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Jun 4, 2007

At Cafe Gratitude, you can find self-affirming appetizers and deep-down satisfying desserts.

by ann parker

Sentinel restaurant writer

Try this. Say out loud: I Am Worthy. I Am Passionate. I Am Perfect.

Was that comfortable? Consider yourself primed to visit Cafe Gratitude, where you'll utter phrases like these each time you order — because each dish is named with an affirmation, from the I Am Generous guacamole to the I Am Lovely fruit cobbler.

Now imagine saying it to a server. Anyone ordering I Am Generous better leave a good tip.

Cafe Gratitude isn't just a restaurant; it's more a philosophical phenomenon. With two locations in San Francisco, one in Berkeley and a brand new site in San Rafael, these organic/vegan/raw food bistros offer unusual cuisine as well as a unique menu.

What Are You Grateful For?

Michael and Terces Engelhart opened the first Cafe Gratitude three years ago in San Francisco, their signature "What Are You Grateful For?" slogan arching over the doorway. The restaurant essentially evolved as a vehicle for the couple's original inspiration: an interactive board game called "The Abounding River"

"We surrendered ourselves to inner guidance and had an insight about designing a game of abundance," Michael said, making it sound easy. But before their game was produced, two years later, the couple first created an Abounding River logbook and workshop — and opened the first Cafe Gratitude. "It was a backward process," Michael said, laughing. "The cafe is like a gaming parlor, where people eat good, healthy food"

A millionaire who founded the phenomenally successful Flax clothing company with his former wife, Jeanne, Michael married Terces in 2002. He and Terces were alumni of the Landmark Forum, a program which promotes empowerment and self-realization.

At Cafe Gratitude, Michael said, "I'm about the vision; Terces [who recently co-authored the "I Am Grateful" recipe book] is about the food"

I Am Initiated

My neighbors, Claudia and Bruce described Cafe Gratitude by saying, "Well you really have to experience it yourself"

So the three of us drove to San Francisco to visit the original Cafe Gratitude on Harrison Street. We parked nearby [there's gratitude for you] and chose a sunny corner banquette in the bustling, colorful little restaurant. A stained-glass canopy glowed above the central bar; people chatted at tables laminated with the Abounding River game.

Charmaine, a beatific young server, greeted us warmly and invited us to "have fun and be nourished" She beamed, and said, "Are you ready for the question of the day?"

"Sure," I said warily. She asked, "Where in life do you experience complete freedom?" and sailed away.

I froze. Freedom? Freedom? I hadn't felt complete freedom since ... "in the water," I heard myself say, remembering leaping into a mountain pool. "In the garden," Claudia said firmly. "In the shower," Bruce said, chuckling.

We Are Hungry

Bruce and Claudia hadn't warned me that ordering any of the 170-plus menu items, from cold-pressed coffee to "live" desserts, meant saying names like I Am Ecstatic, I Am Eternally Youthful, I Am Surrendering, etc. Ordering at Cafe Gratitude is fun if you're open to it — and discomfiting if you're not.

I bet some people just point at items or recite descriptions. But I have to admit feeling a certain pleasure in saying to Charmaine, "I Am Charmed," ordering my cardamom-spiced green tea. Claudia giggled, "I Am Sassy" [virgin lemon margarita] and Bruce declared, "I Am Rich" [orange, carrot, lemon and beet juice].

We also ordered I Am Prosperous [arugula salad], I Am Heroic [quinoa tabouli] and I Am Celebrating, the day's special salad. Claudia announced, "I Am Cheerful — with cheese" [pumpkin seed and walnut burger topped with macadamia nut "cheese"]. For dessert, we were "Magnificent" [raw chocolate mousse] and "Awakening" [key-lime pie].

Charmaine soon returned with our drinks, saying to each of us respectively, "You Are Charmed. You Are Sassy. You Are Rich" I only felt slightly silly; my aromatic tea charmed me and Claudia's drink was indeed sassy. Bruce's drink, however, was glorious: a vegan pousse-cafe of orange, purple and yellow embodying sweet carrot, earthy beet and tangy lemon flavors. We Were Pleased.

And We Were Delighted with our salads and entrees, delivered on cheery Fiestaware inscribed "What Are You Grateful For?" All of the generously portioned food was attractive, interesting and flavorful. I especially enjoyed my minty quinoa tabouli [Heroic] and the veggie-loaded spinach salad [Celebrating] topped with marvelous Meyer lemon pesto and chewy flax "crackers"

But We Were Ecstatic over the scrumptious "Awakening" chocolate mousse and a truly "Magnificent" key-lime pie with coconut meringue and macadamia nut crust. And remember: no dairy, no eggs, no refined sugars.

And no big bill bite: our meal was reasonable as well as delicious.

Sacred Commerce

Michael Engelhart describes Cafe Gratitude as "sacred commerce" and says the popular restaurants have exceeded his expectations, although he admits more profit would be nice. "Our food is labor intensive with expensive ingredients," he acknowledges, while noting wanting to keep prices customer-friendly.

