A number of friends and family members are vegan or vegetarian. Finding a restaurant that satisfies vegans while also satisfying omnivores is not easy. Encuentro offers many vegan dishes, and both vegetarian and vegan versions of many of their menu items. I had eaten there perhaps a year or two ago, thought the food was good, and that the place warranted a second visit.
We went as a group of four. They were doing a three-course meal for $38 option, the only catch being that everyone at the table needed to buy in. This is just one of many “odd” features of this restaurant, which I will elaborate on later. We agreed to go this route. Two of had the tostada starter, which I thought was the best item we ate. The other two diners had the stuffed dates and the deviled eggs. Both were fine, but neither was exceptional. This was followed by salad courses; two of us had a quinoa salad with greens, roasted potatoes, roasted carrots, and roasted onions. It was fine, and the dressing had a nice kick to it. The other two had an heirloom tomato salad that was apparently fine as well. For the main course, two of us had the chick pea socca, a layered dish with a stack of ceci bean flour based “bread” interspersed with various vegetables. It was fine, but again not exceptional. The other two diners had the sweet potato enchilada; there wasn’t any commentary. Several had desserts; the strawberry cheesecake was indicated as being mediocre. Overall, with tip the final tab was $240. I am not a vegan or a vegetarian, and for that amount of money, I could certainly find a meal that I would enjoy more. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, and you want a change of pace from an Indian or Ethiopian restaurant for example, then perhaps this is a good choice amongst a limited set of candidates.
Encuentro has a number of quirky features that I find a bit annoying. First, if you want to make a reservation, you need to enroll in yet another reservation system. I didn’t check to see if they would take a reservation over the phone, but how many online reservation systems do you need to belong to? You need to give your credit card information, and I believe that if all members of your party are not there within 10 minutes of the reservation time, they reserve the right to cancel your reservation, and charge you a fee. We were on time, but if you get stuck on the freeway or one member of your party misses a BART train or gets held up at work, tough luck. I thought the restaurant was very fully staffed. When we arrived we were one of only three of four tables. I am happy that the wait staff likes to congregate by the cashier and chat. I would have preferred them noticing that none of us were looking at the menu anymore, and coming and asking whether we were ready to order. I really don’t see why everyone at a table needs to “buy into” the three-course special. Is it that difficult to keep the order straight if one person only wants two courses instead of three? Do make sure that you request salt and pepper before your food arrives; it is an SPSDS-afflicted restaurant. I begin to wonder if soon diners will need to bring their own cutlery. I happen to drink a lot of water with dinner, and so does my wife. The others at the table also consumed a reasonable amount of water. If you continually saw that the water bottle on the table was empty, wouldn’t you at some point start bringing two bottles for four people? Apparently not. I don’t know who trained the waiter we had, but whoever it was could use a refresher course. You clear dishes from a particular course after everyone has finished it, not while half the table is still eating. You also don’t show up with the ensuing course until after you have cleared the prior course. The second and third courses appeared before the prior course had been cleared. It was almost comical, the waiter standing there holding more plates than he was really comfortable holding and having no place to put them. The first time we assisted him; the second time we were less helpful. In addition, at most higher-end restaurants, the order is taken and recorded in a way so that you know who ordered what. You then don’t need to ask who gets what. I would forgive these kinds of service errors in a place where your tab is $20/person. At a restaurant where it is $60/person I think it is fair to expect a more professional and competent level of service.
Add all these things together, and I am not sure that I will go back even if I am hosting vegans. The food is more interesting and tasty than at other vegetarian/vegan restaurants I have been to in the Bay Area, and is in the 3.5 star range. But there has to be a place in the Bay Area that would satisfy the dietary restrictions of a vegan that is less encumbered with ad hoc policies and the service deficiencies that were evident.