Cha-Ya: Ja ja, naja, chacha-yaya.
If you're not a vegan yourself, it's easy to forget that vegans must consume their body weight in vegetable matter every four hours just to survive.
Fortunately, places like Cha-Ya are here to remind you.
Cha-Ya is a little Japanese veggie joint near my home in the Mission District. I've walked by a million times, and today I finally overcame my annoyance at their inappropriately prominent indoor cash machine and stopped in for lunch.
The first bit of good news is that there was no discernible hippie infestation. Granted, I was probably the only one there not the proud owner of a yoga mat, but my immediate neighbors were a charming and very urban lesbian couple, and a lawyer having lunch with a soldier.
The next bit of good news is that the food is actually quite yummy, if perhaps a bit more attached to the deep-fryer than I'd like. And the portions are almost intimidatingly large, until you remember it's all just flowers and leaves.
I had the lunch combo with an excellent pot of green tea (bagged, for you snobs) for $15 with tip. For that I had a very nice miso soup, a very filling and well-presented plate of deep-fried tempura veggie sticks, a large spring roll with mushrooms and more, also deep-fried, and a bowl of rice.
About half way through I thought it would defeat me, but then I remembered there are twice the nutrients in the severed head of a single sea kitten, and found the strength to continue. I didn't finish the rice, which was just plain white rice, but I polished off the rest and went waddling up the street to buy wine.
The tempura was very light. The veg sticks included carrots, yams, asparagus, something potato-like that probably wasn't, and mushrooms that might have been tofu. It came with a tasty "Tempura sauce" which was not in itself battered nor fried. It was very hot at first, and by the end was perhaps a bit too cooled, so I think there's an art to scarfing it all at the right moment.
The warm spring roll was very veggie, with tofu and mushrooms and green beans and more, served with a sweetish dipping sauce. This one actually got better as I ate more of it.
I didn't take a camera, as I'm still working up the courage to pose as a famous restaurant critic and intimidate the owners into giving me free booze. Maybe next time; for now, no pics. Unfortunately it's not that easy to find any online, as vegans generally don't use technology, are invisible, and are said to lack the opposable thumbs necessary for camera operation; in addition, Cha-Ya apparently just means "tree-spinach."
I'd recommend Cha-Ya to anyone compelled to veganism by the usual weaknesses of digestion or logic, but I'd also recommend it to ordinary foodies. I thought my selection was, as mentioned, a little on the fried side, and it could have been happier après dégustation, but I look forward to going back for some soba with mushrooms and tofu.
NOTE: Cha-Ya the Japanese Mission Vegan Joint is not to be confused with Chaya Brasserie. The former is a sedate little veg diner with no web site; the latter is an upscale Japanese Fusion chain in LA and SF with a really annoying Flash website. I go by that one pretty often too, and may yet drop in.