Atmosphere: California-style (hanging plants, raw wood paneling); eat in or take out. Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Price range: Sandwiches and salads, $1.25 to $1.95. Reservations: No Credit cards: Cash or check only. Special facilities: Accessible to wheelchairs.
"Don't you have a better suggestion?" my husband asked.
"I don't want to go anywhere that doesn't serve meat," my son complained.
My suggestion for a vegetarian, health-food dinner at the eat-in or take-out Premlata Natural Foods restaurants in the Air Rights Building in Bethesda went over like the proverbial lead balloon. However, as a devotee of Premlata's lunch-time sandwiches and salads, I thought it was worth a try, especially on a hot summer evening when we all wanted to eat lightly.
Premlata, which also has outlets at Bethesda Square on Old Georgetown Road and at the Rockville Mall, only recently extended its hours to include dinner. At lunch I had always ordered my sandwich or salad at the front counter and then taken it to the rear where the raw wood paneled walls, hanging plants and wooden tables were a pleasant lunch-time setting. On the Wednesday evening we trooped in for our light vegetarian dinner. Premlata was offering table service at the dozen or so tables that fill the rear room.
The food at Premlata is prepared in the open - in the center of the take-out bar. Bins of bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce shredded cheese, avocado and other healthy-looking goods are lined up and ready to be made into any of 10 sandwiches or 10 salad price range - $1.25 to $1.95 - made us feel we could beverages and anything else we could possibly and anything else we could possibly want and still stay within our budget.
With five appetizers on th emenu and four people in our dinner party, we decided to splurge on one of each. Our waitress gave us the bad news - our children considered it good news - that spinach pie, 65 cents, was not available that evening. We went with the move conventional ratio of four people, four appetizers: homous $1.10; quiche, $1.15; hot soup (vegetable), 95 cents and Alabama taco, 75 cents.
The homous, which arrived first, was accompanied by a loaf of whole wheat pita bread. Two spicy black olives and sprigs of parsley decorated the smooth and well-seasoned chick pea melange. Our children, Becky, 12, and Doug, 10, ventured a taste but weren't terribly interested. My husband and I finished it off.
Our waitress brought the mushroom quiche and vegetable soup next. The quiche was light and airy and had just enough mushrooms to appease a love of mushrooms but not so many as to put off our children who have yet to acquire a taste for them. The soup was not so popular. The broth lacked strength, and the vegetables - mostly beans - lacked taste. We asked for salt and tried salting it heavily but only our daughter found it edible.
The Alabama taco, which arrived a few minutes later, was the hit of the evening. The crisp taco cracker was filled with warm refried beans, lettuce, cheese and just the right amount of seasoning.
At $1.25, the peanut butter sandwichs my husband and son ordered were half a loaf of whole wheat pita bread stuffed with natural peanut butter, honey and banana. They found it unbearably sweet. They had ordered smoothies - milkshake like drinks - to go with them and the drinks were also sweet. My husband had the strawberry grace, $1.10, which was fresh strawberries, yoghurt, milk and honey. My son had the banana carob, $1.10, a similar drink featuring bananas and carob syrup which gives the drink a chocolate flavor.
The drinks were good, but coming on top of very sweet sandwich they found lots of reason to complain about "vegetarian" dinners.
My daughter and I were much happier. She had the vegetable sandwich, $1.25, which was a pita half, filled with lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber and sprouts.
I had the fuzzbee, a sandwich for which Premlata is justly famous. The fuzzbee, $1.75 is avocado, cheese, sesame sticks, lettuce, carrots, sprouts, mustard and mayonnaise stuffed into a whole wheat pita half. Lemon tahini dressing is served on the side and the combination is sensational.
My daughter and I also had the banana carob smoothies, which were nice endings for our meals. If we hand't wanted a rich drink, we could have had fresh orange, grapefruit, apple, grape or carrot juice for 60 cents to 80 cents a glass, or herbal tea, 30 cents.
Our dinner tab was $14.88. My daughter and I thought we'd had a perfect meal for a hot evening. My husband and son refused to see the vegetarian light. If they had ordered differently, they might have. I assured them they'd have another chance soon.