Jon Carroll Tuesday, August 10, 2004
I confess to having had what Herbert Spencer would have called "contempt prior to investigation" about the word "vegan," the concept of veganism and vegans themselves. Vegans, I figured, were people who were too snotty to be vegetarians.
But then I heard about a vegan restaurant that, for several non-food- related reasons, was too good to pass up. It's called the Gratitude Cafe.
I went with a woman named Tree. OK, that's only a nickname, but there is something very special about going to a vegan restaurant with a woman named Tree. She had persuaded me to try the place out.
"I am flourishing," I said to the waitress.
"Good choice," she said.
"Also, I am effervescent." She wrote it down.
Tree said, "I am fulfilled. No, wait, I am plenty. No, I am fulfilled. And maybe a side of I am generous." She closed her menu. "You'll like this," she said. "It's a great place."
It did look like a pretty good place -- the ceilings were high, and the dining area was filled with soft light -- but it did choose to name its dishes in that very odd way. Tree's selection, "I am fulfilled," was a "large cafe salad with avocado and live toast." My selection, "I am flourishing," was "live falafel with hummus."
"So, now, about this live toast. It seems to me that any toast, however it is made, is going to be pretty much dead on arrival. And certainly, when it goes over the tongue and down the esophagus, it's really, really dead. There are acids down there -- it's a hellhole. You wouldn't want your living toast swimming in something like that."
"You falafel is living, too," she pointed out.
"That's less surprising. I have had falafel served by certain street vendors that could easily survive a nuclear attack. If war ever breaks out, duck behind a falafel."
Tree said nothing. She understood that, by bringing me to this restaurant, she might experience a certain amount of backchat. Indeed, the Gratitude Cafe seems to anticipate japeries -- the door at the back of the room has a sign that reads, "I am the rest room." They might be vegans, but they weren't dour.
On the counter was a napkin holder filled with colorful bits of pasteboard about twice the size of playing cards. "Oh, this is a great game," said Tree. "Pick a card." I picked one. It said (and here I paraphrase), "Think of something good about yourself. Praise yourself to the other players."
"Well, this is a great little recreation," I said. "I'm not sure of all the rules, but I do like the game play."
"Praise yourself," said Tree. I was warming to her with every passing minute.
"I am evolved and serene enough to go to a vegan restaurant without giving the waitress a hard time," I said. I was really feeling good. Tree picked a card. "Tell the other players three things you really like about them, " she read.
"Man, this is better than charades," I said.
So then the food came. And here's the truth, my beloved readers: I came to scoff and stayed to cheer. I mean, I know my hummus, and that was darned fine hummus. The olive thing was sort of a tapenade and was, dare I say it, bursting with flavor. And "I am effervescent" was an apple, ginger and bubbly water drink that spelled refreshment with every mouthful.
You know all those vegans who say, "No, really, it tastes good." They actually have a point. It's not just like eating hay and twigs. A person could actually be happy at a vegan restaurant, and even feel like praising other people.
I would have loved to stay for the "I am adoring," but duty called. Maybe next time.
And that is Jon Carroll on Cafe Gratitude. Let's all find our ways to praise.