For me -- and I think for all who venture to this unique eatery -- there is a feeling when you eat this flavorful food, that for the most part, it in its purest form, and a bit of a jolt to the system occurs. You're eating food without the normal components that our bodies are used to. For me it’s always a huge jolt. Almost a Kramer-like moment from Seinfeld. For someone who is not a vegan or a vegetarian, that is really what excites me. My brain is saying, "I’m not supposed to like this. It doesn’t have the ingredients that I want: butter, cheese, flour, cream, poultry, fish and meat." I’m sure there’s something I'm leaving out, but you get the idea. How do they do it? Honestly, I'm not altogether sure. I've found out that nuts are soaked overnight or longer, creating a cream used in some of the desserts. Grains like sprouted wheat are put in a dehydrator to create some of the offerings we might look at as bread. A high-powered food processor is also a factor in the creation of the food. Trying to explain the whole process, I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to do. Do you really want to know how the magician does that trick that you love so much? Here the trick becomes a reality.
The environment cuts right to what I feel about any and every restaurant: the interior is the stage and, like the theater, it must take you somewhere. Café Gratitude's whole interior is based on a board game created by a husband and wife team who are also the proprietors. The game expounds the idea of creating abundance and being grateful for what you have in your life. Reflecting that idea, everything on the menu is ordered as a positive affirmation. The walls are painted with pictures of the game, giving one the feeling of being in an animated film. Simply put: go experience this restaurant, then we’ll talk….
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Memphis Minnie's BBQ Joint
Reviewed Café Gratitude: Sunday, July 16, 2006
Before my first visit to Café Gratitude, I was, to be honest, skeptical. As an omnivore, a raw vegan eatery was not on top of my list of places to visit. I was accompanied by two dear friends and regulars of the iconic Mission District restaurant. My first impression was how genuinely nice the staff is; I was immediately made to feel at home. Artistically done in the manner of the neighborhood, Café Gratitude is airy, warm, and comfortable. We were quickly seated at 1 PM on a Sunday afternoon after only a short wait.
We started with a variety of drinks: two smoothies, one juice, and one herbal tea. I AM COOL (all menu items are named for an affirming statement, and served as such) is a mint, raw cacao, and Brazil nut milk smoothie, as good as advertised -- cool and crisp with a wonderful sweetness. The cold-processed mocha (I AM LUSCIOUSLY AWAKE) was surprisingly full of espresso flavor. The I Am Vital tea (tangerine, ginger, and clove) was spicy and aromatic. Finally, the juice we ordered (I Am Rejuvenated) was creamy and smooth, full of apple, wheatgrass, ginger, and lemon, and quite refreshing. At $8, the smoothies are a bit pricey, but given the ingredients and size (16 oz.), you get what you pay for.
We started with a sampler platter (I AM ABUNDANT) of tapenade, guacamole, nachos, and hummus. The cold Thai coconut soup (I AM THANKFUL) was one of my favorites; wonderfully curried, with a perfect balance of sweet and spicy. The I AM MAHALO is a take on the classic pineapple pizza done with avocado and two "cheeses" (a nut-based ricotta and parmesan), and a crust of buckwheat flour and sunflower seeds. Not what you want if you are craving a Chicago deep-dish pie, but the flavor was abundant and the nut "cheeses" were surprisingly creamy. All of the dishes were substantial with a great deal of flavor.
For dessert, the coconut cream pie (I AM DEVOTED) was wonderfully lush with a great texture and perfectly crisp crust. We also tried the tiramisu (I AM ADORING) and mudslide pie (I AM HEAVENLY); both are rich and will satisfy any chocoholic’s craving. Unfortunately they were out of three of the desserts we asked for, but the server was accommodating and recommended comparable selections.
Especially with the skepticism I went to Café Gratitude with, I was greatly surprised on how much flavor could be extracted from raw food. Creative use of herbs, nut, grains, and spices made dishes supple without being heavy (something I never imagined having to worry about here). The prices are reasonable and the atmosphere so positive that an occasional visit just to boost your mood is worth the trip. Luckily, you can get a great meal while improving your outlook on life. Were I vegan this would be my new favorite place; as a meat-eater, I encourage others to give this place a try with an open mind. Although it will never replace my carnivorous haunts, I am looking forward to my next visit to Café Gratitude.
Name: Mary Joan
Occupation: Consultant - Architectural Engineering
Favorite Restaurant: Ovation at the Opera
Reviewed Café Gratitude: Tuesday, July 11, 2006
For an appetizer, we had the I AM ABUNDANT sampler plate. It was live nachos, a kale and sea veggie salad, stuffed mushrooms, olive tapenade, live hummus, a Thai coconut soup, and served with live crackers and almond toast. Sprightly olive tapenade and bright and piquant Thai coconut soup -- it proved to be a collection of confusing vegetables and the flavors were hard to distinguish. Everything looked green and we left most of it.
For the entrees, we tried the I AM CELEBRATING special daily offering, which was zucchini noodles over daikon…for all the “freshness” there was no flavor. We also tried the I AM MAHALO Hawaiian pizza with pineapple, avocado, and marinara. The avocado was fresh.
For desserts, we tried the I AM MAGNIFICENT raw chocolate mousse with raw cacao and coconut blended into a rich and creamy mousse. We were stunned that anything chocolate could be a grainy flavorless disappointment. We also tried the I AM STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE and the only resemblance to strawberry shortcake was that the cream-style top was pink. After a bite of each dessert, we decided that the flavors were muddy, nothing appetizing, and we would rather eat cardboard.
We also had glasses of red organic wine (four of them): tasty.
Located in an edgy, industrial area, Café Gratitude conveyed a welcoming atmosphere: Frodo meets Woodstock. The inception of the restaurant sprang from a board game entitled Abounding River, created by the owner. Each table had the board game embedded on top with cards and game pieces in little baskets for those who wished to participate fully in the Café Gratitude experience. Original artwork enlivened the walls, and the game and other Café Gratitude souvenirs were available for purchase. A live vegan establishment, it was crowded with interesting folks on their way to Burning Man, and the service was eager to please.
The other clients appeared to be enjoying the true vegan experience. Apparently there are many folks who find this a successful dining experience, since there are now three Café Gratitude locations, one in Berkeley. Street parking was easy.