tastes like. It's warm and not unpleasant. It's sippable and has a light finish with no heavy or gluey texture. I could get used to it, but at $3 for a small cup, probably won't.
Another customer at Caldo asked for his broth cold. When I asked if that tasted better to him, he explained that it was hot outdoors and he needed a cold drink in a warm climate. To each his own bone distillation, I guess.
The "Caldo Crisp" salads are similarly healthy, as are the Caldo "Chill" smoothies.
For my first visit I tried the "Zing and Zang," which includes zucchini noodles (spiral-cut zucchini, not pasta, which made my carb-loving heart sad), local organic eggs, artichoke hearts, capers, sun-dried tomatoes and marinated olives. It was just about the perfect mixture for a light lunch, and therein lies the problem. It's not a bunch of food for $10. Vinaigrette charges about the same for its salads, but they are loaded; those at Caldo are more like salad small plates.
Nonetheless, the mixture was fresh and well-prepared, and I had to stop myself from slurping up the remainder of the cilantro dressing from the container, like leftover milk from a cereal bowl.
On my second visit I tried the Southwest Quinoa salad, with black beans, corn, jalapeño, tomatoes and cilantro with a chipotle lime dressing and smoked Gouda cheese. The salad, although still smallish, felt more substantial, perhaps because of the tiny gouda chunks.
The smoothies drew mixed reactions among myself and my colleagues, who also sampled them. The Clean and Green was praised by one colleague for its heavy gingery tinge, but at its healthy heart it is still spinach. The Wow Cachao looks like the way to go for chocolate lovers, but despite its gorgeous fudge tint, tastes more like banana.
Caldo has two problems. First, it's expensive. The downtown-National Avenue area includes lots of lunch choices at $10 and up, but Caldo goes even beyond that in price.
My first Caldo lunch, a cup of broth and a salad, totaled out at $15.84. My second, with the Southwest Sprouted Salad and two smoothies (to taste with colleagues), was $24.91. A salad and drink is going to be close to $16, no matter how you go.
For most of us, I suspect, $16 sounds more like dinnertime money, no matter how healthy the meal or pleasant the environment — and Centered is lovely on September afternoons when the wind blows through the building's front lobby. There are a few tables, both inside and out, if you'd like to eat on-site.
Caldo's other problem is that the cafe depends heavily on Centered clients for business. My salad chef gently suggested that I might want to take a movement class that was, she assured me, appropriate for a woman of my age in that it was not strenuous but rather just "melting" into muscle-friendly poses. (Confession: I am on the Centered mailing list, and have several times thought of signing up for the aromatherapy class. I am not a cretin, just addicted to salt and solitude and living cheap.)
Although I appreciated the suggestion, and coming into the comfortable Centered building more often would definitely get me to the Caldo counter, I found myself dwelling on how old she thought I was. Forty-five? Eighty? A hearty hundred-and-six?
Old enough for AARP muscle class, apparently. And lots of bone broth.