Off the beaten path; literally & figuratively
A delightful trend is emerging in the San Francisco restaurant world; vegetarian and vegan are going mainstream. That might come as a surprise to many who thought this trend started many years ago.
But even though California is synonymous with health and veggie eating to many, the reality is that vegetarian restaurants have been few and far between in the City until quite recently.
Little by little vegetarian selections started to gain menu space in many San Francisco eateries - but these were usually token dishes to placate the the odd non-meat eater in large groups, and was generally confined to a tasteless dish of pasta and overcooked vegetables. The City just didn't take meat-free cuisine seriously.
Those days are now - thankfully - behind us. It is now becoming quite commonplace to see a wide variety of vegetarian eating establishments not only in the City - but around the Bay Area.
Something good going on in there
Been there, Done that
But even as this exciting new direction begins to take on steam, the gold-standard in fine vegetarian cuisine remains the venerable trail-blazer of San Francisco meat-free dining - Greens Restaurant. Greens is - simply put - the best vegetarian restaurant in the nation; both in terms of food and location.
Situated in an old warehouse in a semi-deserted, one time army base on the very edge of the bay, it just doesn't seem like the kind of place you'd fine anything to eat - let alone the flagship of modern organic dining.
Started in 1979, Greens is the creation of the San Francisco Zen center. They took over a rather dilapidated warehouse space and turned it into a large, airy, high ceilinged space with roof to floor windows facing the bay and filled with imaginative furniture displaying the wide-variety of wood available in northern California. A craftsperson would enjoy their visit without ever lifting a fork.
A view like few others
But the main achievement of Greens
was to raise the world of vegetarian cuisine from the image of carrot sticks and sprouts and take it into the realm of sophisticated haut
Mesquite grilled brochettes of mushrooms, yellow finn potatoes, marinated tofu, white corn and summer squash. Gratin provençal with slow-roasted eggplant served alongside grilled Ridgecut Gristmills polenta, or Hamada Farm fruit-almond couscous. Are you catching the drift?
The selection of creative and beautifully presented dishes is simply remarkable. And nearly everything is supplied by small, local organic farms and brought daily to the restaurant. The freshness and full-flavored taste of the vegetables comes as an epiphany to many. Who knew this stuff could be so - well - sumptuously delicious?
This blog will feature several other establishments from the Bay Area's nascent vegetarian restaurant scene in the coming months - but let it be said at the outset that the original is still top of the heap. And be you a vegetarian or not - rest assured that a visit to this San Francisco legend will long be remembered for both its spectacular visual display and the savoriness of your meat-free fare. It's a dining must when visiting the City
. Buen provecho!http://www.greensrestaurant.com/
Not a side dish
A Night to Remember
Forty years have passed since that night in 1971. But for anyone who was around then - sports fan or not - the Ali versus Frazier fight is still clearly remembered. This was more than a boxing match. This was the culture war brought to life. No one was neutral on that night. Everyone not only backed one man or the other - but fervently so.
And how fitting that what turned-out to be the greatest boxing match in history took place in New York's Madison Square Garden. No other venue than the very epicenter of world sports could possibly have done justice to what was known before - and after - as the fight of the century. Few events so eagerly anticipated ever live-up to the hype. This one exceeded it.
I can still vividly remember my own sense of desolation after that fight. I had been for the "People's Champion". Muhammed Ali was returning to the ring after having been stripped of his title and barred from boxing because of his refusal to be drafted into the US Army during the Viet Nam War. And not only that - but he was a Muslim. And not just any kind of Muslim - but a Black Muslim. Oh believe me, Muhammad Ali was just way too left - and way, way too Black for America's comfort zone.
The anti-war movement was in full force. The counter-culture had emerged. The Black Liberation movement (as we then called it) was going full throttle. Nearly every issue of the most radical of all publications at the time - The Black Panther - featured a photo of the exiled Ali with the caption "The People's Champ". Nothing else needed to be said. We all got it. He was us.
A Night to Forget
Joe Frazier was what we all thought we were trying to get away from. He was conservative, humble, deferential. In the black community at the time, everyone's parents liked Joe. But to us young, radical, paradigm challenging youth - Ali was mythic. We were embarrassed by Joe Frazier. We were inspire and proud of Muhammed Ali. And his victory over "the Man's Champion" was to be a very delicious - and rare - bit of cultural redemption for an entire generation. An entire world view.
Well, the rest - as they say - is history. Frazier went on to win that fight in dramatic fashion. Withstanding 14 1/2 rounds of unbelievable abuse until - through an unfathomable act of pure will - he knocked Ali down in the waning moments of the 15th and last round - and thereby won the title. And to us - Amerika had won - and the people had lost.
More Us than We Knew
Times have changed. And so have we. Older and wiser, as the saying goes. And the saying is right.
Joe Frazier died yesterday. And when I heard the news, I thought of that night so long ago - and I remembered my disappointment. And it was weird. The feeling now seemed foreign to me.
The electricity of the age had long ago faded, and given way to the struggle we all wage. The struggle to survive, to grow, to prosper and be complete. And with each skirmish in that battle - I grew to understand - and appreciate - Joe Frazier more and more.
Here was a simple man - struggling against every barrier America could erect - for maybe the only goal worth struggling for; dignity. And as much as anyone in the history of sports - he had won that struggle.
I didn't realize it then - but I do now; that his attainment of dignity was the real victor that night. And because of it - we all gained a little ground in our own pursuit of the same.
Off the beaten path
Unlike southern California, San Francisco is not really known for its beaches. Yet, it is a city surrounded on three sides by the ocean - so it really shouldn't come as a surprise that San Francisco has several great sandy spots.
A few weeks ago this blog saw a story about Baker Beach, adjacent to the ocean side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Definitely one of America's great beaches. And just a little further along the coast is another great spot - and virtually unknown, even to many San Franciscans. It's called China Beach.
No Vacancy - for some
In the early gold-rush days of the City, Chinese immigrant workers chose this spot to set-up camps where they lived while working in the new San Francisco. This was necessary because Chinese immigrants were only welcome to work in the City's hotels and homes - but not to stay in them. So the Chinese workers set-up tent cities in the then uninhabited areas of San Francisco.
Believe it or not - you're in a big city
In a way - this discrimination was a blessing in-disguise. Yes, it was a long walk to work in the Nob Hill and Telegraph Hill areas of the City - but when they got back to their encampment, they certainly had one of the best views imaginable.
So wonderfully beautiful is this section of the City that it is now home to some of the nicest and most expensive homes in the United States. The area around China Beach is called Sea Cliff - and if you want to live there, houses start at around two-million dollars.
But visiting the beach is free - and special. This is the perfect place to come for a quiet, thoughtful walk on the beach. Or to build a cozy fire to snuggle next to as you watch the sun set. Or just to sit and stare out at the ocean and watch ships go by as they come in and out of the bay.
And more often than not - you'll be completely alone. It's one of the best kept secrets in the City - so only those in the know make it out here.
If you're headed this way and looking for one of those hidden unwinding spots - this is definitely one the best.
Don't miss it.