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 V.15 No.16 | April 20 - 26, 2006 

Restaurant Review

The Green Light Bistro

Forget the meat, eat a beet

Patio dining that actually improves your karma
Wes Naman
Patio dining that actually improves your karma

I can only imagine the delight shared by the earliest humans upon discovering that vegetables were not only edible, but delicious. They may have been out hunting their requisite wooly meat beast when one of them pointed to the ground, and all crowded around, admiring a fat, juicy carrot, or maybe a leafy bunch of spinach. The brave one put it in his mouth, chewed for a minute and then screamed for joy. Food also grew from the ground, and thus began our evolution into the salad-eating, broccoli-loving, bell-peppered existence that we know and cherish today.

Far and away from the days when our three squares were made up of meat, meat and meat, the Green Light Bistro--the newest vegetarian restaurant in town--opened its doors next to Annapurna earlier this year to serve the heck out of veggies, veggies and more veggies.

The place is tiny and parking is both confusing and abysmal (as is the case with most University area and Nob Hill businesses). At least the modest patio area offers the perfect blend of sun and shade, and if fresh vegetable or fruit juice is your thing, you'll get your ice-cold spinach and parsley juice fix in no time flat.

Dairy-free dessert? Sweet!
Wes Naman
Dairy-free dessert? Sweet!

I popped in for a bite during the traditional lunch rush hour of noon-1 p.m., but was glad I got there before the stampede that came in directly behind me. The indoor dining area is so small that I and a dozen of my fellow brothers and sisters were sharing some up-close-and-personal contact, curled around the miniature bakery case and out the door, waiting to pay at the itsy-bitsy counter. This may be part of the overall experience, though. I haven't seen this much unshaven leg and smelled so much patchouli since Lilith Fair.

I took my number and sat at one of the seven-or-so tables indoors, and had a good look at the campus-chic décor and art, enjoying the tiny Chinese vase on my table filled with real flowers. My drink kept me entertained during the relatively short wait for my meal--I again realized why fresh orange juice is so much better than the processed stuff. It's simple: real fruit pulp, not the rehydrated husk floaties that clog up the entrance to the carton.

I did a menu tour of salad ($3.75), soup ($3.95 or $6.95 as a combo), stuffed mushrooms ($4.95) and homemade masala fries ($3.50). As my brain is programmed to eat hot first, the fries went quick. The ample portion of golden and crispy taters were served with three dipping sauces: Russian-chipotle, tamarind chutney and garlic “nayo.” The first was creamy and smoky, the second was quite sweet, and nayonnaise being a favorite of mine, I was glad for a guilt-free dipper that tasted so close to the artery-clogging real McCoy.

I was disappointed with the Sicilian stuffed mushrooms. The caps were underdone, and the sun-dried tomato and Parmesan stuffing tasted fine, but was too mushy, almost like a paste. Otherwise, the crostini with handmade black olive tapenade was excellent. The bed of greens underneath made up almost an entire side salad, complete with a light coating of the house herbed balsamic vinaigrette. For the uninitiated, tapenade (TA-puh-nahd) is a savory spread, French in origin, that's traditionally made with capers, anchovies, lemon juice, olive oil and herbs, and spread on small slices of toast or bread.

My big salad was perfect—no iceberg lettuce (the bane of my existence) in sight, and it was neatly garnished with red pepper strips, plum tomatoes, green peas and shaved carrot. The soup du jour was cream of mushroom--thick, hearty and topped with a dollop of garlic cream. The warm rice flatbread it came with was a nice touch. It was translucent with a slightly sweet, toasty flavor and made a great scooping device when rolled up.

After peering into my neighbor's plate at the next table—close quarters, again—I was beginning to regret not ordering the tofu Marsala, which came in thick slices, smothered with steaming mushroom sauce and served alongside mashed sweet potatoes.

The entire menu is a commentary on a healthful, meatless lifestyle. Despite my own carnivorous tendencies, I loves me a good vegetable dinner here and there, and I make it a point to debunk the antiquated theory that it ain't a meal without meat. I plan on making a return visit to try the arugula and gold beet salad, the stuffed bell peppers, and the weekend brunch menu with tasty morsels like Eastern porridge, tempeh Waldorf salad and veggie sausage with sweet polenta.

Our cave-dwelling ancestors would be proud. Vegetables don't put up a fight when you try to slay them, and a wad of raw wildebeast isn't nearly so appealing since the advent of the supermarket, so go eat your yellows and greens.

The Alibi Recommends:

Hot chocolate with cow, soy or oat milk

Masala fries

Ravioli Florentine

Baked brie with apples and rice crackers

The Green Light Bistro, 2209 Silver SE, 254-0100; Hours: Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. and Sun. brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. No smoking, credit cards accepted, breakfast, patio, espresso drinks.

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