Doctor's Orders (Medicine Eatstation -- San Francisco, CA)
When I received an invitation to a press dinner at Medicine, I just couldn't wait to go. After hearing what NS had to say, and looking at the website, the whole thing just seemed so out there that I needed to know what sort of drugs were behind the whole operation. I invited Brian, my editor, to join me because I knew that if it wasn't any good, he'd be able to laugh about it. Dependable guy that Brian is.
Medicine is in the Crocker Galleria, a strange place, in my opinion for a hipster culinary revolution. In any case, it's also located on the upper level, which makes it more inaccessible. Walking in is also really fucking confusing as the host stand is located behind the elevator. This is great if you take the elevator but not so great if you enter through the actual door located on the floor of the restaurant since you weren't too lazy to walk up the goddamn stairs.
The best way to describe the interior of the restaurant is sterile and clean. There are large LCD panels in the back of the room. These display the Medicine logo (a lowercase "m"), their favorite symbol (the Sanskrit character for Maitri, or loving kindness) and various calming landscapes. The room has long wooden tables as well as long wooden bars against the windows and at the chef's counter. It is appropriate that this place is called Medicine, as the whole thing feels like you are in a futuristic hospital cafeteria rather than a restaurant. Still, I was game to see what this funkytown could offer me.
Now Medicine was the perfect spot for Brian and I to chow down at on this particular evening. He had been having stomach issues and I had woken that morning to crippling stomach pains that lasted about an hour. I was also getting on a plane early the next morning so I couldn't afford to eat anything too crazy, especially considering that I have airplanebathroomophobia. Since Medicine is billed as all vegetarian (and from what I can tell, vegan), I figured it would all be pretty safe.
First off were some sakes. So much for worrying about my gastrointestinal health. I'm not a huge sake fan, but I found Medicine's selection to be really excellent. Very smooth and very tasty.
In between sips of sake, I noticed the lovely Amy, who joined Brian and I for the rest of the evening. You can read her review of our experience here.
Before we were seated, we were allowed to graze on dried tofu chips (surprisingly good) and the medicine roll -- a sushi roll comprised of rice, avocado, sour plum, nori, carrot, shiso leaf, spicy sprouts and flax seed. This sounds great, but was really nothing to write home about. Underwhelming and not particularly special.
What was special, though, was the yuzu lemonade. I loved this. It was too sweet, sure, but the citrus flavor was really nice and the sweetness issue seemed to have worked itself out with my second glass. There was also a soymilk/spirulina drink that just looked like vomit. No thanks. Amy stated that it was "not that bad." Again, no thanks.
Once seated for the meal, Will Petty, one of the owners, got up to speak about the restaurant's concept. He proclaimed Shojin cuisine to be his favorite in the world. After tasting this cuisine, I've decided that Will must be very bad in bed, because anyone who chooses this type of food above any other because they enjoy it and not for religious reasons has got some serious risk taking issues. He was obviously very excited about the cuisine and the restaurant and both he and his business partner, Skye Thompson, seemed very sweet and a little on the naive side. Will also mentioned that in shojin cuisine no spicy food, garlic or onions are used for fear that they might overstimulate the ingestor. What the fuck is up with that? I'm sorry, I cannot get on board with that shit. You were already pushing it with the no meat thing. And how are garlic and onions more stimulating than ginger? We learned that shojin cuisine is designed to promote optimum health. It is not meant for enjoyment, but rather to cure your ills. Blasphemy! Will spoke at length and then we were brought the following food:
Japanese pickles, which were comprised of Japanese cucumber, watermelon daikon and lotus root. Simple but good. Along with this came my green tea. Good but no different from other green teas I've had.
Jade nuggets. These were tempura fried shiso leaves filled with natto (fermented soybean stuff). I adore shiso. But here's what happened at our table:
- Amy takes a bite of one, puts it down and says "I don't really care for that."
- I finish her piece, almost spit it out and say "Oh dear Christ! What the fuck was that?"
- We peer pressure Brian into trying it. Brian makes a face and says "Yeah...no."
Sesame tofu. This was a sesame custard. I loved the texture (like a jell-o almost) but the flavor wasn't at all exciting (but it's not supposed to be so mission accomplished). This began a trend. A lot of what we got wasn't bad per se, but it wasn't interesting in the least.
Artisan tofu. Very lovely, great texture, but not enhanced in any way. Do you like plain tofu? Didn't think so. I was now pretty vocal about my boredom. Amy thought it would all be a whole lot better with some bacon. I agree.
Green beans with sesame dressing. Good, but again, nothing special. I can make it at home in about four seconds. Yawn.
Mushroom tempura using maitake mushrooms. Best dish of the evening. A nice light tempura around a flavorful mushroom, with lemon for a little contrast. Yum. Amy and I had to force Brian to try this, but he came through like a champ.
A mountain monk salad make with greens, grapes, tomatoes, nuts and a sake-kasu dressing. Again, nothing to write home about. Not bad, but not worth eight bucks either. It is now that I must mention the gorgeous chopsticks on the table for serving the communal dishes. For individual eating, however, we were given cheapy, environment destroying wood ones that you get with your sushi take-out. Lame.
White miso soup with tofu and seaweed. I love miso. I did not love this. A bit too sweet. I like my miso all salty and crap.
The last thing we were given was a 9-grain soboro. This had organic amaranth, cous cous, spelt, forbidden black rice, himalayan red rice, wheat berry, quinoa, teff and flax seeds with ginger tofu and green beans. In a word, excellent. Maybe I was used to the boring flavors by this point, but something about this grain bowl was really comforting. Like warm, dry cereal or something. All three of us enjoyed this dish a lot, and if I ever went back, I would order it again.
Lastly we were given a cold coconut milk soup with kanten and silver ear mushroom. I'd like it less cold, but it wasn't bad. Despite my love of coconut and weird Asian desserts, I wasn't wowed by this at all.
Side note: Medicine adds a 17% service charge to the bill and they do not accept additional tips. Great if the service is amazing (we had a pre-set meal and it still wasn't super for us), but not so great if the service sucks or if it's oustanding and you want to tip more. In our case, plates piled up, drink orders came slowly and just felt a bit haphazard in general.
When it was all over, I was more than ready to go home. But as we left, Brian and I both agreed that despite the boring factor, we both felt a hell of a lot better than we did going into it. So in that respect, Medicine served it's purpose and healed our ills. So they get a big fat pat on the back for that one.
Would I go back? Maybe. It was great because I was sick, but I don't think I'd go if I were in perfect health unless I was trying to do some severe detox or something. It's just not my thing. As Amy said "I'm just not enlightened enough to get this." Everything was prepared well, but baby, you know how I need my stimulation and that's something that Medicine just can't give me.
"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."