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Monday, August 03, 2009

Superior Soba

  bowl of Yasai Soba at Cha Ya Vegetarian Japanese RestaurantThere are summer nights when a big, steaming bowl of yasai soba is THE perfect thing for dinner. Most summer nights in San Francisco involve wading through a thick, cottony, wet fog, so soup has obvious merits, but a really GREAT soba soup especially hits the spot.

I don't think I've talked up Cha Ya Vegetarian Japanese Restaurant until now. It is located at 762 Valencia (near 19th Street), and it is a simple restaurant with white walls, bright lights, and clean wooden tables. It serves extremely fresh, nicely presented, simply flavored Japanese foods. What makes it stand out is that it is a Japanese VEGAN restaurant with more than 100 items on the menu, a short but pleasant sake menu, and a quiet, mellow feeling (once you have recovered from indecision paralysis over the vast array of options and menu combinations).

Their soba soup is SPECTACULAR. The soba is a wonderful, firm texture, cooked to perfection. The broth is subtle, but really delicious: earthy, flavorful, and satisfying. The yasai soba toppings - sliced green onion, seaweed, squash, lotus, mushroom, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, tender little sprouts - come in just the right amounts relative to the amount of noodles and soup, and are just at the right level of tenderness...

The menu is so vast, it is hard to do it justice. In the interests of expanded knowledge, I have visited several delicious times.

Their sushi - the glories of vegan sushi! - is tasty, and the sushi with tempura in it is novel.

Their tempura is good, though the main reason I want to order it is because their togarashi (likely "shichimi togarashi"), a chili powder, sesame, and mixed spice condiment, is the tastiest I've had anywhere. All on its own, it is addictive. I would buy some if they sold it, and then abuse it terribly.

The stuffed eggplant is exotic-looking and comes in a thick sauce, though it is slightly complicated to eat without breaking it into smaller pieces.

The Cha Ya Nabe, which is a pretty array of veggies over glass noodles in a savory sauce, is fabulous.

The teas are all high quality, there is a good selection to choose from. I haven't worked my way through all of the sake options, but I have enjoyed those that I have tried so far. (Most recent visit: tasty Tamon Gold. Mmmmm. The gold flakes are slightly distracting, but it has a good flavor.)


Blandness is an occasional side effect of a philosophy of Japanese cooking: each ingredient should carry its own flavor, and not be overpowered by the others. There is an emphasis on simplicity of seasoning for this reason in most Japanese dishes, and those of us who love chili-fires won't find that sort of burning satisfaction in this cuisine. The Japanese also enjoy sweetness with their dishes in places I expect savoriness, especially in cooked sauces. Certain on-line reviews fault the restaurant for blandness, and admittedly the only dish I haven't liked is the bland tofu custard with veggies stuck into it, but I found that to be an exception to the otherwise very delicious menu.

Cha Ya serves fresh, delicately flavored, delicious, food from an impressively long menu. I recommend it for those who already like Japanese food, and who want to branch out from the boring, short list of options most places provide.


I have added Cha Ya to my list of favorite San Francisco restaurants, and have made a few other, minor updates to the list.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:39 PM

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Recipe: white bean and garlic soup

  As part of my recent fit of Italian menu fantasies, I craved a white bean soup. I didn't have a perfect recipe for one, though there is apparently a FABULOUS one in Vegan with a Vengeance that I will need to check out, which includes two complete heads of oven-roasted garlic. (Added bonus from reading about that soup at Vegan.Chicks.Rock ( the link to the distressing entry on jaeger bomb cupcakes (!?!?).) I am certain that soup rules.

I was impatient, and did not want to wait to roast two heads of garlic. So here is my own, ultra-simple version of white bean soup. VERY simple. You can really taste the beans. Which is a good thing.

-1.5 cups of dried white beans (I used navy)
-7 cloves of garlic, sliced
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
-lots and lots of fresh water.

Carefully pick over the beans, eliminating the gravel and any "bad" beans that the machines failed to notice, and put them in a pot with about 5 cups of hot water. Bring to a boil, and simmer partly covered for about 45 minutes, checking the water level periodically to be sure the beans remain submerged as they expand during cooking. You can keep a kettle of hot water going to top them off.

At the 45 minute mark, add the garlic and oregano, and stir well. Return to a simmer. Check the water level every 15 minutes or so, keeping the beans submerged. At the hour and 15 minutes mark, start checking the beans for tenderness: if you want a partially blended soup with SOME whole beans, you will want to be able to smash them easily with a wooden spoon, but still allow them to hold their shape. It takes about 1.5 hours of simmering for navy beans to be soft enough for my tastes, but firm enough to retain their structural integrity.

When you are happy with the tenderness of the beans, puree half or more of the soup with a hand or beverage blender. Return to the pot and stir well. The pureed beans will make the soup significantly thicker: add water, if necessary, to achieve the thickness you want.

Serve with fresh bread and herb spreads.

