Being a blatant ruthless carnivore all year round, I know that going vegan one day of the year won’t help me redeem myself in hell, but I still follow my mom’s tradition on the first day of Tet. No cheese, no animal milk, no bone marrow, no lard, no skin, no fishy business. It’s the first day of the new spring, everybody deserves to live, so we believe it’s nice to spare the lives of yummy things that can move. Or at least we should try not to cause their deaths. That means I have to find a vegan restaurant in Berkeley. Mudpie was estatic. (Mudpie has been fighting to go to Herbivore down the block for months, and I’ve been “gently” suggesting other places all this time.) Mudpie went online and picked his order even before we got there: the Indonesian noodle salad with tamarind dressing (pictured above).
When we got there the place was packed to the roof. Lucky for us, we got the last free table, and some folks who came later had to wait for at least an hour to be seated. If you wonder how I knew how long the wait was, it’s because that’s also how long we had to wait for our food. I had nothing to do within that hour except looking at other customers and eavesdropping on their conversation. The table arrangement is quite efficient, everyone’s utensil is within everyone’s neighbor’s reach. We ordered a yerba mate tea to sip boredom away. The hot kind comes in three choices: organic (plain, no sugar, no milk), organic latte, and chai spice tea; the chilled bottle kind is flavored with either raspberry or mint. The plain kind wasn’t anything spectacular. It’s just commonplace bitter like any other unflavored tea. I don’t want to sound snotty, but yerba mate is just another overhyped foreign substance, worthy of seeking after only for its novelty and cultural value.
Moving on to the food. The Indonesian noodle salad was like a garden harvest. Cucumber slices, pineapple and orange cubes, a few streaks of bean sprouts, lettuce, cilantro, cabbage, onion, whole peanuts, carrots, all partied up in a spicy chili pepper tamarind sauce. It was sour and refreshing. The thin rice noodle got lost in the jungle. For a salad, it scored well. For an entree, it needed more warmth and more substance.
What the noodle salad didn’t have, the “curry-coconut udon noodle” had: warmth and substance. I don’t know why it’s not “coconut-curry,” and I don’t know why it’s called “udon noodle,” because this was not udon. Texture aside, the curry noodle didn’t have what the noodle salad had: flavor. It was coconuty, but a pinch of salt and a few tablespoons of sugar would be a nice boost. After all, vegan food doesn’t have to be unseasoned food.
It’s not clear to me why Herbivore has gained such popularity in the region. The two entrees we got did not make us oomph and aahh. Looking around at other tables, we saw many sandwiches, italians and happy faces, so was it just us not picking the right plates? Being on the verge of disappointment, I almost decided to leave without dessert, but Mudpie and a second thought made me grab the waitress to order a wedge of vegan pie with one scoop of ice cream. We heard that strawberry rhubarb was good, but since it was out, we opted for the olallieberry pie (just because of the name). According to Wikipedia, the olallieberry is half blackberry, a quarter raspberry, and a quarter dewberry. The pie filling was more tart than sweet, which is always nice. The crust was thick, dense, and plain enough to shelter us from a sugar flood. The mudslide vegan ice cream swept me off my feet with its creamy texture, chocolaty sweetness, and sneaky coconut shavings. If anything, this awesome dessert assortment would draw me back to Herbivore.
Address: Herbivore the Earthly Grill
2451 Shattuck Avenue (the corner of Shattuck and Haste)
Berkeley, CA 94704
Click for Herbivore’s Menu
An order of 1 curry tofu noodles, 1 Indonesian noodle salad, 1 yerba mate organic tea (plain), 1 vegan pie + a scoop of ice cream set us back by $30. Overall, a decent and healthy catch. But in all fairness, dessert aside, Herbivore is not in the least comparable with Garden Fresh in Mountain View.