A Second Chance for Café Green

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The first time I went to Café Green, I wrote what is and was probably the most scathing restaurant review I’ve ever posted on this blog. I hate critiquing vegan restaurants, but I also believe that they have a duty to show the world how fantastic and delicious vegan food is. When they fall short, they give people the impression that vegan food is subpar, and deter people from considering a plant-based diet seriously. So my standards are high for a reason: I know how good plant based food is, and I know when a restaurant can do better.

Normally, I wouldn’t return to a place where I’d had a lousy meal, but my friend Anne’s in town this week, and she persuaded me to give Café Green a second chance. On Tuesday, after my midterm, I embraced that rarest of chances to escape the library, and I met Anne for an early evening class at Tranquil Space, followed by dinner at the scene of my former gastronomic frustration:

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There’s my beautiful friend, and there’s Café Green. It has a cute outdoor seating area, as you can see:

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The last time I ate at Café Green, I was disappointed by a few major things:

  • Teeny tiny portions
  • A soup that tasted like vinegar and water—basically, like an eco-friendly countertop cleaning concoction
  • None of the raw items on the menu were available

So when I asked for a coconut water, and our waitress told me that they were out of it, I immediately started having nightmarish flashbacks to my last meal. Fortunately, they weren’t out of Kombucha:

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Anne got a green juice, which I opted out of because I’m fairly sure that the restaurant blends and then strains their juices (Valerie told me that they may just have purchased a normal juicer, but what Anne got definitely tasted blended). For whatever reason, I find strained juices to be kind of off putting, and since the restaurant makes theirs in the morning and keeps it cold, I couldn’t request a green juice without banana. Meh. But Anne really enjoyed it!

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We decided to split the raw pizzas (hooray for dining with open minded foodie friends!!). In the past, most raw pizzas or pizzettes I’ve ordered have been terribly heavy—all nuts and buckwheat. These, I’m happy to say, were perfect! The crust was a quinoa flax mix (I’ll definitely be trying this at home) and they were light on the cashew cheese. That, along with fresh cherry tomatoes and a dollop of guac made for four perfect, bite-sized treats:

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I was a happy camper:

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(Please excuse the pale cheeks and puffy eyes. My midterm was that morning, and I’d gotten 2.5 hours of sleep!)

For my entrée, I got the raw spaghetti marinara, which was zucchini noodles with sundried tomato marinara and basil. It was good—not as good as many raw marinaras I’ve had, but certainly not bad, and the sauce was vibrant:

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I also got the house salad. When this came, it was covered in (unlisted) raw red onions, and the whole thing was kind of uninspiring:

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As you’ve probably guessed, one of my traits as an eater is that I have a really, really hard time finishing food I don’t like. This is most definitely a vestige of the ED: part of my own recovery was investing every single meal with pleasure. This can be taken too far, naturally: I’ve learned that some meals (say, when I travel, or when I’m busy) have to be ho-hum, and part of being adaptable in life means accepting that and not getting too worked up about it. But in general, I do like to take each plate of food seriously, see it as an opportunity for joy, and not compromise. When I get a plate I don’t like in a restaurant, I usually send it back, and that’s what I did here. But I requested the awesome sesame, mango, and kale salad (which I’d had before) instead, and the server was generous in obliging me:

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Every bite was delicious.

Anne got a curry dish, which was also very tasty:

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Thus followed a long and fun conversation, along with some goofing around:

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In all, this was a very redemptive dining experience! Café Green still has some things to work on, I think: raw items should be readily available, and the salads (especially if they’re to be served to a vegan audience) have to be a little more consistently inspiring. But the pizzas are wonderful, the service was obliging, and I had a fun meal.

Most of all, it was great to see Anne, whom I really just adore:

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Have you ever changed your mind about a restaurant you’d disliked the first time around? And, going back to deeper issues, do any former ED eaters in my audience feel similar urges to make food consistently pleasurable? How do you draw the line between a healthy desire to savor food, and excessive nitpickiness?


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  1. They have excellent cooked food – hopefully someday their raw entrees will be as delicious and varied. Gena, I would suggest calling ahead of time to ask if they the have raw chocolate cheesecake in (as some other bloggers also commented on) and going there solely for dessert. The raw chocolate cheesecake is the best cheesecake I’ve ever had – the texture is fluffy instead of heavy and it tastes like a malt!

  2. Well that’s good you gave it another try. Usually if I’m not happy the 1st time around, I won’t go back. Here in New Orleans I feel like I don’t have as many options as I’d like when dining out…much is fried, fried, fried!!

