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Like most of us know, Japanese cuisine is usually popular for raw fish delicacies like Sashimi. Lucky for us vegans in the Bay Area, we get our fair share of the usual fish-laden food. Not only we could spot vegan versions in some Japanese menus, we could also enjoy and dine in at all-vegan Japanese restaurants like Cha-Ya.
Last weekend, Chris and I braved the “restaurant crowd” in the streets of San Francisco to grab some of our favorite rolls. Here’s what we thought of the experience:
Although Cha-ya is unconventionally vegan, folks in San Francisco don’t shy away from it. In fact, people flock to this restaurant every weekend, packing this place to the gills (pun intended).
Because this place was packed, it took us quite awhile to get our food. I’d say it was at least a good 20-minute wait. Not cool if you’re hungry. Somehow though, my frustration dissipated when I took a bite of these Cha-ya rolls.
The Cha-ya roll had “asparagus, avocado, yam and carrots, is lightly battered and deep-fried, tempura style. Served with a special house sauce (8pcs).”
I heard it’s Cha-ya’s best seller. The fried batter gave the perfect crunch, which was my most favorite part when eating the rolls.
We also got the Vegan Roll which was equally tasty. This time, the rolls were covered by avocado. Obviously the Vegan Roll was the healthier choice. It had “spinach, atsuage tofu, cucumber, broccolini, seasoned shiitake and kampyo gourd, pickled burdock, and pickled ginger”.
If I have to name my least favorite dish out of what we ordered, this salad will be it. Crunchy, refreshing, and light and filling at the same time, but also VERY BITTER. I’ve gone on a raw diet before and I still hadn’t tasted this much bitterness from a vegetable or a fruit.
Ironically, the waitress claimed this salad was one of their top sellers. By the way, it’s called Senroppon Salad with: “Shredded daikon, turnip, cucumber, and carrots with atsuage tofu, radishes, soybeans, kaiware sprouts, and toasted pine nuts. soy-vinaigrette dressing”.
To cheer me up from such disappointment (I had high hopes for this salad), I turned into a “tried and tested” dish that I knew I’d enjoy: Seaweed Salad. I was ambivalent at first whether to order one more dish considering it took them awhile to bring out our first order (because it was busy). But when we asked the server, she said that it should be ready in less than 5 minutes, so we went for it.
The server came out with the seaweed salad in hand, in less than 5 minutes as promised. Chris and I were expecting the standard seaweed we always get at non-vegan Japanese restaurants. Instead we got 3 variations of sea vegetables, plus a creamy dressing on the side.
I have to admit I was creeped out at first by the sight of the white dressing, especially because I thought it was also a seaweed. Then it turns out it was sesame cream. It tasted like some kind of cheese, which complemented the salad really well. I still dream about it up to this day! By the way, the menu didn’t specify what kind of seaweed they were, just “A variety of marine vegetables including seasoned hijiki served with a creamy sesame dressing”.
Overall, I had my favorites. I’d definitely come back for some Cha-ya rolls and a variety of Seaweed Salad – but on a slow weekday.Cha-Ya 762 Valencia St, San Francisco CA 94110 (415) 252-7825