Savory Rice Porridge Makes for a Thrilling Lunch at Samovar

Categories: Vegetarian

Trevor Felch
Samovar's rice porridge: More fun than it sounds.
If braised tempeh atop a bowl of rice porridge doesn't sound particularly sexy or exciting, you haven't had the version at Samovar Tea Lounge.

Part of the same slushy rice family as jook and congee, this short-grain brown rice gets boiled with a sheet of seaweed, sea salt, and Japanese sweet potatoes with lots of water for two hours to a consistency between creamy and custardy. But rice porridge on its own won't make you the envy of other diners. It's the garnishes that add the fun ($12).

Vegetarians can top the porridge with a braised local tempeh that, due to its stunningly simple maple syrup and soy sauce marinade, is way beyond a consolation prize for lack of meat. Alongside the porridge bowl are compartments of scallions, toasted garlic, peanuts, diced raw ginger, diced carrots, cilantro, and Sriracha. Maybe you want to add a few toasted garlic chips or the fragrant blast of ginger and scallions; we thought porridge really perked up with a hefty pour of the accompanying tamari soy sauce. Our only minor gripe was that the peanuts shared the same space as the Sriracha, so adding spice-free crunch was virtually impossible.

Sure, tea is the reason most people go to the three Samovar "tea lounges" (we visited the one between Dolores Park and the Castro; the others are in the Yerba Buena Center and Zen Valley). But the food is on par with the excellent tea selection, and vegan choices are conveniently marked on the menu. You can start the morning with a ginger and quinoa waffle and a Tolstoy's Sip black tea. Later, you can can opt for seasonal vegetable quiche or one of the seven geographically themed tea services. Whatever you do, an order of the medjool dates filled with candied nuts, chevre, and a mint leaf is obligatory.

You'll certainly feel virtuous too -- this is hearty, stick to your ribs cuisine that doesn't weigh you down.

498 Sanchez, 626-4700.

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