  3. Yeah, it’s hard when there is a vegan place but the service, business model, or food just kind of sucks. I always hope that they will “get it together” because of course I want to support their business but sometimes people just don’t have “good enough” business sense or are too ADHD to have some of the same dishes, consistent hours, friendly service, etc…..to make someplace work. It seems like when a place serves both raw & cooked, that often the raw is not really 100%. Like they are including it to get a bigger audience but the expertise is not quite there and then it sucks when they charge too much for a very small portion of food. I had that experience very recently and there was a 12 dollar raw lasanga which was very small, very oily, very salty, and just had a “cheeze” sauce that was more liquid than cheezy.

  4. Aw, I’m glad you had at least a better experience the second time. It’s really one of my favorite places to eat in DC. I actually went tonight for dinner and had to laugh to myself when the first thing out of the servers mouth when we sat down was that they were out of coconut everything. I will admit they are usually out of something every time I go (I know, I know it is pretty ridiculous) but I’m not deterred. I always have a great overall experience, from enjoying whatever I end up ordering to the thoughtful conversations I have with the servers. I’ve learned about lots of new places and foods from the staff and it’s just a place that makes me happy, faults and all 🙂

  5. I share your frustrations with Café Green, Gena. I live closeby and keep _trying_ to like it, but wind up disappointed with the food nearly every time. The only exception, which is always great (if it’s not sold out) is the raw vegan chocolate cheesecake. It’s an amazing treat to share with friends — the slices are big.

    When I’m looking for food near Logan Circle, I actually have the best luck at the P St. Whole Foods, believe it or not. About a quarter of the prepared foods bar is vegan now, and they almost always have a raw kale dish or another raw vegan dish. The salad bar is also pretty great, and they a nice selection of kombuchas and water kefir, which I can’t find anyplace else in DC. I hate to admit that Whole Foods is the best local option, but I keep coming back to that conclusion….

  6. I remember that review! I’m glad that you gave them the chance to redeem themselves…and that they (mostly) succeeded.

  7. I totally agree that vegan restaurants have a duty to prove that vegan food is delicious, and it makes me sad when they fail–because I know that might be the last time someone tries a totally plant-based meal. Glad you gave this place another shot, though, because it looks yummy!! I’m willing to give places a second chance, as I know my experience may have been an aberration, but in NYC there are so many places to choose from I don’t always make a point to go back…..

  8. I will usually give a place a second chance because sometimes it just might be that one dish that I didn’t like, but after the second time not liking it, I probably won’t give it a third chance. And I can totally relate with wanting every meal to be enjoyable. If I feel unsatisfied after a meal, that’s usually when I go looking for something else to eat, so now I would just rather be satisfied after the first time and save the calories!

  9. Interesting article – thanks. I would find it hard to do as you did (send back the salad) but I think that’s for two reasons.
    Firstly, I think it’s a very British thing that we are bad at complaining, even when we should!
    Secondly, part of the issue that caused my ED was feeling utterly obliged as a child to finish every morsel on our plates (we got the ‘kids in Africa would be grateful for that’ mantra) which eventually caused me to go too far the other way (too complex/irrelevant to explain here).

    One of the things I really liked when I lived in the US, was being able to ask for a leftovers box, which is considered somewhat unusual here. But I think it’s brilliant! It takes the pressure off, and allows you to enjoy a meal without feeling so compelled to avoid waste.

    I do tend to try eat things I’ve prepared even if they’re not perfect, as I try to avoid waste (quality fresh foods are not cheap here!). But I will tend to mull for a while afterwards about ‘what went wrong’. But I learn from it, and can do better next time.

    Slightly off the theme there!

    With regards to retrying restaurants, I will tend to if someone asks me to, unless it’s a restaurant which is not veggie specific which has clearly made a vegan compromising error.

    Happy eating all!

  10. Having worked in the hospitality/restaurant industry for years, I understand that one bad meal or experience does not make the whole restaurant. Servers have off nights, chefs have tempers and food delivery/quality is not always reliable. But for most people one unpleasant experience and the restaurant is forever labeled bad. That’s why customer service is over emphasized in the states. Restaurateurs know that if a meal is good, a person might tell 3-5 people about it, but if it is bad, they will tell at least 10 people not to go there. Living in Europe I realize how wonderful it is that servers are* usually* want to ensure you have the best possible experience.

