Sunday, May 20, 2012

Vegan Eats in San Francisco

In April, Brian and I took an unprecedented spring break vacation to California.  It was unprecedented because A. Brian never takes time off when I'm on spring break and  B. We've never been to California together (in fact, I've never been to California at all).  It was a much-needed break for both of us.

We flew out on Easter Sunday afternoon and stayed until Friday morning.  Although San Francisco is a relatively small city - 7 miles each way - there is so much to do there that we easily could have spent another couple of days.  Had I not had the misfortune of losing my iPhone (er, being pick-pocketed) on the bus and needing to spend several hours (on multiple occasions) in the Apple store buying a new one and downloading my stuff from iCloud, we may have also had more time.  And money.  But that's neither here nor there.  

Anywhooo, we really packed it in with the time we had.  We did a LOT of walking (my, oh, my is it hilly!), spent some time at Fisherman's Wharf, saw sea lions, hung off cable cars, visited Alcatraz, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, went on a Sonoma County wine tour with Terrific Tours (best wine tour EVER - highly recommend!), drove to Apple HQ and Stanford, saw the Painted Ladies from "Full House", and went to the M. Ward concert at the Fillmore.

Here are a few pics (courtesy of Brian):

And now, onto the food!  Because of my phone being stolen and some software issues with the new one, not all of my photos uploaded to iCloud and subsequently were lost.  I apologize.  (Insert super-sad face here.)

Chabaa - We found Chabaa around the block from our hotel.  We're not sure if this was really the best Thai food we'd ever eaten or if we were just so hungry that anything would have tasted good!  The curry sauce was so creamy and delicious (almost buttery from the coconut milk) and I loved that they had the option of brown rice over white and fresh tofu over fried.  Best Easter dinner EVER!

Chabaa is just a tiny little place - but with Thai places, isn't smaller always better? 
Red curry w/ brown rice and fresh tofu

Starbucks - We went to Starbucks nearly every day for breakfast.  Brian had oatmeal and I had a multigrain bagel and banana.  We each had a Pike Place coffee.  Breakfast of champions!

Millennium - Although Millennium is one of San Francisco's premier vegan restaurants, you don't have to dress up to go there.  A gourmet restaurant you can go to wearing jeans and flip flops?  That's my kind of place!  I'd read about Millennium in VegNews but it was actually Brian who suggested it after reading the Steve Jobs biography.  Steve was a fan of jeans and flip flops, as well.  And vegan food.  Yay, Steve!

You'll need to make a reservation when you dine at Millennium.  Due to a glitch in Google Maps that sent us to their old location - and a slight, um layover, at the Apple Store - we were almost late to ours.  But nothing a little power-walking couldn't take care of!  We made it right on time and boy, pre-dinner drinks never tasted so good.  (It had been a stressful few hours.)

The menu at Millennium is very impressive.  We spent quite a bit of time poring over it, trying to decide what to order.  Finally we settled on the following: 
  • Black Bean Torte (appetizer) - with caramelized plantains, smokey black bean puree, and pumpkin-habenero papazul
  • Seared Polenta Nera (my entree) - with butter beans, leeks, mushrooms, bitter greens salad, roasted fennel, seared rapini, and green peppercorn relish
  • Pumpkin Seed & Cornmeal Crusted Portabello Mushroom (Brian's entree) - with masa arepa, yellow eye bean and corn hominy stew with coconut & aji chile, and sauteed greens
  • Seasonal Sorbet & Ice Cream Sampler (my dessert) - flavors change daily; I can't remember what mine were because they were unusual but deeelish!
  • Terrine (Brian's dessert) - a layered chocolate thing with ganache topping; very rich but he loved it
  • Sweet Endings - cookies and truffles (On the house!  A surprise for our troubles finding their new location.  Now that's what I call sweet - HA!)

Seared Polenta Nera (prepared low-oil, per my request)

All the food at Millennium was delicious.  We loved the fresh, innovative ingredients and the unique combinations.  It was wonderful to see so many fresh vegetables mixed together to create a delicious dish rather than a few vegetables and a whole lot of rice, which is so often the case with vegan dishes around here.  

Although we may have overdone it a bit on dessert and left feeling pretty stuffed, we knew we had a week of walking ahead of us so we weren't too concerned.  (Well, Brian is NEVER concerned and I knew I would work out in the morning PLUS have a week of walking ahead of us so...)

