Monday, December 28, 2009

Gracias Madre

There's nothing like a new restaurant to perk up my day and I recently got treated to one of the best!

Gracias Madre is a brand, spanking-new vegan restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco. Located on Mission St. near 18th, Gracias Madre is at the center of the Mission's hustle and bustle. But from the iron security grating to its spare but warm dining room, the place is an island of calm. At least, that's what we found when we arrived for an early lunch on the restaurant's second day.

The menu, which is the same at both lunch at dinner, offers Mexican food's greatest hits done up with the best ingredients and a vegan flair.

To start, we shared a plate of roasted cauliflower drizzled with a vegan nut-based cheeze and topped with crisp bread crumbs. Halfway through it, I was overcome by the desire to suck my thumb and curl up in a corner. Such comfort.

To go with it, we each had a mandarin orange aqua fresca. Gracias Madre's version was like drinking a ray of sunshine. Really. I was running very low blood sugar when we got there and this drink was exactly what I needed. Be forewarned: this kind of refreshment comes at a price, $7 dollars to be exact. If the world really, truly wants organic produce, then get used to things like a $7 dollar glass of juice. (Besides, it's no more expensive than a margarita -- something we definitely don't need in greater supply.)

My dish was a Mexican Christmastime favorite, a tamale. Gracias Madre's version was a handmade treat, filled with smooth butternut squash filling. Its mild flavor played well with the tasty pickled veggie salad, a Mexican restaurant staple that I usually avoid, but found irresistible here.

My husband, Mr. Veg, ordered his personal favorite, Chiles Rellenos. His take was two beautiful poblano peppers stuffed with a medley of fresh veggies and topped with a light-colored sauce. The mixture was delicious and mild in my mouth but left a spicy aftertaste.

I'd love to show you pictures of the meal, but -- nightmare of food bloggers' nightmares -- I was so caught up in the meal that I forgot to take pictures. 'Guess you just have to go there yourself to fully appreciate the attractive, unpretentious presentation (and the hand-pressed blue corn tortillas).

By the time we left, business had picked up considerably. Even when they're busy, Gracias Madre retains a sense of sanity -- something that's so often missing. The proprietors also own Cafe Gratitude, a terrific local raw-foods place with multiple Bay Area locations. Cafe Gratitude's positive vibe buzzes here, too, so on many levels, you'll be happy you came.

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