One ought to be prepared, stepping into Café Gratitude. The place slings affirmations at machine gun speed, preaching positivity and the Gospel of Abundance like a hungry, new age Evangelical. The café plucks its language straight from the bosom of Mother Gaia, and its ingredients too. And that, I think, is why the food will always be Café Gratitude's saving grace.
The café is a fully vegan operation that tags dishes with names like "I Am Vibrant" (sautéed seasonal greens) or "I Am Eternally Blessed" (strawberry and raw cacao smoothie). The idea for the restaurant rose out from a game -- aiming to help players practice gratitude -- called "The Abounding River," conceived by owners Matthew and Terces Engelhart. The restaurant itself operates on something it calls "Sacred Commerce," or the practice of eating healthy food and learning to see one's life from a grateful point of view. Employees are bound to a "clearing" practice in the morning, wherein they are prompted to talk about their emotional experience in order to be fully present at work. Last year, practices like this and some alleged sketchiness in matters of tip pooling kicked Café Gratitude into a court case, though it emerged fairly unscathed, to a collective sigh of relief from the Yippies in Berkeley.
So, yes, Café Gratitude has a few weird things going on. But nothing overshadows the food. The cooks are masterful in manipulating texture, as a vegan café must be if it will succeed. Look for maple bacon made from coconut flesh, or nachos slathered in cashew "cheese." "I am Transparent" is another abounding success, featuring a thinly-sliced party of carrots, beets, kimchi, and sprouts, swiped with an almond and sesame paté, and all wrapped up in nori. A bountiful, fresh salad of sunflower sprouts and other greens accompanies the rolls, making for a thoroughly guiltless, fresh, and crunchy wrap. The rolls approximate a small burrito, good for dipping in the wheat-free tamari and wasabi. Like all things at Café Gratitude, it's best if you forget what it's meant to mimic. No sushi could be quite so verdant and hearty as Café Gratitude's, and so we ought not to compare. As always, this is a very different beast. For one, it's "sushi" with sprouted nut butter. My hardcore investigation reveals, this is a good thing.
Café Gratitude has a Mexican-themed outpost in San Francisco, Gracias Madre, and a couple further south in the state. Other highlights of the menu include "I Am Terrific" -- a kelp noodle version of pad thai, and almost all of the smoothies, heavy in all kinds of deluxe nut milks, dates, raw vanilla, cacao, as well as some juices with blood-regulating tonics and things. If anything is delicious enough to strip away the irony of a salad called "I Am Magical," you're going to find it here.