When I was asked if I would like a trip to San Francisco my reply was 'Where do I sign'? I have often been to San Francisco airport but always went south not north - so I would finally get to walk on the Golden Gate which I have flown over so often. In fact we only had a few days in the city itself so I was determined to eat at the top two vegetarian restaurants: Millennium and Greens.
Greens was my first stop. The restaurant is in the Fort Mason Complex which juts out into the bay. We went on a Thursday evening, arriving at 7.30pm. The main dining area, which must seat 100 to 150 people, was packed.
I could not see a free table and was relieved that we had booked. The waiter took us through the main room into a smaller area beyond which had 12 tables seating about 45 people. We sat at a table by one of the large windows that gives a view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Greens Restaurant We watched the sun set behind the hills and then the lights appear on the bridge itself - quite magical. As this is a vegetarian restaurant I had expected to see fresh fruit juices and fresh juice smoothies on the menu but the non-alcoholic drinks list was limited. I had a hot apple drink with cinnamon which was quite lovely. The food was out of this world. I started with a buckwheat pancake filled with sweet potato, served with a mustard sauce and walnuts. Everything was perfect and the combination was delicious. My main dish was a thick slice of aubergine, topped with a circular stack of roasted vegetables and finally pecorino cheese which has been melted. This was served with grilled polenta slices - yum! I finished with a plain cheesecake on a pistachio biscuit base served with a citrus coulis which had whole mandarin slices. The tart citrus sauce worked well with the very rich cheesecake. I rounded of the meal with an espresso. Being a little way from the city centre I think this is a destination restaurant, certainly the food would make one return and the views are just icing on the cake.
I worked off some of the meal the next day when we walked the length of Union Street. Between Steiner Street and Octavia Street are a range of individual shops - a very different shopping experience to Union Square. We planned to eat at Alive! in Lombard Street but confused the opening times and they were closed. A peek through the windows made me feel I must return and give it a try. The next day we headed for the tourist area 'Fisherman's Wharf'. It is from here that the fishing fleet used to operate. It is now remodelled into shopping arcades with a pedestrian precinct along the sea front all the way to Fort Mason. I avoided the section where Dungeness crab (a local speciality) was being cooked - the sight and smell was horrid. As the weather was lovely we hired bicycles and followed the circular route across the Golden Gate to Sausalito, returning by ferry.
Sausalito Once back at Fisherman's Wharf we bought our souvenirs and proceeded on to Union Square via Juicey Lucy's. This is a small cafe that offers a range of interesting fruit and vegetable drinks. I had a refreshing 'orange zinger' which was orange juice, banana and ginger. They also have a small menu of mainly salads. The place had a bohemian feel to it and the service was painfully slow. Once at Union Square, we tried the Westfield Mall for lunch. This is a great shopping centre with Macy's, Nordstrom and Bloomingdales plus many other stores all under one roof. In the basement is a food court. About 20 different food outlets are placed around the edge of the room. Each has at least one vegetarian option - some such as the salad bar have more. With so many outlets there is plenty for a vegetarian to choose. We ate lunch here twice and I had a vegan noodle soup the first time and a salad the second. It is a very popular place to eat and gets very busy at lunch time.
We left San Francisco to spend a few days in Yosemite National Park. If you like the natural world and have the opportunity, try to go. Late March/April is a good time as the snows are melting and the waterfalls are in full flow. Be warned, none of the eating establishments in the park really cater for vegetarians, so expect to eat salads and sandwiches while you are there. On our way back to San Francisco we stopped in Berkeley and had lunch at Cafe Gratitude. This is a vegan restaurant where the food is served raw (or nearly raw).
Cafe Gratitude I chose the 'I am berry' smoothie which was a mixture of almond milk, dates, strawberries and vanilla essence. For my meal I had 'I am cheerful' : sprouted pumpkin seed and walnut burger on sweet onion sunflower bread with macadamia cheddar 'cheese'. The burger was topped with pickles, home made salsa and spouted seeds and was served with lettuce and cucumber. Vegan desserts are a rarity for me so I made the most of this visit by finishing with Key lime pie. The whole meal was delicious - I can not fault the food and I wish they had a branch closer to my home so I could go more often.
As we had unseasonably warm weather during our trip we decided to spend a day on the beach and headed for Santa Cruz. On our arrival we decided that the boardwalk did not appeal after all and moved on to Monterey, stopping at Gayle's Rosticceria and Bakery in Capitola to see what was on offer for a picnic. The shop is situated in a small shopping mall on the corner of Bay Avenue and Capitola Road. The counters form an inverted 'L' shape. They cook their own meats to make their sandwiches. If you want to avoid seeing this, as you stand in front of the building, enter by the right hand door. The cooking is carried out on your far left. We were there mid-morning on a Monday and I was not aware of an aroma of cooking meat. To the right of the cooking area is a counter with ready-to-heat meals in containers to take home and next in line are the sandwiches. I should say straight out that there is not an enormous selection for vegetarians but what they do offer is very fresh, very different and very delicious. There were four sandwich options and 4 salads. I chose half a tofu and Chinese vegetable sandwich, a spinach wrap, a carton of coleslaw and a carton of Asian noodle salad.
