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Udupi Palace (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , ,

1901 University Avenue
(At the corner of University and Martin Luther King)
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 843-6600

Udupi Palace Rating

Udupi Palace is a great South Indian Vegetarian Restaurant at the busy intersection of University and Martin Luther King, in Berkeley, across from the Trader Joe’s construction site, and also the Chaat Cafe. Billing itself as "A place for dosas…" how could I resist?

You walk in and immediately notice that it smells wonderful. We went on a Friday night, a little on the early side, and there was a pretty good crowd—some couples and a large family.

I was very pleased that I chose to get the Samosa: a pair of yummy tetrahedrons; light and flaky (i.e. fried) on the outside, with curried potato and peas on the inside. It’s a rare fried delicacy for me.

Udupi Palace Samosas

A pair of crispy Samosas

The real hard decision was the dosa menu. Dosas are rice and lentil flour crêpes stuffed with something delicious and soft, and rolled into a tube shape that overflows the plate. There were a dozen or so different kinds of dosas, and nearly as many uthappam which are rice and lentil pancakes. Combinations included potato, onions, peas, vegetables, even cheese, and different seasonings. All come thali style with a small bowls of spicy sambar (a lentil soup) and a coconut chutney that I really enjoyed.

But what’s really remarkable—and I’ve been saving this comment for the end because I wasn’t sure you’d believe me—is that the masala dosa that I ordered was as long as my arm, if not longer!

Udupi Palace Masala Dosa

Masala Dosa longer than my arm

Seriously, this thin, light, lentil-flour crêpe was as delicious as it was wide. I tore through it pretty quickly and was rather proud of myself to boot. Kathryn was amazed to see it go. She got a spinach masala dosa which was a nice twist on the theme. The crêpe was green and maybe even more delicious than mine, with a slightly bitter spinach kick.

Near the edges, where there’s no stuffing, the dosa dough is dry but fluffy, yet it’s sort of hard to cut with the dull knife I had. I don’t have any idea whether or not it was radically uncouth, but I picked it up and ate the last tasty bits with my hands, burrito style.

Now here’s the crazy part. For a samosa appetizer and two huge dosas, the bill came to about $16.75 with tax, before tip. Check it out!

2/27/2010 Update—I went back to Udupi Palace with a big group of work colleagues, and I got to see a lot more of the dishes. Just about everyone got a dosa. The Spring Dosa looked fantastic. The Paper Dosa, be forewarned, is gigantic but is not stuffed. There’s nothing inside. The dosa wrapper is dipped into the sambar and coconut side dishes. I think that I would find it unsatisfying.

Nature’s Express (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , , ,

1823 Solano Avenue
(At Colusa, next to Peet’s Coffee)
Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 527-5331

nature's express rating

Nature’s Express is a great new vegan restaurant that recently moved in next to Peet’s Coffee at the top of Solano Ave, in Berkeley.

With its modern, clean—almost sterile—interior, with splashes of vivid color, and a wide cashier’s counter in front of uniformed chefs at work, Nature’s Express is setup like a fast food restaurant. But that’s where the similarity ends. Well, that and the Air Baked Fries.

There’s a wide selection of appetizers, salads, wraps, breakfast burritos (served all day), soup, burgers, even dessert— amazingly, all vegan.

I couldn’t resist the Air-Baked Sweet Potato Fries, which are soft and delicious, almost chewy.

The first entree I tried was The Patrick-Goudreau, essentially a tofu scramble with veggies in a green tortilla wrap. It was really good, healthy tasting, not too large, and I’d certainly order it again. For $5.25, it’s a great deal! The burrito is named after local vegan chef, teacher, blogger, and cookbook author, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau [] Several of her cookbooks line the shelfs along the side of the store, giving you something to flip through while you wait for your food.

I asked, and found out that Ms. Patrick-Goudreau isn’t associated with the place. The burrito name is an homage, like The Alicia (Silverstone), The Moby, The Stella (McCartney, I guess), and The (Albert) Einstein. Ms. Silverstone’s book The Kind Diet is also available for sale.

Tonight I tried The Moby, a spicy, and fresh tasting burrito with potato, cilantro, black beans, guacamole, green chili, and salsa.

Nature’s Express is cheap, healthy, and fresh, and I’m happy to have it in my neighborhood. I hope they do really well!

