Tonight, true to my word, I gave a fair chance to the new Cafe Gratitude, housed in the shell of my love, the former Cafe Evolution.
A few weeks ago, I attended a bachelorette weekend at a spa in San Luis Obispo. While there, I caught a yoga class in which I was told to bark while exhaling. Normally, I’m not a barker. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say I’m never a barker. Ever. Really, though, who is. So walking into a restaurant where the menu is populated by dishes named not by ingredient, but by adjective, I feared I was walking into a situation tailor made to trigger a barking-flashback.
I quickly realized, however, that Cafe Gratitude’s bites are far better than that yoga bark.
You didn’t think I was going to get those points together, did you. Ha! I’m surprising. Which isn’t a dish at the Cafe, I don’t think.
The physical layout of Cafe Gratitude is similar enough to Evolution that I immediately felt comfortable cozying up in the new window seats and taking in the familiar view of 9th Avenue outside. My waitress, Lauren, was engaging and warm from the moment I sat down. I confessed at the start that I had never eaten in a vegan restaurant before, nor in a raw food restaurant, a twist I wasn’t expecting from Cafe Gratitude. I asked a million questions to start and Lauren answered them all.
By the way, Cafe Gratitude opened tonight. But if there were any first-night troubles or hiccups, I certainly couldn’t tell. It was Lauren’s first night too, of course, but she knew the menu inside and out.
The clean, flat stainless steel tables were simply adorned with single stems in milk bottles, small votive candles nested in a bed of what I believe were flax seeds, and the small, scrubby cloth napkins that resembled fabric scraps.
Cafe Gratitude’s hours are far superior to Cafe Evolutions – from 9 am to 10 pm everyday. They offer a full breakfast menu during breakfast hours, which is nice. Of course, the thought of having a nice cup of coffee with almond rather than cow’s milk still seems odd to me, but I’ll give it a shot.
As mentioned, the extensive menu is comprised of items called “I Am _____.” Treasured, luscious, healthy, refreshed, assured, giving, dazzling, generous, opulent, playful, and super (thanks for asking), to name a few. I didn’t foresee the cleverest aspect of such – to me – goofy names. When the diner places an order, she says “I’ll have an I Am X. In my case, I was, er, Am Effervescent, Flourishing, and bit Magical since they were out of hummus. The beauty of the system is that the server repeats the order and, logically, swaps the pronoun. So she says, “you are effervescent, flourishing and a bit magical, which is really exciting.”
Now, normally, that kind of touchy-feely stuff makes this prickly blogger bust out her best snark. But right now, with the unyielding stress of finals and the bar looming ahead, my reaction was, “thank you.” I’m such a sucker . . . .
The I Am Flourishing was a Mediterranean plate featured live walnut-almond falafels served with sprouted almond-sesame seed hummus, spicy olive tepenade, seasoned almond toast and cucumber tzatziki salad. Now, I can’t really tell you what exactly was what on my plate – though I could identify the falafel balls. The hummus had run out, so I was offered a magical replacement stuffed mushroom. The magical arrived looking suspiciously like I Am Generous guacamole – but it was tasty either way. When it arrived, I was surprised at the plate’s tiny size, thinking the $10 price tag was steep. But raw food is filling. Very filling. It was flavorful, a bit spicy for my palate, but I’m a confirmed wuss, so don’t judge by me.
I Am Effervescent is a delicious house gingerale made of apple juice, ginger, and sparkling water. I love ginger anything and highly recommend this refresher.
Dessert, however, may be the best introduction for meat eaters and other vegan-wary types to Cafe Gratitude’s fare. I tried to order a few kinds of pies, but ended up with the I Am Perfect (“you are perfect,” Lauren said when she dropped it off at the table and I temporarily forgot that was the name of the pie so my “thank you” quite a bit more heartfelt than my normal pie thanks) – a feather-light pecan pie on a macadamia nut crust (macadamia nuts? I Am Fat). It was absolutely terrific and if such a pie normally has copious amounts of dairy – it doesn’t need to.
Most everything on the menu is called “live” to reflect its raw status that preserves all its good nutrients. The sheer volume of cellular walls now being broken down by my digestive track, however, made me consider titling this post “I AM . . . in need of beano.” Overall, however, Cafe Gratitude is a welcoming establishment that seems to have attracted a lot of devotees of its Harrison Street location – and loyal patronage is a great compliment. The place was buzzing for its opening night with most tables full and a healthy number of people picking up menus to take home. By the way, the seating is “communal,” meaning you might get company whether you like it or not. I can see how this could be fun on some nights and unwelcome on others.
I give Cafe Gratitude 3 out of 4 raw carrots for food, 5 out of 5 adjectives for service, and 3 out of 5 outlines for study-space-ability. It’s not a perfect substitute for Cafe Evolution, but it’s worth checking out.
Cafe Gratitude; 1336 9th Avenue, San Francisco; 415.824.4652; www.cafegratitude.com; open 9 am to 10 pm daily; offers full vegan/raw breakfast, dinner menu with juices and smoothies, desserts, and coffees; catering available; reservations available for parties of 6 or more.