Otarian Carbon Neutral Fast Food: Not Adding Up for Me.

Otarian is the world's first carbon neutral fast food restaurant. Zero footprint dining. Innovative idea, right? But balancing your carbon footprint requires a few complex calculations - and for me, eating "green" like this, just didn't add up...

Eating green is an easy trend to grasp: reduce your consumption of animal products or go veg, buy local, support local farmers and purveyors, buy organic if possible, grow your own produce if you can, try to reduce your trash output, recycle and eat seasonally. But the green gimmick of "Carbon Neutral" fast food left my head in a tilt, a confused squint in my eye. I was curious to try the newbie veg food on the block.

But Otarian is no mom-and-pop shoebox cafe; Otarian is currently serving up zero footprint eats to environmentalists and curious foodies in NYC and London - with further expansion plans in the works.But my Otarian *green dining experience* didn't all add up. Here's my review...

My Otarian $20+ Meal:
What's Otarian? Walking by Washington Square Park in NYC last month, I was handed a flyer. I usually ignore such offerings, but when I saw the text "Free Vegetarian Food" I grabbed a card and gave a big smile to the flyer-distribution guy. The card entitled me to $20 worth of free vegetarian food at the new Carbon Neutral restaurant Otarian.

My free food card expired before I got a chance to use it, but I did have high hopes of trying out Otarian anyways. After all, how cool does the green gimmick of "Carbon-Neutral" food sound?! Plus I had read about Otarian's star-studded grand green opening and nice write-up about how Otarian was 'taking over the world of fast food' in the NY Times Diner's Journal. So I went in for lunch one afternoon, spent around $20 of my own money and was excited to write a rave review. Sadly, the "rave" part of this post won't happen.

What is Carbon Neutral? Carbon neutral is an environmental buzzword that refers to maintaining a balance between producing and using carbon. However, you can also try to reduce your carbon footprint by practicing green living habits like walking or riding your bike instead of driving as well as eating less meat and recycling your trash. And the latest trend - carbon neutral dining...

Carbon Neutral Fast Food? Really? Isn't that kinda like a owning a Hybrid Hummer vehicle or ordering a diet soda with your double cheeseburger? Something about this idea just didn't add up for me. But the adventurous side of me was intrigued and curious...

What Does Otarian Name Mean? It is a play off of O-zone and 'vegetarian' or is it saying you only eat foods that make you go, "Ohhhh!" Nope. Apparently it means this, "The ‘O’ in the name is meant to represent Earth. Because it’s round. "Tarian" comes from words like "vegetarian." So the whole name is meant to indicate that people who eat there care about the planet. " That's what blogger Bret Thorn says, and I agree.

Now onto my review and taste test of Otarian...

Atmosphere. Bright colors, vivid circle shapes hanging from the 3-D ceiling. Bubbly seating, flashy tones and textures everywhere. Wait, was this fast food or The Jetsons? I felt transported to the future. Or at least a cliche version of what fast food in the future will look like. Nice vibe, but if the food doesn't wow me, it really doesn't matter.

Philosophy. I like the idea of Carbon Neutral Dining. I think the more people are aware about the impact the foods they eat have on the planet, the better. However, bombarding people with text, slogans, facts, numbers and "green dining" messages while they are ordering and eating is a bit presumptuous for my tastes. There is verbage everywhere you look.

Price. Fast food vibe, without the fast food prices. For my small salad, Vego burger, dessert treat, sweet potato chiplets, aka fries and a side of free ketchup - I spent over $20. Around $24 to be exact. Cringe-worthy, yes. As I tweeted the day of my taste test "this better be good".

Food. Here are my tasting notes from the items I ordered:

Inside the Vego burger:
Vego Burger. Super dry bun - had a yellow tint even though I requested the 'brown bun' - don't know if I received the white or brown. Or yellow? Dry and flaky. Boring taste. The burger patty was an Indian curry-ish spiced burger.

I wasn't even expecting Indian flavors from the branding. I was expecting a glorified McDonald's or all-American flavors. Not so.

The burger was chewy on the outside and somewhat moist and textured on the inside. But overall, it tasted like it was microwaved. Unfavorably rubbery. Nice spice and subtly heat to the flavor, but very one note. It reminded me of Trader Joe's Veggie Masala frozen veg burgers. The burger lettuce was pitiful shredded iceberg lettuce. Tomato was super bland and cucumbers were not crisp. Red onions were fine. The sauce was neither good nor bad. When I took a bite, I was very underwhelmed.

Couscous Salad. I ordered the only vegan salad on the menu. A small size. In order to get to the small salad, I had to remove a packaging wrapper and lift the lid. I felt like it was Christmas morning unwrapping all the packaging that came with this ironically "carbon neutral" meal. The salad was probably the most laughable thing I ordered. It was comical. I was expecting Ashton Kutcher to come out and tell me he punked my salad. Was this a joke, or a salad? Wilted, rubbery, bone dry arugula lettuce.

Dry lifeless couscous with a few chunks of one note cauliflower and butternut squash chunks mixed in. Rubbery spring onions. Pepitas on top. No dressing? The website says it comes with dressing. However, they must've forgot mine. But I don't think dressing would save this sandbox of a salad. Super boring. Tasted like I was eating sand. Sorry, that was mean. But I was struck with visions of the desert as I scooped up squeamish couscous with my compostible fork. The Sahara perhaps.

..I rarely can't finish food. I didn't finish my burger OR my salad. But I did finish one thing...

Sweet Potato Chiplets, aka Fries: One thing I did finish was the chiplets, aka fries. Loved these. Thick, crispy, nice spice. Tender. Yum. Yum. Yum. And the packaging was a thin paper holder - much better than the over-done salad packaging.

Choco Treat. The only vegan dessert was something called a Choco treat. It came wrapped in a magenta wrapper - I thought it was a bonus slider burger at first. Inside was a small poof of chocolate cake. It looked pretty. And boring. A light dusting of white sugar on top. The cocoa tasted a bit metallic. Bland. The cake was moist enough, but nothing I'd order again.

Overall: Sorry Otarian, I know you have locations in London and NYC and are expecting to open more, but my advice is: don't. Go back to the drawing (and taste-testing) board. Have you tasted some of the amazing vegan food you can eat in NYC got under $15? Go to Angelika Cafe and order a vegan sandwich. Try the Tofu Pesto sandwich at Caravan of Dreams. Try the veggie burgers at Gobo, Cafeteria and Quantum Leap. Try the vegan BLT at Teany. I would order any and all of these options before going back for an underwhelming Vego Burger at Otarian. And ya know what, I'd still feel good about the "carbon-neutralism" of my vegan meal.

Green Fast Food Dining?

...if it doesn't sound right, it probably isn't.

But I'm just one diner. you can try Otarian for yourself. Peruse their website here:

How "Green" is all this trash, compostible or not...

Inside the bag:

blog comments powered by Disqus