Nature's Express

Nature's Express on Solano Avenue

2/27/2010 Update—I went back this week and they had changed their menu. Despite my best attempts to edify the public with this blog, no one got the references in the breakfast burrito names. Now the Stella is the Stellar. The Moby has had a makeover, and now comes with Sriracha sauce, but it’s still delicious. The Patrick-Goudreau now has a new name, The Kick Start.

Greens Restaurant (San Francisco)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: San Francisco | Tags: Tags: ,

Building A
Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123>
(415) 771-6222


Now celebrating their 30th year, Greens is a veritable vegetarian institution. Their focus on fantastic ingredients makes every dish special, and every time I go there, I can’t remember why I’ve waited so long to return. Spacious and light-filled, with a view of the sailboats slipping across San Francisco’s waterfront, Greens is a destination restaurant for vegetarians, epicureans, and vegetarian epicureans alike.

Greens is one of those rare places where a vegetarian can stare at the menu for a long while and be absolutely stymied about what to choose—so many things appeal. Although everything in the restaurant is vegetarian, many or most dishes have dairy, whether butter, cheese, or cream. Still, it’s not difficult to find a few great vegan choices, and the wait staff are uniformly excellent.

I started with the Fresh Spring Roll with carrots, green papaya, jicama, Thai basil, rice noodles, mint and hoisin. It came with some incredible grilled oyster and abalone mushrooms. It was really nice to see Hodo Soy tofu mentioned by name (!) on the menu, since the owner, Minh, is a longtime friend from the Berkeley and San Francisco Farmers’ Markets. It was easily, the most delicious hoisin sauce I’ve ever tasted.

Kathryn got the black bean chili, and ordered up a pot of chamomile tea.

As a main course, I chose Green’s signature dish, the Mesquite Grilled Brochettes, which are two, flavorful skewers of veggies, mushroom, and tofu, served on a bed of brown and white quinoa. The quinoa was toped by perfectly roasted almonds, and infused with currants, for a little bit of sweet/sour joy. The best item on the skewer was a wedge of butternut squash. I wish there had been more.

For some reason, I only order dessert in great restaurants. Kathryn and I split a warm, flourless chocolate torte with two small scoops of peppermint ice cream. A winning mint-chocolate combo. My father got the Huckleberry, Pear and Apple Sorbets with meyer lemon sugar cookies. Wow.

Lunch with Ken's Parents

Lunch with Ken’s Parents

Café Gratitude (Berkeley)

Author: Kathryn | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , ,

1730 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709
(415) 824-4652


When I first heard about this place opening in San Francisco in about 2003, I laughed at the concept: a healthfood restaurant that compels you to utter affirmations? No thanks.

Now, by 2010, I eat at the Berkeley Café Gratitude on a regular basis, and I love it. Café Gratitude exclusively serves food that is raw, vegan, and organic. The entrees are in fact listed as positive declarations: for example, I AM ELATED is a vegan quesadilla (the cheese is made from ground nuts) and I AM GIVING is an Asian kale salad.

My favorite dishes are the grain bowls, in particular I AM WHOLE and I AM ACCEPTING. The first involves sea veggies, carrots, roast almonds and kale over a choice of red Bhutanese rice or quinoa. The second also comes with an offering red rice or quinoa, topped with avocado, seaweed, and nuts. I get either of these with both grains, half-and-half. They are both delicious and nourishing.

Café Gratitude’s atmosphere is crunchy in the extreme: the waitpeople are kind and often dreadlocked, and the low grind of the juicer at work forms the background noise. Its red-brick walls make it cozy and warm. There are sofas, a bar in front, and outdoor seating on the sidewalk.

The food here is not cheap, so rather than raise prices infinitely, they started offering half portions, which is what I go for (it’s plenty of food).

I recommend this place to anyone—it’s great for vegetarians, not to mention a quintessential Bay Area experience.

Warning to people with nut allergies: for you, every entree may be I AM IN ANAPHALACTIC SHOCK. So be careful, lots of dishes involve nuts.

Cha-Ya (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , ,

1686 Shattuck Avenue
Between Lincoln and Virginia
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 981-1213


Cha-Ya is my favorite restaurant in all of Berkeley. A small (20 seat) strictly vegan Japanese kaiseki ryori restaurant in the Gourmet Ghetto. Kaiseki cuisine is an edible art form largely unknown outside of Japan, and most-closely associated with Kyoto. Take me there for my birthday, or any day; I never need an excuse to go.

A vegan meal at Cha Ya consists of many small plates, and there’s a huge variety of dishes and food styles to mix and match. Weekly specials are posted on the wall. You can probably go ten times and never order the same thing twice. It can be overwhelming on your first visit if you’re not familiar with the food. Here’s a little orientation, based on what I usually order.

