Thursday, June 02, 2005

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.

Cafe Gratitude
2500 Harrison Street
San Francisco CA
415 824 4652
Monday - Saturday 9am - 10pm
Sunday - 10am - 3pm

This review was a first impression.

posted in and and and and
Cafe Gratitude - Harrison - San Francisco


  • At 2/6/05 09:12, Blogger eat stuff said…

    Hi Sam,

    That was the best review I have ever read, seriously. I needed a smile, and it made me laugh.

  • At 2/6/05 17:07, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That was funny! I Am Laughing.

  • At 26/3/06 13:07, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    For those of you who are interested in exploring new realms of possibilities in your dining experience, it is highly recommended that you choose Cafe Gratitude as a point of destination.
    Co-creators Matthew & Terces Engelhart have commited their lives to the service of the community. What they are grateful for is what they already have, and that is Being Abundant, the Present moment, & a World of Plenty. Indeed there truly is plenty for everyone!!!!
    Being a stand for Organic, Vegan, and Living foods is living life in harmony with our planet. Cafe Graitude is a shift from the old paradigm, without any evidence. They really did make this up!!!!
    Be brave, be bold. Try on a new experience. You are invited into the home of Cafe Gratitude, and may be asked a question you've never been asked before. What Are You Grateful For? What Do Yo Love About Your Life. How May I Acknowlegde You Today?
    Three Cafe's, One Entity. Cafe Gratitude is One Love!

  • At 26/3/06 13:24, Blogger Sam said…

    that about sums it up

  • At 21/10/06 14:49, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am a vegan, and I love the food at CG. But would it be possible to have their great food without their insufferable trappings, attitude and nonsense?

    To me it is self-evident that they hire on the basis of "abundance," rather than competence. I was a bit short with my waitress last time I was there because I was starving and she was taking forever to take our order (this happens all of the time in restaurants --- people who go to restaurants are often hungry). She was so traumatized that she had to send a different waiter over to deal with us from then on. I was in food service for years and I know how to differentiate a hungry patron from a genuine jerk, and I was certainly the former. Individuals who are too fragile to deal with the public shouldn't deal with the public.

    Then there was a screw up with the bill and the replacement waiter (himself not very professional) had to go through the bill with us item by item. This turned out to be funny. He would ask "And who was abundant? And who was grateful?" We'd stare blankly. Finally he broke down: "Fine. Who got the cous-cous and who had the soup?"

    I love the food. I really do.

  • At 17/11/06 10:58, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love this Cafe. True, the wait staff are not always competent, however their friendliness and enthusiasm make up for it.
    I understand that it is on the unusual side for dining, but I think stereotyping and sarcasm is a poor reflection on the reviewer.
    The food is good and nutritious, some dishes are better than others, the people are genuinely sweet.It is truly a lovely place to dine.

  • At 17/11/06 11:38, Blogger Sam said…

    I am sorry - I don't buy the 'genuinely sweet' thing. Genuine is about as far away as you can get from the way the servers are required to address their customers at CG. I have no doubt that the staff are sweet but I am sorry that they are required to perform in this manner. It is fake, it is acting and doesn't come across as genuine or natural at all.

    I also think the review sums up the experience pretty well and is aimed at cynics not believers.

    I guess we have different senses of humour. It still makes me laugh.

    Btw - the only critics I ever have on this blog are anonymous. I would have a great deal more respect for you if you had the courage to use your real identity.

  • At 2/2/07 15:17, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks for a great review. I think you summed the place up pretty well -- although I'm surprised you didn't love the "I Am Abundant" plate. It's one of my favorites.

    I've been going to Cafe Gratitude since it first opened on Harrison Street, and have had maybe 50 - 75 meals there. I love the place, because the food is amazing, and probably also because I'm rather earnest and corny myself, and so the vibe doesn't bother me. But the service is truly bad most of the time, as stated.

    However, I went there for lunch today, and for perhaps the first time ever, I actually received speedy service. It was a lovely experience. I Am Encouraged.

  • At 24/3/07 23:43, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I also have liked the food at Gratitude since they opened. Especially the desserts. However, recently I've noticed a disturbing trend.

    Their portions appear to be shrinking....

    Not sure if they weren't making enough money (hard to believe), or if it's my imagination (though a friend agrees with me), but for a place that celebrates abundance,
    seems like they'd get portion size right.

    I am disappointed.....

  • At 14/4/07 17:21, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I stopped reading after hitting the sentence "Matthew made his millions from selling workshops". In fact, Matthew and his former wife, Jeanne, made their millions and millions and millions from selling clothing at the farmers market in Ithaca, NY. This clothing line turned into what is now know as FLAX by Angelheart Designs. I'm sure you've seen the clothing before. Matthew is also a talented clothing designer as well and had a clothing line called Bee Keeper at one point in time. Jeanne, Matthew - and I guess now Terces - are the real deal. They are genuine, generous people with open hearts and an open home. I haven't been to Cafe Gratitude but I can tell you that it is very special having the Engelheart family in my life for many years although I do not see them regularly, they've inspired me in many ways to create my own reality. Please get your facts straight. You make Matthew sound like a quack and he is anything and everything but.

  • At 14/4/07 18:04, Blogger Sam said…

    Dear Anonymous

    you are quite correct - I made an inaccurate assumption from the material on their website and I have edited the post accordingly to reflect that. It's only a minor change, thank you for pointing it out.

    I don't think I really should be blamed for making Michael sound like a quack, though, he does a good enough job of that on is own site.