    All that being said, I think your standards for vegan restaurants are as fair and unbiased as they come, Gena. I think it’s great that you gave Cafe Green a second try and constructive criticism is the best way to improve the dinning experience for all diners, vegan or not. And before I go, if any of you are in the South of France, please, please check out the Loving Hut in Menton. It is out of this world good! I’m going to Paris next weekend and would love any vegan restaurant suggestions 🙂

    Happy Sunday-


  11. I am very much the same as you when it comes to pickiness. After my E.D, I realized I didn’t even know what I liked, and after that, life became a quest to find the foods I love. Now, I don’t like to eat anything if it isn’t amazing. I even struggle with eating if the scene isn’t set properly. Like in the middle of a crowded, smelly lunch room where I only have 20 minutes to eat, I would rather just not eat. For me it is just a matter of reminding myself that when I can make my meals awesome and pleasurable, I do, but at times, eating is just plain meeting a need. And that can be ok to.

    • Ali, fancy meetin’ you here! 😉

      I like what you said, that eating is sometimes just about meeting a need. Despite my difficulty accepting this at times, I have to agree.

  12. I don’t know if it is ed-related or whether it just goes with the territory of being a very picky eater, but I too insist that every meal be pleasurable. I don’t hesitate to pour an off-tasting smoothie down the drain, or to take stringy avocados back to Whole Foods for a refund. Or to send back food in a restaurant.

    What is, likely, ed-related is my absolute inability to eat a bad meal (or even a bad bite of something) and be fine with it. If I eat a “perfectly edible but not appetizing to me” salad, I am done for the day. To this day, I don’t process food mistakes well, and I know myself well enough to avoid them to the extent possible. I can look at a certain food, fast forward a couple hours, and, knowing how I’ll feel if I eat it, push it aside.

    Some might call it “wasteful.” I call it protecting my recovery. I’m a very mindful eater, so I’m happy to say I don’t waste much food anymore. But on the rare occasion I have to throw something away, or send something back, I do it unapologetically.

    • I have to agree that Jen’s comment was remarkably insightful; I feel the same way about food I don’t enjoy.

  13. Is there anything wrong about blended-and-strained juices, Gena?? Or is it just the flavour?
    I started making mine that way because I didn’t want to use my centrifugate juicer and I haven’t found a good one yet (Argentina).

    Thanks for your blog!

  14. Love the first paragraph! So good of you to be honest.

    I dislike eating food that isn’t good because I KNOW I can get good food (most of the time). Seems silly to force down gross stuff unless starving. Only at camp would I eat food I didn’t like because it was the only thing or starve. but worse comes to worse I often dine with others who have less discerning palates and so it won’t go to waste.

  15. I have a hard time with “meh” meals too, and I think that must be a holdover from my own eating disorder, now that you mention it! I spent so long learning to love and appreciate food (as well as my hunger and my appetite for good food) – so when those are stifled, I agree that it takes a lot away from a dining experience!

  16. I am EXACTLY the same way with wanting my food to be pleasurable. In theory, I believe this is a healthy thing to do, but for me it is definitely obsessive. I get extremely anxious when I do not/cannot have my food exactly as I want it, or if it’s not precisely what my body is craving. It’s like my desire to care for my body by giving it what it wants has turned into another disorder. Logically I know that, sometimes, LIFE happens and food has to take the back seat, but every time it does I struggle with intense feelings of guilt and anxiety if I eat something that is less than “perfect.”

    I find that just accepting it and moving on helps (you can’t change the past), as does reminding myself that I have a choice (I can eat what’s in front of me, request something else, or be hungry for a bit and eat something later that is more desirable). As for the guilt that I feel about wasting food, I like to think of a quote by Geneen Roth: “It’s either garbage in your body or garbage in the trash.” A little extreme (she was referring to eating binge foods just so they’re gone), but it works.

  17. This is a warming story: it can be hard to give a place a chance having had a bad experience.

    It’s so interesting that part of your recovery is investing every meal with pleasure: I eat all kinds of things that I don’t really like because I think that’s what I ‘should’ be eating. I guess that’s part of why I’m still not able to say I’m ‘recovered.’
    Speaking of which, I’ve been prewriting my ‘Green Recovery’ story for you, and was wondering whether it’s even valid for me to write it, considering the struggles I’m still having?

  18. I’ve been to Cafe Green before and had a terrible experience. First off, the service was one of the most terrible dining experiences I’ve ever had. To make matters worse, we watched the manager go around and talk to every one of the other diners except us. I think the anger on our faces must’ve tipped him off. For my entree I ordered the vegan macaroni and cheese. It tasted exactly like boxed Amy’s macaroni and cheese. Granted that’s a vegan dish, but at a restaurant you expect something to taste homemade maybe even gourmet and not like a $3 boxed product you pick up at the grocery store. No more Cafe Green for me, ever!

