Thursday, April 9, 2009

Vegan Eats in San Francisco and a Challenge for St. Louis

Savoring a Pink Lemonade (Cranberry-Lemon Thyme Infused Gin, lemon juice, agave, and soda) and a Manhattan while waiting for a spot at Millennium for dinner, MD and I discussed the enormous painting of naked women loosely wrapped in crumpled sheets who gazed down at us in the Hotel California lobby. What were those women thinking, or not thinking, who appeared to me like some kind of Escher drawing gone all soft and sensual. Quotes on California rambled across the wall below the women. Herb Caen amused me with "One day if I do go to heaven, I'll look around and say, It ain't bad, but it ain't San Francisco."

Hours before, our trip began with a visit to the Mission District to check out Latin food and vibrant murals. Papalote's humongous burritos fortified us for our own walking tour of the area. Having just arrived in San Francisco, I was pretty overwhelmed with the menu. Not being accustomed to actual vegan options, I must have asked six times while ordering, "is there a vegan version" and "what's the vegan option?" The staffer patiently replied, "all the options can be vegan." Welcome to San Francisco. I settled on the grilled tofu con achiote, black beans, rice, salsa, and guacamole in a whole wheat tortilla, swearing to order the vegan chorizo at my next opportunity. The food was flavorful, fresh, and filling.

We went on to explore the Mission District, including the Women's Building mural below. It's more amazing than this photo can show. I thought it was kind of cool that another woman tourist was enamored as well, and we shared a moment of awe between shots of the art. MD and I also found Atlas Cafe in the neighborhood, by chance coinciding with the monthly Thursday bluegrass night. We had a few beers and I noticed a cheeseless pizza and tofu sandwich on the menu. The music had our toes tapping, and we found it amusing that bluegrass seemed so foreign to the California crowd. It's pretty common here in Missouri, and I thought the San Francisco folks quickly warmed up to the unfamiliar harmonies and old fashioned tunes.

The next morning we hit Herbivore for a hearty vegan breakfast. Below you see my order of scrambled tofu with spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes, with house potatoes, toast, and fruit spread. MD gave a big thumbs up to his southwestern scrambled tofu with salsa, house potatoes, black beans, guacamole, vegan sour cream, and corn bread. The space was kind of noisy with lots of hard surfaces, but we were happy with the food.

Saturday morning we hit the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. We shared a raw spicy curry wrap of veggies and a sassy nut spread bundled in a big leafy green of some sort. The tables bursting with fresh, colorful produce and herbs made me want to load up some sacks of food and head to my kitchen. We also found these vegan samosas and addictive cilantro chutney. This was a great snack right before the cooking demo by a local cookbook author. While I was somewhat impatient with all her talk about happy cows and hens who produced the ingredients for her cream and egg smothered dish, I did learn about nettles and green garlic from the presentation.


That night, I discovered heaven on Earth, Millennium. See how subtle the facade appears, you would never suspect the awesomeness within.

I quote from the menu, because it doesn't get any better than this:

Black Bean Torte: whole wheat tortilla, caramelized plantains, smoky black bean puree, pumpkin-habanero papazul, cashew sour cream, carrot & onion escabeche.

Mushroom and Walnut Strudel: flaky pastry crust, green garlic mashed potatoes, seared asparagus, herbed green peppercorn cashew cream, blood orange & black olive relish.

Chantenay Carrot Polenta Cake: seared greens, snap peas & smoky tempeh "sausage", orange scented black bean feijoada, aji coconut cream, lime & cilantro soffrito, plantain crisps, coconut cashews.

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Peanut Butter "Ice Cream" and Port (sorry, no fancy menu description, but it was amazing!)

As many of you know, Millennium offers a fine dining experience that's creative, warm, and edgy all at once. The place is vegan and the place is packed. Yes it is.

But wait, there's more! The next day, we headed to Weird Fish for breakfast, and I finally got my fix of vegan chorizo. Contrary to rumors, we didn't have to wait for a seat and it didn't smell fishy. A shotgun space with plenty of dark wood accents and marine decor was brightened by aqua walls and porthole mimicking mirrors. I'd go back for that tofu chorizo scramble with red beans, vegan sour cream, and corn tortillas in a minute.

Across the Golden Gate Bridge, we were amazed by the beauty of the Marin Headlands and Point Bonita Lighthouse area. Here are seals resting and soaking up some rays. We really got lucky with sunny, bright days.


On our way out of the city, we traveled through Berkeley and happened upon Bobby G's Pizzeria for lunch. The restaurant's sign actually includes "vegan" in big letters. Considering that I'd been mysteriously craving pizza the whole trip, which I rarely eat since going vegan, this spot seemed meant to be. Bobby G's offers house made organic soy cheese as an option for any pizza, many vegan salad options, and vegan cookies. Santo Dios! I had the vegan baby greens salad with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette and we shared the vegan Margherita pizza. The crispy crust was topped with a thin layer of tomato sauce and a garlicky, rich soy cheese similar to a tofu ricotta, with a sprinkle of fresh basil. I thought this was absolutely delicious. MD thought that a veggie version would have added more pizzazz, so we'd try some extra toppings next time.

Thank you so much to everyone who left suggestions and well wishes for the trip! There were not enough days to cover the meals we wanted to try. San Francisco offers a delicious variety of vegan meals and I can't wait for St. Louis restaurants to step it up, considering the growing interest in fine vegan dining. St. Louis chefs, are you listening? 'Cause we know it can be done.

