San Francisco Treats

July 28, 2011

I used to think San Francisco was a city par excellence. That was before I visited Portland though. San Francisco has its charm — quirky, vibrant, hippy-dippy, uber-liberal and chic. But it’s also sprawling, gritty, depressed and depressing. There are North Beach’s hilly, verdant and windy courtyards and byways, but there’s also the Mission’s spottiness. There’s the pristine and peerless Ferry Building as well as the seediness that’s  just outside Union Square. There’s urban decay in lots of places, but there are also fertile green spaces sprinkled throughout. It’s local-centric and tourism friendly. SF truly is a metropolis — a mystifying city with lots of beauty and sketchiness.

However, its vegan food is abundant and well established. I could dedicate a whole entry (or series of entries) to Gracias Madre. I’ll say it again and in many different ways, but it was incredible. Everything was intensely flavorful and fresh. Menu, service, presentation, drinks all fantastic. We had two of our first three dinners there, and we didn’t feel as though we were making a safe choice. We also had a wonderful meal at the famous Millennium. The facade of the place is fairly unassuming; it’s been housed inside a hotel for a long time and doesn’t seem to suffer any consequences from this. We also had memorable eats at Cafe Gratitude, Herbivore and Source.

Gracias Madre – I don’t think any meal could be better than what we got here. We sampled a good portion of the menu on the two nights we ate there. We had grilled corn on the cob, an empanada, a quesadilla, a Caesar salad, mole, tacos, guacamole and a wonderfully sour-ish cauliflower and cheese dish. The salsa was outstanding and so were the tortillas. A wonderful cashew cheese was dripped on nearly everything, and the drinks and drink lists were stellar. We fell in love.

Cafe Gratitude – I can’t believe someone advised against us going here. This is owned by the same folks as Gracias Madre, and the same care is taken with each aspect of this business. We had an unbelievable cacao shake that was nutty, malty and chocolatey. Then we had a coconut-bacon BLT, which was exotic, but also impossibly tasty and healthy. We also shared a great rice bowl, and had to visit another location in Healdsburg, where we got tacos, falafel and raw key lime pie (made with avocados).

Millennium – This is the vegan mecca. It didn’t disappoint. We couldn’t resist the fried squash blossoms as an appetizer. The flowers were polenta encrusted and accompanied by a grilled nectarine and jalapeno salsa, zucchini remoulade and pickled green tomatoes. I ordered a pastry roulade as an entree, and Nicole had a semolina crepe. Mine had grilled seitan sausage with mushrooms, potatoes, lentils, chard, shallot and fennel. It also had a cherry red-wine reduction and black pepper-thyme oil with pickled chard stems. This was not a texture I see much anymore — flaky, chewy, crispy. Just an ideal, artistic meal. Nicole’s was not as impressive, but great nonetheless. Her crepe contained leeks, carmelized onions, lemon tofu cheese, roasted zucchini cream sauce as well as a chili powder and onion salsa. That’s masterful, right? We felt like we were in the hands of experts the whole time. We also shared an almond-chocolate dessert with white chocolate mousse, mocha filling, almond crust and a raspberry sauce.

Herbivore – This wasn’t on the same level, but we had a nourishing, tasty meal. I had falafel, and Nicole got moussaka. Both were well executed meals, and Herbivore delivered on the fast and healthy vegan front.

Source – Good stuff here, though we only shared a delicious artichoke spread. Their menu is huge, and the location is strange.

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