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Down the street, at the park end of the block, East West Cafe now occupies the lovely white-arched, blue-tiled home of Ya Ya (which moved to the Financial District), and has taken up Stoyanoff's role as a purveyor of light Greco-Mediterranean fare, adapted for med students, vegans, and the similarly health-obsessed. It's '70s hippie food, successfully updated for the new century.
On a Saturday night, a crowd embracing all ages and most ethnicities was dining mainly on veggie burgers and sandwiches ($7 each). The third most popular entree, a vegetarian "Mediterranean platter" ($8), boasted an irresistibly tart and nutty-flavored Syrian-style baba ghanouj, eggplant whipped with sesame paste and yogurt. A refreshing, lemony tabbouleh held more parsley than bulgur; the hummus, dolmas, and falafel were fine and the pita was fresh. The sauceless, cheeseless vegan moussaka ($8) is nothing like moussaka, but it's a nice casserole of cinnamon-scented grilled eggplant with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and slivered almonds. Unlike most old hippies, the kitchen staff know how to handle globe eggplant, evidently giving it the full prep (salting, draining, rinsing) to draw out the bitter juices before cooking. Cool, man! The veggies sat on a bed of chewy-soft short-grain brown rice mingled with corn kernels and grated carrot, which was pretty good for health food. All entrees include a side of greens and shredded beets, also not half-bad.
Beverages include smoothies, chai, a half-dozen yuppie beers, and a bare-bones wine list at a minimum markup (the most expensive bottle is $17). The menu shuns mammal-meat but offers seafood and poultry. Grilled salmon ($10) was a thick, narrow fillet, brightened by a pleasant honey-lemon glaze. It came with sauteed peppers and mushrooms, hummus, brown rice, and a salad dressed in honey-sweetened vinaigrette. (Many Americans seem to like such goopy dressings; don't ask why.)
1240 Ninth Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94122
Region: Sunset (Inner)
Kebabs ($8 veggie, or $8.50 with shrimp or chicken) have bamboo-skewered onion, tomato, zucchini, and bell peppers, plus brown rice and most of the components of the Mediterranean platter (minus dolmas and falafel). The shrimp version included pineapple chunks, but the small, peeled shellfish were cooked to the consistency of dog-chews. All the vegetables, though, were done to a turn.
The cafe serves breakfast whenever you want it; we chose a Sunday brunch on the charming rear garden patio (nonsmoking, of course), with its fruit-laden miniature apple tree and blooming miniature lemon. The menu is 21st-century vegetarian-Mediterranean Denny's: eggs, omelets, pancakes (organic nine-grain buttermilk, organic blue cornmeal, or nondairy organic yellow cornmeal), several veggie scrambles, and the requisite tofu scramble.
"Heuvos" rancheros ($6.50) proved as backward as their spelling: Instead of tortillas topped with eggs and spicy ranchero sauce, with beans on the side, the eggs sank into a heap of black beans, stale tortillas were on the side, and mild salsa fresca came in a ramekin. The "East West Combo" ($6), a better choice, featured two perfectly cooked eggs with one pancake (the yellow corn version, dryish but OK), real maple syrup, and a pair of exciting sausages containing big chunks of artichoke in the well-seasoned ground chicken. Alas, none of the staff could name their manufacturer. Alongside were pleasing "country potatoes," actually a potato pancake. The weak coffee nearly put me back to sleep, but my partner's hot chocolate ($2.25) was startlingly chocolatey, at least until the whipped cream topping melted into the dark, bittersweet liquid and turned it sweet and milky. All in all, I'd prefer a marshmallow on top. Otherwise, it's easy to see why the neighborhood has adopted East West -- the food is emphatically healthy and generally tasty, and surely the price is right.