Jesse Sheidlower | Jan 5, 199908:09 AM     6

I have some very long writeups of French Laundry and
Chez Panisse
coming, but in the meantime I just have to slip in a
mention of
Greens, an established (1979) vegetarian restaurant in
SF. Deborah
Madison, whose new vegetarian cookbook is making a
splash now,
was the chef here, and many people--not just
when we announced that we were eating there.
The need not have swooned. The place was an
When we reserved, they pointed out that they
(normally, or
just on Saturdays, I can't remember) have a special
prix-fixe menu
at $40. Fine, bring on the specials.
Greens is right on the water, in a former fort of
some sort. The space
is this vast open warehouse-y thing, with thirty-foot
and big open windows looking onto a yacht club and
awful art on the carefully underlit walls. The
tablecloths look
like they're made f hemp. Despite this would-be
haven, several of the tables have children seated at
them, some as
young as five and misbehaving throughout dinner, which
was irritating
and would have been even more so if this really were a
The "special" menu is only three courses, though
they try to
pad itout to four by describing their bread service in
print as if
it were a real course ("Italian and levain breads with
Redwood Hill
camelia [goat cheese], Spanish piquillo peppers and
There were only three entree choices.
The wine list, by contrast, was outstandingly
good, and the
prices were amazing. Even Pellegrino was only $4. But
of all the
galling things, they actually say on the wine list
that Riedel
glasses (good wine glasses, unlike the usual crap they
give you)
are used for certain bottles. I assume this is with
pride, that
if you order these vaunted bottles you'll get the
special treatment,
but it also means that if you don't get what they
consider to be
a fancy enough bottle, you're stuck with the clunky
Many restaurants do this, but I've never seen one
specify it on the menu.
For my starter, I had a
potato-baked-in-parhment dish.
There were three different kinds of potatoes, and they
were cooked
with artichokes and garlic and herbs, but,
astonishingly, no olive
oil or butter. It was pleasant enough but didn't push
any kind of
taste envelope. E had a spring roll dish, wich was
excellent but
again nothing you couldn't get at a better Vietnamese
in town.
For my main course, I had the risotto, which
was Carnaroli
rice [natch] with chanterelles, spinach, leeks, parm,
and thyme.
It tasted great but was so horrificlly overcooked I
thought about
sending it back, but of course there was no other real
choice. It
had the texture of some cream of wheat-like breakfast
cereal. E
had a red curry, described in numbing length but
amounting to a
batch of vegetables in a thin curry broth. It was good
but was
hardly interesting or novel; it was also like a
regular dish
denuded of meat elements, not like some noble step
towards vegetarianism.
I was a bit more excited about dessert. After
all, all
desserts are effectively vegetarian, so these could be
as great
as anything. On the other hand, I worried, they could
be holier-
than-thou vegetarian stuff, with carob instead of
chocolate on
the dubious ground that since chocolate tastes good it
must be
bad for you, the environment, or some other entity.
The actual
dessert menu cleaved to a middle path of
uninteresting. The only
thing I had any interest in was the warm pear
tartlette with maple
ice cream. The ice cream was amazing, the tart fine;
both were
standard bistro-level fare. E had a steamed persimmon
pudding with
cranberry caramel sauce and creme fraiche ice cream.
She had one bite.
The food itself didn't bother me. The
pretension bothered
me. I've had similar, though probably better, meals at
the Moosewood
in Ithaca, but they cost $15 total. For "the best
restaurant in [SF, the Bay Area, the country,
whatever]" I expect
a lot more. At a non-vegetarian restaurant like
Charlie Trotter's
or Frech Laundry, the vegetable menu is incredibly
original, and illuminating; you get the sense that you
can really
eat well as a vegetarian without compromise. Granted,
these are
more than $40. Yet at any but the lowest level, I
think we can
move beyond these simple proofs that you can make

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