BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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In Loving Memory

Talk about a turbulent year. 2017 has generated more sensational headlines than the past decade altogether, and even with mere hours left on the clock, I wouldn’t count it out for churning up some new controversy yet. Eager to move ahead straight into the new year without looking back, leaving those lackluster memories far in the past, it’s essential to hit pause, resisting the relentless push forward, to reflect on just those low points. For perspective, we can better appreciate when things are genuinely good, and for knowledge, to prevent those same mistakes from being repeated once again.

In this case, I wanted to take a moment and say a final farewell to some of the dearly departed vegan establishments that we’ve lost in San Francisco in the short span of 12 months. While it’s a grueling industry where failure is much more common that success, especially in the long term, it feels particularly poignant to see so many personal favorites close their doors, despite the immense talent, support, and passion in the kitchen.

Encuentro is the establishment I find hardest to let go of. If you had asked me before, I would have easily placed it on my list of top three restaurants in the bay area, if not first place to begin with. Few fine dining establishments exist for those that eschew meat, dairy, and eggs, but you would never even consider what wasn’t present on the plate here. Execution was on par with that of any Michelin-starred restaurant, in my opinion, but without the pretension that goes along with such a lofty award. Fancy but not fussy, I can’t recall a single bad meal here. Generous platters of tender sweet potato gnocchi and dark, devilish chocolate cake will forever haunt my memory. The dream is not yet dead, though, as the otherwise vacant store front still plays host to periodic pop-up events.

No No Burger shocked fans when they announced the end of their glorious but shockingly brief run. After transitioning from an infrequent pop-up to a daily staple at the SoMa StrEat Food Park, the future seemed bright, especially considering the nearly universal rave reviews for their juicy meatless patties and decadent toppings, deeply savory and indulgent enough to satisfy the cravings of even the most staunch omnivores. Many considered their burger to be the bright spot in a dark, murky landscape of mediocre vegetable-based hockey pucks, leaving a gaping hole in the dining scene between the ultra meaty Impossible Burger and old-school bean burgers.

Photo from Elyse T. via Yelp

RAW – A Juice Company was so much more than just juice, contrary to the name. Offering a rainbow of produce painstakingly crafted into living cuisine, you couldn’t go wrong with a plate of raw lasagna or an abundant acai bowl. Judging by the active Facebook page, though, we may just see the next chapter to this story taking place in the topical islands of Hawaii. Only time will tell when, or if, these fresh finds will resurface.

Seed + Salt had a whole lot of heart for such a tiny place. Wedged into a storefront the size of a bread box in the Marina, not even the limited seating could detract from the experience of eating in. Fully gluten-free in addition to being vegan, eaters of all stripes could find sweet and savory treats to enjoy. The chickpea frittata, served solo, in a breakfast sandwich, or sliced atop a bountiful plant-based Cobb salad, was always hard for me to resist. It’s a simple yet satisfying entree that has inspired many attempts at replication by myself and others in the know.

The Plant Cafe, while still an apparently thriving business with no less than six bustling outposts under its belt, including one in the highly desirable SFO Terminal 2 space, has shuttered both the Burlingame and waterfront Embarcadero establishments. Citing the usual battery of labor shortages and skyrocketing rents, it’s just a relief that their light, healthy fare will still be available for visitors and locals alike. Their impeccably well-balanced grapefruit and avocado salad remains the highlight of any trip that necessitates a stop at the airport. If you find yourself at any of other sit-down cafes that offer a full menu of brunch choices on the weekends, you can’t go wrong with the pesto tofu scramble, either.

Photo by Celiac Community

3 Potato 4, once a small franchise with three locations scattered about the bay, has slowly been shuttering those outposts one by one. The last holdout was in the Pleasanton Stoneridge Shopping Center, but without any warning or confirmation, that store seems to have gone dark mere weeks ago. Dedicated to spreading the spud love, their simple menu offered an array of baked fries and sauce, with seasonal soups, plus soft serve to finish on a sweet note. For comfort food without all the grease and guilt, it was hard to beat this accessible, affordable option. Here’s hoping that the tides turn and this outage is but a brief blip in business as usual.

To these fallen friends that we leave behind in 2017, I’d like to raise a toast- Piled high with avocado, of course- And wish their proprietors all the best on their next big idea. May they find this fork in the road ultimately as fulfilling as the meals they once shared.

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Fond Farewells

As the sun recedes and daylight begins to fade for the final time this year, it’s natural to reflect back on 2015, for all the good and bad that’s come to pass. Although there’s little sense in dwelling on the downfalls and defeats of 2015, I can’t help but at least pay homage to some of the sad losses seen by the bay area dining scene. We’ve lost a few gems in the vegan restaurant community, as is to be expected with such difficult professional endeavors. Before moving on to more celebratory subjects, I want to pay my final respects to a few of those fallen in the line of food service.

Source – Best known for their burgers and classic American menu, Source filled a need for cruelty-free comfort food in the SoMa area. Pizzas were also outstanding, topped with everything from buffalo “chicken” to beefy taco fixings and every veggie in between. Not one red sauce joint in town has come close to replicating those fearless flavor combinations so far.

Nature’s Express – Billed as a natural alternative to fast food, the service may have been prompt, but the bill of fare far surpassed the greasy standards of any mainstream establishment. Affordable, healthy wraps, sandwiches, and salads made it a breeze to grab a good meal on the go.

Herbivore Divisadero – Succeeded by two remaining outposts, one in San Francisco proper and one across the bay in Berkeley, the fact that there’s still a chance to enjoy the classic lentil loaf and gigantic salads makes this loss a little bit easier to swallow. It’s just a shame to see the family shrink, making their solid offerings even slightly less accessible.

Cafe Gratitude – The last remaining Northern California location of this beloved old-school vegan institution is the most recent departure on this list. Having closed their doors a mere day ago, the juicers may very well still be warm, the smell of freshly pressed kale still lingering in the air. Even in the short amount of time we had together, Cafe Gratitude effortlessly captured my heart with its colorful bowls of “I Am Terrific” pad Thai, made with kelp noodles and raw almond sauce. That dish is one that I will miss above all the rest, that makes all other cravings pale in comparison.

It is with a heavy heart that we must bid these businesses adieu, but hope for a brighter, and even more delicious New Year shines brightly on the horizon. Many new openings promise to invigorate the industry with a wide array of fresh vegan options in the months to come.