SF- Cafe Gratitude

In the spirit of what lies underneath the surface, Cafe Gratitude embodies the charming friendliness of this city in which I currently dwell. Spiritual quotes don the walls as points of intrigue upon which the eye should rest and contemplate the life you are living. Every detail has been considered in this being an authentic evaluation of the kind of footprint of gratitude that will be left on the earth. Even their logo which shows an orchard full of barren trees that appear dead, positioned next to a person wearing sunglasses reflecting back an orchard burgeoning over with oranges. The tables are all communal seating arrangements, which is both fun to feel as though you are snooping into someone else’s conversation and giving the sense that all of us are fellow sojourners stopping in for a quick bite.

Ah, but what a lovely couple of bites they were. Raw food when done well can be such a revelation! I accompanied my friend Pam, another veggie-friendly and foodie-adventurous soul, to Cafe Gratitude for dinner. Trying several different things is always the best way to approach a new restaurant. All of their menu items are named with a self-affirming statement, the sentiment of which I appreciated, but found that in such an extensive menu as theirs, they created roadblocks for my eyes. We started with the live samosas (I am insightful), crafted of a dehydrated spinach tortilla-like wrap enfolding cauliflower and macadamia nut “potatoes” and carrots, then garnished with a spicy mint chutney. Great flavor. My complaint usually with raw food is it seems to be under-salted and bland. Not so with anything we tried tonight. Good crunch and portion size.

Next came the salad and entree of house special enchiladas. As a vegetarian going on almost seven months soon, the bane of my existence happens to be the salad. I have unfortunately shelved it as the “last resort” in my mind for desperate times, so salads these days have to be pretty spectacular for me to raise my eyelids in their direction. The “I am satisfied” salad truly lives up to its name. The combination of the crunch from the raw beet and carrot matchsticks, coupled with the brazil nut “parmesan”, tomatoes, mixed greens and sprouts felt nothing close to boring. Pam ordered the Asian Sesame salad dressing which was an excellent dressing so full of flavor.

Our house special enchiladas were made of the same deydrated spinach “tortillas” and then stuffed with their pate consisting of radishes, sun-dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds and other crunchy unnameables. A sauce of brazil nut cream and salsa verde was drizzled over the top, accompanied by sides of Mexican slaw (delish) and quinoa (yummy). I enjoyed watching all the young San Franciscans eating their raw food, dancing and singing happy birthday to a fellow patron, listening to the two mariachis play one song and then walk around to the tables with their paper bag open like an empty stomach.

Along the walls are paintings of life situations that I suppose are intended to conjure up scenes of gratitude. One shows a boy swinging over a lake, holding onto the rope with only one hand, the other a nub. The next scene shows an elderly black woman holding a terry cloth towel in an open doorway smiling, as if she is welcoming in the supposed to be homeless man who looks more like Freddy Kruger in a cape.

The food was great and I think several things made this place stand out and shine for me:

1. The intentionality of the concept- being grateful for the food given by God through the earth as our provision and finding goodness in the simple beans, grains, vegetables and nuts that can provide delicious food that is nutritious and still connected to the earth in a one-off relationship.

2. The server genuinely seemed to enjoy us and oozed a non-New Age friendliness. The people across from us asked about the enchilada and laughed at my sneaking in and out. The big mural on the bathroom wall inciting me to “choose” and then giving the cheesy pictoral scenes (see above) or phrases like “not enough”, “more” and other negative phrases. It is a choice… hmm.

3. Realizing that breaking bread with someone whose company you enjoy has to be one of the richest things life can offer. There is redemption and life borne out of those moments. They are few and often only a glimpse of awareness breaks through the fog of the multitude of other things that would command our attention to let us know, “hey, you, this is going to be a keeper of a memory.”

I left Cafe Gratitude with a grateful belly, good fodder for later discussion and a good friend at my side.

NOISE: normal volume level
GROUPS: good for groups or making friends if one-on-one
KIDS: as long as your kids are into raw food or are little vegetarian/vegans
AMBIENCE: folky, homey, communal, hippie-cool

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