Encuentro Cafe and Wine Bar

East Bay, California


Image for Vivek R

rating star

Encuentro is one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants in the Bay Area. But having been there 2-3 times, I must caution any first-timer that your experience will vary a lot depending on what you order. Everyone should order the small plate that has "Marinated mushrooms with smoked pecan pate, cornichon, house made prune chutney, mustard and crisp crostini". The combination of flavors is exquisite. The first time my wife and I tried it, we were rocking back and forth for several seconds with our eyes closed, making "Mmmm" noises.

The kale salad or mixed greens are very good, though not as sensational as the small plate described above. The entrees and desserts change over time, so I don't have any specific recommendations, and your luck with them may vary. For example, one time I tried their vegan chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and it was marvelous. The second time I tried it, or something that looked and sounded very similar, it had a somewhat chalky and dry taste.

If you're vegan, any of the dishes involving cheese can be made with macadamia- or cashew-based "cheese". The wines are pretty good too, but I didn't investigate whether they are vegan -- I assume most wines have animal products somewhere in their manufacturing process.

Image for conde.kedar

rating star

I had high hopes for Encuentro as, quite frankly, I find the vegan food in the Bay Area to be woefully mediocre. Millennium is at best competent, Gracias Madre is a dud, Gather is lame, and I'm sick of all the repetitive mockmeat Asian joints (which comprise probably 50% of the vegan food in the Bay).

Sadly, Encuentro basically failed me. The menu is mostly vegan but there are some cheese dishes. Most of the tapas options seemed to basic to warrant my interest (olive plates and the like), so I went straight for an entree.

For my main course I got a sundried tomato pastry with navy beans (~$15). The dish took a while to prepare and had numerous flaws. The dish is presented as the phyllo pastry sitting atop a bowl of navy beans. Problem #1: the taste of the navy beans (which were seasoned with lemon) did not mix at all with the blandness of the pastry. Problem #2: the navy beans were overly acidic; they must have dumped a whole lemon's worth of juice into this tiny bowl, because that stuff was excessively tart. Problem #3: the pastry itself was bland and unmemorable. Where were the seasonings? The dish tasted more like a thin egg roll wrapper stuffed with unseasoned tomatoes and tofu ricotta.

For dessert I got a piece of the tiramisu ($7). You don't seen vegan tiramisu often and so I order it whenever I can. What they presented me was not tiramisu. It was more like a chocolate chip blondie bar with layers.

Don't get me wrong: the dessert tasted great. But it didn't even bother to try to replicate the look and feel of tiramisu. No ladyfingers. No cocoa powder (instead they used actual chocolate chips---what a mistake).

Worst yet, the dish was sloppily presented. For an upscale restaurant, Encuentro seemed negligent and imprecise by serving me a dish that had already slid into a big mush on the plate by the time it arrived at my table. Shame on you, Encuentro.

These types of mistakes---sloppy presentation, imbalanced flavors, disregard for tradition---are precisely the type of things that make omnivores dismiss vegan and vegetarian food. As such, I think Encuentro is doing a disservice to not only the veg. community, but anyone who loves food in general.

I'm giving them two stars because I liked the friendly service and the interesting concept (vegetarian tapas). But, on a whole, Encuentro did nothing to shake my opinion that the Bay Area falls short on quality vegan food; all it did was reinforce my opinion.

Image for Lola

rating star

Encuentro Cafe and Wine Bar is one of the best vegetarian restaurants that I have ever visited. The food is simply phenomenal - I can't think of any other way to describe it. The dishes are not as pretentious-sounding as some of the dishes served at other local vegetarian fine dining establishments (ahem Ubuntu and Millennium!), but they're just as thoughtfully prepared.

The meals at Encuentro are served tapas-style. My partner and I each selected 2-3 dishes, so that we would have a chance to try a variety of the menu options. We started out with the herb and orange marinated olives. I'm not normally a huge olive fan (my partner chose this dish), but the marinade was flavorful enough for me to forget about this fact. Next, we received a plate of grilled stone fruit bruschetta, which came topped with wine jelly and macadamia nut cheese. The sweet flavor of the stone fruit was well-paired with the salty taste of the cheese.

Next, we shared the Little Gem Salad, which was an innovative spin on classic caesar. The dressing was an orange-rosemary caesar dressing and the lettuce was topped with crispy tempeh strips. At this point, our waitress brought us our two hot entrees: the empanadas, which came filled with seitan, golden raisin picadillo pique sauce and cilantro (topped with cashew crema), and the socca of the day, which was filled with mushrooms. I didn't try the mushroom socca (mushrooms are probably my least favorite food) but the empanadas were everything that I had hoped for - savory little dumplings with a slight hint of sweetness from the raisins.

For dessert, we decided to split a vegan cheese platter and a slice of lemon coconut cake. The cake was moist and the lemon icing was creamy and tart. My one and only complaint is that I think that the cake was made from whole wheat flour, so the texture was a little denser than most. The vegan cheese platter came with three vegan "cheeses": smoked pecan, macadamia nut and cashew and pumpkin seed. They were served with prune jam, grain mustard and walnut "honey" (actually agave nectar), as well as a generous helping of toasted bread.

When all was said and done, our meal came to just under $100 (including drinks). I was impressed that we were able to get such a fine dinner at a reasonable price. Even though the restaurant was a bit out of our way (we were staying in Berkeley), it was very easy to get here via the BART. I highly recommend this place to anyone who is visiting the Bay area!

rating star

One of the best vegetarian restaurants in the country (I travel a lot). Amazing brochette, deviled eggs, soup, tomato bread pudding, desserts. Great warehouse ambiance, friendly staff, nice wine list, beer list short but good. I would only wish for a little less bread/carb and more vegetable/green things.

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