Vegan Eats: Cha-Ya's Japanese Cooking Sticks to Your Ribs

Hana Gomoku: Sushi rice with kaiware, shiitake, green bean, carrot, lotus root, tofu pouch, yam cake, hijiki, burdock, broccolini, daikon, cauliflower, and zucchini.
We heart eating vegan, but have never felt quite so nourished and satisfied as we have after eating at the recently opened Sunset branch of the Japanese vegan restaurant Cha-Ya (1386 Ninth Ave. at Judah -- also 762 Valencia at 18th St. and 1686 Shattuck at Lincoln, Berkeley). Greeted by a seemingly endless menu, decisions weren't easy. Luckily, we chose to select dishes from different categories and share family-style, yet we still left several potentials unordered due to sheer volume.

First to the table was the instantly comforting Moon Garden ($9.50), a warm tofu custard dotted with gingko nuts and beautifully cut and lightly cooked carrot, broccoli, shimeji, kabocha, edamame, snow peas, atsuage tofu, broccolini, asparagus, and zucchini. Gyoza ($7) were admittedly a bit pricey for six small pieces, but stellar, a simple combination of cabbage, carrot, onion, and -- the best part -- blended corn for distinct creaminess.

Our eyes were dazzled by the jewel tones and artistic arrangement of the Hana Gomoku ($10.50), a sushi rice bowl with seaweed (hijiki and kaiware) and a staggering array of goodies (carrot, broccolini, daikon, burdock, cauliflower, zucchini, green bean, shiitake, lotus root, tofu pouch, and yam cake). Eating it was even better. There's a full list of vegan sushi and nigiri on offer; it seemed sensible to go with the signature Cha-Ya Roll ($8.25), a tempura-battered mix of avocado, asparagus, and yam drizzled with sweet sauce. Good, but easily the meal's least interesting course.

A sundae with vanilla soy ice cream, chunks of pineapple, and sauces made from azuki beans and green tea ($5) had the heft and the flavor of dairy and a terrific sweetness. It was one of several tempting desserts on offer (we would have tried the pear compote as well, were we not so full).

Forgive the fleshy reference, but Cha-Ya's food is stick-to-your-ribs. Or, as our carnivorous companion put it so eloquently, "This is the first time I've eaten at a vegetarian restaurant and not felt cheated out of something!"

Peruse more pics after the jump.
Gyoza with cabbage, carrot, corn, and onion.
Cha-Ya Roll: Tempura yam, avocado, carrot, and asparagus.
Moon Garden: Tofu custard with broccoli, shimeji, kabocha, edamame, snow peas, atsuage tofu, broccolini, carrot, asparagus, zucchini, and gingko nuts.
Vanilla soy ice cream with pineapple and green tea and azuki bean sauces.

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