There's a new, extremely healthy, veg restaurant in the East Bay with roots going back over 15 years to the old Organic Cafe in Oakland. A macrobiotic institution in Oakland, the Organic Cafe changed names to Manzanita and then to Shangri-La Vegan, but the food mostly stayed the same, thanks in large part to Tenzin, the faithful chef through it all.
If you've ever tasted Tenzin's cuisine, you'll know what a true artist in the kitchen can do. This man is like the vegetable and grain whisperer, teaching children to love kale with one wave of his magic spatula. Seriously, he's a master of healthy and delicious, and he's finally got his chance to shine in a brand-new restaurant of his very own, Polata Organic.
Sitting at the Berkeley/Albany border at 1045 San Pablo Avenue, Potala Organic is in the former Ruen Pair space. This fact is obvious, as it looks exactly as it did when Ruen Pair inhabited it -- posters advertising Thailand and Thai trinkets abound. It has the feel of a pop-up restaurant, but it's apparently (hopefully?) permanent.
The menu is pretty much the same as at Shangri-La Vegan -- hearty, simple, healthy vegetarian food. There's one menu, and you can order in three ways: the full meal, medium meal, or simple meal (prepared without oil and spices).
We're told that the difference between this food and at Shangri-La is that Tenzin will be able to experiment more heavily with spices, sauces, and bold flavors. Shangri-La's food is very satisfying in the way that if you've been eating bacon and Sour Patch Kids for a week, a meal at Shangri-La will leave you feeling like you had a visit to a spa -- one that possibly included a colonoscopy. (A non-gross colonoscopy.) It's just super simple, healthy, clean food: bowls of beans, rice, salads, greens, and roasted veggies that might be bland in hands less adept than Tenzin's.
Excitingly, the flavors at Potala Organic are definitely stronger than at Shangri-La, but not in an artificial way. Tenzin is clearly creating food with the best possible ingredients, and everything is just so damn fresh and flavorful. It's just a big bowl of delicious health, and I know I sound ridiculous saying that, but it is. Strange decor aside, this is definitely a place worth checking out, especially after an insane Thanksgiving feast.
Potala Organic, 1045 San Pablo Ave., Albany. (510) 528-2375. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m.