Friday night, after what can only be called an arduous drive into San Francisco, I landed gratefully at a small table at Kokkari Estiatorio. A Hellenic restaurant, and sister to one of my favorite places on the Peninsula, Evvia, Kokkari is dark and intimate, the kind of ambiance that gives you a warm glow, especially after you've spent 40 minutes battling the last five miles to get to valet parking attendants you have never been so grateful to see before.
Kokkari is also extremely veg-friendly, as are most Mediterranean-based restaurants.
As I typically recommend, I called out to our waiter right at the start that I was a vegan, and luckily this was a waiter who not only reacted to my questions, but proactively pointed out various things on the menu and how, even if they were not vegan as typically served, they could be prepared vegan for me. This is always so helpful, because it eliminates that slightly forlorn feeling of having such limited choices from a menu, compared to your non-veg friends.
I've been at this long enough, that I often do that kind of proactive probing of the menu myself, but it's always nice to have the waiter do so...signaling the kitchen's willingness to be flexible.
So what did I have?
Well, we started, as every table does with a plate of marinated olives. I love olives, so I loved this little perk. I moved on to have a most intriguing-sounding Persimmon Salad, one of the night's specials. It included cucumbers, Belgian endive and nuts, with a light lemon-based dressing. It was a visually attractive dish, with a good and subtle mix of flavors. The persimmons were a bit harder than I've usually had them, but on the other hand, I wouldn't call myself a regular and experienced persimmon-eater, so not sure what that means!
For an entree I combined two small plates, both from the wood-fire roasting oven. Another special was a small plate of various mushrooms, fire-roasted and with just a hint of olive oil and parsley. My dining companion ordered this too, and with the haloumi cheese that was part of the dish's default preparation. I, o course, got it sans cheese. Lest you worry that without cheese the dish would be bland, the combination of mushrooms were sufficient on their own to create a dish of varying flavors and textures. These were mouthwatering morsels of earthy, rich delight! Seriously a piece of mushroom heaven.
Mushroom heaven (my new name for the dish, seriously @Kokkari, you're welcome!) was joined by another plate of grilled vegetables, this time mostly artichokes and eggplant on skewers. This also came with a light lemon and olive oil dressing. I can run hot and cold on eggplant, but the roasted skins/edges and soft interiors hit just the right texture combination to win me over.
Finally, despite a lack of any vegan desserts on the menu, they brought me a little bowl of fruit granita (intended as a side accompaniment to another dessert on the menu). It was pomegranate-flavored, which provided the kind of tart dessert I tend to prefer. A nice, fresh, clean way to end the meal.
I heartily recommend Kokkari to any vegan looking for a place to go with your carnivorous friends. There is something for everyone, including vegans. And nothing beats a wood oven!