One Last Taste of the Bay Area

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Looking on the bright side of having our travels delayed by a week, it gave me a chance to check out some Bay Area vegan (or vegan-friendly) restaurants I'd not yet been to. Well, ok I confess, most of these I did not visit in the last week, I just haven't gotten around to writing them up. So here goes...

Unicorn (San Francisco's Financial District)

It's probably the dorkiest name I can think of for a restaurant. (All I could think of when eating there is Planet Unicorn. Don't click that link unless you want that goddamn song in your head all day.) Now it's not hard to find vegan pan-Asian food, but what's notable about them is they have a vegan prix fixe menu in addition to their omni dishes.

It sounded like a bit too much food at the time, so we got individual dishes that were unfortunately, not particularly impressive. Most upsetting was that the dish I ordered was supposed to come with tofu and they gave me a fake-chicken gluten-based substance instead. I've got a major aversion to fake-chicken so I just ate around it. Lame! I would not likely go back even if I were sticking around. But maybe if you're a vegan working in the FiDi it would be a good option.

Manzanita (Oakland)

UGH. I'm not at all averse to macrobiotic food. You'll soon be hearing me gush about Iku, like all the time. But I am averse to being charged $15 for a lunch buffet consisting of plain steamed vegetables, plain rice, and crappy salad. I'm all for healthy eating, but there's a way to do it with flavor. Herbs go a long way, people. This is the kind of thing that makes people [idiots] think that vegans are depriving themselves. For several counter-examples, see below.

Gracias Madre (San Francisco's Mission District)

It would be really easy to hate on a pricey vegan Mexican-ish restaurant from the white folks at Cafe Gratitude coming in to a historically Latino neighborhood where tension over gentrification is already high. That said, the food at Gracias Madre is so good, they make it really hard to hate or care about its authenticity. It's not like they're driving the local taquerias out of business. I'll still hit up Pancho Villa for a burrito any chance I get.

What they do instead is obviously more "inspired by Mexican" food, using local ingredients that taste really damn good. And I'm a sucker for a kick-ass Sangria. The menu rotates but I implore you to try to the Coliflor con Queso if they've got it. So good, as was my tamale and the tacos I sampled.

Encuentro (Oakland's Jack London Square)

I love just about anything served tapas style, because it means I get to sample so many different great tastes, and Encuentro is no exception. While not all vegan, most dishes can be made so. And not in a "we'll just take out this giant hunk of cheese and charge you the same price" way that many restaurants do. They're big on nut-based cheeses. And apparently, so am I. We got dates stuffed with macadamia nut cheese and it was awesome!

They're definitely small plates. Like this teeny-ass portobello sandwich pictured here. But I found the prices actually fairly reasonable so you can get a lot of plates. For a group of four it was under $100 including wine (which was excellent).

Yield Wine Bar (San Francisco's Dogpatch District)

We went here for a friend's art opening a few weeks ago. While they're not that new, we'd always wanted to check it out, as they're known for organic and biodynamic wine selections. Turns out they also have great food that's often vegan-friendly. The menu rotates and the night we came they were just putting out plates for guests. We had some delicious lentil pate and this awesome cashew-based dip that was almost like a fondue to dip veggies in. I couldn't get enough. Plus the staff there is super-friendly. I chatted with the chef for a while and was totally inspired that he started out just as a "home cook" like me, with no training, and just walked into Millennium one day and asked if he could work there unpaid to learn the ropes. How cool is that?

So there you have it. The latter three restaurants here I will definitely regret not having the chance to eat at again before we move, but there's always our visits back, which I'm sure will be plentiful!