  19. My history with ED isn’t easy to put into words, because I was never actually diagnosed with a specified disorder, even though it was obvious (physically, and through blood results) that I was gravely unhealthy. To this day, I still don’t think I fit into any of the commonly known categories. Regardless, I know exactly–EXACTLY–what you mean about not wanting to eat something you don’t truly enjoy. I actually felt a sense of relief just now when I read your words, because now I know I’m not alone in my feelings.

    I don’t feel guilty when I treat myself to something a little too high in calories, or eat something full of carbs, or something fattening…nope, I feel guilty when I eat something I don’t like. I get a grossed out feeling with myself. If I over-salt something and eat it anyway, or order a meal that really doesn’t taste very good, but finish it all in spite of that…it will literally put me in a mood for days. This is actually something I struggle with on a regular basis. It’s one of the only ED components that has really stuck with me, and is the reason why I take so long in deciding what to eat. I don’t know when I’ll get over this. It seems like such an insignificant problem, but it’s something I’m working hard to overcome!

    • It is incredible to read this comment, Jen. I’ve never heard anyone else echo my own guilt patterns around food so exactly. Most anorectics feel guilty when they eat something “fattening.” Not me. Raw chocolate torte with vegan creme anglaise? I’ll enjoy every. single. morsel and feel sated (and blissed out) for hours. Even a bit proud of myself, that I can eat such high calorie food without guilt. But a few bites of a mushy cantaloupe? It can take me a whole day to recalibrate. There’s that moment, after a couple of bites, when you’re like, throw it away or eat it anyway? Thankfully, I’ll mostly opt to throw it away. Or send it back. But oh gosh, the times I’ve eaten it anyway … let’s just say I know well the “mood” you’re speaking of.

      • Oh my gosh, can I EVER identify with this! I am so glad I’m not the only one out there who feels that way after eating something I don’t like. I’ll stew for days sometimes, beating myself up for eating some rubbery carrot sticks, yet eating a couple homemade cookies warm from the oven with no regret. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Sending food back because you don’t love whats on your plate is incredibly wasteful and selfish in my opinion. You ordered it, it has been prepared for you and you have no right to return it like you would return clothes that don’t fit. They cannot serve that salad to anyone else but they will throw it out.
    Unless the food on my plate was seriously bad ( as in spoiled or somehow wrong) I would not send anything back and expect the restaurant to just replace it with something else. I can’t even get behind the thought process going on there and I would feel humiliated if a friend of mine would do that during a dinner.
    It was a salad. Get over yourself, seriously.

    • Funny that you should critique someone else’s manners while being so incredibly rude yourself. There is a way to express your opinion without being so disrespectful.

      • I agree. That’s a pretty harsh line you’re drawing there Amy. Everybody has their own needs and I think if you’re humiliated by others needs you need to broaden your own mind and find some compassion.

        Also, sometimes a thing isn’t described very well, or some such thing and then you are stuck with expensive, unpalatable, possible less-than-healthy food, completely not what you expected. Why would anyone pay for that experience?

        • I think the original commenter’s point was not that sending back food is rude, but rather that it is wasteful. In a sense I agree (any kind of waste makes me cringe instinctively–it’s how I was raised–and I’m always having to bite my tongue to keep from lecturing my friends about not turning on their air conditioning too high and such) but at the same time I think that in the grand scheme of things it’s really not a big deal. I also think that it’s the restaurant’s responsibility to serve high quality food (and write menus that accurately describe what the dish actually is), especially if they’re charging high prices.

          • I agree that it was totally wasteful!!! If you want a salad made with kale, you order a kale salad. If you want a garden salad made with lettuce, you order a regular salad. This kind of behavior is what gives vegans a bad reputation….a regular salad isn’t good enough to be a side to a meal? You can bet most kitchen staff will not be friendly to the returning salad after that.

            • I completely understand the wasteful criticism. In fairness to me, though, I didn’t just have a change of heart mid-meal about whether I wanted lettuce or kale: as I said in the post, the salad contained a lot of raw red onion, which didn’t appear in the printed menu.

