We are once again in San Francisco babysitting. Sarah and Evan were in Mumbai doing a pop-up and in Singapore. While we have been here the semifinalists for this year’s James Beard awards were announced.
With more than a little excitement, we learned that Rich Table had been named to the “long list” of 29 restaurants being considered for “Outstanding New Restaurant”.
San Francisco is well represented in the competitions for best restaurant, best chef, best pastry chef, best bar, best restaurateur, etc. There is one other San Francisco restaurant in the new restaurant category, and 24 candidates in the various categories.
The famous San Francisco restaurant, Greens, is one of twenty semifinalists in the category of Outstanding Restaurant. Greens is now one of the grandes dames of the San Francisco restaurant scene. It has been around since 1979 with Edward Espe Brown as one of its founders and Deborah Madison as the Founding Chef. Brown had already achieved prominence as the author of the “Tassajara Bread Book”, a collection of recipes from his stint as a budding Buddhist, baker, and cook at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Deborah Madison had been cooking at the San Francisco Zen Center and the famous Chez Panisse. At the time, there was no vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco – probably few or none in the entire USA – and a lot of critics gave the venture little chance for success. But the setting was so beautiful and the food was so good, that it wasn’t long before Greens was a huge success.
As well, Brown and Madison wrote the classic “Greens Cookbook”, but they have both moved on to other ventures. Brown lives in Marin and has become a popular cooking teacher, speaker, and mentor as well as being a highly respected Buddhist priest. Deborah Madison has moved to Santa Fe where she has been a chef and teacher and has written books, essays, new articles, and several award-winning cookbooks. She has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation many times and has received a MFK Fisher writing award.
Decades later, Greens continues to be recognized as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the country if not the world.
The setting is spectacular, especially for lunch. Seasonal flowers greet you in the entryway before you are led into a spare but elegant dining room centered around a huge polished tree trunk. Sunlight streams through floor-to-ceiling windows which look out on a marina filled with sail boats and the Golden Gate Bridge on the horizon. Tables are polished wood set off by small bowls of fresh flowers.
The staff is extremely friendly and helpful. They engage in pleasant conversation, but know when it is time to leave you alone. They know the menu in great detail, and since that changes daily, they have to stay on top of what comes out of the kitchen. If you are not sure, they may even invite you to try a small sample.
Bread from Acme Bakery comes to the table promptly while you look over the menu. Water is immediately offered, and if you want something else to drink – wine, beer, cocktails, soft drinks – your order is taken promptly and brought as promptly.
The day we were there, Susan ordered the soup of the day. It was roasted tomato and fennel with a sprinkle of cheese on top. I ordered the Yellow Finn (potatoes) griddle cakes that came with crème fraîche and a spicy root vegetable puree on the side. Susan ordered spring rolls with peanut sauce. When they were served, they were beautifully round and elegantly presented. The peanut sauce was delicious. I ordered the Indian sampler which came with a well-seasoned dal, chilled steamed vegetables, dipping sauces, and some of the best pappadams either Susan or I had ever had.
One clever touch was a slice of watermelon radish topped with black sesame seeds which made it look like a tiny slice of watermelon.
We couldn’t resist dessert. For me it was a mocha pot de crème with tasty little sablés. Susan ordered the vegan German chocolate cake. The pot de crème was delicious. The cake was a little disappointing. In fairness, anyone trying to make a vegan chocolate cake deserves a star. Without the eggs, milk, and butter, the caked turned out a little dry and flavorless. Mercifully, they did not try to make it gluten-free as well.
With that minor little negative, we had an outstanding lunch and a wonderful time. Afterward we strolled in the Fort Mason warehouses converted into interesting shops. One that should not be missed is the bookstore operated by the San Francisco Public Library, selling donated used books from library patrons. You could easily browse all day and buy an armload of books for just a few dollars.
It is easy to see why Greens is on the list of outstanding restaurants in the USA.