Given this season of both excess and reflection, perhaps it’s a good time to consider the food and philosophy of Bliss Café in San Luis Obispo, especially if you’d like to explore the idea of a “yogi-style, karma-free” vegan menu.
This high-ceilinged, brick-walled eatery on Chorro Street has only a handful of seats, so it’s best experienced during non-peak hours or for takeout. Either way, plan on taking some time to relax and enjoy the soothing Eastern artwork and meditative music.
Originally opened a couple of years ago as Vraja’s Kitchen, Bliss Café began its current incarnation at the beginning of 2011. Now, it’s co-owned by Dave Fintel and Palaka Sauer — the latter has been a familiar face at local farmers’ markets for the past five years with his Govinda’s Garden foods (which he still does under the Bliss Café name). Palaka, as he prefers to be called, has also owned restaurants in his native Brazil and Florida, and made several trips to India to learn the principles of this style of cooking.
As Palaka explained, the café’s guidelines are those of Ahimsa, Bhakti Yoga and vegan cuisine. Obviously, there’s a lot more to these age-old concepts than can be explained here, but the gist of it is “that by embracing simplicity, patience and compassion, we strive to provide with our recipes, a ‘blissful’ state of mind.”
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That approach also embraces a “no violence” concept, said Palaka. As a result, the vegetarian fare at Bliss Café is also vegan, as in no animal products, from meat to dairy. (It is possible to find farms that produce acceptable dairy, but the closest he has found is in Utah.) Indeed, when you start to explore some of the other principles in place at the café, you’ll discover that even products such as onions, garlic and hot peppers aren’t used in the kitchen because of the belief of how they negatively affect the body and spirit.
Yes, there is a lot that doesn’t come out of the Bliss kitchen, but much of what does has intriguing layers of flavors. Try one of the seasonal soups such as pumpkin and lentil or carrot and ginger, the spinach-filled filo-pastry pie known as Spanokopita, or the Bhakti Bowl — the grain of the day (rice, quinoa, etc.) with your choice of either eggplant or the daily curry special, and served with a side of chunky, not-too-sweet fruit chutney.
You can also order sides such as baked sweet potato fries, sauerkraut, hummus or crispy Brazilian lavash chips that you’d swear were flavored with parmesan, but are actually liberally tossed with a vegan mixture of ground almonds, parsley, nutritional yeast, black pepper and Himalayan pink sea salt. For dessert, it’s hard to go wrong with a big slice of the chocolate mousse pie with coconut crust.
Bliss Café also offers fare for those adhering to a raw food diet (ingredients are either completely raw or not heated above about 100 degrees Fahrenheit), and many items — the tostada salad or the raw veggie wrap, for example — are straightforward by design to showcase fresh market vegetables. There are also several fruit smoothies, from a basic berry to a “Gopala” with banana, raw chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter and maca powder, which is derived from an Andean plant akin to a root vegetable. Obviously, Bliss Café uses “as much local and organic produce as possible,” said Palaka, as well compostable takeout containers. “People are also welcome to bring their own to-go containers — we want to move as close to zero waste as we can, to really embrace a holistic approach to what we are doing here.”