Cafe Gratitude - Harrison - San Francisco
This review was published first on SFist and is hence written in their style, using the royal we. It is also an entry in Dine & Dish no. 2 - All Hail the Queens of Cuisine hosted by Sarah at The Delicious Life.
In which SFist eats our way around the Bay Area in alphabetical order.
We admit we are a bit of a loss to describe the ethos behind Cafe Gratitude. We are told that Matthew Engelhart is a millionaire who started training in the being of abundance in 1984. Yes - he is the kind of guy who believes he might have made his fortune from following he practices he now sells in his workshops. Twenty years down the line Matthew, who apparently keeps his attention on all there is to be grateful for, has opened an organic, vegan, raw, mostly live foods restaurant at 2400 Harrison Street, where his wife, Terces, has the auspicious title of chef 'Genius'.
If you are confused, don't worry so are we. We are Overjoyed to have already survived a dinner at Cafe Gratitude and We are Thankful we escaped unscathed to tell the tale. We are Alive! If we had actually read a little more carefully through the funky website before choosing this place as our G destination, maybe we would have given Gratitude a miss. But that would have also meant missing out on some interesting food and a unique experience. We are Accepting.
The menu is long and unusual. Every item has a hippyish name. If you want an $3, 8oz Watermelon, lemon and mint juice, you can't simply ask for it that easily. You must say I am Wonderful. Well, we secretly like to think of ourselves as wonderful, we can't deny it, but this drink was not nearly as tasty or tangy as I am Effervescent made from Café Gingerale, apples, ginger and naturally sparkling water, also $3. I am Berry Sweet was even more delicious although the blend of Fresh Strawberries with almond milk, dates, and vanilla bean for $6.50 might have made a better dessert than apperitif.
The wait staff make up for what they lack in competence with their boundless energy and excitable mannerisms. If you are the kind of person who is uncomfortable shaking hands and having to introduce yourself by name to your server before giving a personal run down of why I am Celebrating, then Cafe Gratitude is definitely not the place where you will find your comfort zone.
It might have taken us an hour or more to get to the place where we were at ease with choosing from the long, complicated and unfamiliar menu, but we didn't have all night. So, over a bowl of I am Spirit, a $3 ramekin of totally addictive, sweet, salty, live teriyaki spiced almonds, we made quick, off the cuff decisions about what we would eat based largely on what caught our eye first.
We actually ordered an appetizer but our server was apparently oblivious to standard dining practices and, unfortunately, it arrived along with the entrees. Too much food on the table at once. I am Bountiful is live bruschetta, sun ripened tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and stone ground olive oil atop two slices of live bread, served with mixed greens and a taste of olive tapenade for $7. Intense and garlicky, this was possibly our favourite dish of the evening.
One of our reserved, English companions who likes to dine with the absolute minimum of fuss and attention chose I am Flourishing. We admit we were more than worried about what his reaction to this less mainstream dining experience would be but, surprisingly, he absolutely loved his dish. Live almond and sesame seed falafels with hummus, olive tapenade, cucumber tsziki and fresh tomatoes on a bed of mixed greens, served with live toast $10 didn't stand a chance in his company. Not even one little sesame seed survived his hungry assault.
For the uninitiated and undecided like us, I am Abundant, for $12, might seem like a safe choice. This is a sampler plate consisting of live nachos, a magical mushroom (organic cremini mushrooms stuffed with walnut and sunflower seed pate), olive tapenade, live hummus and a mini thai coconut soup. This mound of barely indistinguishable vegetable stuff comes with a plentiful selection of hearty live bread and crackers. We were told that the butternut squash noodles on the menu were not in season. Not being the biggest fan of squash anyway, we were more than happy with the replacement greens.
It was interesting to get a taste of so many different menu items on a mixed plate. A little bit of this and that certainly means more initial excitement for the tastebuds. This particular kind of vegan food, however, uses a lot of nuts, garlic and oil. After several mouthfuls, it became dense, heavy, too rich and increasingly more difficult to consume. Everything started to taste the same. Half way through the plate we could take no more of this raw veggie onslaught.
Well, not quite. We still had just enough room to try the attractive-sounding, I am Thankful, Spicy coconut curry live soup with avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, and shiitake mushrooms. From reviews we had read on the net prior to our visit we were expecting a Thai-style soup but the curry element was overwhelmingly a yellow Indian spice mix like Madras. The shiitake appeared to be a way on vacation whilst the avocado made only a fleeting appearance. The strange taste didn't work, for us, especially as a room temperature soup. I am disappointed.
There is no doubt that some people love this restaurant. If we were still an impressionable vegan like we used to be in our youth, we probably would be somewhat of a permanent fixture here too. Even on a Monday evening Cafe Gratitude was absolutely packed, more than proving its popularity in certain quarters. These days we are older, wiser, more cynical and we are not sure that this is the kind of place, or the kind of food on which we want to spend our money. If we were to give it another try one day, we would be sure to taste some of the less rich, more purely vegetable dishes that caught on our eye on other peoples' tables over the heavy, garlicky more complicated options that seduced us this time round.
We don't like to stereotype, but this place is about as kooky, hippy Californian as it gets. Check it out, if you are brave enough, if only for the unique experience. Just don't sign up for the course, the real world would hate to lose you just yet.
2500 Harrison Street
San Francisco CA
415 824 4652
Monday - Saturday 9am - 10pm
Sunday - 10am - 3pm
This review was a first impression.