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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Encuentro is an East Bay Vegetarian Treasure

Posted By on Tue, Jul 15, 2014 at 4:30 PM

click to enlarge Tempeh at Encuentro. - JULIE KRAMER
  • Julie Kramer
  • Tempeh at Encuentro.

There are some great vegetarian restaurants in San Francisco: Greens has been around forever, Milennium dazzles with upscale vegan cuisine, Gracias Madre proves that Mexican food doesn't need animal products to be delicious (and filling).

If you feel like expanding your boundaries, you can hop on the Alameda ferry at the Ferry Building, and get off at Jack London Square, where a two-block stroll will take you to Encuentro. Formerly located several blocks away and billed as a café/wine bar, Encuentro is now a full restaurant that celebrates local, organic, and seasonal food.

The building housing Encuentro is large, almost barnlike, with glass windows framing a softly lit dining room. Inside you'll find simple lines, wood, and tile, and acoustics that allow you to have an actual conversation over shared plates. This is definitely a place that encourages sharing; the menu offers options like 'Bites and Nibbles' and 'Good for Sharing'. One especially good choice is the stuffed dates, which at four for $5 is very reasonably priced. Two of the dates are stuffed with Redwood Hill Farms goat cheese, the slight tang and creamy texture perfectly offsetting the dates' sweet and soft qualities. The other two contain a milder macadamia nut pate; all are topped with walnut halves and sit atop a lovely, tart balsamic reduction.

A tangle of marinated mushrooms covers the smoky pecan pate, a plate that also includes cornichons, sweet prune chutney, and mustard, as well as a few thin crostini. In truth, the thick bed of pate is far too large for the small pile of bread, and the salty/acidic flavors made the dish somewhat one-dimensional. Better was the salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes, almonds and sweet cubes of watermelon topped with goat feta. Pretty and juicy, it tasted like summer.

If you're a tempeh fan, you really shouldn't miss the sesame-crusted tempeh in a lemon coconut broth. The entrée is beautifully plated: Three golden logs of tempeh nestle up against jasmine rice, a tangle of red cabbage, slivered carrots, and sheets of nori. A pool of bright yellow coconut sauce dotted with black sesame seeds, while pleasing to the eye, is even more pleasing as an accompaniment to the rice and nutty-textured tempeh.

Perhaps, after sharing several plates with a friend (or keeping them all to yourself, no judgment), you will have room for a cheese (or vegan cheese) plate or some house-made vegan cheesecake. If not, no worries. When a vegetarian craving hits, Encuentro is just a ferry ride away.


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Julie Kramer

Julie Kramer

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