|View of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County from my favorite dining room in the world|
Greens is located in a reconverted warehouse at Fort Mason in the Marina district of San Francisco. Fort Mason, former Army post. The restaurant was opened in 1979 under the auspices of the San Francisco Zen Center with Deborah Madison as head chef. She developed their distinctive culinary style— an elegant and ebullient expression of creative vegetarian cuisine. With an imaginative mix of casual elegance, exciting tastes, and a subtle message of health and Zen harmony, Greens changed forever the way we think of vegetarian restaurants. From the beginning they relied on beautiful, organic produce from Green Gulch Farm, run by the Zen Center in a valley in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco. The farm's lush landscape, which gardener Wendy Johnson describes as "a brocade of every shade of green" is open to visitors on Sundays. Green Gulch Farm. They also sell spectacular produce at the Marin and Ferry Plaza farmer's markets.
|Green Gulch Farm in Marin County|
The Tassajara Bakery, a legendary favorite on Cole Street in Noe Valley, baked the bread and some desserts for the restaurant when it first opened. The bakery, which opened in 1972, was sold, and later closed. Now all the wonderful desserts are prepared in-house. Annie Somerville, who started cooking at Greens in 1981, became executive chef in 1985 when Deborah left for Rome, and then Santa Fe. She has remained in that position to this day. Ms. Somerville feels that the recipes have evolved over the years and are a little leaner now, with less emphasis on cream and butter, but the creative inspiration of Deborah Madison remains at the heart of their kitchen
|The old Tassajara Bakery in Noe Valley|
Getting back to my birthday...We walked up the stairway to the restaurant, passed the spectacular flower arrangement and entered the dining room with its lofty ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows—an open, spacious, lively scene which was as welcoming as ever.
|For the best experience, ask for a table by the window|
We were escorted to a lovely table at water's edge and quickly perused the menu. We ordered two different local beers, settled on three tempting items to share for lunch and then amused ourselves by watching a duck diving and surfacing over and over again while we waited for our first course. I tried to snap a photo of the duck before each plunge but he was too quick for me.
First to arrive was our verdant salad of "County Line lettuce, little gems and watercress with Brokaw avocado, Owari satsumas, oro blanco and spiced pumpkin seeds," glistening with a light citrus, chili vinaigrette. I was so taken with with the sparkling beauty of the salad that I took pictures at all angles on the sunlit plate. The salad was delicious as well as beautiful, and I now include crunchy pepitas on top of my own salad creations.
Next our "grilled ridgecut Gristmills polenta with grilled wild mushrooms, crisp shallots, herb cream, shaved grana padano and arugula" was served. We indulged in the perfect blending of grainy, grilled polenta and woodsy, wild king and trumpet mushrooms bathed in cream and crowned with melting cheese. More photos were snapped.
Our third dish was "garlic parsley linguine with braised beluga lentils, Mariquita Farm rapini, shallots, pepper flakes, Arbequina olive oil, goat cheese and grana padano," which surprised me with it's spare use of lentils, the creaminess of the goat cheese and the spiciness of rapini. I was so absorbed with enjoying my pasta that I neglected to take a photo.
I did, however, photograph our dessert, a trio of sorbets—Cranberry-orange, quince-vanilla and pear- cinnamon, which were a creamy, flavorful and refreshing end to a lovely meal.
|Trio of sorbets— cranberry-orange, quince-vanilla and pear-cinnamon|
Only later, when I read the article in the New York Times dining section, did I get the message that some restaurants object to photography in their dining rooms. Restaurants turn camera shy. And why not, when patrons use annoying flashes, set up flexible tripods (called gorillapods) on their tables and even stand on their chairs to get shots from above. Fortunately for me, no one objected to my photographing my surroundings on that birthday afternoon, but I will be even more discreet in the future.
The Greens Cookbook, published in 1987, was written by founding chef Deborah Madison, with Edward Espe Brown, Zen priest and author of The Tassajara Bread Book, who acted alternately as the restaurant's manager, host, waiter and sommelier for four years. The book came out eight years after the restaurant opened, and has served as inspiration for home cooks who want to duplicate the beautiful, healthful and tasty dishes served in the restaurant.
Annie Somerville, who has been executive chef at Greens Restaurant since Ms. Madison left in 1985, wrote Fields of Greens (published in 1993,) and then Everyday Greens (2003.) In both of her books, you will find more great vegetarian recipes from the restaurant, including a summer dish with polenta triangles (like I had on my recent visit) baked with corn, tomatoes, and basil. Even though the recipe is time consuming, it is so delicious I make it every summer.