31 comments:

  1. I could KILL for that pizza Lisa! It looks exquisite! And I am drooling over those scrambles tofus. Absolutely gorgeous :) San Fran is certainly a Vegan's paradise (well, compared to a lot of other big cities ;) )

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  2. isn't it awesome having vegan options?!? i would probably be in such awe and feel so overwhelmed i'd never know what to order! ahahahhaa! hooray for get'n your soyrizo fix - and those samosas look awesome! i'm not one for wanting to hear people talk about "happy animals that love giving their products for use" either. but i'm glad you learned about nettles (which i know absolutely nothing about. and now i want to!) and green garlic (i never even knew it existed). vegan pizzas = the best! and Millenium sounds fantastically glorious! mmmmmmmmmm! i'd also like to say that i think i need to start making myself some of those Pink Lemonades! wow!

    glad you all had a wonderful trip and a super fun time in San Franciso! i hope some day dan & i get to visit! :)

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  3. Oh my, everything looks so delicious! I wish I could get around to Millennium, anything I hear something about it I get so sad that it doesn't exist right outside my door :( I'm glad you had great trip though!

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  4. amazingggg eats! i love the mission. all the food looks so good.

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  5. i'm very jealous of your trip! I heart herbivore and im dying to go to millenium.

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  6. Oh, I just love San Francisco! I haven't been since high school (at least cough11cough years ago). I wasn't vegan then, just vegetarian. But I'd love to go back now and hit up all these places. Road trip!

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  7. I am soooooo jealous - I absolutely love San Fran! I went last summer and ate my way through the city (but sadly did not go to Millenium). I wish we had such great options here in St. Louie...maybe one day?

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  8. oh my gosh - i must visit san francisco. i have never been a restaurant where they regularly offer vegetarian/vegan options for every dish! thank you for sharing :D it looks like you had such a wonderful time!

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  9. Great post! Looks like you're having an awesome time in San Francisco, and it really makes me want to visit. The food pics - and the lovely photo of the bridge - are great. Those menu descriptions from Millenium totally had my mouth watering too. I guess it's only natural that SF leads the way with good vegan eats, and you're so right - we could definitely use more of that in the midwest!

    I almost forgot - cool pic of the seals. Some of my favorite animals, and how cool is it to have them right at the edge of a city like that?

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  10. What a fantastic post! Thank you for letting us live vicariously through your awesome San Francisco experience. You took some gorgeous pictures! The Women's Building mural is so colorful.

    Your Herbivore breakfast looks delicious, I miss tofu scrambles! The Millennium menu sounds so good, and the Weird Fish breakfast looks amazing - and so does the pizza!

    I love the picture of the seals resting on the rocks!

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  11. Google alerted me to your write-up. Enjoyed reading about your trip to SF. It's too easy to take for granted the variety of vegan foods available.

    For your next trip (or for anyone else traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area), check out Bay Area Vegetarians' Ultimate Guide, a great resource for finding the latest on vegan and vegetarian restaurants, and other restaurants offering veg foods.

    Cheers
    Tammy

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  12. Oh my dog, Lisa! I'm so happy for you and MD that you had such a wonderful time - but how can you NOT have a great time in SF? It is without a doubt one of my very favourite US cities.
    There is so much amazing food in this post, I need to re-read it just to take it all in! How wonderful to have so many vegan options...and you had sunshine, too!

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  13. I'm so jealous that you got to go to Millenium. I have never been to San Francisco, but it sounds really nice. I'm glad that you had a nice trip.

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  14. Looks like you had a wonderful time in SF! Glad you were able to check out so many places while you were here. :-)

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  15. Wow, how awesome to be surrounded by all that great vegan food.

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  16. Oh my goodness, I really need to visit San Francisco! I can't imagine going to a restaurant and not having to grill the waitstaff on the contents of each dish of interest.

    Seriously though, Missouri, get with it, we need more options.

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  17. OMG!!!! We all just need to move to SF and live in happiness! This sounds glorious. Thanks for taking pics!

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  18. Thank you for the book recommendations, Lisa! I am open to all types of vegan cuisine, so they will go on my list of cookbooks to check out.

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  19. What awesome photos, especially the one of the mural! Sounds like an amazing trip.

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  20. I'm so glad you had a great time out here! Isn't it amazing to have so many options? Even though I've lived in the area for almost six months now, you've eaten at more SF veggie restaurants than I've had the chance to try! If you're out this way again let me know, I'd love to meet up.

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  21. Ahhh, Millennium! I've heard great things but the menu descriptions you listed are incredible! WOW. I'm glad you had such a good time! And you're right -- St. Louis really needs to step it up. I do think our number of vegan options are increasing, but quality is definitely important too, as there's a big distinction between "fine dining" vegan and a plain ole vegan "option."

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  22. send some of that st. louis over here to kansas city... we're needing a big vegan kick in the pants.

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  23. that trip sounds amazing! yummy chorizo : )I can't wait till the day when I can go out for a vegan pizza in stl or just get a normal, vegan dish easily! that is one of the many reasons that i want to move to california for or after college!

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  24. Wow! Yes, we definitely need us some of that here in St Louis!

    Funny word verification: reliesh. combination of relish and relief?

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  25. I heard there's a new place in St. Louis that has some vegan items, like cookies and cupcakes.
    Anyone know the name of it?

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  26. Beans, maybe you are thinking of SweetArt?

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  27. I've been there. The only thing I remember is that the owner of this new place is allergic to wheat.

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  28. Beans, let me know if you figure out the name of the new place. I'm always looking for vegan food options at restaurants.

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  29. I went to SF for the first time last November. I about fainted the first night in a burrito place when I discovered that I could get a fresh glass of carrot juice and a vegan burrito, easy as pie. Yay!!!

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  30. Renee the chef at Harry's (former Red Chef) will Vegan it up beyond what Millennium can offer, just give him some warning.

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