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MARCH 17, 2007 8:45 PM

I went to visit family in the San Francisco Bay Area and got home a week ago. I know we try to speak locally on this blog, but I figure sometimes local people go on vacation and this would be a handy little restaurant guide for if/when you get there. My uncles there were very supportive about my vegan diet and borrowed a book on vegetarian restaurants of the area from a friend for the occassion. Of course, I looked online before I left as well. These are the highlights, as you can eat almost anywhere in SF. This is what we came up with:

1. Café Gratitude: Berkeley
Although the first Café Gratitude started in San Francisco, we went to the one in Berkeley first. Its funky atmosphere immediately made us feel comfortable. However, neither uncle #1 nor I were very comfortable with the mystical spirituality that permeated the menu, card games and staff (visit the website to see what I mean), but we were open to a new experience. After all, organic, raw and vegan cannot be bad. Both of us ordered "i am elated" which was the enchilada of the day. It had a live spinach tortilla filled with rice and sunflower seeds, topped with salsa verde. It came with a side of Mexican cole slaw and either steamed quinoa or Bhutanese red rice. I opted for the former while uncle #1 opted for the latter, especially after he heard it used to be forbidden to all people except emperors. We also got guac on the side. My drink was "i am refreshed" (lemonade) and my uncle got "i am charismatic" (ginger spiced carrot and lime juice). My uncle also poured us some "joy", which is water. All of the flavors complimented each other very nicely. We were impressed. I highly recommend this place.

2. Millennium Restaurant: Hotel California in San Francisco
One of the top-rated vegan restaurants, Millennium did not disappoint in food or service. They choose organic whenever they can as well as support sustainable agriculture and small farms. All of us got the same thing and unfortunately I have committed one of the most grievous sins that I can in food world and that is forget what we ordered. All I have written is Cartoccio, so you will have to bare with me. There was sausage-style seitan, baby artichokes and a rissoto. The food complimented itself very nicely. For dessert, I had the Chocolate Almond Midnight, uncle #1 had blood-orange, chai tea and chocolate sorbet and uncle #2 had rice pudding. All of us found them very delicious. I think the sorbets and rice pudding are self-explanatory, but I will explain the Chocolate Almond Midnight a little more. The crust was made of almonds and cashew. The filling was mocha chocolate and the sauces were raspberry and white chocolate mousse. It was very impressive, as it came with a fancy piece of dark chocolate sticking out of the middle. I recommend going to this restaurant; however, I think I built up the anticipation a bit too much. It was not as amazingly fantastic as I had anticipated, but it still did not disappoint.

On another note, Chef Eric Tucker from Millennium Restaurant will be at the Vegetarian Awakening Conference at GRCC on April 2 and 3. Registration is still open!

3. The Cafe at the de Young: San Francisco
I just wanted to highlight the use of "silver"ware in this cafe. Although what we got was silverware, they did have disposable cutlery as well. However, this was biodegradable cutlery made from potato starch--spudware. Pretty neat, huh?

4. Café La Vie: Santa Cruz
veggie rolls at cafe la vie
I went to visit a former roommate in Santa Cruz and she brought me here. The atmosphere is an eclectic mix of tropical, indian and american with decorative grass, indian music and mix and match dinnerware. They pride themselves on mostly raw, local, seasonal and organic food. My friend ordered the vegetarian rolls while I ordered a sprouted wrap with avocado, mushrooms, quinoa and various vegetables. While tasty, I preferred the food of Café Gratitude more.

5. Golden Lotus: Oakland
The Golden Lotus makes vegetarian and vegan chinese food. It is one of those foods that I don't feel like making for myself (beyond the casual stir fry, that is) and miss the most. I was not disappointed, as this place was in the top two of restaurants I ate in this vacation week. We were warned of the lax service before we went, so we were prepared for the worst. However, we were pleasantly surprised with the prompt arrival of our menus and food. The place was very busy, so it must be popular on a Friday night. We had the imperial rolls (which were good, but nothing out of the ordinary), spicy mongolian beef, ginger chicken and house rice claypot. We hesitated ordering for a while, since the restaurant still used the omnivore names for the food. Despite their veggie disclaimer on the back, it was hard to get used to. The spicy mongolian beef was easily the favorite of the night, as my omnivorous uncles noted they would not be able to tell the difference between it and actual spicy mongolian beef. The chicken was a little weird in the texture area, but otherwise everything was amazing. Most of the desserts are vegan (they even have vegan "milk"shakes) and the chocolate mousse torte was no exception. Deee-licious.

As you have just read, it's been quite the week of vegan, raw, organic and local food. One of the nights, my uncle made amazing four-bean chili that we ate while watching TV with their three pugs. I felt very welcome by family members whom I do not see often and was reminded again that food is a community building event.