  21. I don’t think you have to have any prior “issues” with food to want each and every plate or bite of food that passes your lips to live up to high standards and be awesome. It may not always happen (and probably won’t b/c ho-hum happens) but it’s a good goal to have! I think the Ina Garten or Martha Stewart or Thomas Keller or Julia Child would want each and every meal to be perfect…look at what they go thru in their food prep and clearly and they don’t share your eating challenges/background. I think some people are just “pickier” than others and have higher expectations for food. I am one of those people,too!

    Going back to a disappointing restaurant? No. I don’t bother anymore. In my younger days I may have but now, no. Time and money are too precious for second chances. Just being honest 🙂

    But glad YOU and Anne had such a great time together and that the 2nd time was better than the 1st.

  22. A couple weeks ago I wrote a very neutral review about a restaurant here in Boston. Admittedly, the bf and I were hungry and didn’t fully take advantage of the options, but I also feel like you in the sense that vegan restaurants should show the world how delicious a plant-based diet can be. But we tried again, mainly for their smoothies, with which I was really impressed! I’m glad we did.

    I think the major ED issue I still have is eating foods that don’t come as I ask (dressing/spreads on the side, etc.) but I’m working on it!

  23. Great post, Gena. (let’s get this out of the way, you look gorgeous and glowing)

    Okay, yep, definitely have changed my mind. I recently did the same thing and blogged about it. Sometimes a restaurant just has a dish I didn’t like, which isn’t to say the entire menu is bad, I had one thing and didn’t like it. I was happy I returned and then had a fabulous dish!

  24. Nottttt gonna lie, I am a HUGE fan of Cafe Green! I went there in the fall with the Padre and we got the seaweed salad and raw pizzas along with some raw cheesecake — I was satisfied and surprised by how beautiful, tasty, and healthy the raw food was. I’m glad you changed your mind!

  25. I find that I shy away from going out to eat, since I have trouble enjoying my food as much if I had to relinquish control to someone else with it’s preparation. I definitely attribute this in part to my history with an ED, but it probably has a good deal to do with my general personality too (type A much…ha ha). However, I feel like I may be able to let go of that control at a vegan restaurant (which are non-existent in Tucson, AZ) where I know they have more appreciation for my beliefs. Anyway, if I do have to eat a meal out, I do my best to just let the worries go and enjoy it. Hope your midterm went well! 🙂

  26. I’ve had less than amazing experiences at Cafe Green twice now. I keep saying they get a third try and then that’s it. I don’t understand how Java Green can be SO good but Cafe Green just can’t seem to get their act together.

  27. As a former ED sufferer, I do feel the need to make every food pleasurable. I’m not as bad as I used to be, but generally speaking I’m not going to eat something I don’t like…especially if its high in calories.

  28. Pale cheeks and puffy eyes? I don’t know what you are talking about. You look beautiful!

  29. I’d love to hear how you handle sending food back; I overeat food I *don’t* like bacause I don’t want to be rude. Not to mention my fear that my new plate will be tampered with by the staff…

    • I’m also curious about this – I don’t have major problems sending food back if it’s not what I ordered/something is wrong with it, but I have trouble doing so if I just don’t care for it (usually I give it to whoever I’m eating with, or eat only some of it – and occasionally use it as an excuse to have dessert, which I typically am too full for at restaurants).

  30. I have stopped by again to ask about the juicer and it was not yet up and running as of earlier this week. Fingers crossed, as I find their blend kind of ho-hum. Since I live just down the street from Cafe Green, I would love to have the option to get real green juice there for busy days.

    Your experience this week is pretty much what it ends up being for me when I go there – I default to the raw pizza (which I really do quite like for its lightness – even my omni non-raw friends who have tried it find it nice), find they are generally out of one other thing I order, and usually have a decent meal. If Cafe Green was not so close to my apartment AND had an 75% gluten-free menu AND things my husband enjoys eating, I would not be so quick to repeatedly give it a chance, as the inconsistency in service and selection is annoying. It totally makes me reach for zen and calm which do not come naturally to me at all.

    Yay on you not having a repeat of your first experience there.

  31. Agreed, that’s awesome about getting kombucha. The marinara looks delicious and probably one of my favorite raw dishes. The kale salad looks great too, much better than the first salad, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough to send it back yet. 🙂

    I have changed my mind about restaurants and am usually open to giving them another try, especially if they’re new and still working the kinks out. But really bad service experiences are hard to forgive. 🙂

  32. That pizza sounds so good! I hope you recreate it at hone so I can steal the recipe, hehe.

  33. That’s so cool they have kombucha! I wish restaurants here carried it.

    I can’t say I’ve never changed my mind about a place… but those times are unfortunately few and far between. Ad often I REALLY want to like it!