I must confess that I had low expectations when I heard about eatsa, the quinoa-centric, fully automated, fast-casual place that opens this coming Monday (August 31) in the Financial District. It sounded like a trend-chaser that caters to awkward Software-Americans’ hatred of interpersonal communication, and I've gotten to be very cynical about effusive claims of goodness and wellness (ahem, Proper Food.)
I’m still a little iffy on the automate-everybody-out-of-a-job trend that looks to engulf us all sooner or later, but after one burrito bowl, I was pretty impressed with how seamless and (frankly) cool eatsa's setup was. (To be fair, there are actual humans involved; they’re just completely out of sight.) But considering that the FiDi is a taqueria-free land of limp salads and pricey, sit-down lunches, this was a shrewd way to change up fast food. And everything is only $6.95!
Here’s how it works. You order at a tablet, paying by card, and your name appears on a screen overhead along with the number of the glass-door cubby in which your food will appear. (They look like a combination of bus station lockers and mini-ovens, but in a nice futuristic tough, the glass is also a screen.)
You have a several choices, among them a Mediterranean salad, a curry bowl, a burrito bowl, and a smokehouse salad. Typically, when I see a prompt marked “customize,” I assume that means “take the following stuff away, cause I’m allergic,” so I foolishly neglected to tool around and discover that I could have gotten a truffle egg added to my burrito bowl. (Next time!)
It took about three minutes to materialize, which isn’t that much slower than Star Trek’s replicator, and it arrives with your name on it. The portion size was surprisingly generous (again, $6.95?). The pico could have used more salt, and I would have preferred less corn and more cheese, but the chips were fresh and the guac was particularly great. Since I was visited by the hobgoblin of thirst, I sucked down a number of low-sugar drinks, like peach tea and ginger-lime, all of them good.
Overall, eatsa is quite excellent. Rather than “I want an Audi A4 and I don’t want to look a fellow human being in the eye” or “Somebody get my dog a date,” I feel like finally, tech is solving actual problems, and solving them well.