Sunflower Caffe Espresso and Wine Bar - We ate at the Sunflower Caffe during our Sonoma County wine tour.  There weren't really any vegan offerings so I just had my Larabar and ordered a smoothie.  We all sat out back on the patio with heat lamps (it was a damp, dreary day) and enjoyed a cozy lunch together.

The Plant Cafe - We went to The Plant Cafe after our day of wine tasting.  We had been to 3 wineries and a tasting room (a tasting room with FIVE Pinot Noirs).  I hadn't eaten much along the way so by the third winery I was River-dancing and cracking inappropriate jokes with my fellow wine-tasters.  I needed a hearty meal STAT.  The Plant Cafe came to my rescue.  I ordered the Wasabi Plant Burger, which is made from lentils, beets, cashews, mushrooms, bulgar wheat and topped with sauerkraut, wasabi, and raspberry aioli.  It was an incredible burger and totally hit the spot!  It also came with mixed greens and herb-roasted potatoes.  Brian had an asparagus pizza, which he liked a lot.  There are several locations; we ate at the Embarcadero Pier 3 restaurant.

Wasabi Plant Burger on sourdough

Yoshi's Jazz Club - We ate dinner here before the M. Ward show at the Fillmore.  Yoshi's is a swanky jazz club/Japanese restaurant.  There was live music playing during dinner, which was cool.  Although it was quite swanky (yes, I'm repeating that word because it's truly the best descriptor I can think of for Yoshi's), we didn't feel under-dressed in our jeans.  That's what I love about San Francisco!

The food was pretty good.  For an appetizer we ordered the Asparagus and Beet Salad.  As the name implies, it was only asparagus and beets but it had both green and white asparagus and red and yellow beets.  It was drizzled with a sesame dressing.  VERY flavorful!

Asparagus and Beet Salad

Instead of an entree I ordered another salad and a sushi roll.  The salad was Grilled Vegetables - nasu, kabocha, zucchini, shiitake & enoki mushrooms - with a spicy miso and wasabi yuzu aioli for dipping.  This was an amazing salad!  I could have eaten two of them.  Unfortunately, the sushi roll was not nearly as fabulous as the salads.  It was a standard veggie roll and was just sort of "eh."  Kind of bland, although it did have a rather interesting sauce in addition to the wasabi.  Too bad it needed the extra sauce, ya know?  Ah well. 

Coupa Cafe - Coupa Cafe is located on the campus of Stanford University, which is an absolutely gorgeous campus.  We walked around it one morning for a couple of hours and stopped here for breakfast.  I had an amazing fruit salad and a bagel.  And a coffee, of course.  With cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.  Mmmm...

Greens Restaurant - Another Steve Jobs' favorite, it was rather funny how determined Brian was to get to Greens.  [Side note, the day we went was when we'd done our build-your-own Silicon Valley tour that included a Steve Jobs' former home drive-by and a stop at Apple HQ.]  Due to yet another stop at the Apple Store, we were forced to make a reservation that was late even for us.  We took a bus, walked several blocks in the wind and rain, and finally made it it to Greens looking a bit disheveled.  Lucky for us, like Millennium, this is another one of those upscale/casual eateries so we were okay.

The menu at Greens changes daily based on what the chef sources from the local farmers' market each week.  Everything is local, seasonal, and organic.  Everything is vegetarian and I was told that anything that is not vegan can easily be made so.  It all sounded fresh and innovative.  We went with a sampler plate for an appetizer, which included quinoa salad, hummus, grilled artichoke, three beet salad, spicy tomato jam, grilled pita, and olives.  We both agreed that the quinoa salad with fruit and pistachios was the best part.

Spring Sampler

I also ordered Moroccan Lentil Soup and for my entree I had Mesquite Grilled Brochettes, which were tofu and veggie kebabs with carrot slaw and rice.  They were good but I asked for the half order and received the full.  Should I have said something?  Yes.  Should I have eaten just one kebab?  Yes.  Did I instead keep eating until my plate was clean?  YES!  Ah well.  I did mention I was hungry, right?  Neither Brian nor I remember what he ordered, but whatever it was, it was good.

Farm : Table - I didn't see any vegan breakfast sandwiches or pastries at Farm : Table but this tiny little coffee shop brewed me the best cup of coffee (next to Astro).  Bonus points for having homemade almond milk!

That was our trip!  There were several restaurants on my list that I didn't get to try (and other city sights to see) but we definitely have plans to return to San Francisco in the near future.   

Have you been to San Francisco?  What are your favorite veg restaurants/places to visit?

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