Gluten-Free Travel Adventures in the San Francisco Bay Area
Posted Jun 10 2011 11:00am
I recently returned from a trip to visit a friend in Berkeley, California. I spent 5 glorious days roaming the San Francisco Bay area, hitting up tourist destinations and wandering lesser visited areas too. The Bay Area is a wonderland of gluten-free, allergy-friendly, whole foods places. Put simply: I did not suffer. Quite the opposite, really - I think I ate my way through Northern California!
I wanted to share some of my favorite food destinations with you, as well as some other sites from my trip. I hope you enjoy!
I have heard about Cafe Gratitude for years. It is a mecca for anyone who loves whole food, gluten-free food, vegan food, organic food, or really good food. From their website:
"Café Gratitude serves a menu of 100% organic, 100% vegan, local fare. Our food is free of refined sugar, flour, and additives. We have an extensive menu of raw foods and have recently expanded to serve cooked foods in many of our locations. We create all of our own food -from the produce bin to your plate - so we can avoid serving certain common allergens like wheat, soy, and peanuts. Over 45% of our produce comes from our Be Love Farm, and the compost from our Cafes is returned to the farm to nourish the next meal."
How awesome is that?!
My burning desire to go there was happily obliged by my friend and host, as we ended up going there three times in five days! Seriously. Two of the trips to Cafe Gratitude involved a meal. Due to the large number of items on the menu that include nuts or other allergens for me, my options were somewhat limited. Thankfully, the item on the menu that looked the best to me was also totally Kim-friendly. Named "I Am Whole", this bowl was a mixture of kale, carrots, quinoa or rice, homemade sauerkraut, sunflower sprouts, and sea vegetables, all doused with a garlicky lemon tahini sauce. I added sliced avocado (an extra charge), and asked for the tamari almond garnish to be left off. The portion was enormous, and it looked gorgeous. The flavor was fresh and clean, and the meal left me feeling satisfied and energized. My friend ordered handmade corn tortillas with beans, avocado, salsa and homemade cashew-almond "cheese". He adored it, and ordered the second time we went back!
The environment at Cafe Gratitude is really soothing and calm, and I very much enjoyed it. It is, in some ways, what you'd expect - unbleached cotton napkins, glass water carafes etched with inspirational words, dialogue cards on each table. And on Fridays a darling, purple-clad woman named Ari gives angel readings. She read my angels and was pleased to find out that they totally have my back and are supporting all kinds of things I want to do in life.
I also tried their housemade kombucha. I tend to prefer a bitier, more sour kombucha, and although theirs was a little more sweet, I still enjoyed it. It had a very gentle fizz that was present but not very aggressive.
In addition to a full menu, Cafe Gratitude has a bakery/dessert case, a cooler case of packaged edibles, and a wide variety of specialty ingredients, cookbooks, apparel, and home goods. So, the other trip to Cafe Gratitude was merely for treats. I purchased the "Be Love" ice cream bar, made of coconut milk, cashews, agave nectar, vanilla bean, and dunked in a raw cacao chocolate shell. Honestly, I wasn't totally wowed. The texture of the ice cream wasn't as creamy as I would have liked - it was hard and full of ice crystals - but the flavor was good. I loved the chocolate shell, a dark and bitter chocolate that wasn't too sweet at all. By the time I was almost done with it, it had softened up to a more desirable texture, so maybe the trick is to let it sit out a bit before eating. Either way, it satisfied my craving for something cold and sweet.
I also purchased a package of Lemon-Coconut Raw Cookies (no photo, sorry). These things were fantastic, made of shredded coconut, lemon juice, agave nectar, sea salt, and a few other ingredients and dehydrated into a sweet and chewy treat that is absolutely addictive. I don't remember how much they cost, but they were absolutely worth it.
I absolutely recommend Cafe Gratitude to anyone looking for a wholesome meal. Next time I visit the Bay Area, I'd like to visit Gracias Madre, the sister restaurant in the Cafe Gratitude chain. It specializes in organic vegan Mexican-inspired food, which sounds like a winning combination to me.
Voted the best coffee in San Francisco by SFWeekly, Philz Coffee was an absolute revelation. My friend and host proudly names this establishment as his favorite coffee indulgence, so we made sure to go the first morning I was in town (and also the last morning I was in town, actually). I walked in the cafe to find a wall of coffee beans, cheerful baristas, and a bakery case full of fresh baked goods (including vegan options) and two shelves of packaged, locally made gluten-free cookies and brownies. What makes Philz so special is that each order is brewed one cup at a time, to the patron's specifications. There were probably 20 different types of roasts and blends, both regular and decaf. It takes a little longer than your average cup of joe, but the results are breathtaking.
