Yesterday I ate breakfast at "The Vegetarian Heart of Fremont," Silence-Heart-Nest. Since walking through their doors, I've had that ridiculous Eiffel 65 (circa late '90s) song stuck in my head. I have a blue house with a blue window. Blue is the color of all that I wear. Da ba dee da ba da. If you've not been to Silence-Heart-Nest, you're wondering what in the world I'm talking about. If you have been there, you already know. The entire restaurant is blue. Blue are the walls, and blue the pillars, and the shirts on the waiters, and the clock is blue . . .
Highlight of the visit: the clean, efficient syrup dispenser. Why haven't more restaurants thought of this?
One would think that, had I not been tipped off by the name, I still should have been prepared for a restaurant outside the restaurant norm by the fact that the last time I attempted to visit, the entire establishment was closed while all the staff attended an extended spiritual retreat. (Silence-Heart-Nest is run by adherents of Seattle's Sri Chinmoy Centre.) But I was not prepared, and all the blue startled me. Nearly as much as the excess of giant, white hanging lanterns startled me. But not nearly as much as the statuette of a clown just inside the door did. (Silence-Heart-Nest is also in current possession of the J.P. Patches Pal Award.)
Nevertheless: I'd heard there were gluten-free breakfast options. So I stayed the course, picked up a menu, and began browsing.
Although Silence-Heart-Nest is a vegetarian restaurant, and therefore has no breakfast meat on their menu, most of their breakfast dishes center around eggs or cheese, so it's totally possible (vegetarian or not) to get a "hearty omelet, home fries, and coffee" sort of breakfast. When my sari-clad waitress appeared, I asked her what gluten-free options they had on hand.
"We have gluten-free bread. And pancakes, and waffles." For a brief moment, I got excited. The server disappeared to fetch me some tea, as I settled on ordering a gluten-free waffle. (How could I not?) On the menu, it was listed as coming with a fruit compote, so I asked about that. My server disappeared into the kitchen for a moment, then returned to tell me that they had two kinds: cranberry or mixed summer berry. I asked if there were blueberries (which I'm allergic to) in the summer berry mix, and she ducked into the kitchen again to return with the verdict that there were not.
So gluten-free waffles I ordered, vaguely wondering if they would be blue, and more practically inquiring as to whether they were cooked on a different waffle iron from the normal waffles. She informed me that they were not. Hmm. Asked about their grill-cleaning habits between orders, she said they wipe off the griddle, but don't scrub it, so I should probably order something else if I was very allergic. Hmm, again. I am problematically equally allergic to everything else on the menu, and since I 1) am hungry, and 2) can usually surf through a little bit of cross-contamination without too much trouble, I opted to make the gamble.
A few moments later, my server returned to my table on behalf of the cook to let me know that he had "looked a little closer, and there are blueberries after all." I found it odd that nobody knew what was in the berry compote, not even the guy at the stove, but was also beginning to feel quite stubborn about getting my food, so I switched to the cranberry option.
Please note that, during all this interaction, other than one or two customers speaking in hushed tones, the voice of the woman communicating with me about my order was the only audible voice in the room. I have never before witnessed an open kitchen in which the workers seem to be under a vow of silence.
There is much left to be said about Silence-Heart-Nest--endless commentary to offer on everything from the giant mound of whipped cream that my waffles were hiding under to the fact that the server couldn't tell me (except hypothetically) what the cranberry compote was sweetened with to the giant pot of oatmeal that, to the best of my culinary knowledge, appeared to be boiling over the entire time I was eating my breakfast. (Though I admit I never asked to confirm that this was in fact what was going on.) But of all that could be said, let me offer only two thoughts and leave it at that.
Thought #1: The waffle wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. Though the texture was executed decently for a gluten-free waffle, the flavor was completely lackluster, even tucked under a cup of whipped cream and berry compote.
Thought #2: In spite of my usual imperviousness to light cross-contamination, within several hours of eating breakfast (yes, in all fairness, I was warned when I asked), it became obvious I'd been glutened. Emotional crumbling ensued. You could even say that I was blue . . . and everything was blue for me and myself and everybody around me.
Verdict: If you are gluten-free, avoid this one. If you're an omnivore, I hear the omelets are good . . . but being the precise opposite of an omnivore, I can't weigh in.