The graciousness of a meal

Annie Chang/Staff

Be positive, shine bright, be happy, relax, and slow down. Cafe Gratitude reminded these ideologies in me with its highly self-re-affirming and encouraging menu names, such as “I Am Terrific” and “I Am Thriving”. As stated on its website, the organic vegan restaurant practices “Sacred Commerce”, which ties to the menu names. The term means that the restaurant “provides inspired service, honest and transparent communication, and express[es] gratitude for the richness of… lives”. The entire concept ties to a natural, earthy base; the restaurant not only prioritizes gratitude and health, but also expresses these ideas in its architecture. The interior is dark and woody, a representation of a natural, healthy and simple way of life. The outside sitting area houses wooden tables and seats along a row of shrubs. You feel relaxed just by walking into the restaurant.

With such unique menu items, I could not skip ordering a drink. The “I Am Delicious” smoothie, as listed on the menu, is a Maca malted milk with coconut milk, maca, hemp, dates, vanilla bean and salt. Appearance-wise, the combination looks healthy: a light beige color of milk and oatmeal with tiny espresso-brown grains. The first sip tasted like kiwis, but after a few seconds, the taste transformed to a blend of fruit, coconut and a little bit of chocolate. At some point during the meal, it also tasted like bananas. Overall, it is best described as “earthy”, just along the lines of the restaurant’s positive vibe.

My entree, a cooked specialty called “I Am Warm-Hearted”, was polenta with vegetables, ratatouille sauce, cashew ricotta, basil, and almond parmesan. The polenta, being simple cornmeal, tasted like a plain amalgamation of spongy cheesecake and whipped yogurt. Although not very flavorful by itself, combined with the other ingredients, this polenta is one of my favorites in Berkeley.

The almond parmesan and cashew ricotta, which taste lighter and sweeter than normal dairy cheeses, enhances the polenta with their gentle saltiness. The vegetables, submerged in the ratatouille sauce, were tender and harmonized with the polenta. The entire dish had little contrast in texture, which made it easy to eat and to mix the flavors in the bowl. It was like eating tomato soup, cheese, corn and mashed nuts, a combination of flavors that I would never have thought to make, but somehow they worked together splendidly.

Each time I leave Cafe Gratitude, I feel genuinely happy and positive because of the unique, wonderfully named foods and drinks, and because of the earthy, sun-lit environment. True to its name, Cafe Gratitude exudes a feeling of appreciation that keeps me coming back.

Cafe Gratitude is located at 1730 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709.