Have you heard of Supreme Master? A few things you should know about her: she loves animals, she hates alcohol and she is super rich and she built a manmade island off the coast of Florida to live on but it was seized because that is pretty illegal I guess. Probably the most important thing you should know about her is that she’s used her clout as (basically) a cult leader to have a number of vegetarian Vietnamese restaurants opened. I know of three in the bay area, Golden Lotus in Oakland and the Loving Hut in SF Chinatown and Golden Era in the TL. I’d been to Golden Lotus and Loving Hut and liked both of those places because I like vegetables and I like Vietnamese food. For some reason I had delayed going to Golden Era (which is especially weird because I had been to Golden Lotus twice and it’s in Oakland!). Actually, I know the reason, it’s because they don’t deliver, and I am pretty delivery-centric when it comes to eating by myself. Because I’m lazy.
So, my old friends Lal and Zander were coming back to the bay from Colorado for a visit and invited me to a dinner at Golden Era. I was like, fux yeah! It is so on…and so last night I walked down the hill to O’Farrell street…turns out O’Farrell is not that nice. For some reason I had convinced myself that the block between Leavenworth and Jones would be a fine place to live; I think because it has a lot of trees. However, in this case, more trees equals more shit on the sidewalk. For the most part though, the walkway was clear of people, and I would rather deal with skidmarked pavement than hordes of bums. Not the best trade off, but pretty fair. Golden Era deals with the problem of unpleasant surroundings by having a sunken dining room. Nice. There are no windows to look out of to see the dirty dirty streets and you are far enough away from the door that the aroma of urine cannot make it’s way to you whenever another patron enters. Good show Golden Era.
Enough about the scenery, lets talk food:
Hello, this is a spring roll. Yes, this is after I had already massacred the majority of the roll. Sorry for the peanut sauce carnage. This roll was pretty good, the rice paper was pleasanty chewy and smooth, and it was nice and cold, but there was something odd and gritty/grainy in the filling that I couldn’t figure out. I suppose it could have been ground peanuts, but it didn’t have much flavor. Still, it didn’t take too much away from the lovely greens and tofu alongside it.
Entrees. Let’s take these clockwise from the left shall we? First, my order, the House Rice Claypot. O M G. So good you guys. I guess I should tell you that I am an absolute fiend for rice, so take that as you will. This was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in some time. Slighty oily (but not at all greasy) rice, crisp and nutty where it touched the clay pot, topped with shreds of tofu and fake chicken and black fungus and ginger…I loved it. I really really loved it. I wish I were eating it right now. I ate about a quarter of it at the restaurant, took the rest home, and scarfed down the contents of the doggy bag about an hour later. It hit all the right notes, slightly sweet, perfectly salty, chewy and steamy…if you go to Golden Era you must get this. Or if you go to any of the other Supreme Master restaurants, as it seems they have the same menus. Which leads to the next entree, spicy yellow curry with “chicken” and potatoes, a dish I’d eaten previously at Golden Lotus. This is a pretty good dish. I didn’t enjoy it as much as when I had it before, this time it was a little spicier and the fake chicken wasn’t as tasty. Still , this was a satisfying dish at Golden Era. It’s hard to go wrong with potatoes and yellow curry. The deficit was definitely the protein, which was also what I had a problem with in the final dish, the Caramelized Chicken. I’m a big fan of the Vietnamese caramelized dishes, and the sauce on the fake chicken did not disappoint. It was sweet without being cloying, and I liked how they served the hot “chicken” on top of fresh spinach, causing the spinach to wilt and absorb the sauce, basically creating a second dish. Two for one, score! The issue was the fake chicken, and it’s not that it wasn’t tasty. I am a fan of vegetarian “meats,” I generally like the texture and flavor because they are so unusual. The flavor of the fake chicken at Golden Era did not disappoint, it was the texture. Instead of being slightly springy and nicely chewy, I found it to be a tad bit rubbery and weirdly leathery on the outside. I don’t know much about cooking with TVP or whatever this stuff is, so I don’t know what could cause these issues, but I wouldn’t call them deal breakers. The food is still pretty delicious. My one big regret from my meal is that I forgot about dessert. I am always excited to try vegan sweets because I have found them to generally be insanely rich and indulgent. Golden Era offers several varieties of vegan cakes, so I guess I’ll have to go back to try them.
And I will definitely be back. The prices are pretty standard for a Vietnamese place, though some of the “specialty” dishes can border on too rich for my blood (that means more than 10 bucks), but one entree is really enough for two people. So, if you’re super broke, just get some rice and share and you can eat like kings for about 6 bucks a person. One thing to note, Golden Era does not serve alcohol (Remember? Supreme Master is not in to it) so if that’s a problem for you, get your food to-go. Although, in a weird bid to save the world, they ask you to bring your own to-go containers. I’m not sure how strictly that’s enforced (since they did give me a paper box for my leftovers) but it may be something to keep in mind. So, to sum up; very tasty veg food, kind of yucky neighborhood that is nevertheless well populated with normals, reasonable to moderate prices, haute-cult dining.
572 O’Farrell St