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Silicon Veggie

SF's Veggie Surprise

By Elisa Camahort

I RARELY do straight restaurant reviews in this column. Usually, if I write about a restaurant, there's some theme, and I've sought a restaurant to match the theme. This time I went to a restaurant with no expectations for a great meal and walked out impressed both by the meal and by how effortlessly vegetarian friendly they were.

I was in San Francisco, and we only had a short time for dinner, so we planned to meet at a little restaurant named Cafe Andree. I had gotten it into my head that the cafe was a pannini-type place, but I was wrong. It was actually a charming bistro serving what they call "Franco-Latino" cuisine.

Cafe Andree presents its menu categorized like a tapas restaurant, offering small, medium and large plates. What was immediately noticeable and gratifying is that there wasn't just a token vegetarian offering per category. At Cafe Andree almost three-quarters of the small and medium plates were vegetarian.

I'll start with a small plate that was so good we actually ordered a second batch: the crisp garlic-Manchego fries. The garlic was flavorful, not overdone or overpowering. The Manchego provided fabulous flavor without feeling heavy. And this will sound crazy, but the fries seemed so much more about the flavor than the fat that we didn't feel guilty ordering a second round. I then had sweet corn and queso fresco ravioli with chile-Manchego cream sauce. To. Die. For. Rich, but again, not heavy.

That's why Cafe Andree sold me on its vegetarian offerings. I am used to vegetarian dishes being either bland or heavy. To find a place that lets complex flavors do the talking is rare. I've already planned to return next week, so I can try the corn cakes or the chilled heirloom tomato tower or the sweet-corn polenta and vegetables.

And Cafe Andree also has yummy desserts, pleasant and accommodating service that got us in and out of there in 45 minutes and surprisingly reasonable prices.

I hadn't planned to review Cafe Andree. I thought it was going to be this quick unmemorable bite. But I walked away feeling like I'd had all the choices and enjoyment of going to a Greens or a Millennium, while my Carnivorous Significant Other had a steak. That is definitely something to write about.

So my recommendation for the next time you're in the city is dinner at Cafe Andree.

Cafe Andree at the Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter St., San Francisco. (415.217.4001 or www.cafeandree.com)

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From the April 6-12, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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