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Point Richmond: Symphonie (vegan restaurant)

AntarcticWidow Feb 13, 2009 11:53 AM

Earlier this week I noticed the gold letters for Suzhou were being taken down. Silly me, I thought they were going to be cleaned. This morning on my way to work, I saw a new banner for Symphonie, advertising international vegan cuisine. I don't know if they are open for business yet or if the banner is just an announcement of things to come.

Unlikely that I will have time to explore this place before I head out to meet DH in New Zealand. He's flying from Antarctica and we'll be on holiday for a few weeks then back home, at which point I can vacate my "widow" status until the next Austral summer season.

  1. rworange Feb 14, 2009 10:26 AM

    Holy cow ... if they excuse the expression.

    I'll take bets in how many days ... not even months ... this will last in that location in this economy. Will keep an eye on it while you are traveling. I'm guessing its one of those places that has to be caught quick.

    Not that I'm trying to jinx the place but ... what where they thinking?

    Hope I'm wrong,, but ...

    1. rworange Feb 14, 2009 10:55 AM

      Ah, did some googling and there were two yelp reviews. Seems it is the same owner as New World Vegetarian restaurant on 8th st in Oakland.

      There's a glimmer of hope here ... I might up my guesstimate up to months ... and it COULD make it if the food is any good.

      No kidding world cuisine. Someone took a photo of the lunch menu and it includes ,... and don't forget we are talking vegan here ...

      Brazilian feijoda
      Milanese vegan steak
      Gumbo
      Chicken cacciatore
      Ma Po Tofu
      Indian Dharma
      Tempura
      Thai mango salad
      Pad Thai
      Won ton soup
      Etc

      Here's the website from the Oakland restaurant. I'm guessing this will be very similar
      http://www.themenupage.com/newworldve...

      2 Replies
      1. re: rworange
        Melanie Wong Feb 14, 2009 12:21 PM

        Then that makes it related to the Loving Hut chain, I believe.

        1. re: Melanie Wong
          rworange Feb 14, 2009 12:56 PM

          Looks like you might be right. Same slogan.
          http://www.lovinghut.us/paloalto/aboutus.html

          Looking at a chowhound thread about Loving Hut it seems they have a number of restaurants in the area that have the same concept but different names. I wonder why they don't just call them all Loving Hut.
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/562191

          Swell, a vegan restaurant run by a maybe religious cult in Point Richmond. I wonder if they would object in spirit to my having my Ash Wednesday meal there. Explains where the money would come from to open in the current economy.

          What I think this place has going for it in Point Richmond is that variety of cuisines ... along with low prices ... still ... novelty will wear off if the food isn't good.

      2. AntarcticWidow Mar 10, 2009 12:27 AM

        We arrived home last Thursday evening tired and hungry, as our last two meals consisted of airplane fare. The offerings in our refrigerator were not much better: sundried tomatoes, maraschino cherries, lime pickles, sweet butter, quince paste, salt-packed anchovies, Branston pickle relish, a package of AA batteries and limoncello, none of which appealed to us. We decided to get a bite to eat in town and headed down the hill to Kao Sarn for some tasty Thai food. However, the parking gods were not with us. So we ended up at Symphonie mainly because their lot had a couple of empty spaces and I did not feel like driving around the triangle again. Besides, it would have been rude to leave our car there and eat elsewhere.

        There were four or five other parties in the dining room. We were shown to a table and given menus. We were a bit confused because it said "Lunch Menu" but there was no other provided. We read many items that featured "vegan chicken", "vegan pork", "vegan beef". DH was all for asking the server "where's the farm that raises vegan critters". After a bit of tittering,we ordered the Thai mango salad, potstickers, Singapore noodles and Mandalay pork. Apparently soup and salad came with our order. Our server brought us each a small cabbage salad drizzled with a cilantro-mint dressing which was reminiscent of a cilantro chutney. It was followed by a small bowl of mushroom (and barley?) soup that DH described as "hippie-dippy", but full of flavor.

