It used to be that if you blinked while driving along downtown's India Street you missed Little Italy's short restaurant row. Of late, the eating experience has expanded one street west, to Kettner Boulevard.
Kettner has long, long, long been home to The Waterfront's Texas burgers. And Underbelly has put in its time on the boulevard as a noodle house. New Kettner addresses belong to highenders like Juniper & Ivy, Kettner Exchange and Bracero, and mid-level spots like The Cheese Store and Pan Bon.
The restaurant I stumbled upon is the newest location for Café Gratitude (1980 Kettner Blvd.). When the gleaming-toothed, smiling gals at the hostess desk said the restaurant served all organic menu items, I immediately phoned my 18-year-old daughter. She's a recovering vegetarian but still very much a healthy diner.
On a Sunday afternoon the spot, which had been open less than a week, was packed. The inside area was open, airy and painted white, and the chocolate-brown and moss-green retro floor tiles were striking. A brick-walled bakery counter was set up in the back.
After a 10-minute wait, we were seated along the outside patio. Our waitress asked if we'd ever been to a Café Gratitude before. Nope and nope. She (half-sheepishly) indicated that most of the items on the menu were affirmations of your personality. Hey, what now?
A longer look at the food list showed this to be true. The cooked soup of the day is called Thriving. If you want the raw soup of the day you ask for Adventurous. Not that I would order yam cauliflower samosa chaat, but that'd mean asking for Dynamic.
But that's not all. Our waitress let us know that the etiquette for ordering included first saying the words "I am" before the dish name.
"I amGlorious," gets you the Caesar salad tempeh wrap. "I amMagical," would mean you want the veggie burger.
After explaining this, our server left us to figure out how we were feeling. My daughter told me she was having no part of this. I, on the other hand, started looking for the most unusual thing I might be able to say to a waitress. Yes, "I am Awesome," would have been a hoot. But I wasn't feeling like the eggplant Parmesan panini.
My daughter asked for the Liberated (pesto kelp noodles—with heirloom cherry tomatoes, local black and green olives, wild arugula, basil, hempseed pesto, cashew ricotta and Brazil nut Parmesan).
Of course I went for it. "I amFabulous," I nearly yelled. That summoned the raw lasagna—with squash blossoms, spinach, cilantro pumpkin seed pesto, fresh corn and summer squash noodles.
When the fresh, colorful dishes showed up, my daughter smiled at me with a "You-thought-you-ordered-traditional-lasagna-didn't-you?" look.
No comment. Except: "I amStill Hungry."