Before the word “vegetarian” had entered the country’s lexicon, there was a restaurant determined to bring plant-based meals to mainstream America. In 1979, Greens Restaurant opened its doors at scenic Fort Mason in San Francisco—the same building it calls home today. With gorgeous views of the marina and Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Zen Center-sponsored eatery started serving delicious vegetarian meals to eager diners. Despite numerous fluctuations in the country’s economy, Greens has thrived, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and its history as one of the first vegetarian restaurants in the country.
In 1981, Annie Somerville arrived at Greens, training under vegetarian chef pioneer Deborah Madison until she took over as executive chef in 1985. Ever since, Somerville has spearheaded the restaurant’s kitchen and driven its organic menu, featuring high-quality seasonal, local produce. “When we first opened, very few people thought of vegetarian cuisine as fine dining,” says General Manager Mike Hale. Somerville, however, helped transform that notion, and continues to deliver clean, flavorful dishes today, reflecting Mediterranean, Mexican, and American Southwest influences. “The Greens menu is based on delicious, locally produced vegetarian ingredients that are accessible to everyone,” says Somerville.
In addition to its vegetarian menu, Greens takes its local focus further, touting an impressive wine list, featuring numerous local, organic, and biodynamic wines to complement the ever-changing menu selections. With fantastic food, a new look (the restaurant recently received an interior upgrade), and a dedicated chef, Greens has earned its reputation as one of the city’s veg institutions. Does Somerville see her service to Greens ending anytime soon? Don’t count on it. “I really like what I do; I enjoy coming to work every day,” she says.
To create a Greens experience at home, try this simple-yet-satisfying spring salad. Created by Somerville, it’s full of vibrant color and flavor—a great make-ahead dish for any time of day. To preserve asparagus’ bright green color, add it right before serving. Candy-striped Chioggia beets, tender asparagus, and fragrant Meyer lemons work beautifully together here.
Asparagus and Beets with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves 4 to 6
For the salad:
1/2 pound Chioggia or golden beets, well scrubbed and tops trimmed
Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
1 pound asparagus, cut in 2-inch lengths on the diagonal
Salt and pepper
For the vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest, minced
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
What You Do:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small baking dish, place beets with 1/4-inch water. Cover beets and roast until tender when pierced with a skewer or paring knife, about 35 to 40 minutes.
- For the vinaigrette, in a small bowl, combine lemon zest, juice, vinegar, and salt. Slowly pour in oil and whisk until emulsified.
- When beets are cool enough to handle, peel and cut into wedges. In a serving bowl, toss beets with vinaigrette.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil and salt lightly. Drop in asparagus and cook for 2 minutes, until tender but still bright green. Drain asparagus and rinse under cold water; give it a good shake to remove the excess water, and let dry on a kitchen towel. Just before serving, toss asparagus with beets and season to taste with salt and pepper.