        The mango salad was a medley of shredded mango, cucumber, cabbage and lettuce. It also had a hint of mint and Vietnamese coriander. It had a spicy tamarind dressing that was sweet and sour with some nice heat from the chilies.The fish sauce flavor was absent. Can't be vegan if you have fish sauce.

        Potstickers. The dough was nicely browned on the bottom and was not too heavy or thick. The filling was a mixture of soy meat, potatoes, cabbage, spinach and a hint of ginger. A dipping sauce of soy and lemon or vinegar came with it. By itself, the potstickers were quite yummy but the dipping sauce added another level of deliciousness.

        Singapore noodles. I don't recall what kind of noodles were used, but they were not rice noodles. They had a dry mouth feel to it, maybe because each strand was well coated with a very dry curry sauce that had a hint of coconut. The menu description said it was spicy which is was, but I had expected it to be (chili) hot as well. I forget that a dish can be spicy without it being hot.

        Mandalay pork. Chewy, deep-fried soy nuggets, slivers of red bell pepper and thin-sliced carrots came in a lightly sweet-vinegary, golden brown translucent sauce. DH said it was a damn good knock off of sweet and sour pork without the pineapple chunks.

        Partway through our dinner two musicians set up and we were treated to violin and cello music the rest of the evening. The music is apparently a regular feature on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. It was a bit like listening to the Kronos Quartet but there were only two, so maybe the Kronos Duet?

        The music provided a nice atmosphere; the service was also pleasant and efficient.

        All of the dishes were clear and very fresh, no muddled flavors. Although we are not vegan by any means, we would come back to try some of the other items on their menu. I am a bit curious about their Brazilian Feijoada, Chicken Cacciatore, Chicken Gumbo, Milanese steak, Thai Fish, BBQ Chicken, Coconut Seafood (shrimp and calamari). They also have several other Asian inspired dishes worth a try.

        I know it depends on why a person chooses to become vegetarian/vegan in the first place, but Symphonie's menu brings up a separate topic: why a vegetarian/vegan would eat something that represents or tastes like meat.

        5 Replies
        1. re: AntarcticWidow
          rworange Mar 10, 2009 08:22 AM

          Welcome home and thanks for the report. That egan feijoada is on my to-try list one of these Friday's during Lent. I just can't imagine what would push it from a bean and greens stew to feijoada without the pig parts.

          You might get some interesting answers on the General Board about vegan meat. I always just assumed it was for people who were formerly meatatarians and missed the taste ... or in this case to suck people into veganism.

          1. re: AntarcticWidow
            BratleFoodie Mar 10, 2009 12:48 PM

            rworange is correct. I do not dislike meat, far from it. So, yes, as a vegetarian (not vegan) I sometimes really like a "meaty" taste.

            Oh, and I like the sound of this place, and I'm going to SF tomorrow morning. Yay! Many thanks for the full rundown above, (former)Widow. Very nicely done. Or should that be Well Done? ;-)

            1. re: AntarcticWidow
              rworange Mar 13, 2009 03:23 PM

              Well, dang if they didn't make a vegan feijoada. It is surprisingly better than Nino's feijoada WITH pig.
              http://www.chow.com/san_francisco_bay...

              There were a few improvements they could make, but close, real close. If you are vegan or vegetarian and want an idea of what this dish is like, here you go.

              A large bowl of beans stewed with the vegetarian versions of sausage, bacon and pig meat was served with a generous portion of warm collard greens on the side ... true to other versions I've had ... a chiffonade with lots of garlic.

              The veggie meats did and didn't work. They provided a slight smokiness. The faux bacon was fine. The faux pigs ears were actually very true to the original in texture and a few pieces were pointy triangles ... nice touch but I don't know if that was intended.

              Tofu ... or whatever ... sausage doesn't work though in a long-stewed dish ... it turned soft, a little mushy almost reverting back to its original soy state. Not bad taste-wise but bad texture.