Among the soups I’ve tried, I prefer the Dobin Mushi, a “pot soup,” with all kinds of delicious veggies and mushrooms. Once you pour off and finish the broth (like tea), you can dive into the pot and eat the veggies. The salads are all incredibly fresh, and come with seasoned hijiki (seaweed), ginkgo seeds, tofu, greens, and sometimes persimmon.

There are a number of small dishes (Kozara) that I love, but my hands down favorite is the Gyoza (vegan pot stickers). Served with gyoza dipping sauce, they’re warm and melt in your mouth as the steam rises from your first bite. They’s sweet and chewy and really a treat. I also recommend the simple and delicious Robata Yaki (which is served as pair of skewers with grilled vegetables, mushroom, and tofu, glazed with a sweet plum sauce).

Cha-Ya has a very wide variety of al la carte veggie rolls: both hosomaki (nori seaweed on the outside), and nigiri vegetables on top of the rice, strapped on with a little nori belt. Among the hosomaki, don’t miss the Kampyo, seasoned gourd. It doesn’t sound impressive, but it has a mouth-watering, sweet, slightly vinegar taste. With the Nigiri I really love the way they do the eggplant. Seasoned perfectly, the eggplant is soft and delicious.

There are some special rolls that are particularly decadent. The Cha-Ya Roll is my guilty pleasure: tempura sushi filled with avocado, yam, and carrots, the entire roll is lightly battered and deep-fried, served with a special house sauce. It’s amazing.

On a cold night, there are noodle soups, and on hot nights, you can order cold noodles, like Zaru soba.

The menu contains six or so Combination Dinner Sets, which come with a bowl of miso soup and a small salad, in addition to an entree. The combos are probably a great deal, but I can never wrap my mind around how they’re organized or what I should choose. If you’re already ordering an entree that’s part of the specials, it makes sense to see if the specials work for you.

I’ve just scratched the surface, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that they have a number of vegan desserts. The Vegan (chocolate) Cake is usually excellent, but the Vegan Ice Cream Sundae is the real prize winner, with both azuki beans, and green tea sauce.

The menu features many kinds of fine teas, and a range of sake (hot or cold), including Sho Chiku Bai Sake from Takara, made in Berkeley!

The place is small and popular, so if you get there too late, you might be standing in the cold for a while waiting for a table. Be forewarned.

The Ravens (Mendocino)

Author: Kathryn | No Comments
Categories: Near and Far | Tags: Tags: , , ,

Coast Highway and Comptche Ukiah Road
Post Office Box 487, Mendocino, CA 95460
In the Stanford Inn By the Sea
800-331-8884 • 707-937-5615


Sea Palm Strudel

I couldn’t resist ordering this—I’ve picked up sea palm on the beach, long, brown squishy trunks with tendril-like leaves, and I couldn’t resist the curiosity of it. I also like all sea-vegetables, and they aren’t something I prepare at home.

I wasn’t disappointed: the sea palm came wrapped in a pastry type breading, with a side of sauteed veggies. I actually liked the sea palm more than the pastry–I’m not s fan of bready type food for dinner and  would have preferred a grain, but I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and would order it again, just for the novelty.

We also had an appetizer of XX which vanished in moments of arriving at the table. The bread is also excellent here and it’s possible to become quite full before dinner even arrives, which makes packing in dessert even that much more intensive.

Good thing we were staying right at the Stanford Inn–just kind of waddle home.

Mushroom with Creamy Polenta

This was my favorite meal at the The Ravens—it looks simple as the plate arrives, but the flavor of the mushrooms was phenomenal, and the polenta was perfect. All the side veggies must have come from their garden–in any case, the produce was amazingly fresh and I had to pace myself and enjoy this.

It’s such a pleasure to go into a restaurant and have so many options. The Ravens isn’t cheap, but as a vegetarian, it’s a real luxury to have so much choice.

Daily Omelet

I’ve gone long spells being vegan but I’m currently eating eggs for the protein value (also, okay, I really like them!). I had this omelet both days and again I was struck by the freshness of the ingredients.

Dessert Tasting at the Stanford Inn

I have only only one word: YUM. I was pretty adamant on day 2 that we get back to the lodge in time for the afternoon offering. I had the gluten-free fudge both days. This is SERIOUS stuff.

About the Authors

Ken and Kathryn are the authors of VegJapan, a vegetarian TravelBlog in Japan.


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