The first time I ever went to a Café Gratitude was probably around 2003, during my days as a free-loving, UC Berkeley hippie. Okay, I wasn’t that free-loving, and really, I wasn’t that much of a hippie, but I certainly tried to play the part. So when a friend of mine suggested that we have lunch at this “super-crunchy” café in North Berkeley that served “really delicious organic, vegan food”, I was 100% on board. At that point in time, I still had the blessed metabolism and immune system reserves that only a 19-year-old can have, which allowed me, for better or worse, to live off of nachos, cheeseburgers, and milkshakes without noticing any effects in my pant size or the way I felt. (I would say that I miss those days, but that wouldn’t exactly be true.) Anyway, let’s just say that when I took my first bite of the raw, vegan pizza I had ordered, I was more than a little disappointed that it did not taste more like, well, pizza.
Flash forward many years to my current life, in which I have a much slower metabolism, a heightened sensitivity to my body’s needs, and, very thankfully, a more developed palate. I am fairly conscious these days of what I put into my body, and am especially so during times when I am feeling a little run down. Such was the case at the beginning of this week, which led me to make my second trip to a Café Gratitude, this time, in Venice.
I walked into the café mid-afternoon and was seated right away at a table on the lovely patio dining area that runs along Rose Ave. I knew that I wanted to order the most restorative items on the menu so I requested the I AM WHOLE macrobiotic bowl, a combination of an array of healing foods that are balanced for optimum nourishment, along with an I AM BRAVE elixir. I will be honest; I wasn’t particularly concerned with what any of it was going to taste like. I just wanted to feel better, and if these menu items might help, then I was willing to give them a shot.
To my surprise, the items that were placed in front of me were not only beautiful and enticing, but they were deliciously satisfying as well. The I AM BRAVE elixir is an immunity-boosting shot of lemon, turmeric, ginger, essential oil of oregano, and cayenne, and just looking at its vibrant saffron color was an invigorating experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I took my first sip, but the experience went something like this: first a burst of citrus, then the fragrant spiciness of the turmeric and ginger, followed by refreshing oregano, and finished with a solid cayenne bite.
As I was enjoying the feeling of all of my airways opening up, my server brought over my macrobiotic bowl and I was immediately taken with the delicate presentation. I started to sample the separate elements of the bowl, to enjoy each flavor in its own right. The sea palm had the texture of perfectly al dente noodles and was salty with the lightest sweetness, while the housemade kim chee was crisp and tangy. The sautéed kale’s earthy, bitterness was balanced by the smooth creaminess of the pureed braised Garnet yams, and the garlic tahini sauce added a pungent richness to the entire dish. Served on a bed of adzuki beans and local brown rice, it was an incredibly filling meal that left both my taste buds and my body deeply satisfied. As I finished the last few bites of my truly delicious lunch, I wondered why it had taken me so many years to return to Gratitude.