No. 53: Vegan Flan at Gracias Madre

Gil Riego Jr.
Gracias Madre's almond-and-cashew-milk flan, $8: No ersatz custard this.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

In general, SFoodie prefers not to bestow praise on vegan copies of meat- and dairy-based foods. There are so many elegant meatless, eggless, dairyless dishes out there that we have no need to eat imperfect copies of foods we omnivorously adore. That said, the flan at Gracias Madre isn't a culinary sleight-of-palate to marvel at, it's a great dessert in itself.

Carmen Vazquez's faux custard, the waiter told us on a visit there last week, was a blend of almond and cashew milk, thickened with agar-agar and set over a dark caramel sauce. A spoon slid through the custard with just the right creamy resistance, and the insides were marked with that matrix of microscopic holes that form around the edges of most flans we've eaten.

There's none of the egginess to to the flan's flavor, of course, but as it melts on the tongue a gentle vanilla note emerges. It's followed by the deeper, bolder aroma of caramelized sugar, which crescendoes just to the point of tasting burned, stopping just before it becomes bitter. So, sure, the first time you order the flan may be just to inspect its construction or replace a dish you'd given up. The second time you order it, though, there's no thought of comparing the flan to anything but itself.

Gracias Madre: 2211 Mission (at 18th St.), 683-1346.

Dishes in our series so far:

92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tarts
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
77: Cheesecake from Zanze's
76: Chicken pepian at San Miguel
75: Macau iced coffee at Vega/Special Xtra
74: Comstock Saloon's Pisco Punch
73: Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck leg noodle soup
72: Sauerbraten at Walzwerk
71: Boudin noir at Cafe Bastille
70: Blackstrap molasses gingerbread at Lotta's Bakery
69: Plow's crispy potatoes
68: Prospect's Catcher in the Rye
67: Pork banh mi from Little Vietnam Cafe
66: Nakaochi at Ippuku
65: Sidekick's chocolate spritzer
64: Farmhouse Culture's horseradish-leek sauerkraut
63: Destination Baking Co.'s challah
62: Cotogna's roasted carrots
61: Hard Knox Cafe's chicken and waffles
60: The Rebel Within from Tell Tale Preserve Co.
59: The Slanted Door's Whiskey Cocktail
58: Carnitas burrito from Taqueria San Francisco
57: Sakura mochi from Benkyodo
56: Birria at Gallardos
55: BBQ pork skewers at Fil-Am Cuisine
54: JapaCurry's katsu curry

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