vegansaurus!

01/20/2010

"Beautifull!" open in the Inner Sunset  »

If you haven’t been acquainted, “Beautifull!" is a semi-recent addition to the Bay Area’s "fresh, healthy" prepared foods scene. I’d had their stuff before, since they’ve catered some work-related events and also sell to-go foods in the Capay Organic store in SF’s Ferry Building. It’s decent stuff for pre-packaged food; it’s clear they use quality ingredients and make it as wholesome and appetizing as cold prepared foods can be. I think their main kitchen is in Emeryville, but they also have a retail store/restaurant in Stroller Heights, at 3401 California St. That is a genius location for them, as they no doubt do gangbusters business selling kombucha, quinoa/edamame salad and salmon filets to busy rich skinnies with nannies moms-on-the-go.

So, this new location, 816 Irving St. between 9th & 10th Avenues, is mostly of interest to me because it is half a block from my house. The thing is, there are about 100 other things to eat within a one-block radius, and in light of this, Beautifull! (don’t forget the exclamation!) is pretty-good-to-OK, for the price.

Let me break it down for you: the format of the store is basically an exact replica of Whole Foods’ prepared foods area. The main menu features are pizzas (whole wheat crust, natch), sandwiches, curry/rice bowls, and cold-case things like fruit salads, couscous salads, and a lot of meat and fish choices (so relevant, right?). It’s priced very similarly to Whole Foods, and there is a wall of cold prepped dishes for you to heat & eat at home, soups, and bottled kombucha. They also have some baked goods like big cookies and muffins. (None of the baked goods are vegan, just FYI. But if you’re vegetarian, try the blueberry ginger muffin or spelt peanut butter cookie.)

On the plus side, it’s good to have a place that is at least conscientious of the ingredients and wants to help you find something nutritious and veggie to eat, and I think it’s good to have these places penetrating the mainstream and opening new branches. The ladies working there are SUPER-friendly, and it is completely wack that their POS system doesn’t allow you to add a tip to credit card purchases. Seriously, that is a bad management decision. But anyway, they were very informed on what was vegan vs. vegetarian, and very helpful with choosing menu items. You can sample anything, as much as you want. Other positives: they deliver orders over $50 and their catering menu has a few more vegan options—I’ve gotten their catering at my office and had great experiences with it.

Many things you will want to eat are vegetarian but not vegan. I could see this being very frustrating for you, the vegan. However, I can attest that the Moroccan Butter Bean Tagine and Thai Vegetable Curry would be delicious choices for you or anyone.

The cold case is a good place for vegans, too. I got a half-pint of the kale and arame salad for $2.40, and considering that eating cold kale is a bit like going into battle, it was a decent price for a side dish that lasted me two meals. Beautifull!’s Red Quinoa & Edamame salad is a signature for them, and very enjoyable as well.

So fundamentally, if you’re a fairly well-versed home chef or a very strict vegan, you might not really have much use for it. Their food is pretty simple, and not beyond the capabilities of your average food blogger, but they use good ingredients and it could be handy for a night you don’t feel like cooking. I wouldn’t call it a “destination” or sit-down restaurant.

And I feel slightly nervous for them, because their menu is huge and varied (not really sustainable from a cost-containment standpoint, for most restaurants), and a lot of what they’re selling is duplicated in existing, well-loved neighborhood places. Often, as with the thai curries, you can get these elsewhere in the ‘hood for cheaper at ethnic dives (although maybe without such explicit access to the ingredient list—every item at Beautifull! lists all the ingredients in plain sight.) Some of us in the ‘hood had hoped for a replacement option for the now-closed Cafe Gratitude, and this isn’t exactly it, though you can get a bowl of veggie curry over brown rice, quinoa or couscous, for about $10 (which is admittedly less than Gratitude’s, with a lot less fanfare involved in procurement).

12/14/2009

NEWSFLASH: Plant Cafe is open at 101 California!!  »

I know this is exciting news for nobody but me because our readers all have twee creative-class jobs like “writer” and “pop culture strategist” and work in airy Dogpatch lofts (or at home in their sweatpants and own filth), but for everyone who slogs to their depressing-ass desk job in the bizarro world that is the Financial District, PLANT CAFE IS NOW OPEN AT 101 CALIFORNIA! I reported on this previously and promised to follow up as soon as they opened, so here’s your follow-up. I owe back taxes and I’m living in piles of unpacked moving detritus, but I am bringing this information to you efficient-style, because it is clearly Very Important.

Some things to note about this location, vs. the Pier 3 location which was previously the closest to my office (though still too far to walk over, wait 45 minutes for food, and walk back in under an hour):

There’s a bit more of a focus on prepared to-go foods, which is probably the right call, since the prevailing culture down here in bizarro world is picking up your depressing processed foods wrapped in plastic and eating them alone at your desk. Except now, you can be enjoying delicious salads out of compostable plastic containers with this amazing creamy dressing (vegan! made out of macadamia nuts!), “sprouted” bagels with almond butter for breakfast, and the famous Wasabi Burger (GET IN MAH BELLY.) It looks a little more like an airport, maybe because of the to-go focus and the fridge cases, or maybe because the menu is projected on flat screens like departure times.

Yes, they do have the amazing Plant Burger on the menu at this location. I’ve only been once (this morning, for breakfast, where I ate the sprouted bagel and the salad), so I can’t comment on the lunch scene but I will definitely be back. Maybe not every day, because I’m trying to save money in 2K10 and DANG THIS PLACE IS HELLA EXPENSIVE.

But the value of good, whole, delicious foods and fresh juices in this location is priceless, so the portion of my budget that does go to prepared lunches will now be going only to this Plant Cafe.

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