February 22, 2010

Sage Café | Bamboo Garden

Louisiana style seitan steak and greens over grits, with southern style biscuits
Driving is not my thing; I just don't enjoy it, and it's especially upsetting when I don't know my surroundings well. Navigation has been a sore point ever since we arrived in Seattle six months ago, and I've been getting around mainly by walking or depending on others. But lately I've started trying harder to learn my way around by car. I find mastering directions especially unnerving here because:

a. Streets stop and start with no warning, and no logic that I can detect. A street will appear to end, then two miles away, it will appear again, stop, and then appear again in another few miles. This is ridiculous. There can be three incarnations of 100th St., none of them connected.

b. Numbered streets cross other numbered streets. I find myself cruising down 65th St. looking for 25th St, which intersects 65th. I turn onto 25th St. which soon turns into 24th, then becomes 23rd. Why?

c. It's pretty typical to have intersections with five or six streets radiating out in all directions and crazy angles but no clear signage indicating which way to go.

d. It's usually not possible to return the same way you came, necessitating learning two sets of directions for each trip.

e. The street signs are practically impossible to read, especially at night.

f. Parking can be a nightmare, not to mention expensive.

These are just some of the things I find confusing, and it probably doesn't help that we're living in a neighborhood known as Tangletown because of the crazy street patterns. Also, coming from a small, fairly contained city to a larger, more spread out one feels overwhelming to a directionally challenged person like me. Yes I have maps, and yes we have a GPS, but even the GPS gets confused and takes us to the wrong 100th St. so I don't trust it.

My husband went out of town for four days, and just before he left, I learned how to get to Capital Hill so I could meet my son and his girlfriend at their apartment on Sunday, and take them out for brunch. I drove my youngest son and myself there and back without getting lost. We went to Sage Café, which used to be Hillside Quickies — it's 100% vegan and the food is great, the service less so. It's been remodeled, and looks very different from the last time we were there.

Spicy Cajun mac & yease, southern fried seitan and gravy with grits

Let's talk about the food, first. In my past experiences with Hillside Quickies, the food was always slow to arrive, greasy, salty and so good that I decided not to worry about the other stuff. At Sage, the food arrived fairly quickly, didn't seem excessively greasy or salty and tasted great. Everyone was very happy with their selection. In fact, I'm thinking about mine right now and wishing I could have another plateful. I had the seitan steak and greens pictured at the top of the post and it was delectable. I'm a sucker for anything on the menu with greens, and this dish made me very happy. The seitan texture was excellent, the greens well-seasoned — even the cranberry preserves were great with just the right mix of sweet and tart. It was too much food for me but my youngest son took care of the leftovers.

Fall harvest French toast with squash scramble and pear pomegranate sauce

I heard rave reviews from my son about his squash scramble and French toast. The scramble had squash and tofu and was melt-in-your-mouth good. Everyone else seemed quite content with their food but there were concerns about what I'll describe as "feeling unwelcome."

French toast with caramelized bananas and walnuts, topped with maple syrup and walnuts

When we first walked into the café, one couple was finishing their meal, and there were three empty tables. No one greeted us. The new tables are very small, round and high with two high stools each. We put two tables next to each other for the four of us but seating was a little awkward, and there was no place to put coats since the stools had no backs. Although it was 11 a.m. Sunday, no one else came in the whole time we were there.

We ordered at the counter and sat down. Our food was brought to us without comment or even a smile, and no one ever came back to our table to see if everything was OK or if we needed anything else. The one coffee drinker wasn't offered a refill. When we were finally ready to leave, I had to go to the counter to ask if I could pay. When I handed over the cash ($51) it was accepted without a thank-you or even a smile, and when I put $10 into the tip jar it was not acknowledged. No one said, "good-bye, come again." It was weird and uncomfortable. Even "have a nice day" would have helped. I don't think we're a particularly needy group — probably the opposite —but the lack of hospitality was glaring. Will I go back? Probably. Because the food is vegan and so good I'll give it another shot hoping that our experience was exceptional, but I can see people getting turned off by the unfriendly atmosphere. Is that why it was so empty? How important is a friendly dining atmosphere to you?


Bamboo Garden vegan Chinese restaurant

We recently had the pleasure of taking our 2-year-old granddaughter out to lunch at Bamboo Garden after spending the morning together at the Seattle Science Center. Bamboo Garden is an all-vegan Chinese restaurant with an extensive menu. This is where I get Golden Petals on Jade Platter - a dish of fried yuba and Chinese greens that I sometimes get cravings for. But since this was lunch, and Miss E was with us, we opted for the lunch specials. We had thick corn soup and combo-plates. My plate, above, had fried rice, green beans and broccoli, sweet and sour tofu and a spring roll, and my dining companions had similar plates but with "chicken" instead of tofu, and potstickers instead of a spring roll. I enthusiastically enjoyed my lunch.

Miss E enjoyed hers, too, but I held my breath as I watched spoonfuls of the thick yellow corn chowder disappear — and I don't mean into someone's mouth. But in spite of some spoon-related mechanical difficulties, a large amount of soup did make it into Miss E's mouth. And she didn't want me cutting small pieces of broccoli for her. "Want big one," she said, as she picked up a broccoli tree in her fist and gnawed it down to the stalk. Handfuls of rice went into her mouth as she made a substantial dent in her lunch portion and some of mine. The friendly waitress brought me a stack of napkins, and it took several to restore Miss E and her surroundings to their pre-lunch state.