              IMO, they could have had some farofa with this. The real problem with this was they over-salted it. They over-salted the greens as well, which was a real shame because they were bright and fresh and would have been wonderful otherwise.

              Then there was the rice problem. The server asked me if I wanted rice. It's been a while since I had feijoada and I was trying to remember if rice was involved. I said yes. There is a choice of white or brown and I got the brown which was a very big bowl.

              BUT ... they CHARGED for the rice ... $2.50. Oh no you don't ... especially with Brazil Cafe across the street serving REAL feijoada chock full of pork served with salad, rice and farfofa ... for $9 ... and your vegan version is $11.50. AND if you are going to charge for rice, make that clear when you ask.

              Still, a little applause for turning out a credible vegan version ... who would have thunk it.

              It does come with a little salad and soup. I had the same cabbage slaw salad topped with a green pesto-consistancy dressing ... though it didn't have any distinct flavor.

              It sounds like my soup was much better. It was a veggie soup that was chock full of finely diced onion, zuchinni, carrot, eggplant, green onion in a deep rich broth that if no one told me, I would have guessed was rich chicken. Also, I was thinking how terrific it was that this place didn't oversalt ... and then came the feijoada.

              As to that dish. If it is feijoada you are looking for ... seriously ... go to Brazil Cafe.However, I'd recommend it to non meat eaters. Maybe ask them to go light on the salt.

              I had a pot of ginger tea. They use Ten Ren tea bags. It was good.

              It is the same menu for lunch and dinner. For lunch this is a bit pricey, IMO. They should have some specially priced lunch dishes. At dinner, on a week end with live music ... a deal ... and I'd go again.

              I liked the freshness overall. Seriously this is heads above most of the vegan restaurants I've tried in the Bay Area. It doesn't taste vegan.

              1. re: rworange
                AntarcticWidow Mar 15, 2009 09:40 PM

                Friday evening we gave the restaurant another go. We ordered the Deep Sea Shrimps for a starter followed by Chicken Cacciatore and the Sea Treasure. It also came with the little salad and soup. Overheard the serving telling another table the dressing is an avocado dressing, although I didn't detect any avocado, just a slight cilantro-mint flavor.

                We had a veggie soup, too but it was more like a potato chowder with chunks of potato, winter squash (kabocha perhaps) and corn kernels. It had a nice thick texture to it, not gummy at all.

                The Deep Sea Shrimps were interesting. Little packets wrapped in a bit of seaweed and tempura-battered. The batter was done in a way so it looked like it had a head and tail, like real shrimp. It had a mild shrimp flavor but the texture is a bit odd, and kind of stringy. There was a very nice dipping sauce in a small bowl to go with it, sweet, gingery and spicy.

                The Chicken Cacciatore cutlets were sauteed and lightly stewed with a nice marinara-like sauce, slices of mushroom and veggies. The texture of the chicken was good, the sauce was tasty and I found it to be a good vegan version of the original. Interesting that you found the greens oversalted; the side of greens that accompanied our dish were a bit salty as well.

                The Sea Treasure featured the same little shrimps as in the starter. Had I read the menu closer I would have ordered differently. The shrimpers were deep-fried and served with some kind of sauce that I don't recall now. The menu says scallion, chili and snowpeas, but I don't remember having any chili or snowpeas in the dish.

                They seem to push the brown rice, but I ordered the standard steamed white rice, didn't notice if and/or what we were charged for it.

                Live music Friday evening was a gentleman on vocals and guitar. The music seemed to get a little loud at times for comfortable conversation, but it was still very enjoyable.

                1. re: rworange
                  p
                  ptrichmondmike Apr 30, 2009 08:10 AM

                  Charge for the rice? LOL...I refused to go back to Suzhou largely because they charged for tea! (Thier food wasn't too great either.) Maybe the location...?

                  I've never had a deliberately vegan meal in my life, but I'm intrigued enough by the reviews here to maybe just amble down the hill this weekend and try this place.

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