I actually moaned a little bit when I took my first sip of Decaf French Roast. Their only non-dairy milk option is soy milk, so I opted for a splash of organic whole cow's milk in my order. It was the most divine cup of coffee ever; bold, dark, earthy, bitter, and almost a little smoky. I also indulged in a pre-made gluten-free Peppermint Chocolate Chip cookie. It was an absolutely indulgent way to start the day! Then we went to Cafe Gratitude and I ate my body weight in that I Am Whole bowl.
Oh, and just as a side note, there is an amazing shop full of beautiful jewelry next door...
I arrived in California hungry and tired. I needed food immediately! My friend and I decided on a Greek dinner at Ikaros Greek Restaurant, which he had never been to but had heard good things about. In short: it was wonderful. The server was friendly and knowledgeable and very accomodating with my dietary needs. While the kitchen certainly is not gluten-free, they were allergy aware and I was able to get a very wonderful meal. We started the meal with dolmas (stuffed grapeleaves), which were freshly prepared and flavorful. For my main course, I had marinated lamb chops, sauteed vegetables, and herbed rice. My friend ordered a lemon roasted 1/2 chicken, which also came with rice and vegetables. We also got a simple salad of shredded cabbage, carrot, lemon juice, and olive oil. The meal was heavenly! My lamb chops were so tender and flavorful, perfectly done and just a little charred. My friend's roasted chicken was moist inside with a wonderfully crisp, flavorful skin. The rice pilaf was buttery and flavorful, each kernal of rice perfectly done. The vegetables were the low point, which were a little too oily and overcooked for my taste. On the flip side, the cabbage salad was very good, a welcome light and crisp addition to our heavier meal.
I would definitely recommend this restaurant - the prices were reasonable and the quality was excellent.
Ikaros Greek Restaurant
3268 Grand Avenue Oakland, CA 94610 (510) 899-4400
I don't have any food photos to share, but this place was very good. The only Turkish restaurant in Berkeley, The Turkish Kitchen serves a wide variety of authentically prepared Turkish foods. While it wasn't extremely safe for gluten-free folks (no dedicated fryer, wheat everywhere in the kitchen, and a limited understanding of allergy needs), I was able to find a good and safe meal after a little trial and error. The falafel was fantastic (with no wheat in the mix), but is fried in a fryer that is shared with gluten. I also had hummus and a very nice salad. Beware, however - the rice is actually a rice pilaf, and contains orzo, a fact that wasn't made clear to me until it arrived at my table. If you have a wheat allergy, please don't eat the rice. In addition to a wide variety of delicious meat dishes, The Turkish Kitchen also had lots of options for vegans and vegetarians. The food was delicious and affordable, and it worked for me, as I can share equipment/fryers/etc with wheat from time to time and be okay. But if you are extremely reactive, I wouldn't recommend it.
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is find the local farmers market. In the case of the Bay Area, my friend presented me with four different markets we could attend that were near to his home. We chose to attend the market he frequents most often, the Grand Lake Farmers Market.
Located near Lake Merritt, this market is in a very urban, busy location in the city, just off the highway. But once you enter the tent community, you feel transported into an agricultural wonderland. This market had it all: fresh fruit and vegetables, locally raised cuts of meat and locally produced charcuterie, freshly prepared tacos and tamales, honey, breads and other baked goods, locally grown dry beans, mushrooms, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and more. I was impressed at the wide variety of unique this as well - Easter egg radishes, unusual wild greens, foraged mushrooms, flavored honeys. Also, it was so amazing - alarming, really - to see so much fresh fruit at the market. It's cherry season, so there were cherries everywhere, and fresh locally grown avocados.
The notion of being able to get fresh, locally grown avocado is somewhat of a miracle to this northerner.
Beyond the wide variety, I was truly wowed at the presentation. Most vendors went out of their way to produce a beautiful display for their foods, and I found myself charmed on a constant basis. Since we were on the move that day and not cooking, I had to limit my purchases. Nonetheless, I left with Duck Rillettes, a Smoked Cured Duck Breast, fresh pea pods, and dry gigante beans. I don't know what I was thinking not getting a big bag of cherries for snacking!
Grand Lake - Oakland Farmers Market
At the Splash Pad Park on the corner of Grand Ave and Lake Park Ave.