Lyfe Kitchen’s food makes you forget about its healthful focus

Sometimes I don’t review a restaurant for a long time after it opens and there’s no real reason; maybe a lot of restaurants opened at the same time and one just sort of fell off my radar. In the case of Lyfe Kitchen, I know exactly why.

Lyfe Kitchen, if you’re not familiar with the concept, has a mission with several prongs — sustainability, a dedication to regional sourcing and a healthy aspect. It was the last one that got me. Over the years I’ve seen quite a few “healthy” restaurants come and, in short order, go. Any nutritional researcher will tell you that Americans like to talk the nutritional talk, but when it comes to the walk, not so much, literally and nutritionally. And so we might flock to a restaurant with a healthful mission when it opens, but as for going back every week? Probably not, even if it’s doing everything right.

This Henderson spot, though, seems to have bucked the trend, opening in mid-2014 and still going strong. It’s part of a chain whose locations sprawl from the West Coast to the Midwest, and it appears it has found a winning formula.

First of all, the healthy aspects aren’t preachy, either in word or deed. Among the listed dishes are Art’s Unfried Chicken and Ancient Grain Stir Fry; yes, you’ll spot chia seeds and, yes, the menu lists nutritional information for each dish, but there are plenty of things whose healthy nature is well disguised, like Garlic Parmesan Sweet Potato Fries.

Then there’s the atmosphere. Yes, Lyfe Kitchen is a counter-service space, but it’s decorated in soothing colors and the furniture is far more comfortable that what your typical counter-service spot has. Add to that beer and wine on tap, soft music, comparatively soft lighting, fresh flowers and lighted candles on each table and smooth service (like asking us if we’d like our starter to come out before our entrees; bravo!) with the kind of nondisposable dishes and flatware you’d be more likely to find in a table-service spot, and you’re likely to feel like that’s where you are.

As for the food? That delivers as well. We were off to a great start with the roasted mushroom and goat-cheese flatbread ($9), one of the menu’s dishes that sound “normal” and taste like it, too, despite sane amounts of calories and sodium. The crust was crisp without being crackery and topped with lots of crimini mushrooms roasted only until they were slightly soft, nicely caramelized onions and a balance of mozzarella and goat cheeses that had just enough of the former that it didn’t overly dilute the piquance (or piquancy?) of the latter.

We don’t know who Art is, but we did like his Unfried Chicken ($13), which was a lot better than Oprah’s, for those of you who remember that diet and that cookbook. The coating was so crisp (a generous use of panko, I’d guess) that the baking-versus-frying thing was completely irrelevant, and we loved the accompanying roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, along with dried cranberries and a bit of cashew cream.

Mahi fish tacos ($10 for two, $3 extra for a third) were stuffed with crisp vegetables in the form of a chayote slaw as well as the creaminess of avocado, which was augmented by a drizzle of chipotle aioli. We did have a couple of quibbles with this one, though, in that the fish seemed pretty strong for mahi mahi, and the soft corn tortillas fell apart in the face of all that moisture. I’d suggest Lyfe check with its seafood purveyor; as for me, I think next time I might stick with the blackened mahi.

Lyfe Kitchen also serves breakfast and has a kids’ menu.

So, yes, we think Lyfe Kitchen may stick around for a while. It seems to have found a secret that has eluded others — food that has a healthful focus, which is easy to forget about when you’re eating it.

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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