(If you are organized, you can soak the beans in a bowl of warm water all day, while you are at work, to shorten the cooking time. If you do that, add the garlic and oregano earlier.)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:01 PM

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Someone else's recipe: curried cauliflower soup

  Last Friday I had gone out with my lunch posse to eat at 900 Grayson (, which is one of our favorite "special" day lunch places. They have a vegetarian (sometimes vegan) soup of the day, and I am always impressed by them - they are always delicious and satisfying. On Friday last, the soup was curried cauliflower, and it was HEAVENLY and vegan. It had a gorgeous color, a lovely smell, and a very satisfying flavor and texture. It was everything good about curry and cauliflower, together in a satisfying winter soup!

I don't really prepare cauliflower in many ways: my favorite way is to cook it in a walk without any added water, covered, with shredded ginger root, cumin, and garam masala until it is tender. It's heavenly, but it's nearly the only way I eat that veggie now, and I could use some more techniques, especially since it is now winter and very available.

I did a search for curried cauliflower soup, and one of my earliest results was dead on: Vegan Fitness :: View topic - Curried Cauliflower Soup (

This is SO GOOD.

I didn't have a potato on carrot on hand when I made it, and should have cut down on the water/broth accordingly, but the flavor was fabulous. Just for science, on the second day, a potato and carrot each joined the soup, which gave it a heartier, fuller texture, but it cost the cauliflower a bit of its lovely flavor dominance.

This may wind up being one of my favorite soups this winter. I recommend it highly. (Feel free to cut back on the cayenne if you are likely to hear whining about it. :-))

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, July 21, 2008


Light rice noodle soup

For when you want something tasty and warming, but light enough not to spoil your appetite for whatever you have planned next.

-a tablespoon or so of canola oil
-two large cloves of garlic, minced
-one small onion, quartered and sliced thinly
-about two teaspoons of fresh ginger root, minced
-water, four cups or so
-one flat of "rice stick" (about 1/4 of the average package), or your favorite rice noodle
-one to two cups of fresh spinach, washed thoroughly and chopped coarsely (you may swear while chopping if it puts you in the mood)
-1 tablespoon of delicious, powdered veggie broth (NOT that nasty cube stuff), or a teaspoon or so of your favorite curry powder
-1 teaspoon of turmeric
-one diced scallion (green onion)
-two teaspoons of soy sauce, or to taste.

Sauté the garlic, onion, and ginger root in hot oil for five minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the water, and bring it to a boil. Add the powdered broth and rice stick (which usually cooks in two minutes) or your favorite rice noodle (which you should boil until it is thoroughly cooked). Reduce heat so that the soup simmers.

When the noodles are just about done, add the remaining ingredients. Let them simmer for about a minute. Stir well and serve.

This is a nice, light, foggy weather soup, good for tiding you over when you're on your way to a party in a foggy place where you know dinner will not be served on time. You'll be able to eat soon after, but you won't be famished, and you will have a mild inner warmth. Not that this ever happens to me.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:16 PM

Saturday, November 10, 2007

  Rain. The fall rains have arrived, and all I want to do is stay inside, drink tea, and write. Which isn't how I've mapped this weekend out at all, of course, but the idea is nice.

This sort of weather invites all sorts of food fantasies, and this afternoon I played one of them out: pumpkin soup (with ginger and onions) plus sesame-wheat crackers as a light dinner. It turned out soooo well. There was something about the way Steven said that it was good - like he was trying to get a doctor's attention, that sort of tone - that was really flattering. :-)

Expect me to write quite a bit more about "soup weather" in the coming weeks.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:04 PM

Wednesday, August 08, 2007



I love checking out cookbooks from the library and learning new ways to eat things I already like. One of the recipes I found was for pancotto, an Italian soup that uses stale bread as dumplings of sorts in a tomato and garlic broth. It's a nice vegan soup, and there are many variations on the web that involve up to half a dozen vegetables. I've made the simplest version several times. I was going to post a link to the closest version I could find, but none of them are as simple as the version I use, so I'll give you my approach from memory. The basic recipe for the soup is:

-4 cups of water or veggie broth
-a few cloves of garlic, minced
-an onion, diced
-crushed red pepper, to taste (maybe half a teaspoon?)
-2 pounds or so of ripe tomatoes, diced
-a small handful each of of basil and parsley, shredded
-four slices or so of good, stale bread.

All you need to do is sauté the onions and garlic for a few minutes, add the broth, bring it to a boil, and simmer it with the tomatoes and bread for 15 - 20 minutes until the bread has absorbed most of the soup. Then you can mix in the fresh herbs, let them simmer for a moment or two, and serve. It's simple, warm, and is a great way to use up overripe tomatoes and bread that has gone hard.

I recall that the original version of the recipe required that the tomatoes be blanched, peeled, and deseeded, but tomatoes here in California are pretty thin-skinned, and the seeds aren't much of a problem. But if it would bother you, take those out.

There are many variations of this recipe on the web involving green beans, zucchini, potatoes, and other combinations of vegetables and herbs. There are two nice vegetarian variations of bread soup at the site of Uncle Phaedrus, Finder of Lost Recipes (, along with one meat variation, and tips for customizing the recipes according to whatever is fresh and in season. Which is really more important than the specifics of any recipe, since the freshness of the ingredients is what makes simple foods so satisfying.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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