The most important thing the month of vegetarianism has done for me is to expand my horizons. I already had a very varied diet; this takes everything up a notch. This month, I've been going where the vegetarians go (at the same time going where vegetarians would not go).
I love finding places that unlikely winners -- out of the way, boldly different, great view, with high-quality, interesting dishes, and great service. Yesterday, it was Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco.
On my way with a friend to Moscone center for a show, I checked the Yelp reviews. This place sounded interesting. It is a little tricky to find, with its unusual location at the terrace level of Yerba Buena gardens. The terrace level is on both sides of the street, spanned by a foot bridge and Samovar is on the side opposite the main entrance.
This is not the kind of place I would normally visit, with its emphasis on what I like to call hippie chow. And it's a "Tea Lounge," not a restaurant? But I am vegetarian for a month and am on the lookout for interesting alternatives. So I go where the vegetarians go, and that means hippie chow.
We'll get to the food in a minute.
The ambience was peaceful, relaxed, and informal without being sloppy. And it was noon, on a busy Friday, with a major show at Moscone West, just across the street. That's what made this a real find -- normally when I attend this show, I have lunch early because of the crowds. The place was busy and pretty full but not crowded or rushed. We sat outside because it was a lovely day; had the weather been bad, it might have been more difficult since the tables were mostly taken.
The host and wait staff were gracious and efficient, the service was quick and accommodating.
The menu has two pages of tea. Two dense pages, full. They ought to call this place a Tea Lounge or something. We had the Earl Gray and it was as good a cup of tea as I've had. But we're not here for the tea.
I ordered an egg bowl. It's a poached egg (perfectly poached, which is a pretty tricky thing to accomplish), a scoop of brown rice, with a slightly sweet, complex sauce in the bottom of the bowl, making it easy to scoop a little in each bite. On the side there is your choice of salmon, smoked duck, or braised tofu. Before I was vegetarianing, the smoked duck would have been a no-brainer but today, I ordered braised tofu, firmly in hippie chow territory, which I would never have ordered. Accompanying the tofu was a light, soy sauce based dipping sauce.
My friend Brad ordered the TLT: "Tamari-Mirin Braised Tofu, Lettuce, Tomato served on Leadbetter's handmade English muffin with mayo." This dish is vegan. Again, not something I would order but it looked wonderful and Brad said it was.
Each entree was $12, very reasonable for the location and the quality. The tea was $9 but enough to serve at least two people.
I have to rethink the whole hippie chow thing.