cha-ya vegetarian japanese restaurant
five little itty bitty tables + room for maybe six at the sushi bar + all-vegetarian japanese food =
this place rocks my world. i like this place way more than minako on mission street in san francisco, which is just a little too expensive and situated on the most crack-laden stretch of mission street. it's kind of a bummer to watch the scaberous drug-addled denizen doing that crazy herky-jerky crack dance through the window while savoring 1988 vintage, hand pickled umeboshi plums.
if you've read any of my other reviews of japanese restaurants here, you might notice that i eat a lot of noodles when dining out. what you might not notice is that i do so with one thumb and forefinger pinching my nose in order to pretend the stock is not made with mr. bonito "hon dashi" stock. all the while eyeing my dining companions' saba. and their maguro. sometimes their hamachi too.
now don't get me wrong, it's not that i want to eat the sashimi or chicken katsu or saba shioyaki, it's just that i'd like to have more choices. more vegetarian choices. and this is why cha ya rocks: everything on the menu is vegan! it double rocks because the food is so damn tasty! i'll have to throw in an extra half-rock for low prices. that's 2 1/2 rockings of my world. not bad for a lazy saturday afternoon.
but be forewarned 'cause this place is tiny. and popular. we went on a saturday afternoon, around 1:00. when we walked in only two tables were occupied, by the time we left at about 1:45 every seat in the place was taken and people were signing up on the waitlist. they say it's even worse at normal dining hours...
the menu is quite comprehensive with four soups, six salads, four small dishes, eight a la cart items, seven hot noodle dishes, three cold noodle dishes, thirty-six different types of sushi, a variety of dinner sets, and six desserts. whew! i didn't know i could count that high, the california public school system being what it is and all...
for $7.50 we each ordered a lunch set that came with a choice of two items (from a specified list), soup, rice, salad and tea.
i ordered haru maki and ten bou, neither of which i'd ever heard of before...maybe a cha ya invention? according to the menu, haru maki are "spring rolls with asparagus, shiitake, carrots, long beans, silver noodles and atsuage tofu rolled in rice sheet". i was expecting a fresh vietnamese style roll and was quite surprised when it came out deep fried with a sweet dipping sauce on the side. the rolls were tight, compact, colorful, and surprisingly non-greasy. the dipping sauce was a bit too sweet for my taste but i found that the tempura sauce went quite well with it. the filling, although quite pretty, was a bit on the bland side and definitely benefitted from a gentle saucing.
the ten bou (deep fried veggie sticks) were: "sticks of yam, carrots, banana squash, atsuage tofu, and green beans lightly battered and deep fried". how this differs from tempura i'm not sure, except that the vegetables were not sliced in the cross cut that tempura vegetables usually are but in more a matchstick shape. the batter was fairly light and crispy and the vegetables well-cooked (i always harp on this because on many, many occasions i've gotten tempura that was not cooked at the proper temperature resulting in soggy, overcooked vegetables, or worse, crispy raw ones). this dish was okay but i was hoping for something a little different.
my dining companion ordered the lunch combination with agedashi tofu and sushi. the tofu was the clear standout of the meal. big, fat, creamy, juicy slabs of tofu dredged in a light batter and fried to golden crispy perfection sat in a broth so perfect, so flavorful, i literally licked the bowl clean. the broth was full of punch with grated ginger adding a noticable brightness. garnishes of shredded green onion, daikon sprouts and toasted nori sat atop this beauty like the crown it deserved. if you go to cha ya, you must order this dish.
the sushi plate was comprised of one piece of vegan roll, three kappa maki and one inari. the sushi was a bit bland owing to the lack of flavor-packing ingredients (except for the sweetness of the inari) but well executed, well intentioned and completely passable. also on the menu (but not included in the lunch box selection) were some much more intriguing rolls such as the summer green roll: "large reverse roll with avocado, cucumber, and kaiware sprouts, topped with sea vegetable salad". if that doesn't grab your fancy by the pants, how about a soba sushi roll: "instead of sushi rice, the roll contains buckwheat noodles, along with spinach, atsuage tofu, asparagus, cucumber, pickled burdock, and seasoned kampyo gourd and shiitake."
the verdict: as arnie says, "i'll be back..."
menu side 1 (click on image to enlarge):
menu side 2 (click on image to enlarge):
1686 Shattuck Avenue
510 981 1213