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gift certificate for vegetarian semi-foodie?

I want to give my sister a gift certificate to a nice restaurant for Christmas. She's a grad student, so she's kind of broke, and I want her to be able to try a restaurant that there's a buzz about, but that she wouldn't be able to afford on her own. She hangs out with foodies and they talk about the local sources of ingredients and stuff like that. But the place doesn't need to be super-fancy, just delicious. Other criteria: she is a vegetarian. Also, if the place has fancy imaginative cocktails, that would be nice. Any thoughts? Thanks for your help!

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  1. The best vegetarian restaurant I've ever been to is Ubuntu. . not sure if you'd want your sister to have to travel all the way to Napa but it's worth the trip - it is awesome and it might be something she might not try on her own. :) Also, you can pay for and print their gift certificates on-line which is pretty cool! No full bar, though.

    Encuentro just opened in Oakland. . by the same folks that do Millenium. . this restaurant is vegetarian but not vegan like Millenium. . i have yet to go but a good friend who is really into food said it was fun. No full bar either. (I wonder why).

    Aziza also might be a good choice. . .it's Moroccan and not strictly vegetarian but they have many vegetarian friendly items on their menu and it's a gorgeous restaurant with inventive cocktails. . in fact as I am writing this. . I think this might be the perfect spot for your sister! :) Happy Holidays!

    1 Reply
    1. Millennium on Geary st. is the hands down favorite of the
      vegetarian/vegan grad students in my family.

      http://www.millenniumrestaurant.com/

      1. The answer is clearly Ubuntu. It's not super-duper fancy, just a nice looking modern room, but it's all veg and super cutting edge. It's also a bit of a haul from SF, all the more reason to give her the shove to get up there. I think I spent about $250 for two with tip when I went, but that's on the rarely available tasting menu. Very high end without the posh trappings - just what you're asking for.

        1. Thanks for your suggestions, everyone. Ubuntu sounds great, though I wish it were closer. I'd kind of like to give her the chance to go out and relax one evening after working on papers, meaning that I might want something a little more convenient.

          And it doesn't have to be ALL vegetarian, just wanted somewhere where she would have at least a couple of options.

          8 Replies
            1. re: lanamonster

              Definitely do Ubuntu. There's lots of buzz about it, and she'll be really excited to have a reason to go there. It's more out of the way, but it's exactly what you're looking for.

              1. re: JasmineG

                You can't just drive up to Napa for an evening. Her friend will likely have to stay overnight, especially if she enjoys some cocktails, incurring the cost of a room. That just seems impractical for an impoverished student.

                1. re: a_and_w

                  I've just driven up to Napa for an evening lots of times, especially on a weekend. It's only an hour drive from Berkeley, sometimes it takes that long to drive into SF for dinner. No need to stay overnight.

                  1. re: JasmineG

                    Do you drink lots of cocktails when you do this?

                  2. re: a_and_w

                    It's an hour drive from ubuntu to many parts of the bay area, according to google maps. I chose chavez and 101, and berkeley campus. Both were almost exactly 1 hour.

                    Early seating. 6pm. Done by 9. Back by 10. Or leave at 6, back by 11. It's a full evening, but it's easily doable. The gift should be for two, that's only sporting. The other will be the designated driver.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Come on. We're talking about the SF Bay Area here. There are HUNDREDS of restaurants that meet the OP's criteria but require neither an hour drive nor drafting a friend as designated driver. If I were a starving grad student foodie, I would wonder why my friend didn't just pick one of those.

                2. re: lanamonster

                  Ubuntu is an amazing, ecstatic experience for anyone, and I can only imaging for a vegetarian. My experience with their tasting menu this summer was a top 20 lifetime, and lifetime so far covers an awful lot of meals. A gift to place like that would be an awesome thing, and if she's located in the east bay, a surprisingly short drive (if out at SF state, I can see it more problematic). It's the kind of place that might convert a partial believer to a true believer.

                  I asked the restaurant since I was thinking about it. They're still figuring out how to add the tasting menu back for weekends, and there's the just-started Tuesday Night Family Dinner.

                3. Being a vegetarian who a few years back was a struggling grad student, I'd say stick closer to home! Millennium is great, as is Aziza, Also, the head chef at Millennium, Eric Tucker, just opened his wine bar/cafe, Encuentro, in Jack London Square.

                  Encuentro: http://www.encuentrooakland.com/

                  -----
                  Aziza
                  5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

                  Millenium Restaurant
                  580 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  1. You have all made such a persuasive case that I want to fly to the West Coast and try Ubuntu myself! But my sister gets really stressed out when she drives (I mean REALLY stressed out), and I feel like it would significantly detract from the evening. So Aziza? Millenium? I was also looking at Oliveto, which seemed to have a decent number of veg options.

                    And she lives in Oakland, but SF is fine. Traveling might make it more special, as long as it doesn't involve a car.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: lanamonster

                      Aziza is a pain in the ass to get to if she lives in Oakland and doesn't want to drive. I'd vote for the below recommendation of Chez Panisse Cafe, great vegetarian options, and a nice splurge, while still being relatively casual.

                      1. re: JasmineG

                        Good point re Aziza being tough to get to without a car from the East Bay. Chez Panisse Cafe is an excellent suggestion, though she'll probably have to drive there, too.

                    2. what about chez panisse cafe? special, in the east bay, veg-friendly.