Open Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. To 3 p.m., 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. VISA. No reservations.
Prices: Main dishes at lunch $2 to $4, at dinner $2.50 to $6.
That sweet little vegetarian cafeteria behind the Yes! food shop has grown up and headed for the big time, maturing into a table-service restaurant with a vegetarian menu, additive-free wines and authentic Georgetown prices.
Where once you wove your way between bags of legumes to peer at the day's stir-fried and steamed vegetable melanges, now you enter right to a double row of butcher block tables, the long room divided into sections by handwoven cafe curtains. You can choose to sit indoors - softly lit by slatted wooden lamps, softly decorated by abstract paintings and flowers in bud vases - definitely reminiscent of the Golden Temple Conscious Cookery. It does not quite match the Golden Temple's serenity, though, and the tables are even closer together, close enough that you can examine the food at the next table before you choose while they can examine you conversation as you talk about the food.
Outdoors is less dense, the translucent green tables shaded by yellow awnings, the white garden chairs comfortable, the fountain - apparently designed not to use much water - a quiet one. The space looks smaller than it did before the renovation, and this year's garden is less fertile soil for an afternoon's dawdling than the old days. Part of that has to do with the "servers" (the restaurant's nonsexist term for waiters and waitresses). Nice as our young man was, he did serve our appetizers after we had started our main course, and asked twice if we wanted our check while we were still eating the first two courses. In resignation we ordered dessert, which was immediately brought so that we had all three courses at once.Dinner indoors another day was more leisurely, though the server kept having to rest dishes on one table while serving the next one.
But the business of a restaurant is, after all, food. And here are some bright spots. Perhaps the brightest was a plate of ripe fresh pineapple brought to us before dinner. Soups, too, were highlights, being flavored with a complex of spices and the tang of soy or miso or some such esoteric seasoning. At $2 a bowl, however, they were far from a good buy.
A glance at the menu might lead you to think you were in any carnivorous contemporary cafe; the choices are salads ($1.25 to $4), sandwiches ($2 to $3.50) and main dishes like quiche, lasagne, enchiladas and chili ($3 to $4 and lunch, $4 to $6 at dinner). It takes a closer look to realize that the chef's salad has eggs, cottage cheese and swiss cheese rather than ham and turkey; that the chili is made with soy protein rather than meat; that the sandwiches are all matters of cheese; sprouts, eggless mayo and the like. In most dishes the meatlessness is no detraction. The broccoli quiche is deep and golden crusted, full of flavor and cheese, crunchy of crust (whole wheat, of course). With the spinach and muschrooms in the lasagne, one misses nothing - except the elasticity that the health food green noodles lack. Most impressive at Yes! are the salads - large and brightly garnished, one a stunning arrangement of strawberries on a bed of cottage cheese. The most popular sandwich, guacamole with sauteed mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, cheese and seeds, looked impressive indeed.
But there are snakes among the apples in this garden. Mushroom stroganoff, at $6 for dinner, was nothing but a soggy potato covered with curdled sour cream and thinly sliced mushroom - no match for the Golden Temple's mushroom meadow which might have served as its inspiration. The enchiladas, more sweet than fiery, tasted like a tomato paste and cornmeal casserole rather than a Mexican dish. Yes! seems to run into trouble when it goes ethnic, for the felafel looked like a sun-baked yellow mudpie, and tasted about like it looked.
Yes! does well with crunchy sauteed vegetables, with fresh, lively salads, with dense, hearty breads (though at dinner half a tiny loaf was served to two people, looking quite miserly on its big bread board). Its desserts overcome surprisingly well the limitations of whole grain flour and no sugar. Once you expect the cheesecakes, pies and cobblers to be tart rather than sweet, the nutty crusts and fruity flavors can be appreciated. The frozen yogurt - their own - bears little resemblance to the smooth sweetness that comes out of yogurt machines elsewhere.
Fine. A vegetarian restaurant is its own thing, not to be confused with a French cafe. Yes! does some of those things very well. But there is no reason a vegetarian restaurant can't serve its white wine cold, and make its guacamole from ripe rather than overripe avocados. It is a treat to have available freshly squeezed orange, beet, carrot and celery juices, but not when the carrots taste old and bitter.The salads, lovely as they are, suffer from being served with tiny paper cups of dressing - too small a quantity, particularly since they taste very good, and impossible to toss thoroughly at the table. And if a natural food restaurant is going to bend enough to serve coffee, why make it so weak, and why only with cinnamon?
Things have improved at yes! since its cafeteria days. There is more control over the seasoning, more professionalism in the kitchen, more beauty in the finished product. But with a wine list and $6 main dishes, Yes! is playing with the big boys. A bowl of soup, quiche with a salad, date-banana pie and a glass of nonalcoholic sparkling cider is a $10 meal of successive delights. A sandwich and freshly squeezed orange juice would comfortably feed you for $5. But don't listen if the snake nudges you towards those exotic sounding Mexican, Middle Eastern or Russian dishes. Yes! presents a pleasure garden of natural foods, but tread carefully.