Since 1979, Executive Chef Annie Somerville has offered inspired vegetarian cuisine to a wide array of devoted fans from her kitchen in a converted warehouse in the Fort Mason Center. In a casual, elegant dining room with views extending as far as the Golden Gate bridge, diners savor dishes with influences and ingredients from Europe all the way to Asia and Africa. With a large portion of its produce coming from partner Green Gulch Farm, Greens demonstrates a commitment to sustainably grown, local products at comparatively reasonable prices. Diners can also stop in for a quick, low cost bite from the Greens to Go counter, offering breakfast and lunch items throughout the day.Read More ...
Greens Restaurant is most notably known for being one of only a few fine-dining restaurants dedicated to producing an entirely meatless menu. Yet, on the occasion of our visit there, the unanimous comment my dining companions made about the restaurant was that, looking back on our meal, they wouldn’t have remembered it as a particularly vegetarian meal. For those who are skeptical about how satiating such cuisine can be, an evening at Greens will put those doubts to rest. Yet, the commitment of Greens, and executive chef Annie Somerville, to vegetarian cuisine extends beyond simply providing a tasty vegetarian experience. Greens Restaurant opened in 1979 as a part of the San Francisco Zen Center, which includes Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and Green Gulch Farm. The latter, in Marin County, provides the restaurant with seasonal produce year-round, though Greens also sources products from other local growers. Having opened just eight years after Chez Panisse, Greens and Chef Somerville have been leaders in the restaurant industry’s move toward developing strong relationships with local farmers and supporting sustainable agriculture.
Since its inception, Greens has been housed in a former machine shop in the Fort Mason Center. This location proves both odd and fortuitous, as it is also home to several non-profits, and a few art and dance studios. Still, upon entering, one immediately understands why the restaurant remains after all these years. True, there is the large, airy space and floor to ceiling, small-paned windows that line the far wall. But really, it’s about what those windows allow you to see- it’s the view that makes this location ideal, drawing the eye across the little boat-lined marina, over the glittering waters of the bay, into the spectacular silhouette of the golden gate in the distance.
As if not to distract too much from this scenic panorama, the décor of Greens is spare. It is dominated mainly by two large works of art- redwood sculptures- that visually split the small waiting lounge in the front of the restaurant from the rest of the dining room. Aside from this, the tables are unadorned oak, the floor is simple, dark wood, and the white walls are adorned with paintings of fruits, vegetables, and clouds. On the immediate right hand side, when you enter, is the Greens to Go counter, which serves less expensive vegetarian breakfast and lunch fare, generally starting at eight in the morning.
Fortunately, on the occasion of our visit, we were seated next to the windows overlooking the bay, though any seat in the restaurant affords a more than decent view. There was no music playing during our meal, though the conversation at the tables was lively enough to keep the restaurant from feeling quiet. At night, Greens can be quite a romantic place but, perhaps as testament to its longstanding popularity, we saw the full spectrum of diners on a typical Friday evening- couples on dates, associates meeting to discuss business, and even families with small children.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a plate of crusty bread and room temperature butter, which we immediately devoured, sprinkled with salt from a tiny cellar on the table. Accompanying the bread was a small dish of almonds that had been slow roasted for three to four hours at a very low temperature in order to achieve just the right flavor and texture. Ordering drinks was something of a refreshing change, as Greens does not have a full bar and offers a relatively small drink menu. As opposed to an overwhelming dictionary sized menu of wines by the glass and bottle, aperitifs, liqueurs, etc., Greens dedicates just one side of their menu to a few beers and approximately sixteen wines by the glass. While the choices are limited, those selections that have made the menu are outstanding and almost entirely locally sourced and/or organically farmed.
Of all the selections we had to make, choosing from the enticing list of first courses proved most difficult. Each and every plate seemed to highlight the best attributes of just one or two key, seasonal ingredients. Though tempted by offerings like Green Corn Soup, Grilled Peaches with fromage blanc, and Wilted Spinach with garlic and mint, we finally decided to order the Ricotta Corn Cakes and the Fresh Spring Roll to begin our meal. Five or ten minutes after placing our order, we were told that the spring roll was unavailable, and were asked to choose another first course on the house. After deciding on the artisan cheese plate, the spring roll nonetheless found its way to our table, sliced and stacked crosswise on a plain, square white plate. It was filled with julienned carrots, radishes, mint, basil and green papaya, and rice noodles, and wrapped in a translucent rice paper wrapper. Accompanying it were a small ramekin of hoisin sauce, a few meaty, grilled beech mushrooms, and a stack of three pieces of delicate tofu sauced in a smooth, slightly tangy peanut sauce. Overall, the dish provided a wonderful play of texture between the crunchy spring roll and tender tofu.
Our other first course selection soon became the favorite dish of the night. The Ricotta Corn Cakes played on all our taste buds by bringing three round, slightly crispy patties filled with sweet corn, smoky cheddar cheese, and spicy jalapenos served alongside a dollop of crème fraiche and spoonfuls of a bright-flavored, nutty cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto and a smooth fire-roasted tomato salsa.
Of our second courses, the Tagliatelle with cherry tomatoes stood out the most. The freshly made noodles were piled high in a large white pasta bowl, lightly sauced with olive oil and butter, and tossed with the halved mini tomatoes, and thin strips of green and yellow summer squash. It was finished with thin ribbons of fragrant basil, toasted breadcrumbs and long, thin shavings of pecorino sardo, a sheep’s milk cheese from Sardenia which is salty like pecorino romano, but of a smoother, less grainy texture. This dish, while simple, was beautifully prepared and presented, and allowed each ingredient to shine without any one element overpowering another.
Our other selection, the Chanterelle and Leek Tartlet was stunning in presentation- a straight-sided tart in the center of the plate, topped with the mushrooms and surrounded by large pieces of caramelized root vegetables. The chanterelle mushrooms were well cooked, retaining some of their moisture; however the flavors of garlic, gruyere and leeks were lost to the thick, almost bready tart crust. The root vegetables were the stars of the dish- sweet and tender on the inside, crispy on the outside.
For dessert, we shared the Vegan Selection, a giant wedge of springy and moist almond cake, topped with powdered sugar, sliced almonds and a tiny flower garnish. Two scoops of a creamy chocolate soy ice cream were placed next to the cake, and both were surrounded by a startling, bright red ring of tay berry coulis dotted with fresh raspberries. At the table, there was disagreement about whether or not each component of the cake went with the others- where I felt that the almond cake was lost in the chocolate and coulis, others absolutely loved the combination. In either case, we all felt about the dessert as we felt about the rest of the meal. In short, it wasn’t as if we were missing out on something by ordering vegan, or vegetarian, food; everything was tasty, interesting, and filling.
Throughout our experience, our server displayed a good deal of passion and knowledge about the ingredients used in the kitchen, and went to some trouble to answer our questions, even going so far as to bring back the entire list of ingredients in the almond cake when we inquired about the substitutions that made it vegan. Not only was he friendly and welcoming, but the atmosphere of the restaurant was as well, seeming to adapt to the many needs of its diverse clientele. For the best Greens experience, it is advisable that you take into account when the sun will be setting when making your reservation, as the ambience of the restaurant changes when the light dims and the candles on each table are lit. Whatever your needs, when you go to Greens, you have more than a delicious vegetarian meal in a spectacular setting; you also support the cause of sustainable, local, environmentally friendly cuisine. And that is no small thing.
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This restaurant has the best food with beautiful presentation. The view is lovely and the room is cozy. it is a big treat to go to SF and stop by for lunch or dinner. Very special!!