The food was tasty and substantial, though not as interesting as some of the regular menu items. I like Bamboo Garden even though I think the food can be a little greasy and salty, and the sauces a little too thick. I don't go there expecting gourmet health food. The staff is very friendly and welcoming, the food usually tastes pretty good and the entire menu except for the fortune cookies, is vegan.

Recipe testing (cont.)

Here is the latest recipe I tested for Celine and Joni's upcoming cookbook. It's linguine with green beans and walnut spinach pesto. Delish!

This is my assistant tester. Delish!


  1. I had an experience much like yours in Dallas recently. I had looked forward to eating at the Spiral Diner for YEARS - and finally got to go on my birthday in January. This was no easy trip across town - it was 200 miles from home. Anyway, while the food was pretty good (not great), the service was terrible. I had seen something on their website that was a red flag even before I got there - it said something to the effect that their staff was not there to serve, but to guide???? What's up with that? Well, the staff did absolutely nothing - much like your experience, and I will never, ever go back.

  2. Haha, good analysis of Seattle roads...my dad used to say that the streets in Seattle must have been layed out by a bunch of drunks...sorry if that seems inappropriate, but my dad was old-school and it's a pretty apt description.

    Thanks for the restaurant reviews...I haven't been to Hillside Quickies since the remodel...though I've been meaning to try the Plum Bistro at some point.

    Your granddaughter is adorable!

  3. I too HATE driving and avoid it at all costs...I much prefer walking/biking/tagging along with someone else who is driving, lol. But good for you for navigating around and not getting lost! I freak out when I get lost :-)


  4. Anon.,
    Guidance would have been an improvement over what we got.

    Your dad seems to have got that description just right.

    We thought the food at Plum was very good but a little expensive for what you get. I recently purchased $25 for $12.50 coupons for Plum at StrangerMart http://post.thestranger.com/seattle/Shop?oid=2266969 You could buy a coupon and try it for half price.

    About Miss E - thanks and we agree!

    Thanks for telling me you hate driving, too. I always feel bad about not wanting to drive places and it's nice to know I'm not alone.

  5. I'm very bad at driving around new places, I have a tendency to get lost easily. But sometimes you have to and at least it gets easier the more I drive around and figure out the streets. :-)

    The food does look delicious, it's a shame they weren't a bit more friendly. Maybe business is slow and they're not happy?

    Miss E is so darn cute! I love seeing pics of her in your posts. :-)

  6. I am not big on driving in unfamiliar places or in winter.
    I really have to get me one of those testers ;-)

  7. oh my goodness, seattle driving sounds horrifying. i can barely find my way around boise in a car, and it's small and i've lived here almost two decades.

    those hillside quickies dishes look fabulous...that's really too bad about the service. i had a few eating experiences like that in belize last summer, where it was extra awkward because i was alone in a foreign country trying to get veg meals from people who have no interest in talking to me, much less helping me navigate their menus.

  8. Chow Vegan,
    I think the business used to be very good so I'm not sure why it was so slow. But unless they want it to get even slower, they have to act a bit happier to see their customers!

    The less I have to drive the happier I am !

    The little tester sure is fun to have around. She especially likes to test cake!

    Not everyone finds it as horrifying as I do but I don't like it at all.

    It can make all the difference when people are nice to you.

  9. I would probably not go back to a place like that. How uncomfortable. You're lucky that you have so many delicious vegan spots to choose from (even if you have to drive to most of them)!

  10. I don't think I would go back to a place with that poor service. Maybe that's why it wasn't very crowded.

    I had to laugh about your son eating the leftovers. Mine does the same, and I usually pretend I can't finish my plate because I know he needs more food.

    Happy Birthday to Miss E - she's so adorable! And she loves big broccoli!

  11. Mary,
    I won't go back for a while - but I think it might have more to do with the uncomfortable seats! I don't like being perched up on a high, little stool without a back. It's hard to relax and enjoy the meal.

    In this case, I wasn't pretending to have too much food. I thought it WAS too much. My son, on the other hand, thought it wasn't enough! He finished off my food and his brother's as well. I think our sons share an ability to eat huge quantities of food and remain skinny.

    Miss E brings us a lot of joy!

  12. she's so cute!

    Thanks for the review. I'll have to check out Sage, haven't been there since it changed names. I'll be going out to it's sister, Plum, again in March.

  13. Bethany,

    I'll be interested to hear what you think of Sage.

  14. I agree with you about good (or at least friendly) service. Last week we took E out for his birthday. He wanted to eat at a new-ish Asian restaurant in Madison called Fugu (right off State on Gilman). The food was awesome and but we hardly saw our waitress -- in fact, she didn't even bring us plates, just gave us the serving platters, and in the end I got up and took some off the wait-staff station! A's food was as un-spicy as mine was spicy, and he wanted some more zing to it, so E advised asking for a dish of hot sauce, as he had done in the past. But because our waitress never came back, he not only never got it, but ended up eating his meal with the serving spoon that came with his meal! (E and I used the chopsticks already on the table.) I'd go back for the food, but man......

  15. Claire,
    Happy birthday to E! I've never heard of Fugu, but the service sounds a lot like Sage, though we did eventually get forks. Maybe you should have gone to The Green Owl. :)


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