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Cafe Gratitude, Shanghai Dumpling House, and farmer's market (long)

Windy | Aug 29, 200402:41 PM

Had a lovely lunch at Cafe Gratitude yesterday. I got a blackboard special ("I am..." forgetful) that included their five pates and homemade crackers and a tiny cup of the Thai coconut soup. My companion got the house salad with avocado and orange/olive dressing.

The soup is as good as previously reported. More of a gazpacho, really, with cubes of cucumber, tomatoes, and avocado. The salad was exceptional--the grated beets and carrots, the huge sprouts.

I liked the orange seed crackers the best; like a supercrunchy flatbread. The other two crackers didn't have the right texture--one was like a triangular rice cake (but probably not rice, since they're not boiling anything), the other a brown soggy bread.

The sweet carrot pate was my favorite, no crackers required. The guacamole with live salsa alone is worth a visit. Thumbs up to the odd celery-almond salad (really, it was not pureed). Less sure about the falafel and hummous pates. And I liked the stuffed mushroom, but not sure I'd order it by itself.

I thought the drinks were less successful. My companion had a carrot-ginger-lime drink that had far too much ginger; I had a mint-green tea that seemed overspiced with cardamom, served too hot in a giant "I am grateful for..." bowl. Maybe my complaint was that the raw honey left a waxy skin on the tea. The juices seem expensive; for those prices, I'd recommend Juicy Lucy instead.

Great ambiance, with encouragement to linger in this airy corner space, far too many choices on the menu (I am exhausted and hungry!). $29 plus tips (which were a little confusing, since lunch is self-serve).

I look forward to returning and trying out some of the rarer Dagoba chocolate bars they sell. The Himalayan salt was wonderful, if exhorbitantly priced ($22 for a box of salt?).

Caught "Control Room" at the Balboa last night (highly recommended if you haven't seen it yet), and headed over to Shanghai Dumpling House afterward, momentarily forgetting that my dinner companion didn't eat pork or beef. The place was packed at 8:50. Took a little nudging to find someone who could translate the family dinners into English and then had to persuade my friend to order beyond a vegetarian delight or hot and sour soup. We ended up ordering off the menu: vegetarian dumplings, braised green beans, and the 3 cups chicken clay pot.

The dumplings had a thick doughy skin (a little too thick for me) but the insides were filled with spinach, carrots, and mushrooms. At 10 for $4.25, they're a good deal, like everything at SDH. The tables around us devoured huge platters of mysterious foods--we even kept our English menu and tried to match the characters to the specials on the wall. (Slow way to learn Mandarin characters, but you can't blame us for trying. )

The green beans was a huge plate, wok fried with ample garlic. Slightly overdone for my taste, and I prefer dry fried with salt, but still worth trying.

The absolute winner was the 3 cups chicken, which I hereby nominate as the ugliest best tasting dish in the city. It arrived sizzling, with unappealing brown lumps (were they vegetables? chicken) and odd shaped little bits and bones. No recognizable chicken parts. One bite put all my reservations and my friend's aside. Tender. juicy, falling off the bone chicken, hunks of shitake mushrooms, with slabs of ginger, whole garlic cloves, and slices of scallions for a tiny bit of color. The gravy at the bottom of this was so good! I'm looking forward to the leftovers.

$21 including generous tip, a soda, and enough for two more meals. Doesn't pay to go late-the food didn't suffer, but they were sure anxious to get us out the door at 9:30.

(Gary Soup, do you recommend the family dinners or sticking to the menu? The "888" menus on the wall looked like a great deal, once we'd decoded them.)

Finally, I headed over to Alemany Market yesterday and while I didn't find the honey man I was looking for, the place has been greatly spruced up with murals. The tomato selection is greatly improved--Capay is there now, and the regular tomato people are selling various heirlooms and organics for 75 cents to 2.00 a pound. Picked up some end of season peaches for $1 a pound. I love the market this time of year.

Also got a bag of 9 small pomegranites for $1.25--is this climate change in action? Since when do we have pomegranites in August?

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