I brought my nieces and nephew here for dinner on a Saturday night at the last minute, as they were visiting from out of town, and a friend of one my nieces also accompanied us. Only my niece and her friend are vegetarian or vegan, my nephew and I are vegan-friendly omnivores, and my other niece is a dedicated carnivore. I have heard many great things about this restaurant, and for the most part, it lived up to the hype. ALL of my guests and I agree that the food was very impressive, delicious and imaginative. The desserts especially were to die for!
We started with three appetizers to share: potato wedges with house-made chipotle ketchup; fried trumpet mushrooms; seared green beans with fried yuba (tofu skin). The potato wedges were delicious and guilt-free, since they were roasted, not fried, and the accompanying ketchup was delicious wth just a touch of spicy chile-heat. The fried trumpet mushrooms were "better than crack", according to my nephew (O_o)! They were thinly sliced and coated with the thinnest-possible tempura-like batter and deep fried, and served with a sweet chile sauce reminiscent of Southeast Asian dipping sauces. There was an accompanying cole slaw which was just OK (we hardly ate any of the slaw). The seared green beans were delicious, perfectly cooked, tender yet still a bit crisp, with just a few small areas of charring for a subtle smoky flavor, tossed in a tiny bit of sweet-savory teriyaki-style sauce with some sliced green onions & a few slivers of yummy crispy deep-fried yuba (tofu skin).
For entrees, two of us had sweet potato tamales, one of us had the Indian aloo tikki (potato cake), another had the pumpkin, and my nephew just had another appetizer of black bean sopes (corn masa cakes) as his entree. The sweet potato tamales were very tasty, each serving had one large tamal authentically steamed in a corn husk, with a warm salsa of diced zucchini, green olive, tomato, onion and avocado along with some pickled clamshell mushrooms, on a bed of well-seasoned kidney beans, with some more seared green beans (this time without the teriyaki sauce). It was filled with portobella mushroom and mild poblano chile ragu. The Indian potato cake was very good, crispy on the outside, with a well-spiced but not too spicy sauce reminiscent of saag paneer (mixed greens braised in Indian spices, but with tofu instead of the traditional white cheese), some tamaring chutney, and a small green salad with lettuce and cucumber. The pumpkin entree came as large wedges of kabocha pumpkin, deep fried in a light dusting of rice flour, served on a bed of farro (a grain similar to wheat) and quinoa, mixed with kale and pomegranate, and some relish made with preserved lemon and green olives (my niece said it was delicious, but she couldn't finish half of it, claiming she was too full from the appetizers). The sopes came as two disks of flavorful corn masa about the diameter of the bottom of a water glass, pan fried crispy, with some mashed black beans, crispy fried plantains, an avocado/tomatillo salsa, some cashew "sour cream" flavored with cilantro, and a small salad of grapefruit and sliced radishes. This appetizer was the perfect sized entree for someone with an average appetite. The other entrees were pretty large, and left us all quite full (although we always manage to find room for dessert!).
The desserts were wonderful. We had the devils food cake, which was a small jewel-box of a cake the size of a cupcake, perfectly enrobed in a rich dark chocolate ganache. The chocolate cake was pretty moist and luscious, without being overly sweet. On the side was a rather large bon-bon with a chocolate ice cream interior and a dark chocolate coating. The sauce was a delicous conconction made with Araku liqueur (a chocolate and rum flavored liqueur). Our second dessert was billed as an Irish soda bread, but came out tasting much better, more like a moist butterscotch-flavored coffee cake with streusel topping, some slightly tart huckleberry (sort of a tarter type of blueberry) sauce and a small scoop of refreshing pear sorbet. Our last dessert was called chocolate almond midnight, and was the best of the three, and left us all oohing and aahing. It was a slice of mousse cake on an almond crust, with dark chocolate mousse and white chocolate mousse, with some raspberry sauce sprinkled on the plate. It was smooth, creamy, sweet and luscious. My only trivial complaint was that it was just a tad bit too sweet, but no one else had anything negative to say about it.
I can't say too much about the beverages, as few of us ordered any. They had some interesting-sounding and unique cocktails, as well as some very good wines from all over the world, both by the bottle and the glass, many of them organically grown. They also have a nice list of micro-brewed beers and ales, many of them organic. Their non-alcoholic drinks include several house-mixed fruit juice concoctions, and some organic sodas (Chica Cola, Virgil's Root Beer, and house-made ginger-beer). Complimentary water is micro-filtered in-house, and available as either still or sparklng, with free refills. I had iced tea, which was just a standard black tea (I assume it was freshly-brewed). I do not know if refills were free, as our waiter did not offer any refiils.