    You don't have to agree but many people might think that that requiring diners to request their food using sentences like "I am Spirit" is not exactly regular behaviour and it does come across as quirky, or quacky or whatever you prefer to call it.

  • At 26/7/07 16:13, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The food is nammed in the way that it is because the owners believe that affirmations work. They hope that by saying the words I am Loved, I am Grateful, I am Happy, that you may experiance more love, gratefulness, and happiness in your life.

    I see nothing quirky about that.

  • At 14/9/07 16:12, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    sam, an excellent review that had enidd giggling in recognition. and you are vindicated by enidd's recent experience after she was mugged.

  • At 14/9/07 16:51, Blogger Sam said…

    Enidd - I really can't believe that no one at Cafe Gratitude comforted or offered you a cup of tea or any other small gesture that might have gone some way to help you restore your faith in mankind just when you needed it most.

    Your story exactly goes to show that their ostentatious supposedly caring front is probably nothing more than bullshit.

    I am now very glad I didn't let them pull their hippy wool over my eyes.

  • At 17/9/07 23:54, Blogger Dagny said…

    I had to read this post after your most recent post. Obviously I had not started reading you on a regular basis when you first wrote this.

    I regularly walk past their location in Berkeley -- as in a few times a week. When they first opened, I rolled my eyes after hearing a description of the place from friends. It seemed to epitomize the hippy-dippy vibe that Berkeley is known for. And as a native of the area, I learned many years ago that indeed books cannot be judged by their covers. Yes, I can be pretentious at times but this place seems to take pretension to a whole new level.

  • At 18/9/07 01:43, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sounds a bit like the pompous, self indulgent attitude that so alienates most people from these touchy feely new age doofuses.

    I find it interesting that all the comments written in defence of the place are Anonymous, wonder what that says.

  • At 6/3/08 09:36, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I went to the one in San Rafael at the prompting of my college attending hippie daughter who has recently become a vegan due to her desire to leave less of a carbon footprint.

    I was immediately transported back in time to the seventies, and gazing around me saw aging 50 year olds (like myself) attending with their hippie children, and grooving in the time travel. All they needed was folk guitar performances and it was a flash back in time. However, it was a good time, and the freaky food was delicious, even to my meat eating sugar loving carbon footprinting self. I had to get over the anticipation of it tasting terrible, but I was wrong, it was good, and also good for me.

    I loved the affirmations, that too a seventies phenomena when we used to put signs on our mirrors that said, "I am Wonderful". Turns out, I am. I loved the odd ball behavior, fake or real, does it matter? It's a lot of fun, and if you just want the couscous, go to another boring place. For a night, be a hippie in 1970 and don't judge the youngsters (yes the service is bad) for believing in our old dream.... it's a nice dream.

    I am HaPPY and I am a Saltine Cracker.

  • At 6/3/08 09:39, Blogger Sam said…

    thank you anonymous - that is lovely, kind-spirited comment which is what this post needs.

  • At 21/3/08 17:25, Blogger bs said…

    i am smiling!

    i'm a texan who now lives in california. i love this place, but i must admit, having been a server at tgifridays, this looks familiar. at least my flair wasn't tattooed on.

    we take ourselves too seriously. there's room for cafe gratitude and also for people to be amused by cafe gratitude, even if they still eat there. i take visitors here in the same spirit a friend once advocated renting spurs and hats to traveling texans.

  • At 2/4/08 14:27, Blogger GypC said…

    So true! I've been reading the comments back & forth and before I got down to the last, I was baffled by how attached we can get to our opinions and how serious we take ourselves and our opinions. I absolutely LOVE Cafe Gratitude. More important than the fact that most the food at Cafe Gratitude is raw, nutritious, & delicious TO ME, is the intentions of gratitude & love put into the meals make this restaurant stand out from all the rest. Believe it or not, words/affirmations are energy, just like all things. Do some research and you'll discover the effect words have on plain water (Dr.Masaru Emoto). I AM BLESSED to be abundant enough to experience & eat at Cafe Gratitude as much as I do, and I have full appreciation for the Engelharts vision and all else who contributed. We need more establishments like CG...MY OPINION:)

  • At 16/3/09 15:09, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have not been to CG in SF, but to their newest one in Healdsburg. I LOVED it. I loved ordering. I loved having the wait staff bring my order to me and saying "you are effervescent, wonderful, charasmatic", etc. I am a vegan, 1 child is a vegetarian, the other an omnivore. We all found something to enjoy, and we played the game while waiting. I learned things about my 11 and 19 year old that I wouldn't have if we just went to an ordinary restaurant. It was more than just dinner. It was a journey. We left grateful.

  • At 12/12/09 15:26, Blogger bitt said…

    USED to be vegan? :-(

    spend LESS on food now? you'd rather eat worse now that you are older? most people I know are headed in the other direction.

    I'd love to see pictures of you and know how healthy you are.

  • At 31/1/10 19:43, Blogger Sam said…

    Hi Bitt.

    I am not sure I understand your point about money? I do spend more on food, probably now, than I have done in the past. I like to support local farms and produce, grass fed meat producers, people who raise chickens that are genuinely cage free and I favour organic produce where possible too. It's not always more expensive, I don't eat processed foods a lot. I try to eat a balanced diet and I feel much better than I did as a Vegan. I am generally healthy and fit and am consistently told I look younger than my years. I don't have any chronic health problems like you do - so I am not sure I understand the point you are trying to make.


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