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Jul 10, 2010 08:56 AM

Café Gratitude - give me a break...

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.

Pictures on Feast:

Cafe Gratitude
1730 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

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  1. >) "I am blessed" to have one of these embarrassments in Healdsburg. I think it is still there, went when it first opened and will never set foot in it again. To add to your adjectives would be phony.

    1. i would think if the food was good then none of the other stuff would matter

      3 Replies
      1. re: cornflower55

        The food is quite good. But it's a lot of affirmations to put up with.

        1. re: Windy

          Yet it (the affirmations, etc.) is exactly what you expect, and there's no reason to be upset when you can't get milk in a restaurant you know doesn't serve it. Just perusing the menu outside gives one at least a hint of "something isn't going to be like your typical restaurant" inside, nor should the prices be surprising because they, too, appear.

          1. re: lmnopm

            Actually, I hadn't perused the menu before I went in so it was a surprise to me. I knew it was vegetarian, but I didn't realize it was vegan until I sat down and ordered the drink without having looked at the menu. I just saw other coffee-colored beverages on other tables and assumed they were with milk.

            And I was not expecting the affirmations.

            Lesson learned. Read menus before going in.

      2. The first time i went to Cafe Gratitude I was so excited because for some reason it sounded so good. I love veggies and nuts, and I had heard so much about it. Plus I could have anything on the menu because it was all gluten-free. But I too was dissappointed. The guac I had heard so much about what fine, but not anything all that special. The pressed crackers were strange, although I did like the quinoa and middle eastern inspired plate. The desserts I didn't think were all that great, albeit very smooth. I got a chuckle out of people saying how "healthy" they were, given the amount of fats and sugars in there.

        However, my SIL is sometimes vegan and was visiting and really wanted to go. So we hit up the one in Berkeley. I had a zucchini ribbon "pad thai" which was actually really good. It worked with the raw flavors. My kids loved their "pizza" but I wasn't as excited about that. Anyway, i think it really makes a difference what you order there.

        The service is odd, the premise annoying at times, and both times the lack of deoderant was a bit overwhelming (no offense - i just have sensitive smell).

        Have I gone back - no. For my tastes I can make the things I like at Cafe Gratitude at home for less money and not much effort, and I don't care for the super labor intensive raw food things (like the "breads" and "crackers").

        1. This place was founded and is run by graduates of Landmark Education's "human potential movement" programs, which in turn are based on Dianetics graduate Werner Erhard's teachings. It is regarded by many as a cult. I've read the workers have a lot of pressure put on them to participate in these classes. That said, though I didn't like the food or the "don't worry, pay money" false cheer, I think they do a good job with their vegan mousses and cream pies.

          1. I followed your picture link.
            The picture of that main course says it all. Those sprouty greens look tasty. But you couldn't get me to eat that pasta unless I was 2 weeks into being a participant on "Survivor."

            If the food was great, and it was not run by Landmark, I'd put up with the rest of it, and regard it as a theme restaurant. But it's not, and it is, so...

            1 Reply
            1. re: pauliface

              I think Heidi said it was run by Landmark graduates, not Landmark itself. A friend of mine worked for them, and really liked it even though he was not part of Landmark. I also enjoyed the food I had the time he and I went, although this was in the beginning when everything was new, so I don't know how it is now. I had the "burger" which I really liked but found the dessert to be too sweet (and I love dessert).