I am Hungry

dining_gratitudeCafé Gratitude brings attractive and flavorful organic vegan food to Downtown Santa Cruz

Whether you’re a practicing vegan or not, the touches of herbs and spices used at Café Gratitude guarantee a memorable meal. For the most part, you can’t identify the dishes’ ingredients by their names on the menu, so at the first visit, I studied the descriptions over a Bison organic IPA ($5), a hoppy beer made in Ukiah. A cool glass of I am Bright ($4) followed. This probiotic kombucha tea, rich with antioxidants had a light fruity flavor.

Matthew and Terces Engelhart opened their first Café Gratitude in San Francisco’s Mission District, focusing on sustainability and community. They now have a handful of locations and grow much of the produce at their farm in Vacaville.

Gratuities are shared equally by the hourly employees. The menu features raw foods, which retain certain nutrients that are lost in cooking, but also offers some very nice cooked dishes as well.

Tables are set with carafes of water, silverware wrapped in black cloth napkins, and a shaker of pink Himalayan salt. Lamp shades, like inverted parasols, remain from the Asana Tea House. Friendly staff members dressed in black introduced themselves to each customer, explaining the restaurant’s organic, made-from-scratch mission.

Gratitude serves both a living and cooked soup each day. On our visit these were cucumber gazpacho and black bean. We opted for the latter, which was an incredible purée of beans miraculously flavored with cilantro and other spices. It was absolutely delicious.

I am Transparent ($13), like a sushi roll cut into two pieces, was stuffed with a paste of sprouted almonds and sesame seeds, pickled cabbage, avocado, carrots and sprouts. The nori seaweed wrapper imparted a seafood flavor. The wheat-free soy sauce dip contained nicely spicy wasabi.

From the list of salads, I am Fulfilled ($10) arrived in a huge bowl. Fresh greens and sprouted plants were tossed in dining_gratitudesushithick tahini-garlic dressing, and topped with fresh julienne of beets, teriyaki almonds, and chopped tomatoes, sprinkled with a “parmesan” of grated Brazil nuts. It was served with a side of additional dressing, and a large, thin crisp of carrot puree and flax seeds.

I am Extraordinary ($11) is Gratitude’s ode to the BLT.  On a large toasted organic wheat bun, thick slices of ruby tomato, with romaine and mashed avocado rested upon a thick spread of chipotle aioli whose heat built with each bite. The texture of bacon was provided by maple-flavored strips of coconut. It too was served with a large helping of sweet balsamic-dressed greens.

From the selection of cooked dishes, a large dried corn husk package held I am Trusting ($11), a moist tamale made with heirloom stone-ground corn masa and summer vegetables. It was served with black beans, shredded cabbage and carrots and spicy cilantro salsa.

Our pottery plates, now clean, asked the question, “What are you grateful for?” In four words? That black bean soup.

Café Gratitude, 103 Lincoln St., Santa Cruz, 427-9583. Beer and wine. Open daily from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Visit cafegratitude.com.

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