This brings me to our biggest complain of the evening, the service. Overall, the service was quite lacking at almost all levels (the busboys did their job well, but I can't say the same about either the waiter or the hosts). We made a reservation at 7:45 for 8:30 that same day. The host asked us if we could come at 8:45 instead, which we said was fine, since we were still across the city (it was the second day of the BART strike, so the streets were pretty clogged with traffic). We managed to arrive at 8:15 anyway, despite the traffic, and announced ourselves at the host stand. The host told us that she would try her best to accomodate us sooner than our 8:45 reservation time. In the meantime, I tried to find parking. There were signs on the sidewalk for valet parking for the hotel (the restaurant is in the lobby of the Hotel California), but nothing to indicate that they also provided parking for the restaurant. I had to drive around the block several times just to find illegal parking so I could ask the host about their valet service. She assured me that I could just leave the car illegally parked, and the valet would come move it within 20 minutes (God only knows who would have paid for the ticket had the police ticketeted my car before then!). She also told us to ask her to call for the car 15 minutes before we were ready to leave. She did not volunteer any details on how much the service would cost, and I was too flustered to ask. In the meantime, the five of us were left to wait in the hotel lobby while our table was being prepared. There were seats for four people in the hotel lobby, and two of them were occupied by another couple waiting for a table in the restaurant. After 15 minutes of waiting, I peeked into the restaurant and saw a perfectly set table with five place settings. The host said they would be seating us "any minute now". After another 15 minutes, that same table was still empty, so I reminded the host, and she said "Oh, let me sit you all now!". The decor of the restaurant was pleasantly inconspicuous and comfortable without being distracting. The restaurant itself was separated from the rest of the hotel lobby by nothing more than elegant 25 foot tall curtains. A large island of a bar was in the middle of the lobby, which served as the rest of the divider between the restaurant and the lobby of the hotel. The chairs looked a little worn, and although upholstered, were just a bit uncomfortable, especially considering how long we had to wait between courses. The table was elegantly set with white linen tablecloth and napkins, and heavy silverware.
Our server was polite enough at first, if not effusively friendly (which is perfectly fine with me). He took our drink orders and appetizer orders, and our appetizers came out very quickly, which we were very pleased about, since we had built up quite an appetite while stuck in traffic. Soon after our appetizers arrived, our waiter came to get our entree orders. Things went downhill fast from there. We waited quite a while after finishing our appetizers before our entrees came out. Our waiter did not come to check on us during that time, other than to refill our water glasses (he did so so quickly we never had a chance to ask him for anything). He never offered to refill our drinks or bring us fresh ones, not even once (I went through 3/4 of the evening with an empty iced tea glass). The host looked back at our table a dozen times during that period, and I'm certain she noticed that we were sitting there looking bewildered with empty plates and empty glasses in front of us, yet she did not notify our server. We were finally able to flag our server down to order another glass of wine, but it took over 15 minutes to get it to our table (some other waiter brought it to us). When our entrees were finally ready, yet a third waiter brought them to us, and had the orders a little mixed up (we were able to tell him who had ordered what, however, so it wasn't a big deal, but this is the sort of thing a restaurant of this caliber should have down pat). When we were done with our entrees, the busboys did an adequate job of clearing the plates as they were emptied. The waiter did come by once to scrape the crumbs off the table, but what should have taken an unobtrusive two or three swipes ended up being an awkwardly drawn out affair that still left plenty of crumbs on the table. After waiting several minutes at an empty table, after all the plates had been cleared away, we had to flag the waiter down again to ask for dessert menus. He came back in a reasonable amount of time to take the dessert orders, and the desserts were brought out pretty quickly, but he never offered any coffee, tea or any other after-dinner drinks.
We asked the host to call for our car, which was brought to the front of the restaurant in about 15 minutes as promised. The whole table agreed that they were unhappy with the service, especially considering the prices. The restaurant is obviously aiming for a certain type of well-to-do clientele who is used to dining at fine-dining establishments, and thus is used to and expecting a higher quality of service. There was little else to justify the approximately $50 per person (not including drinks) cost of the meal. Since we were happy with the service from the busboys, we gave them a separate tip "under the table", then left a bare-minimum 13% tip for the waiter. The busboy informed us that we are not the only people who complained about this particular waiter, and they all dread working with him because they know they are going to get poorly tipped. The valet parker also informed me that the charge for the valet service was $12 (not unreasonable for this area of the City), but I was still a bit unprepared for it. The valet asked if the restaurant had informed me about the valet charge, and I told him that they had not. He said "they do that to us EVERY TIME".
All-in-all, I would come back here for the food, as it is by far the finest quality vegan food to be found anywhere in the area, and worth the price, but do not expect the same quality of service, and be prepared to keep an eye on your waiter all through the meal, and know that you will need to ask for things specifically that other restaurants of even lesser quality offer without the need to ask.
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