The Southwest baked potato

The Southwest baked potato and a Blueberry Twist quencher at Malfi's in La Canada Flintridge on Wednesday, July 6, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)

It might be the heat or perhaps it's due to skimpy swimsuits, but summer usually means lighter eating. So the timing couldn’t be better for the recent opening of the outstanding salad-and-smoothie restaurant, Malfi’s in La Cañada. Named for the captivating Amalfi Coast in Italy, Malfi’s is the new-and-improved incarnation of owner Mary Geyer‘s former smoothie spot Juice It Up, which was housed in the same location. At Malfi, the juice drinks are better and the salads are a stellar addition.

Because Malfi’s is casual and sells smoothies like Jamba Juice, one might think it’s a fast food restaurant where you can be in and out in five minutes. This is not the case. Just like the food trend popular in Italy, one should think of this place as a “slow food” site. It takes time to fill your order not just because there’s typically only one employee on duty, but because each salad, drink or specialty baked potato is built separately using freshly cut produce.

They’re worth the wait. For instance, the Southwest Salad is a gem worth returning for. It’s a perfect balance of mixed fresh field greens, roasted corn, black beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, green onions, black olives and cilantro. The spicy homemade roasted red pepper dressing is creamy and complex. The chicken Caesar is also very good with a thick, tangy dressing, but I’d save the Caesar for a trip to a steakhouse. At Malfi’s, the more unique salads — like the coriander chicken with mandarins, sesame seeds and five-spice dressing or the loaded spinach with hard-boiled eggs, blue cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, pecans and a pomegranate-acai vinaigrette — really shine. The best part? A large salad easily feeds two.

There are choices for athletes (power salad with nuts, berries and chicken) as well as dieters (vegetables from the bar with lean proteins and fat-free dressings). Or if you prefer heartier fare, they offer baked Idaho or sweet potatoes with various toppings ($3.95 to $5.25). Options include the garden potato, which is topped with veggies and your choice of cheese; the sausage sweet potato with turkey sausage, provolone and basil; and the Greek, which is adorned with artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and roasted chicken.

But don’t forget to save room for something to slake your thirst. Be sure to try a quencher, fresh-squeezed juice or blended drink, with ingredients and preparation unique enough to make Malfi’s seem like an alcohol-free cocktail bar. The black curant cooler, for instance, is similar to a Moscow mule (without the vodka) with its orange juice, pureed black currant, muddled lime, fresh ginger and sparkling water ($2.95). That kick of ginger is so refreshing on a hot day. The P. Star with pineapple, strawberries, vanilla yogurt and orange sherbet is as rejuvenating as it is filling ($4.35). Some other unique offerings are the spicy sangrita with orange and tomato juices, celery seed, parsley and hot sauce ($2.95) and the cucumberaide with fresh squeezed cukes and crisp green apples ($4.35). For the true health nut, any fresh produce from the bar can be juiced and enjoyed for $5.95.

Most customers get their food to-go in simple cardboard boxes. But the sunny dining area with its high tables and board games makes for a pleasant place to take a breather on a busy day.

It’s just what the doctor ordered for the fun-filled days of summer and beyond.

A lifelong cook and food lover, Lisa Dupuy is now honing her backyard farming skills. She is currently harvesting 6-foot tall tomato plants. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.

Infobox:

What: Malfi’s

Where: 442 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada

When: 10 a.m to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday

Prices: Salads, regular $7.95, large $9.95; baked potatoes $3.95 - $5.45; quenchers $2.95; juices, blends and smoothies $2.85 - $5.95

Contact: (818) 952-7063