Yosemite Falls I passed on the asparagus frittata sandwich (battery eggs) and the cheese sandwich (animal rennet). The tofu had been marinated and grilled and was quite delicious - they also sell the tofu loose. I was unsure what to expect with the cold spinach wrap. It was a tortilla spread with herb cream cheese, layered with cooked spinach and topped with mushrooms - then rolled up and sliced into sections. The mushrooms had been soaked in a soy-tasting marinade and the whole combination was delicious. The Asian noodles were also very good and the only thing I did not like was the coleslaw I chose. I just did not like the dressing. I was impressed that the tofu sandwich and Asian noodle salad were vegan. It is not often that you can get such unusual, yet tasty vegan option in a veggie friendly place. The long side of the 'L' shaped counter was given over to bakery goods. Breads, bread rolls, cakes, buns, danish etc. There was also a chiller with cold drinks. Suffice it to say that we were very happy with our choices and our beach picnic was a great success.
Monterey is quite a pleasant town on the edge of a very large
bay, with beautiful views. You can walk along the sea shore and
there are areas where the harbour seals haul out almost within touching distance (not recommended!). Also it has an interesting shopping and harbour area that is pedestrian friendly. That evening we ate at the India's Clay Oven. This is a real treat for vegetarians.
India's Clay Oven You access via a lift (elevator) as it is on the first floor. We were seated by the windows which run the length of the room and it was rather relaxing to be above the bustle of the town below. There was the choice of an all-you-can-eat-buffet or al a carte. After one look at the 30 items - we both chose the buffet. I mentioned that I was vegetarian and the very helpful owner pointed out the items to avoid which were six meat curries. Everything else was vegetarian - a veritable feast. We tried a bit of everything between us - several appetizers including cauliflower samosa, various vegetable curries, two types of bread and rice. Everything was made in house and there were even home made desserts - a pumpkin halva and gulab jamuns - heaven!!
Back in San Francisco another lunchtime venue was La Parrilla Grill. They have 6 branches and the one we tried was in Polk Street. My expectations were quite low as I have not had good experience with Mexican food in the US. Whilst they do not have a huge choice there is a vegetarian option in each category. What amazed me was the vegan option - a tofu burrito. I was surprised how many menus in San Francisco had items with tofu. Could it be the influence of China Town? Whatever, as a vegan it's good news. The burrito was filled with tomato flavoured rice, pinto beans and tofu. The pinto beans were whole and added a lovely texture. Polk Street has a wide range of eating establishments and another one we tried, this time for dinner was Lemongrass. This is a veggie friendly Thai restaurant which seats about 50 people.
Lemongrass There were a couple of vegetarian appetizers and soups and 11 main dishes from which to choose. I had Pad Thai Jay which was a mixture of vegetables, bean sprouts and tofu. I substituted the egg noodles for rice noodles making the dish vegan. We had saved our final evening to dine at Millennium. This is in the city, a short walk from Union Square. I suspect that many of the customers were dining after work or on their way to the theatre making the ambiance different to Greens but no less relaxed. We had a window seat looking out onto Geary Street. The floor of the restaurant was slightly lower than street level which felt a little odd. My starter was seared baby artichokes which were served with an orange miso glaze, smoked tofu and truffle oil. Listed as a 'small plate' it had a generous quantity of artichokes and the combination of taste and texture was truly lovely. For my main dish I chose charmoula grilled portobello mushroom with saffron scented borlotti beans, fava green and root vegetable tajine, pistachio, mint and bulgar salad with Meyer lemon and dried apricot vinaigrette. When the dish arrived it was merely a scoop of the bean tajine arranged next to a scoop of the bulgar salad. Over this were placed slices of mushroom. I rounded off my meal with a delicious vegan white and dark chocolate mousse and espresso. The complete meal was lovely, even so I felt the portobello mushroom dish was expensive at $22.95 . If I had to choose between the two I would opt for Greens - the food at both places is of an equally high standard but for me the location simply gives Greens the edge. But why not try both and make up your own mind? San Francisco really is a town with something for everyone. The people were very friendly and welcoming. Shopping was a pleasure especially with the current favourable exchange rate. For a vegetarian it is a dream. There are several vegetarian only restaurants/cafes in the city and almost all the rest are vegetarian friendly. If you get tired of San Francisco, Yosemite, Monterey and the Napa valley vineyards are all with in easy reach - I highly recommend a visit.
Note: Veggie Places always reviews anonymously, posing as an ordinary customer. If we do divulge who we are, it is always after we have paid in full for food or accommodation.