The cafes employ an unusual approach to food production, pre-preparing ingredients in one central kitchen and then delivering it by refrigerated biodiesel van to the four sites. "Raw foods are preparation-heavy, with lots of juicing and soaking," says Michael's son Ryland, general manager of the new San Rafael cafe. "Food prep starts at midnight, until about 8 a.m" All-organic local produce, he explains, is outsourced by Veritable Vegetable organic distributors.

And Cafe Gratitude workers are given a unique perk. "We promise our employees a life breakthrough," Michael says matter-of-factly. Charmaine, a Cafe Gratitude employee of six months, told me, "It's completely transformational"

Will Cafe Gratitude come to Santa Cruz? It's a future possibility, says Michael; the next site planned is Los Angeles.

About the "Abounding River" game that started all this. You can see the extraordinarily detailed, award-winning board design on Cafe Gratitude's Web site Or I could describe the matching cards, bearing quotes like "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one" [Albert Einstein] and questions dealing with values, pleasures, illumination, forgiveness.

But you really have to experience it yourself.

{ cuisine: Very good [all organic vegan, mostly live foods. service: Very good, enthusiastic, energetic, personal. Atmosphere: Colorful, relaxed, unconventional, and where else can you play a game during your meal and say things like "I Am Triumphant" Prices are reasonable, drinks, shakes and smoothies, $2 to $7.50; appetizers, soups and salads, $5.50 to $10; entrées, $8 to $12; desserts, $3 to $7 }

Where to go for gratitude

All four Cafe Gratitudes offer the same menu and philosophy but distinctly different atmospheres. For more information, visit

  • Cafe Gratitude, San Francisco, No. 1, 2400 Harrison St. (at 20th Street). (415) 824-4652, option 1. Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The original Cafe Gratitude: bright, airy, colorful and cheerfully funky.
  • Cafe Gratitude, San Francisco No. 2, 1336 9th St. (at Irving). (415) 824-4652, option 2. Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Cozy with a pretty courtyard; attracts doctors and patients from nearby medical centers.
  • Cafe Gratitude, Berkeley, 1730 Shattuck Ave. (at Virginia). (415) 824-4652, option 3. Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The busiest of the four cafes; its unusual and appealing building is all brick, inside and out.
  • Cafe Gratitude, San Rafael, 2200 4th St., (415) 824-4652, option 4. Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The newest location; Marin's influence is felt in the graceful design and wisteria-draped patio.

What are you hungry for?

All 170-plus items offered on the Cafe Gratitude menu can be viewed by visiting A few favorites:

Appetizers, soups and salads:

  • I AM BOUNTIFUL live crustini: Four different toppings on live toast: Fresh tomato, basil, garlic; thinly sliced avocado with Himalayan crystal salt; hemp seed pesto; raw olive tapenade ($8).
  • I AM INSIGHTFUL live samosas: Two spinach-wrapped samosas filled with cauliflower and macadamia 'otatoes' and carrots; comes with spicy fresh mint chutney ($8).
  • I AM THANKFUL Thai coconut soup: Coconut curry soup with avocado, tomato, cucumbers, and shiitake mushrooms ($7).
  • I AM DAZZLING Caesar salad: Romaine lettuce, live croutons, Caesar dressing and Brazil nut parmesan, with or without capers ($9).

Entrées and warm grain bowls:

  • I AM FABULOUS pad thai: Veggie noodles with shredded kale, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, teriyaki almonds and almond butter thai sauce ($12).
  • I AM ABUNDANT sampler plate: Chili con queso with chips, Asian kale-sea veggie salad, hemp seed pesto crustini, olive tapenade, live hummus and a mini soup of the day. Served with assorted live crackers and almond toast ($12).
  • YO SOY MUCHO Mexican bowl: Shredded kale under a choice of grain; topped with guacamole, spicy salsa and sprouts ($10).
  • I AM ACCEPTING stir-unfry: Steamed Bhutanese red rice tossed with raw vegetables, shiitake mushrooms, scallions and Asian sesame dressing; served with romaine leaf wrappers ($8).

Specialty drinks and desserts:

  • I AM INSPIRED Masala chai latte: India-inspired almond milk chai sweetened with agave nectar ($3).
  • I AM TRANSFORMED elixir: A shot of wheatgrass juice in fresh Thai young coconut water ($5 small, $8 large).
  • I AM LUSCIOUS healthy raw chocolate smoothie: Fresh Hazelnut milk, figs, dates, raw cacao and vanilla ($7).
  • I AM DEVOTED live coconut cream pie: Rich coconut cream pie in a coconut date crust.
  • I AM ADORING live tiramisu: Raw cacao and almond tiramisu cake, with sweet cashew cream and raw chocolate espresso filling.
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Posted: Jun 4, 2007 2:29am


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