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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

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Another sibling vegan restaurant

  eggplant dish at Golden Buddha
Golden Buddha Vegetarian Restaurant, at 832 Clement St (between 9th and 10th Avenues), is another sister to Golden Era and Oakland's Golden Lotus. All three are vegan pan-Asian restaurants (with an emphasis on Chinese and Vietnamese dishes), and are associated with Supreme Master Ching Hai's ( organizations. The restaurants share a menu, and the folder for the check at GB has the Golden Era logo on it.

Pan-Asian vegan food ROCKS.

I had an eggplant clay pot dish with gluten, onions, and herbs in a peppery, garlicky sauce. I had brown rice (cooked to perfection, very tasty) and a vegan Thai iced tea. It was very satisfying. I couldn't stop eating, even when I knew I was getting full. Can't... put... chopsticks... downnnn.....


The decor at this location is likely the plainest of the three: it is a simple room with aquamarine walls, aquamarine lace tablecloths under glass, and minimal art. The tables have ads for various books and media from the Master. (She loves dogs! She loves birds!) There are Love us, not eat us! stickers up over the tables, which I would have worded as 'love us, don't eat us,' but hey. This means that my brain parsed the web address as love-us-note-at-us. Which brings us to the fact that you have not been sending love notes at us, and you really need to get caught up on that.

Instead of music, there is a video screen over the cashier's station in the back of the room, showing an image of a lovely tropical island in a bright, aquamarine sea, which has a repeating, looped soundtrack of waves crashing on a shore. The loop is short, however, so eventually, the ambient sound suggests a large robot breathing. For those of us who think about how large robots sound if they respire.

The restaurant is lightly staffed, which worked fine for the small number of families who were there for late lunch during my visit. The food is tasty, and I'll eat there again.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Sunday, September 23, 2007



In honor of the 8th anniversary of our first date, from which we've been together continually, we went to dinner at the very fancy Millennium Restaurant at 580 Geary here in San Francisco. Millennium is a remarkable, upscale vegan restaurant with an emphasis on freshness and complex preparations - they serve foods that took remarkable effort to prepare, are tasty and pretty to look at, and that are worth going out for.

We had some challenge in getting seated Friday evening, despite our reservation through the fabulous OpenTable on-line reservation service ( we stared at an open table for two while waiting more than 20 minutes at some cocktail tables near the entrance (where I waited to order a cocktail in vain). The restaurant was very busy. When we were eventually seated, the empty table for two that we'd been staring at remained open for 10 more minutes, and then another couple that had also waited was seated there. Why the table had to remain open for half an hour (or more - it was open when we arrived) was a great mystery to us.

Steven immediately remarked on how wonderful it was to look through an entire menu, and see that each and every thing on it was something that he could eat. (Ahhhh.) He did seek my assurance that it was vegan, since the menu only mentioned its vegetarian nature once, and since there were descriptive words like oyster (mushroom) and "corn-lobster mushroom" (which first made me wonder what a corn-lobster was, since I think I've only had 'lobster mushrooms' under some other name).

We had heirloom tomatoes with nut "cheese" and basil, plus a deep fried ball of risotto on roasted vegetables as appetizers. The risotto was especially good, and was a clever way to serve something so filling in a small serving and a novel way. Steven had the gnocchi entree, and I had a tamale-like bowl of corn topped with delicious beans and mushrooms, with guacamole and salsa. For dessert, he had a creamy chocolate mousse cake with a lovely chocolate sail, while I had a light nectarine sorbet. I also had a couple of pomegranate margaritas (although I'm not certain that pomegranates lend themselves to mixing with tequila as much as other fruit do, through no fault of anyone - I had two, after all, for science), while he had a juice blend.

Everything was delicious; everything was elegantly prepared, attractively presented, and satisfying to eat. I barely managed to squeeze in dessert.

I think the restaurant is a great place to go on special occasions when you're looking to eat something complex. It is pricey (our meal was over $100), and the wait annoyed Steven, but it seems very worthwhile as a special occasion destination, especially if you have foodies in tow. Take your adventurous friends!

I had eaten at Millennium a few times in the long-ago past, both in the old location near Civic Center and in the new one, and believe that they restaurant is continually improving and becoming better at serving a wider range of dishes. At the old location, I had been alarmed to find some sort of mock-sausage in nearly every dish - having never liked meat sausages, the dominance of vegan mock versions made of seitan was unappealing. Due partly to my anti-sausage bias and partly due to the prevalence of seitan on the menu at that time, the dishes I had at that visit were not even half as good as the dishes I had this time around! I really do think the restaurant has become more confident in itself, and more sophisticated in its handling of fresh ingredients.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:52 PM

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