I know I live in a part of the world where holistic and healthy cuisine has a reputation of prevalence (although a Vegan friend in Southern California touts that is a better locale for such cuisine). I’ve walked by Cafe Gratitude a number of times and I finally availed myself of a visit during a lazy, shockingly warm Saturday afternoon. Less than half-full, I was having my first Gratitude experience. The room is inviting and full of communal tables, with the walls decoratively painted with life-firming affirmations.
Oh wait, those positive affirmations bleed over to the menu and every dish is a precursor to a saccharine world of Deepak Chopra-like mind/body/spiritual experience. For example, “I AM SUCCULENT” is a sweet, sour and savory juice made of grapefruit, apple, and celery garnished with a mint sprig. “I AM GRACEFUL” is an Indian biryaki bowl of Bhutanese red rice or quinoa tossed with fresh vegetables, basil, cilantro, mint and cashews all served with a coconut-curry sauce. Quite frankly, negotiating the extraneous words on the menu was a tad annoying. Just tell me the frigg’n ingredients so help me quell my hunger.
Overwhelmed with the menu, the Stepford-waiter arrived to announce the daily specials. All smiles and charm, I managed to edit out whatever aphorism was being applied to the actual dish and ordered whatever special had pesto included in the listed ingredients. An iced latté as well, please. Ooops — I forgot — this place is vegan and my much-needed requisite caffeine fix was to be made with some soy-based milk variation. I’m sorry; I like my dairy products the way they were intended — from a cow. Oh well.
The different waiter came back with my dish, “YOU ARE FABULOUS.” Huh? I am? Oh wait, that was the silly name given to what I wanted for lunch. Whatever. I just want to eat. What I had ordered was a pseudo-pasta made from shredded zucchini and studded with quinoa. “Meatballs” were made from tempeh and were definitely the most flavorful part of the dish, almost too spicy compared to the rest of the concoction which had nary a hint of classically-flavored pesto. I could detect no basil or garlic or pinenuts whatsoever. But maybe I had heard the waiter incorrectly through that flurry of goodwill falderal. And there was some salad. Ho-Hum.
Halfway through my meal, I was full enough and anxious to leave (and wanting a real latté) so I asked for my bill and a take-home box. The box arrived promptly, but ten minutes later, no bill had materialized. Since I had no idea how much the special actually cost — but remembering how expensive everything else was on the bill — I guessed my dish to cost in the $17 range. Other coffee-based drinks were astronomically priced in the $5.00 range so I knew I owed somewhere north of $20. Sadly for me, I had no small change so I grudgingly laid $30 on the table and walked out, with no acknowledgment from any other the servers that I had paid or not or was expecting change.
I find Café Gratitude to be pretentious, full of themselves, and shockingly mediocre as far as food quality is concerned. And I actually like vegan food. But not at these prices and not in this atmosphere. The next time someone tells me that I’m Fabulous, I want a heartfelt kiss to accompany it, not a lifeless attempt at lunch.
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1730 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709
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