Living with a vegetarian, it's no surprise that I've eaten at every vegetarian restaurant mentioned in this New York Times article Expanding the Frontiers of the Vegetarian Plate, currently ranked #7 on that website's list of most e-mailed articles. I can think of a few more vegetarian restaurants to choose from in San Francisco, but the article got all the big ones.

Our favorite is Millennium.

The one I would most like to get back to some day is Cha-Ya. We ate there once when it first opened.

I can only imagine people who don't live here must find the critic's description of the Cha-Ya dining experience quite...amusing. (I know it makes me laugh, and I live here.)
Starting with shira ae ($5.50), a salad of blanched and delicately pickled vegetables served atop a thick sesame tofu dressing. Slices of lotus root and rubbery yam cake added a seafoody aroma to the beans, pressed spinach, shiitakes, and rapini. Cha-Ya's kitchen is adept at imparting umami flavors without resorting to the usual fish-based ingredients. The miso soup was richly savory, and the Cha-Ya roll ($6.75), a lightly fried inside-out roll of asparagus and carrot drizzled in thick, sweet sauce, was deeply satisfying.

Each dish was perfectly prepared. The vegetables in the sushi rolls (we had asparagus, eggplant, mushroom, and rapini nigiri rolls ($3.50 each), and avocado and mushroom uramaki ($5.25) had been cooked to the moment of perfection. A bowl of kinoko udon soup ($7.75) was heavy with chunky mushrooms: enoki, shimeji, oyster and shiitake. The broth, and the noodles, were good enough to imagine climbing into the big stoneware bowl.

Guy hated Cafe Gratitude (too hippy-dippy), but I went to UC Santa Cruz. I graduated with an abiding revulsion of the Grateful Dead, but crackers of dehydrated raw seed, and cheesecake dyed with green algae? No problem.

As far as food goes, I'm much more adventurous with vegetarian fare than I ever am with meat. I will at least try anything that grows out of the ground (or grew on something that grew out of the ground, e.g., fungi). But never will any dead animal creature's liver, kidney, heart, brain, foot, tongue, stomach, intestine, or any reproductive organ, ever pass my lips.


Gina said...

OH MY GOODNESS - I loved Cafe Gratitude!! A friend I visited back in March took us there knowing I'm a vegetarian - it was a lot of fun and the food was really good.

anna maria said...

I've tried them all except for Cha-ya. For some reason I had never heard of it.
I like Gratitude, but I also really like Alive!, which didn't make the list.

chuck b. said...

Alive! is the teeny-tiny little place on Lombard Street, right? We've been there too. We liked it but it's so out of the way from Bernal Heights...Pretty much every vegetarian restaurant in the city except Greens is closer; I doubt we'll ever make it there again.

Cha-ya is good. While it sounds very Asian-y, and it is, the flavors are perhaps more dynamic than what one might expect. The ambiance is nil. If I recall correctly, it's lit with shop lights.

lisa said...

I'm no vegan, but I like the sound of those dishes! (Of course, anything loaded with mushrooms is my kind of meal.) But I'm with you regarding ingesting various animal parts...um, no. I realize these gross dishes came about when people were much more poor (and hungry), but I can't imagine EVER being hungry enough for tripe! Nah, I'd eat bugs first!